Thursday, 27 April 2017

Book Review: THE PERFECT STRANGER by Megan Miranda

The Perfect Stranger

Author: Megan Miranda
Simon & Schuster
April 2017
Expected publication: 16 May 2017


I’m not who you think.
I’m not going to tell you.
I’m no one.

Leah Stevens has always believed that if you dig deep enough you will eventually get to the truth. But her quest for exposing injustice has cost her a career as a journalist, forcing her to move to the country until the scandal of her last expose’ has died down. So when she accidentally runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who offers her a house share in a small town in rural Pennsylvania she grabs the opportunity with open arms. Now settled into her new home and working as a highschool teacher, Leah thinks she may have had a lucky escape. Until one morning, when a young woman is brutally assaulted and left for dead near a lake close to her house. A young woman, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Leah. Suddenly Leah no longer feels safe in her new home. And why has her housemate not come home for five days?

As she becomes increasingly worried about Emmy, who seems to have disappeared at the same time as the assault occurred, Leah realises how little she knows about her housemate. Emmy has always insisted that the lease and all the bills go in Leah’s name, as she was running away from an abusive relationship. But looking for Emmy, Leah discovers that no one has ever laid eyes on the woman, even at the place Emmy was supposed to be working. Even the police are doubting that Leah is telling them the truth. It’s as if Emmy has never existed...

To discover the truth, Leah must go right back to the beginning, even if it brings her face to face with the demons of her own past.

This was my belief. That the truth rises to the surface like air bubbles in boiling water. That it rushes upward like a force of nature, exploding in a gasp of air when it reaches the surface, as it was always intended to do.

My thoughts:

I haven’t previously read any books by Megan Miranda, but have since put All the Missing Girls on my to-read list, as The Perfect Stranger is exactly the kind of book I enjoy curling up with. Extremely suspenseful, with an interesting main protagonist and a cat-and-mouse game that kept me guessing until the end, this was another one of those “all-night-read-a-thon” books that has been contributing to my permanent state of sleep deprivation lately!

I love an unreliable narrator in a psychological thriller, and Leah is perfect for that role. What is truth and what is fiction? Is Leah going crazy? As the story twists and turns, the reader can never be sure whether to take Leah’s version of the truth for gospel. Is she losing her mind and imagining things, or is she lying to protect herself? Miranda sows these little seeds of doubt very cleverly, hiding them in seemingly innocuous detail, which adds a lot of tension and an ever-present sense of danger to the story. The claustrophobic and atmospheric setting in rural Pennsylvania is a  perfect backdrop, and I could vividly picture Leah moving around the house at night, fully exposed behind the windows of her new home as if she was on stage, watched by a sinister predator crouched at the edge of the woods. A perfect read whilst huddling under the safety of your doona, with only the rustling of the pages audible in the still, dark night. For me, the only slight let-down was the ending, which fizzled out a bit, with some questions remaining unanswered and the subplots not quite gelling in the way I had hoped. Whilst this did not spoil my reading pleasure, I missed the bold, twisty and unexpected finale the story had been building up to.


The Perfect Stranger is a suspenseful mystery with an interesting premise: how well do you really know your friends? Containing all the elements I look for in a psychological thriller – an unreliable narrator, a constant sense of menace or danger facing our main protagonist, an atmospheric setting and plenty of twists and turns that make you question everything you have read -I highly recommend it to any lover of the genre. The budding romance added a pleasant addition to the story, and perhaps an added element of doubt – you will need to read it to judge for yourself. 

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

You may also like:

Don't You Cry Don't You Cry, by Mary Kubica

Sunday, 23 April 2017

March / April Audiobook Recap

I’m usually so busy with writing reviews for ARCs that my audiobooks come off as the poor second cousins and often don’t make it onto my blog. This is a shame, since I often pick the books that are on top of my really-really-must-read list to keep me company during the long hours I spend driving. So I thought: why not write a quick monthly recap of the audiobooks I have been enjoying?

These were my commute-companions during March and April:

A Man Called Ove The Bird Tribunal In Her Wake

A Man Called Ove A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

Narrated by Joan Walker

What an utterly delightful read! I am very grateful for having stumbled across Shelleyrae’s review of this book on her blog “Book’dOut”, which initially made me put it on my to-read-list. My only regret is not having picked it up a lot sooner! A Man Called Ove is easiest one of the best books I have read all year, and one that will definitely make it on my all-time-favourites list. Told with both humour and wisdom, it follows the story of a 59-year-old Swedish man called Ove, who has recently lost his wife and his job and decided that life is no longer worth living. Always considered a somewhat taciturn and grumpy old man by his neighbours, Ove is sure he won’t be missed by anyone, and makes his plans for a clean exit from this life. But one by one all his plans are foiled by the arrival of new neighbours next door - a pregnant “foreign woman”, her tall lanky husband and their two little girls, who will not accept that Ove wants to be left alone. 

Written with laugh-out-loud humour as well as tender insights into his characters’ lives, Backman instantly drew me into the storyline and made my daily commute richer as I laughed, cried and pondered the meaning of life, love and death with Ove. Very highly recommended. I absolutely adored it!

PS: whilst Joan Walker does a good job narrating, I would have preferred a male narrator, seeing that Ove is our central character and the story is told from his perspective. 
 Image result for 5 stars

The Bird Tribunal The Bird Tribunal, by Agnes Ravatn

Narrated by Penelope Rawlins

With her life in ruins after a scandal that wrecked her marriage and cost her her job, historian and TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves it all behind and takes on the position as housekeeper for 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, a mysterious reclusive man living in a small cottage in the rugged Norwegian countryside. Far from town and without transport except a bicycle at her disposal, Allis throws herself into the housekeeping and gardening chores expected of her whilst Bagge’s wife is away. But when time goes by and the woman fails to materialise, Allis slowly falls more and more under her employer’s spell, trying to appease his labile moods. What follows is an account of a dysfunctional and somewhat obsessive love affair, its claustrophobic atmosphere enhanced by the remote setting and a sense of menace and danger always hovering in the background. What really happened to Bagge’s wife?

The Bird Tribunal is a slow-burning mystery with very little action and only two central characters to drive the story, which worked well in some parts but dragged a bit in others. Whilst I enjoyed the tension underlying the story and really liked Allis as a character, I found that the strange “dance” between the two  main protagonists became a bit repetitive, and I longed for a bit more action or a twist to move things along. However, I loved the claustrophobic and atmospheric armchair-travel setting, and the mystical component of Norse mythology interspersing the story. I am definitely interested to read more from this author in future.

Image result for 3 stars

In Her Wake In Her Wake, by Amanda Jennings

Narrated by Kate Rawson

After losing both her parents in quick succession, Bella Campbell’s life is further turned upside down when she reads a letter left to her by her father, which tells her that she is not Henry and Elaine Campbell’s biological daughter, but that her “real” family lives in Cornwall. Having grown up cloistered in an old vicarage, home-schooled and without any family and friends other than her parents, Bella has never had the opportunity to truly grow up. Instead, she married a much older man who took over from her mother, controlling everything Bella does, from the food she eats to the clothes she wears. Now that all she has ever believed to be the truth has gone up in smoke, Bella must rise out of the ashes and set off on her own to discover her true origins – and ultimately discover herself.

In Her Wake had an intriguing premise, which soon drew me into the storyline. However, this is NOT a psychological thriller. Whilst there is an element of mystery in the story, the reader finds out the truth very early on, and what follows is a slow-burning family drama of family members re-united after years apart, and the struggles they face in getting to know one another and overcoming the trauma of the past. The setting on the Cornish coast was atmospheric and added a wonderful armchair-travel element that brought the story to life for me, and I enjoyed the emotional turmoil Bella finds herself in and her journey of self-discovery. However, at times I found the story a bit slow and repetitive and thought it needed a bit of editing to move things along (especially Bella’s “dreams”, which really added nothing to the story for me). I found myself waiting for bit more action or an element of surprise to spice things up, which did not eventuate.

Currently listening to:

Friday, 21 April 2017

Book Review: THE RED HUNTER by Lisa Unger

The Red Hunter

Author: Lisa Unger
Simon & Schuster (Australia)
April 2017
Expected publication: 1 May 2017


At fourteen years of age, Zoey Drake was forced to watch as her parents were brutally murdered in front of her eyes, whilst she barely escaped with her own life. Over the last ten years, instead of letting the trauma destroy her life, Zoey has channelled all her energies into making herself stronger, vowing never to be a victim again. Now fully martial-arts trained, the anger still  living inside her is the “Red Hunter”, a force that compels her to seek out and fight injustice.

“It was getting to me. I was vibrating, giving off the energy of the thing I tried to hide and harness. I had given it a name. A thing that lived inside of me, The Red Hunter. Rage.”

Claudia Bishop has also had her life shaped by trauma. Brutally raped as a young woman she has never been sure whether her daughter is her husband’s child or that of her attacker. Over the years, this uncertainty has destroyed her marriage and has propelled her to make a new start with her teenage daughter, leaving the city and seeking solace in the country. Restoring an old house she inherited from her father might just be the project she has been looking for to put her life back on track and find the peace she is craving.

Strangers to each other, the two women are linked by the house’s dark past and the secret it still harbours. A secret that some people are prepared to kill for, which will see Claudia’s and Zoey’s paths collide and have them fighting for their lives once again.

My thoughts:

What is the difference between justice and revenge? This is the underlying theme of her latest thriller, and is a question Zoey asks herself many times as she channels the “Red Hunter”, an avenging energy which is the one thing that has kept her going over the years, trying to overcome after the horrific trauma she suffered as a teenager.  

“In our touchy-feely culture, there’s a lot of talk about forgiveness, a commonly held belief that the nurturing of hatred and anger is a toxin. No one ever tells you that is can be an angine, that it can keep you alive.”

But as Zoey will find out – revenge may not be as satisfying as she has believed, nor will it bring the peace and closure she has desired.

“When you plan revenge, you should dig two graves – one of them for yourself.”

I loved the background theme of empowerment for victims of crime, both for Zoey as well as Claudia, and how both women find their inner strength in different ways, which allows them to become stronger and move on with their lives. With characters who are well drawn, believable and engaging, the thriller comes to a nail-biting finale as the two women’s lives collide. I made the mistake of reading this book in the evening, which meant another sleepless night as I absolutely could not put the book down until I had turned the last page!


The Red Hunter is a tense and suspenseful thriller which will set your heart racing as the action unfolds. At the same time, it raised the age-old question in my own mind: is revenge justified if it brings a murderer to justice? I guess that depends on each individual’s own moral code, and would make a very interesting discussion point in a book club gathering. Lisa Unger is a new and exciting discovery for me – after this nail-biting rollercoaster ride of suspension I will make sure to put her other novels on my to-read list!


There are certain dark doorways in this life, and when you open one and step inside, you can't come back out.

It's funny how two people meet and come together, and through their differences form someone unique with with a whole new set of gifts and quirks.

"Revenge seeks chaos," he said. "Justice seeks balance. That's the difference."

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

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Book Review: THE BURIAL HOUR by Jeffery Deaver (Lincoln Rhyme #13)

The Burial Hour (Lincoln Rhyme #13)

Title: The Burial Hour (#13 in the Lincoln Rhyme series)
Author: Jeffery Deaver
Hodder & Stoughton
April 2017


The Burial Hour is the 13th book in the Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs series, which has been offering intriguing murder-mysteries with fascinating forensic details since 1997. In this latest instalment, Sachs and Rhyme are about to get married and are trying to agree on a location for their honeymoon – if Rhyme could only see the point of choosing a romantic setting for this occasion. He is saved from this tedious chore by being asked to help in the investigation into the abduction of a businessman by a sinister perpetrator, who later posts a video online in which the victim is being slowly strangled to the sounds of classical music – which consequently earns him the nickname “The Composer”. The only clue the perpetrator has left behind is a noose, fashioned out of cello string. But before Rhyme and Sachs can close in on their suspect, a similar kidnapping occurs in Naples, Italy, with the same trademark noose left at the scene. So instead of going on their honeymoon, Sachs and Rhyme make their way to Italy to help the Italian authorities with the case – whether they like it or not.

My thoughts:

I still remember the excitement of discovering the first book in the Lincoln Rhyme series almost twenty years ago, and the nail biting suspense as Rhyme and Sachs hunt the terrifying Bone Collector. At the time, I was totally enthralled by the forensic details, and protagonists who were so different from the usual fictional police detectives. Then followed a few years of compulsively snapping up everything written by the talented  Jeffery Deaver. Now it has been a few years since I picked up a Lincoln Rhyme book, and I thought it would be great revisiting this series. I loved that part of the Burial Hour is set in beautiful Naples, adding a great armchair travel setting and some fresh characters to the story.

Unfortunately, I think that the series may have run its course for me. Apart from the armchair travel component, The Burial Hour did not hold the same fascination for me that I remember from previous books, and to be totally honest, I struggled to get to the end. Perhaps it is the simple fact that the last twenty years have turned me into an old cynic who finds it hard to suspend disbelief. I work in the health industry, which is not much different from law and order when it concerns budget and staff cuts, and I doubt that America is any different from Australia in that regard. So I wasn’t far into the pages when I snorted my first big huff of disbelief when an alleged kidnapping (only witnessed by a child) generates a full investigative team consisting of the top forensic experts in the country, as well as every forensic investigation the lab has to offer – stat! And no expenses spared! And there isn’t even a body in sight anywhere yet. Riiiiight .... nope, I don’t believe it. Ok, let’s cut the author some slack here and keep reading, since my family always remind me when I snort in derision during some medical TV soap when someone has once again shocked asystole: “Mum, it’s FICTION, get over it, OK?” But the story continued in the same vein, without the redeeming features of riveting, nail-biting suspense that may have distracted me from such blatant violations of fact, and I admit – I couldn’t get over it. Petty? Perhaps, but that is me.

I was also somewhat perplexed about the two main protagonists, who I remember as interesting and engaging in earlier novels. What has happened to Sachs and Rhyme in the last few years, to turn these quirky characters into such two-dimensional, boring people? For me, there was absolutely no chemistry between any of the characters, who gravitate around each other like planets around the sun without ever actually touching emotionally. Why Sachs and Rhyme want to get married eludes me – there wasn’t a tender moment or word between them throughout the whole book. The only likeable character for me was the Italian forestry cop Ercole Benelli, who unfortunately gets overshadowed by the complicated and somewhat contrived political plot unfolding in the story later on. 


The Burial Hour may appeal to die-hard fans of the series, or readers who prefer a factual, somewhat unemotional read with a political conspiracy theory as the main premise. I, however, am a reader who needs to be able to forge an emotional connection to the characters in order to enjoy the story, and I struggled throughout the book to stay interested. So how do I do justice in rating a book by an author I have long admired and who so obviously can write, but whose novel just didn’t hit the mark for me? Going solely on enjoyment, I would give this book a 2-star rating, rounded up to 2.5 since it is well written, with occasional snippets of dry humour hidden amongst its pages. Sorry, but this one was obviously not the right book for me at this time, and I don’t think I will revisit the series again if it continues along the same trajectory.

Image result for 2.5 stars

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

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Book Review: THE RIVER AT NIGHT by Erica Ferencik

The River at Night (Hardcover)

Author: Erica Ferencik
Bloomsbury Publishing Australia
April 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

'A thought came to me that I couldn't force away: What we are wearing is how we'll be identified out in the wilderness.'

Win Allen doesn't want an adventure.

After a miserable divorce and the death of her beloved brother, she just wants to spend some time with her three best friends, far away from her soul-crushing job. But athletic, energetic Pia has other plans.

Plans for an adrenaline-raising, breath-taking, white-water rafting trip in the Maine wilderness. Five thousand square miles of remote countryside. Just mountains, rivers and fresh air.

No phone coverage. No people.

No help. 

My thoughts:

Wow. WOW! Is all I can say as I am turning the last page of this nail-bitingly intense roller coaster ride of a story, staring out of my rain-streaked window and trying to reorient myself to person, place and time, feeling the beginnings of an adrenaline hangover. Undoubtedly, The River at Night is one of the most insanely fast-paced adventure stories I have read in a long time. This, good people, is how you write a good thriller! Containing all the right elements an adrenaline fuelled action story needs to make it memorable, The River at Night appeased my longing for adventure, because I feel like I have been there, on the river with Wini, Pia, Rachel and Sarah, fighting for survival.
Early one morning in late March, Pia forced my hand.
And I was instantly hooked ....

Wini, Rachel, Sandra and Pia are four women just shy of the big four-oh, whose friendship has lasted almost two decades through all the highs and lows of their individual lives: marriage, childbirth, divorce, cancer, substance abuse and bereavement. And even though their lives may have drifted apart over the years, for one week every year the friends take the opportunity to spend quality time together, usually organised by their “fearless leader” Pia. What would be a better group-bonding exercise, Pia tells them, than a white-water rafting trip in the wilds of Maine, away from the constrictions of the city, of work and family commitments? Wini has her doubts (remembering the ill-fated sky diving expedition organised by Pia a few years back).
I couldn’t tell which was worse, the fear of being left behind by my friends as they dashed away on some überbonding, unforgettable adventure, or the inevitable self-loathing if I stayed behind like some gutless wimp – safe, always safe – half-fucking-dead with safety. Why couldn’t I just say yes to a camping trip with three of my best friends? What was I so afraid of?
Pia’s enthusiasm for age-defying adventure is infectious, and in the end the friends set aside their doubts and fears, like they always do.
“Oh, screw it, Pia. You may be one crazy bitch, but you know in the end we follow you around like a bunch of little ducklings.”
And so, one early morning in June, the four women set off in their brand new hiking boots and state of the art waterproof pants to embark on an adventure that is going to take them out of their ordinary city lives and comfort zone for five whole days.
“Just think,” Pia interjected, oblivious. “Over five thousand square miles –“ 
“- of trees, trees and more trees –“ Rachel said, shaking her head.
But soon the adventure takes an unexpected turn even the timid Wini could not have envisaged. And the trip of a lifetime turns into a fight for survival ...

If you are too ensnared in your somewhat mundane everyday life to embark on an action adventure to cross some of those ridiculously ambitious items off your bucket list that may have been fitting for a twenty-year old, what can be better than armchair travel of the most thrilling kind? I am not surprised to read that Erica Ferencik is, amongst other things, a screenwriter, because her writing is extremely “visual”. With her acute observations of the minute details that make a scene more realistic, the story played out like a tense action movie in front of my eyes, following me into my dreams in the form of disjointed images of flowing water and overturned rafts, until I woke gasping for breath, still entrapped in the storyline.

Told in the first person through Wini’s eyes, with protagonists close enough to my age that I could relate to most of their hidden fears, desires and agendas, this was a book I instantly knew I would love – and I did. Cleverly, the author drops just enough information about the four women’s lives to give a solid background and flesh out their characters, without ruminating too much about their pasts. A lot of the tension is based on inter-personal dynamics which are realistically drawn and very relatable. I thoroughly enjoyed Wini’s voice as she tells her story with both an unfailing sense of observation, wry humour and the right amount of terror that had me holding my breath for pages on end, clenching my teeth so hard that it left me with a slight ache in my jaw for days after. Not to speak of the sleep-deprivation for sitting up until late into the night to read “just one more page”, knowing I had to be up at five to go to work. The River at Night will easily make it on my list of most enjoyable and memorable reads of the year, and one I will wholeheartedly recommend to all my friends (and anyone else who will listen). I loved it!

Thank you to the author and the publisher Bloomsbury Publishing Australia  for sending me a copy of this novel as part of their “what was your worst holiday experience” competition.

Image result for 5 stars

Friday, 7 April 2017

Book Review: FINDING HANNAH by Fiona McCallum

Finding Hannah

Author: Fiona McCallum
Harlequin Australia
April 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Hannah Ainsley has the perfect life — an adoring husband, a close relationship with her parents, a wonderful job, and amazing friends. Best of all, it's Christmas — her favourite day of the whole year! It's a time to share with her family and friends, and enjoy the festivities.

But this year will be like no other. Tragedy strikes and Hannah's world is shattered. If she's going to cope, she's going to need all the support she can gather and draw on every bit of her strength. Life will never be the same again but it's soon clear she has no alternative but to pull together a future from the remaining fragments.

As Hannah heads towards the next festive season she will have to make a decision — should she stay with the people who have supported her or should she leave? Could the answer lie in a delayed gift?

Fiona McCallum's most touching novel so far is a rich tapestry of deep emotions that is sure to capture the hearts of many.

My thoughts:

Hannah Ainsley loved Christmas. Always had.
She just couldn’t get her head around Christmas not being a huge deal - for anyone.
It was her favourite time of the year, cooking up a storm surrounded by all the people she treasured most in the world, and she wouldn’t have traded this time together for anything. Until tragedy struck one Christmas Day, and Hannah’s whole world fell apart. Christmas – no, her whole life – would never be the same again. How would she find the courage to move forward, when everything she held dear had been taken from her?

Working in an emergency services and hospital setting, I am often present at the scene of tragedy. Knowing that from this day forward, the lives of all people involved will be irrevocably changed, that each step forward will take them into uncharted territory, that they will have to rebuild their lives around the big gaping hole where a loved one used to be. In my job, I don’t allow myself to dwell on this, or I would surely go crazy, but every now and then it is helpful to open that door to confront those locked away emotions to better understand what lays ahead for the survivors of trauma, those who have lost loved ones. It appears that Fiona McCallum is no stranger to grief, sensitively exploring the aftermath of loss in Hannah’s life as she steps forward into a tomorrow that is no longer the safe and secure haven she has known for so long. There are wonderful little nuggets of insight hidden amongst the pages, which everyone who has ever lost a loved one will surely relate to. Other things may seem a bit strange, but such is the nature of grief, no one deals with it in exactly the same way.

She had to start to accept that this was her new normal.

Whilst I loved the delicate way in which McCallum tackles such a difficult and sad topic without sounding too preachy or offering quick fix solutions that don’t ring true, Finding Hannah was a bit of a mixed bag for me. On one hand, every step in Hannah’s journey was realistically and sensitively drawn. However, I did struggle at times to connect with Hannah, and didn’t yet feel invested enough in the characters at the time tragedy struck to really experience their loss or grief.

I am also the first one to admit that with Finding Hannah I totally stepped out of my genre-comfort-zone. Usually I consider myself a committed murder/mystery girl who is somewhat addicted to the adrenaline rushes the genre offers up so generously. As pages and pages went by without much action, I found my constant craving for a plot twist or some unexpected event distracting, as was my disappointment when it was ultimately thwarted. Finding Hannah is a slow, contemplative exploration of grief, of second beginnings, of moving forward after your whole life has irrevocably changed. Not much actually happens. To be honest, at times Hannah’s life struck me as a bit dull, and way too sedate for the early-thirties woman she was supposed to be (the woman has never even been on a plane, for crying out loud!). Even her sixty-something parents, who willingly gave up their driving licences and moved to a retirement village to see out the rest of their days (isn’t sixty the new forty or something???) appeared older than some of my sprightly ninety-something year old patients who still get up every morning to drive the tractor and milk the cows. On the upside, it made my own rather predictable existence appear like an adventure park thrill-ride in comparison! And whilst I love to challenge myself in my reading and venture outside my little genre-kingdom, looking past my Alpine TBR pile of murder and mayhem to explore a deeper, more meaningful side to humanity, I did miss a bit of action. Just a little bit. A conflict, perhaps, an illicit one-night romance, or things that go bump in the night. Just that little sprinkle of spice in the soup that leaves a slight tingle. I just don’t think Hannah was a chilli kind of girl, or one that knew the meaning of the word adrenaline rush. Never mind.

The overall message of Finding Hannah for me was that grief is a very individual experience, one that will confront our worst nightmares and shatter our world. As Hannah encounters various people on her journey, she picks up little nuggets of wisdom from those who have been in her place before, but most of all, the courage to follow her own heart and give herself time to heal. Finding Hannah may offer great comfort to readers who have been on that journey and want some of those feelings validated, or to feel that they are not alone. 

Image result for 3 stars

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

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Book Review: DON'T CLOSE YOUR EYES by Holly Seddon

Don't Close Your Eyes

Author: Holly Seddon
Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine
March 2016
Expected publication: 4 July 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Twin sisters Robin and Sarah haven’t spoken in years.

Robin can’t leave her house. A complete shut-in, she spends her days spying on her neighbors, subtly meddling in their lives. But she can’t keep her demons out forever. Someone from her past has returned, and is desperate to get inside.

Sarah can’t go home. Her husband has kicked her out, forcibly denying her access to their toddler. Sarah will do anything to get her daughter back, but she’s unraveling under the mounting pressure of concealing the dark secrets of her past. And her lies are catching up to her.

The novel takes readers back in time to witness the complex family dynamics that formed Robin and Sarah into the emotionally damaged, estranged young women they’ve become. As the gripping and intricate layers of their shared past are slowly peeled away, the shocks and twists will keep readers breathless long after the final page.

My thoughts:

In 1989, twins Sarah and Robin are the much-loved daughters of Angela and Jack Marshall, living in an ordinary household in Essex, hanging out with their friends and going to school. On weekends, the Marshalls spend time with their neighbours, Hilary and Derek Granger, who have a son the same age as the twins. There are family barbeques and game nights and weekends away, and everyone gets on famously. Life is good.

Fast forward to 2017, and Robin is a virtual prisoner in her own home, whilst Sarah has been kicked out of her house and denied access her toddler Violet. What has happened in the years between to derail the two sisters’ lives so completely? What terrible family secret has severed their strong childhood bond and is still standing between them after more than 20 years?

As in her debut novel Try Not to Breathe, Holly Seddon is not afraid to explore the dark and sinister side of family life in her new book Don’t Close Your Eyes. Whilst the beginning seems innocuous enough, don’t be fooled – this is an author who knows how to skilfully sow seeds of unease which soon bloom into dread as her increasingly dysfunctional characters start on their path of self-destruction. Life is good – until it isn’t. One wrong step has blown the fuse, and no one will ever be the same again.

With fundamentally flawed characters, who not only destroy their own lives through the poor choices they make, but also the lives of those close to them, the sisters’ life story reads like a tragic tale of how childhood trauma and dysfunctional family dynamics can shape our lives. I was stunned and shocked about some of the terrible decisions the parents in Seddon’s latest book make on a regular basis, and the fallout was terribly sad in every way. Constantly vacillating between disbelief, anger and sadness, this was an emotionally exhausting read for me, and one that hovered in sepias and greys in my mind as I watched it unfold with cold dread clutching at my heart.

Family dynamics lie very much at the centre of this character driven novel, which to me read more like a family drama than a psychological suspense story, although there are several surprises in store for the reader at the very end of the book. Whilst I did not love the story as much as Try Not to Breathe, which was one of my favourite reads for 2016, I thoroughly enjoyed Seddon’s writing style and her brutal honesty with which she exposes her characters’ darkest secrets. Perhaps I just never bonded with Robin or Sarah as I did with the alcoholic Alex, which made me feel more like a spectator than a participant in the story. Nonetheless, Don’t Close Your Eyes is a skilfully woven tale, which will appeal to lovers of domestic noir and those who appreciate the extra tension unreliable narrators manage to instill into the storyline.

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

You may also like (by the same author):

Try Not to Breathe

Book Review: THE ORPHANS by Annemarie Neary

Author: Annemarie Neary
Random House UK, Cornerstone
March 2017
Expected publication: 15 June 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Goa, 1992.
Six year old Jess and her little brother Sparrow are on the beach, playing at the water’s edge. They look to the place where Mama and Pa had been sitting, but there’s no one there. Jess and Sparrow hold hands and sit on the sand so that they can catch the moment when their parents come back. But nobody comes back.

And one sleep goes by and then two, and then twenty-two, then forty, then ninety-five, right to the end of numbers. And nobody came back.

London, 2017.
Jess, now a lawyer, wife and mother has become a locker of doors. She has built walls around her life and her ordered home to keep further disaster at bay.

Ro has taken a different path. He has followed his missing mother all his life in the hope that one day he will find her and she will love him again.

When Ro steps through the garden gate back into Jess’s carefully guarded world, bad things start to happen.

The time has come for Jess to find out what happened on the beach that day.

My thoughts:

If you had Mama for a day, what would you ask her? If you had Mama for a week, where would you want her to take you?

In 1992, Jess and Sparrow are two naked golden-skinned children on a golden beach in Goa, digging in the sand and looking for shells, living a carefree life with their unconventional hippie parents. But their childhood is about to change forever when both their parents disappear without a trace. One minute they are right there with them, the next they are gone. Whilst their father‘s body is later discovered in a nearby copse of trees, a suspected drug deal gone wrong, their mother has never been found. Now in their late twenties and early thirties, the siblings are still haunted by the mystery of their mother’s disappearance. Is it possible that Sophie could still be alive? Sparrow, who has spent his entire adult life chasing leads that may lead him to his mother, firmly believes so, and is off to Ireland to track down his latest lead, an old friend of Sophie’s from their wandering years. Jess, on the other hand, has moved on with her life by blocking out her childhood trauma, although deep down she knows it has affected her in many subtle ways. Knowing how to be a good mother to her toddler Ruby, for example, who at times seems more attached to their horrible nanny Hana than she is to Jess. Or the way she buries herself in work and turns a blind eye to her husband’s infidelities, for the simple fear of further abandonment and tragedy.

One disaster doesn’t stop the others from lining up to take its place.

When the police contact Jess to tell her that an old passport of her mother’s has been found in the caravan of a dead woman in Ireland, history comes back to haunt her once again. How did it get there, and why is it in her mother’s maiden name, with a photo Jess does not recognise? And worst of all, where is Sparrow, and what is his involvement? So many questions without answers. Jess, who has successfully suppressed the memories of that fateful day for decades, realises that she can no longer run away from the past.

It still seems impossible, the comprehensive loss of both parents. Not a scrap of evidence. Just the disbelief, the sudden void, the constant chatter of voices she didn’t understand, the fear that nothing would ever be safe again.

The Orphans is a poignant story of tragedy and grief, and the after effects of one of the most devastating of all losses – the death or disappearance of a parent. Having lost my own mother at a young age, I could fully relate to the gaping hole Sophie’s disappearance has left in the siblings’ lives. Jess, who is constantly searching for her own identity as a woman, wife and mother. And Sparrow, who has forever remained a small boy at heart, putting his life on hold to invest all his energies in trips around the world in the hopes of finding his mother alive and well. Seeing her image in every stranger who remotely bears a resemblance to the Sophie of his childhood, the older woman she may have become.  

Yes, I do, I miss her. I have always missed her. I am only a scrap of the person I should be.

With the discovery of Sophie’s old passport, the old wound is ripped open again, and Jess must face up to the prospect that their mother willingly abandoned them. Is the possibility that Sophie is alive and choosing not to make contact with her family worse than the thought of her being dead? Suddenly all the excuses Jess has made for her mother, all the scenarios she has pictured in her mind, come crashing down in the face of that huge possible betrayal.

 And there, into the space Jess has made for her, comes Sophie Considine, who was Mary really, and who, it seems, will never go away but linger uselessly at the margins – a reminder of the traps life lays for the unwary, and of the numerous ways a mother can fall short.

The Orphans is a sensitively drawn and sometimes heart-breaking story of growing up in the shadow of childhood trauma, with the gaping hole left behind by the death or disappearance of the people who are supposed to love us most of all – our parents. With small flashbacks to that fateful day on the beach, and mounting tension as the siblings must face up to the past once more, the reader is drawn into a story where tragedy is always just a step away. I very much enjoyed Nearys’ writing style, and look forward to reading more from this author in future.

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

 You may also enjoy:

Swimming Lessons Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller