Thursday, 22 June 2017

Book Review: DO NOT BECOME ALARMED by Maile Meloy


Author: Maile Meloy
Publisher:
Penguin Books UK, Viking
Read:
June 2017
Expected publication: 6 July 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟


"Do you think worrying helps?" "Yes," she said. "Because the disaster will be the thing you don't expect. So you just have to expect everything."


Book Description (Goodreads):

When Liv and Nora decide to take their husbands and children on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The ship's comforts and possibilities seem infinite. But when they all go ashore in beautiful Central America, a series of minor mishaps lead the families further from the ship's safety.

One minute the children are there, and the next they're gone.

What follows is a heart-racing story told from the perspectives of the adults and the children, as the distraught parents - now turning on one another and blaming themselves - try to recover their children and their shattered lives.

My musings:

Cruise ship mysteries have become quite popular recently, and after reading a few intriguing stories that were based around the various legal loopholes of crime at sea, my interest was immediately piqued by the premise of Do Not Become Alarmed (although I found the title a bit odd). However, in this novel the cruise becomes a secondary setting, as the disappearance of the children happens on land, during a moment when their mothers’ attentions are focused on other things – one has fallen asleep on the beach, whilst the other is having a sexual encounter in the bushes with their tour guide. Perhaps neither of them can be credited with the mother of the year award for that one!

From this moment on, most of the story is being told from the eyes of the children, and I quite enjoyed their individual POVs as their lives are being turned upside down. Their innocent observations and analysis of the situation was a like a breath of fresh air compared to that of the adults, who all seem rather stereotypical, somewhat wooden portrayals of your average middle-class privileged American married couple, although there are some moments were Meloy offers an insight into their psyche that makes them more likeable:

People regressed, around their families, to the age at which they had been angriest. With her mother, Liv was always fifteen.

But in the aftermath of their children’s’ disappearance, I didn’t get much sense of emotional turmoil in the parents’ actions and behaviour, which let the story down for me. As a mother, I was terrified to imagine the gut-wrenching terror these people would / should be feeling as they encounter one dead end after another in locating their offspring, in a foreign country with an unfamiliar police system. Some peripheral characters, which had initially intrigued me, ended up adding very little to the storyline, which felt like a lost opportunity.

Whilst the story kept me turning the pages (in part because I was intrigued by the unfamiliar armchair travel setting, and still held some hope for the general premise to come into its own), I felt like I was missing the point somehow.  Although the author had laid some solid groundwork with the lead-up, I got the impression the story got a bit lost with too many different threads diluting the tension. Personally, I would have liked some more mystery and suspense to really make the most of the promising premise the author had alluded to.


Summary:

All in all, Do Not Become Alarmed was a quick and easy read with an intriguing premise, which included some interesting armchair travel to Latin America. Whilst for me it did not quite live up to its potential, and did not contain enough mystery or suspense to make it memorable, the themes of child abduction and a cruise gone terribly wrong may appeal to readers who enjoy a slow-burning family drama for an undemanding and  pleasant holiday read. 



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


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Book Review: THE GOOD WIDOW by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke


Author: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Publisher:
Lake Union Publishing
Read:
June 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

The book starts with two police officers knocking on Jacks’ Morales door – and honestly, what is more chilling than the thought that her world as she knows it is about to end! Her husband James, who she thought was on a business trip in Kansas, has been killed in a car accident. Except that the accident didn’t happen in Kansas, but in Maui, and there was a second casualty – Dylan, a pretty young blonde woman who had been James’ companion on the trip. As Jacks is trying to wrap her head around the fact that she is now a widow, she must also come to terms with the unpleasant truth that her husband lied to her, and cheated on her. Grieving and feeling betrayed, she is at her most vulnerable when another unexpected visitor arrives: enter Nick, the equally baffled and grief-stricken fiancΓ© of the woman James had been having an affair with. Somewhat against her better judgment, Jacks agrees to Nick’s plan to travel to Maui, to the scene of the accident, to get closure.

My musings:

I love domestic noir novels, and am always intrigued by writing duos – how do they do it? Who gets to write what? Anyway, spotting The Good Widow on Goodreads and seeing that it contains both, I just had to read it! Blame my trigger finger on Netgalley (again).

Personally, the book was a bit of a slow burn for me and I was struggling at times to understand the characters’ motivation for their (often questionable) decisions. I fully get the need to find closure, but still found parts of Jacks’ decision to travel to Maui with her husband’s lover’s jilted fiancΓ© a bit baffling. But then again – people do strange things, especially when they are grieving. That aside, it was about at that point in the story that I felt I needed a bit more motivation to keep me interested. James, the cheating spouse, sounded like a bit of an arse all around, and to be honest I did not care much about why he had died. Move on Jacks, sounds like you’ll be better off without him. 

I’m still waiting for the card that says, I’m sorry your husband careened off a cliff with his mistress in a Jeep he couldn’t be bothered to rent for you. I know, because he’s dead, that it’s bad form to write this, but fuck him!

Having arrived at that part of the story, I was wishing for bit more mystery and suspense, a sense of danger, a sinister undertone or some unexpected action to move the story along. That said, the book kept me interested enough to keep reading and see if my suspicions and predication were correct (Miss Marple investigates) – and they were. 

Summary:

In summary, The Good Widow is a slow-burning mystery following a young widow’s journey in coming to terms with her husband’s death and betrayal. Even though it contained few surprises for me, it was an easy read and kept me turning the pages to see whether my theories were right. The book may appeal to lovers of domestic noir who enjoy an emotional exploration of marriage, betrayal and grief – but readers who prefer lots of suspense may find it lacking.

Quotes:


Because I’ve figured out a funny little secret about life: Even if you stay on the sidewalks and pay your bills on time and use hand sanitizer, bad things still happen. Yes, maybe you can cut your odds by playing it safe. By attempting to predict each and every possible pitfall. But your fate will still find you, no matter how much you hide from it.



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




Sunday, 18 June 2017

SUNDAY CONFESSIONAL: The Dreaded DNF (Between a Rock and a Hard Place)

I DNF’d a book today.

I know – shoot me! Right?

You may as well put me out of my misery, because the guilt is already slowly killing me!

I remember my grandmother reprimanding me as a child, every time there was as much as a single pea left on my dinner plate: “There are children starving in Africa!” Perhaps it was the concept of my fussiness being responsible for a country’s famine that has instilled in me an overinflated sense of importance (don’t we love to blame our character flaws on others?). But in the vast sea of this year’s book reviews, my one single DNF is as niggly as the pea under the princess’ mattress (to stay with the pea analogy). It is a thorn in my side, a raw bellyache, a cloud hovering over my day. It will make me toss and turn in my sleep tonight, with the jilted book haunting me in my nightmares, crying accusingly: “You gave up on me, you ingratiate!” And whilst no one gives a toss about my good-little-catholic-girl like guilt, I am convinced that the publisher will blacklist me from their ARC lists and never grant me an ARC ever again. Someone give the girl a valium!

You may appreciate the general premise of this post, that DNFing does not come easily to me. As a perfectionist, I will do battle with most books, no matter how bad, just from the sense of duty of having pressed the “request” button on Netgalley – and therefore making this whole dilemma my own fault in the first place. Any measure of “I shouldn’t have” and “Why did I?”s is not going to fix that. You are looking at a reader whose TBR pile is as a high as an Alpine mountain range, and about as insurmountable in a single lifetime. I stock up on books like others squirrel away cans of food for the day of reckoning. If it wasn’t for my husband, my house would be on day-time TV, with reporters trying to squeeze through the narrow gap of paperbacks lining every available surface to get an exclusive interview for their report “Book hoarding – a new Australian epidemic?”

So yes, there is all that ... On the other hand, I find myself between a rock and a hard place. With full time work and my family’s ridiculous demands that I cook and clean occasionally, or show my face without a book in front of my nose, life is too short to spend on a book I hate, or which bores me to death. If my dusty skeleton is ever found clutching a paperback, I at least want it to be a good one, not the hundredths clone of the new Gone Girl with that killer twist you won’t see coming (because you have long died of boredom waiting for it).

So why DNF?


And that brings me to the main reason I will DNF a book – boredom. At work, we have DNR – do not resuscitate. For me, the books I DNF are the DNR’s of the bookworld – they have flatlined, and no amount of jumping up and down on their chests will revive them for me. Dead as a dodo. If I catch myself nodding off during a book – repeatedly – it’s a Gone Book to me!

The only other reason I will DNF is if a book affronts my sensibilities to such a degree that I cannot bear to be in the same room with it any more (and I am not easily shocked or surprised). I remember one instance, where a book disgusted me so deeply, that I first took it out of the room; then got up to throw it in the outside bin; and not being satisfied even with that, took the bin out to the kerb (which upset the whole neighbourhood, as bin day was still a few days away). And then I had a shower. Ugh, I still shudder thinking about it.


Do you DNF?


For anyone stumbling across this post by sheer accident, you may judge me harshly on my Sunday confessional. However, there is a slight chance that someone, somewhere out there can relate to something I said. I would love to hear from anyone on how they handle their DNFs. Do you feel guilt, shame, unbearable sadness on DNFing? Will you read on doggedly, no matter how indescribably boring the book is? Do you consume huge quantities of caffeine to give you the adrenaline hit otherwise missing in the pages? Leave me a comment, it would be great to hear your thoughts ....


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Book Review: THE WEIGHT OF LIES by Emily Carpenter

Author: Emily Carpenter
Publisher:
Lake Union Publishing
Read:
June 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟


If Frances was the sun ... I was the dinky planet at the end of the line with a number for a name.

Book Description (Goodreads):


In this gripping, atmospheric family drama, a young woman investigates the forty-year-old murder that inspired her mother’s bestselling novel, and uncovers devastating truths—and dangerous lies.

My musings:

It starts with an envelope, delivered to Meg Ashley, a young woman holidaying with friends in Vegas. Meg is terrified as soon as she recognises the sender, because she knows what it will contain:

A bomb. The kind that explodes without making a sound. The kind that destroys.

After all, she has been in that situation many times before, summoned by her famous author mother Frances Ashley, the one person who can cause Meg’s knees to shake and toes to go numb as soon as she hears her name uttered. After three years of running away, Frances has tracked her down, and she knows there will be no escape.


I absolutely loved Meg’s voice, and she gripped me pretty much right from the start. It is obvious that this girl has led a troubled life in the shadow of her overbearing mother and Frances’ famous novel Kitten, which has given them both the means to live a life of carefree luxury – at a cost. Based on the true murder of a little girl when the author was only nineteen, the book propelled her into overnight stardom in the 1970’s and influenced many of Meg’s childhood experiences, including her troubled relationship with her mother.

We needed each other – possibly even loved each other in some strange, flawed way – but it didn’t matter. We were doomed to destroy each other.

Angry and bitter over the latest betrayal by her narcissist parent, Meg sees an opportunity to get even and lay her childhood demons to rest when she is offered to write a tell-all story of her troubled childhood to be published at the 40-year anniversary of her mother’s cult classic. A book which Meg has never even read, perhaps as one of her futile battles of will with her mother. Visiting the small island on which the original murder took place, Meg finds that all may not be as straightforward as first believed. What is fiction, and what is truth? Little does she realise that by digging for the answers to that question, she may be putting herself in danger.


Carpenter writes a great story, and I loved the clever way in which she intersperses the present with passages out of Frances Ashley’s book “Kitten”, which added a spooky, Gothic quality to the story. I could fully understand the (fictional) hype surrounding this book within the book, as I would have loved to devour Kitten myself and buy into the whodunit aspect of the story. As it was, the story of Kitten is slowly being unravelled at the same time as the present time mystery. It all tied in so seamlessly that I was absolutely spellbound and loathe to put the book down, even when the clock struck 2 a.m. and I knew I had to work the next day (apologies to my colleagues who had to deal with my book hangover!). And boy – there was certainly a lot of suspense! The plot, the setting, the characters –all were unique and interesting. I am raving, I know, but after reading a few quite uninspiring mysteries I can appreciate a gem when I find it. The author certainly knows how to create atmosphere, and she does so with seemingly innocent scenes, highlighting details that highlight the dark and sinister undertones in even the most mundane encounter. The island, the big spooky mansion, the wild horses and the island’s inhabitants all have their part to play in a mystery that soon took on a whole momentum of its own – and nothing good could possibly come out of it!


Perhaps the only tiniest misgiving I had with the book related to the ending – not because it wasn’t good, or twisty, or surprising, but because it read like a runaway train clattering crazily into the distance. There was so much going on! I felt as if the author tried to pack in as many twists and turns at the very last minute until my head was spinning. Who, what, why, how???? I think that a simpler explanation would have equally well for me in this case, as the Kitten story alone added so much depth and mystery that it didn’t need anything else to make this book great. If anything, it distracted from the brilliant atmosphere the author had created by including excerpts from Kitten (and from the final bombshell in Chapter 20 of Kitten). But this is a minor quibble, and I am sure that many readers will enjoy the frantic pace. Perhaps I should re-read it in broad daylight, when my brain is still working at capacity, to fully appreciate how neatly all the twists tie in at the end.


Summary:

The Weight of Lies is a tense, atmospheric and multi-layered mystery with a Gothic feel, and the added bonus of being two books in one! To be totally honest, I was wishing for a copy of Kitten in my sweaty little palms, and am sure I would have been one of its followers, caught up in the vibe. I am grateful to the Goodreads community for putting me onto this great read. If you are looking for a slightly disturbing, well-crafted and twisty mystery, don’t look any further! Highly recommended.


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




Thursday, 15 June 2017

Book Review: EMMA IN THE NIGHT by Wendy Walker

Author: Wendy Walker
Publisher:
St Martin's Press
Read:
June 2017
Expected publication: 8 August 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟 🌟



We believe what we want to believe. We believe what we need to believe. Maybe there’s no difference between wanting and needing. I don’t know.


Book Description:


Three years ago, two teenage girls, Emma and Cass Tanner, disappeared from their home. Now, Cass has come back, but where is her sister? 

My musings:

You may find this description a bit vague, but believe me when I say that this is a book best delved into blindly to make the most of the mystery lying at its core. So if you haven’t read it yet, please tread with caution – whilst I will try and stay away from spoilers, even little innocent remarks could spoil a major aspect of the plot in this convoluted tale of lies, betrayal and family dysfunction!

Just as I was complaining that there haven’t been enough books out there lately that mess with my mind, I came across Emma in the Night and bang! I eat my words, because this is a book that has all the elements of a twisted psychological thriller. Without giving away too many clues, it is instantly obvious that Cass, the returned teenager, is a troubled soul. Can she be trusted? Have her experiences in the last three years scarred her so much that she has gone crazy, like her mother is claiming (a mother, who Cass calls “Mrs Martin” – go figure)? And what is really going on in the Martin household? These are the questions forensic psychologist Abby Winter is asking herself as she is frantically trying to untangle Cass’ story in a race against time to find her older sister Emma.

Personality disorder and dysfunctional families feature prominently in this dark and disturbed tale, which leads the reader down a path so windy and tangled that one can never quite see the way out of the thorny thicket that is the story of Emma and Cass’ disappearance. Told in part in Cass’ own voice, and partly from the viewpoint of Dr Winter, I was never quite sure who I could believe or trust – which made the story quite intriguing for me! I admit that at times I struggled with the web of family dynamics, which are disturbing to say the least, and which carried a large part of the story.

“Aren’t I a good mother? The best mother you could ever want?”


With some confronting images, this is not for the faint of heart! And although the book is brimming with unlikeable characters, the author’s extensive knowledge of narcissistic personality disorder presents them as three-dimensional personalities, making the tale all the more chilling in its premise.

Summary:

Emma in the Night is a twisty and disturbing tale focusing on family dysfunction, personality disorder and the effects of childhood trauma. With many of the elements that make for a riveting psychological thriller, Walker delivers a story that will stay with you long after the final page has been turned. Highly recommended to lovers of the genre who like a story where nothing is quite as it seems.

Quotes:

I have always liked the expression “rude awakening”. It’s one of those perfect expressions that says everything about something in very few words.

Life feels too strong to go away without some kind of agony.

The truth is, nothing really matters unless we decide it matters.



Thank you to Netgalley and St Martin's Press for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Book Review: SWEET LITTLE LIES by Caz Frear


Title: Sweet Little Lies
Author: Caz Frear
Publisher:
Bonnier Zaffre
Read:
June 2017
Expected publication: 29 June 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟


“Justice? That’s a bit of a lofty goal. I’ll settle for the basic rule that says bad people get punished.”


Book Description:

DC Cat Kinsella’s past and present collide when a current murder investigation throws up links to the disappearance of a girl she knew as a child, and who was never found. Worse still, Cat has always suspected that her father was somehow involved in the events of that long ago summer. Forced to confront her worst fears and suspicions, she may not only be putting her career in jeopardy, but also find more than she bargained for.

My musings:

I really enjoyed Sweet Little Lies, especially the character of Cat, a plucky young detective who added a lot of depth and enjoyment to this interesting police procedural. Although it got off to a bit of a slow start for me, I soon found myself engrossed in the storyline, which threw up some interesting questions and premises. What would you do if you had to investigate a murder that may be connected to events in your past your own parent may have been involved in? Cat’s relationship to her father has always been troubled, to put it mildly, but deep down she is still a young woman who needs to be loved and lay her trust in her family.

Switching between past and present, we get to know an eight-year-old Cat, who still thinks her father is a hero; and an older, wiser and somewhat disillusioned Cat, whose father has long toppled from the pedestal and who she can now see in the cold stark light of reality. As main protagonist, Cat is a well-rounded and interesting character who I could root for, and felt her inner turmoil as she weighs up confessing her own involvement in the case against keeping quiet and running a parallel investigation of her own, knowing that her career would be on the line if anyone ever found out about it. The work dynamics within the murder squad are well-drawn, and added further depth and authenticity to the story. The plot is interesting and throws a few curveballs, offering that surprise twist at the end I had definitely not seen coming. And best of all, the mystery is unraveled slowly and methodically, as more clues are being unearthed by Cat in the process of her investigation – which always adds greatly to the suspense for me. 

Summary:

Sweet Little Lies is a promising debut novel by an author to watch – I really liked the character of DC Cat Kinsella and hope to see her back in many more police procedurals in future. The mixture of personal family conflict and Cat’s professional life added a new dimension to this novel, which set it apart from many books of the same genre. I really enjoyed Sweet Little Lies and don’t hesitate to recommend it to lovers of mystery and crime. 

Quotes:

“ I feel like we’ve walked onto a Bing Cosby film-set and pissed on the fake snow.”

This isn’t Scooby Doo, we’re the police.

The martyrdom of the dead is the bane of a murder detective’s life. It’s hard to pinpoint the truth when people are too busy polishing the halo.



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.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Audiobook Review: DEAD WOMAN WALKING by Sharon Bolton

Author: Sharon Bolton
Narrator: Julia Barrie
Publisher: Random House Audiobooks
Read:
June 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

A hot air balloon crashes with 13 people on board. Only eleven bodies are recovered. What happened to the other two? And why would someone walk away from the crash without calling for help?

You will need to read it to find out! This is one mystery you should delve into blindly. I repeat -  to make the most out of Bolton’s brilliant storytelling, DO NOT read any reviews until you have finished the book. You can thank me later!

My musings:

I was almost hesitant to pick up Dead Woman Walking, seeing how absolutely GREAT all books by this author have been so far, and I was worried that she could not possibly surpass my previous favourites. But I should have known better – Sharon Bolton is an author on top of her game, and her latest book is no exception. Whilst I will not say any more about the story, for fear of giving away any spoilers, I can safely state that it contains one of the best and most nail-biting cat-and-mouse games I have read in a long, long time. I was actually holding my breath for so long that I felt slightly light-headed with anxiety-induced hypoxia, and that’s not a good thing when you are listening to the audiobook on your daily drive to work!

Apart from characters who are enigmatic, interesting and well-rounded (except the “baddies”, who are suitably terrifying), Bolton delivers her usual hallmark of atmospheric tension, suspense and twists aplenty. This is an author who knows how to mount the tension to near unbearable levels, like nails noisily scraping across a blackboard, before revealing another morsel of information that may help to unravel the Celtic knot that forms this multi-layered plot. With a theme that is contemporary and well-researched, it had me spellbound, asking myself: could this really be happening right under our noses? And although there were times when I thought I had to suspend disbelief a tiny bit to go along with it, Bolton always offered a very plausible explanation for everything that happened (which, for an old cynic like me, is a necessary part of reading pleasure). Bolton also knows how to lay a few bear traps for the unsuspecting reader, and I promptly fell into all of them, every time I thought I was on the right track in working it all out. I am duly humbled ....

A big credit also goes to Julia Barrie, who brought the book to life with her wonderful narration. I loved her ability to adopt different voices and dialects so effortlessly, which created vivid images of all individual characters in my mind. 

Summary:

Dead Woman Walking is the kind of intelligent, multi-layered mystery the author seems to deliver so effortlessly, time and time again. It once again proved why Bolton is very firmly embedded on top of my favourite authors list, and will not be easily toppled. If you want to read one spellbinding mystery this year, make sure to pick up Dead Woman Walking – it will not disappoint!


Image result for 5 stars


Monday, 12 June 2017

Personal Reflection: WHAT AM I LOOKING FOR IN A PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER?


I love a good psychological thriller, and will crawl over broken glass to get to one. However, I have noticed lately that the use of the term is often quite loosely brandished around. Whilst I have read some excellent psychological thrillers in 2017, a few titles I have picked up lately have been very disappointing, and I have felt let down, cheated, deflated. It has prompted some reflection on my part: As a reader, am I too picky & hard to please? Too spoiled by a few exceptionally good books that I can no longer enjoy their lesser counterparts?

What IS a psychological thriller?

According to director John Madden, good psychological thrillers have a story to tell, there’s character development, choice and moral conflict, and narratives keep that situation revolving, developing and evolving in ways that you don’t expect right to the end. Whilst thrillers place emphasis on action, psychological thrillers focus on the mind games people play with each other or themselves. He may have been talking about films, but the same goes for books.

What am I looking for in a psychological thriller?


Relatable setting:

Seeing the rising popularity of domestic noir novels, readers obviously like settings that are familiar to them: the home or the workplace; the daily commute, a holiday, a journey, picking the kids up from school, arguing with neighbours. I agree that as a reader, I like to be able to relate to the situations the characters find themselves in (i.e. real people in crazy circumstances), and to ask myself: what would I do? How would I react? Whether you’re a fan of The Girl on the Train or not, for me it struck a chord: how many times had I glanced out of the window on my daily commute and wondered what goes on in the apartments and houses of people we passed? Which was probably the number one reason the story sucked me in so deeply in the first place.

Characters who are flawed and yet rounded & believable: 

As a reader, I need to be able to get into the characters’ heads and relate to them, engage with them, “bond” with them if you like. Characters can be unlikeable, but I need something that gels with me in order to be able to root for them. Take, for example, Paul Morris in Sabine Durrant’s Lie with Me. He is your typical anti-hero, and yet I could relate to him, feel for him, want things to get better for him. Personally, I don’t do well with a cast full of characters I dislike – if I don’t care at all what happens to them, there is really no point in reading on.

An engaging, original voice: 

This goes for any book, really. If the book speaks to me, I will want to read on. Personally, I love a bit of humour in a book, and it will go a long way towards making me like the story. One of the most original voices I have come across this year is Simon Lelic’s The House. Yes, the book had its flaws, but the two main characters’ voices were so original, humorous and engaging that they drew me in instantly.

Atmosphere: 

Personally, I like to be shown, not told. I hate long internal monologues or narratives that are overly descriptive, dwelling on boring everyday stuff that is not relevant. That does not mean that the author should not set a scene – sometimes the everyday mundane things can really add to the atmosphere if used the right way. For example, I love the way Nicci French use simple, everyday scenes or objects to set a dark & sinister scene in their Frieda Klein series. I guess the secret here is balance and the use of language. But generally, I love vivid dialogue, which is a great way to present the story a certain way only to twist it around later.

An original twist:

A good psychological thriller needs a good twist. A twist that messes with your mind, like Clare Mackintosh I Let You Go, or Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, which both floored me. A twist is not simply a series of red herrings tossed in willy-nilly like a bucket of fish guts into a broiling sea, floating off to the horizon. A good twist will leave the reader dumb-struck, but not screwing up their mouth in a sarcastic “yeah, right” sneer and flinging the book against the wall in disgust. In fact, the more a thriller messes with my mind, the better – I like to have at least one moment in the book where I ask myself: WTF is going on????? Most importantly, all loose ends should tie up by the time the novel finishes. There is nothing worse than finishing the last page but realising that things don’t add up or a vital part of the mystery hasn’t been solved or explained.

And last – but definitely not least – 

Tension, suspense & a thrill factor:

It is, after all, called a “thriller”. I want moments so scary that I burrow deeply under my doona, too afraid to step outside the circle of my reading light.


What I don’t like:

  • Comparing a book to “Gone Girl” or “Girl on the Train” on the cover does not automatically make it a good read.
  • Putting “Girl” in the title does not automatically make it a good read.
  • Announcing a “killer twist you won’t see coming” on the cover doesn’t automatically make it a good read – it may actually work against it as the reader is constantly anticipating lies and deception from every character.
  • Characters simply telling lies all through the book to later “fess up” with the truth is not a psychological thriller. That’s not messing with your mind – a two year old can do that, and sometimes more convincingly. Some authors confuse this with an “unreliable narrator” – it is NOT the same thing! An unreliable narrator can hide essential truths through evasion, omission or concealment, but cannot be overtly lying.
  • Amnesia as the only plot device: no, no, no! That is just cheating. Amnesia can work, BUT ONLY if used correctly, i.e. to mess with the reader’s mind. Take, for example, S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, which was simply brilliant! If amnesia is used as a plot device it must go a bit deeper than simply forgetting, e.g. confusing flashbacks, differing witness accounts, self-doubt, discovering small cryptic clues etc.
  • Giving away too  much too early. If I know from the start what will happen, and the whole story is simply an explanation of what I already know, I will lose interest – very quickly!
  • Trying to manipulate the reader into believing a premise which turns out to be wrong – in a way the reader knows they are being blindsided. For example, making a person appear “bad” to disguise the actions of another character, to an extent where the “bad” character reads like a caricature of a typical villain (whilst I know that I am being tricked). A bit of subtlety goes a long way! This is where messing with my mind come in.
  • Throwing in graphic violence for shock value to make up for a lack of suspense. This may work for some readers but not for me. It’s cheating, and it’s not enjoyable.


Phew, I feel better now that I’ve got that off my chest!

Disclaimer: these are my personal opinions only, and other readers may disagree – and that’s ok, since we are all different and what works for one may not work for others.

What are YOU looking for in a psychological thriller?






Thursday, 8 June 2017

Book Review: A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE by Shari Lapena


Author: Shari Lapena
Publisher:
Random House UK, Transworld Publishers
Read:
June 2017
Expected publication: 27 July 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟1/2


Book Description (Goodreads):

You're waiting for your beloved husband to get home from work. You're making dinner, looking forward to hearing about his day.

That's the last thing you remember. You wake up in hospital, with no idea how you got there. They tell you that you were in an accident; you lost control of your car whilst driving in a dangerous part of town.

The police suspect you were up to no good. But your husband refuses to believe it. Your best friend isn't so sure. And even you don't know what to believe . . .

My musings:

The book starts out strong: a man comes home from work to find the house unlocked and his wife’s car gone. The kitchen shows signs of dinner being prepared: a pot of water on the stove, vegetables chopped on the kitchen counter. He calls for his wife but there is no answer. She has left behind her purse and her mobile. Worried, he begins calling her friends, their neighbours, but no one has seen her. Then a policeman knocks on the door ....  Lapena really sets the scene here, and I actually had goosebumps visualising it!

Unfortunately, from here, the books began nosediving for me, like a shot-down plane on its fiery spiral into the abyss. Perhaps the first warning sign was the main protagonist’s amnesia. Don’t get me wrong, amnesia can be a good tool in a psychological thriller if used the right way. Include a few confusing flashbacks, some conflicting witness stories, some inner turmoil, some suspense. But not on its own, not simply to disguise the plot by throwing the big dark blanket of “I can’t remember” over everything just as an excuse to withhold vital information to the reader that could solve this “mystery” in two minutes flat.

A Stranger in the House is a book with very few characters. Tom, Karen and Brigid from next door. And of course the detective, whose name I have already forgotten because for me, he felt like a very forgettable character. There wasn’t a single personality trait to the man that made him stand out from any other run-of-the-mill detective, except that he did not seem to be particularly good at his job.  I was surprised to discover that this was the same detective from The Couple Next Door, the author’s debut novel, which I had enjoyed. Anyway, the problem with a very small cast is that unless they are engaging and captivating, the reader soon loses interest. I thought my life was pretty boring, but compared to this little troupe my social life is a downright circus!  There are no friends, no family, no work colleagues. And to be totally honest, I hated all three characters. So now we have a problem, because I really didn’t care what happens to any of them, especially Brigid, who seemed so stereotypical that I was wondering at times if the author was writing tongue-in-cheek to throw some wild curveball right at the end. But sadly, no.

I am sure that A Stranger in the House will appeal to an audience who is less particular about their fare of “psychological thriller”. The bottom line is – I do want to be thrilled. I want my mind messed with. I want tension, I want suspense. After enjoying The Couple Next Door, it saddens me having to admit that I did not get any of this from A Stranger in the House, even though there were moments when there was real potential for it to become interesting. 

Summary:

After having read a few disappointing “psychological thrillers” lately, I believe that I may simply not be the right audience for A Stranger in the House. It may appeal to people who enjoy a quick and undemanding read for the beach or the plane, but for me was lacking in depth and thrills. 



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

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Book Review: DARK CHAPTER by Winnie M Li



Title: Dark Chapter
Author: Winnie M Li
Publisher:
Legend Press
Read:
May 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description (Goodreads):

Vivian is a cosmopolitan Taiwanese-American tourist who often escapes her busy life in London through adventure and travel. Johnny is a 15-year-old Irish teenager, living a neglected life on the margins of society.

On a bright spring afternoon in West Belfast, their paths collide during a horrifying act of violence.

In the aftermath, each is forced to confront the chain of events that led to the attack.

Inspired by true events, this is a story of the dark chapters and chance encounters that can irrevocably determine the shape of our lives. 


My musings:

If I had to choose only three words to sum up Li’s debut novel Dark Chapter, it would be: compelling, well-written and courageous. Drawing on her own personal experiences, the author’s account of her character’s journey to reclaim her life after the traumatic assault and rape she suffered at the hands of her attacker is well drawn and authentic – as it is harrowing and disturbing. Some readers may find the scenes describing Vivian’s rape confronting, but I thought they are refreshingly honest and brave. Her visceral account of events is not added for shock value, but to recount her character’s experience in all its gritty reality. Vivian’s voice is natural and engaging, and she quickly drew me into the story. Having been in contact with victims of rape and assault through my work as an A&E nurse, the story really highlighted the long, ongoing journey these women face in trying to come to terms with the trauma and to move on from it despite the havoc it wreaked on their lives.

“The person she is now. The person she still can be. The person she always was.”

Personally, I felt the courtroom scenes especially harrowing, and am not surprised that many women shy away from laying charges just because they cannot face the additional burden of being in the media spotlight and under crossfire from the lawyers. How horrible to have to relive your worst nightmare, and having to justify your own actions, when you are the innocent party. Incredible, really, that our society allows the victims of rape and assault to be further traumatised like this!

“And then she realises how ridiculously unfair this whole system is. She was the one who was walking along on her own, when he did this to her. And then she has to wait almost a year to sit in front of a room full of strangers, tell them the humiliating truth, stand up to a sleaze-bag barrister trying to paint her as a villain-seductress and then listen to the boy make up this trash about her? Is this what we have to subject ourselves to, in order to get justice?”

Dark Chapter is told in two alternating voices – that of vivacious Vivian, setting out on a hike she has been looking forward to; and that of 15-year old Johnny Sweeney, a troubled boy who is about to destroy her trust and innocence forever. Whilst I am often not a fan of getting too much into the mind of the perpetrator in novels, Li’s book proved that – if executed the right way (i.e. to add depth, not shock value) – this approach can add a lot to the story. Whilst I found this rapist remorseless and lacking in insight, and could make no excuses for his actions, exploring his childhood and upbringing did sow a small seed of empathy for his troubled mind. I applaud the author for being able to present the perpetrator in such an honest light, when a lot of emotions must be tangled up in the story for her. 


Summary:

Focusing on the events surrounding a horrific assault and rape and the effects on the victim’s life afterwards, Dark Chapter is a story of courage, hope and moving forward. I loved Li’s writing, which is as unflinchingly honest as it is engaging. It is obvious that a lot of the author’s emotions were tied up in this story, and she conveys them effortlessly to the reader, giving us a true-to-live main protagonist that is so real she could be your friend, neighbour, relative.  Although some might find it confronting in its honesty, I couldn’t put it down would recommend it highly to female and male readers alike. I hope to read a lot more from this talented author in future. 



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




Thursday, 1 June 2017

Start of Summer / Winter Adventure Book GIVEAWAY!

It's the first of June and the start of summer in Europe, whilst we are going into our cooler winter months here. A perfect time for adventure!

To celebrate the change of the seasons with a rush of adrenaline I am giving one keen reader the chance to receive a free paperback copy of Erica Ferencik's wonderful fast-paced novel:


To be in the running:

1) follow my blog or "like" my facebook page (links provided to the left of this page) during the month of June; and
2) leave a comment on this blog post or my facebook or instagram post and tell me what adventure is on your bucket list for this summer / winter.

I will randomly draw a winner by midnight AWST on the 30 June. 

Good luck and happy reading!