Monday 26 July 2021

Book Review: THE HIDDEN by Melanie Golding



Author:  Melanie Golding

Publisher:  Crooked Lane Books

Read: July 2021

Expected publication: 9 November 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


One dark December night, in a small seaside town, a little girl is found abandoned. When her mother arrives twenty frantic minutes later, authorities release the pair, believing it to be an innocent accident of a toddler running off.

But when a man is found beaten and left for dead in his apartment and a bedroom is discovered to contain a padlock and--most worryingly of all--children's toys, DS Joanna Harper begins to suspect the little girl on the seafront was not who her mother claimed. Worse, when CCTV footage reveals an image of the pair, Harper realizes she knows the woman almost as well as she knows herself: it's her estranged daughter, Ruby.

Desperate to reach Ruby before the police find her, Harper knows her deception might just cost her everything. But if it means choosing between her daughter or her career, Harper knows there's no question. She'll protect her daughter no matter what. But what Harper doesn't know is that someone--or something--else is searching for Ruby and the little girl, too. Waiting to bring them home . . . once and for all.

Steeped in local legend and exploring the depths of what it means to be a mother, Melanie Golding's newest novel asks how far we'll go to save the ones we love.

What attracted me to this book:


I absolutely loved the mix of mystery, folklore and horror in Melanie Golding’s debut novel LITTLE DARLINGS, so I was extremely excited to see what she would come up with in her new novel THE HIDDEN.

My musings:


The book begins with a little toddler being found abandoned in a seaside town, only to be claimed a short while later by a flustered woman claiming to be her mother. In a parallel development, a man is found half dead in a bathtub in his apartment, drugged and with a serious head wound. How could these two events possibly be connected? This is a puzzle to solve for DS Joana Harper, the detective we first met in LITTLE DARLINGS, who will soon discover that she has a very personal connection to one of the people involved in her latest case.


I admit that the book was off to a bit of a slow start for me, and I was struggling to connect not only the different timelines and events, but also the cast of characters, who were all just a little bit odd. A man performing yoga in front of his window and the young depressed woman who watches him from a nearby apartment and falls in love with him. An old woman who claims that she heard a child playing in the flat upstairs, which belongs to a bachelor living with his elderly mother. Ever so slowly the threads  and multiple POVs were woven together to form a more cohesive picture, and I became more invested in the mystery as it progressed.


It wasn’t until about halfway into the book that I realised how cleverly the author had woven multiple elements into her dark tale: some folklore passed down through generation of island folk, some urban myths, a serial killer mystery, a police procedural and some family drama. What had started innocent enough – with characters who all seemed more odd than sinister – soon took a more menacing tone and created an undercurrent of danger and darkness that ultimately completely sucked me in.


I love the way Golding uses mythology as the basis for her stories, exploring the possibility that there is an element of truth in the old tales that we choose to ignore or simply deny. And yet a lot is left to the interpretation of the reader, which makes for an intriguing and mysterious read. Like Ruby herself, I felt constantly torn between my brain trying to find logical explanations, whilst the purer, more primitive side of me just wanted to go with the magical elements. Like a child, I felt myself drawn to the folk tales Golding includes in the opening to her chapters, and it awakened the inner child in me, listening in fascination to an old person sharing a whispered fairy tale.




In summary, if you enjoy old folk tales that blend into reality, creating a much deeper and darker mystery than your average police procedural, then you can’t go wrong picking up THE HIDDEN. Be assured that the book picks up pace after the first 1/3 or so, and all the seemingly disjointed threads will weave together to form an intriguing tale. I have been intrigued by stories of selkies and island folk since childhood and loved the way my rational brain fought my more primitive emotional side the whole way – and I am still thinking about some aspects of the book long after reading it. Intriguing, mysterious and dark.




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

Thursday 15 July 2021

Book Review: WHEN I WAS TEN by Fiona Cummins



Author:  Fiona Cummins

Read: July 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


Everyone remembered Sara and Shannon Carter, the little blonde haired sisters. Their Dad was the local GP and they lived in the beautiful house on the hill. Their best friend, Brinley Booth, lived next door. They would do anything for each other but everything shifted on that fateful day when Dr Richard Carter and his wife Pamela were stabbed fourteen times with a pair of scissors in what has become the most talked about double murder of the modern age.

The girls were aged ten and twelve at the time. One, nicknamed the Angel of Death, spent eight years in a children’s secure unit accused of the brutal killings. The other lived in foster care out of the limelight and prying questions. Now, on the anniversary of the trial, a documentary team has tracked down one of the sisters, persuading her to speak about the events of that night for the first time.

Her explosive interview sparks national headlines and Brinley Booth, now a journalist, is tasked with covering the news story which brings to light fresh evidence and triggers a chain of events which will have devastating consequences.

My musings:


Woah, that was intense! I can’t believe how underrated this dark and twisted thriller is. It was an excellent read, definitely one of the most disturbing and gripping I have read this year, and I couldn’t put it down before I had all the answers.


One of the secrets of a gripping thriller is to offer us characters who may be flawed, but who quickly worm their way into our psyche, if not our hearts. Cummins has a unique way of introducing her characters, through seemingly disjointed and yet utterly captivating and graphic images in the opening scenes that might not make much sense until much later, when we have met the full cast and had a chance to look into their past. Here is Brinley, a journalist struggling to get a big scoop to keep her career going. And Catherine, who is hiding a dark secret from her own family, one that is about to catch up with her. How are these women connected? We are about to get a look into both women’s pasts, and all the missing pieces are going slot into place, one by one, revealing a dark and disturbing picture.


What do we know from the beginning? We hear about the Hilltop Murders, the brutal stabbing of Dr and Mrs Carter by their own young daughter. What compels a child to kill? I feel that I should give you fair warning that parts of that story make for difficult reading. But I am trying not to give spoilers, so I will leave it at that. Let’s just say that the story rolls out in two separate timelines, one in the present and one in the time leading up to the infamous Hilltop Murders, until both intersect in a twist that made me gasp out loud.


Cummins is a master at building suspense, and at bringing her characters to life, whilst still maintaining an air of secrecy that built suspense to almost unbearable levels, to a point where I could not tear myself away. She has also mastered those most difficult aspects of a thriller that covers two timelines: to make each of them equally compelling, and to make her child characters seem genuine and age-appropriate. The clues are slowly revealed in the same way that leisurely peeling an onion sooner or later makes you cry (let me warn you that you may feel sadness and rage as this particular tale unfolds), with a few twists thrown in to prove that you’re not that clever a detective. Each character has something to hide, but doesn’t blatantly fool the reader to a point where you feel cheated. All this may not sound like much, but as a seasoned thriller reader I can tell you that it’s a balancing act as fine as crossing a great ravine on a tightrope – it doesn’t take much to knock you over the edge.


With writing that flowed seamlessly and a rich cast of characters so richly drawn that they took on a life all of their own, the story had me firmly in its grip from page 1. I loved the way Cummins managed to include some social commentary into her story by including a minister for justice into her tale, whose role highlighted the failings of the justice system for juvenile offenders. It was a clever element that prompted reflection without coming across as preaching or political. In fact, some elements of this dark tale strayed from the well trodden path of your average crime read, and made the story all the richer for it.





All in all, without giving anything away, WHEN I WAS TEN was the sort of book that keeps you up reading late into the night and then follows you into your nightmares. With a richly drawn cast of characters who all had dark secrets to hide, the slow peeling away of layers ultimately revealed a story so dark and heart wrenching that it will stay in my mind for a long time to come. WHEN I WAS TEN was one of the most compelling thrillers I have read all year, and whilst it didn’t make for easy reading due to some of the context matter, it had me utterly in its grip from beginning to end. I highly recommend it to lovers of dark, multi-layered and utterly compelling thrillers that still manage to surprise you in the end.

Tuesday 13 July 2021

Book Review: THE LAST GUESTS by J.P. Pomare



Author:  J.P. Pomare

Publisher:  Hachette Australia

Read: June 2021

Expected publication: 28 July 2021



Book Description:


Newlyweds Lina and Cain don't make it out to their vacation home on gorgeous Lake Tarawera as often as they'd like, so when Cain suggests they rent the property out on weekends, Lina reluctantly agrees. While the home has been special to her family for generations, their neighbors are all signing up to host renters, and frankly, she and Cain could use the extra money. What could go wrong? And at first, Lina is amazed at how quickly guests line up to spend a weekend--and at how much they're willing to pay. 

But both Lina and Cain have been keeping secrets, secrets that won't be kept out by a new alarm system or a locked cupboard. When strange things begin happening on their property, and a visit takes a deadly turn, Lina becomes convinced that someone out there knows something they shouldn't--and that when they come for her, there will be nowhere left to hide.

What attracted me to this book:


The concept of having hidden cameras watching your every move whilst you are having a great time in a hotel or Airbnb is not new, but it is no less terrifying, and I was excited to see what unique spin JP Pomare would put on the theme.

My musings:


Lina (a paramedic) and her husband Caine (an ex-soldier) have been struggling financially, so they are reluctantly considering converting the house Lina has inherited from her grandparents into an Airbnb, on the recommendation of close friends who are making a good income from theirs. Whilst Lina has her reservations about letting strangers into her childhood home, Caine is excited to collect some easy money. Things soon start going wrong when one of Lina's past secrets is catching up with her in her present life - and without giving too much away here, let's just say that it involves the couple's new venture, some hidden cameras and a sinister online community.


I really enjoyed the way Pomare slowly ratcheted up tension as Lina's secret is catching up with her and she is getting more and more entangled in her lies. It is painful to watch when characters get caught in their own webs, but it also makes for some great suspense if it is skilfully woven into the story, which was certainly the case here. And whilst I was ready to judge Lina on her actions, her motives became clearer later on and it was hard not to feel some empathy. The New Zealand setting also added something unique to the story, which I really enjoyed, especially the contrast between the idyllic lake landscape and the sinister goings on in the lake house.


Pomare's writing flows and I was soon caught up in the story, which held plenty of red herrings and a very clever twist at the end that came as a total curveball and knocked me over. I love it when a book surprises me!




All in all, THE LAST GUESTS was a fast-paced mystery which cleverly uses our fears of the dark side of technology and the web to terrify readers and ensures that I feel like unscrewing every light socket in every airbnb I will ever stay in to check for hidden cameras. Pomare's characters are all flawed and complex and yet also relatable, which made for a rich and enjoyable reading experience. The final twist added some spice and set the story apart from others in the genre. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this author in future.





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

Friday 9 July 2021

Book Review: IN ANOTHER LIGHT by AJ Banner



Author:  AJ Banner

Publisher:  Lake Union Publishing

Read: June 2021

Expected publication: 5 October 2021

My Rating: 


Book Description:


Three years ago mortuary cosmetologist Phoebe Glassman lost her husband in a tragic accident. No longer the hopeful wife and mother she once was, Phoebe is disappearing into her grief and into the quietude of her job—restoring to the dead the illusion of life. Then the body of a woman named Pauline Steele arrives in the mortuary, and for Phoebe, everything changes.

Pauline is unmistakably Phoebe’s mirror image and bears an alarmingly familiar tattoo. Even more startling is that among Pauline’s effects is a faded photograph of Phoebe. Aided by an eccentric colleague, her curiosity sparked, Phoebe investigates her doppelgΓ€nger’s life and death—and uncovers surprising clues to a shared past.

Phoebe’s emotional journey soon leads to shocking revelations about those closest to her…and even herself. When she’s driven to the brink, how much of what she discovers can she trust?

What attracted me to this book:


Books about doppelgangers have always intrigued me. Imagine that there is a mirror image of you out there and you’re both living your lives, unaware of one another ... it’s almost like a parallel universe in which anything is possible. And yet nothing good can ever come out of being confronted with a body that bears an uncanny resemblance to yourself, especially when there are so many questions that now cannot be answered.

My musings:


Artist and sculptor Phoebe Glassman works in a mortuary where she restores the faces of the dead to make them presentable for viewing by their loved ones (gruesome, yes, but someone’s got to do it, and Phoebe is excellent in her job). She is shocked when a young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Phoebe ends up on the mortuary table, especially once Phoebe realises that she recognises the woman’s tattoo from a photo she once saw on her husband’s phone. From here follows a quest that will not only reveal some of Phoebe’s tragic history, but will also send her on a quest that may very well be her undoing ...


IN ANOTHER LIGHT was a story very much driven by emotion, which added a depth often missing in other mysteries. In fact, the mystery element here was firmly rooted in Phoebe’s own past rather than the death of her doppelganger. There was something particularly heartbreaking about the image of a woman not only restoring the faces of the dead, but constructing a very unique piece of artwork every year on the anniversary of a loved one (I am treading very carefully here so I don’t give too much away, so don’t worry if it doesn’t make much sense – it will, once you read it).


In fact, “heartbreaking” was one of the main themes of this novel for me, besides the fact that I was almost as invested as Phoebe herself in solving the mystery of the young woman’s identity, especially when the stakes started to become very high indeed. Emotions drove me to read this book almost in a single sitting, and though the ending wasn’t what I had expected it was a satisfying tying up of threads with a couple of surprise elements.




IN ANOTHER LIGHT will appeal to readers who enjoy character and emotion driven mysteries unveiling family secrets and past trauma. Phoebe was a well-rounded, sympathetic character perfect for driving this type of story, and the events will tug on even the most hardened reader’s heartstrings. I loved it and can’t wait to read more from this author in future.



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

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Book Review: SURVIVE THE NIGHT by Riley Sager



Author:  Riley Sager

Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton

Read: June 2021

Expected publication: 23 Dec 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


It's November 1991. George H. W. Bush is in the White House, Nirvana's in the tape deck, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.

Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it's guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it's to help care for his sick father. Or so he says. Like the Hitchcock heroine she's named after, Charlie has her doubts. There's something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn't seem to want Charlie to see inside the car's trunk. As they travel an empty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly worried Charlie begins to think she's sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie's suspicion merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?

What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse played out on night-shrouded roads and in neon-lit parking lots, during an age when the only call for help can be made on a pay phone and in a place where there's nowhere to run. In order to win, Charlie must do one thing--survive the night.

What attracted me to this book:


Even though I think that Sager’s books are written for a different audience than me, I still find myself weirdly drawn to them. So if you, too, suffer from FOMO then you best give in to the hype and judge for yourself.

My musings:

Charlie is so traumatised and riddled with guilt over the death of her best friend Maddy at the hands of the “campus killer” that she decides to leave her college mid-term to return home to Ohio to see her grandmother. Seeing she doesn’t drive since the death of her parents in a car crash, she posts an ad on the campus noticeboard looking for a lift. Despite being suspicious of strangers since her friend’s murder, she accepts a ride from a young man who states he is also heading interstate. But it’s not long until Charlie starts having terrible doubts – is she alone in the car with the killer? Is her life also in danger? 


First of all, let me say that I really liked the setting in the 90’s. This type of thriller works better without cell phones and internet on tap, when making a phone call involves having to find a payphone and you need a map to find your way. The claustrophobic setting of being trapped in a car with a person who could be a killer also created the type of tension I am looking for to keep me engaged. 


I also enjoyed the format of the story, which rolled out like the scenes in a screenplay. It managed to set the scene well and made the book more of a visual experience, the way movie-buff Charlie would have seen it. In fact, this book definitely works better if you read it as if you were watching the movie. Charlie makes some questionable decisions, but hey – it’s just a movie! That way, some scenes in the book even benefited from the use of well-worn thriller and horror tropes, such as the diner in the middle of nowhere or the old motel, which gave the story a darker, more sinister feel (but would have been slightly corny and over the top if you don’t ride with the movie theme). 


Even though I enjoyed the overall experience, I did have a few problems with the story: 

*) Charlie’s “movies” in her head – what exactly was this? Hallucinations? Psychosis? PTSD? It made her an unreliable narrator, but in a slightly cheap way that made me feel tricked. I prefer the more subtle doubts whether a character is telling the truth than the “but the previous chapter was just one of her hallucinations” kind.

*) Most of the book is written from Charlie’s POV, but for a few pages here and there we get someone else’s perspective, which was strange. It also didn’t end up fitting in well with the roles those characters played in the end. 

*) I would have liked to feel more of a sense of danger from Josh/Jake and the scenes in the car than mild curiosity about his character. I couldn’t stop comparing this book to Paullina Simons’ novel 11 Hours, where the sense of danger and claustrophobia increased dramatically as the journey went on and I feared for the life of the main character at the hands of her abductor.

*) My main gripe with Sager’s portrayal of young women characters is that they all fit into the stereotype of being “not like other girls” and yet somehow lack personality. I didn’t find Charlie all that well developed as a character, i.e. I never really understood her motivations or decision making processes, or her over-the-top guilt for leaving a party early she didn’t want to go to in the first place. But maybe I am a couple of generations too old for this type of story (even though I was in my wee youth in the 90’s and related to other aspects of the era just fine). 


The ending was fairly predictable for me, but luckily there was a clever little twist at the end that created a more unique and unusual spin to an otherwise run-of-the-mill type of story. 



All in all, SURVIVE THE NIGHT is the kind of easy popcorn read you can devour in a single sitting on a plane or on the beach. It is definitely more rewarding if you go with the movie theme and see it roll out in your head like the screenplay it is formatted as – that way Charlie’s “movies in her head” may also make more sense.



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

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