Saturday 25 January 2020

Book Review: IN FIVE YEARS by Rebecca Serle

Author: Rebecca Serle
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Read: January 2020
Expected publication: 10 March 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!

“Love doesn’t require a future.” (Rebecca Serle, In Five Years)

Book Description:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

When Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Cohan is asked this question at the most important interview of her career, she has a meticulously crafted answer at the ready. Later, after nailing her interview and accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, Dannie goes to sleep knowing she is right on track to achieve her five-year plan.

But when she wakes up, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. The television news is on in the background, and she can just make out the scrolling date. It’s the same night—December 15—but 2025, five years in the future.

After a very intense, shocking hour, Dannie wakes again, at the brink of midnight, back in 2020. She can’t shake what has happened. It certainly felt much more than merely a dream, but she isn’t the kind of person who believes in visions. That nonsense is only charming coming from free-spirited types, like her lifelong best friend, Bella. Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.

That is, until four-and-a-half years later, when by chance Dannie meets the very same man from her long-ago vision.

My musings:

Welcome to my first 5-star read of 2020!I have just turned the last page of IN FIVE YEARS and tears are streaming down my face. What an emotional roller coaster rode this book has been!

It’s difficult to review a book that has managed to connect with me on a very deep emotional level without giving away all the whys and hows that would spoil things for other readers. You know from the blurb that main protagonist Dannie, a lawyer and all-around super organised person who is always in control of every situation, falls asleep on the eve of her engagement to David and has a dream. In the dream, she is in a strange apartment, with a strange man, at a date five years in the future. It all appears so real to her that when she wakes up she still feels shaken. Who is the stranger? Why was she not with David? The dream continues to haunt her for the next four and a half years, casting a dark shadow on her life whenever she thinks about it, even though she tries very hard to dismiss it. Until the moment she meets the man from her dream in real life...

I will leave it at that. But make no mistake, it’s all a lot more complicated than this premise may seem. Also, don’t mistake the book for a romance, because even though love features in it (in its many forms), the main story is about friendship. It’s also about the things we can control and the ones we can’t, destiny, and about taking things in the right context. As I a m writing this, I know how lame it sounds and how badly I am expressing myself here – sorry!  Take it from me when I say that the story will surprise you, steal your heart and make you cry. As someone who likes to be in control of my own fate, I found a lot of gentle wisdom in its pages that made me pause and reflect. And even though I am a lot older and a very different personality to Dannie, her character really resonated with me and I felt ALL the emotions.


If you like books that steal through your defences, make you think, surprise you and let you feel a million different emotions, then this book may just be right for you. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for when I picked it up, and I’m glad I dove into it blindly because it took me totally by surprise and carried me in its wake. A book that can elicit such deep emotion will always get five stars from me. I can’t wait to read more from this author!

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

Image result for 5 stars

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Book Review: SHEERWATER by Leah Swann

Author: Leah Swann
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Read: January 2020
Expected publication: 23 March 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

Ava and her two young sons, Max and Teddy, are driving to their new home in Sheerwater, hopeful of making a fresh start in a new town, although Ava can't but help keep looking over her shoulder. They're almost at their destination when they witness a shocking accident - a light plane crashing in the field next to the road. Ava stops to help, but when she gets back to the car, she realises that somewhere, amongst the smoke, fire and confusion, her sons have gone missing...

My musings:

Before you pick up this book, make sure you understand the meaning of: “beautifully written, propulsive, tense, gut-wrenching and unputdownable” in the blurb. Especially the “gut-wrenching” bit. Or shall I say “gut-punching”? Because after finishing it this morning, I still feel strangely winded and hollow.

Let me also make it clear that you should not make the same mistake I made, and pick this up thinking it is mainly a mystery. I was somewhat puzzled when the “mystery” component was pretty much obsolete by the second part of the book. Instead, choose this book knowing it is about relationships, parenthood, trauma, domestic abuse (in all its shapes and form) and the unravelling of the human psyche into darkness.

You will get a taste of what is to follow from the very opening pages, when a small plane crashes into a field next to the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Ava and her two small children are the first on scene. Ava feels the same dilemma any mother in that situation would face – she has children in the car, should she stop or just drive on and call for help? With her rescuer background, she cannot resist the compulsion to render assistance. Instructing the boys to stay in the car and look away, she sets off to give first aid. And thus her fate is forever changed.

Swann writes beautifully and lyrically, conjuring up the stunning scenery of the Victorian coastline with her words. This is a two-sided sword, because her horrific scenes are just as vivid and unescapable as the tranquil ones (which are thankfully thrown into the mix every now and then to give the reader breathing space). Her characters are well drawn, their emotional baggage relatable, their plight unimaginable. With an uncanny insight into the human psyche, she teases out her characters’ darkest secrets, slowly and gradually, so that the picture we may have formed initially soon begins to unravel. It is very difficult to discuss this book without spoilers, so I will keep it brief. I had a lot of assumptions challenged. I was duly terrified when all the clues led to the inevitable finale, and yet I was not prepared for it.

Relationships feature strongly in this novel. Ava and Laurence’s marriage, which we gradually learn more about as the story progresses. The mother-daughter relationship between Ava and her mother. Motherhood. Brotherhood. Fatherhood, as seen through the eyes of Laurence, which will hold some surprises. Friendships in the most unexpected places. Dysfuntional, some of them.

Yes, I will leave it here because as much as I would like to blurt out some of the details that absolutely sucker punched me, I will not spoil it for you. Read it with a buddy, one you can call in the middle of the night when you have read the last page and need a friend as much as a 1800 helpline. 

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.

Monday 20 January 2020

Book Review: THE WIVES by Tarryn Fisher

Author: Tarryn Fisher
Publisher: Graydon House
Read: January 2020
Expected publication: out now

“Fighting was the sandpaper that smoothed out the first years of a relationship. Sure, there was still plenty of lifelong grit after that, but the fighting stripped everything down, let the other person know what was important to you.” (Tarryn Fisher, The Wives)

Book Description:

You’ve never met the other wives. None of you know each other, and because of this unconventional arrangement, you can see your husband only one day a week. But you love him so much you don’t care. Or at least that’s what you’ve told yourself.

(This is all you need to know - best to delve in blind.)

My musings:

Do you like a crazy ride of a thriller that twists and turns and makes you question everything you just read? Unreliable narrators that may be lying, or crazy, or both? A premise that is so far removed from your own life experience that you read open-mouthed, turning the pages just to find out how this could possibly all work out? If you said yes to one or more of these questions, then put this book on your wishlist right now!

THE WIVES  was one of the craziest page-turners I have read in a while, and I loved it. My notes around the 50% and 75% mark read something like:” I am so confused. I have no idea what is going on here. This is insane!”  Normally have lots of theories, but this book totally stumped me. At one stage, daring to speculate, I shook my head with a wry laugh: “No, that would be just too crazy!” Insert narrator’s voice here: “But she was wrong. Because it was even crazier. A kind of crazy she could never have imagined.” Yes, I was way off, and the conclusion took me totally by surprise.

You know how hard it is to review the premise of a mystery that relies on surprise elements to provide a thrilling read, so I will just give you the bare bones. The book is written from the POV of main protagonist Thursday, a young woman in her late twenties, who shares her husband with two other wives. And if that’s not strange enough, she has never met any of her sister wives, nor does she know their names (she calls them Monday and Tuesday for the days of the week her husband Seth spends with them). As you shake your head in disbelief, I can hear you thinking: this can’t possibly end well. And of course it doesn’t. Would you be content to live in blissful ignorance whilst your husband, who you’re madly in love with, spends a majority of time with other women? Exactly! Thursday is curious, and does some snooping, and finds out a few things about hubby that worry her.

From then on follows a crazy, twisted story of a woman’s quest to get answers. THE WIVES was one of those page-turners I could not put down. The more weird and wonderful things Thursday uncovered, the crazier the story got, the more I needed to know how it would all tie together.

The only reason this was not a five star read for me was the ending, which was a bit too bizarre even for me, and I so like a twisted roller-coaster-ride of a thriller. Perhaps it was just that I had hoped for a different outcome. Never mind. One thing that I learned was: polygamy is not for me. Going on my murderous thoughts towards Seth very early into the novel, I would probably end up in jail rather than gaining favourite wife status. 


Anyway, enough said: if you like crazy, twisted and original stories then I urge you to give this one a go. I found it highly entertaining, evidenced by my all-night read-a-thon that gave me the biggest book hangover the next morning. Buckle up, delve in and enjoy the ride!

Friday 17 January 2020

Book Review: DEAR CHILD by Romy Hausmann

Author: Romy Hausmann
Publisher: Quercus Books
Read: January 2020
Expected publication: 14 May 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

“You haven’t got us, not really. It’s your prison, not ours.”

Book Description:

A windowless shack in the woods. Lena's life and that of her two children follows the rules set by their captor, the father: Meals, bathroom visits, study time are strictly scheduled and meticulously observed. He protects his family from the dangers lurking in the outside world and makes sure that his children will always have a mother to look after them.

One day Lena manages to flee - but the nightmare continues. It seems as if her tormentor wants to get back what belongs to him. And then there is the question whether she really is the woman called 'Lena', who disappeared without a trace 14 years ago. The police and Lena's family are all desperately trying to piece together a puzzle which doesn't quite seem to fit. 

My musings:

After finishing this book earlier today and sitting with it for a while to gather my thoughts, I still feel a bit conflicted about it. Initially, as it was off to a very rocky start with me, I berated myself for choosing a story that centred around characters kidnapped and held in captivity, a theme that has never really been my cup of tea. I’m one of the few people who weren’t totally enamoured by ROOM, or SILENT CHILD, or LOOK BEHIND YOU. So what initially attracted me to this one?

The premise is intriguing: a young woman is critically injured in a hit-and-run accident. She has a young child with her who calls her “Mummy” and claims that they are living in a cabin in the woods. Initially it appears that she is Lena, a woman who disappeared without a trace 14 years ago. Soon, however, facts don’t add up. Lena’s father is adamant that the unconscious woman in hospital is not his daughter. So who is she, and what happened to Lena?

All my doubts dispersed around the 50% mark, when I suddenly found myself totally invested in the story. I think that the game changer was the tightening web of intrigue and secrets that kept me turning the pages. As well as the character study of our three main protagonists, who have all been victims of the crime in their own way. I felt especially fascinated by the child character Hannah, whose view of the world is so crazily distorted by her early childhood experiences. I am trying really hard not to give any spoilers here! As the psychological aspect came more into play, I was well and truly hooked.

Hausmann writes well, and the omissions in the separate POVs that give each character a slightly unreliable edge (I was suspicious of everyone!), really ratcheted up the tension in the second half of the book, as it marched towards its unexpected finale. I wouldn’t say I loved the cliff-hangers at the end of every chapter, because they kept me turning the pages way too long into the night, but they were cleverly done and obviously achieved their desired effect!

With her debut DEAR CHILD, Hausmann has served up an intelligent, multi-layered and intricately plotted novel that only gave up its secrets after peeling back all the layers. I dare you to guess the outcome – I certainly didn’t. It contains some truly chilling themes and scenes, some of which were concealed in the implied and unsaid, and in Hannah’s perception of reality. It was frightening to me to think that this horrible situation has happened to real people,  in real life!


All in all, if you loved Emma Donoghue’s famous novel ROOM and are fascinated by the psychological aspects of captivity, then this book should be on your radar. For me, it was the final chapter that really wormed its way into my heart and made sure that I will remember this book for some time to come. Once you read it you will see what I mean.

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

Thursday 16 January 2020

Book Review: THE LOST ONES by Anita Frank

Author: Anita Frank
Publisher: HQ Fiction
Read: December 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

Book Description:

England, 1917

Reeling from the death of her fiancΓ©, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

My musings:

If you like Downton Abbey and ghost stories, then this mix of historical fiction, a grand old English estate setting and supernatural happenings should be right up your alley!

THE LOST ONES takes part during the dark days of WWI, which has robbed our main protagonist Stella of her fiancΓ©. Even though her grief seemed very justified to me, her family have decided that enough time has now passed to put up a stiff upper lip and get on with her life again, and the family doctor even threatens to have her committed to a local asylum if she doesn’t snap out of it soon. Stella is relieved when she gets the opportunity to rush to the aid of her pregnant sister Madeleine, who is unhappily ensconced at her husband’s grand old family home, Greyswick.  Even though she doesn’t admit it to Stella (British stiff upper lip and all), she is becoming increasingly scared of the house, which seems to have an unhappy spirit residing on its upper floor. Madeleine has heard pitiful sobbing at night, and unexplained bumps from upstairs that set her teeth on edge.

Wonderful! And herewith the scene is set. Spooky old mansion – tick! Unhappy main protagonist with a tragic past – tick! An antagonistic mother-in-law (Madeleine’s) – tick! And dark family secrets that threaten to come to light. I was really looking forward to finding out what was going on here.

I loved the blend of historical fiction and ghost story, which is always a hit for me, especially when the setting includes an old gothic mansion. I could vividly picture Greyswick and was glad that I didn’t have to spend the night there! Also interesting was the author’s portrayal of her female characters, and their standing in society at the time, which added depth to the tale. Imagine being threatened with a mental asylum because you are grieving your lover’s terrible death in the trenches – hmmmph! The only character I found lacking was Tristan, who remained quite shallow and underdeveloped for me. I thought that this particular character had more potential to feature in the story, and I would have liked to get to know him a bit more deeply. I also think that the book would have been more scary for me had the supernatural activity been experienced by Stella rather than filtered through Alice, a character I found difficult to engage with.


That said, THE LOST ONES was an entertaining read that should appeal to both lovers of historical fiction as well as those looking for a ghost story that is not overly gruesome or frightening. Lovers of truly scary supernatural tales may find it a bit tame, however. Personally, I loved the atmospheric setting most of all, and the Du Maurier vibes that infused the story. I am interested to see what the author comes up with next.

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

Audiobook Review: AKIN by Emma Donoghue

Title: AKIN 
Author: Emma Donoghue
Read: January2020
Narrator: Jason Culp
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

“The whole point of travel is to learn there's no such thing as normal.”

Book Description:

Noah Selvaggio is a retired chemistry professor and widower living on the Upper West Side, but born in the South of France. He is days away from his first visit back to Nice since he was a child, bringing with him a handful of puzzling photos he's discovered from his mother's wartime years. But he receives a call from social services: Noah is the closest available relative of an eleven-year-old great-nephew he's never met, who urgently needs someone to look after him. Out of a feeling of obligation, Noah agrees to take Michael along on his trip.

Much has changed in this famously charming seaside mecca, still haunted by memories of the Nazi occupation. The unlikely duo, suffering from jet lag and culture shock, bicker about everything from steak frites to screen time. But Noah gradually comes to appreciate the boy's truculent wit, and Michael's ease with tech and sharp eye help Noah unearth troubling details about their family's past. Both come to grasp the risks people in all eras have run for their loved ones, and find they are more akin than they knew.

Written with all the tenderness and psychological intensity that made Room an international bestseller, Akin is a funny, heart-wrenching tale of an old man and a boy, born two generations apart, who unpick their painful story and start to write a new one together. 

My musings:

Emma Donoghue’s novel THE WONDER is one of my all-time favourite books, so I was very excited to pick up her latest novel AKIN.

Old people in fiction really intrigue me. There is so much history there for the taking, plus the potential of some of life’s wisdom being imparted after a lifetime of experiences (even if the lifetime is only fictional). Also, if older characters behave oddly, this can be excused because of their age, giving the potential for the author to have a lot of fun sending their protagonist on all sorts of adventures and speaking their mind. Noah Selvaggio fits that bill perfectly. At 79, he faces a lonely old age after the death of his wife Joan a few years ago, and more recently his younger sister Fernande. In the winter of his life, he certainly did not expect being asked to become the ward of his deceased wayward nephew’s young son (whose mother is in jail for drug dealing). Especially as he is about to embark on a long awaited journey to his childhood home, Nice (France) before he has to follow his wife and sister to the grave.

As the title suggests, AKIN is about family ties, but there is so much more at play here. As Noah reflects sadly on the obstacles of old age – bereavement, loneliness, a slowing of the mind and body – he is also a character who doesn’t shy away from an adventure. Trying to reconcile early childhood memories of living in Nice, he is also on the search for information regarding some old photos he has found among his sister’s effects, which he believes were his mother’s. The images are mysterious, depicting seemingly random objects and people, as if the photographer had accidentally pressed the shutter. Noah thinks this is unusual for his mother, who was the child of a famous photographer after all. Maybe they have a meaning he has not yet uncovered?

Suddenly saddled with the responsibility of looking after eleven-year-old Michal, Noah’s trip may not start out as he had expected, but it will certainly provide some excitement, - and maybe also the answers he had been looking for.

AKIN was such a joy to read! Witty, heart-warming, touching, thought provoking and sometimes laugh-out-funny, the contrast between the travel experience of the old man and the young boy provided all the feels. With Joan living on as a voice in Noah’s head, she was also a character in her own right, providing a running commentary on the two unlikely travellers’ experiences.

Donoghue writes well, setting the scene very early and breathing life into her characters. I got so much out of this book: there is the heart-warming relationship between the man and the boy and the refreshing contrast in their views as they explore Nice. Then there is the mystery behind the photos, which had me totally intrigued. Noah is like an encyclopaedia of Nice’s history and sights, which provided an armchair travel experience that was almost like one of those guided tours on top of a tourist bus across the city. I enjoyed every minute of it!

Finally, credit must go to the narrator, Jason Culp, who breathed life into Noah until I could picture him vividly in my mind. In contrast, he provided the perfect mix of attitude and vulnerability for young Michael’s voice. It’s not easy to find an audiobook that really resonates from both the writing and the narration, but this fit the bill. Highly recommended!

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Book Review: EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS by Peter Swanson

Author: Peter Swanson
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Read: December 2019
Expected publication: 3 March 2020

“I’ve always felt that being with people, as opposed to being alone, can make you feel loneliness more acutely.” (Peter Swanson just “gets” us introverts!)

Book Description:

From a master of suspense...

Eight classic murders.
A single crime obsessive.
Countless thrilling twists.

A series of unsolved murders with one thing in common: each of the deaths bears an eerie resemblance to the crimes depicted in classic mystery novels.

The deaths lead FBI Agent Gwen Mulvey to mystery bookshop Old Devils. Owner Malcolm Kershaw had once posted online an article titled 'My Eight Favourite Murders,' and there seems to be a deadly link between the deaths and his list - which includes Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders, Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train and Donna Tartt's The Secret History.

Can the killer be stopped before all eight of these perfect murders have been re-enacted?

My musings:

The thing I love most about Peter Swanson’s novels is that they are so wicked! Even though most of his main characters lack a “normal” moral compass, they always remain somewhat likeable. What does that say about me as a reader? I’m not sure if I want to delve too deeply into this, but his stories are always immensely entertaining.

Every book lover will agree that stories whose plotline revolve around books are simply irresistible! Swanson pulls out all the stops with his latest book, because not only is his main protagonist Malcolm Kershaw the owner of a mystery bookstore, but all-time classic crime books like Agatha Christie, Ira Levin and Patricia Highsmith feature prominently in the plot. There is even a resident cat in Old Devil’s bookshop – oh, someone teleport me there right now!

With this cosy scene set and every booklover swooning over the books’ fictional bookshop, Swanson lures his readers into a false sense of comfort. Because remember, readers, this is the king of wicked! It’s not long until a whiff of murderous activity drifts into the idyllic scene, as it becomes apparent that one of Malcolm’s blog posts featuring  a list of books that describe the “perfect murder” is being used as a template for a murder spree across Boston. And it’s not only the police who are interested in finding the culprit, but Mal himself is very keen to track down the murderer, for reasons all of his own.

As is his hallmark, Swanson delivers twists and turns aplenty, and you cannot trust anyone – if you have believed yourself to be a decent armchair detective, I challenge you to work out this one!


For lovers of mysteries in general, or those who have become a bit jaded with predictable thrillers or those with ridiculous “killer twists”, EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS will inject some refreshed enthusiasm into the genre. Multi-layered, intelligent and utterly unpredictable, this wicked book should be on every crime-lover’s list this year. Whilst the infamous Lily from Swanson’s earlier book THE KIND WORTH KILLING is still my favourite creation by this author, Malcolm Kershaw almost lives up to her. Enough said. The book comes out on 3 March, so make sure you pre-order your copy now. You won’t be disappointed!

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

Wednesday 8 January 2020

Book Review: AFTER SHE WROTE HIM by Sulari Gentill

Author: Sulari Gentill
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Read: January 2020
Expected publication: 4 April 2020

“Perhaps telling lies is the only way to find the real truth.”

Book Description:

Madeleine d'Leon doesn't know where Edward came from. He is simply a character in her next book. But as she writes, he becomes all she can think about. His charm, his dark hair, his pen scratching out his latest literary novel . . .

Edward McGinnity can't get Madeleine out of his mind--softly smiling, infectiously enthusiastic, and perfectly damaged. She will be the ideal heroine for his next book.

But who is the author and who is the creation? And as the lines start to blur, who is affected when a killer finally takes flesh?

My musings:

I have always been irresistibly drawn to the “book within a book” concept. AFTER SHE WROTE HIM, however, takes the whole idea one step further, because here we potentially have two books within a book, and no idea which one is reality and which one is fiction. If this totally confuses you, then hey – give it a go! It certainly was one of the most original, intriguing ideas I have ever come across, and it really messed with my mind.

Madeleine D’Leon is a lawyer and a crime writer of a detective series that has been selling well and has many followers. One day, despite her agent’s misgivings, she has an idea for a different type of story. It all starts with Edward, her main protagonist, who appears to her out of the blue and quickly takes on shape in her imagination. As she writes her story and orchestrates his fate, the picture of him in her mind becomes more vivid, until he is almost as real to her as a flesh-and-blood person.

Edward McGinnity is a writer of contemporary fiction. One day he has an idea for a story involving a main character who is a crime writer. He calls her Madeleine. As he writes and orchestrates her fate, her picture becomes clearer in his mind, until she is almost as real to him as a flesh-and- blood person.

Do you see where this is headed? Exactly! Now, who is the writer and who is the fictional character?

Gentill introduces some very interesting topics here that really made me think. One particularly pressing question was Madeleine’s dilemma – with Edward becoming almost a friend to her (even though he is her fictional character), she feels guilty throwing him into some nasty situations in her crime story. As a writer, she becomes the orchestrator of his fate, dictating his life by the whims of her imagination. Fascinating!

As the story progressed, I felt more and more unsure of the line between reality and fantasy, a battle both Madeleine and Edward face. This blurring of the boundaries between what is real and what is imagined, sanity and madness, is something I really enjoy in a thriller, especially if it is as cleverly handled as in this book. As we get sucked deeper into Madeleine’s and Edward’s worlds, the story took on an almost dream-like quality where the borders were no longer clearly defined, a real challenge for my analytical mind!


AFTER SHE WROTE HIM was originally published under the title CROSSING THE LINES, which I thought was a title that perfectly sums up the book! This clever, original and thought provoking mystery will appeal to people who enjoy thrillers that dare to blur boundaries, step into uncharted territory. Caution to readers who don’t enjoy alternating POVs that swap and change frequently, even within the same chapter. Personally, I thought that it added to the story, showcasing how the two characters become more and more enmeshed, but I think you should be aware. This was the first book I read in 2020, and as we say in Australia – what a ripper!

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

Monday 6 January 2020

Book Review: PROBLEM CHILD by Victoria Helen Stone

Author: Victoria Helen Stone
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Read: October 2019
Expected publication: 24 March 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

Book Description:

She’s cold, calculating, and can deceive with a smile. Jane Doe is back in the Amazon Charts bestselling series—and this time she’s met her match.

After a brutal childhood, Jane Doe has been permanently wired to look after herself and only herself. Now, looking next to normal, Jane has a lover and a job. But she hasn’t lost her edge. It sharpens when she hears from her estranged family.

Jane’s deeply troubled sixteen-year-old niece, Kayla, has vanished, and no one seems to care. Neither does Jane. Until she sees a picture of Kayla and recognizes herself in the young girl’s eyes. It’s the empty stare of a sociopath.

Jane knows what vengeful and desperate things Kayla is capable of. Only Jane can help her—by being drawn into Kayla’s dark world. And no one’s more aware than Jane just how dangerous that can be.

My musings:

When I first stumbled across the sociopath character of Jane in JANE DOE I thought I had hit the book jackpot – not only was she an interesting person who stood out from all the other protagonists in the huge sea of thriller out there, but she was also kick-ass, funny and ruthless. I was totally in awe of her determination to right a wrong done to her friend, going to extreme lengths to get revenge. Sociopath or not, I thought she also had a soft and fuzzy side, which she hid under the somewhat pragmatic view of herself as a cold-hearted, abnormal person who could not feel the same emotions as others. In short, I absolutely adored her, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the second book in the series.

Now, after having delved into the ARC of PROBLEM CHILD with a gusto reserved for my most anticipated new releases, and finishing it way too long before publication (sometimes I just cannot resist those temptations), I've been sitting with it for a while and I'm still not sure about it. Often I find that I love the first part of a book and then feel let down by the end. Here it was the opposite. For the first 3/4 of the book I found Jane somewhat mean-spirited, sarcastic (which I normally enjoy but sometimes she crossed a line into plain rudeness), crass and a bit of a bully. Where was the soft side she showed us in Jane Doe, even if only in her feelings of affections for her cat? Sometimes I felt that the author was trying too hard to show Jane’s sociopath side, pushing it a bit over the line into unlikeable character territory for me. The interactions with her unlikeable family members were utterly depressing, as was her background story, and I would have preferred not to learn all that much about it. The story initially moved along very slowly for me, and I didn’t feel fully invested as Jane goes in search of her niece. What exactly were her motivations? Boredom? The thrill of the chase? Certainly not love for her long lost relative, she makes that very clear from the start. I was gutted that I didn’t love the book as much as I had anticipated.

All that changed at around the 3/4 mark. Suddenly it all got very interesting! I can’t really say any more without giving away spoilers, but now there was the potential for Jane to kick butt again and get her own back with some nasty people (with the help from an unexpected ally). And then came the ending - uh-oh! Now Jane has a problem. I really wished that all this had come up earlier in the book rather than the filler story I had slogged through with little emotional involvement. Now I was fully invested again I wanted more! Talk about a bookish cliff hanger!

I guess I will just have to wait for Jane Doe #3 to come out to get exactly what I had hoped for in this one. It certainly has a great premise to make a great read, and I will be lining up to get my hands on it as soon as it comes out. So even if Jane did not deliver all the goods in this book for me, she set the scene for the series to continue with a bang! I very much look forward to finding out how this will pan out – and I have a feeling that Jane may have bitten off a bit more than she can chew. Watching this space with anticipation.

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

Friday 3 January 2020

Book Review: HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS by Raymond Fleischmann

Author: Raymond Fleischmann
Publisher: Berkley
Read: December 2019
Expected publication: 14 January 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

It’s 1941 in small-town Alaska and Elisabeth Pfautz is alone. She’s living far from home, struggling through an unhappy marriage, and she spends her days tutoring her precocious young daughter. Elisabeth’s twin sister disappeared without a trace twenty years earlier, and Elisabeth’s life has never recovered. Cryptic visions of her sister haunt her dreams, and Elisabeth’s crushing loneliness grows more intense by the day. But through it all, she clings to one belief: That her sister is still alive, and that they’ll be reunited one day.

And that day may be coming soon. Elisabeth’s world is upended when Alfred Seidel — an enigmatic German bush pilot — arrives in town and murders a local man in cold blood. Sitting in his cell in the wake of his crime, Alfred refuses to speak to anyone except for Elisabeth. He has something to tell her: He knows exactly what happened to her long-missing sister, but he’ll reveal this truth only if Elisabeth fulfills three requests.

Increasingly isolated from her neighbors and imprisoned by the bitter cold and her own obsession, Elisabeth lets herself slip deeper into Alfred’s web. A tenuous friendship forms between them, even as Elisabeth struggles to understand Alfred’s game and what he’s after.

But if it means she’ll get answers, she’s willing to play by his rules. She’s ready to sacrifice whatever it takes to be reunited with her sister, even if it means putting herself — and her family — in mortal danger.

My musings:

HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS was one of those books that just appeared on my TBR list as if by magic and totally swept me away. I’m not even sure why I was initially attracted to it, because I wasn’t in the mood for anything remotely Silence-of-the-Lambs-ish, and am always suspicious of comparisons to one of my all-time favourite books THE DRY (Alaska vs Australian outback, so who came up with that one????). Anyway, whatever magic elf put this on my radar – thank you! It was just the perfect fit for me at the time.

Everyone who has read my rambles knows how much I love a remote, atmospheric setting. Alaska being one of my favourites, maybe because it’s high on my holiday bucket list. And the book delivered in every way! Fleischmann has a way with words that instantly conjured up the cold remoteness of the small Alaskan town Elisabeth has found herself stranded in. It’s 1941, and like any good wife, Elisabeth devotes herself to her home and teaching her child, even though she feels that boredom will surely kill her one day. Her husband is gone most of the time, and life away from anything she has known in her former life is simple but also very lonely. Until a stranger arrives in town, and turns Elisabeth’s life upside down.

I loved the slow unravelling of this story, the gradual building of menace, the simmering tension and the questions that kept Elisabeth like a puppet on the strings of her evil puppetmaster until the inevitable finale. Whilst there is little action as such until close to the end, I felt myself on edge the whole time, fearing disaster. It helped that Elisabeth was a character I could relate to, a woman who is driven by solving a mystery from her tragic past. I felt for her! The remoteness of the other characters only reflected her isolation, which slowly but surely lead to her unravelling. If you have ever wondered how sane, intelligent people can make some pretty questionable decisions, than this book explores the emotional hold a sociopath ca have over his victim, the bonds that tie them despite the contempt and disgust Elisabeth feels in the presence of the man.

Parts of the book almost read like a character study, and I thoroughly enjoyed the psychological battle of wills that ensued, highlighting a part of the human psyche we would like to be able to deny in ourselves. But if I was in Elisabeth’s shoes, driven by love and guilt and hope, who is to say how I would react? Add the Alaskan setting and I was totally spellbound.


In summary, HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS was the perfect fit for me – a slow burning but compelling psychological thriller with a remote Alaskan setting that only served to increase the sense of danger and isolation the characters were facing. I thoroughly enjoyed Fleischmann’s debut novel and can’t wait to read more of his work in future!

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.

Thursday 2 January 2020

Book Review: THE POISON GARDEN by Alex Marwood

Author: Alex Marwood
Publisher: Penguin Books
Read: December 2019
Expected publication: 14 January 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!

Book Description:

Where Romy grew up, if someone died you never spoke of them again.

Now 22, she has recently escaped the toxic confines of the cult she was raised in. But Romy is young, pregnant and completely alone - and if she is to keep herself safe in this new world, she has some important lessons to learn.

Like how there are some people you can trust, and some you must fear. And about who her family really is, and why her mother ran away from them all those years ago.

And that you can't walk away from a dark past without expecting it to catch up with you...

My musings:

THE POISON GARDEN, a great title that immediately got my attention, was one of those rare books that grabbed me from page one and utterly absorbed me into the story and its characters. Now that I have finished the book, the ghost of its rich cast is still with me, and I am wondering how their story will go on. It’s the sign of great writing when the setting and characters become so real that I can picture them vividly in my mind like flesh-and-blood people.

I find books about cults fascinating, but rarely has an author managed to capture the essence of it as Harwood has done. By offering us insights into the minds of several characters who are involved in the cult – some of whom have been born and raised there – a deeper understanding grows. Why was Somer initially attracted to join the cult led by its enigmatic leader Lucien, ready to believe his seemingly outlandish ideas? How did baby Romy fare, born on the outside but member of the “family” since she was a baby? And her siblings, Eden and Ilo, one of whom is Lucien’s child? As the story revisits the past 15 or so years of Romy growing up in the folds of the community, the answers slowly emerged to form a full – frightening - picture.

I love books that make you question your own belief  systems, and as I was ready to sneer at Lucien’s congregation for being so gullible, I soon came to see that we are all a product of our upbringing, and the programming (or brainwashing) we receive through family and friends in our lives. Sarah, Romy’s aunt, who is her contact in the world “outside”, beautifully brought this point home to me, as her life has also been coloured by the fanatical beliefs of her own parents, even if in different ways. There was a constant sense of impending doom that made this book a real page turner, and I feared for each and every character – with good reason!

It is impossible to discuss this book without spoilers, even though I would love to. It affected me deeply in many ways, and I am itching for my friends to read it so we can talk about it! Any book that can do that to me, as well as keep me up all night because I just can’t put it down, deserves a solid five stars. It’s a great finale to my year’s reading, and one I thoroughly enjoyed all the way. I can’t wait to read more from this talented author!

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

Image result for 5 stars