Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Book Review and Blog Tour: BLOOD IN THE SNOW by Franco Marks

Author: Franco Marks
Publisher: Aria
Buy Links: Kobo, AmazonGoogle Play, iBooks
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


I am delighted to take part in the Blog Tour for Franco Marks' thriller Blood in the Snow, set against a backdrop of the beautiful Italian Alps! Make sure you visit the other blogs taking part in this tour.


Book Description:


Marzio Santoni left behind the brutal crimes of the big city long ago.
Valdiluce is a quiet ski resort, where all he needs is the peace, quiet and his trusty vespa.
At first glance, the town inhabitants are as perfect as their postcard scenery. But under the surface, nothing is as it seems...
So when four women are discovered dead, seemingly by their own hand, Marzio can sense that something isn't right. Fighting against his police chief, his own emotions and the evidence stacked against him, Marzio is caught up in a race against time to discover what truly happened.

Gripping, shocking and packed with a punch that will leave you reeling long after the last page.

My musings:


Having just come back from a holiday in the Italian Alps, I was excited when I was offered a review copy of Franco Marks’ mystery Blood in the Snow, featuring some of the amazing landscapes of this beautiful region. Isn’t the cover just beautiful? I’m happy to say that the armchair travel was almost as enjoyable, as Marks skilfully recreated the small mountain villages and towns the story takes place in – I could vividly picture main protagonist Marzio speeding along on his bike around hairpin bends on lonely country roads.

Whilst the armchair travel ticked all the boxes, there was the additional bonus of an intriguing mystery wrapped up in this package. The bodies of four women are found in a holiday apartment in the picturesque ski resort town of Valdiluce. Was it a suicide gone wrong, or murder? DI Marzio Santoni has a very personal stake in solving the mystery, seeing that one of the women had been his mistress, and he is convinced that she would never have taken her own life. Death, however, is very bad for tourism, and the townfolk are only too happy to dismiss the deaths as an unfortunate accident – Marzio’s digging into their affairs is not going to go down well.

I really liked the character of Marzio, who seemed like a breath of fresh air with his outdoor-man persona and his strange ability to pick up scents (yes, it sounds strange, but it added quite a unique quirk to his character). His nickname of “White Wolf” suited his identify as lonely mountain man, which intrigued me. At times he tended to be a bit too maudlin, but it suited the remote setting and small town atmosphere the author was trying to convey. Taking place in a small town, the interactions between the characters and the politics behind their actions were at times more interesting than the mystery itself, which perhaps could have done with a few more thrills to prompt more shock and surprise on its ultimate reveal.

I think the one thing that let the story down at times was the translation from Italian, which was often a bit too literal and could have done with some tweaking. I realise the difficulty in staying true to the author’s unique voice and making the prose more palatable for an international audience, which must be hard. However, if in doubt I would always opt for the latter, as the overall enjoyment of the book ultimately comes down to the reader’s ability to understand and relate to events depicted. Having just been to Italy I was able to overlook these minor quibbles and appreciate the sometimes unusual wording as something that added character to the story. Some things still puzzle me, however – what, for example, is a “bio-detective”?


All in all, Blood in the Snow was an intriguing, slow burning police procedural set in the beautiful Italian Alps, which made for great armchair travel.  This was a quick read, which would make a good travel companion, and even though the translation was a bit clunky at times it was fun to add another great location to my armchair travel map.


About the author:


Franco Marks is a writer and television director who lives and works in Rome. He has written the novels La neve rossa, Il visionario (shortlisted for the 2003 Strega Prize), Festa al blu di Prussia (winner of the Procida Isola di Arturo – Elsa Morante Prize 2005), Il profumo della neve (shortlisted for the 2007 Strega Prize), Lo show della farfalla(shortlisted for the 2010 Viareggio-Repaci Prize), Il suicidio perfetto, La mossa del cartomante, Tre cadaveri sotto la neve, Lo strano caso dell’orso ucciso nel bosco, Delitto con inganno and Giallo di mezzanotte. His books have been translated in several countries.





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

Friday, 23 November 2018

Book Review: FIVE (Beatrice Kaspary #1) by Ursula Poznanski (Ursula Archer)


Title: Five
Author: Ursula Archer (Ursula Poznanski)
Read: November 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


EVERY CORPSE IS A CLUE

N47° 46.605 E013° 21.718. A dismembered hand
N47° 48.022 E013° 10.910 Two severed ears
N47° 26.195 E013° 12.523 A mutilated corpse

A woman is found murdered. Tattooed on her feet is a strange combination of numbers and letters.

Map co-ordinates. The start of a sinister treasure hunt by a twisted killer.

Detective Beatrice Kaspary must risk all she has to uncover the killer in a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse.

My musings:


Have you ever heard of geocaching? Or even done it yourself? It sounds like fun, doesn’t it – a sort of GPS treasure hunt for hidden caches all around the world. It was certainly on my horizon as something that I’d like to do, but I am not so sure now after reading Poznanski’s dark and disturbing thriller, where a crazed killer sends the police on a gruesome geocache hunt ....

If you love police procedurals with a very different theme, then this should definitely be on your radar! Detectives Beatrice Kaspary and Florin Wenninger have their work cut out for them when they are asked to solve the murder of a young woman found in a cow paddock with GPS coordinates tattooed on her feet. When they follow the killer’s directions, they discover their first ever geocache – containing body parts of another murder victim, whose blood has been detected on the young woman’s clothes. The deeper Beatrice and Florin look into the geochaching community, the more convinced they become that the killer is either part of it, or has a huge grudge against it – or both!

It is getting harder and harder to find thrillers with an original premise, but Poznanski certainly delivers that! Those readers who love working out clues and following leads will also get their wish, as Bea and Florin have their work cut out to decipher the killer’s cryptic instructions to find the next cache – in the hope of catching him before another person dies. This is a dark and disturbing book with a mounting body count, which belies its idyllic location in beautiful Salzburg. I recently visited the city with a friend and could vividly picturing the locations described, which made for great armchair travel, though I was very happy to be sitting on the other side of the world as this one played out!


I really loved Beatrice as a main protagonist, which will make me seek out other books in the series. Due to the constant demands of police work, Bea’s marriage has fallen apart and she has recently separated from her husband. With the gruesome murder case taking up all her time, it is getting increasingly difficult to juggle motherhood and work, and Bea is constantly feeling torn between wanting to be with her young kids and feeling under pressure from her boss to  work longer and longer hours. Her ex-husband, who is still angry at her, makes matters worse by constantly guilt-tripping her into believing she is a bad mother, which is taking its toll. Enigmatic and smart, Bea is the perfect protagonist representing working mothers everywhere, and Poznanski does a great job in portraying her struggle to be a good mother and fulfill the demands of her career at the same time. 


Summary:


Austria has really come through for me lately with some great Scandi-noir type books that have given me all the dark and disturbing elements I love in a thriller. This clever police procedural will appeal to all lovers of multi-layered and somewhat unsettling stories that will keep you at the edge of your seat until the thrilling finale. Highly recommended for anyone looking for an original premise and an overall great read.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Book Review: THE HUNTING PARTY by Lucy Foley

Author: Lucy Foley
Publisher: William Morrow
Read: November 2018
Expected publication: 12 February 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close? 


My musings:


Marketed as a psychological suspense novel in the tradition of Agatha Christie and Ruth Ware (two of my favourite writers), the Hunting Party was one of those books that virtually called out to me: “Read me! Read me!” I love nothing better than an atmospheric setting, so the remote landscape of the Scottish Highlands seemed just perfect for a great read to snuggle under the covers with.

The premise is indeed very Agatha-Christie-ish: seven thirty-something friends who have kept in touch since university joyfully embark on their annual New Year’s get-together, this time to a remote mountain lodge in the Scottish Highlands. They all envisage a few days of good company, delicious food, alcohol, a bit of deer hunting and cosy evenings by the fire. But of course, best laid plans and all that, the inclement winter weather soon makes all roads, rail and air access impossible, and they are finding themselves trapped together in close confines, which seems to make tempers flare and brings old secrets to the surface. Someone will not make it out alive ....

Who doesn’t like a book about a bunch of dysfunctional friends with deep dark secrets that are accidentally spilled like a bottle of wine accidentally knocked onto the carpet, staining everything blood red? From the very beginning, as the friends set out on their train journey into the remote wilderness, I was spellbound by their slow but inevitable unravelling. The story plays out in several POVs, as seen through the eyes of Miranda and Katie, three besties from their Oxford days, Emma, who is a relatively new addition to the group, and caretakers Heather and Doug, who are in charge of the mountain lodge the group are staying in. Two timelines focus on the days immediately before the death of one of the guests, with the “now” playing out in real time as the body is being discovered by the caretakers. But who dies? And is there a killer in their midst? The dynamics between the friends were intriguing, especially seeing how each and every one of them had something to hide. To be honest, by about half way into the book I found them all thoroughly unlikeable! I may not be a social butterfly, but my initial envy at their enduring friendship spanning a decade or so was soon replaced with relief at not having to endure a similar weekend getaway.



Whilst I really enjoyed the remote setting and the undercurrent of mounting tension between the friends, I did not feel as emotionally involved in the story as I had hoped. Perhaps this was because all characters were just simply so unlikeable, or maybe because I am a decade older and rolling my eyes in exasperation witnessing their petty power struggles, infidelities, money problems and 21-century city-dweller angst in general. At times I felt like and anthropologist studying a weird tribe, which had a strange sort of appeal nevertheless. Being a closed-circle kind of mystery, this story relies a lot on character interaction and foreshadowing, which the dual timelines achieve by letting us know early on that one guest will die. Dual timelines in mysteries can be tricky, as the author needs to whet the reader’s appetite to find out more but at the same time not give too much away that would spoil the mystery. All in all, this worked out pretty well, except that I thought the “now” timeline could have been expanded a bit more with a greater sense of menace and threat using the isolated environment and fear of the remaining guests. 



Summary:


All in all this was a fun “closed circle” type of mystery that would make a quick, entertaining read around the fire or snuggled up warmly in bed. The Scottish Highlands setting evoked a cold, wintry landscape, perfect for the impending Northern hemisphere winter. Even though it did not quite achieve the same sense of danger and suspense for me as Ware’s and Christie’s writing, I anticipate that a lot of readers will enjoy this whodunit and recommend it to people who love a character driven mystery featuring a group of dysfunctional people. 


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

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Book Review: THE LEGACY (CHILDREN'S HOUSE #1) by Yrsa SigurΓ°ardΓ³ttir


Title: The Legacy
Author: Yrsa SigurΓ°ardΓ³ttir
Read: November 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


The Legacy is the first installment in a fantastic new series featuring the psychologist Freyja and the police officer Huldar.

The only person who might have the answers to a baffling murder case is the victim’s seven-year-old daughter, found hiding in the room where her mother died. And she’s not talking.

Newly-promoted, out of his depth, detective Huldar turns to Freyja for her expertise with traumatized young people. Freyja, who distrusts the police in general and Huldar in particular, isn’t best pleased. But she’s determined to keep little Margret safe.

It may prove tricky. The killer is leaving them strange clues, but can they crack the code? And if they do, will they be next?

My musings:


I can hardly contain my praise for this book – it’s been a long time since I have felt so excited over a new crime series! Bringing to mind the way all cogs fell nicely into place when I discovered the first book of some of my other favourite series, like Tana French, Sharon Bolton or Nicci French, knowing I was settling in for a binge-fest of many more books yet to come. It’s hard to believe that I have not come across any of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s books before, seeing how this one ticked absolutely all the boxes of what makes a perfect read for me. Firstly, an atmospheric setting in Iceland – even though Reykjavik may not be remote for Icelanders, it still fell into that category for this reader from West Oz! Then there are the two main characters, whose flaws made them all the more likeable, with interesting dynamics between them that piqued my curiosity as to how this would develop in future books. And of course the hunt for the murderer, brutal and original like only Nordic Noir seems to be able to deliver with such conviction and thrill. I have been led to believe that Iceland is a peaceful country with few murders, so the credit must go solely to the author’s imagination here (even though she may be in some trouble with the Iceland tourism commission).

Whilst The Legacy could probably be described as a police procedural, it is so much more. Freyja, one of the main protagonists, is a child psychologist, and added a whole new dimension to the mystery for me. I found this whole aspect of the investigation utterly fascinating, and the concept of 7-year-old Margret being the witness to her mother’s murder tugged on my heartstrings. Sigurdardottir has a knack of making all her characters somewhat vulnerable and likeable, even her deeply flawed ones, so I felt totally emotionally invested in the story the whole time, despite the shifting POVs (which is not an easy thing to achieve in a novel). Having Karl’s story as a sideline to the police investigation, with the threads eventually coming together, worked really well, providing a different perspective and added depth to the novel. I loved the way the author ratcheted up the tension and suspense by including small details, like the unexplained noise in Karl’s basement or Molly’s injury (serving as an ominous foreshadowing). Also, I spent way too much time trying to crack the numerical code of the sinister radio transmissions, failing miserably (no surprise there, it was way too clever!).

I will not go into the story any more deeply, as it is best read without any preconceptions or spoilers – except to say that I loved every minute of it. So much that I immediately grabbed Book 2 of the series after finishing this one, and was seriously contemplating taking lessons in Icelandic to be able to read the third book, which sadly has not been translated into English yet. Failing this, I am anticipating a nail-biting wait for a new book to come out!


Summary:


In summary, The Legacy is an utterly addictive, binge-worthy first book of what I hope will be a looooong series. I am already halfway through the next book, eagerly devouring the story of Freyja and Huldar’s next case. Very highly recommended to lovers of Scandi Noir, it doesn’t get any better than this!


Image result for 5 stars

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Book Review: THE LOST MAN by Jane Harper



Title: The Lost Man
Author: Jane Harper
Publisher: Macmillan Australia
Read: November 2018
Expected publication: out now in Australia
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland.

They are at the stockman's grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last chance for their middle brother, Cameron.

The Bright family's quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn't, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects...


My musings:


As I am sitting here, open-mouthed and still reeling from the emotional impact Jane Harper’s latest novel has made on me, I can only stutter: “Blimey, this book is good!” It not only contained everything I love in a mystery, but I would also be hard-pressed to name another mystery that so vividly evoked the harsh and unforgiving landscape of the Australian outback for me. This truly is armchair travel of the best kind! I can still taste the red grit of pindan on my chafed lips as I emerge, slightly dazed, from a massive all-day read-a-thon. Be warned – it’s best to start this one when you have plenty of time to spare, as it will suck you in and not let you go until the mystery is unravelled!

If you have read Harper’s earlier novels, you will know that she has a real knack for presenting the reader with real people, in real situation, in a landscape so untamed and raw that it can only be remote Australia. This time, however, there is no detective to uncover the cause of a young man’s sudden unexplained death, only a family torn apart by secrets and a brother trying to work out what killed his younger sibling. Was it suicide? Revenge? Cold-blooded murder, or just an accident? As the story slowly unfolds, with the clever little twists and reveals Harper throws in at exactly the right time, the answer will drive an arrow straight through your heart.

Lovers of slow-burning and character driven psychological thrillers will find every element that makes for a great story here: the remote atmospheric setting, true-to-life characters and an intriguing mystery based around the skeletons in the Bright family’s closet. Set on a remote cattle station surrounded by endless horizons of dry Queensland desert, it could even be called a kind of “locked room mystery”, as the small cast of characters may as well be trapped in the house together – if not by closed doors, then by the harsh landscape surrounding them. It seems that each and every character is hiding some sort of secret, many of which will really surprise and shock you as the layers of carefully constructed lies and omissions are being stripped away. There is even an old stockman’s grave that lends this story a creepy element, which I loved. But perhaps it is not the ghosts of stockmen the Bright family have to fear, but someone much closer to home ...

My words are woefully inadequate to gush my praises for this book, just to say that I enjoyed every minute of it and not much else got done in my household whilst this book had me utterly under its spell. I have been to the Australian outback and my kids even attended the school of the air for a year, so I could picture the setting very well and it brought back a few memories for us. But never fear, Harper’s words alone will transport you there regardless of where you live and what you have seen. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoys a setting that acts as a character of its own, or really anyone who enjoys a great mystery based around family dynamics. Definitely one of my favourite reads of 2018 and one you may find under your Christmas tree this year if Santa has any sense. 



Summary:

Utterly brilliant!



Image result for 5 stars

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Book Review: STILL LIVES by Maria Hummel

Title: Still Lives
Author: Maria Hummel
Publisher: Quercus Books
Read: October 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


Kim Lord is an avant-garde figure, feminist icon, and agent provocateur in the L.A. art scene. Her groundbreaking new exhibition Still Lives is comprised of self-portraits depicting herself as famous, murdered women—the Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Nicole Brown Simpson, among many others—and the works are as compelling as they are disturbing, implicating a culture that is too accustomed to violence against women.

As the city’s richest art patrons pour into the Rocque Museum’s opening night, all the staff, including editor Maggie Richter, hope the event will be enough to save the historic institution’s flailing finances. Except Kim Lord never shows up to her own gala. Fear mounts as the hours and days drag on and Lord remains missing. Suspicion falls on the up-and-coming gallerist Greg Shaw Ferguson, who happens to be Maggie’s ex. A rogue’s gallery of eccentric art world figures could also have motive for the act, and as Maggie gets drawn into her own investigation of Lord’s disappearance, she’ll come to suspect all of those closest to her.

Set against a culture that often fetishizes violence, Still Lives is a page-turning exodus into the art world’s hall of mirrors, and one woman’s journey into the belly of an industry flooded with money and secrets.


My musings:


I’m always on the lookout for books with unusual settings, or settings I am unfamiliar with, so Still Lives fell squarely in that court. With a background in the big city art scene, I felt like an alien who had landed on a different planet, eager to explore a new world. I must also say that I absolutely loved the title of this one – it is so clever. Still lives, as in art pieces, as in murder, as in corpses and lives being “stilled”. *clap, clap*

When you think of a still life, the artistic kind, corpses aren’t what immediately spring to mind. There may be a strategically placed apple, with the light and the shade just so, or a vase of lovely flowers, or some carefully arranged glassware. Imagine an instagram feed pre internet – idyllic domestic scenes, even though clever artists arranged the objects so there was a hidden meaning behind the scene. I remember doing art classes at school and sighing in exasperation as we were asked to paint yet another fruit bowl. But oh, who would have thought that it would make the perfect basis of a thriller? Because Kim Lord, artist on the L.A. art scene, offers viewers a completely new type of still lives: paintings where she depicts herself in the poses of famous female murder victims to highlight the sensationalising of violence against women in the media. This in itself could be disturbing enough, but Kim fails to show up at the opening night of her exhibition, which is a big no-no. Fears mount as it becomes evident it is not a stunt pulled by the artist to garner attention, but that no one has seen her alive for quite some time ....

For art lovers, who can seamlessly enter this strange new world, understand the lingo and are familiar with artists, galleries and all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, this book may not be quite the same alien world it was for me. Whilst I loved the whole concept of the still lives, I admit that I got lost in the pages like a foreign tourist without a map at times, not only struggling with the language but also the whole culture. Gaping in fascination was not the same as getting truly invested in the story, which took a bit of the thrill and enjoyment away for me, as I was too busy trying to navigate my way through the multitude of characters and divergent plot lines.


Overall, I enjoyed the story and was intrigued by the whole premise, but it lacked a climax for me, instead gently meandering along as seen through the eyes of Maggie, the PA who is trying to work out what has happened to Kim. I really enjoyed the little secret messages in Kim’s paintings that Maggie picks up in her investigation – this kind of breadcrumb trail of clues was my favourite part of the story. I think that if the book had focused more on the solving of the mystery than the politics of the art world, it would have worked much better for me. However, this slow paced mystery was beautifully written and certainly had a unique concept, which is quite hard to find these days.


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.