Sunday 19 November 2023

Book Review: TAKE ME APART by Sara Sligar



Author:  Sara Sligar

Read:  November 2023

Expected publication: out now



Book Description:


A young archivist's obsession with her subject's mysterious death threatens to destroy her fragile grasp on sanity, in a riveting debut novel of psychological suspense.

My musings:


I love it when I come across a new author whose book totally blew me away and TAKE ME APART fell into that category. Both an intriguing and captivating as well as a contemplative and somewhat sad mystery, once I started, I couldn’t tear myself away!


Why is it that mysteries revolving around family secrets are so irresistible? I guess almost everyone has found an intriguing nameless photo in an old family album at some stage and wondered about the story behind it. Mirand Brand doesn’t only feature in photographs, she is also the artist behind them, with herself as the subject delivering her subtle messages through her art. Like many artists, Miranda is as brilliant as she is troubled, suffering a tragic untimely death when her only son Theo is only eleven years old. A grown man now, Theo has inherited the family home with all its clutter and its secrets. He hires Kate, a former journalist and now archivist to sort through the vast collection of papers and photos and separate the wheat from the chaff. Due to Miranda’s fame, even some of her old photos and notes could bring in a small fortune if sold to collectors. As Kate makes her way through mountains of paperwork, she becomes intrigued – and then obsessed – with Miranda’s tragic life and vows to find out when really led to her death ….


Sligar uses a variety of styles to unravel her mystery. Whilst the main perspective is Kate’s voice, we also get to read snippets out of Miranda’s diary, old correspondences, newspaper articles, receipts and other pieces of her life left behind. It was this aspect of the story I found most fascinating, and as I tried to piece together the details of Miranda’s life I myself became a little bit obsessed with learning more about her. Because Theo is less than forthcoming, the mystery took on a sense of urgency and ominous foreboding that would otherwise have been absent, a very clever way to keep the reader engaged.


There are many tragic themes that urge reflection, from domestic violence to mental health, the hidden scars we hide from the world, the driving forces behind art and the fine line between brilliance and madness. Miranda was such a fascinating, complex character! I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Miranda’s art, which isn’t easy to convey with words but which the author pulled off beautifully here. Kate also made a perfect protagonist with just enough secrets of her own to make her story compelling and her character well rounded and enigmatic.


I think that labelling TAKE ME APART a thriller may be doing it a bit of a disservice because the story was more slow burning intrigue than action, character rather than plot driven. Yes, there are the questions surrounding Miranda’s death, but it is by far not the driving force here. Rather, we want to get to know Miranda Brand, the real person behind her public profile, which is slowly revealed through debris left from her everyday life. I could have spent many more chapters reading excerpts from her diary or getting glimpses of her art. Readers who are looking for a twisty thriller with murder and mayhem may find themselves disappointed, but anyone who enjoys a beautifully written character study of a troubled mind should grab this book ASAP. I picked it up without any expectations and without even reading the blurb, and was blown away by the story. It’s definitely going on my favourites list this year and I hope we will see a lot more stories from Sara Sligar in future.

Sunday 29 October 2023

Looking for scary Halloween reads? Try Jennifer McMahon, the queen of subtle horror


MY DARLING GIRL by Jennifer McMahon

Are you a bit of a Christmas grinch and don’t like the Hallmark-sweet Christmas books that everyone seems to love at that time of year – but still want to join in and choose a seasonal read? Then McMahon’s novel is definitely for you! This book might be set in the time leading up to Christmas, with all the decorations, the food, the festivity, but deep down inside there’s nothing jolly about it. In fact, it’s creepy AF! Buckle up for one scary ride!


Since THE DROWNING KIND, I have been looking forward to McMahon’s books when I’m in the mood for a good chill. The thing I love about her writing is the perfect blend between psychological thriller, family drama and subtle horror. Here you won’t find any of the overdone horror tropes that usually are a big turnoff for me. That said, McMahon’s books aren’t any less scary, just more believable. She has mastered the perfection in hiding her chills in life’s ordinary moments, with only brief flashes of teeth visible. At times we may even believe that it’s all in Alison’s head. Is it though? After all, the monsters we should fear most are the ones that hide in plain sight, that make everyone else think that we are the problem.


I really loved Alison as a main protagonist. She is a family person through and through, a loving wife and mother who will do anything for her family, even pretend that she loves Christmas just to make them happy. For someone who has had to overcome some terrible childhood trauma, she has done very well to build a good life for herself and her family. This is all being threatened by the news that her mother is dying and wants to reconcile with Alison and spend her final days at their house. Alison agrees, despite her misgivings and the many memories of the abuse she was subjected to as a child. Abuse so terrible that her brother moved to another state and has broken off all contact with his mother. Alison is ready to forgive and forget, for the sake of her two girls, who should get to know their grandmother. This may prove to be a huge mistake …


MY DARLING GIRL has definitely made it onto my favourites list for this year. McMahon writes in a way that enabled me to picture the scene and the characters very vividly in my mind, which made the story an immersive – and very chilling – read. Despite the goosebumps I am sad that it is over, so engrossed was I in the tale. The contrast between Christmas cheer and horror was brilliantly done, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who isn’t a fan of ordinary horror tropes but is looking for a scary read with supernatural overtones. I constantly asked myself what I would do in Alison’s place, and my imagined helplessness in the face of this situation scared me even more. A brilliantly executed story, all the stars from me!

THE DROWNING KIND by Jennifer McMahon

It surely reflects a lack of restraint when it comes to spooky books that I devoured THE DROWNING KIND as soon as I received it, even though it’s not being released until April. But I hope that I can redeem myself by singing its praises from the rooftops, because after keeping me up all night frantically reading and burrowing deeper into my doona as the story progressed, it was 5 stars all the way for me! Trigger warning: if you like swimming in dark rivers or lakes, enter at your own risk, because the thing that you thought was a bit of pond weed tickling your leg? It may just send you running for the hills, never to go near the water again!


THE DROWNING KIND revolves around water – but not any water. The underground springs near the small town of Brandenburg in Vermont have long been known for their healing power. All the locals know that this gift does not come without a price, and they choose to stay well away from them, but that does not stop desperate people flocking to the water, hoping for a cure or having their wishes granted. In 1929, Ethel, still childless at 37 and desperate for a baby, whispers her wish to the dark waters of the Brandenburg spring.


Fast forward to the present. Sisters Lexie and Jax have grown up swimming in their grandparents’ natural pool, dug into the mountainside and fed by a natural spring. They are not afraid of the dark, murky waters, even though one of their aunts drowned in this very pool as a young child. On some of their secret midnight trips, the girls even swear that they could see the shape of a little girl staring at them from the water. Now estranged in their adulthood, Jax has not seen Lexie for over a year, wary of her manic episodes related to her bipolar disorder. She is therefore both shocked and heartbroken when she finds out that Lexie has drowned in the pool during one of her midnight swims. When she travels to the house to sort out her sister’s affairs, she discovers that Lexie had recently become increasingly afraid of the pool. But was it really just a manifestation of her illness, or is there something more sinister afoot?


Squish, squish, tap tap, wet footsteps on the pavers – was that a glimpse of something alien in the water? Goodness me, this book was soooo creepy! The constant sense of foreboding and dread kept me turning the pages until late into the night, and all my childhood nightmares about the bodies of drowned victims floating up from the bottom of the lake we used to swim in as kids suddenly seemed all too real.


I loved everything about this book. Whilst the timeline in the 1930’s gradually revealed some of the pool’s dark history, Jax in the present is racing against time to solve the puzzle for herself. As the reader, I was trapped in the middle like a deer in the headlights.   


In summary, if you love Gothic, spooky stories with supernatural elements that will make your hair stand on end, then look no further. Told in two separate timelines that were equally creepy, the book kept me up all night and then stunned me with a finale so unexpected and shocking that I am still trying to get my head around it. With a constant sense of foreboding, the book gave me the chills the whole time! Very highly recommended. 

Friday 27 October 2023

Book Review: HAPPINESS FALLS by Angie Kim


Author:  Angie Kim

Read: September 2023

Expected publication: out now



Book Description:


"We didn't call the police right away." Those are the first words of this extraordinary novel about a biracial Korean-American family in Virginia whose lives are upended when their beloved father and husband goes missing.

Mia, the irreverent, hyperanalytical twenty-year-old daughter, has an explanation for everything--which is why she isn't initially concerned when her father and younger brother Eugene don't return from a walk in a nearby park. They must have lost their phone. Or stopped for an errand somewhere. But by the time Mia's brother runs through the front door bloody and alone, it becomes clear that the father in this tight-knit family is missing and the only witness is Eugene, who has the rare genetic condition Angelman syndrome and cannot speak.

What follows is both a ticking-clock investigation into the whereabouts of a father and an emotionally rich portrait of a family whose most personal secrets just may be at the heart of his disappearance. Full of shocking twists and fascinating questions of love, language, race, and human connection, Happiness Falls is a mystery, a family drama, and a novel of profound philosophical inquiry. With all the powerful storytelling she brought to her award-winning debut Miracle Creek, Angie Kim turns the missing person story into something wholly original, creating an indelible tale of a family who must go to remarkable lengths to truly understand one another.

My musings:


I absolutely adored Angie Kim’s debut novel MIRACLE CREEK and couldn’t wait to read her latest book – and it was wonderful!


As in her debut, Kim’s latest story focuses on a Korean-American family whose youngest member is neuro-diverse and non-verbal. It is also a mystery of sorts, revolving around the disappearance of a father, but pigeonholing it into that genre would be a mistake, because it is so much more! Mia, the missing man’s highly intelligent, hyper-analytical 20-year old daughter is the first one to notice that something is wrong when her non-verbal brother Eugene comes running back from a walk with their father, visibly distressed and alone. But because he is unable to communicate, it takes the family a while to work out that Mia’s father Adam is missing. As Mia starts looking for clues that may lead to locating her father, she discovers that he has been keeping secrets from his family for a while – but what exactly was he hiding, and will the answers help them find him?


There were so many thought-provoking and intriguing themes in this story. Firstly, I had never heard of Angelman Syndrome, Eugene’s rare neurogenetic disorder that makes him unable to verbally communicate. Secondly, I found Adam’s theories about the happiness quotient simply fascinating – it all made so much sense! I had never thought about happiness and disappointment from such an analytical, logical viewpoint before. The little “experiments” Adam undertook to prove his point opened up endless possibilities and scenarios I pondered long after finishing the book, and I am still intrigued.


However, at the centre of the story lies family, and the love that binds us and will make us pull together to protect the weaker of the pack. Sometimes this can work against us, as in the case of Eugene, who is closely protected by his parents and siblings to a point where …. sorry, I can’t go there without giving spoilers! Let’s just say that it’s not until Adam tries something different that things drastically change for Eugene.


But I digress. Thirdly, there is the immigrant theme that Kim revisits in her latest book. Mia’s mother, a linguist, explains to her daughter how stupid she felt when she first moved to America, because she couldn’t adequately communicate in the foreign language. Whereas she was regarded as highly intelligent in her own country, her inadequacy in verbal fluency in English automatically marked her as dim-witted. How about people who, like her youngest child, are unable to communicate verbally?


Mia’s voice isn’t always an easy one to follow – she often comes across as bristly and abrasive, and her flights of thought can be tiring. And yet she makes the perfect protagonist to tell this story. There are footnotes to give us some background and context, and lots of foreshadowing warning us of things to come, but most compelling were Mia’s own interpretations of the clues her father left behind.




Thought provoking, emotionally charged and beautifully written, HAPPINESS FALLS kept me enthralled from the beginning to its heart-wrenching, powerful finale. And even though I felt completely emotionally wrung out at the end, I was sorry that it ended! Some of the themes will stay with me for a long time to come and I can’t wait to see what Angie Kim will come up with next.


Thursday 26 October 2023

Looking for intriguing, captivating books with older female leads?

Lucy Atkins sits firmly on my favourite authors list with her ability of creating enigmatic female lead characters and stories that are not only intriguing but also touched my heart. Whilst her previous two books featured middle aged females (the "invisibles" of our society), her latest novel presents us with an eccentric, plucky octogenarian who harbours a shameful secret. All three books were solid 5-star reads for me and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next. So if you feel that older female protagonists are in the minority in fiction, do yourself a favour and pick up any of these three novels, you won't be disappointed!

WINDMILL HILL by Lucy Atkins


If you enjoyed Frederick Backman's A MAN CALLED OVE, then you are going to love Atkin's eccentric 82-year-old heroine Astrid. Ever since the breakdown of her marriage to famous actor Magnus thirty odd years ago, Astrid has been living in a derelict old windmill with only her housekeeper cum friend Mrs Baker and three miniature dachshunds for company. It's merely by chance that Astrid spots an article in the paper announcing that her terminally ill ex-husband Magnus is about to publish his much awaited autobiography. She knows that she will have to stop him at all costs, because of an incident in their past that destroyed Astrid’s own acting career and has altered her life irrevocably. She simply cannot face having to relive the shame. So, this reclusive octogenarian embarks on a journey to Scotland to confront her dying ex-lover.

Atkins tells her story through multiple timelines, jumping back and forth between the past and the present. Whilst Astrid is the main POV, excerpts from letters written by an earlier owner of the windmill to her husband also reveal some of the windmill's tragic past. I admit that initially there were many threads and mysteries that didn't seem connected and didn’t come together until the very end, but it was all worth the wait!

What wonderful characters Atkins has created with her two elderly ladies. Astrid might be over eighty and not as sprightly as she used to be, but she constantly reminds us that she is NDY (not dead yet). As the past threatens her reclusive and humble existence in the windmill, she must face up to one of her life's biggest regrets- with surprising consequences. It's a rare story that can evoke such a range of emotion - I laughed, I cried, and at one point I could hear my heart breaking clean in half. There were so many themes in this book that resonated with me, and I won't forget Astrid in a hurry. There aren't many novels out there that feature old women, especially ones that focus on the present, which made WINDMILL HILL even more special.

WINDMILL HILL has definitely earned a place on my favourites list. Atkins is a master at creating complex characters and intriguing stories (both her previous novels THE NIGHT VISITOR and MAGPIE LANE were also 5-star reads for me). Very highly recommended!

MAGPIE LANE by Lucy Atkins

Let me introduce you to my second 5-star read for 2020 – TA DA! MAGPIE LANE was like my own personal formula for reading bliss. A nanny in an old spooky English manor house in Oxford. Family secrets. A disturbed child who may or may not have some connection to the weird noises and shadows flitting about in the house at night. Characters who ALL have something to hide. All the very things I just LOVE in a mystery!

Dee is a middle-aged woman with some secrets in her past that have seen her live a life looking after other people’s children. She has stayed with many different families and cared for children of all ages and backgrounds, but none has ever got under her skin the same way Felicity has, this pale, mute and unhappy daughter of Oxford’s latest Don.

I immediately loved Dee, from the very moment she shares her self-deprecating humour:

“It may be my functional approach to fashion, but people seem to assume that I’m in charge.”

The picture was painted. A somewhat plain but keenly intelligent middle-aged woman wearing drab clothes to roam the grey streets of a wintry Oxford, wielding an umbrella. I soon realised that I, too, had misjudged her, because Dee was not only smart, but also fiercely loyal to her latest little charge. Not an easy job when you are pitted against Felicity’s father, the arrogant Nick, and her trendy Danish stepmother Mariah.

It wasn’t long until the plot thickened. Nick and Mariah have a dark secret they are determined to keep hidden. Felicity is traumatised. The house, too, has secrets it divulges only at night, in its moving shadows, its silent whispers, its doors that open and close at random, and the spooky little priest hole in the attic where a rotten smell seems to linger. Even Oxford itself, described as: ...a place of dust motes, vaults and arm-span alleys, of angle-poised lamps and dimmer switches, of creaking floorboards and whispers in oak-panelled libraries.” You can see why this was totally irresistible for me! If you are not a fan of the supernatural, don’t despair, because Atkin is always willing to give a perfectly rational explanation for all the things that spooked hell out of me.

Let’s also talk briefly about the unique POV the story is told in. Dee, the nanny, is being interviewed by police who are trying to establish the whereabouts of Felicity, Dee’s young charge, who has disappeared from the house whilst Dee was in London and the girl was in the care of her stepmother. As Dee tells the story of how she came to be the nanny, the full picture slowly emerges in flashbacks and confessions until .... well, that’s something you have to find out for yourself.

I really can’t divulge any more without giving things away, so let me just say that this book was a perfect for me. If you like an atmospheric setting, a creepy mystery and characters that are as mysterious as the setting itself, then you can’t go wrong with this one. Good spooky mysteries are hard to find, and it doesn’t get any better than this. 


Ever since reading Lucy Atkins’ latest book MAGPIE LANE I have been a huge fan of the way her mind works and have been reading my way through her previous books. I was touched by Kali’s quest to find out about her late mother in THE MISSING ONE and enchanted by the wild landscape of Vancouver island, with its rugged coastline and its many natural wonders. I was fascinated by the cover of THE NIGHT VISITOR, which features a dung beetle of all things, and immediately taken in by the premise of the dark story of obsession and lies that lay beneath it.

Professor Olivia Sweetman is a renowned historian who is about to launch her first novel, a story based on the diary of Victorian woman Annabel Burley, a female physician who penned the secret confession of the murder of her husband in its pages. Vivian Tester, the socially awkward housekeeper of Ileford Manor, who initially found the diary, has been helping Olivia with her research, unearthing fascinating facts about the women herself and her family, whose last remaining member is wiling her last days away at a nursing home. Whilst Vivian’s research has been invaluable, Olivia has found her personality to be challenging and can’t wait to get her out of her life once the book has been published. But Vivian has other ideas ....

It is difficult to put the complex plot of this book into a few words, especially without giving spoilers, so let me just say that the dynamics between the two women were fascinating, tense and sometimes utterly terrifying! Whilst Atkins offers us insight into Vivian’s head by her first person POV, we only ever hear from Olivia in the third person, creating room for doubt and suspense. In the process of reading this twisted tale, I found my allegiance shifting constantly from one woman to the other, never quite sure who I could trust. It’s interesting how all of Atkins’ characters – intelligent, independent women - have their origins in academia and science, giving the story additional depth and adding some interesting background information to the story.

As in the other two books I have read by the author, Atkins uses an atmospheric setting to create additional tension, and the old manor of Ileford House is a perfect stage to let the story play out. And whilst I learned fascinating facts about orcas in THE MISSING ONE, I was fascinated by the background information about dung beetles in this one. This may sound like a strange stage prop, but let me assure you that it all fits perfectly together in the way only and accomplished author like Atkins can pull off. And whilst the house in itself is not exactly creepy in a traditional sense, the images of Vivian’s night visitor and the old haunted well do create a Gothic feel that gave me goosebumps. As a fair trigger warning I should also say that the book contains a horrific scene involving the death of a dog, which was fairly traumatic.

All in all, Atkins has cemented her name firmly on my list of favourite mystery writers and I was as enamoured with this one as I was with her other books. If you like a dark tale of obsession and revenge set against a delicious creepy old manor house setting, then look no further. As the story progressed and the tension mounted, I had little idea of how this tale would play out. I dare you to guess the ending if you are game – I certainly did not see THAT coming.

Lies and deception: two brilliant mysteries that will make you question everything!




I loved McAllister’s previous novel WRONG PLACE WRONG TIME, especially its unusual format, and I am happy to report that her latest book also held plenty of surprises.


22-year-old Olivia has been reported missing by her housemates after texting one of them for help. CCTV footage from a nearby bar shows her entering a blind alley but never coming out. How could she have just vanished into thin air? Things get even more complicated and tangled when the detective tasked with solving Julia’s case encounters an obstacle that will jeopardise her investigation (not giving any more away here). Told through multiple POVs and social media posts from the missing girl herself, this story turned into a hell of a tangle before the threads finally started to unravel and reveal their secrets.


Admittedly, it took me a while to get into the flow of the story, and even though the audiobook version was brilliantly narrated, it probably wasn’t the best format for me, as I missed a few vital clues along the way and was a bit slow to catch on. But once I did, I realised how cleverly plotted this story really was! There was one point in the book where I just stood there, mouth agape, as all the cogs slotted into place – WHAAAAAT???? It was like unwrapping a massive pass-the-parcel and finding you are finally holding that one crucial piece of information that upends all you have believed so far.


With flawed and yet complex, enigmatic characters McAllister again explores the length parents will go to to protect their children, whilst delivering one heck of a thriller. I love mysteries that can blindside me, and this one certainly did. I love McAllister’s writing and can’t wait to see what she will come up with next.



Have you ever met one of your birthday twins, a person born on exactly the same day as you? I remember being at work one day, taking a woman’s details, and it turned out we were born merely an hour apart, albeit in different parts of the globe. A strange bond, nonetheless.


Josie Fair is having her 45th birthday dinner with her husband at a local restaurant when she overhears people at a nearby table who are having a merry party for one of their group. As strange coincidences go, this woman, Alix Summers, is also celebrating her 45th birthday. Josie finds out that the two women were not only born on the same day, but also in the same hospital. This chance encounter may have been the end of it, but now that Josie has found Alix, she will not let her go that easily.


I admit that stalkers and uninvited houseguests are some of my worst anxiety triggers in thrillers, so this book kept me up all night! As tensions escalated, I had to keep reading until I had all the answers, which was way past my bedtime (I advise to start this book when you have lots of free time).


NONE OF THIS IS TRUE is probably one of Jewell’s darkest books and one where she takes the unreliable narrator theme to an extreme (as hinted in the title). As a very seasoned and talented storyteller, she ratcheted up the tension slowly but steadily until it was impossible to put the book down. There were quite a few hair-raising moments (and a few EEEEWWWW ones, too), and I felt like helplessly watching a train speed towards the abyss. Considering this unbearable tension, I felt that the ending lost a bit of steam and felt strangely anti-climatic to me, though overall this did not detract from the unique premise of the story. I loved the podcast and Netflix-series style of the novel, which gave it a very contemporary feel and allowed for short, punchy chapters and different POVs without losing its flow.


In summary, NONE OF THIS IS TRUE showcases Jewell’s talent as a storyteller and creator of original storylines. Like other thrillers that rely on untruths and hidden secrets, it’s best to go into this one blind and let it take you on a journey. It certainly kept me enthralled until the very end and not much sleep was to be had until I found out the answers.

Book Review: DARK CORNERS by Megan Goldin



Author:  Megan Goldin

Read: October 2023

Expected publication: out now



Book Description: 


Terence Bailey is about to be released from prison for breaking and entering, though investigators have long suspected him in the murders of six women. As his freedom approaches, Bailey gets a surprise visit from Maddison Logan, a hot, young influencer with a huge social media following. Hours later, Maddison disappears, and police suspect she’s been kidnapped—or worse. Is Maddison’s disappearance connected to her visit to Bailey? Why was she visiting him in the first place?

When they hit a wall in the investigation, the FBI reluctantly asks for Rachel’s help in finding the missing influencer. Maddison seems only to exist on social media; she has no family, no friends, and other than in her posts, most people have never seen her. Who is she, really? Using a fake Instagram account, Rachel Krall goes undercover to BuzzCon, a popular influencer conference, where she discovers a world of fierce rivalry that may have turned lethal.

My musings:


Now this was a real thriller in every sense of the word! If I had been thoroughly intrigued by Rachel Krall in THE NIGHT SWIM, I have now totally fallen for this intelligent, plucky, kick-ass character in DARK CORNERS.


Rachel Krall is intrigued when she is invited by the FBI to talk to prisoner Terry Bailey, a man convicted of aggravated burglary but also under suspicion of having killed several sex workers. Police are concerned that he is somehow involved in the disappearance of a young social media influencer, Maddison Logan, who hasn’t been seen since visiting Terry in jail two days ago. Since Maddison’s caravan has been found abandoned in a nearby state forest, with video evidence that suggests she was taken by force, police are speculating that Terry’s alleged accomplice is involved and time is running out to find her alive. The only lead the police have is a scribbled note Terry passed to Maddison during her visit, which clearly shows Rachel’s name.


In true Rachel Krall fashion, she is not intimidated by the increasing danger the investigation puts her in and resists the FBI’s efforts to get her out of the way once her visit has proven to be a dead end. Being both intelligent and nosy, Rachel asks the right questions to the right people, which leads to a surprising discovery – one that may put her in danger herself.


I loved everything about this thriller, from the intriguing premise to the clue-by-clue reveal. As in THE NIGHT SWIM, Rachel Krall’s popular true crime podcast features as a separate POV, telling part of the story from the perspective of the victims. This unique approach not only gave the book a very contemporary and relevant edge, but it also humanised the silent victims of crime – the relatives of the dead and missing left behind with their grief. I also appreciated how Goldin managed to incorporate a villain’s POV without going over the top or giving away spoilers prematurely, which is a fine balancing act not always achieved by crime writers. As the tension mounted it became impossible to put the book down, as I had to find out the answers! As an aside, I found the subplot of BuzzCon and the world of social media influencers most intriguing. I also loved getting to know Rachel a bit better and – whilst usually not a fan of romance in crime thrillers – was enjoying the hopeful and positive vibe it presented here.



Edgy, taut and very cleverly plotted, this was a total winner for me and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I can also fully vouch for the audio version, which made the podcast elements sound authentic and lent different voices to the characters.

Saturday 14 October 2023

Book Review: NONE OF THIS IS TRUE by Lisa Jewell



Author:  Lisa Jewell

Read: September 2023



Book Description:


Lisa Jewell returns with a scintillating new psychological thriller about a woman who finds herself the subject of her own popular true crime podcast.

Celebrating her forty-fifth birthday at her local pub, popular podcaster Alix Summers crosses paths with an unassuming woman called Josie Fair. Josie, it turns out, is also celebrating her forty-fifth birthday. They are, in fact, birthday twins.

A few days later, Alix and Josie bump into each other again, this time outside Alix’s children’s school. Josie has been listening to Alix’s podcasts and thinks she might be an interesting subject for her series. She is, she tells Alix, on the cusp of great changes in her life.

Josie’s life appears to be strange and complicated, and although Alix finds her unsettling, she can’t quite resist the temptation to keep making the podcast. Slowly she starts to realise that Josie has been hiding some very dark secrets, and before she knows it, Josie has inveigled her way into Alix’s life—and into her home.

My musings:


Have you ever met one of your birthday twins, a person born on exactly the same day as you? I remember being at work one day, taking a woman’s details, and it turned out we were born merely an hour apart, albeit in different parts of the globe. A strange bond, nonetheless.


Josie Fair is having her 45th birthday dinner with her husband at a local restaurant when she overhears people at a nearby table who are having a merry party for one of their group. As strange coincidences go, this woman, Alix Summers, is also celebrating her 45th birthday. Josie finds out that the two women were not only born on the same day, but also in the same hospital. This chance encounter may have been the end of it, but now that Josie has found Alix, she will not let her go that easily.


I admit that stalkers and uninvited houseguests are some of my worst anxiety triggers in thrillers, so this book kept me up all night! As tensions escalated, I had to keep reading until I had all the answers, which was way past my bedtime (I advise to start this book when you have lots of free time).


NONE OF THIS IS TRUE is probably one of Jewell’s darkest books and one where she takes the unreliable narrator theme to an extreme (as hinted in the title). As a very seasoned and talented storyteller, she ratcheted up the tension slowly but steadily until it was impossible to put the book down. There were quite a few hair-raising moments (and a few EEEEWWWW ones, too), and I felt like helplessly watching a train speed towards the abyss. Considering this unbearable tension, I felt that the ending lost a bit of steam and felt strangely anti-climatic to me, though overall this did not detract from the unique premise of the story. I loved the podcast and Netflix-series style of the novel, which gave it a very contemporary feel and allowed for short, punchy chapters and different POVs without losing its flow.




In summary, NONE OF THIS IS TRUE showcases Jewell’s talent as a storyteller and creator of original storylines. Like other thrillers that rely on untruths and hidden secrets, it’s best to go into this one blind and let it take you on a journey. It certainly kept me enthralled until the very end and not much sleep was to be had until I found out the answers.

Monday 14 August 2023

Book Review: YELLOWFACE by R. F. Kuang



Author:  R.F. Kuang

Read: August 2023



Book Description:


Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars: same year at Yale, same debut year in publishing. But Athena's a cross-genre literary darling, and June didn't even get a paperback release. Nobody wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks.

So when June witnesses Athena's death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena's just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers to the British and French war efforts during World War I.

So what if June edits Athena's novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song--complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn't this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That's what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.

But June can't get away from Athena's shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June's (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.

With its totally immersive first-person voice, Yellowface takes on questions of diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation not only in the publishing industry but the persistent erasure of Asian-American voices and history by Western white society. R. F. Kuang's novel is timely, razor-sharp, and eminently readable.

My musings:


Have you ever dreamed of writing your own novel? Of sitting in some romantic cafΓ© scribbling in your notebook and penning the next bestseller. Of having your book grace the front window of bookshops worldwide. After reading Kuang’s novel you may have a more sober perspective of the publishing industry. I never thought it would be easy to be a published author, but hadn’t imagined just how many minefields are lying in wait for any aspiring writer, including the questions at the heart of YELLOWFACE: who owns a story? Who is allowed to tell a story? Does your story have to mirror your own culture and experiences?


YELLOWFACE was peppered with ethical and moral dilemmas, and I fluctuated between empathy for June and horror at what she was doing. Many reviewers have stated that June is a thoroughly unlikeable character who is very obviously in the wrong, and many delighted in her downfall. And yet I found Kuang has created a character who is both morally reprehensible and also vulnerable, lonely and insecure. June always has justification for her actions, and some were strangely compelling, like watching a movie about a robbery and knowing it’s a crime, yet having some appreciation for the planning and thought that had gone into it. Hard to explain … Things got even more complex as Athena’s character was cast in a different light later in the novel, blurring the lines further.


I was particularly intrigued by the issue of cultural appropriation. Is a writer only allowed to write characters from their own cultural backgrounds? Where are the boundaries? Can you write a police novel or a medical thriller without ever having worked in those fields? I am sure that everyone has an opinion on this, and I imagine it’s a hotly debated issue, which made June’s justifications for her theft and reinvention all the more interesting.


All in all, YELLOWFACE is a brilliant, thought-provoking satire that delves into many of the issues encountered in the publishing industry today. With intriguing characters and many ethical questions, it made for fascinating reading from beginning to end. Entertaining and scandalising in equal parts, YELLOWFACE is one of the most original books I have read this year so far. 

Thursday 10 August 2023

Book Review: THE LAST THING TO BURN by Will Dean



Author:  Will Dean

Read: August 2023

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


On an isolated farm in the United Kingdom, a woman is trapped by the monster who kidnapped her seven years ago. When she discovers she is pregnant, she resolves to protect her child no matter the cost, and starts to meticulously plan her escape. But when another woman is brought into the fold on the farm, her plans go awry. Can she save herself, her child, and this innocent woman at the same time? Or is she doomed to spend the remainder of her life captive on this farm?

My musings:


If you have been told by your doctor to reduce your stress levels, then stay clear of this book! THE LAST THING TO BURN is one of the most suspenseful, harrowing and disturbing psychological thrillers I have read in a long time, and yet I loved every nail-biting minute of it. No, it hasn’t done my stress levels any favours, but boy this was good!


I’m not usually a fan of captivity thrillers but had devoured and loved every book written by Will Dean so far and knew that it wouldn’t disappoint. Someone who can toss a handful of characters into a single bland setting and yet create tension that makes your hair stand on end like you’ve just stuck a pin into a powerpoint – that person is a true artist in my mind.


Jane (not her real name) and Len live in a little old farmhouse on a windswept plain somewhere in the less picturesque parts of England. Or perhaps this is doing the countryside an injustice, because Jane hasn’t had the chance to go anywhere else to explore the scenery. She makes no secret of the fact that she is a captive and would do anything to escape the hell Len is subjecting her to on a daily basis. That is probably all you need to know before delving into the story. Buckle up for the ride though, because just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, there’s another surprise in store for you.


Dean uses the little, bland things that make up everyday life to create an atmosphere so tense you could cut it with a knife. The secret is in the detail, and he is a master observer. I never realised how much murderous rage can be released inside me when the right triggers are being sprung. Dean doesn’t use preposterous plot twists or over-the-top conspiracies to spin his tale and capture the imagination, but each scene is so visceral, so powerful that it almost inflicts physical pain. Now this, readers, is a REAL psychological thriller. I carried Jane inside me even during the times when I wasn’t reading, like one of those heavy nightmares that still casts a shadow over the whole day even though you know it’s not real. To imagine that Dean’s book is based on real stories of people trafficking is almost too much to bear.


I’ll be totally honest when I say that THE LAST THING TO BURN is not an easy or comfortable read, and there are some very dark themes at play here. But to call it anything less than brilliant would be doing it an injustice. Crafted by a master storyteller, this psychological thriller will stay with you long after the last page has been turned. Enter at your own risk!

Saturday 5 August 2023

Book Review: SOMEONE ELSE'S SHOES by Jojo Moyes



Author:  Jojo Moyes

Read: July 2023

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


Who are you when you are forced to walk in someone else’s shoes?

Nisha Cantor lives the globetrotting life of the seriously wealthy, until her husband announces a divorce and cuts her off. Nisha is determined to hang onto her glamorous life. But in the meantime, she must scramble to cope--she doesn’t even have the shoes she was, until a moment ago, standing in.

That’s because Sam Kemp – in the bleakest point of her life – has accidentally taken Nisha’s gym bag. But Sam hardly has time to worry about a lost gym bag--she’s struggling to keep herself and her family afloat. When she tries on Nisha’s six-inch high Christian Louboutin red crocodile shoes, the resulting jolt of confidence that makes her realize something must change—and that thing is herself.

My musings:


Let me introduce my feel-good book of 2023! It’s often obvious in the first few pages whether we will love a book, in the way we relate to the characters, and I felt instantly drawn to Sam Kemp and her daily struggles. Even the prickly Nisha Cantor was strangely compelling, perhaps also aided by the wonderful audiobook narration, which gave her quite a unique voice.


What would you do if you had to walk in someone else’s shoes for a day (or more), quite literally? After a mix-up at the gym, Sam finds out the hard way as she stumbles off to a stressful work meeting with important clients, teetering precariously on Nisha’s expensive red Louboutin heels.


The concept of walking in someone else’s shoes is not new, but taken so literally it made for a most intriguing and very “visual” read. I could picture the two women clearly and forged an instant emotional connection with both of them. I laughed, I cried, my heart full of rage one minute, and full of love and hope the next. Ultimately, the story soothed my soul and set my world back on its right axis – and I really needed that at the time. Moyes writes with the warmth, humour and conviction of a master story teller, and thee wasn’t a moment I didn’t enjoy. I was sad when the book ended, though it was a very satisfying finale!


Do yourself a favour and pick up this heart-warming, uplifting story to recharge your batteries and restore your faith in the power of female friendships, new beginnings and discovering your own inner lioness.