Book review: No Way Out by Cara Hunter


Title: No Way Out

Author: Cara Hunter

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 18th April 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

DID YOU SEE ANYTHING ON THE NIGHT THE ESMOND FAMILY WERE MURDERED?
From the author of CLOSE TO HOME and IN THE DARK comes the third pulse-pounding DI Fawley crime thriller.
It’s one of the most disturbing cases DI Fawley has ever worked.
The Christmas holidays, and two children have just been pulled from the wreckage of their burning home in North Oxford. The toddler is dead, and his brother is soon fighting for his life.
Why were they left in the house alone? Where is their mother, and why is their father not answering his phone?
Then new evidence is discovered, and DI Fawley’s worst nightmare comes true.
Because this fire wasn’t an accident.
It was murder.

My review:

After finishing Close to Home and In the Dark, it quickly became clear that Cara Hunter had become my current favourite Crime author and I couldn’t wait for No Way Out to be published. I had taken a small break from reading before I started this book and looking back, I am glad that I chose this one to get back into reading because I suddenly found myself hurrying through the chapters as I attempted to solve the crime together with the team. Like its predecessors, this book is so gripping and tense that I had to stop myself from devouring it in one sitting. The pace is just right, with not too many facts related to the murder revealed but still enough gradually disclosed to encourage the reader to follow the story until the end in the struggle to catch the murderer.

Unlike the previous two books in the series where the focus was the crime scene and investigation, in No Way Out there is a lot of attention on the main character, DI Fawley, and his team. As he is likeable and mysterious, I enjoyed the details related to his personal life just as much as the murder investigation. Other secondary characters such as DC Gislingham were also developed further in this book and by the end it was easy to make a distinction in their character traits and styles of working, something which I felt was lacking in previous book. The character growth did not weaken the plot or decrease the complexity in the investigation but rather complemented these aspects nicely and created a different kind of atmosphere both on and off the police station which I enjoyed following.

The most compelling elements in Cara Hunter’s writing is the level of detail in the investigation and the twists thrown in as the plot unravels. Rarely are crime books so rich in detail but here the reader is forced to pay attention to the smallest facts in order to fully understand the bigger picture and even then the ending is extremely difficult to guess. The additional pieces such as social media posts and fire report are refreshing and effective in registering human emotion through the public’s views on such a horrid event. Through the use of these writing mechanisms, Cara Hunter has successfully produced a striking third addition to the series that is a must-read for all Crime addicts. I have struggled to find a similar author of this caliber in the genre and I cannot wait for the next book in the series to be published so I can experience the same kind of intensity and desire to solve the crime that I did in No Way Out.

Book review: A Face in the Crowd by Kerry Wilkinson


Title: A Face in the Crowd

Author: Kerry Wilkinson

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication date: 6th June 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

Lucy gets the same bus every day. This Friday, her journey home will change her life.
She can barely afford her bus ride, tries to avoid eye contact, and, if she’s really lucky, she gets a seat and reads a chapter of her book.
But it’s a Friday – and the bus is always crammed at the end of the week. Personal space doesn’t exist. She keeps her elbows close and clings to a pole at every juddering stop.
When she gets off, something feels different.
An envelope stuffed with thousands of pounds is in her bag.
Is it the answer to her prayers, or the beginning of a nightmare?

My review:

A Face in the Crowd follows Lucy, an ordinary character struggling to make ends meet as she attempts to pay off debts that her dead ex-boyfriend imposed on her by taking out loans under her name. The first person narrative contributes to an engaging story line and a sympathy for Lucy and her simple life. Unfortunately, as much as I tried, I couldn’t grow to like her because her character was missing the courage and ambition that a main character involved in such a situation is expected to show. After constant complaints and little desire to improve her living situation, there was little else left to her personality. The other minor characters are unnecessary as they weave in and out of the main story line.

In terms of plot, there was much left to be desired as soon as the main reasons for her financial circumstances were revealed. It would be as simple as checking her bank statements each month to avoid getting stuck in her situation but it seemed that she hadn’t learnt this lesson as she continued to make similar mistakes after she found the large sum of money in her purse. Attempts to look for the responsible person in odd ways such as bribing the security man weakened the plot and created a sense of surrealism difficult to relate to, as is the case in almost all psychological thrillers. The sudden change of events, although supported by a strong and unexpected plot twist, did not add up to the previous facts already revealed and instead of answering the main question of who left the money and why, raised more questions that were not addressed in the ending.

Although the plot and characters were missing depth for me, the steady pace and suspense kept me interested. Lucy may not be the most exciting character nor does the original idea behind the plot seem unique but the plot twists were well delivered and mostly unexpected. An unusual choice for the Mystery/Thriller genre, A Face in the Crowd was not what I expected but a good reminder to beware of the people closest to us as they are usually the ones hiding the deepest secrets that could hurt us.

A Face in the Crowd will be out to buy on 6th June!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens


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Title: Where the Crawdads Sing

Author: Delia Owens

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Corsair

Publication date: 8th November 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Celeste Ng, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

My review:

A touching tale of survival, hope and resilience, Where the Crawdads Sing was one of the bestsellers in the Historical Fiction genre in 2018 and rightfully so. There are so many aspects that make this book truly great and a special read to cherish for a long time.

Kya is a young girl, left to face life’s struggles alone after her mother walks away from her abusive father and her siblings soon follow the same path. The beginning of this book explores Kya’s strengths, weaknesses, fears and hopes in great detail and the reader is able to join her on this incredible journey of survival as she bravely faces each challenge. Aside from Kya’s unique character traits, the author successfully portrays the remaining minor characters as vital companions to Kya’s survival, from her close allies Jumpin’ and Mabel, to her first friend, Tate. Each character is so wonderfully developed and integrated in the novel that it becomes hard not to appreciate ones that we should dislike such as Chase Andews and his friends who label Kya as “the Marsh girl”.

Another element that makes this book stand out is the beautiful setting of the marsh and the effortless way in which the author depicts the smallest creatures and atmospheric surroundings of Kya’s home. Nature’s wonders are celebrated throughout this book as Kya learns how to take care of herself by making the marshland her habitat and discovers the hundreds of species that she shares her home with. Not only did I find this aspect educational, but also immensely powerful and engaging. Few books published in this genre have used the environment or countryside as a backdrop to the story line as it seems too complex to achieve or perhaps not suited to the plot. However, in Where the Crawdads Sing, the marsh is so alive that it almost becomes another character:

“Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”

On a final note, perhaps the most impressive literary element in Where the Crawdads Sing is the beautiful writing. The storytelling is mesmerising and I often felt unable to put the book down as I was so immersed in the plot. Words flow so naturally in this book and there were so many sentences and phrases that I wanted to bookmark and refer to later on. Few authors are able to create such a delightful setting and completely capture the reader’s attention and I found it remarkable just how powerful the writing was.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a celebration of nature and the strength that one needs to overcome tragedy and meet the challenges of life head on. A mixture of unique characters, compelling writing and a beautiful setting make this book a success and one that should be praised in all its forms. It is by far the most special book that I have read this year and one that I will be recommending to everyone around me.

Book review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin


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Title: The Immortalists

Author: Chloe Benjamin

Genre: General Fiction

Publisher: Tinder Press

Publication date: 9th January 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

It’s 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. Four siblings, too young for what they are about to hear, sneak out to hear their fortunes.
We then follow the intertwined paths the siblings take over the course of five decades and, in particular, how they choose to live with the supposed knowledge the fortune-teller gave them that day. This is a story about life, mortality and the choices we make: is it better to live a long and cautious life, or to burn brightly, but for the shortest time?

My review:

The premise of this book left me pondering on so many “what-if” moments. Original and daring, the idea of four young children learning the date of their death and living with this knowledge seemed so fascinating that I immediately wanted to read on and find out how it will affect each one of them. The concept seemed unique and one that could develop in endless ways depending on the choices that each sibling makes and, after discovering how different each one is, I was certain that the plot would follow suit.

Several chapters into the book and I was already starting to doubt the concept and wondering why the author had decided to follow such a rigid path for these diverse characters. Klara and Simon both appeared as feisty and impulsive characters at first yet  the choices they made and the consequences of their actions seemed unexciting. I found it equally difficult to follow Daniel and Varya’s lives which at first appeared somewhat more compelling but turned out to be just as bleak as their siblings’. Fear, confusion and distress were the feelings that possessed their lives and unfortunately that compromised other exciting moments that they missed out on. Knowing when they would die but not how or why absorbed their lives completely, and understandably so, but the plot was ultimately lacking in positive emotions and the depressing nature of their paths weighed down the story line and weakened the concept in originality.

Although this book raised some thought-provoking and critical questions, I found the execution to be poor and the plot dull at times. I was disappointed with some of the decisions the characters made and would have enjoyed more diversity in the way they reacted to finding out when they would die. However, the issues covered were powerful enough for me to appreciate this book for what it is and it left a huge impact on me and my thoughts and reflections for a long time after I had finished it.

Book review: The Vanishing Season by Dot Hutchinson


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Title: The Vanishing Season

Author: Dot Hutchison

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication date: 21st May 2019

My rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

Eight-year-old Brooklyn Mercer has gone missing. And as accustomed as FBI agents Eliza Sterling and Brandon Eddison are to such harrowing cases, this one has struck a nerve. It marks the anniversary of the disappearance of Eddison’s own little sister. Disturbing, too, is the girl’s resemblance to Eliza—so uncanny they could be mother and daughter.
With Eddison’s unsettled past rising again with rage and pain, Eliza is determined to solve this case at any cost. But the closer she looks, the more reluctant she is to divulge to her increasingly shaken partner what she finds. Brooklyn isn’t the only girl of her exact description to go missing. She’s just the latest in a frightening pattern going back decades in cities throughout the entire country.
In a race against time, Eliza’s determined to bring Brooklyn home and somehow find the link to the cold case that has haunted Eddison—and the entire Crimes Against Children team—since its inception.

My review:

Most Thriller lovers are familiar with The Butterfly Garden and its incredibly unique setting. More than two years later and I still remember the electrifying sensation that I felt as I read that book which ultimately left me wanting more from this series. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the final book in the Collector series was soon to be published and immediately requested it on Netgalley. Unfortunately, this book left me feeling very disappointed at how the series ended and also confused at the dreariness of the setting and lack of plot. There were several key factors that caused my letdown and my main reasons for disliking this book.

Firstly, the author focused too much on the lives of the FBI agents and too little on Brooklyn’s disappearance. The spotlight was almost always entirely on the main leading investigator Eliza and her past, such as why she decided to take this job and what made her engagement fall apart. As much as I tried I couldn’t take a liking to her or any of the agents on the team and was simply not interested in any of their interactions. Some conversations felt forced and, although I liked the appearances of some of the girls from the Garden, the continuous references to them started to feel irrelevant after a while.

The plot slowly began to come together towards the second half when the team connects Brooklyn’s disappearance to that of several other little girls. I was glad to finally see some progress in the case and was hoping to join the team on a rollercoaster ride of solving this complex case. My main issue with this book was around this point when the team very quickly and almost without any research into anyone involved in Brooklyn’s life suddenly discovers the key figure that connects all the disappearances. The lack of investigation really diminished the thrilling element and I felt as if there was a sudden rush to find the perpetrator because the character development had been exhausted and there was no other way for the story line to progress apart from finding the kidnapper.

Other small points which I found irritating included the constant mixture of random Spanish sentences mixed with English speech as well as the almost too perfect ending. I understand the approach that the author was aiming for but the execution felt poor to me overall. Although I strongly recommend The Butterfly Garden to Mystery/Thriller fans, unfortunately there is not much from this book that I can rave about.

The Vanishing Season will be out to buy on 21st May.

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: The Night Before by Wendy Walker


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Title: The Night Before

Author: Wendy Walker

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: St Martin’s Press

Publication date: 14th May 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

Laura Lochner has never been lucky in love. She falls too hard and too fast, always choosing the wrong men. Devastated by the end of her last relationship, she fled her Wall Street job and New York City apartment for her sister’s home in the Connecticut suburb where they both grew up. Though still haunted by the tragedy that’s defined her entire life, Laura is determined to take one more chance on love with a man she’s met on an Internet dating site.
Rosie Ferro has spent most of her life worrying about her troubled sister. Fearless but fragile, Laura has always walked an emotional tightrope, and Rosie has always been there to catch her. Laura’s return, under mysterious circumstances, has cast a shadow over Rosie’s peaceful life with her husband and young son – a shadow that grows darker as Laura leaves the house for her blind date.
When Laura does not return home the following morning, Rosie fears the worst. She’s not responding to calls or texts, and she’s left no information about the man she planned to meet. As Rosie begins a desperate search to find her sister, she is not just worried about what this man might have done to Laura. She’s worried about what Laura may have done to him…
 “

My review:

Many readers may not have heard of Wendy Walker but with her upcoming publication, The Night Before, I am sure that she will soon become a name to remember in the Psychological Thriller category. This book had all the right ingredients of an alluring and nail-biting thriller and I was lost in Laura’s world of confusion, distress and desperation. I was a little disappointed to find out that the author had decided to follow one of the latest trends in the industry with an unreliable female narrator but quickly warmed to Laura and her personality. The first few chapters flew by as I was immersed in her world and was keen to discover how her first date after the big break up would transpire.

I read the rest of this book in only one other sitting, eager to find out what had happened to Laura after she disappeared. Blaming her date seemed obvious but the rest of the characters involved appeared to be so distressed about her disappearance that it really left the field wide open for all other surprises. The author really delivered here as we were taken on a roller coaster of twists, riddles and mind games where all characters were involved.

Although I enjoyed the premise of this book, I was slightly disappointed with how it ended and in particular the way in which Laura’s disappearance was handled. At first the events seemed a little far-fetched, especially considering how the characters were originally portrayed, but it slowly started to make sense and all came together in the final few chapters. I would have preferred a different ending but looking back at all the hints the author left, I can understand why and how she chose to develop the plot the way she did. Tense, suspenseful and captivating, The Night Walker is a must read for all Psychological Thriller fans.

The Night Before will be out to buy on 14th May!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: Watching You by Lisa Jewell


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Title: Watching You

Author: Lisa Jewell

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Cornerstone Digital

Publication date: 12th July 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.
As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenage son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.
One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.
Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliam…

My review:

Watching You starts with one of the most enticing first chapters I’ve recently read in a thriller; a dead body is found in the kitchen of what appears to be the ideal family, viciously stabbed several times. We first hear from one of the protagonists, Joey, who is being interviewed by the police and Lisa Jewell’s fluid writing style really starts to show here. I was immediately compelled to read the next few chapters but was disappointed to find out that we are instead introduced to several other characters in this community in Bristol and the connections between these characters doesn’t start to become clear until around the halfway point of the book, by which point I was already starting to lose interest.

The main drawback for me was the lack of context behind the spying aspect. At one point it seemed that everyone was watching each other but the reason behind it was vague so I was frustrated that it assumed such a large chunk of the plot. Snippets of the crime scene and day of the death are slowly revealed through the police interviews, a clever backdrop to use, and by discarding characters one by one it is not too difficult to guess who the culprit is behind the murder, which made for a slightly disappointing and predictable conclusion.

Nevertheless, as with many other novels by this author, the best is left until last and her true talent shines in the last chapter. The ending is enough to put into perspective everything that we have learnt so far about these characters, especially one particularly deceitful and malicious character. Few authors are able to deliver such a strong ending despite the predictable murderer and the implications from the final words are enough to justify reading through the slow beginning. I would recommend Watching You to anyone who enjoys a slow burn thriller with a shocking ending, although I encourage others to try Lisa Jewell’s other novels first as the pacing is much stronger and the characters more refined.