Thursday, 19 January 2017

Book Review: WHAT HAPPENED TO ROSE by Helga Zeiner

What Happened to Rose

Title: What Happened to Rose
Author: Helga Zeiner
Publisher: POW WOW Books
Read: December 2016 / January 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Carola’s life is perfect – or so it seems. Her husband, her friends, her staff don’t see the emptiness of a loveless existence. Every day is the same, until the day when she has enough. Without warning she leaves her home country of Germany to start a new life in the Canadian wilderness.
But she is not equipped to handle the hardships of a lonely existence in a remote cabin. A five-day snowstorm brings her close to her breaking point. Searching for means to survive, she discovers the written confession of the previous cabin owner who wants to clear his conscience by admitting to a terrible sin he committed involving a girl called Rose.
When the storm subsides, Carola begins to ask questions but nobody is willing to talk. Nobody wants to tell what happened to Rose, but Carola becomes obsessed with finding out the truth.

Will Rose finally get justice? If you love mystery and suspense, with an added romance bonus, this new novel by an Amazon bestselling author will keep you turning the pages all night long.

My thoughts:

When Carola’s childless marriage fails and her husband tries to cheat her out of her fair share of marital possessions, Carola flees to Canada to escape her pain and disappointment and make a new start. Settling in an isolated country cottage in the backwaters of British Columbia she thinks she has found the simplicity and peace she had been hoping for. Drawn to Jason, the young realtor who first rented her the property, she is even taking a stab at love again, only to come up against the forbidding presence of Jason’s mother, who tries everything in her power to keep her away from her son. Stranded in her snowed in cottage in a wild storm for a few days, Carola comes across and old journal written by a man called John McLure on his deathbed, where he confesses to committing a terrible injustice to a young child, Rose, who came into his life after losing her mother in a coach accident. Drawn into the story and Rose’s sad childhood, Carola sets out to discover more about Rose’s fate – with unexpected results.

I agree that reading a book is a bit like a date – if you haven’t clicked by page 100 (aka the 3rd date, according to Bookstr), the chemistry just isn’t there and you’re not going to live together happily ever after. In fact, you may abandon the whole thing all together, and leave half-way through your first G & T, resigning yourself to a life of celibacy. What Happened to Rose was such a book for me – having fallen for its blurb I was eager to meet its characters, only to find we had absolutely no connection. I put the book down, I picked the book back up, and felt nothing, nil, nada. Even the historical backstory, which had intrigued me enough to pick up the novel in the first place, only elicited a wan yawn. Sadly, after thinking Carola would be a strong, independent woman setting out into the wilderness alone, I found her needy and inconsistent in her thoughts and actions, obsessed with finding herself a new man at all costs. Perhaps I am being unfairly harsh here, but I didn’t like any of the characters. Or perhaps, after a strong finale to 2016 as far as books are concerned, I am just experiencing reading fatigue. It obviously wasn’t the right book for me, despite the beautiful setting, which was the one aspect that kept me reading on. If you like romance with a historical twist, you may enjoy the aspects of the book that didn’t work for me. I looked for a bit of mystery, and felt let down, but as a light holiday read this book may just work for you.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Book Review: FIND ME by J. S. Monroe

Find Me

Title: Find Me
Author: J.S. Monroe
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Read: January 2017
Expected publication: 9 February 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Sometimes we choose to see only what we want. Sometimes what we see changes the way we look at everything.

Jarlath "Jar" Costello's girlfriend, Rosa, committed suicide when they were both students at Cambridge, and Jar has thought about her every day since. It's been five years, yet Jar is still obsessed with the idea that Rosa, the one true love of his life, is alive. He's tormented by visions of her and has disturbingly real sightings of her in unexpected places experiences the psychologist treating him describes as "post-bereavement hallucinations."

When Jar receives a message from Rosa's aunt telling him that she's just found Rosa's diary, he embarks on a frantic quest to finally make sense of the highly suspicious circumstances surrounding her death. But the deeper he digs, the more confused he becomes as he is pressed into a dark underworld where nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted. When a startling discovery convinces him more than ever that these are not just hallucinations that Rosa really is alive Jar is thrust into the heart of a larger intrigue that may finally shed some light on Rosa's death even as it dangerously threatens his own."

My thoughts:

Five years ago, Jarlath’s (“Jar”) girlfriend Rosa disappeared without a trace, leaving behind an apparent suicide note and witnesses who claim they saw her on Cromer pier on a stormy night, from which she presumable jumped to her death. CCTV cameras in the area confirmed that Rosa entered, but never left the pier. Unable to come to terms with Rosa’s death, Jar still suffers from “post-bereavement hallucinations”, seeing Rosa in people he meets in everyday life – a stranger on the train, a woman shopping in the supermarket. When Rosa’s aunt Amy tells Jar that she has accidentally come across some encrypted files on her computer which could be Rosa’s diary, Jar hopes he may finally find some answers as to why Rosa felt the need to kill herself, and get closure. But the diary, once deciphered, throws up more questions than it answers – and strangest of all, doubts that Rosa did indeed jump to her death that night. Could Rosa still be alive? Jar soon discovers that he is not the only one looking for the answer to that question. The police have suddenly developed a keen interest in getting their hands on the files, and Jar has a feeling that he is being followed. By looking for Rosa, could he be putting them both in danger?

Whilst the general premise of Find Me is not original – a person presumed dead is being spotted by her loved ones, throwing up doubts that she or he is still alive – Monroe has certainly put his own unique spin on the idea and taken the reader on a twisty journey of conspiracy theories that takes a few quite unusual turns along the way. Jar’s voice gripped me right from the outset and drew me into the story.  I could literally feel his torment and feared for him as he set out to discover the truth behind Rosa’s disappearance. With Jar’s inner demons thus exposed, there is of course always the question of how reliable he is as a narrator, adding a bit of suspense and doubt to an otherwise well-trodden path. In some passages, the pace and style of the narrative was reminiscent of a Harlan Coben tale (which I usually enjoy). Rosa’s voice is introduced into the book in the form of diary entries, which start off as long narratives that would normally set me off on a rant that nobody writes a diary like that. However, as Jar’s hunt for the truth continues, her entries become more frantic, jumbled and cryptic, alerting the reader that time is running out for Rosa. And very cleverly it all ties together and makes perfect sense in the end, which I will not spoil here.

Just as the reader is tempted to cast a deep sigh heavenwards, thinking that he / she has worked it all out, the story twists and turns and throws all theories out the window once again. The ending is quite unexpected, and for good measure the author seasons it with a last sprinkling of doubt, which will leave a little seed of “what if” behind, even after all the threads have come together. I really love that in a mystery! Whilst I felt the story lost a bit of momentum in the second half, with the introduction of another POV, it always kept the right amount of intrigue to look forward to the moment where I could pick it up and continue reading – even though it did not have the same grip on me as Jar’s first chapters. Some well-researched dark and often confronting elements in the later part of the book added depth lacking in other similar mysteries. This made up for the moments of having to suspend disbelief, especially concerning the timeline, and a couple of plot holes that didn’t quite add up. But of course, in true conspiracy theory fashion, it could be possible! All in all, a very enjoyable, fast paced and intriguing read. I look forward to reading a lot more from this talented author in future.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Book Review: UNPUNISHED by Lisa Black (Gardiner and Renner #2)

Unpunished (Gardiner and Renner #2)

Title: Unpunished
Author: Lisa Black
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Read: January 2017
Expected publication: 31 January 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

It begins with the kind of bizarre death that makes headlines literally. A copy editor at the Cleveland Herald is found hanging above the grinding wheels of the newspaper assembly line, a wide strap wrapped around his throat. Forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner has her suspicions about this apparent suicide inside the tsunami of tensions that is the news industry today and when the evidence suggests murder, Maggie has no choice but to place her trust in the one person she doesn t trust at all .

Jack Renner is a killer with a conscience, a vigilante with his own code of honor. In the past, Jack has used his skills and connections as a homicide detective to take the law into his own hands, all in the name of justice. He has only one problem: Maggie knows his secret. She insists he enforce the law, not subvert it. But when more newspaper employees are slain, Jack may be the only person who can help Maggie unmask the killer-- even if Jack is still checking names off his own private murder list."

My thoughts:

Unpunished is the second book in the Gardiner and Renner series, featuring crime scene technician Maggie Gardiner and detective-by-day and vigilante-by-night Jack Renner, who are asked to investigate the death of the copy editor of the Cleveland Herald, a large daily newspaper on the brink of bankruptcy. What first appeared to be a suicide soon turns into a murder investigation, with more bodies stacking up as the story progresses. What could be the motive behind killing the employees of a struggling newspaper?

Unpunished is a slow-moving police procedural, focusing heavily on the technical details of Maggie’s forensic work and the background story of the demise of the newspaper industry in our age of technology, which I generally found interesting but which at times slowed the story down to a point where I felt like skipping pages just to get on with it. I felt it needed a bit of careful editing at this point to keep up the pace. The narrative didn’t really grip me until Chapter 14, at which point there were enough bodies and unanswered questions hanging in the air for it to be intriguing.

When I requested Unpunished from Netgalley I was unaware that it was the second book in a series, and was somewhat puzzled by the references to Maggie and Jack’s shared secret past, which play a prominent part in the investigation and colour their professional relationship. Whilst Unpunished is a stand-alone novel as far as the plot is concerned, it took me a long time to work out the gist of the “secret” that binds Maggie and Jack together. Not fully understanding the dynamics between the duo somewhat marred my reading pleasure, though paradoxically it also served to keep me interested, especially since Maggie is prepared to sacrifice her professional integrity to tamper with evidence in order to help Jack. Why, why, WHY?  Unfortunately, these questions were not fully answered here – I guess I will have to read the first part of the series – and Jack kept to the straight and narrow for the best part, not showing his true vigilante side the book hints at. Personally, I found the story lacking in suspense and an emotional bond with the main protagonists, who seemed to keep me at arms’ length at all times. I would have liked to get more of a feel for both Maggie and Jack, and the forces that drove them, in order to be able to picture them in my mind and care about them. All in all, I found Unpunished well written and researched, with an interesting background story and well constructed plot. Perhaps, had I read the first book in the series, Unpunished would have gripped me a bit sooner and held my attention a bit better. As a stand-alone novel, it just lacked an emotional connection for me, though I am intrigued enough by the character of Jack to pick up That Darkness to see what I missed.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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Book Review: WITNESS by Caroline Mitchell


Author: Caroline Mitchell
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Read: December 2016 / January 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

To Rebecca it was a brave decision that led to her freedom from domestic abuse. To Solomon it was the ultimate betrayal.

It’s been ten years since Rebecca’s testimony saw Solomon locked away. Enough time for the nightmares to recede, the nerves to relax; enough time to rebuild her life and put the past behind her.

Then one day a phone rings in her bedroom—but it’s not her phone. Solomon has been in her home, and has a very simple message for her: for each of the ten years he has spent in jail, Rebecca must witness a crime. And, to make matters worse, she has to choose the victims.

Fail to respond and you get hurt. Talk to police and you die. Ready to play? You have sixty seconds to decide…

As the crimes grow more severe, the victims closer to home, Rebecca is forced to confront a past she had hoped was gone forever.

My thoughts:

Ten years ago, Rebecca finally managed to get away from her abusive partner Solomon and start a new life. Now mother to young Lottie and wife to veterinarian Sean she lives a peaceful existence in the Welsh countryside belying her traumatic past, which she has successfully hidden from her family. Her life is about to change when Solomon is released from prison after serving ten years for murder. Rebecca knows that it won’t be long until he will come to find her – and seek revenge. But even Rebecca could not have foreseen what Solomon has in store for her. To save herself and her family, she must become a player in a twisted game he has devised specially for her. For every year of his prison sentence, Rebecca must choose a victim for a crime Solomon has planned, and witness it unfold – and therefore become an accomplice in his crimes.

In a market saturated with crime novels, it is difficult to come across an original idea that has not been explored before. In Witness, Mitchell has found the one element that makes her novel unique – the game Solomon plays with Rebecca to get his revenge for ten years in prison after she betrayed him and handed him over to the authorities. I loved the premise of the story, which makes Rebecca an accomplice in Solomon’s crimes, simply by being forced to choose the victims. Very clever! The idea is both confronting as well as thought provoking: would you choose your victims from amongst your enemies so you can justify that they will only get what they deserve? How sweet is revenge, really, when it comes down to it? There is so much potential in this idea and the ethical and moral dilemmas arising from it, it could have served as the single element of the whole story and still succeeded in keeping the reader’s interest. If only Rebecca had been a character I could have liked, wanted to understand, care for! Which is exactly where the novel failed for me – as hard as I tried (and I really did), I could not empathise with any of the characters. Despite insightful descriptions of domestic abuse that would make anyone’s skin crawl, Rebecca remained an enigma to me, and I never quite understood her motives or the torment she would / should have felt when confronted with her abusive former boyfriend once again. Solomon, the ultimate sociopath, was such a stereotype that his chapters didn’t ring true for me, and the book would have worked better if it had excluded his POV altogether.

I really wanted to like this book, because it had so much potential to be great, and Mitchell definitely knows how to write and build suspense. On self-reflection, I don’t think that I judge a book simply by whether I like the characters. I think I can deal with unlikeable protagonists, for example Paul Morris in Sabine Durrant’s Lie With Me, as long as I can relate to them, picture them as flesh and blood beings in my head until the acquire a life of their own, infiltrating my very being whilst the story plays out in my mind. Unfortunately, this never happened for me here. The one thing that kept me reading on, and pick the book up time and time again when I had vowed to give up on it, was the brilliance of Solomon’s “game”, which intrigued me until its final conclusion.

I realise that I am definitely in the minority here, my twin stars drowned by a tidal wave of 5-star reviews, which just goes to show that readers are individuals, with different tastes, preferences, likes and dislikes. This is why everyone should take my review with a grain of salt, and just as it has been intended – as my personal opinion only.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Book Review: SECRETS OF SOUTHERN GIRLS by Haley Harrigan

Secrets of Southern Girls

Title: Secrets of Southern Girls
Author: Haley Harrigan
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Read: January 2017
Expected publication: 1 June 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Ten years ago, Julie Portland accidentally killed her best friend, Reba. What's worse is she got away with it. Consumed by guilt, she left the small town of Lawrence Mill, Mississippi, and swore nothing would ever drag her back. Now, raising her daughter and struggling to make ends meet in Manhattan, Julie still can't forget the ghost of a girl with golden hair and a dangerous secret.

When August, Reba's first love, begs Julie to come home to find the diary that Reba kept all those years ago, Julie's past comes creeping back to haunt her. That diary could expose the shameful memories Julie has been running from, but it could also unearth the hidden truths that Reba left buried…and reveal that Julie isn't the only one who feels responsible for Reba's death. 

My thoughts:

Secrets of Southern Girls tells the story of a friendship between two teenage girls, Reba and Jules, who are growing up in the small mill town of Lawrence, Mississippi. Jules sees her friend as pure and innocent, oblivious to the secrets Reba is keeping from her. Secrets, which would surely destroy their friendship. But secrets have a way of revealing themselves in little innocent remarks, chance encounters, routines broken. Soon Reba’s worlds collide, ending in terrible tragedy – an event that will haunt Jules throughout her adult life. Too traumatised at the time, she has only sketchy memories of the incident, and guilt has been her constant companion since. With too many questions unanswered, she agrees to Reba’s old boyfriend’s request to look for Reba’s diary to be finally be able to find out the truth and put her demons to rest.

Secrets of Southern Girls is both a coming-of-age story and a mystery of sorts, as Jules (now Julie) is trying to find out whether she really killed her best friend on that fateful day decades ago, and the events leading up to it. Harrigan skilfully sets the atmosphere of the small mill town, and I got a good sense of the small town politics and relationships that shape the girls’ lives.

My biggest gripe with the book are the chapters that read “Reba’s diary” – it is a pet hate of mine when authors use the diary perspective in a novel, in a way no one would ever write a real diary. Reba is a teenage girl consumed by the lust and passion of first teenage love, and yet her diary reads like a literary work, dialogue and all. I was a teenager once, given to passionate and woeful outpourings into the pages of my diary (which makes me laugh today), full of my own importance and seeing my small problems as disasters of epic scale. This is what I would expect from Reba, who is so consumed with her first experiences with boys and sex that these form the centre of her whole universe. If you have to involve a diary, it would be better to offer small, cryptic excerpts in the style of teenage writing, and then flesh these out and explain them through narrative from Reba’s point of view. But titling whole chapters “Reba’s diary” just did not ring true. This may be petty, but it irked me, as did the constant chopping and changing between the so-called diary and Julie’s story, which made it a confusing read. Ok - rant over.

Secrets of Southern Girls is a slow moving story, with the mystery at its centre not quite compelling enough for me to keep me interested. Seeing that Julie’s main concern was that she was somehow involved in her friend’s death, I did not fully understand the importance of the diary to her – since her friend would not have been able to write about her own death from the afterlife, those final moments would still remain a mystery. That aside, I found it difficult to bond with either character, although Reba’s discovery of her own sexuality at times was sensitively drawn and authentic, especially in the scenes with Toby (who was by far my favourite character as he had the most authentic voice of all the characters – unlike the other characters, I was able to visualise him clearly). I was often confused by different characters’ motives for some of their actions, for example Nell, who held on to the diary knowing that there were at least two characters consumed with guilt due to unanswered questions – why? This outlines my quintessential struggle with the book: I found it extremely difficult to visualise or understand its characters. The often stilted dialogue and ambiguous motives and thought processes of all protagonists always seemed to keep me at arms’ length, and I never bonded with any of them. They just lacked spark. Seeing that this is Harrigan’s debut novel, these issues may be ironed out in future novels, so I will definitely give the author another go.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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