Monday, 18 September 2017

Holiday Reads Mini Review #1: EXQUISITE by Sarah Stovell

It's holiday time! I've had my reading list sorted for ages, leaving the most coveted books on my tbr pile for my trip - which you must agree shows great restraint!

After much agonising, I chose this little gem to sneak into my cabin luggage and be first off the rank. Unfortunately I was much too tired after coming off night shifts to read much on the plane, but made up for it once we got to the beautiful city of Barcelona.

I will try to post mini reviews of my holiday reads by painstakingly typing them out on my trusty old Samsung in hotel rooms at night, and challenging myself by trying to figure out my Blogger app as I go, so please forgive me any formatting errors.

Pictured here is the beautiful ancient city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, where we are currently staying.




Title: Exquisite
Author: Sarah Stovell
Read: September 2017 in Barcelona, Spain
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

Book Description (Goodreads):

Bo Luxton has it all—a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name.
Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend. When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops. Or does it?

Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

My musings:

Ever since its release date earlier this year, I have kept stumbling across raving reviews about Sarah Stovell's dark and unsettling psychological thriller about obsession and lies, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. With a premise that was certain to mess with my mind, I thought it would make the perfect holiday read. And true to its promise, once I started I was well and truly hooked!

Told in the alternating voices of Bo and Alice, the story soon spiralled into the murky waters of lies, deception and a friendship gone terribly wrong. Having two unreliable narrators, each with their own agendas and motives, soon saw me constantly questioning everything I read, which made for an interesting if somewhat exhausting reading experience. To be honest, neither of the two women were particularly trustworthy, both scarred from dysfunctional childhoods that make most of our ordinary lives sound like princess fairy tales. Despite the age gap between the women, and their obvious differences, their rich background stories explained perfectly why they would be drawn to one another. I confess that the young struggling Alice struck me as the more innocent of the two and I warmed to her much more than to Bo, despite her love for hiking (which I share) and being much closer in age to me.You will have to see for yourself whether I was on the right track or not!

Stovell's writing is engaging and seductive, drawing me so deeply into the story that I emerged a long time later like a sleeper out of a disturbing dream. With its constant twists and turns and two narrators who both tried to convince me that there account of events was the right one, I was constantly questioning what I was reading, to the very last page. And to be totally frank with you, I'm still not sure if I got it right, even after the last page has been turned. Yes, it certainly made good on its promise of messing with my mind!

I don't want to give any spoilers, so will not delve any deeper into the story other than to say that there is a lot of tension and foreboding as the two women's friendship blossoms. For me, disaster was always the inevitable outcome, and the power of the story lay in its detail. Personally, I thought that the ending was a bit of a let-down, feeling slightly rushed where it could have drawn out the unbearable tension just a tad longer to make it truly satisfying. However, I can fully understand the hype Stovell's book created, and will be anxiously looking out for her next book in anticipation of another great read.

Summary:

Exquisite is an unsettling and utterly compulsive story of a friendship gone wrong that will mess with your mind and make you question everything you read. A must-read for lovers of domestic noir who are looking for a character driven story with unreliable narrators who will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Book Review: DARK PINES by Will Dean

Title: Dark Pines
Author: Will Dean
Publisher:
Oneworld Publications
Read:
September 2017
Expected publication: 4 January 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

An isolated Swedish town. A deaf reporter terrified of nature. A dense spruce forest overdue for harvest. A pair of eyeless hunters found murdered in the woods.

It’s week one of the Swedish elk hunt and the sound of gunfire is everywhere. When Tuva Moodyson investigates the story that could make her career she stumbles on a web of secrets that knit Gavrik town together. Are the latest murders connected to the Medusa killings twenty years ago? Is someone following her? Why take the eyes? Tuva must face her demons and venture deep into the woods to stop the killer and write the story. And then get the hell out of Gavrik.

My musings:

Tuva is an interesting, multi-dimensional character who I like straight from the start. Being deaf from childhood, life has not always been easy for her, but she is never bitter of bemoaning her fate, determined not to let her disability stop her from achieving her goals. Wanting to be near her dying mother sees Tuva give up her career as a journalist in London and move to the small town of Gavrik in a remote region in the Swedish countryside, where she finds work writing small features for the local paper. Her job suddenly becomes a lot more interesting when a man is found murdered in a gruesome fashion in the forest, mutilated in ways that link him to other killings twenty years ago.

The more Tuva starts investigating the town's dark secrets, the creepier the book becomes. There were some truly terrifying characters there - those woodcarver sisters will give me nightmares for some time to come I think! Everyone seems to have a motive for murder, and most of the characters are - for lack of a better word –odd, yet strangely compelling. There were so many interesting side stories here that would make for whole books just on their own, and I could have kept reading on long after the mystery had been solved just to find out more about this unusual cast of characters. Dean portrays small town mentality perfectly, with all its prejudice, allgiances and narrow-mindedness, Tuva always remaining the outsider. Her friendship with Tammy was portrayed beautifully, and I was glad that at least she had someone fighting in her corner!

I am always a sucker for a creepy remote setting, and the author certainly knows how to set the atmosphere: the dark, sinister woods Tuva is so afraid of take on a life of their own, closing in tighter and tighter around the small town the more people fear for their lives with a serial killer on the loose. Dean does a brilliant job in ratcheting up the tension by including small, seemingly insignificant details that add to the general undercurrent of danger, like the plague of insects that attack Tuva every time she goes into the woods, or the pile of rotting mouse carcasses she finds piled up against a stonewall near one of her suspect's homes. With its air of menace, the forest becomes almost like another character Tuva is up against in her quest to find out the truth. 


Summary:

Dark Pines is one of those dark, atmospheric and haunting thrillers that contains everything I look for in a good mystery, and I was instantly hooked. If you are looking for a sympathetic gutsy heroine, a rich cast of unusual characters, a creepy claustrophobic setting and a chilling murder mystery, you can’t go wrong with this one!  It definitely earned itself a spot on my favourites list for the year and I look forward to reading more from the author in future. Very highly recommended. 


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





Monday, 11 September 2017

Book Review: COLD BLOOD by Robert Bryndza (Detective Erika Foster #5)

Author: Robert Bryndza
Publisher:
Bookouture
Read:
September 2017
Expected publication: 20 September 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description (Goodreads):

When a battered suitcase containing the dismembered body of a young man washes up on the shore of the river Thames, Detective Erika Foster is shocked. She’s worked on some terrifying cases but never seen anything like this before.

As Erika and her team set to work, she makes the link with another victim – the body of a young woman dumped in an identical suitcase two weeks ago.

Erika quickly realises she’s on the trail of a serial killer who’s already made their next move. Yet just as Erika starts to make headway with the investigation, she is the victim of a brutal attack.

But nothing will stop Erika. As the body count rises, the twin daughters of her colleague Commander Marsh are abducted, and the stakes are higher than ever before. Can Erika save the lives of two innocent children before it’s too late? She’s running out of time and about to make a disturbing discovery…there’s more than one killer.

My musings:

I’ve been a big fan of the Erika Foster series from the start, and was duly excited to see that a fifth book is coming out, doing my usual happy dance around the kitchen when I got the approval for an ARC from Netgalley. I’m not sure what it is exactly that makes Erika such a stand-out character for me, but I find the series totally addictive! Bryndza has a very direct, “no-frills” writing style that works well for the genre and really appeals to me. The short chapters are filled with action and move the story along at a good pace. Plus, I have grown very fond of the team of detectives and forensic scientists that have been featuring alongside Erika, eagerly following their side stories.

As usual, Bryndza has given Erika a chilling and challenging case to solve, which she approaches in her usual “give-it-all” manner, determined to find the killer/s before the body count mounts. Parts of the book are narrated from the perpetrators’ POV, and I must admit that on this occasion this did not work as well for me than in previous novels, especially Nina’s diary entries. The trouble I have with most fictional diaries is that they rarely read like a real-life diary, and tend to slow the story down with lots of internal dialogue. Personally, I thought that this distracted me from the main story and pushed Erika and her team into the background. I felt that I was not invested enough in Nina’s story to care about her most intimate thoughts, which made the book flag a bit for me in the middle. I would have much preferred to be more involved in Erika’s investigation and problem solving, which was overshadowed by the story of the two perpetrators and always being a few steps ahead of the police. This is purely a personal preference and will probably not bother other readers, but I didn’t feel that Cold Blood offered the same thrilling cat-and-mouse game as previous books. I am also not a big fan of the theme of detectives becoming targets, finding it overused and often quite far-fetched. That said, once the story picked up pace in the last quarter of the book, there was plenty of action to make up for the short lull, and I loved the tense and thrilling finale. 

Summary:

Whilst Book 5 was not my favourite instalment in the Erika Foster series, it features a chilling murder case, a ruthless perpetrator and plenty of action, and I am sure that many readers will love it. I am still a big fan of the series and am looking forward to Erika’s next case - I hope that she will finally find a bit more happiness in her personal life!


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





Friday, 8 September 2017

Audiobook Review: INTO THE DARKEST CORNER by Elizabeth Haynes

Author: Elizabeth Haynes
Read: September 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

“You think you know now, don't you? But you have no idea what it was like.” 


Book Description (Goodreads):

When young, pretty Catherine Bailey meets Lee Brightman, she can't believe her luck. Gorgeous, charismatic, and a bit mysterious, Lee seems almost too perfect to be true.

But what begins as flattering attention and spontaneous, passionate sex transforms into raging jealousy, and Catherine soon discovers that Lee's dazzling blue eyes and blond good looks hide a dark, violent nature. Disturbed by his increasingly erratic, controlling behavior, she tries to break it off; turning to her friends for support, she's stunned to find they don't believe her. Increasingly isolated and driven into the darkest corner of her world, a desperate Catherine plans a meticulous escape.

Four years later, Lee is behind bars and Catherine—now Cathy—is trying to build a new life in a new city. Though her body has healed, the trauma of the past still haunts her. Then Stuart Richardson, her attractive new neighbor, moves in. Encouraging her to confront her fears, he sparks unexpected hope and the possibility of love and a normal life.

Until the day the phone rings . . .

My musings:

Rarely has a book ever made me so angry! At one stage, I almost experienced a murderous rage against one of the characters, wanting – needing – to see justice done. It says a lot about the author’s writing skills to be able to elicit such strong emotional responses in her readers. Whilst this is a slow-burning mystery, its tension relying more on the psychological states of mind of its characters rather than action, at times it was almost unbearable to follow their slow but inevitable fate as they walked head first into the abyss.

Catherine Bailey and Cathy Bailey may be one and the same woman, but they are like night and day. How can the carefree young Catherine have turned into a frightened, obsessive recluse, too afraid to get out of her house, and endlessly checking windows and doors to make sure they are secure? Don’t worry – you are about to find out. Told in a “now” and “then” format from the POV of Cathy as she reflects on her present life and her past, we get to follow her journey from first meeting the charismatic Lee to having to lock herself in her flat and fearing for her life. The experiences that turned Catherine into Cathy are as intense as they are terrifying – I listened to the audiobook, and some scenes left me shaking in horror as well as rage of the sheer “wrongness” of it all. Without giving anything away that has not already been mentioned in the blurb, Into the Darkest Corner is a tale of domestic abuse, psychological terror and of a relationship gone horribly wrong. The story is so well plotted that every time I questioned Catherine’s options, I realised just how limited they were, how omnipotent the evil that had taken over her life. I constantly asked myself: what would I do? And shuddered at the image of the dead-end corner Catherine had found herself in, with her back against the wall.  

Summary:

Into the Darkest Corner tells of one of the most chilling fictional relationships I have ever encountered in a psychological thriller, and it terrified me to the core. A brilliantly plotted, dark and sinister book that will stay with me for some time to come, and makes me want to check that my windows and doors are locked up tight. It would make for some brilliant bookclub discussions!

Credit must also go to Karen Cass, whose voice was perfect for narrating Cathy’s story – I loved listening to her and she gave life to all the characters in the book. 



Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Book Review: LITTLE SECRETS by Anna Snoekstra

Author: Anna Snoekstra
Publisher:
Harlequin Australia
Read:
September 2017
Expected publication: 23 October 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description (blurb):

What happens when ambition trumps the truth?

A town reeling in the wake of tragedy…

An arsonist is on the loose in Colmstock, Australia, most recently burning down the town’s courthouse and killing a young boy who was trapped inside.

An aspiring journalist desperate for a story…

The clock is ticking for Rose Blakey. With nothing but rejections from newspapers piling up, her job pulling beers for cops at the local tavern isn’t enough to even cover rent. Rose needs a story — a big one.

A bizarre mystery…

In the weeks after the courthouse fire, porcelain replicas of Colmstock’s daughters begin turning up on doorsteps, terrifying parents and testing the limits of the town’s already fractured police force.

Rose may have finally found her story. But as her articles gain traction and the boundaries of her investigation blur, Colmstock is seized by a seething paranoia. Soon, no one is safe from suspicion. And when Rose’s attention turns to the mysterious stranger living in the rooms behind the tavern, neighbour turns on neighbour and the darkest side of self-preservation is revealed.


My musings:

I think that over the last decade or so, Australian mystery & crime fiction has really come into its own, with authors using unique characteristics in their stories and creating a niche market for themselves that draws readers from all around the world for an Aussie interpretation of “noir” . For me, these are books that have a strong sense of place, using the harshness of nature and the remoteness of the setting to create tension and a constant undercurrent of menace and danger to the story. Little Secrets definitely falls into that category! Snoekstra has done a wonderful job in creating not only a setting, but also characters that captivate and terrify at the same time. The dying little country town of Colmstock is so quintessentially Australian that you can literally feel the heat and hear the flies buzzing in its dusty, deserted streets! Not only does its remote setting make for a perfect background to a chilling mystery, but Snoekstra includes some seemingly insignificant but terrifying elements that make the streets of this particular country town even more creepy: such as the smoking ruins of the courthouse, or the spooky presence of the paper plate kids – and those creepy dolls of course! I had goosebumps reading it!

In Rose, Snoekstra has created a wonderful main protagonist – one you cannot help liking, even though she definitely has her flaws. Young and ambitious, Rose’s main dream is to get out of the dying town she has grown up in, and yet has limited means to do so. An aspiring journalist, Rose knows rejection only too well, even though this latest one threatens to put all her best-laid plans to rest. Like any creature trapped, Rose is not afraid to fight for her chance of an escape. Her friend Mia, on the other hand, has long resigned herself to living and dying in Colmstock, which makes her both adore and resent Rose in equal measure. The dynamics between the two best friends was fascinating and very well drawn, and held a few unexpected surprises.

I really don’t want to give anything away to spoil this wonderful mystery for anyone, so won’t be delving too much into the storyline, except to say that it had me captivated from beginning to end. If it hadn’t been for the reality of having to go to work, and catch a few hours sleep, I would have devoured this book in one giant read-a-thon. I couldn’t tear myself away! As things start heading south, and the small community of Colmstock is beginning  to unravel like a pack of wild dogs snapping and snarling at each other, the tension was almost unbearable. I loved how the author slowly strips each and every character of their masks, revealing their true personalities underneath. There were a few surprises there!  Snoekstra’s ability to give all her characters true-to-life personalities and flaws made them come to life for me. As tensions grow, and neighbours turn against neighbours, friends against friends, there was a palpable sense of menace that had my heart racing and my knuckles turn white as I gripped the book tightly in my hands, wanting, needing to find out how this would all end – what more can you ask from a good mystery? 

Summary:

Little Secrets is Australian crime fiction at its best – this is the type of psychological thriller that makes me come back for more, and I can’t wait to read more from this talented author. Highly recommended! 


A big thank you to Harlequin Australia for the free copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.