Monday, 28 March 2022

Book Review: OUTSIDE by Ragnar Jonasson



Author:  Ragnar Jonasson

Publisher:  Penguin Michael Joseph UK

Read: December 2021

Expected publication: 28 April 2022

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ



Book Description:



In the swirling snow of a deadly Icelandic storm, four friends seek shelter in a small abandoned hunting lodge. Miles from help, and knowing they will die outside in the cold, they break open the lock and make their way inside, hoping to wait out the storm until morning.

But nothing can prepare them for what they find behind the door . . .

Inside the cabin lurks a dangerous presence that chills them to their core.
Outside, certain death from exposure awaits.
So with no other option, they find themselves forced to spend a long, terrifying night in the cabin, watching as intently and silently as they are being watched themselves.

But as the evening darkens, old secrets are beginning to find their way to the light.
And as the tension escalates between the four friends, it soon becomes clear that the danger they discovered lurking in the cabin is far from the only mystery that will be uncovered tonight.

Nor the only thing to be afraid of . . .

My musings:


Ragnar Jonasson is the master of chilly, atmospheric settings, which is why I will always rush out to get my hands on every one of his books! In OUTSIDE, he has turned this skill to good use again as he describes the stark, lonely cabin in the Highlands of Iceland, where four friends find themselves stranded in a blizzard. Having been to Iceland in winter, I could well imagine the cold, the howling winds, the long dark night and the isolation, and I loved the chills this sent down my spine!


However, I am wondering if something got lost in translation for me, because even though the setting was wonderfully atmospheric, the human part of the story didn’t work so well. As we get the POV of each of the friends, I was hoping for some connection and an insight into their motivations, but this never came. It was difficult to distinguish between the characters’ voices, as they all appeared rather flat and unemotional, making me feel firmly on the outside and puzzled at their intentions. In fact, some parts of the story were just plain strange and made little sense, in particular the involvement of the fifth character, which was too far of a stretch to be credible. I would have loved more dialogue and emotional interaction between the friends to build tension and introduce some rationale for their motivations instead of just having this spelled out in the final chapters without the emotional background to make it more understandable.


Having read many previous novels by the author I have always enjoyed his sparse, to-the-point prose that usually manages to set the scene well and moves the story along at a good pace. Here, however, I needed a bit more background and emotion to bond with the characters. It may have worked better to just give us one or two POVs to be able to bond with those characters, than four perspectives that just skimmed the surface.





Even though I remain a firm fan of Jonasson’s books, I feel that this one fell a bit short for me, which is probably related to my specific reading preferences. I am a reader who very much needs the emotional ties to at least one character to make me feel invested in the story, and I did not get that here. Which is a shame, because the setting delivered exactly the right stage on which these characters could have starred and carried me off into their world.



Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Michael Joseph UK for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Book Review: THE OVERNIGHT GUEST by Heather Gudenkauf



Author:  Heather Gudenkauf

Read: March 2022

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


True crime writer Wylie Lark doesn’t mind being snowed in at the isolated farmhouse where she’s retreated to write her new book. A cozy fire, complete silence. It would be perfect, if not for the fact that decades earlier, at this very house, two people were murdered in cold blood and a girl disappeared without a trace.

As the storm worsens, Wylie finds herself trapped inside the house, haunted by the secrets contained within its walls—haunted by secrets of her own. Then she discovers a small child in the snow just outside. After bringing the child inside for warmth and safety, she begins to search for answers. But soon it becomes clear that the farmhouse isn’t as isolated as she thought, and someone is willing to do anything to find them.

My musings:


Claustrophobic, “snowed-in” mysteries make for the best escapes, especially when it’s a heatwave outside! I usually enjoy Gudenkauf’s books, so I was very excited to read THE OVERNIGHT GUEST with our reading group – and we had a lot of fun sharing our wild and wonderful theories along the way.


THE OVERNIGHT GUEST plays out in three separate timelines. In the present, true crime writer Wylie Lark has ensconced herself in a remote farmhouse in the snow to finish off her latest book when a blizzard cuts off all electricity, phone reception and roads into town. In the second timeline, a young girl witnesses the abuse of her mother at the hands of her father. And in the third timeline, twenty or so years in the past, teenager Josie Doyle lives through the most horrific night of her life, when her parents are shot and her brother and best friend disappear. Gudenkauf cleverly weaves all these stories together into a tense, suspenseful mystery that only gradually gives up all its secrets. If you love the kind of story in which you can play armchair detective, then this one should definitely appeal – I guessed some elements but was totally in the dark with some of the others.


For lovers of atmospheric settings, THE OVERNIGHT GUEST is the type of mystery where the snowy landscape features almost like another character and adds to the suspense. If the thought of being trapped in a blizzard with an unexpected visitor wasn’t terrifying enough, the house itself holds a dark secret that was not for the faint of heart.


I’m normally not a huge fan of too many POVs and usually find myself drawn more to one than the others, and one of the threads contained a theme I would not usually choose to read. However, despite initial misgivings I was soon intrigued by the story, and even though Josie’s POV was by far the most compelling for me, the different threads soon came together to make for a compelling mystery. There were a few plotholes and unanswered questions at the end, which bugged me, but overall I enjoyed the story and thought it made for a good buddy read.


All in all, THE OVERNIGHT GUEST was a suspenseful, claustrophobic mystery with an atmospheric setting that quickly captured my attention and kept me interested until the end.

Book Review: THE POSSIBLE WORLD by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz



Author:  Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

Read: March 2022

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


It seems like just another night shift for Lucy, an overworked ER physician in Providence, Rhode Island, until six-year-old Ben is brought in as the sole survivor from a horrifying crime scene. He’s traumatized and wordless; everything he knows has been taken from him in an afternoon. It’s not clear what he saw, or what he remembers.

Lucy, who’s grappling with a personal upheaval of her own, feels a profound, unexpected connection to the little boy. She wants to help him…but will recovering his memory heal him, or damage him further?

Across town, Clare will soon be turning one hundred years old. She has long believed that the lifetime of secrets she’s been keeping don’t matter to anyone anymore, but a surprising encounter makes her realize that the time has come to tell her story.

As Ben, Lucy, and Clare struggle to confront the events that shattered their lives, something stronger than fate is working to bring them together.


My musings:


At what point do you know that you have found an all-time favourite read? The moment the characters come alive in front of your eyes, vivid images like people you have known all your life? The moment you lie awake at night pondering the dilemma the characters find themselves in and worrying for them? The moment you close the book and feel grief stricken because these characters won’t be a part of your life any more? It was all of those and more with Liese O’Halloran Schwarz’s wonderful book THE POSSIBLE WORLD. I knew very early on that this book spoke directly to my heart and soul, and I was torn between savouring it and to read greedily to find out all the answers.


Schwarz is a gifted story teller, who weaves together three separate stories with three unconnected characters until their lives will converge in a heart breaking moment that will stay with me for ages yet to come. With her background as an emergency physician, she is also one of the few authors who can recreate the fictional hospital environment in a realistic and yet touching way that has none of those eye rolling moments I have found in other books (shocking asystole, propping up a spinal patient on a few pillows for comfort, leaving your ICU patient on a ventilator unattended with visitors walking in and out willy nilly etc). 


Where do I even start to tell you how deeply this book affected me. I adored all characters equally. Little Ben / Leo, who has survived a horrible trauma. Lucy, the young ED doctor whose career may have cost her her marriage. Clare, an old lady in a nursing home who decides to tell her life story, because she owes it to someone from her past. How do these characters all connect? You will have to read it to find out. At times, I thought that my heart would surely break! Schwarz points her arrows right at the heart where our deepest feelings live, and lays them bare.


 There really isn’t much more to say, except that if I could only read one book this year I would choose this one. It will easily make my list of all-time-favourites and I can’t wait to read more from this author in future. Now let me deal with my intense book hangover …

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

Book Review: THE NIGHT SHIFT by Alex Finlay



Author:  Alex Finlay

Publisher:  Head of Zeus

Read: February 2022

Expected publication: out today!

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:



It’s New Year’s Eve 1999. Y2K is expected to end in chaos: planes falling from the sky, elevators plunging to earth, world markets collapsing. A digital apocalypse. None of that happens. But at a Blockbuster Video in Linden, New Jersey, four teenage girls working the night shift are attacked. Only one survives. Police quickly identify a suspect who flees and is never seen again.

Fifteen years later, in the same town, four teenage employees working late at an ice cream store are attacked, and again only one makes it out alive.

Both surviving victims recall the killer speaking only a few final words... “Goodnight, pretty girl.”

In the aftermath, three lives intersect: the survivor of the Blockbuster massacre who’s forced to relive her tragedy; the brother of the original suspect, who’s convinced the police have it wrong; and the FBI agent, who’s determined to solve both cases. On a collision course toward the truth, all three lives will forever be changed, and not everyone will make it out alive.

What attracted me to this book:


I’ve always found it difficult to find pulse-pounding, adrenaline filled, fast paced thrillers that also touch your heart with empathetic characters and emotional depth, but this is exactly what I got with Alex Finlay’s last book EVERY LAST FEAR. I was therefore thrilled to get the opportunity to read his latest book, THE NIGHT SHIFT, especially since it sees the return of FBI agent Sarah Keller to solve another case.

My musings:


If you were around in 1999, you may remember the panic as the media storm erupted forecasting the end of the world as all our computer systems would surely crash, launching missiles, making the stock market collapse and generally causing death and destruction.  I was working in a video store in real life in 1999, so Finlay’s Blockbuster store setting brought back some memories! Luckily not as traumatic as for Ella, who is the only survivor of the four teenage girls who were attacked by an unknown assailant in the video store in 1999. Fifteen years later, the scenario repeats itself when three teenage girls are killed in an icecream parlour, again with one girl surviving the attack but unable to remember the event. Ella, whose earlier trauma has motivated her to become a therapist specialising in counselling victims of similar tragedies, is the only person the girl will talk to. It’s not long until Ella finds some similarities between her and the new victim’s account. Could the same killer be back?


Enter FBI agent Sarah Keller, who is now heavily pregnant with twins but still as determined as ever to fight crime and solve this new case. Told through several POVs and featuring a large cast of interesting characters, THE NIGHT SHIFT plays out in Finlay’s action-packed style as the hunt for the killer begins. And it’s not just the law enforcement agents who have the motive and the means to chase leads. I did guess the culprit very early on, but this didn’t mar my reading pleasure as this fast-paced tale rolled out.


I admit that I enjoyed the later part of the book more than its beginning, which seemed to introduce a lot of characters and took some time to get going. I also found the title and the synopsis a bit misleading, as the events set in 1999 feature only very briefly, as does any mention of the “night shift” – if you are looking for a nostalgic read set in the 90’s you may get disappointed. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the more action packed later part of the book, especially Chris’ POV, with some surprises and heartbreak along the way. Keller was almost a peripheral character in this one, as we have some much more interesting cast members with various agendas also giving chase, whose stories I found more compelling and intriguing than Keller’s.




THE NIGHT SHIFT was the type of action packed book that makes for a great escape and some entertaining weekend or holiday reading. Finlay writes in a way that made the scenes roll out vividly and almost movie-like in my mind (I wouldn’t be surprised if someone snaps this one up for film). Fast paced and entertaining!




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.

Friday, 4 March 2022

Coming soon

 Check in on 16 March to read my review of this exciting, fast-paced new thriller by Alex Finlay, or visit any of the stops in the blog tour

Thursday, 3 March 2022




Author:  Eve Chase

Read: February 2022

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2



Book Description:



Four sisters. One summer. A lifetime of secrets.

When fifteen-year-old Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote Manor in June 1959, they expect a quiet English country summer. Instead, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. As the sisters become divided by new tensions when two handsome neighbors drop by, Margot finds herself drawn into the life Audrey left behind. When the summer takes a deadly turn, the girls must unite behind an unthinkable choice or find themselves torn apart forever.

Fifty years later, Jesse is desperate to move her family out of their London home, where signs of her widower husband’s previous wife are around every corner. Gorgeous Applecote Manor, nestled in the English countryside, seems the perfect solution. But Jesse finds herself increasingly isolated in their new sprawling home, at odds with her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and haunted by the strange rumors that surround the manor.

My musings:


Oh how I loved these characters! The Wilde sisters (or “Wildlings”) make for a very colourful and compelling bunch to lead you into their world, and paired with the atmospheric setting of Applecote Manor, it contained everything I love in a book.


Rolling out in two timelines, one in 1959 and one in the present, Applecote Manor is the one constant that bridges the separate tales. In 1959, the four Wilde sisters are sent to the English countryside to live with their aunt and uncle for the summer whilst their bohemian mother runs off to Cairo to take on a bookkeeping position. How I would love to meet every single one of these characters in real life! The sisters are a delightful bunch, close-knit and full of life and the product of a rather unconventional upbringing. Soon they restore some joy into the old household, which has been in mourning ever since their cousin Audrey vanished without a trace five years previously.


The second timeline features Jesse, a young mother and stepmother, who has fallen in love with Applecote Manor and is trying to make it into a home for her family. Though I was afraid that I would not love the present timeline as much as the sisters’, I was soon won over by this young family, who were (almost) as compelling and interesting as the Wilde sisters. Of course the house is a bit reluctant to give up its secrets, revealing them slowly and gradually, until we finally find out what happened to Audrey all those years ago.


THE VANISHING OF AUDREY WILDE is one of those delicious treats that you want to savour as long as possible and miss when the last page has been turned. Beautifully written, astutely observed and with told with insight and compassion, it gave me joy every time I was able to steal a moment and get lost in its pages. I also loved the Gothic undertones of the old manor house, which was the type of atmospheric setting that almost features as a character itself. The mystery itself was secondary to the story and yet very compelling, just as the story told of innocence lost and the coming of age of the sisters. A truly wonderful book! I look forward to reading more from this author in future.

Book Review: BENEATH THE STAIRS by Jennifer Fawcett



Author:  Jennifer Fawcett

Publisher:  Atria Books

Read: February 2022

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


A woman returns to her hometown after her childhood friend attempts suicide at a local haunted house—the same place where a traumatic incident shattered their lives twenty years ago.

What attracted me to this book:


Count me in for all the haunted house books!

My musings:


As soon as I heard the premise of Jennifer Fawcett’s book BENEATH THE STAIRS, I knew I had to read it. And Fawcett’s Octagon House is as creepy as it gets. Just from the author’s descriptions of the house you would not get me anywhere near there, especially at night, but of course true to any character in a horror film or a creepy story, the people in this book are inexplicably drawn to the place. You may reason that if a door that opens and closes at will and an unlit, dank basement doesn’t scream “run for your life!” at you, then you may not be cut out for the natural selection process – but then we wouldn’t have the opportunity to watch these characters stumble headlong into disaster.


Whilst the story presents itself in four separate timelines and various POVs, our main character is Clare, who reluctantly returns to her childhood home of Sumner’s Mills to offer support to her childhood friend Abby who is in hospital after a suicide attempt. Clare knows some of the demons that have haunted Abby for most of her adult life, because she was part of the events that started Abby on this slippery path of trauma and obsession. Whilst Clare has been able to block out the events from twenty years ago, she knows that it is all connected to the creepy house in the woods, Octagon House – the site of a child’s disappearance and a family’s murder long before Clare and Abby were born. To help her friend, Clare knows she must finally confront the demons from their childhood ...


BENEATH THE STAIRS was a creepy story that gripped me very quickly and kept me up at night. However, I felt that it got a bit bogged down in the middle with detail that added little to the mystery (all those teenage friendship dynamics could have been cut short), and then wrapped up the ending so quickly that many of my questions remained unanswered. I’m still not sure if I missed something crucial or if the story had skipped over some of the detail that would have linked all the threads together in a satisfying whole. Apart from the characters making questionable decisions – after all, that is the essence of any horror story – I felt that someone along the way would have called the police and saved themselves a whole lot of trauma.





All in all, I felt very divided about this book. On one hand I loved the creepy, Gothic atmosphere and the haunted house setting, which I could visualise vividly. On the other hand, I felt that the story lost its way a bit with too many timelines and POVs and backstory, which never quite came together in the end. I feel that the author wanted to pack too many element into this book, which sadly only worked to dilute its creep factor. However, as far as creepy house settings go, this one was atmospheric and nightmare inducing and made for a fantastic backdrop to a ghost story.



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