Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Girlfriend

Author: Michelle Frances
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Kensington
First Published: January 30, 2018
First Line: "Laura had a good feeling about today."

Book Description from GoodReadsA girl. A boy. His mother. And the lie she'll wish she'd never told.

The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances is a gripping and chilling debut psychological thriller, based on the fall-out following an unforgiveable lie. It looks at the potentially charged relationship between girlfriend, boyfriend and his mother, which most women can identify with, and locates it in an extreme but believable setting.

Laura has it all. A successful career, a long marriage to a rich husband, and a twenty-three year-old son, Daniel, who is kind, handsome, and talented. Then Daniel meets Cherry. Cherry is young, beautiful and smart but she hasn't had the same opportunities as Daniel. And she wants Laura's life.

Cherry comes to the family wide-eyed and wants to be welcomed with open arms, but Laura suspects she's not all that she seems.

When tragedy strikes, an unforgiveable lie is told. It is an act of desperation, but the fall-out will change their lives forever.

My Rating
: 2 stars (aka 'meh')

My Review:
This book is marketed as a 'chilling psychological thriller' but it is a domestic drama at best. It lacks tension and depth to the story and instead gives readers a long-winded, slowly paced story with lukewarm characters who behave exactly how you'd expect, making this debut 'just okay' at best.

The premise had heaps of potential, but the author couldn't pull off a 'thriller'. It just wasn't clever enough. It felt like the author had to lay out every character's thoughts and didn't trust her readers to be able to piece together a more intricate plot. This may appeal to people who want a mild, family drama read but for avid readers of the psychological suspense genre, like myself, this doesn't add anything new to the genre (either domestic drama or psychological thriller).

With thinly constructed characters, a weakly executed premise and a lack of suspense, this quickly became one of those books that I wasn't eager to get back into.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Hazel Wood

Author: Melissa Albert
Genre: Teen, Dark Urban Fantasy
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Flatiron Books
First Published: January 30, 2018
First Line: "My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways."

Book Description from GoodReadsSeventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland super fan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I can't remember having such drastic feelings about a book. The first half (which I read in one sitting - thank you, insomnia!) captivated me. I found it suspenseful, engaging, a little creepy and I was intrigued by the stunning cover and the dark fairy tale aspect.

And then, a little more than half way through, the book took on a different feel. At this point, the story became convoluted and the world building was done so quickly, not giving readers time to acclimate, that I was left feeling an overall sense of confusion. Many secondary and tertiary characters float in and out of the story that it left me wondering who was important.

The Hazel Wood has a unique premise that is very much story-centric leaving readers with only two main characters - Alice and to a lesser extent, Ellery Finch, her school mate who is an avid fan of Alice's grandmother's book. Alice is an unlikable, ornery main character and without a connection to her, and with a confusing second half of the book, I can't say that I finished the book as enamoured with it as I began. I definitely liked parts - Finch, the writing and suspense in the first half but the last half of the book pulled my rating down.

I realize that other readers have adored this book and perhaps this dark urban fantasy read just isn't the book for me. If you're into dark fairy tales and want a story to take you to places you've never imagined this may be a book for you.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Need to Know

Author: Karen Cleveland
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 286
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Penguin Random House Canada)
First Published: January 23, 2018
First Line: "I stand in the doorway of the twins' room and watch them sleep, peaceful and innocent, through crib slats that remind me of bars on a prison cell".

Book Description from GoodReadsIn pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, a CIA analyst uncovers a dangerous secret that will test her loyalty to the agency--and to her family.

What do you do when everything you trust might be a lie?

Vivian Miller is a dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst assigned to uncover the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States. On track for a much-needed promotion, she's developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America's borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her--her job, her husband, even her four children--are threatened.

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she's facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: When I received my advanced copy of this book there was no blurb on the back. The only description was that it was debut novel that's 'impossible to describe without spoilers' and included a comment from author Lee Child that once you read one chapter you'll be hard pressed to put the book down.

I have to agree with Mr Child.

This book took over my life for a day and a half. Normally, I don't read spy novels, but I was intrigued by the hype and soon found myself hooked. The story focuses on Vivian Miller, a CIA counterintelligence analyst who works to identify Russian sleeper spies living in the US. She soon becomes tangled in an increasingly dangerous plot that threatens not only national security but her life and the lives of her family.

This book will keep you reading into the week hours with its high energy, tension-filled plot loaded with twists, culprits and Vivian's increasing paranoia. The author, a former CIA intelligence analyst herself, brings an authenticity to Vivian's character from a professional standpoint and readers are also pulled into Vivian's family life which plays a pivotal role.

There were a few times that Vivian seemed too naïve for someone in such a top-secret position and sometimes the family scenes interrupted the tension and flow but other than those two small issues this was an amazing read. Towards the end I thought we'd have an easy, predictable ending but Cleveland pulls out some final twists which left me muttering 'Well played, Karen Cleveland. Well played".

While this is a perfect read for fans of political/spy thrillers, it will also appeal to fans of suspense who enjoy short chapters that entice readers to read 'just one more chapter'.  Engrossing and well-paced, this impressive debut shows the sophistication and depth of spy agencies and also touches on personal issues of trust, betrayal, loyalty and the depths one will go to protect their own.

Note: The buzz surrounding this book has already caught Hollywood's attention - it's been optioned for a movie starring Charlize Theron (who will also produce the film).

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Murder Stone

Author: Louise Penny
Genre: Mystery, Canadian
Series: #4 in the Inspector Gamache series
Also known as: The Rule Against Murder
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 424
Source: Personal Copy from a second-hand bookstore
Publisher: Sphere
First Published: 2011
First Line: "More than a century ago the Robber Barrons discovered Lac Massawippi."

Book Description from GoodReadsBeneath the scorched summer sky, the wealthy Finney family have gathered at a lakeside manor to honour their late father. But when the heat wave boils over into a mighty storm, a dead body is left in its wake - and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache finds himself with a building full of suspects.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: The Murder Stone is the fourth book in the popular Inspector Gamache mystery series by Canadian author Louise Penny. It sets itself apart from the earlier books in the series because it isn't set in the quaint village of Three Pines. Instead, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation at Manoir Bellechasse, a small, posh inn on the shores of a secluded lake in eastern Quebec where he and his wife Reine-Marie are spending their 35th anniversary weekend.

The different setting is quite a departure from the usual small Quebecois village, but readers are still given un petit goût (small taste) of Three Pines. I admit to missing the colourful small-town characters but it was nice to spice things up with a different venue. It also had a very Agatha Christie-esque feel, since the suspects are isolated at the grand inn and its grounds.

As always, Penny gives her readers several red herrings and Armand is a wonderful main character who you will easily root for. He's a family man, has a great relationship with his wife, kids and grandkids and is well respected for his murder solving skills. On the opposite end of the character spectrum is the Morrow/Finney family, a truly dysfunctional group who are also staying at the inn. While their issues made for an interesting read and multiple culprits, the amount of dysfunction in one family was a little hard to believe.

I highly recommend this series (read them in order!). You know you're reading one of your favourite authors/series when, after only the first couple of paragraphs, you let out a big sigh and hunker down for a story you know you'll enjoy with characters you've found yourself missing since the last book. That is what it's like to read Louise Penny.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Just Between Us

Author: Rebecca Drake
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Griffin
First Published: January 9, 2018
First Line: "Funerals for murder victims are distinguished from other services by the curiosity seekers."

Book Description from GoodReadsFour suburban mothers and friends conspire to cover up a deadly crime in this heart-stopping novel of suspense in the tradition of Lisa Scottoline and Lisa Unger.

Alison, Julie, Sarah, Heather. Four friends living the suburban ideal. Their jobs are steady, their kids are healthy. They’re as beautiful as their houses. But each of them has a dirty little secret, and hidden behind the veneer of their perfect lives is a crime and a mystery that will consume them all. 

Everything starts to unravel when Alison spots a nasty bruise on Heather’s wrist. She shares her suspicions with Julie and Sarah, compelling all three to investigate what looks like an increasingly violent marriage. As mysterious injuries and erratic behavior mount, Heather can no longer deny the abuse, but she refuses to leave her husband. Desperate to save her, Alison and the others dread the phone call telling them that she’s been killed. But when that call finally comes, it’s not Heather who’s dead. In a moment they’ll come to regret, the women must decide what lengths they’ll go to in order to help a friend.

Just Between Us is a thrilling glimpse into the underbelly of suburbia, where not all neighbors can be trusted, and even the closest friends keep dangerous secrets. You never really know what goes on in another person’s mind, or in their marriage.

My Rating: 3 stars

My ReviewJust Between Us focuses on four suburban moms, the secrets they keep and the lengths they'll go for each other to keep those secrets hidden. But what happens when your secret comes out?  How far would you go to help a friend?  These are the questions that Rebecca Drake asks her readers in this new suspense read.

Readers will notice a strong Big Little Lies vibe which is enticing and smacks full of girl power. There are some twists and I thought it was a good read but could have been a lot better in terms of suspense and character development. Its appeal began to falter for me after that fateful phone call when many of their actions became too far-fetched to the point of being silly.

Each chapter is told by a different character, but these four friends were hard to differentiate from each other and I didn't feel the connection between them. When you add in remembering which husband, kids and career belong to each character, it became quite a task to remember who was who and that interrupted the building tension. 

Overall, this was a decent read that focused on secrets and lies of four friends. While this wasn't a big hit with me, I can see this book being enjoyed by those who want a lighter suspense read set in a Desperate Housewives/Big Little Lies-type setting. 

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Anatomy of a Scandal

Author: Sarah Vaughan
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book

Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: January 23, 2018
First Line: "My wig slumps on my desk where I have tossed it like flattened road kill."

Book Description from GoodReads: An astonishingly incisive and suspenseful novel about a scandal amongst Britain’s privileged elite and the women caught up in its wake.

Sophie’s husband James is a loving father, a handsome man, a charismatic and successful public figure. And yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to rip them apart.

Kate is the lawyer hired to prosecute the case: an experienced professional who knows that the law is all about winning the argument. And yet Kate seeks the truth at all times. She is certain James is guilty and is determined he will pay for his crimes.

Who is right about James? Sophie or Kate? And is either of them informed by anything more than instinct and personal experience? Despite her privileged upbringing, Sophie is well aware that her beautiful life is not inviolable. She has known it since she and James were first lovers, at Oxford, and she witnessed how easily pleasure could tip into tragedy.

Most people would prefer not to try to understand what passes between a man and a woman when they are alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in an elevator… Or alone in the moonlit courtyard of an Oxford college, where a girl once stood before a boy, heart pounding with excitement, then fear. Sophie never understood why her tutorial partner Holly left Oxford so abruptly. What would she think, if she knew the truth?

My Rating: 2.5 stars (aka 'just ok')

My ReviewThis book started off strong - interesting characters with questionable pasts, secrets and lies - setting it firmly in the suspense genre. But around the half way mark it turned into more of a contemporary fiction/weak legal thriller. 

I liked the premise of the book but, besides the slight twist in the middle, this was more of a boilerplate read -- nothing too jarring, assumptions were proven true and nothing caused me to reconsider my initial assumptions about the characters, many of whom remained stereotypical.

With the number of men who have recently come forward about their sexual misconduct (or worse) in the media, the topics discussed in this book (consent and women's rights) are quite timely. Unfortunately, I didn't feel like Vaughan followed through with enough depth with these issues or her characters leaving me without a connection to any of them. 

I'm a big reader of suspense books but unfortunately this book fell short for me. While this book gives readers some food for thought about sexual consent it fell short for me in suspense, character development and a hard-hitting ending.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 444
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins)
First published: February 28, 2017
First Line: "I shouldn't have come to this party."

Book Description from GoodReadsSixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Rating: 5 stars

My Review: I now understand why The Hate U Give is so popular. It is a story that ticks all the right boxes -- it is powerful, engaging and timely. It is well-written with a main character readers will root for and it doesn't shy away from confronting big issues.

Through her story, Thomas educates her readers about issues such as prejudice, police brutality as well as black culture, racism (both intentional and inadvertent), white privilege and cultural appropriation. The discussions of these issues aren't always comfortable to read (nor should they be) but the story is compelling and sadly, these issues continue to be prevalent today.

The story revolves around Starr Carter, a black teenager who witnesses her friend being gunned down by a white police officer. The effects of this tragedy are shown through Starr's eyes but readers also see how the tragedy affects Starr's community and family as well as the disparate views of her classmates in the mainly white private school she attends. These reactions vary from emotionally charged and shocked to apathetic, ignorant and censured. Through these differing viewpoints, Thomas reveals a social and political commentary of these issues.

The writing is strong, and the characters are diverse and well fleshed out. Starr is a resilient young woman and the reader witnesses how she learns to harness her inner strength and find the power of her own voice. The story addresses many of Starr's relationships - some of which are quite complicated. From her family life, to her friends at home and at school, Starr struggles to figure out where she fits in. Her family is a huge source of her strength and their bonds, humour and fierce devotion to each other show where Starr gets much of her strength and tenacity.
The Hate U Give is a book that needs to be read. It educates its readers within a compelling, raw and eye-opening story filled with characters you'll swear are real. It's a book about family, community, friendship and loyalty as much as it's a book about racism, fear and abuse of power. 

Favourite Quotes:
“What's the point of having a voice if you're gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn't be?”

"Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right"

"Funny. Slave masters thought they were making a difference in black people's lives too. Saving them from their "wild African ways". Same shit, different century. I wish people like them would stop thinking that people like me need saving"

Saturday, 30 December 2017

A Treacherous Curse

Author: Deanna Raybourn
Type: Historical Mystery
Series: #3 in the Veronica Speedwell series (read in order)
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: January 16, 2018
First Line: London 1888 - "I assure you, I am perfectly capable of identifying a phallus when I see one," Stoker informed me, clipping the words sharply. 

Book Description from GoodReadsLondon, 1888 -- As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.
But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. 

My Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

My ReviewIf you're looking for a historical mystery series that features a female protagonist who is smart, determined, fiercely independent, speaks her mind and has a penchant for getting in the middle of police investigations then let me introduce you to Veronica Speedwell.  

Veronica is a modern woman whose disregard for societal rules raises some eyebrows in Victorian England and her complicated family history adds an intriguing element. But it is her close, yet complicated relationship with her friend and colleague Stoker, their witty banter, and knowing I'll get a solid mystery that keep me coming back to this series. 

In this third book in the series, the mystery surrounds a supposed curse surrounding an Egyptian expedition which has brought its relics to England for display. The mystery has twists and turns but I'll be honest - I was more intrigued about getting a better look at Stoker's mysterious past. 

As with her other works, Deanna Raybourn combines beautifully crafted prose, a healthy dose of humour and a twist-filled mystery that will keep readers glued to their books. I highly recommend this series for people who enjoy well written, engaging historical mysteries with a protagonist who stands out from the rest.

Tip: Read this series in order 

Friday, 29 December 2017

This Is How It Always Is

Author: Laurie Frankel
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, LGBTQ
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 336
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Flatiron Books
First Published: January 2017
First Line: "But first, Roo was born."

Book Description from GoodReadsThis is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.

This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.

This is how children change…and then change the world.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.

When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.

My Rating: 2.5 stars ("just okay")

My Review: I'm going to start this review by applauding the author for bringing the topic of raising a transgender child to her readers. But while the subject matter is important, and the author brings some of her personal experience to the story, this book was a struggle for me.

I think it's important to have books that focus on LGBTQ issues and I went into this book wanting a bird's eye view of what it's like to raise a transgender child. I wanted to understand the different perspectives of various family members - their frustrations, fears etc for their child/sibling. But I didn't get that connection to the characters. Instead, we're given a family who was too perfect to be believable. There wasn't enough hesitation, fear, doubt, concern etc by Claude's family members and any complications were easily solved without major outbursts but with a quick discussion, sometimes leaving readers with hard to believe results. A lot of focus was on their day-to-day family dialogue which didn't give readers better insight into the characters but was used to spoon feed readers on the issues surrounding gender dysphoria/transgender which gave the book a teachy, artificial feel. 

This book has a lot of heart and will instigate discussion, but I can't help but feel that this isn't 'how it always is' when a family has a transgender child. It lacked the tension, emotion and real struggle that I think many transgender people face. It focuses on a weak main story line with several smaller tangents (the 'trip' story line didn't work for me at all) and readers are left with everything neatly wrapped up in the end.

This was a sweet read that has a fairy tale quality to it but I was hoping for a more realistic portrayal of a family and child who are struggling with the issues surrounding gender dysphoria.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

The Chalk Man

Author: C.J Tudor
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Crown Publishing 
First Published: January 9, 2018
First Line: "The girl's head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy little English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code; little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he's put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank... until one of them turns up dead. That's when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: C.J Tudor has written an impressive debut novel that gives readers a dose of small town creepy as she reveals the twists to her readers. The plot includes a selection of culprits and victims and some of the twists include chilling and gruesome moments that will keep readers on their toes as they try to figure out what really happened that summer.

The story begins in 1986 with 12-year-old Eddie and his group of friends who are eager for their summer holidays to hang out, ride their bikes, leave secret messages for each other in chalk and wreak mild havoc in their small town. But after a chalk figure leads them to a dead body their idyllic summer comes to a quick halt. The story jumps back and forth from 1986 to 2016 as readers become privy to how their lives were irrevocably changed after the events in 1986. 

I was impressed by Tudor's writing which was descriptive and has a touch of humour to balance the sinister feel. Her characters are well flawed and add their own baggage to the plot in varying degrees. I enjoyed the camaraderie of these boyhood chums which immediately reminded me of childhood movies, Goonies with a strong, and obvious, nod to Stand By Me.

But I had a few issues with the book. First, it felt like the reader is kept at arm's length from the characters, so I didn't feel a connection to them (who honestly weren't an overly likable bunch anyway). I also found the book was more creepier than it was suspenseful and while the book started out strong, the middle section quickly ran out of steam. Things pick up at the end but it's a bit of a rushed ending.

Overall, this was a good (not great) thriller and a different kind of suspense read. Readers who enjoy a creepy setting with a group of culprits and a small town feel should enjoy this book. I look forward to reading more from this author.

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