Saturday, 30 December 2017

Book Review: THE DAYS WHEN BIRDS COME BACK by Deborah Reed

Author: Deborah Reed
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Read:
December 2017
Expected publication: 9 January 2018
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

These are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look. (Emily Dickinson)

Book Description:

June is undoubtedly in transition. Reeling from her divorce, trying to stay sober, and faced with a completely stalled career, she’s recently returned to the beautiful Oregon coast where she grew up. She must decide what to do with her late and much-loved grandparents’ charming cedar-shingled home, a place haunted by memories of her childhood.

June hires Jameson to renovate the old house to sell. He too is unmoored as he struggles to redefine his marriage in the aftermath of tragic loss. Over the course of the summer, their conversations about the house quickly turn to the personal—of secrets hidden in walls and of stories from the past half-told. June and Jamison repel and attract, sensing kinship and shying away from hurt. But what can the future hold as long as the past’s grip remains so firm?

Brimming with empathy, The Days When Birds Come Back, like the house itself, is a graceful testament to endurance, rebuilding, and the possibilities of coming home.

My musings:
  

The Days When Birds Come Back is a line from a melancholic poem by Emily Dickinson, written in seclusion and dealing with people’s emotions and the changing seasons. It is a fitting title for this bittersweet tale of two people scarred by loss, whose chance meeting prompts them to reflect on the past and initiate the first steps towards healing. Both Jameson and June are beautifully drawn, each carrying a deep sorrow in their hearts that has shaped their lives and made them isolate themselves in their little bubbles of grief, guilt and regret. Thrown together in the picturesque setting of June’s childhood home, a little cottage in rural Oregon, they forge a fragile connection that allows them to slowly confide in each other and find solace in each other as they try to come to terms with the past.

Reed’s writing is beautiful and wistful, creating true-to-life characters and an atmospheric setting that is almost a character in itself, as it plays such an important part in the story. I loved being taken on a journey of discovery of the events that have made June and Jameson the people they have become, and to witness their slow emergence from the quagmire of grief as the seasons change. This is a slow, character driven and reflective story. Anyone who is not a stranger to loss and grief will find elements of June and Jameson’s story resonating with their own lives. An exquisite and beautifully crafted novel that touched me deeply.

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

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Book Review: THE TREE HOUSE by Glenn Haybittle

Author: Glenn Haybittle
Publisher:
Cheyne Walk
Read:
December 2017
Expected publication: 11 January 2018
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ1/2

It takes more courage than most people have not to submit to the pressure to conform.

Book Description:

Max and Ada, ten-year-old neighbours, are engrossed in composing a book of spells in a tree house in Paris when the Nazis arrive to occupy the city. Max, the child of a rape and abandoned by his mother, is in foster care; Ada is Jewish.

Almost fifty years later Max, the black sheep of the family, summons his grandson to tell him the story of those years in Paris and reveal a guilty secret that has eaten away at him. His mind is now set on digging up the past and he wants Mark to accompany him across the English Channel. His dying wish is to shed light on the two missing women in his life: Ada and his mother. Mark though is struggling with his own existential crisis. There is a missing woman in his life too.

A deftly accomplished tightrope act of pathos and humour, The Tree House is a bewitching novel of loss and restitution, heritage and the hereafter.

My musings:


I’ve read quite a few WWII books this year, but The Tree House was very different from the rest. Told from the perspectives of a grandfather and his grandson, this is a bittersweet tale of guilt and looking for redemption. Max summons his grandson to reflect on his perceived betrayal of the love of his life, Ada, in Paris during WWII, when they were both just children. He is still tortured by his last cruel and thoughtless words to his best friend before she got captured by Nazi soldiers and shipped off to a death camp, never to be seen again. Haunted by the ghost of his friend and images of a mother who abandoned him as a child, Max’s memories take on an almost surreal, dreamlike character, like the books of spells Ada and Max created in their short time together.

His grandson Mark is battling demons all of his own, reflecting on the events that lead to the breakdown of his relationship to dancer Katie, who he still can’t get out of his mind.  As the two men reconnect after years apart and confide in each other, both offer one another a strange kind of solace from their regrets. And whilst it is too late for Max to undo the past, there may still be time for Mark to make amends.

The Tree House is a tale of two men connected by blood and past regrets. Whilst the holocaust plays only a small part in the story, and the horrors of war are only ever hinted at through the eyes of an innocent child, the story explores how it has shaped Max and his life from the time Ada was taken. I enjoyed how the author connects the past and present through the relationship between the two men, one old and one young, but both haunted by their own demons. Only in each other can they find solace and a strange kind of healing. The grandfather-grandson relationship is beautifully portrayed and made this a reflective and somewhat wistful read for me. 


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

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Audiobook Review: UNTOUCHABLE by Sibel Hodge

Title: Untouchable
Author: Sibel Hodge
Narrators: 
Shaun Grindell, Henrietta Meire, Simon Vance 
Read: December 2017
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ


Book Description:

It’s Maya and Jamie’s anniversary, and she waits with excitement for him to return home for a celebratory dinner. There’s a knock at the door. It’s the police. Jamie has been found hanging in a local wood.

His death is ruled a suicide, but Maya doesn’t believe Jamie would take his own life. Something isn’t right. Someone has broken into her house. Someone is watching her. And someone has gone to great lengths to cover up what Jamie was doing before he died.

Maya’s grief turns to suspicion, and as she begins to investigate the weeks leading up to Jamie’s death, her trail leads her to a place known as “The Big House” and the horrific secrets within. Secrets people will stop at nothing to keep hidden. People linked to the heart of the Establishment who think they’re untouchable.

Now Maya has a dangerous decision to make. How far is she prepared to go to reveal the truth?

My musings:

Wow – this certainly was a powerful, disturbing and haunting tale of abuse and revenge! Apparently some scenes in the book were inspired by real police investigations, and Hodge has obviously  done her homework, not holding back when describing the full horror of unspeakable acts committed to the children in this story. As a warning to the faint hearted: some of the scenes in this book are very explicit and contain graphic  descriptions of child sexual and psychological abuse that will definitely disturb some readers. I listened to the audio version, and felt that some of the images it evoked were upsetting and sickening – even more so to know that these events are not pure fiction and are based on real life events. I shuddered many times when exposed to the full horror of some of the children’s ordeal, and must admit that I found the revenge part not nearly as satisfying as I had hoped. How can such terrible acts ever be truly avenged?

If you like dark and disturbing thrillers that contain a certain element of conspiracy theory on a larger scale, and are able to stomach the more explicit details, then this is the right book for you! I found some of the political details the story is based on quite intriguing, and it certainly challenged my trust in law enforcement and democracy as a whole, even though some of Mitchell’s theories seemed a bit over the top. I applaud the author for tackling such a difficult and emotionally charged topic and weaving it into a multi-layered and gripping thriller. Whilst it was more a tale of seeking justice and revenge than a psychological thriller, it made for a captivating read and I am looking forward to reading more from this author in future.

A solid and heart-felt performance by all three narrators, which made the audiobook version a great choice!
  


Sunday, 17 December 2017

Book Review: THE WANTED by Robert Crais

Title: The Wanted (Elvis Cole #17)
Author: Robert Crais
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster (Australia)
Read:
December 2017
Expected publication: 1 January 2018
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ1/2


Step aside Batman, make way for BatCole.


Book Description:

Seventeen-year-old Tyson is a normal teenaged boy – he’s socially awkward, obsessed with video games, and always hungry. But his mother is worried that her sweet, nerdy son has started to change… and she’s just found a $40,000 Rolex watch under his bed. Suddenly very frightened that Tyson has gotten involved in something illegal, his mother gets in touch with a private investigator named Elvis Cole and asks him to do some digging.

Cole uncovers a connection between Tyson and eighteen unsolved burglaries in LA’s ritziest neighbourhood. Tyson spooks and runs.

And then the bodies start turning up…


My musings:

Many many years ago I stumbled across the first book featuring the funny and enigmatic Elvis Cole, and it was love at first book! I have been a huge fan of the series since, and they are the type of comfort books I turn to when I feel a bit book-jaded. Crais always delivers a solid mystery, and Elvis’ quick wit and dry humour put a permanent grin on my face whilst reading. And of course the books would not be complete without the silent, loyal and indestructible Joe Pike, who always manages to get Elvis out of trouble when the going gets tough. I love them!

As usual, Crais has nailed the art of delivering an action packed mystery that tests all of Elvis’ detecting skills. I am not going to get into the story, as the blurb contains all you need to know, so allow yourself to get swept up by the action just as I did. This is one of those rare books that can be read as a stand-alone, even if you haven’t read the previous 16 books in the series (although I highly recommend reading them all, they are great!). There is enough background to understand Elvis’ and Pike’s relationship, and most of the other characters are either new or play a peripheral role where previous knowledge is not essential.

Crais tells his story from the different characters’ POVs, including that of the “bad guys”, in short concise chapters that move the narrative along at the perfect pace, giving just the right amount of clues to keep the reader guessing but hinting at things yet to come. Each of the narrators has a unique and interesting voice, which is a hard balance to achieve, and kept me hooked from start to finish. I love it how Crais combines the private detective story with the cat-and-mouse game of a fast paced action thriller, and a police procedural as an aside – with three genres rolled into one, what more can you want? Cole and Pike are a fictional partnership that really works and carries the story, and I was happy to have them both included in this latest instalment. I admit I prefer the books in the series that have Elvis as the main character and Pike as his side-kick, since I adore Elvis’ humour and it is a huge factor of enjoyment for me. 

Summary:

All in all, if you haven’t discovered this great detective series yet, The Wanted is a perfect opportunity to take the plunge. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed, though it may add quite a few new books to your TBR list. Another irresistible read from Crais, who has certainly made a name for himself in the mystery genre and is one of my go-to authors when I feel a bit book-jaded and just want a great read. Highly recommended.


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


Thursday, 14 December 2017

Audiobook Review: SILENT CHILD by Sarah A Denzil

Title: Silent Child
Author: Sarah A Denzil
Narrator:
Joanne Froggatt
Read:
November 2017
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:

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

His body was never recovered. 

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

... until Aiden returns. 

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

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

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


My musings:

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Book Review: IN THE DARK by Andreas Pflรผger

Title: In the Dark
Author: Andreas Pflรผger
Publisher:
Head of Zeus
Read:
December 2017
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ 1/2


Book Description:

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

My musings:

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

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

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

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

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




Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Book Review: THE CONFESSION by Jo Spain

Author: Jo Spain
Publisher:
Hachette Australia
Read:
December 2017
Expected publication: 11 January 2018
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:

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

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

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

My musings:

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

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

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

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



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

Monday, 4 December 2017

Book Review: 29 SECONDS by T.M. Logan

Title: 29 Seconds
Author: T.M. Logan
Publisher:
Bonnier Zaffre
Read:
December 2017
Expected publication: 25 January 2017
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ1/2


My musings:

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

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

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

Summary:

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



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