Saturday, 26 May 2018

Book Review: THE NOWHERE CHILD by Christian White

Author: Christian White
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: 26 June 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/4

Book Description:

On a break between teaching photography classes, Kim Leamy is approached by a stranger investigating the disappearance of a little girl from her Kentucky home twenty-eight years earlier. He believes she is that girl.

At first Kim brushes it off, but when she scratches the surface of her family background in Australia, questions arise that aren’t easily answered. To find the truth, she must travel to Sammy’s home of Manson, Kentucky, and into a dark past. As the mystery unravels and the town’s secrets are revealed, this superb novel builds towards a tense, terrifying, and entirely unexpected climax.

My musings:

How would you feel if you found out that everything you believed about your family was a lie? Shocked? Confused? Betrayed? Perhaps all of those, and more. When a stranger turns up on Kim Leamy’s doorstep in Melbourne, telling her that he has reason to believe that she might be Sammy Went, a little girl who disappeared at the age of two from her home in Manson, Kentucky, never to be seen again, she dismisses it as a bad joke at first. However, her mother has recently passed away, and there are some niggling questions about her childhood Kim cannot answer. As evidence mounts, Kim knows that there is only one way to find out – to go to America herself and retrace Sammy’s last steps.

Am I the only one that finds skeletons in family closets simply irresistible? As soon as I heard the premise of this novel, I knew that I had to read it. Perhaps because my own mother died when I was a child, and there are so many questions I will now never know the answer to. So I fully “got” Kim’s confusion and frustration, and her need to find out the truth – as shocking as it may turn out to be. Because what can be more confronting than finding out that your parents may not be who they have claimed to be, and that you may have a whole other family in another country – a family who gave you up for dead twenty-eight years ago! White doesn’t leave it at that, he also throws in some interesting plot twists and settings that added something unique to this story. The “then” and “now” timeline lets us explore the events that led to little Sammy’s disappearance, and finally give us the answer to Kim’s many questions – though they may not be what you had expected.

I admit that despite its intriguing premise, I had a few issues with being able to connect to the characters, which made me feel a little less invested in the mystery than I had hoped. A couple of POVs felt unnecessary to me, stalling the story and distracting from the main narrative, although other readers may disagree. Personally, I found I wished for a bit more suspense, as all the right foundations had been laid and were there for the taking, but never totally paid off for me and I felt my interest waning a few times as the story digressed from its main focus. That said, The Nowhere Child was a quick and entertaining read that kept me turning the pages, and although it did not raise goosebumps, the final denouement was satisfying and held a few surprises in store. All in all it should appeal to lovers of mysteries that are based around dysfunctional family dynamics, and those readers who like a somewhat unusual setting (you will know what I mean when you read it). The Nowhere Child is White’s debut novel, and I look forward to reading more from this author in future – with his self-professed passion for true crime podcasts, there may be some more interesting stories coming our way soon!

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.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Book Review: THE LOST FAMILY by Jenna Blum

Author: Jenna Blum
Publisher: Harper Books
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: 5 June 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/4

Book Description:

In 1965 Manhattan, patrons flock to Masha’s to savor its brisket bourguignon and impeccable service and to admire its dashing owner and head chef Peter Rashkin. With his movie-star good looks and tragic past, Peter, a survivor of Auschwitz, is the most eligible bachelor in town. But Peter does not care for the parade of eligible women who come to the restaurant hoping to catch his eye. He has resigned himself to a solitary life. Running Masha’s consumes him, as does his terrible guilt over surviving the horrors of the Nazi death camp while his wife, Masha—the restaurant’s namesake—and two young daughters perished.

Then exquisitely beautiful June Bouquet, an up-and-coming young model, appears at the restaurant, piercing Peter’s guard. Though she is twenty years his junior, the two begin a passionate, whirlwind courtship. When June unexpectedly becomes pregnant, Peter proposes, believing that beginning a new family with the woman he loves will allow him to let go of the horror of the past. But over the next twenty years, the indelible sadness of those memories will overshadow Peter, June, and their daughter Elsbeth, transforming them in shocking, heartbreaking, and unexpected ways.

Jenna Blum artfully brings to the page a husband devastated by a grief he cannot name, a frustrated wife struggling to compete with a ghost she cannot banish, and a daughter sensitive to the pain of both her own family and another lost before she was born. Spanning three cinematic decades, The Lost Family is a charming, funny, and elegantly bittersweet study of the repercussions of loss and love. 

My musings:

Years ago, in one of my previous jobs, I had the privilege to meet many holocaust survivors who shared their heartbreaking stories of survival and new beginnings in other countries far from their home. Although I greatly admired their resilience and the human survival spirit, and their capacity to forgive and start over, I also realised that there was often a huge price to pay for the trauma they had endured. One was survivor’s guilt, of having escaped the death camps when so many of their family and friends were not able to. Although they had moved on, married and had children in their new country, many said that they were not able to share their experiences with those nearest and dearest to them, and that the past remained an ever present ghost in their lives, which their families could not understand. This lasting effect of trauma is the very thing Blum explores in her latest novel, The Lost Family. Peter Rashkin, a German Jew who has managed to escape the death camps and has fled to America to start a new life, is still haunted by the death of his wife and their small twin daughters during the war. When he meets the vivacious, beautiful and innocent model June Bouquet, he thinks that she will be his salvation, the woman who will rescue him from his grief and allow him to move on. But Peter’s trauma is a heavy burden, one that will threaten to destroy his marriage and affect his daughter Elsbeth, who grows up in the shadow of the ghosts of her half-sisters, even though Peter will never talk about them.

Blum’s novel is told in three distinctive parts. Part one is told from Peter’s POV, as he is trying to make a new start in America, working in his restaurant Masha’s in New York. It is there that he first meets and falls in love with June, whose youth and happiness seems to be the perfect cure for his grief. June, who has grown up without a father, is drawn to the much older and mysterious Peter, basking in his adoration. When a shocked June first finds out about Masha’s and the twins’ deaths and suggests that Peter see a therapist to talk about his trauma, he replies: “Why would I need an analyst? I am happy now. I have you.” Part two is set ten years later as an unhappy June reflects on motherhood, marriage and her lost dreams, trying to find a way out of her lonely life. The last part, another decade on, tells about sixteen-year-old Elsbeth, who is propelled into adulthood through a chance encounter. For me, the first part of the novel was definitely my favourite. I loved the atmospheric setting and the descriptions of the magical food creations Peter serves up in his restaurant, named after his dead wife. As he first meets June and falls in love, for the first time hoping that the future will bring a new beginning, I so much hoped that he would be able to find happiness.

The latter two thirds of the book are a lot more difficult to read, as they deal with the fall-out of Peter’s past on the other family members, who will never be able to grasp the full extent of the trauma but are nonetheless deeply affected by it. As the granddaughter of a POW I recognised the signs of PTSD in Peter, which also scarred my grandfather, and therefore his children, including my mother. Blum paints an insightful and realistic picture of a marriage where both partners are trying to find salvation in each other to escape the past, but which ends up drowning them. It is, at times, unspeakably sad and tragic to read. There were a few things left unanswered that stayed in my mind long after I finished reading, and I realised how deeply this story had troubled me.


In summary, Blum’s novel The Lost Family is an insightful portrayal of a family shaped by loss and grief. With its atmospheric setting and believable characters, it effortlessly propelled me into a New York of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, as each of the family members drift away from each other, flotsam of a war that left a heavy burden of grief to carry. This is a topic not often explored in novels, and although it left me feeling unspeakably sad, it was a poignant reminder of the burden of the past impacting on our relationships and shaping future generations. I look forward to reading more from this author in future.

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

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Audiobook Review: THE CRAFTSMAN by Sharon Bolton

Author: Sharon Bolton
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: out now

Book Description:

August, 1999 

On the hottest day of the year, Assistant Commissioner Florence Lovelady attends the funeral of Larry Glassbrook, the convicted murderer she arrested thirty years earlier. A master carpenter and funeral director, Larry imprisoned his victims, alive, in the caskets he made himself. Clay effigies found entombed with their bodies suggested a motive beyond the worst human depravity.

June, 1969

13-year- old Patsy Wood has been missing for two days, the third teenager to disappear in as many months. New to the Lancashire police force and struggling to fit in, WPC Lovelady is sent to investigate an unlikely report from school children claiming to have heard a voice calling for help. A voice from deep within a recent grave.

August, 1999

As she tries to lay her ghosts to rest, Florence is drawn back to the Glassbrooks' old house, in the shadow of Pendle Hill, where she once lodged with the family. She is chilled by the discovery of another effigy - one bearing a remarkable resemblance to herself. Is the killer still at large? Is Florence once again in terrible danger? Or, this time, could the fate in store be worse than even her darkest imaginings?

My musings:

“What is it that you love so much about this author?, one of my friends asked me after having to listen to my half hour rant about how very much I was looking forward to Bolton’s latest offering, The Craftsman. Mmmh, where do I even start?

There is the delicious dark and claustrophobic setting with gothic undertones that is a trademark of each and every one of Bolton’s books, which thankfully also forms a large part of The Craftsman. To add some extra interest, this latest book is set in the mysterious region of Pendle Hill, Lancashire, the place of the Pendle witch trials in 17th century England. Apparently, the hill continues to be associated with witchcraft, and Bolton has incorporated this element into her story, which added extra mystery and an air of the supernatural to the story. I am always intrigued by a spooky, claustrophobic setting, and the book features quite a few of those!

Then there are the characters: in her epilogue, Bolton states that she wanted to write a story featuring women that may not fit the common mould, and PC Florence Lovelady certainly is a fine example of that. From her florid name, to her shrewd eye for patterns and detail, to her courage even in the face of adversity, this is one plucky woman that makes a worthy protagonist for this multi-faceted mystery. Bolton tells her story in two separate timelines, which means that we get to meet Florence both as a young brand-new WPC who has to fight for her place in the squad as the only female officer in the whole area, and later as a successful senior Assistant Commissioner who has earned her place and is respected by her peers. I especially loved how the young Florence never gave up but stood up for what she believed in, even when it may have been more prudent for her own career to keep her mouth shut. Over the years, Bolton has introduced us to many plucky female protagonists, but Florence may be my favourite yet (except of course Lacey Flint, who still has a special place in my heart)! Apart from Florence, there is the usual cast of three-dimensional, interesting characters, some of which had me totally under their spell and whose motives I was never totally sure about.

Not only is Bolton the Queen of gothic crime, but she also knows how to deliver a multi-faceted, well crafted plot that takes the reader on a journey with so many twists and turns you need to take some travel-sickness medication to stop your head from spinning! Despite having read every one of Bolton’s previous books and thinking I had some idea of how this author’s mind worked, I could have never foreseen the unexpected turn the plot took at the end of the book, and I am still slightly dazed with wonder. Don’t take anything for granted, is all I can say!

Personally, I especially loved the dual timeline in this one, and the realistic description of Florence’s struggles in a male-dominated career in the 1960s. Bolton totally nailed that era for me, and I thought it made for the perfect setting, from the small-town politics at the time to the ghosts of the past still casting a spell over the area’s residents, especially the female population. Witchcraft featured strongly in the book, but in a way that did not detract from the main storyline, nor did to push the story too far into the supernatural. In fact, I found the region’s history so fascinating that I would love to visit the area myself! As usual with Bolton’s books, this one is not for the faint hearted and features some pretty disturbing themes, like people being buried alive and dying horrible agonising deaths. If you are, like me, a person who finds little morbid details fascinating, such as the difference between a coffin and a casket and the amount of time one could survive trapped in one, then this book is definitely for you! Although you may want to get your chores done early and avoid having to traipse through the dark backyard to lock up your chickens after reading this (learning from my mistakes here!).


I am rambling, so I will try to sum it up briefly: if you are a fan of dark, gritty and well-constructed mysteries then I suggest you rush out and beg, borrow, buy or steal this one right now, lock yourself away in your bedroom and enjoy a massive read-a-thon (don’t think you will get anything else done until you have finished it!). As I said, Bolton never disappoints, and this one may be one of her best novels yet to date. I am overjoyed that this is apparently the first book in a trilogy – which means that there will be more – woohoo!!!!!!! I can’t wait to learn a bit more about Florence’s past, as I am sure she has a few more skeletons in the closet for us to find (pun intended)!

Image result for 5 stars

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Book Review: BABY TEETH by Zoje Stage

Title: Baby Teeth
Author: Zoje Stage
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: 17 July 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

Book Description:

Meet Hanna.

She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.

Meet Suzette.

She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained home schooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day. As Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated, and Suzette's husband remains blind to the failing family dynamics, Suzette starts to fear that there’s something seriously wrong, and that maybe home isn’t the best place for their baby girl after all.

My musings:

Why do you think that we find books about psychopathic children so intriguing? Perhaps because it goes against all our instincts that children are born intrinsically innocent? It also raises the age-old nature vs nurture question that makes for brilliant debates in bookclub meetings. When I saw that Baby Teeth was being compared to We Need to Talk About Kevin – which is on my list of both most brilliant and most disturbing books I have ever read – I absolutely had to get my hands on it. Even more so when I saw all the divided opinions on social media, with people either loving or hating it in equal measure. So, you ask, which camp am I in?

To be honest, in neither. Baby Teeth was one of those books that kept me turning the pages but left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. There was so much potential for this story to be either totally creepy, or suspenseful, or at least offering some insights into what makes an “evil” child tick. It touched on all of these points, but never really lived up to its full potential for me. I blame this on one thing: Hanna’s POV. I am not usually a fan of reading books that offer the psychopathic perpetrator’s POV, finding that only a few authors can pull this off successfully (perhaps because they are not psychopathic killers – just as well!). Most end up exaggerating the depravity until it crosses the line of credibility, or ends up being too sick for my liking.

With Hanna, a seven year old girl, it was the former. No matter how brilliant Hanna’s mind may have been, I found the idea of a two-, four- or seven-year old being capable of carefully plotting her mother’s death simply too farfetched. The one reason We Need to Talk About Kevin was such a success for me was that we only ever got Eva’s POV, which pre-empted an ever present niggly doubt in the back of my head: was Kevin really as bad as she claimed? Was it her parenting that was defective? Was she misinterpreting his needs and motives? It added suspense and tension, which I found lacking in Baby Teeth. Hanna’s POV never left any doubt about her motives, which at times were bordering on silly. Whilst I found Kevin truly terrifying, I thought Hanna was a brat that could have done with a bit of parental discipline. I may have been able to buy it had Hanna been a bit older and more able of the thought processes described here. The only other way that this could have worked for me would have been to add a creepy supernatural element, some horror, anything to add some suspense or make Hanna appear a threat.

All that said, I kept turning the pages despite my sigh of exasperation about 30% into the book as I flung it from me in frustration and vowed to DNF it. But I picked it up again and kept reading – to the very end, which I guess earns it at least three stars. Why? I’m not sure – on one hand I want my four hours back, on the other the thought of having a child you are frightened of was intriguing and I constantly wondered what I would do if I were in Suzette’s shoes. There was one point at which a therapist came into the picture and added a brief hope of learning something interesting about Hanna’s personality disorder, but unfortunately the thread was not fully explored. 


To sum up the experience for me, a We Need to Talk About Kevin it was not. It was, however, strangely compelling and kept me reading. I can see that Baby Teeth will make some waves in the bookish community once it comes out in July with some staunch loved-it or hated-it factions battling it out on the review front, whilst I am still sitting on the fence watching with morbid fascination as it all unfolds. I guess there is only one way to find out whether this one is for you, so by all means, get yourself a copy and read it!

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.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Book Review: WHEN I FIND YOU by Emma Curtis

Author: Emma Curtis
Publisher: Random House UK
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: 9 August 2018

Book Description:

What do you do when someone takes advantage of your greatest weakness?

When Laura wakes up after her office Christmas party and sees a man’s shirt on the floor, she is horrified. But this is no ordinary one-night-stand regret. Laura suffers from severe face-blindness, a condition that means she is completely unable to identify and remember faces. So the man she spent all night dancing with and kissing – the man she thought she’d brought home – was ‘Pink Shirt’.

But the shirt on her floor is blue. And now Laura must go to work every day and face the man who took advantage of her condition. The man she has no way of recognising.

My musings:

With the sheer number of psychological thrillers out there, I always greatly admire an author who can come up with an original premise that hasn’t been done a million times before. Such as giving the main character a medical condition that makes them just a little bit unreliable and casts doubt over the events unfolding. We saw it with the agoraphobic protagonist in A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window, or S.J. Watson’s character Christine in Before I Go toSleep, who had suffered a brain injury and couldn’t form memories. Curtis uses the rare condition prosopagnosia, or face blindness, for her main protagonist Laura, and I admit that when I first started reading I had no idea that this debilitating condition could form the basis for such a riveting story – or where exactly the author was going to lead me. Aren’t those mysteries the best kind?

Laura, a creative ad designer in a successful advertising agency, has managed her condition from her work colleagues, even though she struggles with it on a daily basis. There is nothing wrong with her eyesight, but her brain is unable to interpret facial features, which makes her “face blind”, i.e. unable to tell one face apart from another – even those faces of the people nearest and dearest to her, including her own face in the mirror. She heavily relies on other features, such as hairstyle and colour, mannerisms, clothing etc to be able to tell who people are, but these things are changeable and not always reliable. Social situations are her worst nightmare, such as people approaching her in the street or on the train, where the context is missing and she has no reference points to help her identify them. When Laura finds herself in a situation where someone exploits her vulnerability to his advantage, it struck me how debilitating her condition really is! Imagine there is a perpetrator out there somewhere, but you are unable to recognise him, even if he sits next to you on the train, chats to you in the canteen, or shows up at a dinner party. It came as no surprise to me that Laura became anxious and neurotic, living in constant fear and suspicion.

Apart from the very original and fascinating concept of face blindness, I found Laura to be an enigmatic and interesting character who courageously fought to overcome her limitations. As Laura shares insights into her daily struggles, it was obvious that Curtis had done her research into the condition, which made for fascinating reading and a story that kept me turning the pages. To turn this into a well-written mystery was an added bonus! I also really enjoyed the two separate POVs in the story – whilst the main part is being told in the first person through Laura’s eyes, her accounts are fleshed out by a third-person account from the perspective of Rebecca, one of Laura’s bosses. I was slightly puzzled at first as two why these two very different women were being chosen to tell the story, but it was perfect!

There are a few well-executed twists in the story which took me by surprise, and the final denouement was satisfying and fitting for this original, character driven story. Overall, I really enjoyed a mystery that stood out from the rest with its intriguing concept, and I look forward to reading more from this author in future.

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

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Book Review: THE DAY OF THE DEAD by Nicci French

Title: The Day of the Dead
Author: Nicci French
Publisher: William Morrow
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: 24 July 2018

"No one is ever like anyone else. No one can be replaced. Every death is the end of a world. And they're gone, and yet they remain. They walk with us along the secret rivers."

Book Description:

A decade ago, psychologist Frieda Klein was sucked into the orbit of Dean Reeve -- a killer able to impersonate almost anyone, a man who can disappear without a trace, a psychopath obsessed with Frieda herself.

In the years since, Frieda has worked with -- and sometimes against -- the London police in solving their most baffling cases. But now she's in hiding, driven to isolation by Reeve. When a series of murders announces his return, Frieda must emerge from the shadows to confront her nemesis. And it's a showdown she might not survive.

This gripping cat-and-mouse thriller pits one of the most fascinating characters in contemporary fiction against an enemy like none other. Smart, sophisticated, and spellbinding, it's a novel to leave you breathless.

My musings:

After faithfully following the Frieda Klein series for years and becoming rather fond of this cool and composed fictional psychotherapist who has left a trail of bodies behind her over the course of the previous seven books, The Day of the Dead was one of my most anticipated new releases this year. Now that I have read it, I feel that certain sense of sadness that comes with farewelling a good friend.

Lovers of the series will know that all previous books are overshadowed by a cat-and-mouse game with the dark spectre of Dean Reeve, a psychopathic killer obsessed with Frieda, who has ratcheted up a bigger body count than Ted Bundy in his efforts to get Frieda’s attention. Initially thought to be a figment of Frieda’s imagination, the police have finally come to believe her claims that Reeve is at the centre of a murder spree targeting seemingly random victims around London, but so far no one has been able to outwit him and he has been staying one step ahead of all efforts to catch him. He has not shied away from targeting those nearest and dearest to Frieda, making her so afraid for the safety of her family and friends that she knows she must disappear out of their lives in an effort to keep them safe. So it is a very different Frieda we meet in this latest instalment, a Frieda who has left her old life behind and gone underground to divert Reeve's attention away from her loved ones. But of course, best laid plans and all that ... her old life is about to catch up with her!

Frieda has really grown on me over the years and developed into a true-to-life character I have loved to see back in every new book in the series. With Frieda, the French duo have managed to create both a mysterious, aloof and yet enigmatic protagonist as the centre of their mysteries. Frieda, who wanders the streets of London, following the courses of ancient forgotten rivers in order to clear her head, or plays solitary games of chess in her house with only the cat for company. I loved joining Frieda on her rambles through the city and know that I will have to look up some of those waterways if I ever make it to London! But the books would be nothing without the rich cast of Frieda’s friends and family, who have stayed loyal to her with a true love that overcomes even the threat of death from a psychopathic murderer like Reeve. I will dearly miss Josef’s soulful dark eyes, Yvette’s prickliness, Olivia’s drunken hysterics and Karlsson’s calm reflections. What a great bunch of people!

Each book in the series introduces a new interesting character, and this time it is the bubbly criminology student Lola Hayes who accidentally stumbles into Frieda’s path when her lecturer suggest that she write a dissertation about Frieda’s life. With Frieda on the run for her life, this will not be an easy task, and one that Lola may live to regret. 


Enough said. To sum it up briefly, The Day of the Dead is a worthy finale to a series that has given me years of enjoyment, and I will miss the anticipation of a new book. It has all the hallmarks of previous books in the series: it is dark, and gritty and utterly compelling. If you haven’t discovered this series yet, I strongly suggest you pick up the first book in the series and read them all in order – and be assured that Frieda’s character may appear prickly and distant in the first book, but will grow on you until she feels like a well-worn coat you can’t wait to put on to head out into the dark windy night for a walk. I loved also how this skilled author duo know exactly when to pull the plug on the final resolution, so it is not wrapped and bow-tied too neatly. *applause* A five star read for me, all done and dusted in one long all-nighter because I couldn’t put it down!

Image result for 5 stars

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

Friday, 11 May 2018

Book Review: EVERY SINGLE SECRET by Emily Carpenter

Author: Emily Carpenter
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: out now

Book Description:

Emotionally guarded Daphne Amos always believed she’d found a kindred spirit in her fiancΓ©, Heath. Both very private people, they’ve kept their pasts hidden from the world, and each other, until Heath’s escalating nightmares begin to put an undeniable strain on their relationship. Determined to give their impending marriage the best chance of succeeding, Heath insists that Daphne join him on a seven-day retreat with Dr. Matthew Cerny, a psychologist celebrated for getting to the root of repressed memories. Daphne reluctantly agrees—even though the past is the last place she wants to go.

The retreat’s isolated and forbidding location increases her unease, as do the doctor’s rules: they must relinquish their keys and phones, they’ll be monitored at all hours by hidden cameras, and they’re never to socialize with the other guests.

One sleepless night, Daphne decides to leave her room…and only then does she realize that the institute is not at all what it seems—and that whatever’s crying out from Heath’s past isn’t meant to be heard. It’s meant to be silenced.

Book trailer: link

My musings: 

I love nothing more than being blindsided by a book. To happily and trustingly follow my little breadcrumb trail until I suddenly stand open-mouthed and in shock, realising I have walked right into a trap. With the growing trend of the “killer twist”, we are so on alert for these false trails that it is getting harder to find a book that manages to do that. I am happy to announce that this is one of them!

The story itself sounds irresistibly intriguing. Daphne and Heath are a young couple who are very much in love but who each carry dark secrets from the past they have never discussed with anyone for fear of destroying their relationship. The deal of making a fresh start without snooping into each other’s lives works well until Heath becomes increasingly distant and unhappy. He claims that in order to make the relationship work, he will need to come to term with his demons and make Daphne face hers. What better way to do that than join a reclusive couples retreat, run by a renowned psychotherapist that specialises in couples therapy? Daphne, predictable, is not at all eager to open this can of worms, but she goes along with Heath under one condition – she will support him but will not be participating in the therapy herself. And this is how the two find themselves and two other couples in the middle of nowhere in a large spooky mansion rigged with cameras, where the retreat will be taking place. Phones, ipads and other electronic devices are being taken off them at the door, and there is no link with the outside world. The fun has just begun ....

Carpenter proved with her last book (The Weight of Lies) that she can tell a good, original story, and she certainly continues the trend with this one. Here is a writer who can not only spin a good tale, but who is the queen of unhealthy family relationships that lend a sinister quality to the storyline. Whilst the unusual element in her last book was “a book in a book” (with excerpt from one of the characters’ books “Kitten” featuring strongly in the storyline), this story is told a bit more conventionally incorprating each character’s flashbacks to the dark secrets in their pasts that weigh heavily on their shoulders. And boy oh boy, you are in for some surprises here!

Three of the things I loved most about The Weight of Lies again make a comeback here: 1) an eerie, claustrophobic and gothic setting; 2) damaged but relatable characters who draw you into the story; 3) an irresistibly broody narrative full of foreshadowing that keeps you turning the pages frantically. I read this in one long night and blame my bad-tempered sleep deprived self on the quality of the story! For those similarly afflicted readers who, like me, find it difficult to suspend disbelief (the struggle is real!), there will most likely come a moment when you flounder a little bit – well, I did. It did not take away my enjoyment of the book, but left me wishing that someone else in my circle had read the book as I was itching so badly to discuss spoilers!


So for the short version: if you loved Carpenter’s earlier work, you will appreciate the same irresistible writing, claustrophobic setting and interesting characters the last book offered. Anyone who claims they saw the twist coming – maybe you’re super-Sherlock, but I don’t know if I believe you! 

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.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Butbooksarebetter2 Instagram 1st Anniversary Giveaway

Happy birthday to my Bookstagram account! 1 year old today. Around this time last year I first heard the word "bookstagram" and thought to myself "what is that?" with the sort of vague look reserved for things I think I should know, but don't know, and feel I can't ask about for fear of appearing stupid. And what do we do in this situation? ...

That's right! GOOGLE it! 

So that was the way I stumbled into the magical world that is bookstagram, and the great bookish community there. Half of my TBR list comes from the people who so generously share their book recommendation with the world - yes, I blame YOU for the Alpine mountain range that is my TBR pile!

This milestone made me reflect on my love for reading, and how books have always been a big part of my life. Some of these faithful companions have been with me through many moves and life changes and hold special memories. They have helped me through my tumultuous teens and then seen my babies being born and growing up. They have been stowaways in my suitcase on overseas holidays and have been lent to good friends with the words: "you have to read this!" I still turn to them like an old friend in times of a crisis or when I need a shoulder to lean on.

5 comfort reads that hold special memories for me:

The Mists of Avalon The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley: I first read this brilliantly written retelling of the King Arthur legend whilst staying with my grandparents one hot sultry summer in my teens. I remember the magical world it transported me into, and how I rambled among some old Celtic burial sites in the countryside, dreamily imagining Morgaine's world. I have read it many times since, and passed it on to my daughter to read, who loved it just as much as I did.

Blackberry Wine Blackberry Wine, by Joanne Harris: I first read this bitter-sweet coming-of-age story when travelling around Australia in a caravan with two small children, and Jay's friendship with Jackapple Joe brought back a lot of childhood memories of spending time in my grand-aunt's magical garden and her cellar, where she brewed wine from various fruit growing in her orchard. Cheers to you, Auntie Mitzi, and the magical memories you left me with! The book has one of the most unusual narrators I have ever encountered - a bottle of wine!

The Bronze Horseman (The Bronze Horseman, #1) The Bronze Horseman, by Paullina Simons: we had only just moved into our house when I first red this classic story of love and war, which is one of the most touching and harrowing stories of WW2 I have ever read. Based on the life story of the author's grandparents, it tells of the great love between young and pretty Tatiana Metanov to Alexander Belov, a soldier in the Red Army, during the siege of Leningrad. My grandfather, who had been a prisoner of war during WW2 in Russia, told some frightening tales of the Russian winter and the slaughter he miraculously survived, so this book touched a special nerve for me.

Shadow of the Moon Shadow of the Moon, by M. M. Kaye: I remember travelling around Europe one hot summer and lying in the bunk of a caravan trying to get my baby to sleep with the sound of crickets and roosters crowing in the fields outside. This tumultuous tale set in India during a time of revolt against the British Raj, including the bloody massacre at Meerut,provided some vivid armchair and time travel!

The Grapes of Wrath The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck: I first came across this book on my Dad's bookshelf when I was about ten years old. At the time, my mother was in hospital and couldn't take us to the library, and being a fast reader even then I had long run out of books. I desperately needed something to read, so I smuggled it into my bedroom and sat up long into the night, secretly reading under the covers with my torch. Steinbeck's vivid descriptions of hardship and hunger in 1930's America gave me nightmares for weeks!

To celebrate the anniversary of my Bookstagram account and my life-long love story with book, I want to make wishes come true. I am giving away a book of your choice (up to the value of A$30).

This competition is open internationally, as long as Book Depository or Amazon deliver to your country and the book is available at the time. Just head over to my IG account (link) and tell me which book you would choose, and tell me of a book that holds special memories for you.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Book Review: THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS by Paolo Cognetti

Author: Paolo Cognetti
Publisher: Random House UK
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: available now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

Pietro is a lonely boy living in Milan. With his parents becoming more distant each day, the only thing the family shares is their love for the Dolomites, the mountains that hug the northeastern border of Italy.

While on vacation at the foot of the mountains, Pietro meets Bruno, an adventurous, spirited local boy. Together they spend many summers exploring the mountain’s meadows and peaks and discover the similarities and differences in their lives, their backgrounds, and their futures. The two boys come to find the true meaning of friendship and camaraderie, even as their divergent paths in life— Bruno’s in the mountains, Pietro’s in cosmopolitan cities across the world—test the strength and meaning of their connection.

A modern Italian masterpiece, The Eight Mountains is a lyrical coming-of-age story about the power of male friendships and the enduring bond between fathers and sons.

My musings:

I love atmospheric stories with remote settings, so when I came across The Eight Mountains, set in the beautiful Dolomite region in Italy, I had to read it! The book follows the lifelong friendship forged between two lonely Italian boys after a chance meeting one summer. Pietro is an only child, living in Milan with his parents. Every summer, his father takes the family into the mountains, where he climbs the rugged mountain peaks in the search of something he never quite manages to find. One summer, Pietro’s mother decides to rent a summer cabin, where she intends to spend the whole holidays with her son whilst his father has to go back to work in the city. It is during this first summer in the cabin that Pietro meets Bruno, a local fatherless boy herding cows near the river where Pietro likes to spend his time. As their friendship blossoms, a lonely summer soon turns into one of adventure and camaraderie as the two boys roam the countryside together.

The Eight Mountains is a beautifully written, bittersweet story that soon drew me into the stunning landscape at the centre of it. As I had hoped, the mountains play a pivotal role in the book, representing the longing each and every character in the book feels, even if they are unable to explain it. Pietro’s father, whose conquering of the various mountain peaks defies the lack of control he feels over the rest of his life; Pietro’s mother, who loses herself in the tranquillity and the simple life the mountains offer; and Pietro, whose friendship with Bruno fills the gap of the lack of siblings and the troubled relationship with his often cold and distant father. Bruno himself is a true mountain dweller, who will be under the spell of this wild and harsh landscape for the rest of his life. The mountains were almost like another character in the book, and I could picture them so clearly!

As the boys grow into men, the story skipped forward a few decades, and we get to meet Bruno and Pietro as adults in the aftermath of Pietro’s father’s death. Pietro, who has been estranged from his father for years, must claim his inheritance, a house his father has built on the lonely and remote slopes of one of the mountains. It was at this point that the difference between the boys became really apparent to me. Bruno is completely under the spell of the mountains that have been his home all his life, whilst Pietro travels the world in search of something he can’t quite explain, much like his father has done all those years. Written solely in the first person from Pietro’s perspective, the adult Bruno with his sad childhood background remains a bit of an enigma, and I would have loved chapters from the POV of Bruno to understand why the mountains had such a strong hold on him that he would risk losing all he held dear to remain there.



Lyrical and introspective, The Eight Mountains is a touching and often sad coming-of-age story of two boys from different family backgrounds. With a stunning landscape that forms another character in itself, this was armchair travel of the best kind.

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

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The Mountain by Luca D'Andrea The Mountain, by Luca D'Andrea