Wednesday 30 December 2020

Book Review: A QUESTION MARK IS HALF A HEART by Sofia Lundberg



Author:  Sofia Lundberg

Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Read: December 2020

Expected publication: 23 March 2021



Book Description:


By age 50, Elin Boals has created for herself a perfect life: her wildly successful business as Manhattan’s preeminent fashion photographer is flourishing. Her handsome, patient husband is devoted to her; her teenaged daughter, Alice, has been accepted to the ballet academy of her dreams. But then Elin receives an innocuous looking envelope. Folded inside is a star-chart, with an address written by a familiar hand.

Shaken, Elin begins to have startling flashbacks, to a life very different from the childhood in a Paris bookstore that she has so lovingly recounted to Alice. In these images, a poverty-stricken little girl cares for her two ragged baby brothers, laughing with her family on the good days, sheltering them from her mother’s sadness and her father’s wrath on the bad days. Elin also remembers vivid walks with a young classmate, Fredrik, whose steadfast friendship and starlit confidences shaped her young life. As Elin becomes consumed by these memories, though, her New York life begins to crumble dramatically. Finally, her family’s troubling questions drive her to face, at last, the brutal secret from her past.

At once a heartwarming family story and a page-turning mystery, A Question Mark Is Half a Heart traces a surprising journey across continents to reconciliation, and toward finding a true sense of home.


My musings:


I admit that it took me a little while to get invested in this book, but in the end it was very worthwhile and it tugged on my heartstrings!


We first get to meet the adult Elin, a prominent photographer who has alienated her husband and daughter by putting work before family and hardly ever being present at home. Despite their twenty-or-so years of marriage, her husband Sam knows very little about Elin’s background, and her brooding silences and odd behaviour at times have driven him to the point of leaving her. Elin’s teenage daughter Alice has also moved out of the family home, and every time they meet up she ends up being frustrated by Elin’s refusal to talk about the past.


The story started to get more emotional for me as the author gradually revealed the details of Elin’s childhood which have brought her to this point in her life, and suddenly I found myself fully engaged and more sympathetic towards the adult Elin. A father in jail, an emotionally unstable mother and a terrible tragedy when Elin is a teenager will have lasting effects on her life. From here on, the book became a touching story of family secrets, guilt and finally redemption. It also showed how we can run from our past, but never escape it until we have made peace with it.


Set in small town Sweden in the 1970s and present day New York, I also felt Elin’s displacement as an immigrant, even though she has tried to put physical distance between herself and her country of birth in an effort of leaving the past behind. It was interesting to see Elin’s character develop as she slowly let her family see the darker corners of her psyche and allow her wounds to heal.





All in all, A QUESTION MARK IS HALF A HEART was part a heartbreaking coming of age story, and part a touching tale of facing up to our darkest secrets and deep-seated guilt. I really enjoyed watching Elin’s character go through stages of grief, growth and healing, and some aspects of the story broke my heart. This is a book that will appeal to readers who like slow-burning stories focused heavily on character development and the gradual unravelling of family secrets. I really enjoyed it and would love to read more from this author in future!




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

Monday 21 December 2020

Book Review: THE WRONG FAMILY by Tarryn Fisher



Author:  Tarryn Fisher

Publisher:  Harlequin Australia

Read: December 2020

Expected publication: 6 January 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Have you ever been wrong about someone?

Juno was wrong about Winnie Crouch.

Before moving in with the Crouch family, Juno thought Winnie and her husband, Nigel, had the perfect marriage, the perfect son—the perfect life. Only now that she’s living in their beautiful house, she sees the cracks in the crumbling facade are too deep to ignore.

Still, she isn’t one to judge. After her grim diagnosis, the retired therapist simply wants a place to live out the rest of her days in peace. But that peace is shattered the day Juno overhears a chilling conversation between Winnie and Nigel…

She shouldn’t get involved.

She really shouldn’t.

But this could be her chance to make a few things right.

Because if you thought Juno didn’t have a secret of her own, then you were wrong about her, too.

From the wickedly dark mind of bestselling author Tarryn Fisher, The Wrong Family is a taut new thriller that’s riddled with twists in all the right places. 


My musings:


WTH did I just read???? This was one screwy story! I don’t even know where to start reviewing it, because my head is still spinning from the way this one panned out. All I can say is that each and every character has a heavy burden of secrets on their shoulders, and I couldn’t decide who is the most dysfunctional of them all. Which made it a fun read on one hand, and a very disturbing one on the other. And whilst I just managed to catch one of the author’s curveballs in one hand to bring it into my court, my gloating was short lived as I was too late to dodge the fiery one that followed closely behind – and totally floored me.


I cannot say more without giving spoilers. Go into this one blind. Also know that it is disturbing and mind blowing and may give you a nightmare or two. One scene in particular still haunts me. But hey, I am a bit more fragile than normal this year. If you like unpredictable, then Tarryn Fisher is the perfect author for you. In a million years, and drunk on vodka slammers and adrenaline, I could not have guessed how this story would turn out. It kept me turning the pages, even though I now need a shower. And another stiff drink.




Read at your own peril, especially if you like twisty, unexpected endings and thoroughly dysfunctional characters.




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.

Friday 18 December 2020

Book Review: THE PERFECT GUESTS by Emma Rous

Author:  Emma Rous

Publisher:  Berkley

Read: December 2020

Expected publication: 12 January 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


1988. Beth Soames is fourteen years old when her aunt takes her to stay at Raven Hall, a rambling manor in the isolated East Anglian fens. The Averells, the family who lives there, are warm and welcoming, and Beth becomes fast friends with their daughter, Nina. At times, Beth even feels like she's truly part of the family...until they ask her to help them with a harmless game--and nothing is ever the same.

2019. Sadie Langton is an actress struggling to make ends meet when she lands a well-paying gig to pretend to be a guest at a weekend party. She is sent a suitcase of clothing, a dossier outlining the role she is to play, and instructions. It's strange, but she needs the money, and when she sees the stunning manor she'll be staying at, she figures she's got nothing to lose.

In person, Raven Hall is even grander than she'd imagined--even with damage from a fire decades before--but the walls seem to have eyes. As day turns to night, Sadie starts to feel that there's something off about the glamorous guests who arrive, and as the party begins, it becomes chillingly apparent their unseen host is playing games with everyone...including her.

What attracted me to this book:


I love a good family mystery where people are acting strange and you have to figure out what is going on – and again Emma Rous has fully delivered on that front. It comes with a bonus of an atmospheric English manor house (with a turret no less!) that seems to be the centre of all the drama. Throw in a creepy kid for good measure and you have the formula for THE PERFECT GUESTS.



My musings:


In one timeline, young orphan Beth finds herself a guest of the old manor house Raven Hall when the Averell family take her in as companion for their precocious only daughter Nina. In the present, Sadie, an unemployed actress and a drifter, takes on a job role playing the part of a guest at a murder mystery weekend at Raven Hall, a formerly grand country house that has seen its share of tragedies. How these two characters’ stories eventually connect is the fabric that makes up Emma Rous’ latest mystery, and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.


I loved all the secrets, the twists and turns and the foreshadowing that drove this story for me. I was consumed with the hows, and whys and whats that every new revelation brought with it. I did however think that the murder mystery weekend section could have exploited the mystery and suspense of the old mansion a bit more, as it started out strong but then seemed to run out of steam before reaching its true potential.




I really enjoy Rous’ writing style, and it quickly drew me in. The atmospheric setting made for a brilliant backdrop to the strange family living in the manor house, and I was thoroughly intrigued. I think that if the last ¼ of the story could have lived up to its potential, it would have been a solid five star read for me, but the ending was a tiny bit convoluted and lacklustre for me. That said, this was a fast and entertaining read I devoured over the course of two nights, and I was loathe to put it down before finding out all the truths. I very much look forward to reading more from this author!




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 17 December 2020

Mini Book Review Catchup Post


THE SCENT KEEPER, by Erica Bauermeister

Have you ever smelled a scent and felt yourself instantly transported back in time and place to your grandma’s kitchen, or your mum’s hugs, or your childhood home? THE SCENT KEEPER explores the power of scent through the voice of young Emmeline, who lives on a remote island with only her eccentric scientist father to keep her company. Growing up in isolation, Emmeline takes her gift for recognising scents for granted – until tragedy strikes and she is transported into a world where technology and modern life have taken over our reliance on our senses, and our ability to use them for our survival.


THE SCENT KEEPER is both a coming-of-age story as well as a reflective tale about our relationship with our senses and the world around us. I loved the way Bauermeister describes Emmeline’s experience with scents, and her insights into how scents can be used to influence our emotional experiences. The connection between scent and memory was fascinating to behold, and probably my favourite part of the book. Whilst I really liked Emmeline as a character and enjoyed the remote island setting, I felt that the story lagged a bit in parts (especially the long ruminating over her childhood friend Fisher sometimes read like a YA novel) and then ended very abruptly with many questions left unanswered.


I think that THE SCENT KEEPER will appeal to readers who have enjoyed books such as WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING or THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS – for the atmospheric setting and the young character with a unique gift. I loved learning more about the power of scents and its uses in our modern world, which was fascinating. Overall a well written and engaging story!

HOME BEFORE DARK, by Riley Sager

“Oh Maggie, you really shouldn’t have done that.” Would you revisit a house that made your parents pack up the whole family in the middle of the night and flee in fear of their lives, never to return? A house with a secret so terrible that your father has written a book about the ghostly horrors contained in its walls? Would you?

Part ghost story, part old fashioned horror flick, part book-within-a-book, home before dark was the sort of entertaining, atmospheric read that is so immersive and addictive that you will want to devour it in one night. With the lights on. And whilst I am not usually a fan of stereotypes, the well-used horror tropes Sager uses to build suspense were immensely enjoyable.

HOME BEFORE DARK will appeal to anyone who loves a good old creepy house story with Gothic vibes. It packed plenty of surprises and kept me glued to the pages. I am really becoming fond of Sager’s easy to read, entertaining reading style, like watching an old black and white movie in front of the fire munching on popcorn. Read it when you are looking for something light and riveting you can devour in one sitting.

HER KIND, by Niamh Boyce

Do you like time travel to another era? Then Niamh Boyce’s novel HER KIND is just the right book for you. Based on the real life character of Petronella de Meath, the first woman executed for witchcraft in Ireland, the book vividly evokes life in 14th century Kilkenny. I particularly enjoyed the author’s interpretation of a woman’s role in the medieval age, which for noblewoman and moneylender Alice is vastly different than for her Gaelic born maidservant Petronelle. Seeing that the woman’s role in early history is rarely found in the archives, it’s always a special treat to find a historical novel with strong female characters, and HER KIND certainly fits that description. Both immersive and interesting, HER KIND would make a treat for any historical fiction lover.


The special bond between identical twins combined with tragedy and family secrets certainly made for an intriguing mix in Louise Guy’s new novel A LIFE WORTH LIVING. The book caught my attention early when an unforseen event upended the twins’ lives – I am very careful here not to give any spoilers!


I enjoyed reading about the difference in personality between Eve and Leah, and their vastly different life choices, which influenced much of what came next. Even though the sisters were a little bit too opposite at times, almost to the point of caricature, the story kept my attention and I wanted to find out how the situation would unravel. My main issue here was with pacing, since not much happened after the initial earth-shattering event, and the trapped-in-a-corner situation of one of the twins could have been used to create more tension and drama to bring the focus back on the crazy position her choices had put her in. I also would have loved a bit more insight into how the twins’ overcame their difference in personalities in the past and had arrived at this particular point in time because some of their actions didn’t fully gel with me for that very reason.


Altogether a pleasant and mildly intriguing family drama that made a nice change from my faced paced thrillers.

Book Review: IN A HOLIDAZE by Christina Lauren



Author:  Christina Lauren

Read: December 2020

Expected publication: out now



Book Description:


It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her going-nowhere job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions.

But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world—the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy.

The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake…she’s on an airplane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop—and finally get her true love under the mistletoe.

Jam-packed with yuletide cheer, an unforgettable cast of characters, and Christina Lauren’s trademark “downright hilarious” (Helen Hoang, author of The Bride Test) hijinks, this swoon-worthy romantic read will make you believe in the power of wishes and the magic of the holidays.

My musings:


I don’t normally read romance. Not ever. But hey, who can’t do with a little bit of Christmas magic? Somehow Christina Lauren managed to channel my inner 26-year-old hungry for some love, and push aside the grumpy old me who craves murder and suspense and scoffs at any hint of romance. This book was a perfect escape from reality: sweet, hopeful and innocent, where bad things may happen but good always wins out and everyone finds love in the end. It comes as a surprise to me, too, when I say that I really enjoyed it. And was that a little tear running down my face when Mae ....? nope, no spoilers!


I think everyone who believes in Christmas magic will enjoy time in this snowy little cabin with a bunch of friends and family who may have had their share of tragedy and drama but just like hanging out together. I loved the descriptions of the Christmas traditions that have kept this group of people united for years, and I would have loved to sit in their midst near the fire sipping hot cocoa and listen to their happy bickering. It was all so very wholesome! Perhaps it channelled some deeply buried memories of Christmases past when our extended family came together for a feast and gift giving, and there was still magic in the season for little innocent me. Or maybe it was the longing for such carefree happy days that instantly drew me to the story. Whatever it was, it worked for me, and the lasting happy glow after the last page had been turned renewed my faith in the magic of Christmas, and the love of family and friends as the true meaning of the season. Does that sound soppy?


I have heard some readers complain that the time travel / groundhog day element was not sufficiently explained in the story, and thought that the petty, absolutely-can’t-suspend-disbelief me would surely stumble over that hurdle as well. But-surprise! It didn’t bother me. To be honest, who can really pull off time travel in a way that makes sense? Apart from Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, I have never read any story that explained that element well enough that it was believable, so I didn’t even try. And it all worked, in a weird, Christmas-magicy sort of way.




Long story short, I really enjoyed this story, loose plot ends and all, and the atmospheric, snowy cabin setting really made for the perfect Christmassy read. And whilst I don’t think romance will ever be my go-to genre, it made for a lovely escape. Merry Christmas!

Friday 11 December 2020

Book Review: DEADLY GAMES by Steve Frech



Author:  Steve Frech

Publisher:  HQ Digital

Read: December 2020

Expected publication: out now



Book Description:


I know everything about you.

I know your name, your birthday, your kids’ names, where you live, where you work. I know when you get that big promotion, or when you argue with your spouse.

You tell me all this because I’m your bartender.

But someone knows everything about me too. Someone knows all my secrets and they’re using them against me. They’re setting me up.

The police think I murdered Emily Parker. To prove my innocence I need to find the real killer.

My musings:


I love mysteries where the amateur sleuth has an unusual profession other than a detective, PI or journalist, so I was instantly intrigued by barman Clay, our main protagonist who finds himself caught up in a deadly game with a serial killer. Original and fast paced, the story soon swept me along in its wake, and kept me reading late into the night.


What a refreshingly original thriller this was! Not only was Clay an enigmatic and interesting character, but the constant sense of menace and danger that set a terrifying background to the story created tension and intrigue. Frech’s writing style moves the story along at a good pace, and sometimes I had to remind myself to stop and take a breath as things were happening at breakneck speed.


A good barman is observant – he will not only remember his customer’s drinking preferences, but he can also read them like a book and change his personality to boot. Clay is good at his job, and his clients love and respect him. So it comes as a surprise when he gets a visit from police to question him about one of his regulars, who has just been found murdered. A married woman Clay just happened to have an affair with. And just like that, Clay finds himself in the centre of a murder investigation, with a killer who is always a step ahead of him, determined to make Clay the prime suspect. He has no option but to play along – first, to clear his name, but soon just to stay alive.




DEADLY GAMES will appeal to readers who love a fast paced, atmospheric and suspenseful cat-and-mouse game, like the Jack Reacher series. And whilst Clay is no ex-army bad boy, he also shows a lot of initiative in trying to outwit his opponent. As the story nears its finale, there is plenty of action, suspense and bloodshed! I found the story original and captivating, and couldn’t put it down. I very much look forward to reading more from this author in future!

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