Saturday, 29 May 2021

Book Review: SUCH A QUIET PLACE by Megan Miranda



Author:  Megan Miranda

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster

Read: May 2021

Expected publication: 13 July 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


Hollow’s Edge used to be a quiet place. A private and idyllic neighborhood where neighbors dropped in on neighbors, celebrated graduation and holiday parties together, and looked out for one another. But then came the murder of Brandon and Fiona Truett. A year and a half later, Hollow’s Edge is simmering. The residents are trapped, unable to sell their homes, confronted daily by the empty Truett house, and suffocated by their trial testimonies that implicated one of their own. Ruby Fletcher. And now, Ruby’s back.

With her conviction overturned, Ruby waltzes right back to Hollow’s Edge, and into the home she once shared with Harper Nash. Harper, five years older, has always treated Ruby like a wayward younger sister. But now she’s terrified. What possible good could come of Ruby returning to the scene of the crime? And how can she possibly turn her away, when she knows Ruby has nowhere to go?

Within days, suspicion spreads like a virus across Hollow’s Edge. It’s increasingly clear that not everyone told the truth about the night of the Truett’s murders. And when Harper begins receiving threatening notes, she realizes she has to uncover the truth before someone else becomes the killer’s next victim.

My musings:


I love books about toxic neighbourhoods because the dynamics can be so interesting and hair-raising. Megan Miranda is an author who has an eye for interpersonal relationships and never fails to create a dark sense of menace simply by her characters’ interactions, which makes for an intriguing read.


At first glance, Hollow’s Edge looks like the type of quiet and idyllic neighbourhood everyone would want to live in. Situated on the shores a large picturesque lake, with a large nearby college supplying jobs for most of the townfolk, it seems like a safe haven for all its residents. At least it was, until Brandon and Fiona Truett were murdered whilst asleep in their beds. It didn’t take long for the residents to band together and find a likely suspect, the Truett’s dog walker Ruby, who was later convicted of their murder. But now Ruby is back after her conviction has been overturned, and she appears totally unperturbed by her neighbours’ hostility and suspicion. What is Ruby’s agenda? Is she out to prove her innocence or does she want revenge?


As with Miranda’s previous books, SUCH A QUIET PLACE is a slow burning, character driven mystery that unravels slowly as the tension creeps up. Rather than idyllic, I found the atmosphere of the tall fences and security cameras watching your every move unsettling and claustrophobic, which may have been the author’s intent. However, I admit that at times I struggled to keep up my interest, which was mainly to do with the bunch of unlikeable, dull characters at Hollow’s Edge, none of whom prompted emotional engagement on my part. And though I warmed a bit more to Harper as the story progressed, I was constantly puzzled by her decisions and never quite understood what motivated her. Would you let the person convicted of a murder in your neighbourhood move back into your house as a flatmate, even if it that will alienate you from the rest of the residents? I just couldn’t get my head around it, despite Harper’s protestations that this was a perfectly reasonable decision. Some of the elements that could have been creepy and threatening lost a lot of their impact seen through Harper’s eyes, because she was just so indecisive and – ok, let’s put it out there – as dull as the rest of the neighbourhood and a pushover to boot. But that could also have been part of the whole ploy, as later developments showed.


From here follows a back and fro of suspicions cast by all the residents onto each other, and quite a few well worn thriller tropes make an appearance: threatening notes delivered through mailboxes, people sneaking around in the night and shadowy images caught on people’s security cameras. I was pleased to see the tension creep up a bit as Ruby’s actions escalated, but the events about 75% into the book brought a strange sense of letdown for me – until that final twist that is one of Miranda’s hallmarks and proved most of my theories wrong.



Megan Miranda is a great writer who can create an atmospheric story with her keen eye for human relationships, even if this time the dynamics didn’t work as well for me as with her previous books. SUCH A QUIET PLACE will appeal to readers who like a story based on neighbourhood dynamics, where suspicions are cast upon each and every character and everyone has a skeleton or two in their closet.



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

Friday, 28 May 2021

Book Review: THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matt Haig



Author:  Matt Haig

Read: May 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.


My musings:


I love the idea of a multiverse, of a “sliding doors” concept that lets us explore how different our lives would have been if we had made different choices. The thought of a library where you could read the book of an alternative life sounded intriguing and compelling. Wouldn’t that be fascinating? It’s a bit like googling and old boyfriend and feeling relieved (or not) that your 17-year-old self had the good sense to break up with him.


Nora is in her thirties and feels bogged down with regrets. Her life is stale, she has no partner or children, her cat has just died and her brother is not answering her calls. So she decides to take her life. But instead of dying, she is magically transported into a magic library where she can explore all her regrets and see how her life would have been if she had been more courageous and made “better” decisions. As soon as she opens a different book of her own life, she is magically transported into her alternative life as it would be right now had she made a different decision in her past – to stick with her band, to study glaciology, to continue with her swimming career. The strange thing, I thought, was that Nora was dumped into these other lives without context or knowledge of her past in that particular life, or the people surrounding her. I found this extremely anxiety provoking! But I won’t give anything away here, because I don’t want to spoil your fun exploring this premise for yourself.


I wanted to love this book as much as I liked its premise, but strangely didn’t find it as compelling as many other readers. Don’t get me wrong, it was an original and somewhat intriguing read, but didn’t grab me emotionally as much as I thought it would. I also found the ending predictable, though I hoped until the last page that the author would prove me wrong – he didn’t. Maybe my expectations were just too high. And because I can’t discuss the finer points without giving away spoilers I will just leave it at that. Thousands of readers have loved this thought-provoking and magical tale, so it’s best you go and judge for yourself. It certainly made me reflect on those crossroads in my life that may have led me into a totally different direction. An interesting read with some magical realism and food for thought that would make a great bookclub choice.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Book Review: MIRRORLAND by Carole Johnstone



Author:  Carole Johnstone

Publisher:  Scribner

Read: May 2021

Expected publication: out now



Book Description:


Cat lives in Los Angeles, far away from 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where she and her estranged twin sister, El, grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to 36 Westeryk Road, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. The grand old house is still full of shadowy corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues in almost every room: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting...

A twisty, dark, and brilliantly crafted thriller about love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive, page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom.


My musings:


Johnstone nails the portrayal of a childhood damaged by trauma and its aftermath in her twisty, dark new thriller MIRRORLAND, where nothing is quite as it seems. How do children cope with trauma? By removing themselves from it and escaping into fantasy. Which makes their memories unreliable at best. As Cat returns to her old childhood home after her twin sister El’s disappearance, she is instantly transported back into memories of their imaginary “Mirrorland”, a dark alley next to their house they played in as children. But Mirrorland was more than just play – it was a safe place, an escape from the evil witch who would come and visit, and from their grandfather’s rages. Could Mirrorland hold the clues to El’s fate?


MIRRORLAND is a dark tale in which reality and fantasy blend, and it is up to the reader to look between the lines and find out the truth. When the sisters fled the house 20 years ago, there had been tragedy and murder, but all those details are hazy in Cat’s mind. Entering the house again after all these years brings all her demons crashing back, but they are disguised in the shape of her Mirrorland characters, the place that helped the sisters survive the horrors their childhood held in store for them.


At times, MIRRORLAND was a confusing read as Cat’s childhood fantasies mingle with reality. There is the clown cafe, and the pirate ship, and fantastical characters like Mouse, the evil witch, the tooth fairy, clowns, pirates and Indians, who are more real to the small girl Cat than her unhappy mother and volatile grandfather. As the reader, we are thrown headlong into Cat’s fantasies as if they were real memories, as if there really was a pirate ship anchored in the alley next to the house. It’s not until later, when the curtains slowly lift and Cat is forced to peek at the truths hiding behind the lies that the girls’ terrible trauma is revealed.


I admit that I struggled initially with the many magical realism elements of the story until the sinister tale sucked me in, nightmare-like, into a story so dark and horrible that it took me a while to shake it off. MIRRORLAND is a cleverly constructed, multi-layered tale that will stump even the best armchair detective. See through Cat’s eyes, her childhood trauma has been hidden under so many layers that the final truth is terrible to behold and Cat’s own life is again in danger.


MIRRORLAND will appeal to readers who are looking for a unique thriller that stands out from the rest through incorporation of unreliable childhood memories into its tale. Johnstone shows a keen insight into the effects of trauma on children and how they learn to cope with their distorted realities. It wasn’t until afterwards that I appreciated the true art of storytelling in this dark tale, and it gave me chills long afterwards. A wonderful debut from a talented writer!

Five star book review: THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE by V.E. Schwab



Author:  V.E. Schwab

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.


My musings:


Five star reviews are the hardest to write, because how could I possibly do a book justice which touched my heart on all levels and totally captivated me from beginning to end? These types of stories don’t come around very often, and I am eternally grateful for my book buddies who talked me into this one. “Magical realism isn’t really my thing”, I can still hear myself say. And hear the devil laugh. Which is a bit of poetic justice because this is a book about a pact with the devil. “A pact with the devil?” I hear you say, and yes, I get it, because I thought it would be a bit strange as well. But wow, what a wonderful read this book turned out to be!


Meet Adeline (Addie) LaRue, a young girl living in the 18th century who is being forced by her parents into a marriage  with a boy from the village. In a desperate plea to escape this fate worse than death, Addie makes a deal with the devil. But her wish for freedom will have unforseen consequences, because the devil is clever and cunning and you should be careful what you wish for. Because now Addie may have her freedom, but she is also unable to leave a mark on the world, and everyone who sees her will instantly forget her again. Across the ages, a beautiful young woman called Addie LaRue will remain a shadow, flitting in and out of people’s lives, of history, but never leave as much as a footprint behind. Until in 2014, she meets a young man called Henry in a bookstore, and he remembers her name ...


Playing out in parallel timelines exploring both Addie’s life in the past as well as the present, the book explores what it means to be human. There are so many themes in this story to be discussed and explored that this would make for the perfect group read. I was lucky to read it as part of a buddy read and we brought up some of life’s essential themes: what is more important, to live a good life or to leave a mark when you’re gone? How important are human relationships in our life, and can we live a life free of attachment and be happy and fulfilled? At what points in your life have you been so desperate that you would have happily made a deal with the devil to get you out of a situation? I could go on and on because there was just so much to talk about.


But let’s forget about meaning and just talk about the sheer entertainment value of the book. It had a bit of everything: some historical fiction, adventure, a strong female lead, a bit of romance, a villain you still can’t help but root for, and some truly painful moral dilemmas. I was utterly consumed by the story and couldn’t tear myself away. Let me also mention that the audio narration was fantastic and well worth the 15 hours of listening.


To  cut a long story short, THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE has earned itself a spot on my all-time favourites shelf. It had everything I look for in a book and totally swept me away in its fantasy world. My words will never do it justice, so go and see for yourself how brilliant this book really is!

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Book Review: ONE BY ONE by Ruth Ware



Author:  Ruth Ware

Read: May 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?

When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?

My musings:


Ruth Ware is one of my favourite writers and I would read anything and everything she writes, even if it’s the back of a cereal box. In ONE BY ONE she continues with her trademark of using a closed-door setting, this time taking us to the idyllic location of a luxury Swiss ski chalet. Ware’s love of the Alps and skiing becomes obvious through her vivid descriptions of the winter landscape, the joy of skiing and the isolation experienced when bad weather sets in. I skied a lot in my childhood and teenage years, and it brought back memories of picturesque white mountain tops, but also the terror of getting caught in a blizzard and cut off from the rest of your ski group, with the thunder of an avalanche roaring down a distant mountain range. Five stars for setting!


Do you work for a company who pays for a team building exercise in a luxury ski resort for its employees? Alas, neither do I. We are lucky to get some stale mince pies on Christmas day if someone remembers. However, after reading this book, my envy is somewhat tempered, because at least in our workplace there isn’t a serial killer maniac on the loose (though sometimes we probably come close). Five stakeholders and five employees are embarking on a week’s team building and brain storming in the luxury ski chalet, but it is soon obvious that this is not a happy group. Their new app “Snoop” may have taken off on the IT scene, but the team is divided as to a way forward: sell the company for a few million and cash in now, or take the risk of developing it further and getting even richer, or losing it all. There is a 50/50 division in opinion, and with five stakeholders, the fifth person now holds all the power. You can imagine this causing a bit of tension in the group! This is not helped by the weather, which closes in around the mountains and traps the group inside, cuts off power and mobile phone reception and makes tempers flare even further. And then people start dying one by one ...


ONE BY ONE is the type of slow-burning, character driven mystery Ware is famous for, and I loved the ever mounting sense of claustrophobia and tension created by the inclement weather and by strong personalities with differing opinions trapped in a small space together. Locked room mysteries typically lack in fast paced action but make up for it with simmering tension and an underlying sense of menace and danger, which takes skill to build. And whilst this was not my favourite Ware book, her skills as a writer were evident in the way the atmosphere escalated and the claustrophobia got an ever tighter grip.


I did, however, struggle initially with the large cast of characters, who were difficult to tell apart at times (until a few of them died off and reduced their number). I also knew very early on who the murderer was, which stole a bit of the excitement. That said, the atmospheric setting alone was entertaining enough to keep reading, and I found the background info on the fictional app Snoop quite fascinating, even if it’s not something I would subscribe to. By far my favourite characters were hosts Erin and Danny, who stood apart from secondary characters who were interchangeable, entitled and fairly unlikeable. ONE BY ONE will appeal to readers who like a slow burner with a magnificent armchair travel setting and aren’t too disappointed if their detective skills exceed that of the characters’.

Book Review: THE PARIS SECRET by Karen Swan



Author:  Karen Swan

Read: May 2021



Book Description:


Somewhere along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden away for decades.

High-flying fine art agent Flora from London, more comfortable with the tension of a million-pound auction than a cosy candlelit dinner for two, is called in to assess these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and discover who has concealed them for so long.

Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren't all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock. The terse and brooding Xavier Vermeil seems intent on forcing Flora out of his family's affairs - but just what is he hiding?


My musings:


Missing travel? Karen Swan has become my go-to author if I feel like a virtual saunter to gorgeous European locations. I love the way her stories are so much more than just romances – in THE PARIS SECRET she uncovers an old wartime mystery centred around a beautiful piece of art.


At times, reading THE PARIS SECRET I felt like an anthropologist studying a foreign culture, so out of depth did I feel in Flora’s world of the European art scene and the glittery, rich society of the Cote d’ Azur. But unlike other novels where the main character inhabits a totally different social scene and background to mine, I found Flora very relatable and down-to-earth. Swan’s descriptive writing instantly transported me to France as we walked the small alleys of Paris and sunbaked on the beaches of the French Riviera. I was fascinated by the author’s knowledge of the fine art scene and the information about urban explorers (being a country bumpkin I didn’t even know this was a thing!). The wartime mystery surrounding the locked Paris apartment and the mysterious painting was skilfully woven into the story and added depth and mystery to Flora’s quest.


History, art, mystery and travel all wrapped into a soft burrito of a sweet romance made THE PARIS SECRET a perfect feel-good holiday read that left a warm glow of happiness behind. The armchair travel component was exquisite and made me feel as if I was “on location”. I look forward to reading more of Swan’s books when I need reminding about the good things in life. Best enjoyed lying in a deckchair with a cold glass of French chardonnay by your side.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

Book Review: THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME by Laura Dave



Author:  Laura Dave

Publisher:  Serpent’s Tail

Read: May 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


We all have stories we never tell.
Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her.

Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.


My musings:


The theme "how well do you REALLY know your spouse" never gets old for me in a mystery. There are so many endless possibilities: your partner is a serial killer, a spy, an undercover agent, an alien life form from another planet, a person in witness protection, an undercover agent, a robot, a polygamist who has another three wives in different states. The skill lies a) in hooking the reader and getting them emotionally invested; and b) in the gradual unveiling of the mystery, like the unwrapping of a pass-the-parcel where the final product is something the reader has coveted all along. It's been done so many times before that it's not easy to come up with a premise a diehard thriller fan won't work out in the first few chapters. And whilst THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME didn’t reinvent the wheel, the gradual offering up of clues was intriguing and kept me eagerly reading on!

It's exactly in this very predicament Hannah finds herself in when her husband Owen fails to come home one night, leaving her only with a short cryptic note delivered to her door:  “Protect her.” “Her”  meaning his beloved teenage daughter Bailey. Hannah knows that he would never willingly leave Bailey unless something was terribly wrong. The more she looks into Owen's past in the hope of finding him, the more Hannah realises that she doesn't know her husband at all. Was everything he has told her about himself a lie?

Laura Dave knows all the tricks of hooking her readers and taking them along for the ride. I loved the sense of danger and suspense as Hannah's life unravelled and the gradual unveiling of clues that had me questioning everything. As Hannah's search for the truth put her own life in danger, the atmosphere became more claustrophobic and I constantly questioned what I would do if I was in her situation, even if I thought that Hannah remained surprisingly calm considering the circumstances. Which was probably my only little quibble with the story and the one thing that stood in my way of bonding emotionally with Hannah - maybe I'm just more emotionally unstable? I think I would have believed her predicament a bit better if she'd shown more vulnerability in an impossibly difficult situation. I also wasn’t totally convinced with Owen’s motives and thinking processes, but without his POV of the mess he got himself in it was tough to judge!

That said, THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME held plenty of surprises in store and entertained from beginning to end. It will appeal to readers who enjoy a slower, character driven mystery with a slow unravelling of clues rather than an action packed, suspenseful read. It relies on the unspoken secrets in a marriage that can turn our lives upside down in an instant, and the relationship dynamics in step families. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this author in future.

Thank you to Netgalley and Serpent's Tail for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Book Review: THE GOOD SISTER by Sally Hepworth



Author:  Sally Hepworth

Read: May 2021



Book Description:


From the outside, everyone might think Fern and Rose are as close as twin sisters can be: Rose is the responsible one and Fern is the quirky one. But the sisters are devoted to one another and Rose has always been Fern's protector from the time they were small.

Fern needed protecting because their mother was a true sociopath who hid her true nature from the world, and only Rose could see it. Fern always saw the good in everyone. Years ago, Fern did something very, very bad. And Rose has never told a soul. When Fern decides to help her sister achieve her heart's desire of having a baby, Rose realizes with growing horror that Fern might make choices that can only have a terrible outcome. What Rose doesn't realize is that Fern is growing more and more aware of the secrets Rose, herself, is keeping. And that their mother might have the last word after all.


My musings:


I'm not sure why I thought that this book would not be for me. Maybe it was the premise of a main character with a spectrum disorder, a theme that has been insanely popular since the rise to fame of ELEANOR OLIPHANT (but mostly doesn’t even come close to the original). Oh, I thought, and here is yet another domestic noir novel about good and bad sisters. Yawn! But I was wrong! And because my husband loves me to admit that, I will say it again: I was wrong. I was wrong. I was wrooooong. Happy now? As it happened, I nearly devoured the whole book all in one sitting during an interstate plane flight, hours of uninterrupted reading bliss. Once I started the story, I had to know how it would end!

Despite all my original doubts, twin 1, Fern, quickly endeared herself to me with her fresh, honest and guileless voice. Twin 2, Rose, makes her own POV known through journal entries, which are subtly different from those of her sister. Hinting at an unhappy, abusive childhood, the foundations of the sisters' relationship are being explored and I found their dynamics fascinating.

In hindsight, I feel that calling this book a domestic thriller or a mystery was a bit misleading as the mystery component formed merely a tiny portion of the story. Instead, we are privy to the fascinating dynamics of a twin relationship that has been twisted out of shape by an unhappy childhood. But was it? Rose’s memories of their upbringing are very different from Fern’s, so which sister is telling the truth? Whilst some of the story was fairly predictable (and I don’t mean that in a bad way), the slow unravelling of the sisters' bond was fascinating to watch and those twists that snuck their way into the story were worth waiting for.

THE GOOD SISTER was a fast and entertaining read I was loathe to put down. Hepworth infuses her story with the subtle  tongue in cheek humour I appreciate so much in Australian fiction and which added an extra enjoyable and unique element to this sister mystery for me. There was drama, a bit of suspense, tension, a touch of romance and a few twists along the way that added a surprise element to the story. I utterly fell in love with Fern and Wally and vacillated between anxiety and warm-and-fuzzy as the story progressed. All in all a very enjoyable read, and I am very grateful to my friend Sarah who insisted that I should give it a go!

Monday, 17 May 2021

Book Review: THE LOST VILLAGE by Camilla Sten



Author:  Camilla Sten

Read: May 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the vanishing residents of the old mining town, dubbed “The Lost Village,” since she was a little girl. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family disappeared in this mysterious tragedy, and ever since, the unanswered questions surrounding the only two people who were left—a woman stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn—have plagued her. She’s gathered a small crew of friends in the remote village to make a film about what really happened.

But there will be no turning back.

Not long after they’ve set up camp, mysterious things begin to happen. Equipment is destroyed. People go missing. As doubt breeds fear and their very minds begin to crack, one thing becomes startlingly clear to Alice:

They are not alone.

They’re looking for the truth…

But what if it finds them first?


My musings:


First of all, let me say that THE LOST VILLAGE has one of the best, most intriguing premises I have ever come across. An entire village of people has disappeared overnight, leaving behind a mutilated corpse and a newborn baby. Despite an extensive police investigation, no one has ever found out what happened to them. Now a film crew has set out to explore the isolated ghost town and make a documentary about it. This sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? What a brilliant story this could make, it has so much potential to be creepy, suspenseful and mysterious. Also, Scandinavian writers have a reputation for bringing out the dark side of humanity in a thriller, so I was ready to settle in for the night and be scared out of my wits.


Did the book deliver? I shall start by saying that the setting here was unique and atmospheric, and it immediately got my attention. SilvertjΓ€rn is a remote mining town nestled deeply into a Swedish forest, and since the disappearance of all its residents 60 years ago no one has set foot in the town. It can only be reached by a rugged, unsealed road, and its only entry and exit point lead over a dilapidated bridge. Also, due to being surrounded by iron ore deposits, there is no cell phone reception or internet for miles around. Ta da! Isn’t that just the best stage-set for a horror story?


Now enter our cast: Alice, who is the granddaughter of one of SilvertjΓ€rn’s only surviving residents (on account of her having moved to the city prior to the mysterious disappearance of the townfolk) has always been intrigued by the mystery surrounding the town. She decides to gather a small trope of friends and colleagues and travel to SilvertjΓ€rn to film a documentary about the town, secretly hoping to uncover some clues that might solve the mystery. So far so good. So the group sets off in three hired vans to complete their mission. It didn’t take long for me to discover that this was one of the most clueless group of people when it comes to survival skills, with Alice, their expedition leader, being the worst decision maker of them all. But hey, I learned a few things from her mistakes:


1)    When trying to climb a structurally unsafe staircase in an abandoned building, it is not a great idea to let 4 people get on it all at once.

2)    When venturing out into the wild, at least one of you should remember that your phones and electronic equipment need batteries to operate, so maybe take a battery pack.

3)    If you discover something that could endanger the whole group, it’s maybe not a great idea to keep it to yourself just because you think that your friends think you’re a scaredy-cat.

4)    If your friend gets badly injured whilst on location, just feeding her a couple of ibuprofen is probably not going to fix her broken ankle.


And whilst I am very grateful to Alice for giving me such important life lessons should I ever have to lead an expedition into the wilderness, this did not make up for the utter frustration I felt every time she made a stupid decision.


However, that said, the timeline that explored the events leading up to the villagers’ disappearance intrigued me enough to keep reading. Where Alice and her companions seem to have only escaped natural selection by the skin of their teeth, here we have a more developed character, strong and enigmatic Elsa, who is driving the 1950’s timeline. Elsa’s recounting of events soon drew me in and I eagerly devoured her narrative. It may not have been creepy in the traditional sense, but an aura of despair clearly shone through as the underlying atmosphere of danger and menace grew stronger.


And then, at last, came the final reveal. I am not good at suspending disbelief and therefore found it less than satisfying, but readers who are more forgiving of inconsistencies and plot holes (especially in regards to the restrictions imposed on us by our own human bodies) may find it quite original and chilling. Personally, I had hoped for a bit more.




All in all, whilst I absolutely loved the way the author set the stage and presented us with an intriguing premise and a claustrophobic backdrop, the story did not deliver the thrills and chills I had hoped for. I found this particularly frustrating as all the elements were there, but it just didn’t come together for me. Even though it kept me reading to find out the final reveal it left me wanting more in the end.

Sunday, 16 May 2021

Book Review: THE HEIGHTS by Louise Candlish



Author:  Louise Candlish

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster UK

Read: May 2021

Expected publication: 2 June 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


The Heights is a tall, slender apartment building among the warehouses of Shad Thames, its roof terrace so discreet you wouldn’t know it existed if you weren't standing at the window of the flat directly opposite. But you are. And that’s when you see a man up there – a man you’d recognize anywhere. He’s older now and his appearance has subtly changed, but it’s definitely him.

Which makes no sense at all since you know he has been dead for over two years.

(I’m leaving it here because it’s better to go into this blindly and the blurb gives too much away!)



My musings:


I love books that present me a real ethical dilemma and make me examine my own moral compass. Justice vs revenge. Justice vs obsession. It can be a fine line. If the justice system fails you, and the threat is still out there, is it ok to take matters into your own hand? These are just some of the themes Candlish explores in her latest novel THE HEIGHTS, and the dilemma kept me awake at night!


Candlish knows how to create a nightmare scenario. Whether it’s the loss of your home in OUR HOUSE, or nightmarish neighbours in THOSE PEOPLE, or a parent’s worst nightmare in her latest novel, these are scenarios we can relate to and dread. This could happen to you or me, out of the blue, shattering our world.


Ellen Saint has lived a parent’s worst nightmare and she is reflecting on it through an essay in a writers’ workshop after having come face to face with the person who destroyed her world. Her family life was happy until her teenage son Lucas fell under the spell of Kieran, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, a boy who dealt drugs, who led him astray and transformed her happy, bright Lucas into a sullen, rebellious young man she scarcely recognised. Afraid of Kieran herself, Ellen could only stand by helplessly and watch her child self-destruct. Until one night, her very worst fears were confirmed and her life was shattered.


It takes a while for the story to get there, and every step of the way was fraught with the kind of tension Candlish creates so effortlessly.  I knew that something terrible was about to happen, and yet had to stand by helplessly, like watching a train plunge off the bridge into the abyss. If I had a chance to derail the train before the disaster, would I do it, even if there was collateral damage? Ellen has failed in averting disaster, and now all she can do is seek justice ... or revenge.


As Ellen’s story is nearing its nail-biting conclusion, we start hearing another voice, that of her ex-partner Vic’s, Lucas’ father. But hang on, his story is different from Ellen’s! Who is lying and who is telling the truth? My heart had wept for Ellen and I had trusted her completely, but I was now questioning everything I had read. I love psychological thrillers that confuse and thrill me in equal measure, and Candlish is a master at doing just that. Taking the unreliable narrator theme just one step further than the rest, the final twist came out of nowhere and punched me in the gut so hard it knocked the wind right out of me. WHAAATTTTTT????? I spluttered, having to reread the final pages to see whether I just dreamed up that particular morsel of truth that threw everything else into total chaos.




Domestic thrillers are a dime a dozen these days, and it takes a lot to surprise and wow me, but Candlish has done it again. Readers who are looking for a thriller which a) tells its story in a clever, unique format; b) wrings you out emotionally; c) makes you question your own moral compass and capacity for murder; and d) offers a final reveal so unexpected and shocking that it will sucker-punch you, should definitely pick up THE HEIGHTS and settle in for a night of intense reading. Just make sure you allow plenty of time, because you will not be able to sleep until this mystery is solved. Now, after the final reveal, I am still not sure about some of the grey areas. Did he? Did she? Who was telling the truth?



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

Friday, 14 May 2021

Book Review: THE GUIDE by Peter Heller



Author:  Peter Heller

Publisher:  Knopf

Read: May 2021

Expected publication: 26 August 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Kingfisher Lodge, nestled in a canyon on a mile and a half of the most pristine river water on the planet, is known by locals as "Billionaire's Mile" and is locked behind a heavy gate. Sandwiched between barbed wire and a meadow with a sign that reads "Don't Get Shot!" the resort boasts boutique fishing at its finest. Safe from viruses that have plagued America for years, Kingfisher offers a respite for wealthy clients. Now it also promises a second chance for Jack, a return to normalcy after a young life filled with loss. When he is assigned to guide a well-known singer, his only job is to rig her line, carry her gear, and steer her to the best trout he can find.

But then a human scream pierces the night, and Jack soon realizes that this idyllic fishing lodge may be merely a cover for a far more sinister operation. A novel as gripping as it is lyrical, as frightening as it is moving, The Guide is another masterpiece from Peter Heller.

My musings:


Have you ever wondered how writers are going to tackle our current pandemic and the changes it has brought into our lives? Heller is the first author I have read who has tackled this obstacle and used it to the advantage of his plot, and I was impressed on how seamlessly he has woven it into the narrative of his latest book, THE GUIDE.


If you have read THE RIVER, then you will have been introduced to Jack, who again stars as the main character in this story. It is now several years after the start of the pandemic, and America is still plagued by new strains of the virus that first forced the world into lockdown. As is usually the case, money can buy you a way out of many discomforts, and in this vein, Kingfisher lodge, a secluded fishing lodge in the wilds of Colorado, offers its wealthy clients a getaway from the restrictions imposed by the virus. Here, its clients can escape into nature and pretend that the outside world doesn’t exist. Jack, who is still trying to come to terms with his best friend’s tragic death, is hired by the lodge as a private fishing guide for a famous singer, who is booked in for a fortnight of fly-fishing on the banks of the picturesque river. “It doesn’t get much better than this”, Jack constantly reminds himself as he contemplates his new idyllic surroundings. But soon he finds that the lodge may not be the haven he has thought it to be. A barbed wire fence and killer dogs along its boundaries give the first hints that something sinister may be at play here. Jack is curious: what is the fence hiding? As he digs deeper, he soon finds that some people will stop at nothing to keep their secret protected.


Heller is a master at creating an atmospheric setting and he did a fantastic job at bringing the river to life in front of my eyes. The descriptions of idyllic an pristine fishing spots made me yearn for the wilderness described here, but it wasn’t long until a sinister undertone crept into the story and created mounting tension. Just as Jack grows increasingly more suspicious of his surroundings, my hackles started rising at the mention of barbed wire fences, hidden cameras and fierce dogs that made this retreat more of a prison-camp than a holiday resort. As the evidence mounted that Jack’s curiosity would get him into danger, my heart rate also ramped up and kept me reading late into the night to find out the answers.


I particularly loved Heller’s description of the wilderness setting and the fly fishing scenes, which evoked the landscape vividly in my mind and made the whole book play out movie-like in my head. Readers who enjoy atmospheric wilderness settings will appreciate Heller’s almost lyrical descriptions of nature and the way he sets the stage for the events to follow, even if the later half of the book is nightmare rather than relaxing fishing trip. Even though Jack’s character is from Heller’s earlier book, THE RIVER, the story easily stands on its own and gives enough background information to enjoy it on its own.




All in all, THE GUIDE is a dark, sinister mystery relying strongly on an atmospheric wilderness setting that will stand out from the rest through Heller’s descriptive writing and trappings that will only become transparent as the story progresses. Set a few years into the future, Heller manages to incorporate the life changing effects of our current pandemic and use it to create a terrifying backdrop to his latest book. Lovers of isolated wilderness settings and a claustrophobic atmosphere should definitely pick this one up! Be prepared to be terrified.


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