Thursday 21 November 2019

Book Review: SAVING MISSY by Beth Morrey

Author: Beth Morrey
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Read: November 2019
Expected publication: 20 January 2020

Book Description:

Missy Carmichael’s life has become small.

Grieving for a family she has lost or lost touch with, she’s haunted by the echoes of her footsteps in her empty home; the sound of the radio in the dark; the tick-tick-tick of the watching clock.

Spiky and defensive, Missy knows that her loneliness is all her own fault. She deserves no more than this; not after what she’s done. But a chance encounter in the park with two very different women opens the door to something new.

Another life beckons for Missy, if only she can be brave enough to grasp the opportunity. But seventy-nine is too late for a second chance. Isn’t it?

My musings:

SAVING MISSY  is the third book I read this year that features an older heroine (Missy is rapidly approaching 80), and I am so glad to see older people making a come-back in fiction! There is something irresistible about books that reflect back on life’s journey, and knowing that wonderful new things can still happen in the winter of your life.

If I had to sum up this book in just a few words, I would say it is about friendships, and the power of people to save each other. Missy is a woman in her late seventies living in her big empty house in London, feeling the silence suffocating her. To escape her loneliness and to have something to write about to her grandson on the other side of the world, she takes long walks through the park, which does little to improve her isolation. Until an accident put her in the path of strangers who will end up changing her life forever – through the most unlikely friendships.

The narrative of SAVING MISSY unfolds slowly, as Missy’s life gradually changes for the better through the budding friendships she has recently – and reluctantly – forged. Throughout the book, she reflects back on her life and the choices she has made that have brought her to this place in time, her lonely existence, her empty house. Although Missy can be prickly at times, and tends to close herself off when she feels stressed, she is a very different character to Eleanor Oliphant, which is a comparison that has been made in the media. So if you weren’t a fan of Eleanor, be reassured that Missy is completely different. And if you were, then this book will still offer you a very unique character who is worth your time getting to know.

I’m not sure if this book is being marketed as “uplit”, but I thought it fits the genre well. There is some tragedy, as life most often serves up through one’s lifetime at some stage, but the general message is one of hope and salvation when one has all but lost hope. I loved the way the author brought out this feel-good vibe in a way that never sounded preachy, or stereotypical, or cheesy – indeed a difficult balance to achieve. If this cynical reader claims that – then this is saying something! As the story took me on its roller coaster ride of life’s ups and downs, I laughed, I cringed, I shivered a little and I shed quite a few tears. There will be triggers for some readers, which I can’t discuss because of spoilers, but just be prepared to have your heart ground in the dirt and stomped on a few times, and have some tissues handy!

I read about an interview with the author, in which she said that she “wanted to write a book that could make people cry, but with happiness, not sadness.” I feel that she has totally fulfilled that criteria.

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.

Saturday 16 November 2019

Book Review: PINE by Francine Toon

Title: PINE
Author: Francine Toon
Publisher: Random House UK
Read: November 2019
Expected publication: 23 January 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!

Book Description:

They are driving home from the search party when they see her. The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men. Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she's gone. In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren's mother a decade ago. Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father's turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it's no longer clear who she can trust. In spare, haunting prose, Francine Toon creates an unshakeable atmosphere of desolation and dread. In a place that feels like the end of the world, she unites the gloom of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.

My musings:

Wow! This book just came out of nowhere and totally swept me away in its five-star tidal wave. What a journey! If I had to describe PINE in one word only, it would be “unsettling”. It didn’t help that I innocently started reading it in the evening, and ended up putting in an almost all-nighter to get to the end, followed by some pretty strange nightmares – which you will totally understand once you read this book for yourself.

Talk about creepy! From its atmospheric, rural Northern Scotland setting to its characters and the supernatural events (or are they?) that ethereally drift in and out of misty forest roads, the story had me on edge the whole time. What I loved most about this book, and which deserves a whopping five stars from anyone looking for a spooky read, is that it achieves this seemingly without trying. This isn’t the contrived, try-hard ghost story you so often come across when looking for a haunting read. I’m not sure how Toon does it, but every single, innocent word on her pages was infused with a gentle but unmistakeable sense of menace and danger. The most unsettling scenes wouldn’t withstand translation if I tried to tell them to you, as they are built on fleeting impressions and seemingly innocent happenings, like the dripping of water, shadows on the wall, voices in the dark. It took my breath away!

Let’s also talk about Lauren, the eleven-or-so year old main protagonist. I’ve read quite a few books this year featuring young adult characters, but Lauren is in a league of her own. Rarely has a young girl touched my heart this way, and I felt that Toon managed to capture the very essence of this child who is still grieving for a mother she has never known, a mother who has disappeared but is still very much part of her life, in a way no mother ever should. Lauren’s story unfolded almost dream-like, wandering through a landscape where nothing is quite as it seems, and nothing can be taken for granted. Is it in her mind, or is it real? That shadow place between childhood innocence and adulthood is so well captured here, as Lauren’s magical childhood mind collides with her developing adult logic. Some scenes were simply so unsettling (this word again) that I caught myself holding my breath. One particular scene in an abandoned house in the forest had me slam the book shut in shock and fear and make a hot cup of tea to get my courage back before I could continue reading. It was definitely a “keep all the lights on” type of read! This book haunted me from page 1, and I think it won’t leave my mind easily now even after I have finished reading.


So let’s just cut to the chase: if you are looking for a haunting, Gothic novel with an eerie, claustrophobic setting and characters that worm their way into your mind (and dreams), then this book should definitely be on your radar. Prepare to be emotionally wrung out. Caution when reading it at night, because it brought up some pretty strange dreams for this particular reader! It’s one of the best spooky mysteries I have ever read, and thankfully lacks all the things I normally dread finding in this particular tricky genre. Francine Toon has gifted us with a stunning debut novel that deserves to take the world by storm. I loved everything about it!

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.

Image result for 5 stars

Thursday 14 November 2019

Book Review: THE DEAD GIRLS CLUB by Damien Angelica Walters

Author: Damien Angelica Walters
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Read: November 2019
Expected publication: 10 December 2019
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

Book Description:

A story in the vein of A Head Full of Ghosts about two young girls, a scary story that becomes far too real, and the tragic--and terrifying--consequences that follow one of them into adulthood.

Not putting any more of the blurb here as it gives too much away (in my opinion) - look it up on Goodreads if you like.

My musings:

Teenage girls. Witchcraft. An urban myth. A mystery that spans decades. Sound good? Well, let me put a personal disclaimer right at the beginning, because if you have read the blurb and are expecting a supernatural thriller full of hauntings and ghosts and things that go bump in the night, you may come away disappointed.

For me, THE DEAD GIRLS CLUB was more a coming of age story than a ghost story, and such was its appeal. If you are a woman, then you have been a teenage girl once, and you may or may not have gone through the “witchy” phase, a time in a girl’s life when the supernatural has an irresistible draw for you. The book is basically about four twelve-year-olds who become obsessed with the myth of the “Red Lady”, a bloodied ghost of a woman accused and cruelly slaughtered for apparently being a witch. Her ghost is now rumoured to make her terrifying comebacks to seek revenge and affect justice by filling her victims’ mouths with dirt and suffocating them. Soon the story takes over the girls’ lives and affects their friendships, until one fateful night one of the girls disappears ....

Walters tells her tale through two timelines and the eyes of Heather – then an almost teen, now an adult who is still looking for answers. Personally, I liked young Heather a lot more, and thought the author did a good job portraying the friendship dynamics between the four girls and the effects of mass hysteria that lead to an inevitable disaster. I also appreciated the author’s premise of a traumatised and abused young girl using a story about a supernatural phenomenon as a coping mechanism, which has been the topic of many a good tale (thinking Renee Denfeld for example). As the girls get deeper and deeper into the story of their terrifying witch, they experience things that they cannot fully explain rationally. Having gone through that phase as a child (after the death of my mother, i.e. also triggered by trauma), I could really see myself in those frightened children! I loved the inclusion of the urban myth in the story, and the way it came to life through the girls’ ever growing terror.

Adult Heather was a different thing altogether. I’m not sure how this person functions in life, because she obviously has some serious problems. Her voice was so manic and disjointed that it made for exhausting reading! This in itself was not a problem, because I imagined that Heather may be experiencing some mental health issues related to the incident in her childhood. However, without giving anything away here, the final conclusion and explanation did not fully satisfy me and left a lot of questions unanswered. I am very conscious of spoilers here, so I won’t go into detail except to say that the police investigating the missing girl’s disappearance must have been very inapt in their job by overlooking some very essential clues and facts – sorry, I just didn’t buy it. Cynical crime reader here! So whilst I was not too cut up about the lack of haunting (as some other readers in our buddy read group reported), the die-hard crime reader in me felt a bit let down in the end.


All in all, it was the “then” section of THE DEAD GIRLS CLUB that swept me along in its tide looking for the answers, eager to see how the girls fared. If you are interested in friendship dynamics between young girls and the psychological aspects of coping with trauma, then you will appreciate the author’s keen observations about tween friendships and that transition period between childhood and adulthood that leads to fear magnifying through mass effect as the girls are trying to deal with things they don’t fully understand.

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

Book Review: THE SUNDOWN MOTEL by Simone St. James

Author: Simone St. James
Publisher: Berkley
Read: October 2019
Expected publication: 18 Feb 2020

Book Description:

The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn't right at the Sun Down, and before long she's determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…

My musings:

Are you a fan of a creepy atmospheric setting? Some armchair time travel back to the eighties? A dual timeline that is connected by a past unsolved mystery? Tick, tick, tick – you are indeed in luck! My only regret with this book is that it is not released until March next year, and I can’t recommend it as the perfect Halloween read!

The Sun Down Motel ticked all the boxes in terms of atmospheric setting for me. A creepy run-down motel in the middle of rural America, which has some unwanted ghostly guests residing there? Yes, please! I couldn’t get enough of this place. Furthermore (yes, I am one of those annoying reviewers that uses words like furthermore – if you have any better alternatives, I am open to suggestions). Furthermore, I read this book whilst on night shift, and was instantly grateful for my own relatively benign workplace setting (the odd aggressive drunk notwithstanding). Twenty-something Viv Delaney, a refugee from her boring family life, ends up working as a night clerk in this rather unorthodox motel. It not only features the angry ghost of a woman whose body was found there when the building’s foundations were being laid, but is also a temporary home to drunks, prostitutes and drug dealers in need of a room. Strangely, Viv takes all this in her stride, more worried about the recent spate of murders of young women around town than any paranormal activity the motel can throw at her.

Fast forward 30 or so years ago, and Carly arrives in town, looking for her auntie Viv, who went missing from the motel during one of her night shifts, never to be seen again, dead or alive. If Viv was not perturbed by the motel’s colourful residents, neither is her niece, as she sets out to solve the mystery of her aunt’s disappearance.

To someone who gets freaked out by the tapping of a branch against the side of the house during a windy night, the thought of staying in the same place as a bunch of unhappy ghosts had me absolutely gobsmacked. Would you stay when the scent of smoke appears out of nowhere in the middle of the night? When doors open and close on their own accord, lights go on and off and the spectre of a small boy sits mournfully at the edge of a swimming pool? Heck no! The author gives us such vivid descriptions of these events that I had goosebumps rise on my arms reading it as the story played out – movie like – in my mind.

Whilst the mystery itself was pretty straightforward and held few surprises (my sleuthing skills are obviously not all that bad), the setting more than made up for it here. I can forgive anything for the sake of an eerie atmospheric setting, which this book delivers in spades. 


All in all, THE SUN DOWN MOTEL is a deliciously creepy read that would indeed make the perfect autumn or winter read – with a February publication date, it will deliver some great spooks for the bleakest month of the year. After having loved THE BROKEN GIRLS last year, St. James is now firmly on my radar for a great ghost story, and I am excited to start reading my way through her backlist – which is the perfect thing to do whilst you wait for this one to come out. So, if you are on the market for a great ghost story with an irresistibly creepy setting, you cannot go past THE SUN DOWN MOTEL.

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.

Friday 8 November 2019

Book Review: DEAD MAN SWITCH by Tara Moss

Author: Tara Moss
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Read: October 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

Book Description:

Sydney, 1946. Billie Walker is living life on her own terms. World War II has left her bereaved, her photojournalist husband missing and presumed dead. Determined not to rely on any man for her future, she re-opens her late father's detective agency.

Billie's bread and butter is tailing cheating spouses - it's easy, pays the bills and she has a knack for it. But her latest case, the disappearance of a young man, is not proving straightforward ...

Soon Billie is up to her stylish collar in bad men, and not just the unfaithful kind - these are the murdering kind. Smugglers. Players. Gangsters. Billie and her loyal assistant must pit their wits against Sydney's ruthless underworld and find the young man before it's too late.

My musings:

Every now and then, I really love a good PI story, and the combination of plucky female protagonist and historical setting in post-war Sydney made this one an irresistible temptation for me! As we got introduced to Billie Walker, I got definite Kinsey Millhone vibes here (from Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series) – an independent smart woman protagonist in a man’s world, investigating the “old fashioned” way, without the help of internet or databases and the like.

I’ve read a few of Moss’ novels and like her writing style, which beautifully brought post-war Sydney to life for me. That I couldn’t fully connect to Billie is probably a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”, and seeing that this is the first of the series, a bond may yet develop later. At times I just felt that Billie’s role as independent PI did not quite gel with the general role of women at the time, a struggle that she may well have overcome but which did not really shine through for me. Perhaps I would have found it more credible had we learnt more about her humble beginnings working for her father (or someone else), than emerging as a fully fledged emancipated woman who just didn’t quite match my impression of the post-war era woman for me. As it was, I found it difficult to get into her head and to understand what motivated her to act the way she did.

Saying that, if you like a good detective story with some old fashioned sleuthing and following the clues to get to the answer at the same time the main character does (without the killer twist you will never see coming), then this is the sort of book that should be on your reading list. Post-war Sydney makes a great backdrop against a colourful cast of characters who complimented Billie’s quest to find a missing seventeen-year-old boy.


All in all, whilst I did not fully connect to the main character here, I am intrigued by this new series, especially its post-war Sydney setting, which will see me coming back for further instalments in future. Moss writes well and I look forward to Billie Walker’s next case in the hope she will grow on me just like Kinsey did all those years ago.

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.

If you enjoyed the post-war Sydney setting, make sure to check out this series:

The Diggers Rest Hotel (Charlie Berlin, #1) The Digger's Rest Hotel, by Geoffrey McGeachin

Book Review: THE LOST SUMMERS OF DRIFTWOOD by Vanessa McCausland

Author: Vanessa McCausland
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Read: October 2019
Expected publication: 16 December 2019
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

Phoebe's life has fallen apart and there's only one place left to go. Alone and adrift after a failed marriage proposal, she flees Sydney to her family's abandoned holiday cottage.

On the slow-moving river Phoebe is confronted with the legacy of her older sister's suicide, a year before. Why did Karin leave a note written in flowers and walk into the water?

Phoebe's childhood love, Jez, has moved back to the beautiful old house, Driftwood, one jetty down. He's married now and the home has become a refuge for an unlikely little community.

As the river begins to give up its secrets, Phoebe finds herself caught up in old feelings and new mysteries.

My musings:

I’m always a total sucker for an atmospheric setting, which initially attracted me to THE LOST SUMMERS OF DRIFTWOOD. If the title and the book cover alone evoke a dreamy, melancholy feel, then you will be pleased to hear that the author’s words build on this theme with her beautiful story of family secrets, grief, reinventing yourself and ultimately healing and hope. It brings to life an Australia many of you may remember from your own childhood – holidays in a little cabin by the water, barbeques on hot summer nights, smoky skies with the threat of bushfires in the distance, birdsong, the hum of flies against the window pane. Vanessa McCausland has such a beautiful way with words that the setting sprang to life in front of my eyes, almost a character in itself. Add Phoebe, a young woman whose whole world has come crashing down after the apparent suicide of her older sister almost a year ago, followed by a recent relationship breakdown. Having hit rock-bottom, she flees back to the place where happy memories live – the family’s holiday cottage on the bank of a tranquil river, the very same place where her sister walked into the water to die.

Since the story relies on secrets kept and changing dynamics between characters, I will try to give as little away as possible here. It is safe to say though that Phoebe really touched my heart, and I felt a kinship with her that comes from having lived through loss and grief and the journey back to healing. I particularly appreciated that the author was not afraid to touch on some dark topics and explore her characters’ deepest secrets instead of going down the “happily ever after” route that would have robbed the book of the deep impact it left on me long after reading it. As Phoebe seeks solace in a place that has happy memories for her, she must also confront some truths about herself, her family and her past that are painful. After a journey through every possible emotion, its lingering message was that of love, and hope, and personal growth that left a warm glow in my heart (and I am not the warm and fuzzy reader type, so this takes some doing!). 


All in all, THE LOST SUMMERS OF DRIFTWOOD is a beautiful, evocative and quintessentially Australian story that touches on topics of childhood, family, grief, first love and a sense of connection to places from our past. It touched my heart in all the right places and brought out a lot of emotions from my own life. McCausland has a beautiful way with words that brings to life the magical landscape of a small coastal Australian town as well as a rich cast of characters that became as real to me as people I had known all my life. A perfect summer read that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.

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.

Friday 1 November 2019

Book Review: DEVIL'S LAIR by Sarah Barrie

Author: Sarah Barrie
Publisher: Harlequin Australia
Read: October 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

After the violent death of her husband, Callie Jones retreats to a cottage in the grounds of an old mansion in Tasmania. The relative remoteness of the place and the wild beauty of the Tasmanian landscape are a balm to her shattered nerves and the locals seem friendly, particularly horseman Connor Atherton and his siblings at the nearby property, Calico Lodge.

But all is not well: the old mansion has a sinister past, one associated with witchcraft and murder. As Callie is threatened by odd events in the night and strange dreams overtake her sleep, she begins to doubt her own sanity. What's really going on beneath the surface of this apparently peaceful town? Are her friends and neighbours really who they seem? As events escalate, Callie starts to realise that the mansion may hold the key to unlocking the mystery, but the truth might have as much power to destroy as it does to save.

My musings:

This book is a difficult one for me to review because I think that we just weren’t a good fit for each other. I picked it up a few times and put it down again, lured repeatedly by its promise of some Gothic suspense. Just a disclaimer, which is purely my personal opinion, but if you are a fan of Jane Harper’s THE DRY, you are not guaranteed to automatically gel with this book, even if the blurb states so. I don’t think that comparing books to other best sellers does them any favours, UNLESS they are very similar in style. However, to me – whilst an entertaining read – DEVIL’S LAIR lacked the grit of Jane Harper’s or Sarah Bailey’s novels. This is not a bad thing for readers who love a good romantic suspense novel. But for someone who doesn’t do romance well, it was a bit like false advertising.

However, saying that, I can fully appreciate how DEVIL’S LAIR will be a good fit for readers who love a rural romance set in an atmospheric setting with some crime thrown in. There is a bit of murder and suspense, but in a non-confrontational manner that is more easily digestible for readers who shy away from graphic violence. I really enjoyed the Tassie setting and was thoroughly intrigued when the old mansion started to turn a bit creepy – even though there was not enough of that stuff in my opinion. Barrie sets the scene well, and I could easily picture those lush gardens set among green Tassie hills. Despite earlier misgivings, I came to like Callie and thought her to be a plucky character who was not afraid to face her inner demons and rise from the ashes of her traumatic past to make a better life for herself. I also really enjoyed Barrie’s writing style, which was the one thing that kept me reading to the end, even when the romance threatened to take over the storyline.

On the downside, there were so many characters with strange names to keep track of. Not a single Jack, Joe or Jane in the whole group!  They were each going about their daily lives, which took up a lot of the story with often mundane descriptions of everyday stuff that wasn’t relevant to the plot. Sometimes that works well for me, other times I get a bit bored. I thought that instead of hearing about tree planting and meals in the staff room, or random conversations between the twenty or so characters working on the property, I would have loved to see a bit more action, especially the spooky stuff that was going on in the old house. It had so much more potential to be super creepy! There was even a weird over-friendly guy who gave me goosebumps for all the wrong reasons and it skirted the border of spooky a few times, but never quite got over the finish line.

Instead, I got a very predictable romance between the two main characters that held absolutely no surprises and little interest for me. As I said – not a good fit for this reader! At some point, my cynical mind coined the story as The Bachelor with some weird Gothic murders thrown in, which no one seemed particularly freaked out about. If I had found a few mutilated corpses on my property (who BTW were staff members of mine), my first priority would probably not be to feed the B & B guests and impress the visiting food critic. I could go on and on about all the things that bugged me about the crime elements of the book, but it would take way too long – let’s just say I had major issues with credibility here. Towards the end, I felt that the author was trying too hard to fit in as much weird stuff as possible – there were cases of mistaken identity, a few ritualistic murders, mental illness, a psychopath on a killing spree, witchcraft, things that go bump in the night ... too much, TOO MUCH! 


To sum it all up, I concede that DEVIL’S LAIR and I were not a good match. I suspect that many lovers of gritty Australian crime will struggle with some of the same elements that made my eyes roll back in my head like a Chucky doll, leading to the consumption of several paracetamol to quell the ensuing headache. I really think that comparing this book to THE DRY is doing it a disservice – fans of cosier mysteries and romantic suspense will most likely enjoy it much more than I did.

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.