Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Reading from my TBR pile: the good, the bad and the average


LAST SEEN ALIVE by Claire Douglas


The surprises just kept coming in Claire Douglas’ mystery LAST SEEN ALIVE, a story that starts out just like a house swap gone wrong but ends up being so much more than that. It will appeal to readers who enjoy the unreliable narrator theme and a few unexpected twists along the way. I’m glad that I wasn’t put off by the slow burning start, because it wasn’t long until I realised that I had been blindsided. And even though some suspension of disbelief was necessary in the second half, I immensely enjoyed the way each character managed to surprise me – and one in particular really messed with my head until the very end. Isn’t that the best kind of thriller? 



MY DARLING HUSBAND by Kimberly Belle


I really enjoyed Belle’s previous novel MY DEAR WIFE, so I was very excited to get my hands on her latest novel. How well do you know your spouse? It’s a theme that never gets old. When a masked intruder breaks into the Lasky family home and holds Jade Lasky and her two young children hostage, her husband Cam is desperately trying to raise the ransom money. Or is he? Even Jade soon has her suspicions about Cam’s role in her situation and begins to ask herself: how well do I know my husband?

I admit that I liked the premise of the story better than the actual experience, perhaps because I never found any of the characters very convincing. The super smart nine-year old probably got most of the eye-rolls, but even Jade and Cam’s relationship remained an enigma. I struggled to suspend disbelief as the story went on and found I just wasn’t that interested to find out the answers. Perhaps I have just got a bit tired of domestic thrillers.

In short, readable but definitely not a favourite.




INSOMNIA by Sarah Pinborough


As a shift worker, I was instantly drawn to the title and premise of Pinborough’s latest thriller. If you work night shift and suffer the crippling insomnia often associated with this, as well as the delirium from lack of sleep, then you will be able to relate to Emma Averell. Emma is a lawyer, an assertive career woman who is on the brink of being made partner in the law firm she works for. There is only one obstacle standing in her way: as her 40th birthday looms, she is terrified of suffering the same mental breakdown her mother experienced at the same age, especially since her mother always warned her that this type of insanity ran in their family. So when the insomnia strikes her – which was the first sign of her mother’s descend into paranoia – Emma panics.

INSOMNIA quickly drew me in. I always find it intriguing when the main character becomes an unreliable narrator because of some psychological breakdown. Are they paranoid or are they telling the truth? The author describes the effects of sleep deprivation to a T, which made it easy to relate to Emma and suffer with her.

Unfortunately the final conclusion was a bit of a let down for me and wandered into territory that concluded the story without really explaining things satisfactorily for me. I can’t say any more without giving too much away, but I felt a bit cheated. These types of “killer twists” rarely work well for me, but may well appeal to other readers, so judge for yourself.

In short: and intriguing unreliable narrator theme with an underwhelming finale.


INTO THE DARK by Fiona Cummins


WHEN I WAS TEN is one of my all-time favourite thrillers, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Cummins’ latest book, INTO THE DARK. Cummins is a master at portraying deeply flawed, toxic and amoral characters, so I wasn’t surprised that each and every member of this cast had something to hide. With twists and turns in just about every chapter, I was never quite sure where the story was headed, and each revelation scattered all my carefully thought-out theories into the wind. I do love an unreliable character, and Cummins takes the theme to the next level!

Saying that, I was surprised to find that the book didn’t grab me as much as I had hoped and that I didn’t really care about any of its characters. This bunch of people are definitely not the sort you want to get too close to, as one unpleasant surprise followed the other and each character harboured some dark shameful secret. I’m not a fan of twists for the sake of shock value only, and some of these felt a bit forced, stretching credibility in the later part of the book. I also felt that Saul was an unlikely candidate for homicide detective, but what do I know? I felt like I was missing something with Saul and Blue, as if I had stepped into the middle of a series and missed the character building necessary to make these people feel fleshed out and real.

All in all, INTO THE DARK quickly drew me in and I devoured the first half of the book greedily. Credibility was a bit stretched in the second half, as a series of shocking twists rained down on me, and I felt the tentative emotional ties I had built with the characters fray and snap in the wake of these. Whilst this was not my favourite book by the author, it will still be a good choice for readers who love morally corrupt characters and an element of darkness and menace running through the story.




MRS ENGLAND by Stacey Halls


MRS ENGLAND is an intriguing story about a 19th century nanny suspecting that all is not quite right in her employers’ marriage. Set in an old English manor in the Yorkshire moors, this made for atmospheric time travel with an unexpected finale. I particularly enjoyed the air of foreboding and tension throughout the story and the complex relationships between the various characters. Ruby May was a wonderful protagonist with secrets of her own, and I was intrigued to find out that her character was based on a real-life person. If you love historical fiction involving old forbidding manor houses and lots of secrets, then you can’t go wrong with this one!





THE DROWNING HOUR is a closed door mystery set on an island, with delicious spooky vibes and a hint of the supernatural. After a tragic incident she has totally blocked out, Hannah suffers from a phobia that makes her unable to cross water, and she becomes a virtual prisoner of The Stanhope Hotel, a grand establishment surrounded by the Blackwater estuary. In an effort to work through her crippling fears, Hannah tries to find out what happened that fateful night on the island. The deeper she digs, the more things start going wrong, and a terrible suspicion mounts ….

I love an atmospheric island setting, and the spooky vibes on this one made for a delicious backdrop to the novel. Overall, the reading experience had as many highs and lows as the waves buffering the island on a stormy night, mainly because I found it difficult to suspend disbelief at times. The hardest thing to swallow for me was the idea that Hannah had no way to get off the island, especially since she was under the care of a therapist, who surely could have found an answer to her dilemma. Unfortunately most of the premise hinged on this particular element.  That said, I was intrigued by the different strands of mysteries that extended out from the central theme, such as the family secrets that tied Hannah and her sister to this island.

Read this if you love atmospheric island settings and are happy to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story.




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