Title: Dirty Little Secrets
Author: Jo Spain
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publication date: 7th February 2019
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
“Death stalked the Vale.
In every corner, every whisper.
They just didn’t know it yet.
Six neighbours, six secrets, six reasons to want Olive Collins dead.
In the exclusive gated community of Withered Vale, people’s lives appear as perfect as their beautifully manicured lawns. Money, success, privilege – the residents have it all. Life is good.
There’s just one problem.
Olive Collins’ dead body has been rotting inside number four for the last three months. Her neighbours say they’re shocked at the discovery but nobody thought to check on her when she vanished from sight.
The police start to ask questions and the seemingly flawless facade begins to crack. Because, when it comes to Olive’s neighbours, it seems each of them has something to hide, something to lose and everything to gain from her death.”
It had been a while since I had last read a dark and gripping psychological thriller before I stumbled upon this book on Netgalley. The synopsis had me intrigued and I was hooked right from the first chapter. The characters were delightfully complex yet the plot seemed so simple that I was expecting the typical psychological thriller with drastic and somewhat far-fetched revelations of the characters’ lives. I was pleasantly surprised that the plot developed in unexpected ways, luring us to believe that Olive had nothing to hide yet swiftly transforming into a much more complicated story.
Completely unaware of each other’s struggles, the neighbours at Withered Vale are shocked to find out about Olive’s death but do not appear too troubled when the police focus their search for the perpetrator inside the community. Each chapter focuses on the owners of each house and Olive’s attitude towards them. I particularly enjoyed the back and forth game of figuring out if Olive was within reason to dislike her neighbours based on certain attributes they presented, or if they really did have a solid argument to keep away from her while she was alive. It was captivating and I was constantly wanting to learn more about the background of all the characters, desperate to find out who killed Olive.
The final few chapters were especially interesting as more hints were revealed that seriously made me doubt their intentions towards Olive. Unfortunately the final chapter where we understand what happened to Olive hours before her death was slightly disappointing and I felt that after so much speculation the reveal would be more explosive. Nevertheless, it did not distract from the brilliant story line and the intricate puzzle that the author created. I highly recommend this book to all lovers of dark psychological thrillers.
Dirty Little Secrets is out to buy tomorrow!
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.
Title: The Sacrifice
Author: Indrajit Garai
Genre: Short Stories/Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Indrajit Garai
Publication date: 25th August 2016
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
In this collection, meet:
Guillaume, who gives up everything to protect his child; young Mathew, who stakes his life to save his home; and François, who makes the biggest sacrifice to rescue his grandson.
This collection of short stories is an eyeopening and telling experience of human nature where complex topics such as strained relationships, heartache and financial hardships are explored from several points of view. The author narrates each character’s stance with eloquence and the storytelling factor creates an engaging and yet easy to follow plot. As with many short stories, the focus is clearly on the plot rather than character development, however I did not identify this as a shortcoming as each story provided an accurate glimpse into the main characters’ difficulties without weakening their traits.
I found that I could relate to certain characters and events more than others. The first two stories, The Move and The Listener, are a celebration of man’s relationship with nature and the need to preserve and protect our environment. Unfortunately I was not able to relate to Guillaume or Matthew and their demands to keep the farming industry and environmental regimes running and felt that the author could have expanded on both stories and explain their backstories in more detail.
The last story, The Sacrifice, is built up on the troublesome life that François leads and the sacrifices he makes for his grandson in the hope that he can build a bright future for himself when he is older. It was definitely the most emotional and engaging of the three stories and I was quickly turning the pages in an attempt to find out how it would end. The writing here was articulate and effortless, something that I believe was missing at times in its predecessors. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this collection of short stories and thoroughly enjoyed reflecting on the topics discussed.
Many thanks to Estelle for providing an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.
Title: Mala Vida
Author: Marc Fernandez
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Crime Noir
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Publication date: 15th January 2019
My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
“Present-day Spain, a time of economic crisis and resurgent populist nationalism. The radical right has just won the election after twelve years of Socialist rule. In the midst of this political upheaval, a series of murders is committed, taking place from Madrid to Barcelona to Valencia. The victims include a politician a real-estate lawyer, doctor, a banker, and a nun. There is no obvious connection between them.
As the country prepares for a return to a certain moral order, radio crime reporter Diego Martin is trying to keep his head above water in anticipation of the expected media purge. When he decides to look into the first murder, he doesn’t have the faintest clue that his investigation will lead far beyond his local beat and put his life at risk. For what he uncovers exposes the roots of a national scandal: the theft of babies from the victims of the Franco regime, crimes—never prosecuted—that were orchestrated by now well-connected citizens who will do anything to avoid exposure.”
The premise of this book is unique and promising and it was exciting to discover a new fiction novel where Spanish politics play a big role in the story line. The unmasking of a conspiracy where children during Franco’s time were abducted and given to wealthy families provokes a national crisis that affects many people across the whole of Spain. The novel begins suddenly with an unexpected murder that at first appears to have no motive. It is soon followed by other similar murders across Spain that the authorities discover are all carried out by one of the activists who is heavily involved in the protests. The plot slowly unravels as the main character, Diego Martin, provides the space and publicity for affected families and protestors to voice their opinion on his radio show.
Unfortunately, I was still unable to connect to Diego or the other characters even several chapters into the book. This definitely felt more like a plot-driven political drama rather than a historical crime noir and it was disappointing to see one murder after another with little forethought of the characters’ emotional state. Diego came across as a sincere man willing to do everything in his power to reveal the horrors of the past crimes but almost every chapter written from his perspective felt monotonous and predictable.
Despite my struggle to enjoy this book, I was glad to have discovered one of the conspiracies in Spanish history that to this day remains almost taboo. The execution of the writing and plot as a whole was not as smooth as expected but I commend the author on conveying such a difficult subject matter with sensitivity and thought.
Mala Vida is out to buy now!
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.
Title: One Day in December
Author: Josie Silver
Publication date: 23rd August 2018
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
“Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn’t exist. After all, life isn’t a scene from the movies, is it? But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there’s a moment of pure magic…and then her bus drives away. Laurie thinks she’ll never see the boy from the bus again. But at their Christmas party a year later, her best friend Sarah introduces her to the new love of her life. Who is, of course, the boy from the bus. Determined to let him go, Laurie gets on with her life. But what if fate has other plans?”
This was the perfect heartwarming and cozy read for a cold winter’s night. Both the writing style and plot worked incredibly well to produce a lovely story that manifests the struggles in a relationship from several points of view. I particularly enjoyed the first person laid-back narrative switching between Jack and Laurie’s perspectives as this made both their personalities shine with the distinct tone and voice, often sarcastic and light although there were some sombre parts too. Despite the strong emphasis on the love story, my favourite aspect was by far the friendship between Sarah and Laurie and I think that we all need a friend like Sarah to get us through the rough moments in life.
Another interesting feature of this book is the timeline that the story follows; all parts are broken up into years and this makes for a rollercoaster of a ride as we follow Laurie through the hardship of accepting her best friend’s relationship with Jack. The New Year’s resolutions were an appealing characteristic of each section of the book although I often felt that there were too many breaks between the chapters, particularly towards the end where several months were omitted.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book as both the characters and plot were engaging and motivating enough to encourage me to read it in only a few sittings. I found the premise of the unrequited love story too predictable at times but was pleasantly surprised to discover that their relationship progressed from friendship to something more without unnecessarily hurting the bond that the girls had developed, as is present in many other romance novels. I can already imagine this book turning into a blockbuster movie that many would love but even without the cinematic element, it is still a beautiful story of a couple who struggle through difficult times before finally finding their way back to each other.
Title: The Travelling Cat Chronicles
Author: Hiro Arikawa
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Transworld Digital
Publication date: 2nd November 2017
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Nana is on a road trip, but he is not sure where he is going. All that matters is that he can sit beside his beloved owner Satoru in the front seat of his silver van. Satoru is keen to visit three old friends from his youth, though Nana doesn’t know why and Satoru won’t say.
Set against the backdrop of Japan’s changing seasons and narrated with a rare gentleness and humour, Nana’s story explores the wonder and thrill of life’s unexpected detours. It is about the value of friendship and solitude, and knowing when to give and when to take. TRAVELLING CAT has already demonstrated its power to move thousands of readers with a message of kindness and truth. It shows, above all, how acts of love, both great and small, can transform our lives.
What a joy of a book! The writing, characters and plot all mold together to create a beautiful and heartfelt story that I will treasure for a long time. Despite preferring dogs over cats, I could not stop myself from laughing at Nana’s adventures and wishing that I was sitting in the backseat of Satoru’s van and looking out towards the waves just as Nana loves doing. The author flawlessly managed to captivate my attention and open up my mind to how cats think and live, especially during the first chapters where Nana is living on the streets and is skeptical to accept Satoru’s help. Their friendship slowly develops into something beautiful as Nana slowly starts to trust Satoru more, an aspect which I think the author handled with lots of sensitivity and patience.
Some of Nana’s feisty expressions made me laugh out loud and the other more naive thoughts were poignant but very genuine so I am glad that the author decided to explore these too. Loss is difficult for an animal as much it may be for a human and, although it was heartbreaking to see Nana’s confusion over Satoru trying to find another home for him, it also addressed the important issue of how pets cope with losing their owner. Many books discuss losing a pet from the owner’s point of view but few explore loss through a pet’s perspective and it was both admirable and tragic to observe this from Nana’s point of view. It was equally difficult to see Satoru struggle with finding a new owner for Nana but this also weaved a path for exploring Japan’s beautiful scenery, with the unique and fun premise of the book as Nana depicted as the most well travelled cat in Japan.
Sometimes the little details add up to create a beautifully crafted book and this was no exception. For me, the highlights of this book were the little quirks such as Nana wishing for a boxy TV to keep him warm and learning more about Satoru’s adventures with his first cat who he named after the number eight. These small moments added authenticity and made the story come alive, with each character feeling more like a friend. I am extremely grateful to have stumbled across this gem and can only wish that it was more well-known because I am sure that many other cat lovers would love this touching story.
Title: From the Shadows
Author: Neil White
Publication date: 9th March 2017
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
“He hides in the shadows, watching, waiting, until the time is right . . .
Mary Kendricks, a smart, pretty, twenty-four-year-old teacher, has been brutally murdered and Robert Carter is accused of killing her.
When defence lawyer, Dan Grant inherits Carter’s case only weeks before the trial starts, everyone expects him just to babysit it, but Dan’s not that kind of lawyer. He’ll follow the evidence – wherever it takes him.
But as Dan and his investigator Jayne Brett look into the case, they discover that there is more to it than meets the eye. In order to do their jobs they need to push the limits of the system, even if it means putting themselves in danger.
Together they will get to the truth – whatever the cost . . .”
After having stumbled upon many reviews praising Neil White’s work, I decided to start with the first book in the Dan Grant series on a rainy day when I was looking to get lost into a complex court drama. I must admit that this book had me hooked right from the beginning; the third person point of view of the stalker was striking and mysterious and the murder revealed in the first few chapters showed a lot of promise. Similarly, the introduction of Dan Grant as an up-and-coming criminal defense lawyer keen to support his client and simultaneously win his case was a bold start to what appeared to be an intriguing murder mystery.
It was from this point when I found myself struggling to stay interested in the rest of the story. The writing felt disjointed and strained as the plot jumped from the past to the present and suddenly left behind the mysterious third person narrative of the stalker, something which really attracted me in the beginning. I was also not keen on the intent to establish a love interest for Dan as I felt that his character was bright enough without this added element and the sudden attraction to Jayne with barely any foreshadowing. Most of all, the pace during the middle of the plot was too slow without many developments on the murder case. It often felt like Dan and Jayne were following the same leads with no success which eventually became frustrating.
Unlike the middle of the story line, the ending was completely sudden and significantly more fast-paced as Dan and Jayne worked together on the final lead to solve the mystery and defend the client in court as best as they could. I was especially disappointed to find out who the stalker is because this character felt redundant to the story line from the start. Nevertheless, the strong ending had a huge impact on the plot and storytelling and I have to praise the author on these final tense chapters. From the Shadows may not have been the fast-paced and thrilling read I was seeking but I think that others who are looking for a character-driven court drama may find much to love here.
Title: A Spark of Light
Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 30th October 2018
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.
After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.
But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.
I recently attended one of the events during Jodi Picoult’s book tour where she spoke about this book with a lot of passion and I understandingly rushed home and immediately started reading my signed copy. It has taken me a significantly long time since finishing A Spark of Light to put my thoughts together. As with any other Picoult book, the undoubtedly controversial topic and multifaceted characters provoke a mixture of emotions which are often hard-hitting and too complex to put into words. This is by far my favourite aspect of her writing and this novel definitely did not disappoint in this regard. I was especially impressed with her ability to explore abortion through the eyes of several characters who each have completely different views. The great detail in her research shines on every page as small but very significant facts on abortion and the opportunity to seek reproductive care are revealed. Some of the statistics are astounding and really help to understand each character’s position on this complicated topic.
On a more negative note, I have to express my disapproval of the structure which I don’t think benefited the plot or character development. A Spark of Light is written in reverse chronological order to explain how and why everyone arrives at the clinic on the day of the hostage. During her book tour, Jodi disclosed that she had been waiting for the right book to come along so she could use this writing method. Thinking back to all her previous works, I agree with her choice to write this book from all others in reverse order as all the events occur on the same day, however the execution felt weak to me at times because there were simply too many characters involved. I found it more difficult than usual to connect to each character because each chapter jumps from one character to another so we only see snippets of their thoughts. In spite of this, they all had a place and were important to the story line and I wouldn’t be able to discard any of them.
Perhaps I have been too critical of this book; when I read the blurb it immediately jumped up to the top of my TBR list and as soon as I heard Jodi discuss how she wrote it I dropped everything so I could read it. I already knew that it would be extremely difficult to surpass Small Great Things, which still remains my favourite book of hers, however I was still hoping to be completely absorbed by the story. Unfortunately I found myself stopping and re-starting again several times and it took me an unusually long time to finish. Nevertheless, the subject matter is intense and the writing still brilliant, just not as slick as her usual. I would highly recommend A Spark of Light to any fans of Jodi Picoult and anyone hoping to read a thought-provoking book. I would also love to hear your thoughts on it and I am especially looking for recommendations of similar style books/authors so please let me know if you can think of any.