Monday, 29 March 2021

Characters stumbling headfirst into disaster: FOLLOW YOU HOME by Mark Edwards and THE POISON TREE by Erin Kelly


Sometimes the most sinister stories are the ones that could happen to everyone. Ordinary people caught up in situations that arise from one wrong decision, trusting the wrong person, choosing the wrong path. A split second decision that can change your entire life. Stories that read like watching a train rumble towards the abyss and being unable to stop it. These two books are perfect examples of the genre and held me spellbound in their grip as I watched the characters self destruct ....

FOLLOW YOU HOME by Mark Edwards

“Unfortunately, real life has no erase button.”


I never enter a Mark Edwards novel without bracing myself, because I just know that he will bestow my worst nightmares on his hapless characters! Whether it’s evil houseguests taking over your home and refusing to leave (HERE TO STAY), or horrible neighbours (THE MAGPIES), or a missing child in a dark forest (THE RETREAT), Edwards has become a go-to author for me when I want a truly terrifying domestic noir thriller that messes with my mind. And I am happy to say that he has done it again with FOLLOW YOU HOME.


“This fucked-up situation, this mess, this horror story, had started with me, with a single unwitting mistake I’d made back then...” This seems to be Edwards’ theme in most of his novels, and can’t we all relate to that at some point in our lives!


If you are a traveller, you will undoubtedly have had a few interesting experiences that were horrible at the time but made for good stories later. Like the time I left our tickets in the hotel room and the whole airport shuttle had to turn around for us and go back, making everyone on the bus hate us. Or the time we didn’t know we needed a visa and got thrown from a night train at a lonely border crossing somewhere in Eastern Europe. So when I read about poor Laura and Daniel’s experience on the train through Romania, I shuddered and trembled and my heart rate sped up. This could never end well!


I love the way Edwards slowly builds tension, initially almost innocuously, luring you in until BAM! Here then is your worst nightmares come true. The young couple’s trip of a lifetime soon turns into a disaster of epic proportion when they not only get thrown off the train, but end up without their passports or phone contact in the middle of the night in a dark Romanian forest. What happens after this won’t be revealed much later in the story, except that we know it is so horrible that it has left lasting scars and has broken up Laura and Daniel’s relationship. This not knowing, this uncertainty, this speculation about what exactly happened to the couple was my favourite part of the story, because it created an almost unbearable tension. I was almost disappointed when the mystery was unravelled, because it took away some of the pulse-pounding suspense, even though of course I wanted to know the answers just as much as every other reader.


If you have read any of Edwards’ books, you will have noticed that they are never predictable and they don’t always end the way your justice craving self would like. Sometimes they even stray into the border territory of the great conspiracy theory or the type of events that are passed along the grapevine usually starting like this: “A friend of my second cousin’s godfather ....” Yes, there was A LOT happening here, and I had to suspend disbelief a bit to swallow it all, but it made for a heck of an entertaining read. I could see this book turned into the type of movie where you have to turn the volume low and peek through your fingers as the young couple stumble along the railway tracks in search of help.


With its creepy and ominous opening chapters, FOLLOW YOU HOME drew me in immediately and captivated me so fully that I read it all in the course of one day. If you haven’t read any of Mark Edwards’ books yet, then I warn you that his power lies in telling tales that could happen to anyone – you, your family, your neighbours, your friends – which makes them all the more terrifying. Edwards states that this story, too, had been inspired by true events, which is perhaps why the real-life tension is evident in every page. I really enjoyed it and look forward to being scared out of my wits by this author in future.



Sometimes I really crave a slow-burning, character study of family secrets and relationships, and Erin Kelly does this so well! Whilst HE SAID / SHE SAID remains my all-time favourite by this author, I really enjoyed her portrayal of the friendships in THE POISON TREE.


One thing I love about Erin Kelly’s writing is the languid way in which she builds her spider’s web of growing tension that gradually entangles the reader and holds them in its spell. Just as Karen, the straight-A student and only child of conservative parents gradually falls under the spell of the bohemian Capel siblings and their rambling, tumble down English mansion. I could easily picture straight and slightly awkward Karen being bewitched by the outgoing siblings whose free and easy lifestyle must feel totally alien and enchanting to her. Biba Capel is the sort of character who blazes into people’s lives like a bright comet of destruction, dazzling them with her light but in the end only leaving smoking ruins behind. Rex, who is more subdued and stable than his sister, holds his own allure as the brooding, overprotective male counterpart to his vivacious sibling.


Despite the slow build-up, Kelly makes it very clear that nothing good can come from these dynamics. And whilst I did predict a major part of the “twist” (I read A LOT of these mysteries), I was still invested to watch the slow descend into disaster as both Karen and Rex act as if remote-controlled by Biba’s destructive hand. I love a good character study, and the way poor Karen gets drawn into the Capel siblings’ world was well executed. I related to some of Karen’s fascination with the Capel’s lives – “straight A student falls for more exciting personalities” is a theme that really does play out in real life. A wonderful premise for a novel that is part character study and part domestic thriller and will undoubtedly stun some readers with its twist.


All in all, THE POISON TREE should probably be avoided by readers who don’t enjoy a slow-burning mystery, because their attention may wane in the first half, when the interpersonal dynamics are being set up. However, lovers of a good character study will appreciate the way Kelly builds her characters’ relationships that ultimately lead to disaster. I felt like I was watching a train chugga-chugg towards the abyss, unable to stop it as it built momentum with its unsuspecting passengers still dazzled by Biba’s light. A well-written story simmering with an undercurrent of tension and menace. I look forward to reading more from this author in future!

Monday, 15 March 2021

Book Review: EVERY LAST FEAR by Alex Finlay



Author:  Alex Finlay

Publisher:  Head of Zeus

Read: March 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


After a late night of partying, NYU student Matt Pine returns to his dorm room to devastating news: nearly his entire family—his mom, his dad, his little brother and sister—have been found dead from an apparent gas leak while vacationing in Mexico. The local police claim it was an accident, but the FBI and State Department seem far less certain—and they won’t tell Matt why.

The tragedy makes headlines everywhere because this isn’t the first time the Pine family has been thrust into the media spotlight. Matt’s older brother, Danny—currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his teenage girlfriend Charlotte—was the subject of a viral true crime documentary suggesting that Danny was wrongfully convicted. Though the country has rallied behind Danny, Matt holds a secret about his brother that he’s never told anyone: the night Charlotte was killed Matt saw something that makes him believe his brother is guilty of the crime.

When Matt returns to his small hometown to bury his parents and siblings, he’s faced with a hostile community that was villainized by the documentary, a frenzied media, and memories he’d hoped to leave behind forever. Now, as the deaths in Mexico appear increasingly suspicious and connected to Danny’s case, Matt must unearth the truth behind the crime that sent his brother to prison—putting his own life in peril—and forcing him to confront his every last fear.

My musings:


Sometimes, I just want to binge on a book just as I would on a great Netflix series or a classic action movie, and Alex Finlay’s debut was perfect for a pulse-pounding night of reading. Yes, I did read this in one sitting, and I enjoyed it immensely!


EVERY LAST FEAR started off with some of the most sinister and intriguing first lines I have ever read: “They found the bodies on a Tuesday. Two days after the family had missed their flight home. Six days after all the texts and social media had gone dark.” I was immediately hooked. Here starts Matt Pine’s nightmare, when he finds out that his entire family – mum, dad, sister Maggie and brother Tommy – have been found dead in their cabin whilst vacationing in Mexico. No, hold on, not his entire family, because he also has an infamous older brother who is in jail, convicted of the murder of his girlfriend when he was in his teens. And thus, Matt’s life is shattered once more.


Even though the story starts with the deaths of most of the Pine family, we get to know them gradually through flashbacks to their lives just prior to their ill-fated holiday. Not every author can pull this off, because it’s difficult to get invested in a character when you already know their fate. But the more I read about Evan, Maggie, Olivia and Tommy I got to like them, and ultimately grieve for them as they met their death. Which was the very thing that made me emotionally so invested in this book that I read until late into the night to find out all the answers.


With multiple POVs and a rich cast of characters – we not only hear from the entire Pine family but also from the POV of Sarah Keller, the FBI agent tasked to investigate their tragic deaths – the story rolled out movie like in front of my eyes. This is not a simple whodunit, but a multi-layered plot with roots in another crime, the one Danny Pine has been convicted of all those years ago, devastating his parents and alienating his younger brother Matt. There are a lot of threads, red herrings galore, a true crime podcast thrown into the mix and some political happenings, too. Even with all those threads shooting off in different directions, the story moved along at a pace that made my pulse race, craving answers.


Yes, some readers have said that there were moments when you had to suspend disbelief. And yes, some of the characters are stereotypes, but just as I automatically picture a Bruce Willis type in an action movie, these somehow helped to form some strong imagery of characters you only get to meet very briefly. Did this bother me? No. This was pure entertainment, and I was happy to roll with it. To be honest, a lot of it went over my head as I cried for Maggie and little Tommy, held my breath as Matt went to Mexico to claim the bodies of his entire family (just imagine that heartbreak!) and was intrigued by Danny’s backstory. There was just so much going on! It wasn’t until the end that I could see where this was all headed, and by then I was almost glad for the reprieve.




EVERY LAST FEAR will appeal to readers who enjoy a fast-paced, entertaining thriller rather than a whodunit that offers up clues like a trail of breadcrumbs for readers to follow and practice their own investigation skills. It requires some suspension of disbelief and may feel a bit heavy-handed at times, but as far as entertainment value goes, it was pure gold for me. Read it binge-style as you would sit through an action movie. With food on hand. And plenty of time to spare. I loved it and look forward to reading more from this author in future.




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

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Book Review: SHE WOULDN'T CHANGE A THING by Sarah Adlakha



Author:  Sarah Adlakha

Publisher:  Macmillan-Tor / Forge

Read: February 2021

Expected publication: 10 August 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


When thirty-nine year old Maria Forssmann wakes up in her seventeen-year-old body, she doesn’t know how she got there. All she does know is she has to get back: to her home in Bienville, Mississippi, to her job as a successful psychiatrist and, most importantly, to her husband, daughters, and unborn son.

But she also knows that, in only a few weeks, a devastating tragedy will strike her husband, a tragedy that will lead to their meeting each other.

Can she change time and still keep what it’s given her?

My musings:


There is something about time travel that is utterly intriguing, and I can rarely resist the temptation of a unique take on this subject. SHE WOULDN’T CHANGE A THING  held a special allure, because who has not wondered how their life would have turned out if they had had the opportunity to change an event that would ultimately change their life forever and propel them along on a certain path? This is the situation wife and mother Maria Fossman finds herself in when she suddenly wakes up in her seventeen-year-old body in her childhood home, but still with memories of her life as a thirty-nine-year-old. She doesn’t know how she got here and why, but she soon learns that she has been sent back for one purpose: to prevent a terrible tragedy that is soon about to befall her husband’s family, and which will have lasting effects on him in future.


The thought of stepping back in time and righting a wrong or changing history is an intriguing one, and I eagerly read on to see how the author would consolidate aspects of time travel we often hear about, such as the butterfly effect. In her current predicament, Maria is faced with a terrible decision: to right a wrong and maybe forfeit her future as wife and mother as she has known it, or do nothing and be returned to her old life. What would you do?


As with most time travel stories, some aspects here worked well for me and prompted reflection, and others were a bit confusing. I think I would have preferred if Maria had woken in her childhood body questioning whether her memories were real or delusions, because her adult self in a child’s body was just a little bit too strange for me and I had trouble putting myself in her situation and fully empathising with her. That said, it certainly was an intriguing and original concept I had not encountered before in any other time-travel themed books, and it kept my interest to the end. I also found the story’s conclusion satisfying, as the author stays away from stereotypes and yet manages to conclude her concept in a way that tied up most of the threads neatly in the end.





In summary, if you enjoy books that revolve around moral quandaries, time travel, fate or reincarnation like themes, then SHE WOULDN’T CHANGE A THING will make for a refreshingly original and thought provoking read.




Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor / Forge for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Monday, 8 March 2021

Book Review: MISS BENSON'S BEETLE by Rachel Joyce



Author:  Rachel Joyce

Read: February 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


It is 1950. London is still reeling from World War II, and Margery Benson, a schoolteacher and spinster, is trying to get through life, surviving on scraps. One day, she reaches her breaking point, abandoning her job and small existence to set out on an expedition to the other side of the world in search of her childhood obsession: an insect that may or may not exist--the golden beetle of New Caledonia.


When she advertises for an assistant to accompany her, the woman she ends up with is the last person she had in mind. Fun-loving Enid Pretty in her tight-fitting pink suit and pom-pom sandals seems to attract trouble wherever she goes. But together these two British women find themselves drawn into a cross-ocean adventure that exceeds all expectations and delivers something neither of them expected to find: the transformative power of friendship.



What attracted me to this book:


At the beginning of the year, I asked some of my bookstagram friends to recommend an all-time favourite book of theirs to read in 2021. MISS BENSON’S BEETLE was Helen’s (@bestbookforward) choice, and I am happy to report that it was perfect! I loved losing myself in Margery and Enid’s travels, and the story really tugged on my heartstrings. I am so glad that I read it!

My musings:


I think I have probably told you a hundred times or more how much I love armchair travel, and in these times it is even more precious. Initially, Margery doesn’t seem the travelling type at all: a middle aged, unmarried schoolteacher who has held down the same job all her life and has never moved out of her comfort zone, her future is destined to be as drab and loveless as her brown, sensible clothes.  Until one day, Margery finally snaps. Taunted once too often by her cruel students, she impulsively and dramatically leaves her job behind and decides to pursue a long time dream – to travel to New Caledonia in search of the a golden beetle her father had told her about as a child. Not being a natural traveller, Margery knows that she will need help, and she places an advertisement for an assistant to accompany her on her journey. From here on, little of Margery’s plans work out the way she had planned, but the end result is as touching as it is often hilarious, and I loved every minute of it!


Both Margery and Enid are intriguing, enigmatic and full-of-life characters I fell in love with. The author has a way of describing these two very different women that brought them to life in my mind, and I could vividly picture them both. They swept me along on their journey and I felt fully emotionally invested in all their adventures. As the two women form an unlikely friendship, we not only learn more about their pasts but also see them grow into their fierce, brave, independent selves. Who has never dreamed of leaving everything behind and starting anew, totally reinventing themselves? If you think this is difficult now, imagine what it would have been like for women in the 1950’s. Joyce manages not only to evoke the landscape but also the era to perfection, which made this book a real treat to read.


As Margery and Enid stumble from one misadventure to another, there is of course the wonderful backdrop of an untamed New Caledonia, which sees our two hapless characters battle a wilderness they are totally ill prepared for. But as they face the obstacles nature puts in their way – such as the heat, the insects, tropical storms, floods and disease – they will also discover their inner strengths and the healing power of the natural environment. 




All in all, MISS BENSON’S BEETLE was the perfect book to lose myself in. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Tackling topics such as self-discovery, female friendship and the courage to step out of your comfort zone, this was both a fun as well as a reflective read, and I thoroughly enjoyed every step of the journey. 

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Exploring new genres: fantasy and romance


Romance and fantasy are two genres I have faithfully avoided since my twenties, convinced that they were not for me. So it is with some surprise that I admit I was wrong! It just goes to show that sometimes it is necessary to step outside my reading comfort zone to discover some new and fun adventures.


DREAMER’S POOL by Julie Marillier


This was my friend’s choice in our real life bookclub and she announced it with a cheeky sideways glance at my eye-rolling self as I snorted: “Fantasy????? But I never read fantasy!” So it was much to both our surprise that my reluctance soon turned into frantic page-turning as the story took hold and swept me away in its wake. By Chapter 3 I was fully engrossed in the world Marillier had created here, and I just loved the character of Blackthorn. As soon as she had uttered the line:


“Pity I didn’t enjoy the company of fools.


we were instant bosom buddies. Here was a character just as crabby as I felt after work, not wanting to speak to another human being for at least the rest of the day! Jokes aside, I felt myself transported into another time, seasoned with just a touch of magic but realistic enough where it could almost pass as historical fiction set in the middle ages. There was even a mystery that was central to the plot, and which intrigued me so thoroughly that I flew through the pages. With a rich cast of enigmatic characters, three of whom are offering us their POVs in their own unique voices in alternating chapters, the story flowed seamlessly and kept my interest throughout.


So yes, I was wrong. I may just start reading more fantasy books for a welcome escape from reality from time to time. In fact, I have already started to read the second in the series!





I admit that I picked up this book on a dare, which was to read lots of Christmas themed books all through December, even if they contained – shudder - romance. And found that my library hold took until now to come through! Even though this gave me a good excuse to abandon the project, my travel deprived self was too intrigued by the three different armchair travel locations in this book not to give it a go.


If you are put off by the schmaltzy cover or title, don’t worry, because a) the story takes part over a whole year and Christmas is only part of one chapter or so; and b) the story is more about self-discovery than a steamy romance. Phew! So despite my misgivings, this turned out to be a fun, escapist read that swept me away in its wake as our main character Cassie, heart-broken after her husband’s terrible betrayal, embarks on an eat-pray-love like journey of self discovery. Having vowed to divide a whole year between the homes of her three best friends, i.e. New York, Paris and London, Cassie gets to reinvent herself in every new city she visits. Until of course, she finally finds out what she wanted all along (so there came the romancy part).


I love stories that centre around characters who get to reinvent themselves and experiment with different lifestyles and different selves. Don’t we all? It’s such a fun concept to be able to shrug off your old self and your baggage and just embark on a completely new adventure. And of course here we have the additional bonus of armchair travel, to three exciting cities, which made it irresistible to me (oh how I miss travel!!!!).


CHRISTMAS AT TIFFANY’S was a fun, escapist read I found I really enjoyed, despite all my initial misgivings about the romance. And if you are concerned that this is just a fluffy read, then be assured that Swan doesn’t let her characters off scott free: on her journey to self discovery, Cassie has some adversity to overcome. Brimming with intriguing characters and exciting scenery, this was a romp of a read I fully recommend to anyone who needs a nice escape from real life for a while.


Friday, 5 March 2021

Book Review: MOTHER MAY I by Joshilyn Jackson


Author:  Joshilyn Jackson

Read: February 2021

Expected publication:  William Morrow 6 April 2021 / Bloomsbury Publishing 13 May 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Growing up poor in rural Georgia, Bree Cabbat was warned by her single mother that the world was a dark and scary place. Bree rejected her mother’s fearful outlook, and life has proved her right. Having married into a family with wealth, power, and connections, Bree now has all a woman could ever dream of: a loving lawyer husband, two talented teenage daughters, a new baby boy, a gorgeous home, and every opportunity in the world. Until the day her baby is taken and Bree’s world falls apart. How far will she go to save her child?

What attracted me to this book:


I really loved Joshilyn Jackson’s previous novel NEVER HAVE I EVER, so I had high hopes for this one. I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed!

My musings:


As with NEVER HAVE I EVER, the strength of the story lay in its characters. Similarly to Amy, main protagonist of the author’s previous book, Bree Cabbat seems to be an ordinary cookie-baking and playdate-organising housewife and mother of three. Having married a wealthy husband, she almost came across as a bit sheltered and pampered, but that initial judgement proved to be wrong once her inner mumma-bear was called into action as she is facing a mother’s worst nightmare: her baby son’s abduction during her daughter’s dance rehearsal. What follows is a suspenseful tale of obsession, revenge and the length we will go to to protect our family. As with most mysteries, it is best if you go into this one blindly, so I won’t be giving much away in regards to the plot, other than the advice not to be fooled by its initial sedate pacing. As the tension mounted and Bree must confront all her inner demons, the story marched mercilessly towards its explosive finale.


Ultimately, all characters managed to surprise me, which doesn’t happen very often. Especially Bree, the seemingly privileged housewife, whose own past turned out to be far from sheltered and who soon proved that she could be fierce and fearless when the situation warranted it. MOTHER MAY I is one of those stories where you are being challenged to examine your own inner demons and preconceptions and ask yourself: what would I do in Bree’s situation? How would I react? What should she have done? As Bree goes had on head with her son’s abductor, we also get to know her a bit better, and I really warmed to her. Furthermore, kudos to any author who can make her readers feel empathy for the villains in her story! As the ugly truth was revealed, there were plenty of surprises in store, and no one was quite as black-and-white as they seemed in the beginning.


I love nothing better than a mystery that can surprise me, and MOTHER MAY I did just that. There were many themes that prompted reflection, especially regarding privilege and power and how an event that some may write off as a small misdemeanour has the power to destroy someone else’s life. And whilst some aspects of the ending didn’t totally gel with me, there was also one very decent twist that had me staring open-mouthed at the pages, not quite believing what I had just read.




If you love a good character driven mystery that features family secrets, obsession, revenge and a race against the clock to save your child, then this book is definitely for you. I admit that I was a bit dubious as to whether another story about child abduction would be able to wow, but the author soon moved away from the well trodden paths and carved out her own tracks that made for a cracking good read. I love thrillers that also tackle darker themes that prompt reflection and challenge my own preconceptions, whilst also being utterly addictive and entertaining. I can’t wait to read more from this author in future!




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