Book review: In the Dark by Cara Hunter


Book Cover

Title: In the Dark

Author: Cara Hunter

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Viking

Publication date: 12th July 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“A woman and child are found locked in a basement room, barely alive.
No one knows who they are – the woman can’t speak, and there are no missing persons reports that match their profile. The elderly man who owns the house claims he has never seen them before.
The inhabitants of the quiet Oxford street are in shock. How could this happen right under their noses? But DI Adam Fawley knows that nothing is impossible.
And that no one is as innocent as they seem …”

My review:

It is not often that a sequel is just as good as the first book in the series but in this case, Cara Hunter has really succeeded in producing yet another suspenseful and highly gripping read. As with her first book, Close to Home, she establishes both tension and character building in just the right doses and I was once again stunned at the twists and unexpected discoveries as the plot developed in ways I did not imagine were possible.

Upon reflection, the most triumphant aspect in this book was the woman found in the basement, Vicky, and the astonishing way in which the author slowly reveals her story. Beware, as what may at first seem like an innocent character can quickly become a deceptive yet major turning point in the story line. I was immediately sucked into the intricacies of Vicky’s story and could not believe the turn of events and the clues I had missed prior to the reveal. However, the hints were delivered in an immensely clever way, ensuring to keep the reader guessing the murderer during the whole police investigation.

As before, DI Adam Fawley is presented as a likable yet flawed character, dealing with his own personal problems while trying his best to guide his team to the killer. I enjoyed the first person narrative from his end and truly believe that it was the right decision to continue with this writing technique to immerse the reader in his world and understand the case from his perspective. The DI Adam Fawley series by Cara Hunter is quickly becoming one of my favourite police crime series and I will be one of the first to read No Way Out upon its publication in April 2019.

 

Book review: The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances


Book Cover

Title: The Girlfriend

Author: Michelle Frances

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Pan

Publication date: 6th April 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“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 unforgivable lie is told. It is an act of desperation, but the fall-out will change their lives forever.”

My review:

I am sure that we have all stumbled upon a book where we are continuously waiting for a big event to happen and when it does, we want to shake the characters in an attempt to wake them up and make them realise the situation they are facing. Without giving too much away, this book was exactly that. A disastrous accident involving the two main characters, Daniel and Cherry, takes places and Daniel’s mother, Laura, quite understandably becomes attached to her son and pushes Cherry after many hard facts about their relationship are slowly revealed. I didn’t feel frustrated by the accident itself but rather with all three characters at their inability to understand the events occurring around them and appreciate the various lies spread and told with no end. My interest peaked straight after the tragedy took place and I was curious to see how each character would evolve but was unfortunately left feeling disappointed at the lack of growth in both character progression and plot.

On a different note, I wanted to express my thoughts on the beginning of the story which I thought was brilliant and very well paced. Here, the author provides just the right amount of detail to encourage us to continue reading without giving away too much of Cherry’s malicious plans for her future with Daniel. It was slow burning but the level of suspense gradually increased to the moment where disaster strikes and did not disappoint up until this point. Although I was not too fond of how the events unfolded after this turning point, the introductory chapters provided a solid background of where each character is emotionally – something which I really enjoyed exploring.

This book would have been excellent if there was a deeper focus on the plot following the accident as well as a stronger and memorable ending. Ultimately, it disappoints with several of the implausible events and lies coupled with the slow building tension after the main twist. I also believe that it could be classified as a family drama rather than a psychological thriller, particularly due to the lack of suspense after the halfway point and the passive ending. I would recommend this book to fans of domestic dramas but not to those looking for a fast-paced and engaging psychological thriller.

Book review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce


Book Cover

Title: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Author: Rachel Joyce

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Transworld Digital

Publication date: 15th March 2012

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“When Harold Fry leaves home one morning to post a letter, with his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else’s life.”

My review:

Oh, what a treat this book was! I had come across many positive reviews before starting it but I didn’t realise what an adventure I was in for and could not have imagined how much I would enjoy the journey. It is one of those books to be read slowly, each moment treasured and savoured with the need to stop and reflect on the story unfolding before us after finishing each chapter. Filled with both lighthearted and heavier elements, it is a true reflection of one’s journey from a quiet and simple life to the contrasting sudden need to embark on an adventure, although somewhat accidental, and let fate decide how each moment unfolds.

My favourite aspect was by far the varied and conflicting characters that Harold stumbles upon during his pilgrimage. From dogs to strangers hoping to use his newfound fame for success, the story really explored every possible character you can imagine meeting during such an endeavour. The circumstances Harold finds himself in are equally diverse and it was a joy following his pilgrimage across the country. Perhaps the most poignant feature is that with each blister and drawback, he never once gave up and continued the journey believing that he could still save his friend.

This book is a great example to others showing how the enthusiasm and willingness to change life’s course can truly make a difference to both ourselves and our surroundings. Despite the uneventful life that Harold led, a sudden change of heart was enough to push him into an exciting and adventurous journey inspired by his desire to help a friend in need. I would truly recommend this book to anyone wishing to read a captivating book with a dash of joy, friendship and dedication.

 

Book review: In Her Shadow by Mark Edwards


Book Cover

Title: In Her Shadow

Author: Mark Edwards

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication date: 4th October 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Isabel’s life seemed perfect. Successful business, beautiful house, adoring husband. And then she was dead.
For four years Jessica has never doubted that her sister Isabel’s death was an accident. But when Jessica’s young daughter seems to know long-forgotten details about her aunt’s past, Jessica can’t shake the feeling that there’s a more sinister truth behind the tragedy.
As Jessica unearths disturbing revelations about her sister, and about the people she loved and trusted most, it becomes clear Isabel’s life was less than perfect and that Jessica’s might also be at risk.
Did someone murder Isabel? Are they now after Jessica and her family? The key seems to lie in the hands of a child. Can Isabel reveal the truth from beyond the grave, or is the answer closer to home?”

My review:

I decided to request an advance reader’s copy of this book after finishing The Retreat by Mark Edwards which I found exciting and wanted to analyse his writing in greater depth. He has the ability to combine intense and dramatic moments with hints of paranormal activity in a unique and gripping way and I admire his bravery to incorporate this method in his books as a way of peaking the reader’s interest. Unfortunately, I felt that the plot lost focus for me due to the emphasis on the supernatural elements which I think were too excessive here, especially when Jessica’s daughter, Olivia, claimed to know the details surrounding Isabel’s death without ever having met her. I was impressed with the way Jessica was portrayed as a multilayered character with secrets and regrets but simultaneously I would have liked to explore the other minor characters such as Darpak further.

The other drawback from my perspective was the intense change in pace halfway through the book. It starts off at a relatively slow pace and quickly picks up after one of the many secrets is revealed. I realise that this was perhaps done intentionally to draw the reader’s attention back to the main suspects while discarding several others but I also felt that it disrupted the natural flow. Further on this note, I found the ending exhilarating and was kept on the edge of my seat until the last few chapters which I believe was partly due to the fast pace and plot twists disclosed at the very end. Exposing the murderer was a complete surprise and I appreciated the flashbacks leading up to this point to reveal Isabel’s killer as a different and fresh writing technique.

Overall, I found this book more difficult to follow and dig into in comparison with The Retreat but liked the fast-paced unexpected ending. If there had been a deeper focus on the characters and less of an emphasis on the paranormal elements from Olivia’s perspective I would probably have enjoyed this book more.

In Her Shadow is available to all this Thursday 4th October!

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

 

Book review: An American Family by Jackson Baer


Book Cover

Title: An American Family

Author: Jackson Baer

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Evolved Publishing

Publication date: 1st October 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Isaac Childs has the perfect life—until that life comes crashing down when his wife Ramie vanishes.
Isaac learns that his wife’s disappearance is the ninth in a string of similar cases. In the wake of this news, he struggles to cope, to be a good father to his daughter and college-bound son, and to reclaim something of an ordinary life even as he conceals his troubled past.
After the FBI makes an arrest, and his wife is presumed dead, Isaac begins to move on. Yet will his secrets catch up with him? Has he conquered his vices for good? And what of the FBI’s theory that the case isn’t completely resolved, after all?”

My review:

This book offers something to every reader. It is an excellent choice for those who appreciate flawed characters and perfect for anyone interested in an engrossing mystery. It becomes apparent as the story line progresses that the characters are vital to moving the plot along and simultaneously, as the plot develops, we discover secrets and imperfections of each character that transpire into an appealing and exciting story. I really admired the powerful use of both these writing techniques and I feel the author accomplished this exceptionally well.

Although all characters were multilayered and engaging, I could not find myself interested enough to follow their conversations. Perhaps it is based on my personal preference on dialogue, but their discussions felt strained and very matter-of-fact which attributed to several forced interactions. Nevertheless, the descriptions in between and after the direct speech were eloquent and concise. I would have preferred a more prominent emphasis on this as the period between Ramie vanishing and Isaac meeting Julia felt somewhat rushed. However, I also realise that this was intended to describe their accidental meeting and therefore the focus soon shifted to their life afterwards.

Few thrillers manage to incorporate emotion and grief in the story line and those that do often fall short of inducing empathy in the reader. In contrast, An American Family shines in this field and from the first page we are introduced to a mix of emotions from despair to heartbreak. I was pleasantly surprised by the ending, although it seemed somewhat implausible, and can safely say that this book left me with a sense of relief which was comforting after the rollercoaster of a ride we travelled on.

An American Family is out next Monday 1st October!

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

Book review: Sea of Memories by Fiona Valpy


Book Cover

Title: Sea of Memories

Author: Fiona Valpy

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Publication date: 1st March 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Synopsis:

When Kendra first visits her ailing grandmother, Ella has only one request: that Kendra write her story down, before she forgets…
In 1937, seventeen-year-old Ella’s life changes forever when she is sent to spend the summer on the beautiful Île de Ré and meets the charismatic, creative Christophe. They spend the summer together, exploring the island’s sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, and, for the first time in her life, Ella feels truly free.
But the outbreak of war casts everything in a new light. Ella is forced to return to Scotland, where she volunteers for the war effort alongside the dashing Angus. In this new world, Ella feels herself drifting further and further from who she was on the Île de Ré. Can she ever find her way back? And does she want to?
From the windswept Île de Ré to the rugged hills of Scotland, Sea of Memories is a spellbinding journey about the power of memory, love and second chances.

My review:

Sometimes we all come across a book by chance without realising how special and remarkable it would turn out to be. This was one of those books. Looking back I honestly can’t remember why I chose to read it but I am glad that I did. From the very first page we are immediately transported to another world, the wonders of Île de Ré beautifully portrayed and a life that appears almost perfect. All characters are superbly refined and it was a pleasure joining Ella and Christophe in their adventures on the island during their youth and their struggles after the war. Do not be fooled by the synopsis which hints the usual war romance – the themes explored in this book are heavy but addressed with a lot of care, from friendship to heartache and bravery. Ella’s courage upon volunteering for one of the most dangerous negotiations during the war was impressive and very commendable and was perhaps my favourite part of this book.

The dual story line between past and present day was very well executed, an impressive skill in my opinion when considering how difficult it is to master without hindering the natural flow of the plot. I found myself intrigued in Ella’s story and was anxious to learn how her life developed post-war but I admit that the present day interactions between Ella and Kendra were also engaging. Here we discover Ella’s difficult relationship with her daughter and the reason she turns to her granddaughter Kendra instead when requesting for her story to be written. I would have liked a more complete introduction to Kendra because it felt as if she was only written into the novel to tell Ella’s story but I am sure that there was more to her character that could have been explored.

My principal complaint about this novel is a very specific part at the Île de Ré towards the end of the book which involves Ella, her first love Christopher and her husband Angus. Without giving too much away, this particular incident felt forced and odd for Ella when looking back on all the heartbreak and difficult moments in her life. I almost felt inclined to discard this moment and only consider the positives of the book but I felt this scene too important to overlook when rating the book. Overall, I adored the setting and characters in past day and, had there been a deeper focus on present day, this book would have most likely received 5 stars from me.

Book review: Close to Home by Cara Hunter

Book Cover

Title: Close to Home

Author: Cara Hunter

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 14th December 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

HOW CAN A CHILD GO MISSING WITHOUT A TRACE?
Last night, eight-year-old Daisy Mason disappeared from a family party. No one in the quiet suburban street saw anything – or at least that’s what they’re saying.
DI Adam Fawley is trying to keep an open mind. But he knows the nine times out of ten, it’s someone the victim knew.
That means someone is lying…
And that Daisy’s time is running out.
Introducing DI Fawley and his team of Oxford detectives, and a Richard and Judy Book Club pick for Spring 2018, Close to Home is the new crime thriller series to get addicted to.

My review:

What a thriller! I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, desperate to find out who took Daisy Mason because I was honestly not convinced that any of the suspects were responsible. Well paced and stimulating, the story line had me engrossed until the end and despite paying close attention to the details that were gradually disclosed, I was still unable to guess who the abductor was. I found the manner in which the story line unfolded with the reveal of each element of the night Daisy went missing particularly commendable and the author admirably paces each reveal to build up the tension and simultaneously keep the reader guessing. Many authors lack this ability and yet it is a crucial technique in mystery novels, one which Cara Hunter handles with ease.

The character building in this book is excellent and the first person narrative from DI Adam Fawley adds to the charm. More often than not writers decide to develop an inexperienced or flawed detective which I find frustrating so I was pleased to discover that DI Fawley does not fall into this category. Even the parents, who are often mediocre characters in other books with missing children settings, were curious and added an extra dose of anticipation as the story unfolded. The most baffling character in this book is Daisy – we get a sense of her charm and intelligence in the beginning of the book but it is not until the final chapter where her brilliance shines.

I often find thrillers of this kind predictable so I was completely blown away by how original and unexpected this ending was. The author saved the best till last in a plot twist so astonishing that I was tempted to go back and find the hints leading to the big reveal. Needless to say, I picked up the second book in the DI Fawley series soon after (review to follow shortly) and it did not disappoint. I will be closely following this series and any other future books by this author.