Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Book Review: THE COLLABORATOR by Diane Armstrong

Author: Diane Armstrong
Publisher: Harlequin Australia
Read: August 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

It is 1944 in Budapest and the Germans have invaded. Jewish journalist Miklos Nagy risks his life and confronts the dreaded Adolf Eichmann in an attempt save thousands of Hungarian Jews from the death camps. But no one could have foreseen the consequences...

It is 2005 in Sydney, and Annika Barnett sets out on a journey that takes her to Budapest and Tel Aviv to discover the truth about the mysterious man who rescued her grandmother in 1944.

By the time her odyssey is over, history has been turned on its head, past and present collide, and the secret that has poisoned the lives of three generations is finally revealed in a shocking climax that holds the key to their redemption.

My musings:

I can never resist a good story set during WWII, especially one that explores lesser known historical events during that dark time in history. Diane Armstrong’s latest book, THE COLLABORATOR, falls firmly into that category. Inspired by real happenings  and people, her captivating story focuses on the fate of 1500 Hungarian Jews who were saved from certain death in German concentration camps by the actions of one man – who will later have to stand trial for being a Nazi collaborator. Hero or traitor? How can one and the same action be considered to be both, depending on how you look at it?

It was immediately obvious that Armstrong has done A LOT of research into her topic, as her story is peppered with facts and historical details that opened my eyes to political events that had somehow slipped under the radar for me. If history lessons had been as captivating as this book, I would certainly have known more about the fate of the many Jewish people who managed to escape the Nazi death camps and started their new lives in Israel, facing a whole new set of challenges after the war was over. Armstrong seamlessly weaves historical fact with fiction, with characters that practically leap off the pages, take the reader by the hand and draw them into their world. I feel like I learned so much by reading this story!

Narrated in a dual timeline format, one part of the story is being told through the eyes of Annika, an Australian journalist trying to find out the truth about Miklos Nagy, the man who allegedly saved her grandmother’s life together with 1500 other Jews during the war. Since her grandmother remains tight-lipped about the subject, Annika decides to go to Hungary where her grandmother was living during the war. She thus embarks on a journey that will take her from Hungary to Israel, only to uncover a remarkable and heart breaking story of love, courage and betrayal.

The second timeline, set during the war, explores the very events Annika is investigating, and is narrated through the eyes of Miklos Nagy himself, a man who is lauded as hero by some, traitor by others.

Personally, I connected more with Annika’s story, and related to her quest to uncover some truths about her grandmother’s past. I have worked with numerous holocaust survivors, whose families never knew about the terrible tragedies they had suffered, so Annika’s grandmother’s silence on the subject rang true for me, as did her quest for answers. Whilst I found Miklos Nagy’s chapters fascinating and eye opening, they also felt a bit more detached and at times heavy with historical facts. This is not a criticism, merely a caution to readers to allow time to digest the story rather than expecting a quick entertaining read. I found myself looking up facts about Hungary and the fate of its Jewish population because I felt I needed to understand the context more – and I am grateful to have learned from the story as well as appreciating the armchair time travel.


All in all, THE COLLABORATOR was a well-researched, interesting and thought provoking novel based on real life persons and events that explored a chapter of WWII history not often touched upon in historical fiction. I found it relevant and educational as well as deeply moving, and recommend it to all lovers of the genre.

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

Monday, 26 August 2019

Book Review: ELEVATOR PITCH by Linwood Barclay

Author: Linwood Barclay
Publisher: Harlequin Australia
Read: August 2019
Expected publication: 5 September 2019
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

Book Description:

It all begins on a Monday, when four people board an elevator in a Manhattan office tower. Each presses a button for their floor, but the elevator proceeds, non-stop, to the top. Once there, it stops for a few seconds, and then plummets.

Right to the bottom of the shaft.

It appears to be a horrific, random tragedy. But then, on Tuesday, it happens again, in a different Manhattan skyscraper. And when Wednesday brings yet another high-rise catastrophe, one of the most vertical cities in the world – and the nation’s capital of media, finance, and entertainment – is plunged into chaos.

Clearly, this is anything but random. This is a cold, calculated bid to terrorize the city. And it’s working. Fearing for their lives, thousands of men and women working in offices across the city refuse leave their homes. Commerce has slowed to a trickle. Emergency calls to the top floors of apartment buildings go unanswered.

Who is behind this? What do these deadly acts of sabotage have to do with the fingerless body found on the High Line? Two seasoned New York detectives and a straight-shooting journalist must race against time to find the answers . . .

Pulsating with tension, Elevator Pitch is a riveting tale of psychological suspense that is all too plausible . . . and will chill readers to the bone.

My musings:

Do you ever have elevator dreams? I tend to get them when things in my life spiral out of control. I press the button, the light flashes. A whirr, a buzz, the doors slide open. There is that particular metallic elevator smell that seems to be universal across elevators everywhere and which takes me back to my childhood when I used to visit my Dad in his office, excited to be allowed to press the buttons. I am not excited now. I press the button. The door closes. A shudder passes through the floor and into my body. And then the plunge, the freefall, the feeling of doom. This is when I usually wake. Trust an author to use one of mankind’s worst fears to ratchet up the adrenaline in his latest thriller!

ELEVATOR PITCH was one of those books I absolutely had to read, because I love to challenge my demons. And Linwood does a great job with his elevator scenes. They are terrifying! I loved how we got a little bit of backstory about all the characters who are part of this nightmare, even though they feature only briefly before plunging to their deaths. It all made it very much relatable somehow, to a point where I am glad that there is no elevator ride in sight in my immediate future. I wish that there had been more of these kinds of scenes, because they truly terrified me and delivered exactly the thrills I had been hoping for when I picked up this book.

However, the elevator accidents are but a small part of a story that features various subplots and multiple different characters, which didn’t all gel with me. Whilst the various plotlines kept me guessing, they also felt a bit discordant and scattered, keeping me at arm’s length without one solid character to root for. Was it a police procedural? A political thriller? I’m not a great fan of too much political detail or motivation, and at times this novel almost crossed the line at which I would lose interest. There were many hot topics touched on here, like terrorism, politics, relationships, PTSD, the media etc etc, but only in a glancing, superficial fashion that never managed to get under my skin or made me overly uncomfortable (in the way the elevator scenes managed to do).

To be honest, I felt a little bit disappointed by this book. I agree that it was an entertaining and binge-worthy quick read that will delight many readers, but I had expected a bit more adrenaline! Just as I was truly invested in the terrifying elevator scenes and their consequences on the city of New York, the scene would shift to a much less exciting sub-plot I cared little about. I really thought that packing in so many red herrings and different storylines diluted the fear factor that could have made this a five star read for me. As it was, I neither loved it nor hated it, and it kept my interest enough to keep reading until the final reveal (which I did not see coming BTW). I remember feeling the same with A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS, so it’s probably just a matter of not quite gelling with the writing style (that’s reading life!). I am certain that I am in the minority here and that  other readers will wholeheartedly disagree with me, but felt that the book was not quite the tense thrill ride I had anticipated.


All in all, ELEVATOR PITCH was entertaining in the same way of an action movie with several subplots and a storyline that heavily relies on its viewers’ own phobias to do most of the thrilling. In fact, I think it would make a great movie! Personally, it did not quite deliver the tense thrills I had anticipated, even though it made a good palate cleanser after some heavy and bloodthirsty Nordic novels I have recently indulged in.

If you enjoyed the elevator scenes, you may also like:

The Escape Room

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

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Book Review: CLEAR MY NAME by Paula Daly

Author: Paula Daly
Publisher: Random House UK
Read: August 2019
Expected publication: out now

Book Description:


When Carrie was accused of brutally murdering her husband’s lover, she denied it. She denied it when they arrested her, when they put her in front of a jury, and when they sent her to prison.

Now she’s three years into a fifteen-year sentence, away from the daughter she loves and the life she had built. And she is still denying that she is to blame.


Tess Gilroy has devoted her life to righting wrongs. Through her job for Innocence UK, a charity which takes on alleged miscarriages of justice, she works tirelessly to uncover the truth.

But when she is asked to take Carrie’s case, Tess realises that if she is to help this woman, she must risk uncovering the secrets she has struggled a lifetime to hide . . .

My musings:

What do you think is worse: a) someone getting away with a crime they have committed, or b) someone getting wrongfully convicted for a crime they didn’t commit? According to Paula Daly, the answer a majority of the public voted for, was b. Yes, there are few things scarier than living out your days in jail when you are completely innocent, a hapless victim of a shoddy investigation and the justice system, framed for murder, unjustly convicted by a jury of 12 who were eager to get back to their own lives. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that makes Daly’s latest novel so compelling, because she confronts us with this very possibility – that Carrie Kamara, serving a life sentence in jail for the murder of her husband’s lover, is indeed innocent.

I’m not familiar with the British justice system, but seeing that our is based on it, I am guessing its cogs turn very similarly to ours, and once a case has been presented to the jury for a verdict it takes a lot to overturn it. If you are the person rotting in jail, there would seem to be little hope of ever finding someone who believes in your innocence, let alone one prepared to fight for it. This is where Tess Gilroy comes in. Tess works for Innocence UK, and organisation standing up and fighting for victims of the criminal justice system, people who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes. It’s lucky for Carrie that so far only male clients have been represented by the organisation, which is trying to level the scales, otherwise her case may never have caught their attention. Once Tess looks closely at the evidence, she believes that Carrie could indeed be innocent – the difficult part will be finding proof.

CLEAR MY NAME was one of those books where I instantly warmed to the characters and felt invested in their fates. Tess, who seems like a ruthless, no-nonsense investigator and yet has a past that still haunts her; Avril, the newly appointed trainee who is shadowing Tess to learn from her experience, and whose innocent belief in people makes a refreshing difference from her older counterpart; Carrie, convicted of murder, who would have every motive to kill her husband’s lover and yet still proclaims her innocence. Then there are the nasty characters I loved to hate (every book needs those, too) like Pete, Carrie’s unfaithful and conceited husband (why did she ever stay with him?).

As with her previous books, I loved Daly’s writing style, which immediately drew me into the story and brought it to life for me. Daly has a keen eye for human behaviour, which lends life to each and every one of her characters and created suspense as they were set on their collision course on their search for truth – or to keep the truth hidden. I especially loved Tess and Avril and have secret hopes that we may see them back in future books? Maybe? Hopefully? As the two very different women work together to find new clues and solve the mystery, their own secret hopes, dreams and demons brought a depth to the story lacking in many other mysteries.

I picked up CLEAR MY NAME in the afternoon and read much too late into the night because I could not put it down before finding out “just one more clue”. And although I was not totally fond of the way things played out, it certainly took me by surprise.


All in all, CLEAR MY NAME was a compelling and original thriller with the high quality writing we usually see in Paula Daly’s novels and characters that got under my skin and who I would love to see back in future novels. It was entertaining and intriguing, so I recommend allowing time to get totally immersed, as you will be loathe to put it down once you start reading. I enjoyed it very much and look forward to see what Daly comes up with in her next book.

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.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Book Review: THE GIRL WITHOUT SKIN by Mads Peder Nordbo

Author: Mads Peder Nordbo
Publisher: Text Publishing
Read: August 2019
Expected publication: out now

Book Description:

When a mummified Viking corpse is discovered in a crevasse out on the edge of an ice sheet, journalist Matthew Cave is sent to cover the story. The next day the mummy is gone, and the body of the policeman who was keeping watch is found naked and flayed—exactly like the victims in a gruesome series of murders that terrified the remote town of Nuuk in the 1970s.

As Matt investigates, he is shocked by the deprivation and brutal violence the locals take for granted. Unable to trust the police, he begins to suspect a cover-up. It’s only when he meets a young Inuit woman, Tupaarnaq, convicted of killing her parents and two small sisters, that Matt starts to realise how deep this story goes—and how much danger he is in.

My musings:

As the title suggests – this book is not for the faint of heart! I love a good Nordic thriller, and THE GIRL WITHOUT SKIN has every element that characterises the genre: a haunting atmospheric setting, a somewhat bleak atmosphere, gruesome crimes and two main characters scarred by their tragic back stories.

This is the first book set in Greenland for me, and though I thought that the setting was fantastic and starred as a character in its own right, it is no travel brochure. Nordbo, who has lived in Nuuk for many years, gives a chilling account of life in this remote place. There are many trigger warnings here, so if you are sensitive to topics of domestic violence, rape, incest and child abuse you should enter this one cautiously. For me, novels that are not afraid to expose the sinister side of society and offer some social criticism add some depth and meaning to my reading experience, and I feel that I learned something about life on one of the most remote places on earth.

Nordbo tells his story through the eyes of two main characters and two separate timelines 40 or so years apart. When the unsolved crimes of the past rear their ugly heads again in the present, troubled journalist Matt Cave becomes entangled in the investigation. Matt is an enigmatic, genuine and tragic character I warmed to immediately. Having lost his wife and unborn child in a terrible car accident, he is haunted by demons and the hopelessness that follows grief. Perhaps it is this that makes him somewhat fearless to expose crimes and corruption even if it comes at great risk to his own personal safety. And be assured, the people in this novel who want the past to stay hidden are ruthless in their pursuit! Seeing how people with demons tend to gravitate towards each other, it is no surprise that Matthew feels drawn to a young woman, Tupaarnaq, whose tragic childhood and past abuse have made her determined in the way that people who have little to lose sometimes become. Tupaarnaq, who is on a similar mission to seek justice for past wrongs, soon becomes a valuable ally to Matt. As other reviewers have mentioned, Tupaarnaq, who is tough on the outside but also strangely vulnerable, reminded me of Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, and she added much to the story for me.

The second main character is Jacob, who is a police officer in Nuuk in the 1970’s, following up on reports of alleged incest and child abuse that is rife in society at the time, and which everyone is eager to ignore. A spade of horrific murders seems to follow his investigation, and the hierarchy are determined to shut him down. But Jacob has become close to one of the victims, and is determined to help her at all cost – which will put him right in the path of the killer.

When a body is found in an ice crevasse that bears the same MO as the murders in the 1970’s the two timelines connect, and we are being taken on a chilling and spine tingling story of corruption, murder and survival in the one of the harshest landscapes on Earth.


All in all, THE GIRL WITHOUT SKIN was an honestly brutal, chilling and yet utterly captivating book set against the haunting backdrop of one of the bleakest and most remote landscapes on Earth. It features everything I have come to expect in a good Nordic thriller, and swiftly drew me into its world like only very skilled writers accomplish with such ease. I very much look forward to the next book in the series, which I believe will be published later this year.

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

Friday, 16 August 2019

Book Review: THE PASSENGERS by John Marrs

Author: John Marrs
Publisher: Berkley
Read: August 2019
Expected publication: 27 August 2019
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

You're riding in your self-driving car when suddenly the doors lock, the route changes and you have lost all control. Then, a mysterious voice tells you, "You are going to die."

Just as self-driving cars become the trusted, safer norm, eight people find themselves in this terrifying situation, including a faded TV star, a pregnant young woman, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife, and a suicidal man.

From cameras hidden in their cars, their panic is broadcast to millions of people around the world. But the public will show their true colors when they are asked, "Which of these people should we save?...And who should we kill first?"

My musings:

On our visit to the city this weekend, we saw Perth’s first driverless bus, which is a trial of new technology that will apparently “revolutionise transport”. Thanks to Mr Marrs I ran a mile and wouldn’t go near it, much to the puzzlement of other family members, who were intrigued. I will probably keep my old manual rust bucket way past the time every other citizen travels to work in a pneumatic tube or whatever other things they are working on, all because of this book!

Imagine getting into your fancy driverless car to go to work, and you’re busy updating your facebook status or applying your makeup whilst the computerised car takes care of your journey, when it suddenly changes direction. You stare out of the window in disbelief. Then a voice comes over the speaker, telling you that your car is no longer under your control. And in all likelihood, you will soon be dead ....

THE PASSENGERS is a fast paced thriller that describes what happens when eight driverless cars are being hijacked and programmed to collide in one chilling act of – what? Terrorism? Murder? Revenge? We don’t know yet, except that the man who calls himself “the Hacker” is ruthless and will not hesitate to kill an innocent person to get his way. But Marrs doesn’t just stop there and let a single evil entity do all his grunt work. No, he very cleverly brings in the public through social media and news coverage, and it’s no surprise that soon everyone is glued to a live streaming of the drama unfolding and has an opinion on it. We seem to be so full of entitlement and have so many opinions nowadays, don’t we? Well, the stakes have just been raised, because it is the public who will decide which one of the passengers will live and who will die. Based merely on a few choice facts the “hacker” is prepared to release. And don’t we all jump to conclusions immediately, eager to condemn someone to death? Mr Marrs, you know how to chill us to the core by exposing the ugly side of human nature and the potholes of social media!

THE PASSENGERS  is an extremely clever book, which will not only chill you to the core but also test your own pre-conceptions and prejudices as you, a member the public, will have to make a life or death situation on who gets to live and who has to die. If you don’t decide, everyone will die. So who would you save? And why? And when new information comes to light, will you still think the same? In a way, the story unravels clue by clue like an old-fashioned whodunit, except that the death has not occurred yet. I admit, I was ready to throw my vote in the pot, only to be gobsmacked when new information came to light. And I found myself totally glued to the pages as this drama unfolded.

I admit that the story lost a bit of steam for me once the passenger situation had been revealed and I was coming off the adrenaline high. However, as John Marrs’ books tend to do, this story stayed in my mind long after the last page had been turned, and I was itching to discuss it. It’s one of those books you should read with a buddy, someone you can text at 2 a.m. with a WTH??? message and then hotly debate your different opinions. This book made for an an excellent group read, and entertained as well as challenged our thought processes. It’s a story that chilled me to the core because if this is the future, then I may look for a cave to move into with my TBR pile and live off the grid.


All in all, John Marrs has once again delivered a clever, original and thrilling story that will appeal to readers across a range of genres and allow for lively debates in group or buddy reads. I devoured this over the course of a day because I had to find out what would happen. Now back into my car hoping that I make it to work safely ....

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

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Book Review: THE ARRANGEMENT by Robyn Harding

Author: Robyn Harding
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia
Read: August 2019
Expected publication: 1 September 2019

Book Description:

Natalie, an art student in New York City, is struggling to pay her bills when a friend makes a suggestion: Why not find a sugar daddy – a wealthy, older man who will pay her for dates, and a monthly allowance. All that’s required is to look pretty. Sexual favours are optional.

Gabe, a handsome finance attorney, seems like the perfect candidate and within a month they are madly in love. At least, Nat is – Gabe already has a family, who he has no intention of leaving.

When he abruptly ends things, Nat can’t let go. She begins drinking heavily and stalking Gabe and his family. Their supposedly mutually beneficial arrangement devolves into a nightmare of deception, obsession and, when a body is found near Gabe’s Upper East Side apartment, murder.

My musings:

I love books that transport me into a completely different scene, and Harding’s foray into the world of sugar daddies and sugar babies was a real revelation for me. If you are like me, and haven’t heard of the term before: a sugar baby is a beautiful young woman, often a student, who will date a wealthy older man for a fee. It’s a bit like an escort service, only that the sugar daddy will often pay large sums of money and gifts to his sugar baby for her company. Sex is often involved, but not always. It’s needless to say that this arrangement attracts a fair share of creeps and predators, and that things can go wrong on many different levels. Google the term and you will find a spade of murders related to the whole sugar baby scene.

So when Natalie, a poor art student who has just lost her low paying job in hospitality and can no longer afford her rent in her flat share in New York, enters a sugar daddy / sugar baby arrangement with the confident and rich Gabe, I instantly feared for her. Natalie is a bit of an innocent, a girl from the country who has grown up without a father in her life, and who craves love and stability – probably not the type of girl who is suited to such an arrangement. “Pretty Woman” it is not – for Gabe to pay a princely sum for Natalie’s company, she is expected to perform certain “services” and live up to Gabe’s expectations. Most of all, she is as much a status symbol as a new car, or an expensive suit, and just as expendable when he tires of her. This is never going to end well, is it?

I will not reveal any more about the story, other than to say that it instantly had me intrigued. Harding writes well, and the story moves along at a good pace, setting the scene and building up a degree of danger as we realise what Natalie’s arrangement entails. This was the type of book that made me feel like a tourist on planet earth, because Natalie’s reality was so far removed from my own sheltered life that I often found myself gobsmacked by the things she is experiencing. I could relate to the poor student existence – hadn’t I myself lived on minute noodles in grungy shared apartments in my youth? - but the whole sugar daddy scene was totally new to me. From here, Harding spins a compelling tale that soon ends in someone’s death – the who and how you will have to find out for yourself.

Harding has obviously done her research and states in her author’s notes that she had interviewed several sugar babies prior to writing this novel to be able to give her story a solid background. This really shone through for me in believable characters that were easy to relate to. If I wanted to spark a lively debate, I would read this in a book group, as the mere term sugar baby / sugar daddy would have some of my peers’ blood boiling!


All in all, this was an intriguing, original and compelling mystery that had me glued to the pages. I would have been just as happy to leave the ending shrouded in a bit of mystery, but other readers not similarly inclined will be happy to hear that it all wrapped up nicely and all is explained in the final reveal. I now need to read the author’s other books, in particularly HER PRETTY FACE, which has been on my wish list for a long time!

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

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Book Review: NEVER HAVE I EVER by Joshilyn Jackson

Author: Joshilyn Jackson
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing, Raven Books
Read: August 2019
Expected publication: 8 August 2019
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

Amy Whey is proud of her ordinary life and the simple pleasures that come with it—teaching diving lessons, baking cookies for new neighbors, helping her best friend, Charlotte, run their local book club. Her greatest joy is her family: her devoted professor husband, her spirited fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, her adorable infant son. And, of course, the steadfast and supportive Charlotte. But Amy’s sweet, uncomplicated life begins to unravel when the mysterious and alluring Angelica Roux arrives on her doorstep one book club night.

Sultry and magnetic, Roux beguiles the group with her feral charm. She keeps the wine flowing and lures them into a game of spilling secrets. Everyone thinks it’s naughty, harmless fun. Only Amy knows better. Something wicked has come her way—a she-devil in a pricey red sports car who seems to know the terrible truth about who she is and what she once did.

When they’re alone, Roux tells her that if she doesn’t give her what she asks for, what she deserves, she’s going to make Amy pay for her sins. One way or another.

To protect herself and her family and save the life she’s built, Amy must beat the devil at her own clever game, matching wits with Roux in an escalating war of hidden pasts and unearthed secrets. Amy knows the consequences if she can’t beat Roux. What terrifies her is everything she could lose if she wins.

A diabolically entertaining tale of betrayal, deception, temptation, and love filled with dark twists leavened by Joshilyn Jackson’s trademark humor, Never Have I Ever explores what happens when the transgressions of our past come back with a vengeance.

My musings:

What an emotional roller coaster this book turned out to be!

Amy is a housewife and new mother to a small baby son, and stepmother to a teenage daughter. Her life is in order. She bakes cookies, cleans the house and works part time as a dive instructor. Once a month she hosts the Brain Dead Mummy’s Book Club, run by her best friend Charlotte, whose life is just as ordinary and unexciting as Amy’s. Until the new neighbour invites herself to their latest book club meeting and takes over proceedings. Exotic and extrovert, Angela Roux pours the drinks and invites the tipsy neighbourhood mums to play a game of “Never Have I Ever”, revealing their deepest darkest secrets. Amy is alarmed. It’s not just that some ugly truths come out that the women will surely regret sharing, but Amy herself has been harbouring a deep dark secret she has hidden for years. She is sure that Roux knows things about her that no one else does, not even her husband. But how? And what does Roux want from her?

There is nothing more delicious than dark family secrets, and the length people will go to in order to keep them hidden. Soon Roux and Amy are entangled in a dangerous twisted game where there can only be one winner – and one person who has a lot to lose. And neither woman is prepared to be that person.

For me, the strength of NEVER HAVE I EVER lay in its characters, who drove this story for me. Amy may initially seem like a mousy housewife, but we soon get to know how strong and determined she can be when her future is at stake. And Roux – well, she was just plain evil. This was one of those books where I was constantly putting myself in the main character’s shoes, thinking: what would I do in her place? What would be the best course of action? As Amy becomes more and more entangled in Roux’s web, I feared for her and absolutely couldn’t put the book down. What a page turner!

I loved how the battle of wits between Amy and Roux became more dangerous as time went on, each woman determined to win. Both characters were well drawn and fascinating in their own right – the housewife with a secret and the blackmailer. I was firmly in camp Amy, but I secretly admired Roux’s confidence and her audacity. Who hasn’t met women like her, the sort of person who owns the whole room as soon as she enters, all eyes drawn to her, the extrovert, the life of the party. Confident and cocky.  Unstoppable. Ruthless.

Apart from this battle of wits, I also enjoyed the side stories the author offers here – the friendship between Madison and Roux’s son Luca. The stunning dive scenes. Amy’s and Charlotte’s friendship. There were quite a few twists along the way I did not see coming, and a more sinister and disturbing one at the end that shocked me pulled the rug out from under me. 


If you love character driven mysteries that are based on secrets, lies and deceit, and enjoy a good battle of wills then this book is definitely for you! Despite the slower pace that the term “character driven” suggests, the underlying tension and menace overshadowing the story had me at the edge of my seat the whole time whilst reading this book, and I could not put it down. It’s definitely one of my favourite thrillers this year, and one I have no qualms recommending to all lovers of the genre. I look forward to reading more from this author in future.

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

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Book Review: GIRLS LIKE US by Christina Alger

Author: Christina Alger
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Read: July 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

FBI Agent Nell Flynn hasn't been home in ten years. Nell and her father, Homicide Detective Martin Flynn, have never had much of a relationship. And Suffolk County will always be awash in memories of her mother, Marisol, who was brutally murdered when Nell was just seven.

When Martin Flynn dies in a motorcycle accident, Nell returns to the house she grew up in so that she can spread her father's ashes and close his estate. At the behest of her father's partner, Detective Lee Davis, Nell becomes involved in an investigation into the murders of two young women in Suffolk County.[...] But she may not like the answers she finds--not just about those she loves, but about herself.

My musings:

I always appreciate a good solid police procedural and was happy to find that GIRLS LIKE US delivered just that. Nell Flynn, an FBI agent, is forced to return home to a small seaside town after the sudden death of her father in a motorbike accident. But what should have been a short, straight-forward visit turns into something much more complicated when Nell is drawn into the investigation into the death of a young local woman, whose body was found in a wealthy suburb not far from where Nell is staying. Soon her suspicions are aroused that the death could be related to one of her father’s old murder cases. The more Nell digs, the more afraid she becomes that her father may have been involved in something much bigger and more terrible than she ever suspected ....

As far as main characters go, Nell Flynn was the perfect protagonist: an intelligent, brave and yet also emotionally vulnerable female who is not afraid to dig into the past to find out the truth, even if it puts everything she has ever believed into jeopardy. The difficult relationship between Nell and her late father added complexity and emotional depth to an otherwise straight forward police procedural, but with a suspicion that hits so close to home Nell was never going to escape unscathed from this investigation.

Readers who love some nail biting action and a constant sense of menace and danger in their crime novels will be pleased with the tension Alger has created in her latest novel, even though I found it was a bit slow to get there. But once Nell was up to her neck in danger and conspiracy, the story soon swept me along in its wake until its fast-paced finale.

It is always difficult to review a book that relies largely on its surprise elements to thrill and entertain, so I will keep this short and sweet. If you like a police procedural featuring a strong, independent, smart woman protagonist, then this one should be a good fit. I could easily see Nell coming back in future novels, though it was her personal emotional connection to the crimes that made this story stand out from hundreds of others in the genre. I have Alger’s first novel THE BANKER’S WIFE on my wishlist and look forward to reading more from this author in future.

Thank you to Edelweiss and G.P. Putnam's Sons for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Book Review: A STRANGER ON THE BEACH by Michele Campbell

Author: Michele Campbell
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Read: July 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

There is a stranger outside Caroline's house.

Her spectacular new beach house, built for hosting expensive parties and vacationing with the family she thought she'd have. But her husband is lying to her and everything in her life is upside down, so when the stranger, Aiden, shows up as a bartender at the same party where Caroline and her husband have a very public fight, it doesn't seem like anything out of the ordinary.

As her marriage collapses around her and the lavish lifestyle she's built for herself starts to crumble, Caroline turns to Aiden for comfort...and revenge. After a brief and desperate fling that means nothing to Caroline and everything to him, Aiden's obsession with Caroline, her family, and her house grows more and more disturbing. And when Caroline's husband goes missing, her life descends into a nightmare that leaves her accused of her own husband's murder.

My musings:

He said / she said – but who is telling the truth? If you like an unreliable narrator, then this latest book by Michelle Campbell will be right up your alley, because it is clear from the start that someone has to be lying.

Caroline, a thirties-something woman who is suspecting her husband of having an affair, is drowning her sorrows by sleeping with a young local bartender, Aiden, whilst staying in her lavish holiday home. Very soon after that, she claims that Aiden is obsessed with her. He is stalking her, threatening her and her family. Aiden, however, tells a different story. He and Caroline are in love. He would do anything for her. And so it goes back and forth, in alternating chapters like a game of crazy murderous tennis – he said – she said – he said – she said. Until someone winds up dead. So who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

I really wish I could have loved this one more. The idea of the two completely opposite narratives was great, and I’m always on board when it comes to unreliable narrators. Except that I really hated each and every character in this book. Firstly, they were just plainly unlikable. There wasn’t a single redeeming feature in Caroline, so I was firmly in camp Aiden for the whole ride, even though he also wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. Maybe there was something in the water in that particular little beach town, because none of the characters seemed overly smart. Except the crazy cat lady next door, who featured only briefly but should have been the head of police and the crime would have been solved a lot sooner.

Secondly, I found some of the story line drawn out in the later part of the book, when I had long forged a theory of who was right and who was wrong (which proved to be correct, and believe me, I am no Sherlock). I don’t like it when characters are dumbed down to make the story work, and some of the actions and dialogues here did not ring true for the way a mature adult would act or talk – even though believe me, in my line of work I do see a lot of crazy stuff!


Unpopular opinion alert, whilst I had high hopes for this book and picked it up in a severe case of FOMO, it didn’t deliver the chills and thrills for me that I had anticipated. But I am definitely in the minority here, so if you are looking for an entertaining beach read with a couple of unreliable narrators, and don’t mind that they are a thoroughly unlikeable lot, then you may very well love it!

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

Book Review: THE WHISPER MAN by Alex North

Author: Alex North
Publisher: Celadon Books
Read: July 2019
Expected publication: 20 August 2019
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

After the sudden death of his wife, Tom Kennedy believes a fresh start will help him and his young son Jake heal. A new beginning, a new house, a new town. Featherbank.

But the town has a dark past. Twenty years ago, a serial killer abducted and murdered five residents. Until Frank Carter was finally caught, he was nicknamed "The Whisper Man," for he would lure his victims out by whispering at their windows at night.

Just as Tom and Jake settle into their new home, a young boy vanishes. His disappearance bears an unnerving resemblance to Frank Carter's crimes, reigniting old rumors that he preyed with an accomplice. Now, detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis must find the boy before it is too late, even if that means Pete has to revisit his great foe in prison: The Whisper Man.

And then Jake begins acting strangely. He hears a whispering at his window... 

My musings:

Imagine talking to your young son and he says to you: “I was playing with the boy in the floor!” Now if that’s not creepy I don’t know what is. Trust a writer to take it one level further and base a whole book around it, which is just what Alex North has done with his latest thriller. 

As the statement above suggests, there are many deliciously spooky elements in THE WHISPER MAN, which made this book one of my most anticipated new releases this winter. I love nothing better than a creepy thriller, and it is so difficult to find one that delivers fully on that front without the horror and gore elements of other books in the genre. In fact, this one was just a damn good read that kept me up very late into the night (now remind me why I started reading it at 9 p.m. when I had to get up at 5 the next morning????) and then kept me awake as I thought about it and over analysed every little creek in the floorboards until falling into a restless slumber where shadowy figures were still stalking my dreams.

If you want to get real value out of this magnificent story, I suggest to go into it blindly, which will keep all the surprise elements tightly hidden until they spring out at you when you least expect it. For maximum effect, read it at night, during a south-westerly breeze, when branches tap against your windows and the old house groans and creaks in protest. Be assured that North has packed something into his story for everyone: a spooky ghost story, a solid police procedural and a chilling serial killer story. With one of the most delicious settings of all – an old creepy house that may hold some unexpected surprises for its new owners. 

Driven by two enigmatic protagonists, the story unravelled  quite quickly, inexorably drawing me into its web. And despite chilling me to the core, it also touched my heartstrings to such an extent that my cold dark heart may have shed a tear or two! Parenthood, especially the relationship between fathers and sons feature heavily here, which added a depth to the story missing in many other thrillers of a similar calibre.

But what I loved most about this book was the way North presented its spooky elements.  There MAY have been a perfectly reasonable explanation for it all, but then again, there may not have been. Can children sense things we as adults have long lost in the confines of our logical minds? You will have to read it and make up your own mind.


All in all, THE WHISPER MAN  was the perfect example of all the things I love in a good spooky thriller. There was a balance here that is so hard to achieve that only few authors manage to pull it off. More often than not I walk away disappointed. But not this time. I am so glad that I came across this book and it is definitely one of my favourites I have read this year. The only thing that left me slightly puzzled was the end, and I may have to reread it to see what I have missed. Or is North keeping his options open for a sequel? With the movie rights already sold, this would not surprise me ....

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

Book Review: JANE DOE by Victoria Helen Stone

Author: Victoria Helen Stone
Read: July 2019
My Rating: all the stars! 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Book Description:

Jane’s days at a Midwest insurance company are perfectly ordinary. She blends in well, unremarkably pretty in her floral-print dresses and extra efficient at her low-level job. She’s just the kind of woman middle manager Steven Hepsworth likes—meek, insecure, and willing to defer to a man. No one has any idea who Jane really is. Least of all Steven.

But plain Jane is hiding something. And Steven’s bringing out the worst in her.

Nothing can distract Jane from going straight for his heart: allowing herself to be seduced into Steven’s bed, to insinuate herself into his career and his family, and to expose all his dirty secrets. It’s time for Jane to dig out everything that matters to Steven. So she can take it all away.

Just as he did to her.

My musings:

Don’t you love it when a book sneaks up on you out of nowhere and then dazzles you with its brilliance? JANE DOE was that type of book for me. I unwittingly downloaded it on Audible on some daily or monthly deal, really knowing nothing about it at all. It started off quite slowly, and I was wondering if it was really for me. And then – BAM! Things start happening. Suddenly I was so hooked that I sat in the driveway in the middle of the night after coming home from work so I could listen just a little bit longer.

Jane is probably one of my favourite protagonists in crime fiction - ever. She never tries to hide her own shortcomings, admitting from the very start that she is a sociopath who does not subscribe to the same morals and conventions the rest of us do. Which makes it a lot easier for her to act out her perfect plan of revenge for the death of her best friend. Intrigued yet? If you have ever dreamed of revenge, I bet it was tinged with a sense of guilt the likes Jane would never submit to. In Jane’s world, it’s all about logic, and no time is wasted on useless feelings. A wrong has been committed, and she is setting out to put it right. An eye for an eye. Justice, old testament style. And not only is Jane very driven, but she is also very smart. Note – if you are going to piss someone off, don’t pick someone as clever and ruthless as this woman!

To be honest, by the halfway mark I was ready to throttle Steven myself with my own bare hands if Jane wasn’t getting a move on. I was cheering for her the whole way. Does this make me a sociopath, too? I felt similarly about the main character in John Marss’ THE GOOD SAMARITAN, except that his character was seriously disturbed. Jane isn’t, not really. She is just out to teach Steven a lesson, and she is planning to make it one he will never forget.

I loved Jane. Not often have I encountered such an honest, feisty, devious and smart protagonist. By the end of the story I was sad to see her drift out of my life. I already missed her wicked sense of humour, her sarcasm, her sense of justice. Characters like this don’t come around very often! 


Has a book ever snuck up on you out of nowhere and landed right smack bang on your favourites list? JANE DOE was that book for me! If you want a thriller with a protagonist that stands out from the rest, go and pick it up today!

You may also like:

The Good Samaritan The Good Samaritan, by John Marrs

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