Sunday, 29 July 2018

Book Review: AN UNWANTED GUEST by Shari Lapena


Author: Shari Lapena
Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Publishers
Read: July 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


We can’t choose the strangers we meet.

As the guests arrive at beautiful, remote Mitchell’s Inn, they’re all looking forward to a relaxing weekend deep in the forest, miles from anywhere. They watch their fellow guests with interest, from a polite distance.

Usually we can avoid the people who make us nervous, make us afraid.



With a violent storm raging, the group finds itself completely cut off from the outside world. Nobody can get in – or out. And then the first body is found . . . and the horrifying truth comes to light. There’s a killer among them – and nowhere to run.

Until we find ourselves in a situation we can’t escape. Trapped.


My musings:


I love nothing more than a claustrophobic setting, so as soon as I read the premise of Lapena’s latest novel, An Unwanted Guest, I knew this would make the perfect weekend read for me!


Eight guests arrive for a weekend getaway at a quaint hotel in the Catskill Mountains, run by a father and son team. Set in a remote nature spot away from civilisation and without mobile phone or wifi, the hotel offers the perfect place to relax and leave the stresses of everyday life behind. As a snowstorm howls outside, and the roads are getting rapidly snowed in, the guests settle in for a cosy drink in front of the fire. In the morning, one of them will be dead. Without electricity, phone reception or a way out, the remaining guests find themselves at the mercy of a ruthless killer – has a stranger made it into the building, or is the murderer in their midst? As the body count rises, the group of strangers must fight for their survival – and not everyone will make it out alive.

I confess that I simply loved the setting of An Unwanted Guest! Lapena does an excellent job in creating the perfect atmosphere for murder: the initial cosy warmth of an old-fashioned hotel set amidst a snow covered landscape, a fire burning in the grate, soft chairs inviting guests to gather in the hotel lobby as they look forward to a weekend of relaxation. It all sounded so idyllic! Until the blizzard cuts off electricity and the roads become impassable, confining people indoors. Suddenly, the snow is not so pretty anymore as the wind howls around the building, ice covered branches of trees becoming missiles, the fire in the grate barely giving off enough warmth to escape the brutal winter cold. The chill and the fear become so palpable that it even invaded my own cosy living room and a shiver ran down my spine!

One by one the guests are being killed off and there is no way out. The novel was reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s locked door mystery And Then There Were None with a modern setting. Here, we also have a bunch of characters who each have a dark secret in their past. None of them are particularly likeable, and by getting glimpses of each person’s thoughts through multiple POVs, each and every one of them could potentially be the murderer. As the group is confined indoors due to the inclement weather, the former idyllic setting soon turns into your worst nightmare, the hotel becomes a death trap, and personalities clash and shatter under the strain. Lapena knows how to build tension, and when my bathroom door slammed in the wind whilst reading this I nearly fell out of bed with fright, my heart rate rocketing up to 200 and my muscles aching with the adrenaline rush!

Lapena has a very distinctive writing style that never looks too deeply into any of her characters’ psyches. Whilst we get to see some of their thoughts, I never felt like I was truly getting close to any of them, which in this case worked quite well, as it allowed me to consider each and every one of them as a suspect. I felt that Lapena really came into her own with this novel, using her unique voice to its fullest potential, which made this tense whodunit a definite favourite out of all her books for me. Whilst I normally prefer novels where I can get a bit deeper into the characters’ minds and have someone to root for, in this case I appreciated and enjoyed the fast pace and unrelenting tension of this classic whodunit. Its chilly atmosphere totally absorbed me and I sat up late into the night until I finished it. Recommended as the perfect weekend or getaway read!


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.




Friday, 27 July 2018

Book Review: BLACKOUT by Ragnar Jonasson



Title: Blackout (Dark Iceland #3)
Author: Ragnar Jonasson
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Read: July 2018
Expected publication: 28 August 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:



On the shores of a tranquil fjord in Northern Iceland, a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer's night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykajvik to investigate on her own, unaware that an innocent person's life hangs in the balance. Ari ThΓ³r Arason and his colleagues on the tiny police force in SiglufjΓΆrΓ°ur struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. What secrets does the dead man harbour, and what is the young reporter hiding? As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it's a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies ...


My musings:



I love the bleakness and stark setting of Nordic noir and have become a great fan of the Dark Iceland series for exactly those reasons, as well as a fondness for detective Ari Thor Arason, who finds himself marooned in the small fishing village of SiglufjΓΆrΓ°ur in the remote North of the country for his first police placement.

Whilst the first book in the series saw the village engulfed in winter and virtually cut off from its surroundings, we now get to see it in summer, and the 24-hour daylight that can be as strange as the winter darkness. The rest of Iceland is engulfed in smoke and ash from two volcanic eruptions, which adds the somewhat foreboding atmosphere that is so characteristic of Jonasson’s writing. Ari Thor takes a bit of a backward step in Blackout, as we are introduced to young journalist Isrun, who is investigating the same crime as Ari Thor – the brutal murder of a man in the neighbouring town of SkagafjΓΆrΓ°ur. Ari Thor’s superior Tomas and his colleague Hylnur also make a repeat appearance, as does Kristin, his ex-girlfriend, who has met a new man after her split with Ari Thor.

I really liked Isrun and enjoyed the different angle her investigation added to the case. Like every other character in the book, Isrun comes with a troubled past that added extra depth to the story. But as usual, it is the setting that adds the richest character of all, shaping people’s thoughts and actions and drawing the reader deeply into this wild and remote place. Perhaps it is the armchair travel that has me so utterly addicted to the series, but I emerged from the pages slightly dazed as if I had awoken in a different world completely alien to my own. Such is Jonasson’s skill that the atmosphere perpetrates deeply into the reader’s psyche, until it almost seems like reality.

I will not go into the plot of this whodunit, other than to say that it is a classical police procedural with the added angle from Isrun’s rogue investigation, and all the strings tie together very satisfactorily in the end. I thoroughly enjoyed this latest instalment in the Dark Iceland series and have already purchased Nightblind, which is the 2nd book in the series but chronologically takes place a few years after this one – and I look forward to see what life is holding for Ari Thor five years on!

Summary:


In summary, if you like Nordic noir and haven’t discovered this series yet, I urge you to do so! Jonasson’s writing is atmospheric and will transport you to a wild and remote place, where murder has that extra chill factor that characterises the genre.


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, 26 July 2018

Book Review: OPEN YOUR EYES by Paula Daly

 

Title: Open Your Eyes
Author: Paula Daly
Publisher: Random House UK
Read: July 2018
Expected publication: today
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Haven’t we all wanted to pretend everything’s perfectly fine? Jane Campbell avoids confrontation at all costs. Given the choice, she’ll always let her husband, Leon—a bestselling thriller author—fight their battles. She’d prefer to focus on the good things in life: precious days with her two young children, a steady and loving marriage, their mischievously playful cat Bonita, and her fulfilling job as a creative writing teacher. In Jane’s eyes, life is altogether sweeter than any individual bump in the road.

But when Leon suffers a brutal attack in the driveway of their home, in front of their children, Jane has to finally face reality. Who would commit such a hateful offense in broad daylight? Leon has imagined his fair share of crime on the page, and now this unthinkable violence has landed on the Campbell family doorstep. With her husband in a coma, Jane must open her eyes to the problems in her life, as well as the secrets that have been kept from her. Although she might not like what she sees, if she’s committed to discovering who hurt her husband—and why—Jane needs to take matters into her own hands.

A surprising and gripping thriller of literary ambition and envy, from acclaimed novelist Paula Daly, Open Your Eyes exposes an ordinary suburban family to a shocking act of revenge that irreparably changes their lives. 

My musings:


When Jane’s husband Leon is brutally attacked in the driveway of their suburban home, suffering a severe traumatic brain injury, the whole family’s life is suddenly turned upside down. Not only does Jane fear for her own and her children’s safety whilst the assailant is still on the loose, but she has also discovered that her husband has been keeping secrets from her – secrets that may put their future in jeopardy.

I have always enjoyed Paula Daly’s writing style, and Open Your Eyes is no different – it drew me in from the very first page and kept me interested until the very end. With so many psychological thrillers out there, it is becoming more and more difficult to find an original premise, but Daly has delivered a clever narrative with a very unique twist that totally took me by surprise. I especially appreciated her portrayal of Jane, a mother of two young children, facing the difficult task of caring for a husband who has suffered a severe traumatic brain injury that has not only changed his intellectual capabilities, but also his personality – and the whole family’s livelihood. Throughout the story, I could not help but put myself into Jane’s position, wondering how I would cope with this difficult situation – on top of fearing that her husband’s assailant is still out there posing a threat! I also enjoyed the background of the publishing world, as Leon and his best friend are both successful novelists, and Jane an aspiring writer who has yet been unsuccessful in getting her books published. Daly’s portrayal of her characters is insightful and sensitive and really brought this story to life for me.

Whilst this was a bit of a slow-burner in terms of action, the character driven narrative held an underlying sense of tension that had me frantically turn the pages to find out more, wondering what deep, dark secrets Leon has been hiding from his wife. I love a good relationship drama, and when this is combined with a mystery, it makes for the perfect weekend read! Each character was relatable, from the nosy interfering neighbours to Jane’s aloof mother, creating a background I could really empathise with. There were a couple of instances where I thought that some scenes had not been used to their full potential in creating even more menace and threat, but it probably satisfies the general audience who don’t crave their stories quite as dark and sinister as I do!


Summary:


In summary, the background of dealing with the repercussions of a brutal attack in Jane’s own home and Leon’s severe traumatic brain injury gives this clever mystery an extra depth not found in many other novels. I thoroughly enjoyed how Daly’s mind works, and the air of danger and menace underlying the story that had me frantically turning the pages to find out the answers.


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.



Monday, 23 July 2018

Audiobook Review: THE FORGOTTEN ONES by Steena Holmes


Author: Steena Holmes
Narrators: Angela Dawe, Arthur Morey
Read: July 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:



Elle is a survivor. She’s managed to piece together a solid life from a childhood of broken memories and fairy tales her mom told her to explain away bad dreams. But weekly visits to her mother still fill Elle with a paralyzing fear she can’t explain. It’s just another of so many unanswered questions she grew up with in a family estranged by silence and secrets.

Elle’s world turns upside down when she receives a deathbed request from her grandfather, a man she was told had died years ago. Racked by grief, regrets, and a haunted conscience, he has a tale of his own to tell Elle: about her mother, an imaginary friend, and two strangers who came to the house one night and never left.

As Elle’s past unfolds, so does the truth—if she can believe it. She must face the reasons for her inexplicable dread. As dark as they are, Elle must listen…before her grandfather’s death buries the family’s secrets forever. 


My musings:


To me, it’s always the sign of a good book when it evokes a range of strong emotions. The Forgotten Ones certainly managed to do that! One minute I was on the edge of my seat, biting my nails in shock and trepidation, the next I wanted to fling the book across the room in anger and horror. There were also many teary moments as the characters live through horrible ordeals, and some frustrating ones due to secrets, secrets, SECRETS! I wanted to yell at some of the characters and simply shake the truth out of them, but they were very slow in coming clean, and I hung on their every word. In summary, this book really grabbed me by the throat and kept me interested, to a point where it interfered with my activities of daily living, as I walked around the house with my headphones on listening to the audio-version 24/7 (and getting labelled as “anti-social” by my family).


I have hinted at this already, but I will say it again: The Forgotten Ones is all about family secrets, and you need to expect quite a few skeletons in the family closet with this one (quite literally). Young Elle has no idea what she is in for when she finds out that a dying stranger at the hospital she works at is in fact her grandfather, a man her mother has claimed died a long time ago. Then again, her mother is not the most reliable person, suffering from dissociative personality disorder and refusing to tell Elle anything about the childhood trauma that is believed to have triggered the condition. Elle has grown up in an environment where questions can’t be asked for fear of tipping her mother over the edge, triggering a psychotic episode that may last for days. She has become so accustomed to taking everything she has been told with suspicion that she initially doubts the “stories” her dying grandfather tells her about her mother’s past, even though she is desperate to get the answers she has always wanted, before it is too late. But is it better to know a truth so terrible it will shake your whole world, or to stay ignorant?

I love stories about dark family secrets – who doesn’t? We have quite a few in our own family’s closet, but a lot of people who could have shed light on them have taken those secrets to the grave with them, and I will never know now. But oh – the possibilities! The imagination runs riot! Holmes did an excellent job in drawing me deeply into Elle’s search for the truth very early on, and from then on I was totally at her mercy. I could not put this book down, and it touched me deeply on many levels. There are a lot of emotional triggers in this book, from childhood trauma, to mental illness, to loss, grief, loyalty and doing unthinkable things in the name of love. Holmes tells her story so well that I found empathy even for the most disturbed characters (whilst being terrified of them at the same time).

I only had one little quibble: as we were nearing the end, and I had formed and discarded several theories, I realised that with the few chapters left I would not get all the answers I had longed for, and this proved to be correct. After the nail-biting tension, the final reveal tied together a bit too quickly and neatly for me, which didn’t quite tie in with the characters’ previous actions. It did not mar the pleasure I got from reading the book, but did give me the tiniest pang of disappointment. 


Summary:



In summary, The Forgotten Ones was the perfect read for me, the type of mystery that contains everything I look for in a good story: true-to-life characters, secrets galore and a constant edge-of-your seat tension that made it nearly impossible to tear myself away for long. If you are fan of stories revolving around dark family secrets and dysfunctional relationship, then this is a must-read – you won’t be disappointed!





Friday, 20 July 2018

Book Review: ALL THE EVER AFTERS by Danielle Teller


Author: Danielle Teller
Publisher: William Morrow
Read: July 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


We all know the story of Cinderella. Or do we?

As rumors about the cruel upbringing of beautiful newlywed Princess Cinderella roil the kingdom, her stepmother, Agnes, a woman who knows all too well about hardship, privately records the true story. But what unfolds is not the princess's history. The tale Agnes recounts is her own.

A peasant born into serfdom, Agnes is separated from her family and forced into servitude as a laundress’s apprentice at Aviceford Manor when she is just ten years old. Alone, friendless, and burdened with a grueling workload, Agnes carves a place for herself in this cold place that is home to Sir Emont Vis-de-Loup, a melancholic and capricious drunkard.

Using her wits and ingenuity, Agnes eventually escapes and makes her way toward a hopeful future, serving as a housemaid for the powerful Abbess Elfilda. But life once again holds unexpected, sometimes heartbreaking twists that lead Agnes back to Aviceford Manor, where she becomes nursemaid to Ella, Emont's sensitive, otherworldly daughter. Though she cares for Ella, Agnes struggles to love this child, who in time becomes her stepdaughter and, ultimately, the celebrated princess who embodies all our unattainable fantasies.

Familiar yet fresh, tender as well as bittersweet, the story of Agnes and Ella's relationship reveals that beauty is not always desirable, that love may take on many guises, and that freedom is not always something we can choose.

Danielle Teller's All the Ever Afters challenges our assumptions and forces us to reevaluate what we think we know. Exploring the hidden complexities that lie beneath classic tales of good and evil, this lyrically told, emotionally evocative, and brilliantly perceptive novel shows us that how we confront adversity reveals a more profound—and ultimately more precious—truth about our lives than the ideal of “happily ever after.”


My musings:



One great thing about reading challenges is that they make me pick up books I would normally never choose to read. Fairy tale retellings are a genre I had never really considered liking, so I felt some measure of trepidation when I picked up All the Ever Afters, even though it came highly recommended. I need not have worried, because I found I really enjoyed it!


As the blurb states, All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller explores the story of Cinderella from her stepmother Agnes’ perspective. We have all heard of the evil stepmother and the ugly stepsisters that made Cinderella’s life such a misery, haven’t we? If not through books, then through Disney’s movie version, which left little doubt as to who the villains were in this story. So it may come as a surprise when I tell you that Teller’s book will challenge all you have ever believed about this classic fairy tale. The story starts when young Agnes, born into servitude, is being sent into service as a laundry girl at the nearby manor house at just eleven years of age, because her family simply can’t afford to keep her at home. My heart simply broke for her as she was facing a loveless life full of backbreaking labour at the mercy of the cruel laundress Elizabeth, who never misses an opportunity to belittle and torture her young charge. But Agnes is clever and brave, and through sheer wits and ingenuity, she manages to escape her fate to make a life for herself that no other serf could have ever dreamed of.

Teller has done her homework well, and her account of Agnes’ life is full of fascinating detail of everyday life in the middle ages. What stood out most for me was the lack of control the poor had over their fate, being bound by the feudal system and ever at their manor lord’s mercy, counting little more than the livestock in the lord’s paddocks. For women, this fate was even worse, as the only escape from a life of servitude was usually marriage, which was arranged for them. A good marriage required a dowry, so all Alice could have hoped for was being betrothed to an equally poor man, bearing many children they could not afford to feed and a life of hard and thankless labour without even the simplest of creature comforts. For Alice to escape this life was nothing short of a miracle, and I greatly admired her courage. I was also fascinated by the details of the chores Alice was supposed to accomplish daily, especially the grind of laundry work – never have I been more grateful for laundry soap and my washing machine! I briefly worked in a laundry once as a young backpacker, but it’s steamy, backbreaking work was nothing in comparison to what Alice had to put up with.

Without giving too much away, Alice’s younger years form a better part of the narrative, creating a three-dimensional picture of a remarkably brave and clever young woman forging her own path in a world controlled by the rich, the noble and the aristocracy. Alice’s life story was fascinating, and I was totally spellbound. When, later in the book, Cinderella comes into the picture, my ball was already firmly in Alice’s court, no matter how this tale would play out. Teller has a few surprises in store to explain some of the well-known details in the fairytale, and I really loved her interpretation of events as seen through Alice’s eyes. Princess Elfilda, as is Cinderella’s official name, draws a few parallels to modern-day aristocracy, which was very cleverly done. However, I was a lot less invested in Ella’s story as in Alice’s, which is perhaps why the later part of the book lost a bit of steam for me.


Summary:


With its historical context and a main character who will challenge her place in society through birth and gender, All the Ever Afters will appeal to lovers of historical fiction, especially if you enjoy books set in the middle ages. Teller’s attention to detail and rich descriptions of everyday life at the time made for fascinating reading, but will perhaps disappoint readers looking for a happily-ever-after fairy tale or the type of rose-tinted mystical elements of the Disney version. I really appreciated the down-to-earth realism with which Teller explores this old classic, and highly recommend it to readers who have loved books like The Last Hours by Minette Walters or The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.




 




Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Book Review: THE LIDO by Libby Page


Title: The Lido
Author: Libby Page
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Read: July 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:



A tender, joyous debut novel about a cub reporter and her eighty-six-year-old subject—and the unlikely and life-changing friendship that develops between them.

Kate is a twenty-six-year-old riddled with anxiety and panic attacks who works for a local paper in Brixton, London, covering forgettably small stories. When she’s assigned to write about the closing of the local lido (an outdoor pool and recreation center), she meets Rosemary, an eighty-six-year-old widow who has swum at the lido daily since it opened its doors when she was a child. It was here Rosemary fell in love with her husband, George; here that she’s found communion during her marriage and since George’s death. The lido has been a cornerstone in nearly every part of Rosemary’s life.

But when a local developer attempts to buy the lido for a posh new apartment complex, Rosemary’s fond memories and sense of community are under threat.

As Kate dives deeper into the lido’s history—with the help of a charming photographer—she pieces together a portrait of the pool, and a portrait of a singular woman, Rosemary. What begins as a simple local interest story for Kate soon blossoms into a beautiful friendship that provides sustenance to both women as they galvanize the community to fight the lido’s closure. Meanwhile, Rosemary slowly, finally, begins to open up to Kate, transforming them both in ways they never knew possible.

In the tradition of Fredrik Backman, The Lido is a charming, feel-good novel that captures the heart and spirit of a community across generations—an irresistible tale of love, loss, aging, and friendship.


My musings:


Apart from reading and hiking, swimming has been one of my long-time passions, and I was immediately drawn to this book when I found out it centres on a local swimming pool that is put under threat by a large development company. Whilst the term “lido” is not widely used in Australia, the issue is a very topical one here as well. Many small communities are facing the loss of their recreation facilities, as money talks and most public pools don’t make enough income to cover running costs. Our town has been lobbying for a pool for years, so the story seemed very close to my heart! When I saw the gorgeous cover, I knew I absolutely had to have this book, even though it is not my usual genre, lacking the darkness, murder and mayhem I usually look for in books.


Page uses two main characters to highlight the importance of the pool to the community: octogenarian Rosemary, who has been swimming at the lido for forty years, and had countless happy memories of the place, including meeting her husband there; and journalist Kate, who has only started swimming at the lido after meeting Rosemary, but who is discovering that it is helping with her anxiety and self-consciousness. Soon the two women strike up an unusual friendship that will prove not only beneficial for them, but also for the whole community.

I really liked the way Page gives brief snapshots into the lives of other swimmers who regularly come to the lido. As a regular swimmer myself, I could relate to many of the sentiments expressed by the lido’s users, including how addictive lap swimming can become! The story itself is pretty straight-forward and holds few surprises, but it proved to be uplifting and the type of feel-good read I normally rarely pick up. This is definitely a light and undemanding summer read, one that will not require much of the reader but will leave you with a warm glow that good things can still happen and that people are basically good and honest. Sometimes you just need a story like that to escape from the harsh realities of real life!

Whilst I liked the overall concept of the book and was prepared for the lack of action and gore, I felt that I did not engage with the characters nearly as much as I would have liked. Rosemary, who is a most intriguing woman, relives many of her happy memories of the lido, but some of her life is never fully explored, such as the pain of remaining childless and the struggles and conflicts she and her devoted husband George must have had at times because of it. Similarly, we are being told about Kate’s struggle with anxiety, but it remains an abstract concept rather than a real problem showing through in her dealings with happenings in the story. Personally, I like a bit of balance and thought that the story was a lot poorer for the lack of glimpses at the “dark side”.  I guess I am just too old and cynical to see life through those rose tinted glasses any longer (my job as an ED nurse probably doesn’t help there either). There were a few moments where Page really nailed it for me (such as when Kate rubs sunscreen into Rosemary’s back and the older woman reflects on how no one touches her any more since George died – SOB!), but at other times the story meandered along without any real substance and even lost my interest a few times.


Summary:



In summary, if you are looking for a light, summery, escapist and feel-good read that centres around swimming and the friendship between two very different women, then this may be perfect for you. However, readers who prefer a meatier and more substantial read may find that this one is not quite what they are looking for. 


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.








Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Audiobook Review: THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jonasson


Title: The Darkness
Author: Ragnar Jonasson
Narrator: Amanda Redman
Read: July 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:



At sixty-four, Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir of the Reykjavik Police is about to take on her last case before she retires: A young woman, an asylum seeker from Russia, found murdered on the seaweed covered rocks of the VatnsleysustrΓΆnd in Iceland.

When Hulda starts to ask questions it isn't long before she realizes that no one can be trusted, and that no one is telling the whole truth. Spanning Reykjavik, the Icelandic highlands and the cold, isolated fjords, The Darkness is a thrilling new crime thriller from one of the biggest new names in Scandi noir.


My musings:


I really love Jonasson's Dark Iceland series, so I couldn't resist picking up The Darkness when it popped up in the list of recommendations on Audible. DI Hulda Hermannsdottir is an interesting character, defying all stereotypes of your average fictional detective. It was refreshing to see an older female protagonist lead the story in this dark mystery, offering not only her vast experience, but also a rich past that made for an intriguing background. In fact, Hulda is only a few months short of retiring when she is being told by her boss that her replacement would be arriving in two weeks' time, at which stage she will be expected to vacate her desk at the station. A most undignified finale to four decades of serving the public! As a parting "gift", or to keep her occupied on her last days on the job, Hulda is allowed to choose one cold case that has haunted her to look into one last time. Forced into a corner and somewhat afraid of being pushed into early retirement, Hulda chooses to re-open the investigation into the death of a young Russian asylum seeker, whose body had been discovered floating in an icy river. Her death, which had been investigated only in the most perfunctory manner by one of Hulda's less diligent colleagues, had been deemed a suicide for lack of evidence. Hulda has never believed this verdict, as it didn't make sense to her that a woman who had been on the verge of being granted asylum would kill herself. Once she starts asking a few questions it becomes obvious to her that some vital clues have been overlooked, and Hulda is becoming more and more convinced that the Russian woman had been murdered.


I can never resist a story about a cold case, as I find them so intriguing. The lies, the secrets, the little clues uncovered one by one – it all makes for fascinating reading! Jonasson offers his usual cold, bleak atmosphere to this story (which I enjoyed), and a straight-forward prose that tells this tale in an almost matter-of-fact voice. Even though I found myself getting invested in Hulda’s story very quickly, there were a few elements that did not work well for me. Some parts of the story dealt with Hulda’s early childhood, which formed part of her later personality. Whilst intrigued with these snapshots into Hulda’s past, they managed to make the story a bit disjointed and didn’t marry well with the rest of the tale for me. I also think that too many of Hulda’s secrets were revealed too soon. If there is going to be a sequel (I believe this is the first part of a trilogy told in reverse), these details would have been better kept back from the reader, as I felt they didn’t quite gel with the overall picture I had formed of Hulda and make me hesitant to pick up further books in the series. Furthermore, I was a bit underwhelmed by Hulda’s investigation, which lacked much of the suspense and finesse of Jonasson’s other novels. In summary, this was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed parts of it, and not others, and am not sure if the format of a trilogy told in reverse really works for me. 




Monday, 16 July 2018

Book Review: THE BOY AT THE DOOR by Alex Dahl


Author: Alex Dahl
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Read: July 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:



Cecilia Wilborg has it all--a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a gorgeous home in an affluent Norwegian suburb. And she works hard to keep it all together. Too hard...

There is no room for mistakes in her life. Even taking home a little boy whose parents forgot to pick him up at the pool can put a crimp in Cecilia's carefully planned schedule. Especially when she arrives at the address she was given
and finds an empty, abandoned house...

There's nothing for Cecilia to do but to take the boy home with her, never realizing that soon his quiet presence and knowing eyes will trigger unwelcome memories from her past--and unravel her meticulously crafted life...


My musings:


Are you a fan of mysteries with dark and disturbing undertones and sinister, unlikeable characters that really get under your skin? Then this may be the perfect book for you! Dahl’s opening chapter immediately drew me in and set the tone for this addictive and yet disturbing novel which made me want to fling it away in horror, but at the same time read deep into the night to find out what would happen.


Cecilia Wilborg is one of Sandefjord’s “yummy mummies”, a mother to two young girls and wife to successful banker Johan, living an affluent life in this picturesque Norwegian town where appearance matters. With pristine homes, expensive cars, stylish clothes and au-pair girls to look after the more unsavoury aspects of child-rearing, the women of the town gather regularly to gossip and (whilst they won’t admit it) judge each other. Appearance is everything, and Cecilia has long learned to fit in and play the game. It was absolutely not part of her plan to be tasked with driving an abandoned boy home, whose mother has failed to pick him up from the pool after her daughter’s swimming class, but how could she refuse without looking mean and uncharitable? Very reluctantly, Cecilia agrees, not realising that her carefully constructed life will soon unravel as a result.

I have typed and erased parts of this review several times already, loathe to reveal any spoilers that may take away some of the shock value of this dark and evil tale. May I just say that my heart broke several times over for little Tobias, the abandoned boy the story centres around? There were a lot of surprises in store in this story, and most characters managed to shock me as the layers of carefully constructed lies were slowly being stripped away. As a lover of the bleakness of Scandinavian noir, I got exactly what I had bargained for!  I am a bit lost for words to be honest. At times I wanted to throw this book across the room in anger and disgust, alternated by a deep sense of sadness for all involved. This was not a happy story, but a very compelling one, which saw me flicking the pages furiously until the early morning hours, because I could not tear myself away.

For lovers of Scandinavian noir, The Boy at the Door is a must-read, and I think you will not be disappointed with this gripping, dark and intense tale. There are many triggers for the faint-of-heart and readers who do not enjoy dark stories with lots of dysfunctional characters, but for me this was a definite winner! I am looking forward to reading more from this author!



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.









Saturday, 14 July 2018

Book Review: WATCHING YOU by Lisa Jewell


Title: Watching You
Author: Lisa Jewell
Publisher: Random House UK
Read: June 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:



You’re back home after four years working abroad with a brand new husband in tow. You’re keen to find a place of your own. But for now, you’re living with your big brother, camped out in his spare bedroom. And then – quite unexpectedly – you meet the man next door.

He’s the head teacher of the local high school. He’s twice your age. And he’s devastatingly attractive. Soon you find you’re watching him. All the time. But what you don’t know is that someone is watching you. Or that what has started as an innocent crush is quickly turning into an obsession as dark as it is deadly.

Family secrets, illicit passion, and an unexplained murder lie at the heart of Lisa Jewell’s gripping new novel.


My musings:


Ever since reading The House We Grew Up In, I have been a huge fan of Lisa Jewell’s writing, and am very happy she has taken the plunge into writing psychological thrillers. Jewell is a master of characterisation, and her portrayal of flawed and disturbed characters usually drives the story for me! Watching You is a very apt title for her latest novel, as everyone in this book is spying on one another. Joey watches Tom, Jenna watches Bess, Freddie uses his telescope to spy on the whole street, and Jenna’s slightly crazy mother thinks she is being watched by just about everyone else (she has a point). With all this spying and lying going on, there is a constant sense of menace and tension in the air, belying the idyllic setting of the colourful painted houses in this expensive neighbourhood.


As usually is the case with Jewell’s novels, no one is quite who they initially seem. Dark secrets simmer just below the surface and will ultimately lead to murder – and I dare you to predict the ending of this one! Most of Jewell’s novels take part in a small, closed setting, and this one is no exception, featuring neighbours in the small housing community of Melville Heights, much like one of her previous books The Girls (which I loved). The author uses multiple POVs to bring her story to life, which in this context worked very well for me. I love slow burning, character driven novels where people present only the parts of themselves they want others to see. Jewell does a great job in gradually stripping them of their masks, layer by layer, until the ugly core is revealed. Most of the characters here surprised me with their revelations, which made for some very interesting dynamics.

It is impossible to go into this story any further without revealing something that may spoil the surprise for other readers, so I will just say that it starts with a bang (or more accurately, a corpse) and then takes you back in time to unravel the mystery. The path to enlightenment may contain some clues but is also paved with red herrings, so the armchair detective has his / her work cut out for them. Tense, creepy and utterly addictive, the story soon drew me in and I was utterly absorbed with these dysfunctional characters until the very end.


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.





Thursday, 5 July 2018

Book Review: CROSS HER HEART by Sarah Pinborough


Author: Sarah Pinborough
Publisher: William Morrow
Read: June 2018
Expected publication: 4 September 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:



Lisa lives a very quiet life. A single mother nearing forty, she devotes herself to raising her sixteen-year-old daughter, Ava. Wary of men, Lisa doesn’t speak of her past or Ava’s absent father. Her best friend Marilyn wishes she would open up more and maybe finally go on a date—with the sexy new client who’s obviously keen—but Marilyn has problems of her own.

Ava is getting tired of her overprotective mother. She wants to live like a normal teenager—chill with friends, go to swim practice, study for exams, have a boyfriend. Her mom would freak if she knew that Ava’s already got someone special, someone who makes her feel sophisticated—and wanted.

Lisa has spent a long time looking over her shoulder, but lately she’s been especially uneasy. Small things from the past have begun to appear in the present, feeding her anxiety. As her life begins to unravel, Lisa knows that the only way she can protect herself and her daughter is to face her fears. Yet courage won’t be enough. She’ll need help from the only person she can trust—Marilyn. Between them they have to save Ava, and to do that, they have to be honest with each other. Truly honest. Marilyn did promise she’d do anything to help.

But a long time ago, Lisa made a promise too. Then she broke her word. And that betrayal hasn’t been forgotten—or forgiven.

Now, someone is going to make her pay for her sin.


My musings:


Sarah Pinborough has been on my tbr list for ages and I had heard so many good things about her that I was really excited to receive a review copy of her latest thriller Cross Her Heart. The story starts innocently enough in a been-there-done-that manner: a single mother (Lisa) of a teenager (Ava)is living under the radar on the run from a deep dark secret in her past. A common theme, and one that would be difficult to make stand-out-original, or so I thought. I had of course not reckoned with his author’s skill! After having been lulled into a false sense of security – BANG! There it was, the twist that made the story stand out from the rest. And no, I will not be giving anything away here, because this one is a book that should be dived into blindly – allow yourself to get swept up in the story, knowing that there will be plenty of surprises to come.


Not being able to reveal anything about the story leaves me slightly at a loss for words when it comes to reviewing this book, except to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it and could not have predicted its many surprises. The story is being told from multiple POVs and different timelines, which all do a great job to put doubt in the reader’s mind as to who is telling the truth and who isn’t. Aren’t those mysteries of the best kind? Even though the book deals with some very dark themes, the story never crossed the line for me to make it too difficult to stomach and I appreciated the author’s honesty in exploring some very disturbing issues. Pinborough has an engaging writing style that drew me in immediately and will make me seek out more books from this author, especially Behind Her Eyes, which I keep hearing about! Whilst there was one character who missed the mark a little bit for me, and whose actions didn’t always fully make sense, this was an enjoyable, gripping read I devoured over the course of a weekend and have no trouble recommending to lovers of the genre. 


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.





Book Review: IT ALL FALLS DOWN by Sheena Kamal


Author: Sheena Kamal
Publisher: William Morrow
Read: February 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:



Growing up, Nora Watts only knew one parent—her father. When he killed himself, she denied her grief and carried on with her life. Then a chance encounter with a veteran who knew him raises disturbing questions Nora can’t ignore—and dark emotions she can’t control. To make her peace with the past, she has to confront it.

Finding the truth about her father’s life and his violent death takes her from Vancouver to Detroit where Sam Watts grew up, far away from his people and the place of his birth. Thanks to a disastrous government policy starting in the 1950s, thousands of Canadian native children like Sam were adopted by American families. In the Motor City, Nora discovers that the circumstances surrounding Sam’s suicide are more unsettling than she’d imagined.

Yet no matter how far away Nora gets from Vancouver, she can’t shake trouble. Back in the Pacific Northwest, former police detective turned private investigator Jon Brazuca is looking into the overdose death of a billionaire’s mistress. His search uncovers a ruthless opiate ring and a startling connection to Nora, the infuriatingly distant woman he’d once tried to befriend. He has no way to warn or protect her, because she’s become a ghost, vanishing completely off the grid.

Focused on the mysterious events of her father’s past and the clues they provide to her own fractured identity and that of her estranged daughter, Nora may not be able to see the danger heading her way until it’s too late. But it’s not her father’s old ties that could get her killed—it’s her own.


My musings:


Nora Watts, the character Sheena Kamal created in her novel Eyes Like Mine (also Published under The Lost Ones), was one of my favourite protagonists of 2017 and I was really looking forward to meeting up with her again.


It is a very different Nora we see in Shamal’s latest novel It All Falls Down. After killing someone in order to rescue her daughter, Nora struggles not only with her conscience but has also lost the gift that had set her apart as an investigator – her ability to detect lies. She is now living with her friend and former boss Sebastian Crow, who is dying from cancer and trying to compile his memoirs with Nora’s help. She seems even more rootless and lost without her job as investigator, her dark past still haunting her. Already a very solitary and reserved character, she is becoming even more anti-social, if this is at all possible. So when the past catches up with her in the form of an old military buddy of her father’s, she grabs the opportunity to travel to Detroit, her father’s childhood home, to try and find out more about her parents’ past. As the daughter of an indigenous Canadian man who had been taken from his birth family and raised by adoptive parents, and a Palestinian refugee mother, who vanished without a trace when Nora was a child, she has many questions about her lineage that she thought would never be answered. She is especially haunted by the suicide of her father, which saw her sister and her being put into foster care and raised as a ward of the state.

The dark underbelly of Detroit offers a sinister backdrop to Nora’s search for truth, and a stark contrast to her Vancouver home. For a reader from a small remote country town, this setting was a huge eye-opener to me. With an industrial crisis hanging over the city, bringing high unemployment, drugs, violence, hopelessness and crime, Detroit seemed like a scary and joyless place to me. As soon as Nora starts digging into her father’s past, threatening to unearth some skeletons, she is attracting the attention of some very dangerous people, which sees her having to go on the run and fight for her life.

I was happy to see that Nora, despite her lost superpower, was still the brash, abrasive, badass character I had been so enamoured with in Kama’s first book. She also hasn’t lost her self-deprecating humour I had enjoyed so much. Whilst Nora does her best to keep everyone at arms’ length, including her readers, she is an irresistible protagonist. However, I felt that there was a link missing between Kamal’s first novel and this one, as the story makes a huge jump forward in time to a point where I felt that I had perhaps missed another book. Nora’s and Brazuca’s stories don’t tie together well in this one, and it all felt slightly disjointed to me. I also felt it more difficult to connect to the element of organised crime and gangland activity, which was so alien to me and did not have the same emotional pull as Nora’s first quest, of rescuing a child she had given up for adoption at birth. However, as Nora discovers some pieces of her parents’ past that put everything she has ever thought into doubt, I felt myself getting more intrigued.

Whilst I felt it a bit harder to connect to all the different characters in It All Falls Down than in Eyes Like Mine, and desperately missed Nora’s faithful companion Whisper, I still enjoyed this  plucky character and look forward to finding out more about her in the next book in the series. As a fair warning to readers, I feel that this book would not work well as a stand-alone novel and highly recommend reading the first book in the series before delving into this storyline. 



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.





Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Book Review: WHITE LIES by Lucy Dawson


Title: White Lies
Author: Lucy Dawson
Read: June 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:



Alexandra Inglis is a respected family doctor, trusted by her patients to keep their most intimate secrets. And if sometimes the boundaries between duty and desire blur… well, she's only human.

But when Alex oversteps a line with Jonathan, one of her patients, she knows she's gone too far. Jonathan is obsessive, and to get what he wants he will tear Alex's world apart - threatening not only her career but her marriage and family too.

Soon Alex finds she's capable of doing almost anything to keep hold of her perfect life, as it begins to spin dangerously out of her control… 


My musings:


White Lies is the perfect example of ordinary people making stupid decisions and having to deal with the consequences – all wrapped up in a deliciously evil and utterly addictive mystery! Alexandra Inglis, a respected GP, wife and mother of two, wakes in a hotel room in Ibiza to find a stranger next to her in bed. To her horror, she discovers that the young man is not only over twenty years her junior, but he is also a patient of hers, and the son of clients of her GP surgery. She has made a terrible mistake, and one that may cost her her marriage, her career and the respect and trust of the whole community ...


I admit that I struggled with the beginning of this book, mainly because I felt a strong antipathy towards Alex. Whilst I would normally be able to make allowances for her grave slip in judgment, I felt disturbed by the fact that her one-night stand involved a teenage boy and envisaged how angry I would be if this had been my own child. As a health professional, I was horrified about her betrayal of trust that her position as GP bestowed upon her, whether she was drunk at the time or not. So it took me a little while to calm my inner tiger and let myself get swept up in the story, but I am so glad I did!

White Lies gradually unfolds through the POVs of several characters, including the “he said – she said” account Alex and Jonathan give about their sexual encounter. Alex claims that she was too drunk at the time to be aware of Jonathan’s identity, whilst Jonathan alleges that they had been having an affair ever since Alex treated him for a sporting injury in her doctor’s surgery a few months ago. Who is telling the truth, and who is lying? As each and every character tells their own version of the story, my head was spinning with the possibilities – I love well-written stories with unreliable characters, and this one really messed with my mind! After coming up with and discarding several possibilities, I was still stunned when it came to the final reveal (although I had had my suspicions). This was such a dark, wicked tale! Although I usually struggle with stories featuring a bunch of unlikeable characters – and be assured that this dysfunctional bunch is far from being warm and fuzzy – White Lies was so well written and its plot such a cleverly spun web of lies and deceit that I found it utterly unputdownable. The involvement of social media added a very contemporary feel to a story that could have played out at any time in history, with an age old theme of fatal attraction – but who was the perpetrator, and who was the victim? 


Summary:



I loved Dawson’s writing style and will be putting her other books on my tbr list ASAP. I highly recommend White Lies to lovers of dark and twisty psychological thrillers that mess with your mind. Strongly character driven, this book will propel you into the minds of some very disturbed characters – it utterly consumed me from the moment I thought: “Hang on, he is telling a completely different story than she is!” and I could not get enough of it until the final reveal. Well done, Mrs Dawson!



If you liked this book and are looking for another twisty psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator, you may also like:

He Said/She Said He Said / She Said by Erin Kelly

The Memory Watcher The Memory Watcher by Minka Kent

Sometimes I Lie Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Lie With Me Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant

The Woman in Cabin 10 The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

I Let You Go I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Gone Girl Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn