Friday, 31 May 2019

Book Review: THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth Ware

Author: Ruth Ware
Publisher: Gallery / Scout Press
Read: May 2019
Expected publication: 6 August 2019 - available to pre-order now!
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.


My musings:


I actually squealed in delight when I received an ARC of Ruth Ware’s latest book, THE TURN OF THE KEY! I have loved her books right from the very first start, and as she is including more and more creepy Gothic elements into her books, I am finding myself happily ensnared in my favourite settings. This time, the novel takes us to a stately old mansion with a dark past, but with a twist: the house has been renovated to include the latest “smart” technology, which turns out to be more sinister than any old haunting could ever achieve on its own. I have only ever read something similar once before, in J.P. Delaney’s THE GIRL BEFORE, which I also loved. In fact, Ware blends quite a few classical elements together to form a completely unique and captivating story: an old creepy mansion with a mysterious past, a nanny who may not be as she seems, a child who is just a little bit “off”, some noises in the night and some supernatural elements that add that special spook factor I so enjoy in mysteries. For me, the blend worked perfectly to make for an addictive read I devoured in one big read-a-thon that saw me sitting up very late at night to finish.

Our main character is Rowan, who has accepted a position as nanny in a stately old refurbished country mansion. The job pays well, allegedly making up for the isolated location of the house and to compel this latest nanny to stay the distance after a few nannies have come and gone in quick succession. Rowan, who thinks herself immune to any old haunting the house could possibly throw at her, or any bad behaviour a child could serve up, is determined to last the distance and cash in on this opportunity. And whilst Rowan is not the most likeable character, and never denies that her motivation is not in the least altruistic, she is really served up a raw deal when she is left alone to look after the children on the very first day whilst both parents traipse off for a week on a work trip. I have worked as a nanny, and I can tell you that no matter what sort of a saint you may be, those children will test the waters and see how far they can push the boundaries. Not to speak of the resentment of being left with a virtual stranger who is taking over the household. No, even with all the money and promises, I did not envy Rowan her job!

Another unique element here is the style in which the story is written. It takes the form of Rowan’s desperate “letter” (a novel length one at that) to her lawyer, begging him to listen to her side of the story as she is waiting in a jail cell for her trial for murder. We know very early on that a child has died and Rowan is the main suspect. But what happened? Is she guilty? Don’t worry, it will become clear soon enough, and the journey to the answer is totally worthwhile!

As said before, I loved the Gothic elements and the spooky atmosphere of Heatherbrae House, which got my heart racing and made me jump every time a branch brushed the side of the house in the wind whilst I snuggled up under the covers reading. Remote, isolated location – tick! Spooky old mansion – tick! Unreliable narrator – tick! Slight supernatural elements that give it some extra creep factor – tick! It’s all there for the taking, which makes this one of my favourite reads by the author yet – although I think I said that with the last few books as well. Ware is a masterful creator of the perfect setting for a spooky mystery: be it a boat, an old beach house, and English manor house or a house in a dark wood. A few paragraphs, and she has teleported me right into the story, which makes her one of my favourite authors today. I recommend that you read it and judge for yourself!


I read this as a buddy read with the fabulous Traveling Sisters Group and it made for a stimulating discussion as we were trying to work out all the answers along the way.



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



Other books by the author (click on the cover for more info):

In a Dark, Dark Wood The Woman in Cabin 10 The Lying Game The Death of Mrs. Westaway

If you like the house as a character, you may also enjoy:

The Girl Before  The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney 


Thursday, 30 May 2019

Book Review: THE ABSOLUTION by Yrsa Sigurรฐardรณttir




Author: Yrsa Sigurรฐardรณttir
Read: May 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


The police find out about the crime the way everyone does: on Snapchat. The video shows the terrified victim begging for forgiveness. When her body is found, it is marked with a number 2...

Detective Huldar joins the investigation, bringing child psychologist Freyja on board to help question the murdered teenager's friends. Soon, they uncover that Stella was far from the angel people claim - but even so, who could have hated her enough to kill?

Then another teenager goes missing, and more clips are sent. Freyja and Huldar can agree on two things at least: the truth is far from simple. And the killer is not done yet.


A brilliantly suspenseful story about the dark side of social media, The Absolution will make you wonder what you should have said sorry for...

My musings:


Yrsa Sigurdadottir’s Children’s House series was one of my favourite discoveries last year, and I have been hooked ever since. It is not for the faint of heart, seeing that Sigurdadottir is a masterful creator of unsettling and suspenseful storylines, and – as the name suggests – all books in the series concern children and young people.

I admit that this book was not easy reading. Tackling the sinister topic of bullying, it touched on every parent’s worst fears. They say that a parent is only ever as happy as their unhappiest child, so this story made for a lot of unhappy characters, and ultimately murder. Since one of my children had been badly bullied at school at once stage, I found the book quite unsettling in places!

Detective Huldar and child psychologist Freya are back in this one, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes concerning their lives and found that they had become very familiar and dear to me, ensuring that I will eagerly watch out for the next book in the series! Sigurdadottir also includes a modern twist in her latest book, the inclusion of social media as a major plot device, as the pictures of the victims as they are being abducted and killed appear on their friends’ Snapchat accounts. Which was quite ironic in a way, as these tools were being used by the bullies themselves to isolate and intimidate their chosen victims. It was scary to see how easily this platform can be used for maximum chill factor! Even though bullying is an age-old problem that concerns every society and different age groups, modern technology seems to have given the perpetrators new tools to torment. Even the police team themselves were not immune to it, with homophobia rife in the department. I love the way Sigurdadottir always manages to serve up well-researched and intelligent thrillers that chill to the core – Icelandic noir at its best!


Whilst this book is probably the one in the series that can most easily be read as a standalone, I feel that it would lose some of its allure, as Huldar and Freya’s backstory is what makes this series so irresistible for me. I found myself wishing to hear more about their lives, which took a secondary role in the story. I eagerly look forward to the next instalment in the series – more Huldar and Freye, please!



Monday, 27 May 2019

Book Review: THE ACCUSATION by Wendy James


Author: Wendy James
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Read: May 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


Eighteen-year-old Ellie Canning is found shivering and barely conscious on a country road, clad only in ill-fitting pyjamas. Her story of kidnap and escape quickly enthrals the nation: a middle-aged woman with a crazy old mother has held Ellie in a basement, chained her to a bed and given her drinks from an old baby's sippy cup. But who was this woman and what did she want with Ellie? And what other secrets might she hide?

When the accusation is levelled at local teacher Suzannah Wells, no one seems more bewildered than Suzannah herself ... to start with. The preposterous charge becomes manifestly more real as she loses her job and her friends. And the evidence is strong: a dementia-affected mother, a house with a basement, a sippy cup that belonged to her long-dead daughter. And Ellie Canning's DNA everywhere. As stories about Susannah's past emerge, even those closest to her begin to doubt she's innocent.

And Ellie? The media can't get enough of her. She's a girl-power icon, a social-media star. But is she telling the truth?

A powerful exploration of the fragility of trust, and the power of suggestion, from the author of The Golden Child and The Mistake.

My musings:


It’s been a while since a book has kept me up late into the night, but I was so entranced with this one that I read it in one day and couldn’t tear myself away until all was revealed. Anyone who knows my obsession with getting enough sleep will know that it takes a special kind of story to have that sort of power over me!

Darn, this book was good! From the very first page, I was totally and utterly hooked. I’m not sure if it was the premise of the story, or the characters, or a combination of both, but I felt that James really touched the very core of me, like  a fisherman using the perfect bait to catch his dinner. I will be very careful not to give anything away here, but basically the story revolves around an eighteen year old girl who claims to have been abducted by a middle-aged woman and her crazy old mother and held hostage in their basement for weeks before being able to escape. Being a small town, the pool of suspects is limited, and soon suspicion fall upon highschool drama teacher Susanna and her mother Mary, who live in an old farmhouse just out of town. Suzannah denies ever having laid eyes on the girl, and yet Ellie seems to know a lot of details about the house and the couple of older women. So who is telling the truth, and who is the liar?

This was a story of a thousand theories – the unreliable narrator theme as its best. I really liked Suzannah and wanted to believe her, but Ellie also makes a convincing case against her. My imagination soon started to run riot. S was guilty, S was innocent, S had multiple personalities, S had an identical twin, aliens had landed in the yard and taken possession of S’ body to commit the crime. One of those surely had to be right! But no matter whether either was right or wrong, here we have the media and the public who have already elevated the young pretty Ellie to celebrity status and condemned the two reclusive women as being the guilty party.

To say I loved James writing style is an understatement – I was mesmerised. Both the setting and the characters came to life for me, painting vivid pictures in my mind and playing out movie like in front of my eyes. I particularly enjoyed the character of Mary, Suzannah’s mother, who suffers from a type of dementia and is extremely eccentric. Whilst Mary would undoubtedly be quite hard work to look after in real life, here she livened up the story and added not only a bit of humour but an additional thread to sow doubt in the reader’s mind. Do her crazy ramblings contain some truth?


I can firmly say that THE ACCUSATION  is one of the best psychological thrillers I have read this year, and features amongst other greats of Australian crime fiction to have hit our shelves recently. There is a special quality to Australian mysteries that captures the effects of a vast and isolated land on the human psyche, and ratchets up tension. James has used all of these elements with perfection to create a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere that kept my heart rate up and my mind churning in an effort to solve the mystery.


Summary:



If you like a good psychological thriller, then you cannot go past this one. I was even more intrigued to learn that the story had been inspired by a true 18th century crime, which gives it additional depth and meaning. Giving the historical “Canning Affair” a 21st century setting, with the ensuing media circus and social media storm, was a clever way to bring this old mystery back to life.  THE ACCUSATION  is Australian crime writing at its best, showcasing the great talent of Australian women writers out there today. It deserves all the hype! A brilliant book, very highly recommended.



Image result for 5 stars

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

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Book Review: DEVIL'S FJORD by David Hewson


Title: DEVIL'S FJORD
Author: David Hewson
Publisher: Creme de la Crime
Read: May 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ


Book Description:


New District Sheriff Tristan Haraldsen uncovers a series of dark secrets when he investigates the disappearance of two boys in the remote Faroe Islands.

Newly-appointed District Sheriff Tristan Haraldsen and his wife Elsebeth are looking forward to a peaceful semi-retirement in the remote fishing village of Djevulsfjord on the stunningly beautiful island of Vagar. But when two boys go missing during the first whale hunt of the season, the repercussions strike at the heart of the isolated coastal community.

As he pursues his investigations, Tristan discovers that the Mikkelsen brothers aren't the first young men to have vanished on Vagar. Determined to solve the mystery of Djevulsfjord, yet encountering suspicion wherever he turns, Haraldsen comes to realize he and his wife are not living in the rural paradise they had imagined, and that the wild beauty of the region hides a far darker reality.

My musings:


My heart skipped in delight at the promise of both a wild, remote location and a new mark on my armchair travel map with this new mystery by David Hewson. When I heard the author describe it as a “kind of gentle Scandi noir with a tough edge to it”, I was sold!

However, be forewarned – the book may start gentle enough, as ex-policeman Tristan Haraldsen and his wife Elsbeth arrive in the remote fishing village of Djevulsfjord on the Faroe Islands looking for a peaceful semi-retirement, but any illusion of that is soon shattered when two young children from the village go missing. The rest is a rather bleak and eerie tale, and very typical of the genre. Which is a long-winded way to say that I loved it! Not only do we have the perfect remote setting, but also a wild, mystical landscape and the intricate dynamics of small village life where some villagers harbour a deep dark secret. Hewson certainly knows how to write, and creates a fictional place that unfurled in my mind like a real world location.

If you are looking for, in the author’s own words (from his website), “a riveting and unusual story set in a wonderful location that hovers between the real and the mythical”, then this is definitely the right book for you. Hewson has achieved that and much more, with a mystery that seeped into my subconscious with stealth and tenacity and kept me firmly anchored in this armchair location long after the final page had been turned. The eeriness of the bleak landscape made for the perfect backdrop to a dark mystery involving the mysterious deaths that have befallen the village, even if no one wants anyone to take a closer look – especially not an outsider.

Even though Hewson freely admits that he has never set foot on Faroe soil and Djevulsfjord is strictly his fictional creation, his background research and skilful writing manage to perfectly evoke the lives of poor and simple fishing folk who depend on their annual whale hunt to bring in some extra money to survive the brutal winters. And for whom, if their circumstances may not be so lucky, there is no escape from the daily grind of poverty. Readers who are sensitive to certain triggers, such as scenes of whale hunting and killing livestock, or the death of a child early in the book, should be forewarned that Hewson is not afraid to tackle the harsher realities of island life. I admit that some of it was disturbing, but as a privileged reader living a comfortable life in a safe country and a meat eater, I would a hypocrite to hide away from facing up to such issues, so I took them in the context they are provided.



Summary:

All in all, DEVIL’S FORD was an atmospheric and thoroughly engrossing story by a master of the genre, and armchair travel of the best kind! If you like wild and remote locations, then you cannot pass this one by. I look forward to treading more from this author in future and will make sure to look up his earlier books.


Thank you to Netgalley and Creme de la Crime for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.


Thursday, 9 May 2019

Book Review: STONE MOTHERS by Erin Kelly

Title: STONE MOTHERS
Author: Erin Kelly
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Read: April 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


'The Victorians used to call their mental hospitals stone mothers,' I say. 'They thought the design of the building could literally nurse the sick back to health.'

Marianne grew up in the shadow of the old asylum, a place that still haunts her dreams. She was seventeen when she fled the town, her family, her boyfriend Jesse and the body they buried.
Now, forced to return, she can feel the past closing around her. And Jesse, who never forgave her for leaving, is finally threatening to expose the truth.

Marianne will do anything to protect the life she's built; the husband and daughter who must never know.

Even if it means turning to her worst enemy...


But Marianne may not know the whole story - and she isn't the only one with secrets they'd kill to keep.

My musings:


I absolutely adored Erin Kelly’s book HE SAID SHE SAID, so imagine my excitement when I won an ARC of her latest book!

The book is being told from the POV of three different characters and three very distinct timelines. Starting in the present, we hear from Marianne, who has had to give up her job in order to spend more time helping her sister look after their mother, who has advanced dementia. To surprise her, her husband has bought them a unit in the historical building of the Nazareth Mental Hospital, now a modern apartment block for the wealthy. He thought she would be pleased, and her horror of setting foot on the property surprises him. What lies in Marianne’s past that makes her so reluctant to return to her old hometown of  Nusstead?

STONE MOTHERS is yet another book that will go on my list of great settings this year. The Nazareth Mental Hospital is a brilliant and eerie setting – what can possibly bring more chills than an abandoned asylum with a dark past? I loved exploring the old brick building in my mind, wondering its corridors with dread and fascination alike. Kelly has a way with words that really brought this setting to life for me!

The one thing I wasn’t totally fond of was the timeline here. It’s one of those books where all the main characters share a deep dark secret, and everything revolves around this secret, only that we are not privy to finding out what it’s all about. I felt like the one person in the crowd that has no idea what everyone is talking about – too close to real life, lol. Without that knowledge, it was difficult initially to understand the characters’ motivations, which at times seemed a bit farfetched and extreme to me. It wasn’t until the timeline switched to Marianne’s teenage years that we get to find out what all the fuss was about and things started making more sense.


Of all the characters, I liked Helen’s story the best and could have read much more about her youth. She was such a complex character, and her story was so compelling! I also felt a lot more connection to teenage Marianne than to her present day self, and could have spent the entire book walking the dark corridors of the abandoned asylum. One thing I really appreciated about the different timelines was the way the characters all ended linking up, and the threads connecting, and little details coming into focus that I may otherwise have overlooked.


Summary:


STONE MOTHERS is a slow, character driven story with a brilliant atmospheric setting created by a master storyteller. Even though I struggled initially with the format of the book, it ended up an enjoyable read and Helen’s story especially evoked a lot of emotions. Lovers of atmospheric settings will really appreciate this one, as it was quite unique!


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

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Book Review: THE MISSING YEARS by Lexie Elliott



Author: Lexie Elliott
Publisher: Berkley Publishing
Read: April 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ


Book Description:


Ailsa Calder has inherited half of a house. The other half belongs to a man who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago—her father.

Leaving London behind to settle the inheritance from her mother’s estate, Ailsa returns to her childhood home, nestled amongst the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, joined by the half-sister who’s almost a stranger to her.

Ailsa can’t escape the claustrophobic feeling that the house itself is watching her—as if her past hungers to consume her. She also can’t ignore how the neighbourhood animals refuse to set one foot within the gates of the garden.

When the first nighttime intruder shows up, Ailsa fears that the manor’s careless rugged beauty could cost her everything.


My musings:


Is there anything more compelling than a mystery featuring an old spooky mansion in the country? Few settings are as irresistible for me, and of course I added this book to my TBR list immediately when I heard that one of the starring role went to an old deserted manor house in rural Scotland.

Picture this: you have just found out that you have inherited The Manse, an old stately manor house in the country where you spent a few of your early childhood years. The place where your father went missing, and your family life totally unravelled. Which is probably why Ailsa is eager to sort through her mother’s old stuff at the house and get her affairs in order so she can put the house on the market as quickly as possible. But there is a hitch: her father, who has been missing for 27 years is still officially part owner of the property, and without his consent she cannot sell, lease or convert the old mansion. And the ghosts of the past are about to catch up with her ....

There are two things I particularly loved about this book:

  1. The Manse: the old manor house is one of those settings that features almost like a character in itself and plays a huge role in the whole mystery. And it has such potential for spookiness! Doors mysteriously open and close even though there is no draught. Animals are refusing to enter the grounds, acting terrified as soon as they get near it. There are mysterious sightings of shadowy animals and people that no one else can see. It was just so perfect!
  2. The mystery of Ailsa’s father’s disappearance: what really happened to him 27 years ago when he vanished without a trace, carrying a load of precious diamonds he was meant to deliver to a local jeweller. Throughout the novel we get to hear different Ailsa has made up about her father’s fate. He is living in Australia / South America / a mental hospital in the next county with a new family / a male partner / a new wife. Her theories are endless. As the story gets a bit more sinister, so do Ailsa’s theories, until .... Well, you will have to find out for yourself!



You are probably wondering: so, what’s not to love here? Alas, it was the ending that ruined this one for me. There are more plot holes than in Swiss cheese in the way this one panned out, and I didn’t get answers to some of the most important questions I had – which I will not discuss here because – you know – spoilers. *sigh* it’s the year of implausible endings for me, and the trend continues. No doubt it won’t bother many of you, so take my review with a large grain of salt. I’m trying to become more adept at suspension of disbelief, but I think this one pushed too many boundaries!



Summary:


To sum it up: great setting, very intriguing premise but a totally implausible ending for me. However, I loved Elliott’s writing style and have just bought The French Girl, and look forward to reading more from this author!


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

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Book Review: THE TAKING OF ANNIE THORNE by C.J. Tudor


Author: C.J. Tudor
Read: April 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


One night, Annie went missing. Disappeared from her own bed. There were searches, appeals. Everyone thought the worst. And then, miraculously, after forty-eight hours, she came back. But she couldn't, or wouldn't, say what had happened to her. Something happened to my sister. I can't explain what. I just know that when she came back, she wasn't the same. She wasn't my Annie. I didn't want to admit, even to myself, that sometimes I was scared to death of my own little sister.


My musings:


THE CHALK MAN  was one of my favourite books last year, so I was very excited to pick up Tudor’s latest book, THE TAKING OF ANNIE THORNE (much prefer that title to THE HIDING PLACE, the other name it has been published under).

If the opening scene was anything to go by, I should have realised that Tudor may take this book one step further and step across into the horror genre – and it certainly did! It was therefore perhaps not the smartest choice for my nightly commute and lonely dog-walks along dark lanes, but it certainly made my heart pound (if you’re into that sort of adrenaline rush).

For me, THE TAKING OF ANNIE THORNE was quite similar to THE CHALK MAN  in many aspects. Here we have a dysfunctional, single male character who is reminiscing about the past and a deep dark secret  that has shaped his life. However, if her debut worked by insinuating evil, she is not afraid to turn it up a few notches here. Ed was flawed but likeable, whilst Joe was a truly unlikeable and damaged character for me. And whilst the little chalk men may in her first book seemed sinister, the horror elements in this book will truly make your skin crawl! There are also quite a few supernatural elements in this latest novel, which may or may not work for different kind of readers. I, for one, enjoy subtle hints more than the full-in-your face horror, which is why I probably didn’t love this one as much as THE CHALK MAN. Personally, I also felt that not all the threads came together for me in the end – or perhaps I missed something? – which left me with more questions than answers.

So, let’s sum it all up without spoilers:

Things I loved:
  1. An atmospheric, small town setting that was truly terrifying at times. Tudor excels with her settings, and this one is a prime example of a setting that is as much a character in her novel as the actual people depicted in it.
  2. Humour. Dark humour, but that counts, doesn’t it? As much as I disliked Joe, at times he came out with things that made me laugh. Even if they often were politically incorrect. Go on, shoot me down for saying that, I am sure that someone out there will be offended by this.
  3. The unreliable narrator theme, which worked really well here. Can you trust Joe? Or is he lying? That’s the million dollar question and you won’t get an answer out of me here, no matter how much money you offer – well, don’t tempt me.


Things that didn’t quite work:
  1. The horror elements. If I want horror, I will read horror. Or rather not. But ok, I just toughen up and take one for the team.
  2. Too many unanswered questions remaining in the end. I will not go into them here because of spoilers, but not everything added up for me. But maybe I’m just a bit thick.
  3. The book has been compared by many to Stephen King’s novel Pet Sematary, which I have not read because I thought it would be too scary. But maybe I should. 



Summary:


All in all, this one should appeal to readers who like dark mysteries and aren’t too squeamish – there were quite a few horrific and confronting scenes here that may be too much for some. Whilst I enjoyed the foray into Tudor’s sinister world and found some aspects thoroughly intriguing, some of the horror elements did push me outside my comfort zone. I liked it but didn’t love it quite as much as I thought I would!