Thursday, 5 May 2022

Book Review: FIRST BORN by Will Dean



Author:  Will Dean

Publisher:  Atria / Emily Bestler Books

Read: February 2022

Expected publication: 5 July 2022

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


Sisters. Soulmates. Strangers.

Molly Raven lives a quiet, structured life in London, finding comfort in security and routine. Her identical twin Katie, living in New York, is the exact opposite: outgoing, spontaneous, and adventurous.

But when Molly hears that Katie has died, possibly murdered, she is thrown into unfamiliar territory. As terrifying as it is, she knows she must travel across the ocean and find out what happened. But as she tracks her twin’s final movements, cracks begin to emerge, and she slowly realizes her sister was not who she thought she was and there’s a dangerous web of deceit surrounding the two of them.

My musings:


Have you become jaded with predictable thrillers? Do you feel like you can spot a plot twist almost from page one? Does it seem ages since a thriller managed to blindside you?


If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I have good news for you. Put your hands together for *drumroll* - Will Dean! *raucous applause and foot stomping from the audience*


I admit that I have been in a bit of a thriller reading slump lately and even though Will Dean has become one of my favourite authors, I initially had my doubts as to whether this book could rekindle my passion for the genre. I even thought at one point - (you are allowed to throw rotten tomatoes at me at this point) – that Dean had succumbed to the recent (tiresome) trend of starring a quirky, neurodiverse character in his latest book. *Booooo! From the sidelines* To be fair, once you start reading FIRSTBORN, you will agree that Molly Raven has a few serious neuroses and weird quirks. However, yes, I agree that I should have had more faith in Dean to pull this one off.


I’m not sure at which point in the book I realised that I had been completely blindsided, but it gets even better than this, because this wasn’t the only time the story gobsmacked me. If I had been reading outside, I would surely have swallowed a few flies as I was standing in open-mouthed surprise at the turn this story had taken. And you know that giving any spoilers for a book like this is an almost punishable-by-death offence, so I am not going to say any more. Read the synopsis if you must, but otherwise just go in blindly and trust this talented author to show you the way into crazyland. 




To cut a long review short, I think FIRSTBORN is the cleverest, craziest, twistiest and most twisted identical twin mystery I have ever read. If you find the beginning a bit slow and almost humdrum, please do NOT be fooled! Just settle into the wonderfully atmospheric New York setting and let Molly take you on a journey. Extra points for Molly’s weird and wonderful facts about NYC, like the water tanks on the city’s rooftops – I had no idea, but feel like I’ve learned a few things. And like Molly burning the midnight oil with her research into her twin’s death, I spent a sleepless night reading to find out all the answers. Was it worth it? It definitely was. So if you are looking for a thriller that actually thrills and leaves you scrambling to collect all your brain cells off the floor as the final reveal smacks you in the face, then look no further. It doesn’t get much better than this.



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

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Book Review: NINE LIVES by Peter Swanson


Author:  Peter Swanson

Publisher:  Faber and Faber Ltd

Read: April 2022

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ



Book Description:


Nine strangers receive a list with their names on it in the mail. Nothing else, just a list of names on a single sheet of paper. None of the nine people know or have ever met the others on the list. They dismiss it as junk mail, a fluke - until very, very bad things begin happening to people on the list. First, a well-liked old man is drowned on a beach in the small town of Kennewick, Maine. Then, a father is shot in the back while running through his quiet neighborhood in suburban Massachusetts. A frightening pattern is emerging, but what do these nine people have in common? Their professions range from oncology nurse to aspiring actor.

FBI agent Jessica Winslow, who is on the list herself, is determined to find out. Could there be some dark secret that binds them all together? Or is this the work of a murderous madman? As the mysterious sender stalks these nine strangers, they find themselves constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering who will be crossed off next....


My musings:


I’m not usually a fan of too many characters because it often prevents me from bonding with any of them and it takes a lot of energy to keep them all straight in my mind. However, after a few doubts in the beginning of NINE LIVES, I found that this wasn’t a problem here, as Swanson managed to highlight those particular character traits in each person that made them stand out from the rest. They all piqued my interest, even though a few of them barely made it through one chapter before the grim reaper got to them. I soon regretted any bond I had with a few of the more intriguing characters, as they gradually fell victim to the murderer. If you have read Agatha Christie’s book AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (which is referred to often as the nine ill fated members of the murder list contemplate their lot), then you will know that no one gets spared.

NINE LIVES was a quick read from beginning to end as the list of survivors got ever smaller, and the body count mounted quickly. Swanson’s prose is sparse and he kept his multi-perspective chapters short and on track, which moved the story along at a good pace. Blink, and there’s been another death. Keeping with Christie’s style, the murders are not exactly cosy, but not too gruesome or distressing either, and I was more intrigued than distressed as even my favourite characters fell off the perch.

Did I guess the culprit? No. Then again, I was not particularly impressed with the final denouement or the killer’s motivation for the murder spree, which ultimately let the story down for me. However, I did like the matter of fact way Swanson presented his nine victims, which made me feel invested and kept me reading and guessing until the end. Whilst this didn’t come anywhere close to the magic of THE KIND WORTH KILLING, it was entertaining enough and would make for a quick holiday or weekend read.



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


Monday, 2 May 2022

Book Review: THE TRICKY ART OF FORGIVENESS by Meredith Jaffe



Author:  Meredith Jaffe

Publisher:  Harper Collins Australia

Read: April 2022

Expected publication:  out now



Book Description:


Diana Forsyth is in the midst of planning the Big Party, a combined celebration of her husband Will's 60th and their 30th wedding anniversary. The whole family is flying in and unbeknownst to Will, Diana is planning a Big Surprise.

But then she finds a torn scrap of paper hidden inside the folds of one of his cashmere sweaters, with the words, I forgive you. And all of a sudden, Diana realises she's not the only one keeping Big Secrets.

As empty nesters who have just downsized from the family home, she and Will are supposed to be embracing a new promise of glorious freedom - not revisiting a past that Diana has worked very hard to leave behind.

A witty, poignant and insightful exploration of marriage: the choices we make - or don't make, the resentments we hold, the lies we tell and what forgiveness really means.

My musings:


I've always enjoyed how Jaffe explores the depths of relationships, so was immediately intrigued by the premise of a woman who discovers a mysterious note among her husband's things. The best thing about novels centring on everyday life is that you can put yourself in your characters' shoes and ask: "What would I do in that same situation?" It's perhaps a sign that the relationship is not going so well that Diane feels she can't discuss the note with her husband of thirty years, but instead lets doubts and suspicions overwhelm her. It probably also doesn't help that her husband Will is absent for most of the book, so we only get to hear from Diana’s' perspective, as she relives the highs and lows of their marriage. I usually enjoy a slow-burning, character driven story, so savoured the slow unveiling of secrets, which lay at the heart of the marriage crisis. Being set in Australia, the book was relatable to our time, even though perhaps more to the middle aged rather than the younger reader.


As usual, Jaffe writes with insight and heart as she compares a marriage to a landscape, with all its highs and lows, valleys and peaks. I found Diana relatable and easy to warm to, and her dilemma seemed believable. THE TRICKY ART OF FORGIVENESS contains many themes which will resonate with a variety of readers, such as grief, guilt, forgiveness, regrets, the empty nest syndrome and how the choices we make will steer our lives along one particular path. A book full of heart that prompted reflection.




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

Book Review: THIS PLACE OF WONDER by Barbara O'Neal



Author:  Barbara O’Neal

Publisher:  Lake Union Publishing

Read: April 2022

Expected publication: 19 July 2022

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


In the wake of a personal tragedy, four women face the past, their futures, and each other in a novel of broken ties and healing by the Amazon Charts bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids.

When famed chef Augustus Beauvais dies, he leaves behind a celebrated reputation―and four women grappling with loss, anger, pain, and the question of how the world will turn without him…

Meadow, the ex-wife with whom Augustus built an empire―and a family―still holds a place for him in her heart, even as she continues to struggle with his infidelities, which ended their twenty-year marriage. More unforgiving is Maya, his estranged daughter, who’s recently out of rehab but finally ready to reclaim her life. Norah, his latest girlfriend, sidelined her own career for unexpected love and a life of luxury, both of which are now gone with Augustus. And then there’s Rory, Meadow’s daughter, the voice of calm and reason in a chorus of discontent.

As Meadow, Maya, Norah, and Rory are flung together by tragedy, grief, and secrets yet to be revealed, they must accept―or turn away from―the legacy of great intentions and bad decisions Augustus left them. And when the circumstances around his death are called into question, their conflicted feelings become even more complicated. But moving forward is the only choice they have, and to do so, they’ll need to rely on family, friendship, and inner strength.

Set on the stunning, rugged California coastline, This Place of Wonder is an emotional, lush, and empowering story of four women finding their way in a changed world―and what a wondrous journey it will be.

My musings:


I really enjoyed Barbara O'Neal's previous book, WHEN WE BELIEVED IN MERMAIDS, and was very excited to have the opportunity to read her new novel. O'Neal is a master of atmospheric settings - once again we are taken to a house on the rugged Californian coast that makes for a fantastic backdrop. Famous chef Augustus Beauvais has died suddenly, leaving behind Meadow, his ex-wife, his daughter Maya, stepdaughter Rory and mistress Norah. As each of these women have to come to terms with their grief, their relationships are slowly being unveiled, revealing complex histories rooted in tragedy and pain.


Told through the POVs of three of the women, we slowly get to explore how each of them related to Augustus, as well as the man himself, seen from many different angles. O'Neal does a great job in exploring how one and the same person can be perceived so differently, depending on the viewer. Whilst Meadow, who has known Augustus the longest, still considers him her soul mate, despite his infidelities and their messy split, his daughter Maya has never forgiven him. For Norah, Augustus is a generous saviour from a lonely and sad childhood in multiple foster homes, and Rory adores him as a lovable and generous grandfather to her children. O'Neal tries to introduce an element of mystery into the story when Augustus' death is being questioned by police, though I never really felt this aspect convincing enough to keep me yearning for answers.


Whilst I particularly enjoyed exploring the sister relationship between Rory and Maya, I admit that the story ended up dragging a little bit for me. Even though Maya's struggle with addiction was portrayed in an insightful manner, the constant references to AA and her relationship with alcohol bogged the story down for me. I didn't warm to any of the characters, especially Augustus, who came across as selfish and ruthless rather than the enigmatic character he was portrayed to be. Also, I would have loved to hear from the POV of Rory, the only character who doesn't get a voice. 




THIS PLACE OF WONDER will appeal to readers who like a slow burning, character driven story exploring topics such as relationships, addiction, infidelity and grief. Personally, I found it a little slow and thought that in this case the multiple POVs were a bit repetitive, though it certainly prompted reflection and kept me interested until the end.





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.