Sunday 30 September 2018

Book Review (holiday reads #2): THE MARSH KING'S DAUGTHER by Karen Dionne

Author: Karen Dionne
Publisher: Sphere
Read: September 2018
Expected publication: out now

“Memories aren't always about facts. Sometimes they're about feelings.”

Book Description:

Praised by Karin Slaughter and Megan Abbott, The Marsh King’s Daughter is the mesmerizing tale of a woman who must risk everything to hunt down the dangerous man who shaped her past and threatens to steal her future: her father.

Helena Pelletier has a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a business that fills her days. But she also has a secret: she is the product of an abduction. Her mother was kidnapped as a teenager by her father and kept in a remote cabin in the marshlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Helena, born two years after the abduction, loved her home in nature, and despite her father’s sometimes brutal behavior, she loved him, too…until she learned precisely how savage he could be.

More than twenty years later, she has buried her past so soundly that even her husband doesn’t know the truth. But now her father has killed two guards, escaped from prison, and disappeared into the marsh. The police begin a manhunt, but Helena knows they don’t stand a chance. Knows that only one person has the skills to find the survivalist the world calls the Marsh King–because only one person was ever trained by him: his daughter.

My musings:

This book had been sitting on my shelf for a while since I foolishly allowed myself to be put off by a reviewer's opinion that made me believe this book would not be right for me. Which was a huge mistake, as this turned out to be a solid five star read for me!

I have waffled on before how much I love remote atmospheric settings, which Karen Dionne fully delivered here. Her knowledge of Michigan’s UP was instantly evident in her vivid descriptions of both the beauty and the dangers of this unique environment and Helena's childhood in the remote mountain cabin. Her love and respect for the place was reflected in each and every picture she painted with her story, which made for armchair travel of the best kind.

I also really appreciated the sensitive way she describes Helena's childhood and a child’s unconditional love for her father, unaware that he is considered a crazy psychopath who abducted her mother when she was only fifteen years old and has since been holding her captive in the marsh. For Helena, this is the only life she has ever known. At mercy with the elements, without any of the modern conveniences we take for granted (such as running water, electricity and shops), she grows up hunting for food and playing with items found in her wild environment rather than toys (I loved the segment where her mother makes her a doll out of rags and Helens is totally puzzled as to what she is supposed to do with it). Adoring her father, who has taught her to hunt and fish and blend into the wilderness, she is also not aware that he has cleverly manipulated their relationship and created the distance between the little girl and her mother, a rift that never totally heals, even after their life in the marsh is over and Helena understands the truth behind her parents’ lives. As Helena grows older and realises that her father's way of showing affection and discipline may not be “normal", her idyllic childhood in the marsh is already coming to an end. I was intrigued by Helena's mother, held captive in the cabin for thirteen long years, though I never fully understood what made her tick.

This was such a powerful coming of age story, reminiscent of one of my other favourite books Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (which also features a young girl growing up in a secluded mountain cabin with her mentally ill father). In this book, we have the privilege to see Helena as a grown-up, now a mother herself, who must face the demons of her old life when her father escapes from jail and comes for her family. The ensuing drama added a bit of heart pounding tension to the story, which switched from past to present as Helena shared memories from her unusual childhood. I really loved the excerpts from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale with the same title, which introduce the chapters where Helena shares her childhood memories.


All in all, TMKD was a wonderful holiday read – and if you're not lucky enough to read it on holidays, be assured it makes for some great armchair travel into an atmospheric wilderness area setting. Dionne does a wonderful job not only in creating vivid, flesh-and-blood characters, but also in describing the complex dynamics of this very unusual family. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t recommend it highly enough!

Image result for 5 stars

Book Review (holiday reads #1): THE OTHER WIFE by Michael Robotham (Joseph O'Loughlin #9)


Holiday's over -sigh! The good news is that I have read some excellent books whilst on break, and will do my best to get the reviews up in the next week or so. Let's start with holiday read #1:

Author: Michael Robotham
Publisher: HachetteAustralia
Read: September 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: 

Book Description:

Childhood sweethearts William and Mary have been married for sixty years. William is a celebrated surgeon, Mary a devoted wife. Both have a strong sense of right and wrong.
This is what their son, Joe O'Loughlin, has always believed. But when Joe is summoned to the hospital with news that his father has been brutally attacked, his world is turned upside down. Who is the strange woman crying at William's bedside, covered in his blood - a friend, a mistress, a fantasist or a killer?
Against the advice of the police, Joe launches his own investigation. As he learns more, he discovers sides to his father he never knew - and is forcibly reminded that the truth comes at a price.

My musings:

I was overjoyed that The Other Wife saw the return of one of my favourite characters in crime fiction, psychologist Joe O'Loughlin. After the tragic sudden death of his wife Julianne, Joe is trying hard to raise his two daughters on his own. But tragedy is not done with Joe yet – he receives a phone call from the hospital that his father William has suffered a severe traumatic brain injury in a brutal attack by an unknown assailant in his own home. When Joe rushes to his father's bedside, a strange woman is already holding a vigil over him in his room, claiming she has been William's “other wife" for twenty years.

As usual, Robotham’s eye for detail when it comes to his characters is faultless, which totally drove this intriguing story for me. The more we delve into William's past, the more obvious it becomes that he is not simply the strict, straight-laced man Joe has always believed his father to be. As Joe relives some small snippets from his past, his memories insinuate that their relationship is very complex and distant. Joe's version of a hard, humourless disciplinarian doesn't gel with his “other" wife Olivia's version of a fun-loving, affectionate man who has been generous to a fault providing for his two separate families. Caught between wanting to befriend Olivia to find out more about his father's recent past, and loyalty to his mother, the “first wife", Joe is trying his best to sieve out the truth that may lead to his father's attacker. The story that unfolds from here is as complex as it is utterly compelling , and I felt myself totally drawn into these strange family dynamics.

I really enjoyed getting a glimpse of Joe's childhood memories that formed him as a man and a father. Lovers of the series will also be happy to hear that Vincent Ruiz also plays an important role in this story, as always coming to Joe's aid when he needs it. Emma and Charlie, Joe's daughters both feature in the story, with Emma's suppressed grief over her mother's death breaking my heart! So masterful is Robotham’s writing that all these characters have become so real for me over the nine books in the series – and whilst I recommend reading the series in order to get a full picture, I do think that this book could be read as a satisfying stand-alone.

All in all, The Other Wife was the sort of multi-layered, twisty and un-putdownable thriller I have come to expect from this author, and it fully lived up to my expectations. Joe, with his personal tragedies and battle with Parkinson’s, is not your typical sleuth, which gives this series extra depth. I very much enjoy the keen observations his role as clinical psychologist offers, and marvel at how he manages to get embroiled in yet another investigation – this time very close to home, as dark secrets from his own family closet get aired. Torn between loyalty to his mother and the need to understand the enigma that is his father, Joe must confront some very personal demons that highlight how the image we have of our parents can hide the many dimensions that make up that person.

I was sad to hear that this is the last time we will be seeing Joe in action, but applaud the author for this fitting finale of a great series. If you haven’t discovered the Joe O'Loughlin series yet, I highly recommend you do so – you won’t regret it!

Saturday 29 September 2018

Blog Tour with special excerpt: KISS HER GOODBYE by Susan Gee

Author: Susan Gee
Publisher: Aria Fiction
Expected publication: out now

I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Susan Gee's debut novel Kiss Her Goodbye, a tightly plotted and tense thriller with a heart-stopping twist. See below for your special preview.

For more excerpts, author interviews and reviews, make sure to stop by other blogs participating in this blog tour (schedule attached).

Book Description:

Seventeen year old Hayley Reynolds is unwanted at home, and an outsider at school. Pushed away by her best friend Kirsten Green, she makes a deliberate, chilling decision – if Kirsten can’t belong to her, then she won’t belong to anyone….

DI Beverley Samuels has the body of a schoolgirl on her hands – a murder that brings back the hauntingly painful memories of the case she’s tried so desperately to forget.

There’s something deeply disturbing about this crime – and yet with little hard evidence it’s up to her to decide who she will believe….

Tightly-plotted, tense, and a finale with a heart-stoping twist - get ready for the biggest thriller of 2018. Fans of Claire Mackintosh, Laura Marshall, A. J. FInn and Alice Feeny won't be disappointed!

About the author:

Susan Gee was a finalist in the Daily Mail Write a Bestseller Competition as well as a finalist in The Good Housekeeping fiction competition. This is her first novel.

Facebook: @susangeewriter

Twitter: @SusanGeeWriter


DS Beverley Samuels

On Saturday morning, a dog walker reports seeing what looks like a hand stuck up from the reeds by the river near to Mrs Green’s and when I hear about it, I know that it will be Kirsten Green’s body. As a branch is lifted away from the side of the bank I see a curl of blonde hair and know that it’s her. I immediately think of Moira Timperley and although I want to forget her, I can’t. Even the way she wore her leg warmers – one pink and one yellow – is imprinted on my mind. What happened to her has become a part of what I am. It was unforgivable. I am unforgivable.

As I avert my eyes upwards the sky is surprisingly beautiful: pastel lines of mauve and pinks under a band of soft grey cloud. I say a silent prayer for the girl below me as my thoughts go to Mrs Green in her kitchen, carefully chopping the carrots for another soon-to-be-uneaten stew.

As the other police officers secure the area I picture Kirsten blowing out her birthday candles, the awkward smile in her school photograph and the snapshots of bleak-looking beaches from Mrs Green’s photo album.

As a large branch is removed it looks as if her arms are reaching out to me. Her T-shirt is slightly ripped and weeds from the river have stuck to her body like tentacles. Her neck is bare and there’s no sign of the pendant that her mother said was so precious to her. I avert my eyes from her bloated face. There aren’t any obvious wounds. As the current bubbles in the middle of the river, I wonder if the necklace is sitting on the riverbed amongst the discarded rubbish and decaying weeds.

‘She had a pendant,’ I shout over, but I know that they’ll sweep the area.

My partner, Nick, walks over to me. ‘It’s her. Same clothes.’

I nod. There’s a momentary silence from the team as they work around her and only the faint sounds of the motorway can be heard from across the fields behind. Nick’s been insistent that we’d find her in the river from day one, but even he doesn’t speak. The wind blows his hair and it falls forwards across his forehead and I’m glad that he hasn’t mentioned suicide again.

In an odd way I don’t want to stand close to her and discuss it. I walk to the top of the bank and he follows.

‘That’s not an obvious place for her to jump in,’ I say. ‘There’s a barbed-wire fence running along the field.’

‘Current’s been strong the last few days after the rain,’ he replies as we both look into the swirling water in front of us. ‘She could have gone in by the weir.’

‘Yeah, but they usually end up near the fields,’ I reply, looking back towards the bridge. ‘More likely she went off the bank further up.’

‘She could have stepped off the bank up there.’

‘Or was dumped there.’

He doesn’t argue the point, but there isn’t any need. Once the reports come back, we’ll know. We stand together at the edge of the bank as we wait for the next team to arrive. Mrs Green told me that her daughter cooked the dinner on a Sunday and always told her if she was going to be late home. I think she’d have left a note.

My thighs ache from last night’s run. I recall the reflections of the crooked trees on the water and the darkness of the sewerage pipe when I passed by.

Nick stares over at the far bank. ‘Steve’s going to speak to the mother. You want to go?’

‘No. I’m going to look around.’

Seeing Mrs Green is the last thing I want to do.

‘Coffee?’ Nick asks.

‘No. I’m going up there while they finish up.’ I point towards the weir.

‘Want some company?’ he asks, and I shake my head.

‘I’ll see you in five.’

He used to know when I needed space. Since Moira Timperley’s death we’ve lost that intuition. He never understood why I blamed myself, but that’s because his conscience was clear. I shouldn’t have gone that day. I dismissed her as an attention seeker and went home to pour myself a glass of wine while her stepdad hammered her face to a pulp. Nick can say what he wants, but I was too distracted to see what was in front of me and I can’t let that happen again.

I already know the area, but I can’t concentrate. It seems odd that she’d go into the shallows and not off the bridge further up or near the weir.

‘Bev, you all right?’ he asks.

‘I’ll see you in five.’

He walks over to Debbie on the side of the bank and she giggles as he starts one of his anecdotes. I continue further along the path until they are out of sight. I don’t want to watch his flirting. I’ve had it with men. Even though I finished with Tom six months ago, that time has slid away like water through my fingers. The day I threw him out, he accused me of seeing someone else when he was the one who’d stayed out all night. Men are all the same.

The river’s high after last week’s heavy rainfall and as it pours over the weir I make my way down the concrete steps to the bank. The broken red bricks, from the town’s past, that sit under the surface have been smoothed into red pebbles by the power of the water. Emerald green weeds stretch in the current and point to Kirsten’s body as I take a twig and drop it into the river. The twig floats on the current towards the officers and I imagine Kirsten sitting here. The trajectory is right and it’s a possible point of entry. This river once powered the waterwheels for the Bleachworks and the mills. The currents are strong and dangerous and she’d have struggled if she’d fallen in, accident or not.I walk back up the steps and sit on a bench as a pair of mallards float past on the water. The smell of damp weeds is strong and I think about the unfairness of it all: that a young girl’s life is lost while I’m still here.

Steve will be at Mrs Green’s by now. I picture him on the doorstep with a hand on the brass doorknocker. These are her last moments of hope before her world changes forever. I try to put her out of my mind and focus on Kirsten. It is four o’clock and the bell from St. John’s church chimes like a death knell as she walks down Vale Close towards the industrial estate and onto the river path from the bus stop. Her head is full of the things that have happened and her heart is heavy. I try to imagine what it’s like to be a girl on the outside that no one understands, a girl who is picked on, but I don’t know how to put myself there. It’s not somewhere I’ve ever been.

When I get past the industrial estate, there’s a girl sitting on the metal gate facing the road. She is around the same age as Kirsten Green and I stop, because seeing her there unnerves me. The loose curls of her brown hair are tied up in a headscarf and her lipstick is dark mauve. She swings her legs as she holds onto the top of the gate and, by the many silver necklaces over her cropped red tee shirt, I guess that she’s from the new estate: the more affluent side of town.

As I walk towards her she gives me a knowing look, as though she knows that I left Kirsten amongst the coiled branches when I jogged past her last night.

‘What’s happening?’ she asks, with a nod towards the river.

The ‘missing posters’ on the lamp posts have alerted most people to Kirsten’s disappearance and it’s not difficult to work out why we’re here.

‘We’re looking into something,’ I reply.

She raises an eyebrow. ‘You’ve found her. Right?’

She stares at my face and tilts her head. We both know the answer.

‘What’s your name?’ I ask.


It surprises me. She doesn’t look like the type to talk back, but she tells me anyway.

‘Hayley Reynolds, what’s yours?’

‘DS Beverley Samuels,’ I reply, with a look behind her. The area is overgrown, with trees to the side, and Kirsten could have been moved from here. I decide to speak to the drivers from the industrial estate to see if anyone noticed anything.

Buy Links:

If you would like to find out more, you can purchase the book from the following outlets:


Saturday 15 September 2018

Book Review & Blog Tour: LEAVE NO TRACE by Mindy Mejia

Author: Mindy Mejia
Publisher: Quercus Books
Read: August 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Mindy Mejia's latest novel Leave No Trace, an atmospheric story of love and survival featuring an irresistible wilderness setting in rural Minnesota. For excerpts, author interviews and more, make sure to stop by other blogs participating in this blog tour (schedule attached).

Book Description:

There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.

Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later...the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life

But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.

My musings:

To me, there is nothing more intriguing than a mystery with a wilderness setting and a survival theme, and I can never resist when I stumble across one! I loved that Leave No Trace was inspired by real families who escaped civilisation to live in the wilderness, and Mindy Mejia’s fascination with those real life characters shows in the way she presents Josiah’s background and his motivations to live a life off the grid.

The atmospheric setting was my favourite part of the book (ok, apart from the beautiful cover), and I devoured the descriptions of the Minnesotan wilderness, picturing both Maya’s mother’s remote mountain cabin as well as the life Lucas and Josiah must have led amongst the trees, surrounded only by nature. I think I would have been a very happy reader indeed if the whole story had revolved around Josiah and Lucas’ time in the mountains and the way they managed to survive for 10 years – it was so fascinating and I wanted more! Josiah’s chapters were by far my favourite parts of the book, his character the most complex and complicated, his motivations the most intriguing for this reader.

However, in Leave No Trace, Mejia tackles a lot more issues than simply the desire to escape a conventional life, and she is not afraid to offer us deeply flawed characters, many of whom have been touched by mental illness or addiction. I particularly admired her astute portrayal of Josiah’s landlady as she spiralled deeper and deeper into heroin addiction. In fact, all of Mejia’s characters have had their share of adversity, which lends a deeper meaning to their actions and choices.

Whilst I really appreciated the premise of the story, especially the idea of a young man who returns into civilisation after years in the wilderness, I admit I struggled a bit with both main characters, especially Maya. At first glance, Maya is the perfect flawed but gutsy female protagonist in the vein of others I have admired and enjoyed rooting for in the past. My main issues however were – as usual – the suspension of disbelief as Maya becomes emotionally attached to Lucas, who is one of her patients at the mental health facility she is working at. Not only does her unprofessional attachment raise some serious ethical and moral concerns, but I had trouble believing that her role as speech therapist would allow her so much freedom with such a troubled and potentially dangerous patient, some of which would not even be in her scope of practice. Seeing that Maya had previously been hospitalised at the same facility she is now working at, this behaviour would have raised many red flags for me, and as a health professional myself I found it hard to understand why no one stepped in to remove her from such a situation. I tried to envisage some of the scenes between Maya and Lucas taking place in our hospital and found them to be a bit far-fetched – however, I often struggle with details that don’t seem to bother others, so the chances are that this may not be an issue for the majority of readers.

What I did enjoy was Maya’s feelings of abandonment surrounding her mother and her search for the truth regarding her mother’s fate, which was beautifully and sensitively portrayed – as was the chance to get to hear her mother’s point of view. Family relationships featured strongly in this novel, none of them straightforward and simple, which added complexity.


All in all, Leave No Trace was an intriguing mystery with a wild and remote setting I could picture vividly. Whilst I struggled with some details, these will most likely not bother most other readers who are not afflicted with a chronic inability to suspend disbelief – to enjoy the journey, I recommend going into this one with an open mind and enjoying the story without getting hung up on details.

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