Thursday, 31 August 2017

Book Review: NEON PILGRIM by Lisa Dempster

Title: Neon Pilgrim
Author: Lisa Dempster
Ventura Press
August 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Book Description (Goodreads):

During a culture-shocked exchange year in Japan, fifteen-year-old Lisa Dempster’s imagination is ignited by the story of the henro michi, an arduous 1200 kilometre Buddhist pilgrimage through the mountains of Japan.

Perfectly suiting the romantic view of herself as a dusty, travel-worn explorer (well, one day), she promises to return to Japan and walk the henro michi, one way or another, as soon as humanely possible.

Fast-forward thirteen years, and Lisa’s life is vastly different to what she pictured it would be. Severely depressed, socially withdrawn, overweight, on the dole and living with her mum, she is 28 and miserable.

And then, completely by chance, the henro michi comes back into her life, through a book at her local library. It’s a sign. She decides then and there to go back to Japan almost immediately: to walk the henro michi, and walk herself back to health.

Brushing aside the barriers that other people might find daunting – the 1200km of mountainous terrain, the sweltering Japanese summer, the fact she has no money and has never done a multi-day hike before – Lisa is determined to walk the pilgrimage, or die trying.

My musings:

I love hiking nearly as much as I love books, so when I received an offer to review Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster it was a no-brainer to put my hands up – yes please!  Neon Pilgrim is Lisa’s account of her pilgrimage on the Henro Michi trail in Shikoku, Japan – walking 1200 km of mountainous terrain in the gruelling summer heat. I admire people who have the courage to step outside their comfort zone to experience truly life-changing events. My own hikes, whilst having taken me to some beautiful locations, have been tame in comparison, always holding the promise of company, a good meal, a hot shower (sometimes) and a bed to sleep in at the end of the day – even if the bed was in a remote mountain hut. Lisa, on the other hand, hiked in true pilgrim style – navigating completely alien territory on her own, with both her meals and her shelter often only received at the hands of generous strangers. What a lot of courage it takes to travel like that!

Writing with total honesty and an irresistible sense of Aussie humour that was both refreshing as well as laugh-out-loud funny at times, Lisa recalls her experiences on her pilgrimage, giving the reader an insight into both the gruelling as well as the rewarding aspects of her journey. Setting off without any experience or prior training, and fighting an ongoing battle with depression, she navigated the pain and pitfalls of her first few days (and weeks) on the trail with amazing stamina, not holding anything back when recalling her pain and doubts on setting off on her hike. 

"Are you sad?" Shunya asked in English.
"No," I replied. "Maybe. I don't know. Just tired."
He nodded.
"It's hard," he said gently.

What wonderful armchair travel – I have never been to Japan, but could vividly picture both its beautiful countryside as well as its graceful people. Lisa’s inner journey was also an interesting one, as she slowly became more comfortable in her own body and managed to still her ever-chatty Western mind to reflect on her life choices.

With a voice that is as honest as it is heartfelt, the tale never comes across as whiny or preachy, as some similar life-journey books tend to do – and it was always entertaining to read about Lisa’s encounters with the many colourful characters she met along the way. I think the one thing I loved most about Neon Pilgrim (and which made the book stand out from many similar travel tales) was Lisa’s uninhibited honesty, the way she never censors her thoughts in order to make herself appear braver or tougher in the eyes of the reader. It takes a lot of guts to leave yourself so exposed and vulnerable and own up to your own weaknesses!


If you like hiking, or armchair travel, or just a tale about someone who was gutsy enough to step out of her comfort zone, Neon Pilgrim may be just the book for you. Brimming with interesting characters and written with warmth, honesty and an irresistible Aussie humour, this memoir was both interesting as well as entertaining. I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever yearned for adventure but has found many excuses why they can’t do it – Lisa’s honest account of her pilgrimage proves that where there is a will, there is a way! 

Thank you to Ventura Press for the free copy of this memoir and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

About the Author:

Lisa Dempster is the Artistic director and CEO of the Melbourne Writers Festival. Previous roles have included Asialink fellow at Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, Director of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Founding Director of EWFdigital (now Digital Writers' Festival) and publisher at Vignette Press. Lisa has travelled widely in search of literary and other adventures.

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Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Book Review: BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

Title: Bird Box
Author: Josh Malerman
Read: August 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

“How can she expect her children to dream as big as the stars if they can't lift their heads to gaze upon them?” 

Book Description (Goodreads):

Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it's time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat--blindfolded--with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

My musings:

Wow – what an utterly compelling and at the same time terrifying read! After shouting out on social media for recommendations from readers for a good “creepy” book, Bird Box by Josh Malerman kept popping up everywhere, and I can see why. I am so glad that I read it, and a big thank you to everyone who recommended it to me.

Told in a dual timeframe, Bird Box tells the story of Malorie and her two young children, who are prisoners in their own home to stay safe from a terrifying presence outside which sends you crazy and kills you if you as much as lay eyes on it. To protect themselves, they must wear a blindfold at all times, navigating the hostile world they live in totally blind, knowing that there is an evil presence out there wishing them harm. As Malorie reflects on the time leading up to her present predicament, the reader slowly finds out how the world ended up being such a dangerous, hostile place for humans. With a constant thread of tension and danger lurking in the background, the book held many absolutely bone chilling moments that made my heart pound and my hair stand on end.

Bird Box is one of the most original stories I have read in a long time, and whilst I am normally not a huge fan of dystopian horror, this one had me captivated from page 1. I couldn’t put it down, and read it in one massive four hour read-a-thon, despite getting in trouble with my family for being totally unsociable. The thought of living in a dangerous world without the benefit of sight to navigate me whilst carrying out chores to ensure my daily survival was so terrifying that a sense of dread prevailed long after I had turned the final page. Rarely does a book leave such a lasting impression on me – I even dreamt about it that night!

Seeing that I don’t want to give any spoilers, I will just leave it at: if you want an original and creepy book, Bird Box is a must-read! Whilst I find many dystopian books either too depressing or too unbelievable, Bird Box struck exactly the right balance to sneak its way into my psyche and haunt me with its utterly terrifying premise. I also loved the way the author did not have to resort to blood, guts and gore to get the heart pounding – the power of the book really lies in the reader’s own imagination. Two days after reading it I still marvel at the miracle of sight – the blue skies, the green grass – knowing that I couldn’t survive without it. A brilliant book, very highly recommended!

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Thursday, 24 August 2017

Book Review: THE MOUNTAIN by Luca D'Andrea

Title: The Mountain
Author: Luca D'Andrea
Hachette Australia
August 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟 1/2

"That's how it always is. In the ice, first you hear the voice of the Beast, then you die."

Book Description:

Jeremiah Salinger blames himself.

The crash was his fault. He was the only survivor. Now only his daughter Clara can put a smile on his face. The depression and the nightmares are closing in.

But when he takes Clara to the Bletterbach - a canyon in the Dolomites rich in fossil remains - he overhears by chance a conversation that gives his life renewed focus. In 1985, three students were murdered there, their bodies savaged, limbs severed and strewn by a killer who was never found.

Salinger, a New Yorker, is far from home, and these Italian mountains, where his wife was born, harbour a close-knit, tight-lipped community whose mistrust of outsiders can turn ugly. All the same, solving this mystery might be the only thing that can keep him sane.

My musings:

A wild and dangerous place.  A gruesome 30-year old murder that has never been solved. A small town with lots of secrets and many different allegiances. A stranger, who becomes obsessed with solving the mystery. What more can you want from a book? D’Andrea skilfully incorporates each of those subjects into his intriguing novel The Mountain, set in the rugged and beautiful region of the Dolomite Mountains in Northern Italy. I used to climb those peaks as a child with my father, so how could I resist a book that would feature both a murder / mystery as well as armchair travel into one of my favourite childhood places! And like our main protagonist, Jeremiah Salinger, I was soon completely obsessed with finding out the answers to the murder mystery, which contained that slight undercurrent of menace and hint of mystique that added an irresistibly creepy air to the story. D’Andrea is obviously very familiar with the setting of his book, and really brought the mountain to life for me. Even if you have never seen those rugged peaks, the book will take you there.

I admit that I picked up the book several times and put it down again, because I found the lead-up to the story quite slow and long-winded, and felt it could have done with some editing. The same goes for some middle passages of the book, which digress into background information that slowed the story down and was not all that relevant to me. However, once I got to the crux of the mystery, I was completely hooked, and D’Andrea surely packed in a few unexpected surprises! 

I loved the way the author describes the slow unravelling of the main character Salinger, whose obsession with the old mystery soon threatens to destroy his marriage and alienate him from his friends and family. The deeper he delves into the past, the more the mountain seems to fight him, which makes for a wonderfully tense atmosphere. As most characters are tight-lipped and somewhat unreliable narrators, I was never quite sure who I could trust, and all my theories were soon debunked as the story progressed. Personally, I loved the inclusion of the mystical element into the story, as I have found that wild places like the Dolomites have inspired local legends as long as there have been humans inhabiting them. D’Andrea has achieved the perfect balance between reality and legend, always pulling the story back to cold hard facts just at the right time, so I never once had to suspend disbelief. Small town dynamics are astutely portrayed, forming an invaluable part of the mystery, which added depth and credulity. 


All in all, whilst a bit bogged down with too much detail at times, The Mountain was an utterly intriguing and compelling mystery which soon captured my interest and kept me reading on avidly, wanting to find out what really happened on that stormy night thirty years ago. And there were quite a few surprises in store along the way! With its irresistible armchair travel component, this was a must-read book for me that I would recommend to anyone looking for a multi-faceted mystery set in a wild and unusual place.

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.

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Blog Tour / Book Extract: DEAD GIRLS CAN'T LIE by Carys Jones

Title: Dead Girls Can't Lie
Author: Carys Jones
Publication Date: 15 August 2017

Book Description:

Best friends tell each other the truth – don't they?

When North Stone's best friend Kelly Orton is found hanging lifeless in a tree, North knows for certain it wasn't suicide. Kelly had everything to live for – a loving boyfriend, a happy life, and most importantly of all, Kelly would never leave North all by herself.

The girls have been friends since childhood, devoted to each other, soul sisters, or at least that's what North has always believed. But did Kelly feel the same way, or was she keeping secrets from her 'best friend' – deadly secrets...

When the police refuse to take North's suspicions seriously, she sets out to investigate for herself. But her search soon takes her to a glamorous world with a seedy underbelly, and before long North is out of her depth and getting ever closer to danger. Determined to find the truth, she soon wishes that dead girls could lie, because the truth is too painful to believe...

I am really excited to be taking part in my first ever blog tour! On this maiden voyage, I am sharing a little taste of Carys Jones' new crime novel, Dead Girls Can't Lie, courtesy of Aria. 

Please also make sure to check out the post of my co-host, The Purple Book Stand, and the rest of the great blogs that are participating:


Kelly didn’t kill herself.

It came again. Her phone had beeped in acknowledgement. The message had been there. North had read it, twice. But now it was gone, her inbox suspiciously devoid of it. Even the message she’d previously taken care to save was gone, it was like a slate had been wiped clean within the device. As she stared at her phone, North dared to wonder if exhaustion was playing its usual tricks on her, or worse, if she’d deleted the message herself in some half-asleep state. But surely she wasn’t capable of that kind of self-sabotage? Someone was trying to connect with her, trying to get through and tell her that they believed in the same truth that she did.


The word was almost a mantra. North just needed to sleep and then everything would start making more sense, things would stop disappearing.

Kelly didn’t have a cure for insomnia. But on the nights when North couldn’t sleep they’d sit up together and watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Despite Kelly’s best efforts, she’d usually drift off before the end of the first movie, leaving North to sit and watch the drama unfold across Middle Earth on her own. But listening to her friend’s steady breathing just a few feet away comforted North.
Insomnia was a lonely affliction. It had first visited North when her parents failed to come home. As the police searched and her grandparents fretted, she lay wide-eyed on the single bed in her bedroom. When everyone else was overpowered by exhaustion, she sat at her window and watched the stars. Kelly couldn’t sneak over back then, not during the night, not as teenagers. The next day at school she was always wrought with guilt over her friend’s nightly plight.

‘I’d have stayed up with you,’ Kelly would insist. ‘You shouldn’t have to be alone, North.’

Back then there was only her namesake, her star, to keep her company. North would look up at it outshining the rest of its peers and wonder why her parents chose to name her after something so commanding when she herself was more darkness than light. A bringer of death, according to her grandmother.

On the television the gathered fellowship were daring to journey through dwarven mines which tunnelled deep into the ground. Too deep. North stirred on her sofa. She’d bought the duvet from her bedroom and snuggled beneath it but still sleep wouldn’t come. Candlelight flickered around her but she wasn’t even sure if it was night. The curtains were drawn. She’d banished any lingering daylight when she returned from Dean’s flat. She couldn’t return to work. Her grandparents’ home had been sold several months ago. There was nowhere for her to go except to the hollowness of her flat. She was just drifting like an unsettled spirit. The DVD boxsets were stacked up beside the television, where they always were in case of such an occasion. Something to occupy the dead hours when everyone else was sleeping. North pulled her duvet up to her shoulders, wishing she could hear the soft breathing of her friend over the epic soundtrack.


North twisted upon the sofa and blinked at the television. The characters looked afraid, backed into the corner of a stone room as a terrible sound echoed out from the depths.

More banging.

‘What?’ North rubbed at her eyes. Had she fallen asleep? Perhaps she’d slipped into a doze. The banging was coming from the television, wasn’t it? She stared at the screen as the banging continued. It seemed to be coming from everywhere. ‘Urgh,’ she pressed the heel of her hands against her temples. First insomnia came for her sleep and then her sanity. Once, she spent an entire week believing that Leonardo DiCaprio had emailed her. She’d imagined the whole thing. Or even dreamt it. It was hard to know what was real and what wasn’t when sleep failed to visit her. Of course Kelly had believed her. She’d kindly sat at North’s side as she frantically trawled through her inbox trying to find the evidence and then, when it failed to materialise, agreed that it must be a malfunction within the computer.

North moved from rubbing her eyes. The banging didn’t stop even though the scene on the television had moved on. With a groan, North reached for the remote and paused the action, freezing all of the characters mid-motion. The banging bounced around her little flat. Someone was at her front door and they were hammering on it with great force.

‘I’m coming!’ North shouted over the ruckus as she shed the duvet. She shivered away from its warm embrace. Hugging her arms around herself she scurried across her flat towards her door. She pulled it open without pausing to look through the peephole. ‘Dean?’

He was standing in the corridor, one fist still held in the air ready to pound on her door again. His muscles twitched as though he was consumed with restless energy. His eyes were bloodshot and there was a wildness to him. A wildness which concerned North. She took a tentative step back and he immediately advanced towards her.

‘Did you know?’

About the Author:

Carys Jones loves nothing more than to write and create stories which ignite the reader's imagination. Based in Shropshire, England, Carys lives with her husband, two guinea pigs and her adored canine companion Rollo.

Connect with Carys on:

Twitter: @tiny_dancer85
Facebook: @CarysJonesWriter
Instagram: tiny_dancer_8

Purchase Links:

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Monday, 21 August 2017

Audiobook Review: THE TRUTH ABOUT MELODY BROWNE by Lisa Jewell

Author: Lisa Jewell
Read: August 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Book Description (Goodreads):

Melody Browne can remember nothing before her ninth birthday. Now in her early thirties, Melody lives in the middle of London with her seventeen-year-old son. She hasn’t seen her parents since she left home at fifteen, but Melody doesn't mind. She’s better off on her own.

And then fragments of her past start to come back. At first her memories mean nothing to her but slowly, day by day, she begins to piece together the real story of her childhood.

But with every mystery she solves another one materialises, with every question she answers another appears. And Melody begins to wonder if she'll ever know the truth about her past...

My musings:

What a beautiful, touching story! As usual, Lisa Jewell has created characters that seem to leap out of the pages of her book, and became so real to me as the story progressed that I felt I had known them all my life. Even more so, since we slowly get to discover the truth about Melody’s past, feel her joy and her pain, which at times broke my heart – expect to cry! There is a rich cast of supporting characters which defy any stereotype and add a depth to the story lacking in many other books. It shows what a skilled, accomplished writer Jewell is, and why she is firmly embedded on my list of favourite authors.

Written in a dual time format, the story starts with Melody Brown’s life in the present, and it may seem a bit slow and run-of-the-mill for the first few pages – but don’t be fooled! The rest of the story jumps back and forth between Melody’s past (starting with her earliest memories) and the present, as she slowly uncovers the truth about her childhood. Whilst this is a format that can feel disjointed  in some books, Jewell marries the two stories together so cleverly that it worked perfectly for me. a) I never got bored with one of the stories, wishing to jump back to the other; and b) I never got confused as to what period she was relating to, even with the audio version. And whilst I am talking about the audio version, I must give credit to Julie Maisey, who lent her voice to the characters and made them come to life for me. I loved Maisey’s ability to give each character their unique voice, especially the small Melody Brown, whose voice I loved!

I could say a lot more about this book, but it is best delved into without spoilers, so I will leave it at: read it, you won’t be sorry. A touching, thought provoking and emotional read by a writer on top of her game. I loved it!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Book Review: BENEATH THE SURFACE by Sibel Hodge

Author: Sibel Hodge
Thomas & Mercer
August 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟1/2

Book Description:

After the breakdown of her marriage, a failed career and the loss of her pregnancy, Holly returns to her hometown to work for a small-town newspaper and mourn her losses. Defeated and ashamed of her thwarted ambitions, she does not make contact with many of her old friends, keeping to herself and plugging away in her joyless job with little hope for something better to happen in her life. 

She is shocked and saddened to hear of the murder/suicide of one of her former best friends at the hand of her friend’s own teenage son, unwilling to believe that the sweet little boy she knew in the past could do such a terrible thing. Reaching out to the victim’s mother Barbara, who used to be a mother figure to her in her childhood, Holly learns that Barbara also finds it impossible to believe that her grandson would be capable of such a horrific act, and begs Holly to investigate, hoping to be able to clear his name.

My musings:

Beneath the Surface has been touted a “gripping suspense thriller”, which is usually something I cannot resist! Not having read any previous books by Hodge, I was also curious to explore a new author and was thrilled to have been granted a preview copy of the novel on Netgalley. Hodge’s writing drew me into the story very quickly, and I was intrigued by Holly’s damaged character and the unspeakable crime, which took up the first chapters of the book. Who would not be shocked and saddened to hear that their best friend had been murdered, especially at the hands of her own son? I could imagine the grief that rocked the whole community, and understood Holly’s desire to investigate.

However, it was after this point that things started to bug me. Despite admitting to having been a journalist working for a fluffy women’s magazine, Holly makes some vast leaps of imagination and deduction to very quickly come up with her conspiracy theory into what had caused young Dean’s descent into madness and murder, which seemed a bit far-fetched to me. For a person without any medical background, or previous experience of the field through investigative journalism, some of Holly’s convictions didn’t ring true to me. I would have preferred if more time had been spent on Holly investigating the crime and finding a lot more clues before being convinced of her (at that stage rather far-fetched) theory of what had caused Dean’s murderous rampage.

I am trying to tread carefully here, so as not to give anything away, so will only say that the author spends some time later in the book explaining her theory – and she has obviously done her research into the topic at hand – but to me it felt a bit too conspiracy-theory like all the way through. Perhaps I am just the wrong audience for this type of book, as I felt that the background conspiracy got in the way of being able to engage with the main characters, and I totally lost any emotional connection with Holly in the process. The ending also seemed rushed to me, tying all ends just a bit too neatly and quickly, and I turned the last page feeling rather let down by the whole story. There just wasn’t enough tension or mystery in it for me, and I certainly wouldn’t call it a psychological thriller, as it is pretty obvious from the start where the book is heading. The story didn’t mess with my mind nearly enough to justify the tag in the genre, in my opinion. However, I am sure that a lot of readers will enjoy the fast-paced last third of the novel, and concede that if I had known the focus of the book I would not have chosen it, as I am well aware that I am the wrong audience for this type of story. 

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

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Book Review: THE OTHER GIRL by Erica Spindler

Author: Erica Spindler
St Martin's Press
August 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2

Book Description:

Officer Miranda Rader of the Hammond PD in Louisiana is known for her honesty, integrity, and steady hand in a crisis—but that wasn’t always so. Miranda comes from Jasper, just south of Hammond, a place about the size of a good spit on a hot day, and her side of the tracks was the wrong one. She’s worked hard to leave the girl she used to be behind and earn respect in her position as an officer.

However, when Miranda and her partner are called to investigate the murder of one of the town’s most beloved college professors, they’re unprepared for the gruesomeness of the scene. This murder is unlike any they’ve ever investigated, and just when Miranda thinks she’s seen the worst of it, she finds a piece of evidence that chills her to the core: a faded newspaper clipping about a terrible night from her long-buried past. Then another man turns up dead, this one a retired cop, and not just any cop—Clint Wheeler, the cop who took her statement that night. Two murders, two very different men, two killings that on the surface had nothing in common—except Miranda. 15 years ago.
And when her fingerprints turn up at the scene of the first murder, Miranda once again finds herself under the microscope, her honesty and integrity doubted, her motivations questioned. Alone again, the trust of her colleagues shattered, Miranda must try to trust the instincts she’s pushed down for so long, and decide what’s right—before it’s too late.

My musings:

The Other Girl was my first book by Erica Spindler, and its premise really intrigued me – I am always eager to discover a new appealing detective protagonist. Miranda Rader of the Hammond PD in Louisiana is certainly a character with an interesting back-story. When she and her partner Jake are sent to investigate the brutal murder of a local college professor, she is convinced that the crime is connected to an incident in her teens which has haunted her for years. The problem with having been a wild teenager who was generally known in town for running off the rails and telling lies is that at the time nobody believed her, and her claims were dismissed as just another story she told to get herself out of trouble. Miranda had not expected, however, that she would still have difficulties convincing people of her suspicions – even her boss, who she has always had the utmost respect for, is hesitant to take her seriously. When the body count mounts, Miranda knows that she has to take matters into her own hands...

Told alternately from the perspective of Miranda’s life today and offering flash-backs from the past, the reader slowly discovers the full extent of Miranda’s trauma. I really felt for this young woman, who has worked so hard to leave her past and reputation behind, only to find that it has suddenly caught up with her again. Worse still, nobody is willing to believe her, and she feels as if her hands are tied. Spindler is achieving a good balance in offering just the right amount of flashbacks to reveal the background story without slowing down the main storyline, and I found both the teenage as well as the adult character of Miranda sympathetic and engaging. Small town politics are well depicted, highlighting the difficulty of ever being able to escape your past, no matter how many years may have passed by.

I liked Spindler’s writing style, and  the book grabbed me instantly, holding my interest. My only gripe is that whilst it held a few unexpected surprises, I felt that some events towards the end were a bit predictable and Miranda veered a bit too much into the “misunderstood detective” territory, her actions questionable at times. However, even though I may have hoped for a twist to prove me wrong, the book turned out to be an enjoyable, quick read – perfect entertainment for a cold and wet day. I look forward to reading more books from this author.

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.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Book Review: THE WISH CHILD by Catherine Chidgey

Author: Catherine Chidgey
Random House UK
August 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟

I am the wish child, the future cast in water. I am the thrown coin, the blown candle; I am the fallen star.

Book Description (Goodreads):

Germany, 1939. Two children watch as their parents become immersed in the puzzling mechanisms of power. Siggi lives in the affluent ignorance of middle-class Berlin, her father a censor who excises prohibited words (‘promise’, ‘love’, ‘mercy’). Erich is an only child living a lush rural life, aware that he is shadowed by strange, unanswered questions.

Drawn together as Germany’s hope for a glorious future begins to collapse, the children find temporary refuge in an abandoned theatre amidst the rubble of Berlin. Outside, white bedsheets hang from windows; all over the city people are talking of surrender. The days Siggi and Erich spend together will shape the rest of their lives.

My musings:

Everyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for WWII books, so when I saw The Wish Child on Netgalley I couldn’t resist! After closing the last page, I am not quite sure where to begin, because The Wish Child must be one of the strangest – or should I say most unusual – and haunting WWII books I have ever read! The entire book is being told in the surreal voice of a ghostly omniscient being which seems to follow the two main protagonists Erich and Siggi wherever they go, infiltrates their lives and commentates on the environment of the times. I spent the first half of the book wondering who this narrator could be, and how it is connected to the story. There are a few hints throughout the book, but its true identity is not revealed until the end, when it all falls into place perfectly. As in The Book Thief, where Death narrates the entire novel, this mysterious voice added an air of mystery to the story that made the book stand out for me.

Erich and Siggi are two innocent children caught up in the events of WWII, one growing up as the daughter of a censor in Berlin, the other on a rural property near Leipzig. Bit by bit, their innocence is shattered by the horrors of war, their lives connecting due to unexpected circumstances. By offering a child’s perspective of the propaganda and the general hype surrounding Hitler, the author catches a unique snapshot of this time in history not usually found in other novels of the genre.

“On these nights, when the planes were almost too remote to hear, Sieglinde wished she could climb into her parents’ bed. But this was not a gypsy camp; this was not a den of dogs.”

But Chidgey doesn’t stop there – she also includes small chapters of two ordinary German women’s conversations in the story, as well as the internal dialogue of a teacher taking a class of children on school excursions to Berlin’s factories, where items necessary to the war effort are being produced (and other things too – some very chilling moments here!). The constant danger of living under a dictatorship is beautifully demonstrated in the conversations between Frau Miller and Frau MΓΌller, two factory workers, discussing daily life under Hitler as the war progresses. This may sound unusual, and it certainly was! I loved the way the author manages to capture the essence of the times in those snippets of conversation and musings in often hidden phrases and seemingly innocent words – it was so very cleverly done!

Due to our ghostly narrator, there is an era of mystique but also malice underlying the entire story, which often gave me goosebumps. There are many elements of a kind of magic realism, or symbolism, hidden amongst the pages that convey the full horror of the war, reflected in somewhat puzzling scenes in the book (like the shifting walls of Siggi’s apartment or the snippets of words she keeps hidden in her tin of treasures that take on a life of their own). Whilst most of the actions pertain to the two children’s lives and fates during those horrible war years, the author also catches a perfect snapshot of the general atmosphere and attitudes of many German people during that time, even those small doubts and acts of passive resistance that were often the only thing people felt safe to offer.

Frau MΓΌller: There’s no need. I meant nothing. It means nothing.
Frau Miller: Everything means something.
Frau MΓΌller: The lies that fall from the sky – they are not suitable reading. You should not be reading them. They should be burned.
Frau Miller: Quite right. Quite right. And I do. But sometimes one notices a sentence here and there as one is gathering them to burn.
Frau MΓΌller: One should stop noticing.

This is a very difficult book to review, as it relies so much on its “unusual” elements! I really enjoyed it, although it was (expectedly) very disturbing at times, and had me asking many questions along the way, many of which still haunt me. The Wish Child would undoubtedly make a fantastic book club book, as everyone will have a different take on some of these elements, and I personally would love to be able to discuss them a bit more deeply. 


The Wish Child is a clever, multi-layered novel offering a very unique perspective of the events of WWII. Told by a ghostly omniscient narrator and including unusual elements not often found in other novels of the genre, the story takes on a haunting and thought-provoking air that stayed with me long after reading it and made it memorable for me. I thoroughly enjoyed The Wish Child and can fully recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK - Vintage Publishing for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Friday Funny: WHAT GOES UP, MUST COME DOWN (the hidden dangers of bookstagram, continued)

It’s been cold and wet for weeks now, and the motivation to go outside is inversely proportional to the outside temperature and wind speed. But since I love hiking almost as much as I love books, I tried to use the moments between showers (and hail, and thunder, and gale force winds) to quickly sprint up another mountain track today, in the light of some serious eating to be done later for my husband’s birthday feast. All was well until I spotted an interesting outcrop of rocks in the distance, which offered a perfect view over the coastline and a nice little reading nook to shelter from an approaching dark cloud, promising an imminent shower. And a great bookstagram photo opportunity! I have reflected on the dangers of bookstagram before, and the instant suspension of any reason when it comes to the pursuit of the perfect photo. So, ignoring the rain and the wind and the slippery rock I climbed up the steep granite rock face, carefully wedging my hiking boots into small crevasses and admiring my “pretty-good-for-my-age” climbing ability. The view was spectacular! And the little rock cave just big enough to shelter me from the rain, which sleeted down horizontally, wind whistling mournfully around the rock. I sat with my little book  feeling slightly smug and righteous to have braved the elements, and waited for the sun to come out.

What goes up, must come down

Hmmmm, it’s time to climb down the rock now and it’s gotten all slippery from the rain, glinting menacingly like a black ski slope, water still pouring off it from above. A stray ray of sunshine reflects in its greenish-black slick, making tiny rainbows. I test the surface with my left boot – slippery. Crap! I get down on all fours backwards (in what my yoga teacher calls the table position), searching for footholds whilst my cold and numb fingers clamp down on the granite beneath me. Still slippery! On all sides of me is sheer rock. Clouds are brewing up in the distance. My right foot finds a tiny foothold and I decide to “Go for it, sister! You’ve got this!” I shimmy down the rock backwards like a crab, my breath coming out in tense little hiccupping puffs as I imagine myself stranded on the rock, spread eagled, a news helicopter circling over me as the cliff rescue is being dispatched to save the idiot who got herself stranded on a rock in the middle of a severe weather warning. My left foot is scrambling for purchase now, and this is the moment I lose my hold on the rock. Landing hard on my butt, I find myself sliding, sliding, sliding down the sheer rock face towards the abyss. In the split seconds of my life flashing in front of my eyes, I draft my obituary:

Died in the pursuit of bookstagram.

As a bright ray of sunlight breaks through the clouds and I feel myself airborne, sailing through the air and landing – with a soft plop as air is expelled from my lungs – feet first on the soft forest floor. Staring down at the boots of a bemused hiker, who has undoubtedly watched the whole funny performance from beginning to end. Just shoot me now!

Now, reflecting rather sheepishly on my near death experience whilst trying to dry off my cold and wet (and bruised) derriere, I need to start planning how to make it sound heroic rather than foolish, to polish the near-death experience like a shiny marble to make it fit for telling around a camp fire. Because, as an ED nurse, I recognise the implications of a “just hold my beer and watch this” moment. Really, I should know better!

But wasn’t it all worth it, for this delightful landscape?

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Audiobook Review: THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE by Lisa See

Author: Lisa See
Read: July / August 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 1/2

Book Description:

Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate - the first automobile any of them have seen - and a stranger arrives. In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people.

Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city. After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley's happy home life, she wonders about her origins, and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family's destiny for generations.

My musings:

I can’t start this review without first saying a HUGE thank you to the Goodreads community, who continue to put me on to fantastic new books I wouldn’t normally pick up. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a perfect example – with a title that is so obviously not my usual genre, I would have never read this marvel of a story had I not stumbled across a few rave reviews by much respected readers on Goodreads, who highly recommended it. Feeling like something different from my usual fare of gruesome murder mysteries and psychological thrillers, I downloaded the audiobook and - WOW! What a fantastic read!

I have longed for some armchair travel to a remote and culturally diverse place for some time, and Lisa See’s book delivered it in spades. Transported off to a different world altogether, I not only discovered the culture of the Akha people (one of the 50 ethnic minorities living in China), but learned so much about my favourite beverage – tea – that it has added a whole new depth to my morning cuppa of Chinese Jasmine tea. See seamlessly blends facts and fiction, educating the armchair traveller as the story progresses and adding depth to her characters. I fell in love with Li-yan, and felt quite bereft when the book ended. Li-yan’s journey from her simple and yet culturally rich life in the remote mountain village in Yunnan to being confronted with all the trappings of 20th century life was fascinating. I often tried to put myself in her shoes, thinking how strange it must feel to come from a place without cars and electricity, and suddenly having to learn her way around a computer, catch a plane, drive a car. Such different worlds! See’s astute descriptions of how the 21st century finally catches up with the Akha people were also thought provoking, as I have witnessed these changes myself when travelling to previously untouched regions, where everyone suddenly owns a mobile phone.

Following Li-yan’s life from her early childhood to young adulthood and finally being a wife and mother, the book took me on an incredible journey I will remember for a long time to come. I thoroughly admired Li-yan’s courage and resilience in the face of adversity, and she soon was as real to me as someone I had known all my life. I now feel like I want to go to Yunnan and sip some of the famous Pu’er’ tea that influenced Li-yan’s life so much! Whilst most of the book is written from Li-yan’s POV, See incorporates some clever and unusual chapters revealing the fate of Li-yan’s abandoned daughter, who has been adopted by a wealthy American couple and is struggling with her own identity as she grows up not knowing her origins. Whilst I initially struggled with Hailey’s voice in the narration, I was able to connect more deeply with her towards the end of the book, and found her story a worthwhile journey in its own right. See’s insights into cross-cultural adoption made for some interesting reflection and discussion points, and it would be interesting to read more about Hailey’s life in the years following the book’s ending.

Hours of pleasure and joyful anticipation of my commute (and listening to the story) later, and I am still rocked by the emotional impact the story had on me. A fantastic read, and very much recommended. Don’t be put off by the title, as I was, because this in an author that really packs some punch and you won’t regret picking up this marvel of a book. Definitely on my favourite list for the year! 

Friday, 4 August 2017

Feel Good Friday Reflection: LIFE IS BETTER WITH A BOOK (or: my glass may be piss but at least it's half-full)

Today dawned windy and wet and I've got a cold (Again! Damn it!), so I was all poised to wimp it out indoors and wallow in my own misery all day. Instead, I forced myself to grab my book and go for a brisk sprint up the mountain not far from our house (forgetting how far it actually was, and how unfit I was, and that I had a coffee date at 11 a.m. which I would probably not make now). 

And it was definitely worth it - look at that heavenly view! Even with the wind whistling and the clouds sitting ominously over the ocean, I feel invigorated now. So, I may get pneumonia from walking back in the rain, and I may have nearly slipped and fallen off a cliff in the process of getting this photo, but at least I can say I got out of the house!

Nothing like a hike to clear the mind. Reflecting on how my reading time will be a bit on the lean side this month, with more night shifts, study and a conference in Perth, as well as trying to organise our upcoming holiday, I decided to try something new: a reading plan. I've never been a maker of lists (or if I do, I usually forget them at home) or a forward planner, living on a wing and a prayer most of the time and hoping it will work out. But desperate times and all that ...

So here it is - my reading list for August.

The Wish Child The Wish Child by Catherine Chidgey

The Darkest Lies The Darkest Lies by Barbara Copperthwaite

Beneath the Surface Beneath the Surface by Sibel Hodge

Then She Was Gone Then She was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Neon Pilgrim Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster

The Other Girl The Other Girl by Erica Spindler

Let's see how it goes and if my impulsive reading persona can resist the temptation to throw caution to the wind and grab any old book of the pile "because I feel like it".

One thing is for sure: Life is better with a book!

Audiobook Review: THE KIND WORTH KILLING by Peter Swanson

Author: Peter Swanson
Read: July 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2

Book Description (Audible):

'Hello there.' I looked at the pale, freckled hand on the back of the empty bar seat next to me in the business class lounge of Heathrow Airport, then up into the stranger's face. 'Do I know you?'

Delayed in London, Ted Severson meets a woman at the airport bar. Over cocktails they tell each other rather more than they should, and a dark plan is hatched - but is either of them being serious? Could they actually go through with it? And if they did, what would be their chances of getting away with it?

My musings:

Having really loved Swanson’s novel Her Every Fear, it was a no-brainer that I simply had to read The Kind Worth Killing, especially after reading all the raving reviews about it. As I am always looking for captivating books for my daily commute in the car, I downloaded this novel from Audible, and I am so glad I did! The Kind Worth Killing was a fantastic read, the sort that made me sit in my car in the driveway on a cold, chilly night for “just a few more minutes” because I couldn’t tear myself away. I can’t remember much about my driving on those days, except that I got there safe and sound, but my mind was fully captivated by the book. Now there is a psychological thriller that lives up to its name!

Swanson offers us two female leads so chilling and malicious that listening to them sent shivers down my spine at times, and yet Lily intrigued me to a point where I silently feared for her safety and secretly hoped she would get away with murder (literally). She was both terrifying and sympathetic, which is a very hard thing to achieve in a protagonist, and I applaud the author for pulling this off so perfectly. It helped that Lily always had a perfectly reasonable explanation – at times challenging my own moral conventions. Is killing justified if the victim is a truly horrible individual with no chance of redemption, set to make a lot of lives miserable? Lily thinks so. In the airport bar, she says to Ted:

"Truthfully, I don't think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, seems like the kind worth killing."

Sounds reasonable to you? No, no! *slaps face* - murder is BAD! I would love to delve deeper into the characters and discuss the storyline, but this is not the place and I would hate to give any spoilers. My advice is: plunge into this book blindly and let Swanson take you on his journey. The writing is excellent. The subject matter is chilling. It will mess with your mind – believe me! And the ending – I was worried at one point about how the author would pull this off, but it was perfect!

As for the narration: I loved that the publisher used four different narrators for the different characters, which made the story easy to follow and a pleasure to listen to. 


The Kind Worth Killing was one of my favourite reads this year so far – one of those rare psychological thrillers that really mess with your mind and make you itch to find someone to discuss it with. I loved it, and am so glad I stumbled across it. If you love a good psychological thriller and are looking for something different, do yourself a favour and pick up this book today. You won’t be disappointed.

You may also like:

Her Every Fear

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Audiobook Review: THE DEEPEST GRAVE (Fiona Griffiths #6) by Harry Bingham

Author: Harry Bingham
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟

Book Description:

British detective Fiona Griffiths, one of the most engaging female protagonists in crime thrillers, is back with a new case to solve.

DC Fiona Griffiths is bored. It's been months since she had a good corpse, let alone a decent murder to deal with, and it's frankly driving her nuts. And then comes the news, and she has to literally stop herself from jumping with joy: not just a murder but a decapitation, with an antique sword no less, and a murder scene that has been laid out like a particularly gruesome crossword clue.

Gaynor Charteris was an archaeologist leading a team excavating a nearby Iron Age site. Genial, respected, well liked, it was hard to see why anyone would want to kill her in such a brutal way. But as Fiona starts to dig beneath the surface, she finds evidence of a crime that leads back to King Arthur and his final battle - a crime so bizarre that getting her superiors to take it seriously is going to be her toughest job. Especially since the crime hasn't yet been committed.

My musings:

I am so happy that I discovered the Fiona Griffiths series back in 2012, because I have been totally addicted to it ever since and it never disappoints! Everyone who has read Bingham’s books will know that Fiona is a very different character. Having suffered from a mental illness in her teens, she still struggles to fit into society, or “Planet Normal” as Fiona calls it, and in times of stress her illness recurs in feelings of dissociation from her own body and a strange connection to her dead victims, which makes her all the more determined to fight for justice for them. With the impulsiveness and sometimes lack of common sense that has characterised her since Book 1 in the series (Talking to the Dead), Fiona usually goes against police protocol to solve her murder cases, which often gets her into trouble with authority as well as putting her own life in danger. However, her intelligence and ability to connect with her victims in ways no other detective can usually brings results, and over the last five books, she has earned herself a grudging respect amongst her colleagues.

I was very excited when The Deepest Grave was finally released, and found it to be a worthy continuation of a series I love. True to form, Bingham delivers a most unusual murder case for his protagonist, who has been impatiently counting the days (462) since her last murder case. Set in Wales like its predecessors, the book offers a fair amount of armchair travel to this mystical place, which makes the series even more irresistible for me (I will never forget the tense and terrifying caving scene in The Dead House, Book 5 in the series). Bingham always manages to incorporate a special interest theme into each story, which saw me learning a lot about archaeology, medieval artefacts and the King Arthur legend in this latest instalment. With a brutally beheaded corpse setting the scene, the peppermint-tea-drinking and weed-smoking Fiona has her work cut out for her to solve this murder case before more people are killed, and she does so in the unconventional, thinking-outside-the-square way that has endeared her to followers of the series.

In his blog, author Harry Bingham stated that he wanted his first book to revolve as much around the mystery of Fiona’s character as it does around the crime she’s investigating, and he is staying true to this original idea by revealing little snippets of Fiona’s past in each book in the series. Fans will be pleased to hear that the great cast of supporting characters from Fiona’s work and private life are all back in The Deepest Grave, and that we get to know a few more interesting characters who may feature in future novels (I would love to see Katie back and see how she fares).

Siriol Jenkins’ narration was perfect for Fiona’s voice, and I was very happy that she continued narrating the series!

The Fiona Griffiths series is one of my all-time-favourite police procedural series, and will appeal to anyone who likes unusual murder cases with an oddball detective who doesn’t fit any mould. Bingham’s style to revolve his cases around different, interesting subject matters and incorporating details about the case that broaden the reader’s knowledge base on the subject whilst thrilling and entertaining, have made this series stand out from the fray. Whilst The Deepest Grave can be read as a stand-alone, I highly recommend starting the series at Book 1, which will give all the necessary background into Fiona’s life that makes her character so special. Highly recommended, and I am already looking forward to the next book in the series. 

Other books in the series: link

Talking to the Dead (Fiona ... Love Story, With Murders (F... The Strange Death of Fiona ... This Thing of Darkness (Fio... The Dead House (Fiona Griff...

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Book Review: STILLHOUSE LAKE by Rachel Caine

Author: Rachel Caine
Thomas & Mercer
July 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Book Description (Goodreads):

Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.

With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.

But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.

My musings:

After reading some raving reviews about Stillhouse Lake, I just couldn’t resist requesting it on Netgalley, even though my TBR pile has taken on the dimensions of a small mountain range and I am supposed to be studying. But that cover! Simply irresistible! I was fascinated by the premise of a woman living with a serial killer, cooking him a meal every night, raising their two children, unaware that he is next door in the garage torturing his next victim. Eeek! What a horrific thought. A million hot showers would not wash away that stain, and Gwen (aka Gina) certainly has to deal with a few demons and guilt issues borne from the memories of living with a monster.


Stillhouse Lake was certainly original, fast-paced and easy to read, and it sucked me in very quickly. However, as the story progressed I started to have mixed feelings, and after closing the last page, I am still a bit torn. There were sections of the book that got my heart pounding and made me want to read more, but overall, I found I really struggled to connect with Gwen / Gina and found she perhaps needed a bit more character development. Some of her actions made sense, driven by her sheer desperation to get away from her old life, but a lot of her decisions seemed questionable and a bit far-fetched to me. Alas, if I could just suspend disbelief a bit easier, I would be able to enjoy these type of stories a lot more! But the gun-wielding Gwen with her connections to underworldly figures supplying her with a never ending supply of fake identities just didn’t marry well with the shy girl from the Midwest who for years lived with a serial killer without suspecting anything. Where did all her wealth come from? And why would you torture yourself with reading all the comments the internet trolls post about you and your kids, if you really wanted to fully get away from your old life? Let alone accept letters from your monster ex-husband – really?

As I am writing this, I can hear my daughter’s frustrated voice in my head: “Mum, it’s FICTION!” and she is right. But I didn’t fully buy it, and I never managed to “get” Gwen. She talks a lot about her fears for her kids’ safety, but the emotion just wasn’t there for me. So perhaps my old cynical self doesn’t make the perfect audience for this story, especially when the end wasn’t an ending at all but simply a “to be continued” (don’t you hate that?). Unfortunately, I didn’t care enough about Gwen / Gina to feel compelled to pick up the next book and see how it will all end for her and her psychopath ex-husband. I’m sure there will be a lot of twists and turns and danger to Gwen / Gina and her kids before he gets his just deserts, but I’m not invested enough in any of the characters to spend four more hours finding out the details. Sorry! I know I am in the minority here, and that’s ok (you can’t win them all), but whilst I enjoyed parts of the book it’s probably not going to be a memorable read for me in the long run. 


All in all, Stillhouse Lake is a well written mystery with an original premise that will appeal to readers who love a serial killer story and are able to suspend disbelief (even a little bit). I wouldn’t classify it as a psychological thriller, as for me it lacked the necessary subtle tension and messing with my mind component, but with a good cat-and-mouse game and a strong female lead I am sure that many readers will find all the elements of danger and suspense they are looking for in an action thriller.

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