Book review: In Her Shadow by Mark Edwards


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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


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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


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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

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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.

Book review: Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer


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Title: Kane and Abel

Author: Jeffrey Archer

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Publication date: 4th September 2008

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

“They had only one thing in common… William Lowell Kane and Abel Rosnovski, one the son of a Boston millionaire, the other a penniless Polish immigrant – two men born on the same day on opposite sides of the world, their paths destined to cross in the ruthless struggle to build a fortune.”

My review:

I must admit that I love Jeffrey Archer novels. After finishing The Clifton Chronicles saga my hands were immediately itching to pick up another Jeffrey Archer novel and get lost in the web of mystery and deception he weaves in all his books. I find it so intriguing how he delves into his characters’ minds, decorating each with a unique voice and ultimately creating an original yet plausible scenario that leads to a domino chain of events. I must say that this book was no exception and I even thought that it was his best book to date.

William Kane and Abel Rosnovski are born miles apart and lead completely separate lives until fate brings them together. I immediately took a liking to Abel after following his treacherous journey through Poland, Russia and Turkey and was amazed at the little details that Archer included here to further emphasise the difficulties Abel faced in comparison to William Kane who led a much simpler life. By far the most gripping part of the story is when their paths cross and their strong-willed and powerful personalities clash causing an almost never ending rivalry. Some readers may not enjoy the pace and narrative that follows and I appreciate that it is perhaps too flat depending on taste but I devoured the remaining part of the book in almost one sitting.

On a final note, the ending of this book is so intense with emotion, providing a very satisfactory close to an exhaustive contest, that I almost wanted to immediately start the next book in the series, The Prodigal Daughter. Deciding to leave it for a later stage was perhaps a better idea as I enjoyed reflecting on this marvelous book for several days. Have you read any family sagas with a similar style to Jeffrey Archer’s novels that you can recommend? If you have read this book or any others by this author I would love to hear your thoughts!

Book review: Friend Request by Laura Marshall


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Title: Friend Request

Author: Laura Marshall

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Sphere

Publication date: 27th July 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Synopsis:

When Louise Williams receives a message from someone left long in the past, her heart nearly stops.
Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook.
Maria Weston has been missing for over twenty-five years. She was last seen the night of a school leavers’ party, and the world believes her to be dead. Particularly Louise, who has lived her adult life with a terrible secret.
As Maria’s messages start to escalate, Louise forces herself to reconnect with the old friends she once tried so hard to impress. Trying to piece together exactly what happened that night, she soon discovers there’s much she didn’t know. The only certainty is that Maria Weston disappeared that night, never to be heard from again – until now…

My review:

I enjoyed this book and the unexpected turn of events at the very end. The author makes an excellent effort to continuously surprise us with the steady pace and the well developed characters. I liked the in-between chapters with the reveal of how each character has transformed from the horrid events at the school leavers’ party in 1989 to today. I found that I didn’t care much for any of the characters and was suspicious of nearly all of them, an easy mistake to make when the author exposes how each one was involved in the turmoil of that night. However, each character is unique enough to suggest that they could all be involved in the game played on Louise, creating a tense and uneasy atmosphere that only escalates with each chapter.

The author explores controversial current topics that surround society nowadays with ease and a lot of focus. I especially admired the discussion on bullying, fitting in and the notion of how we change (or not) as we grow up. However, the emphasis on Facebook was sometimes too overstated and I felt that the story was exciting enough even without it. I realise that it may be an unpopular opinion because many of us enjoy books where life on social media is analysed, but I personally did not find it as engaging as other readers may do.

Friend Request is a gripping read that kept me guessing until the very end. The final chapter was completely unexpected but very satisfactory and upon reflection makes a lot of sense when considering Maria’s character and the difficult events she lived through. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for an exciting psychological thriller, but perhaps not to those readers who do not enjoy the mean girl vibe that is prominent throughout this book.

Book review: The Map of Us by Jules Preston


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Title: The Map of Us

Author: Jules Preston

Genre: Romance

Publisher: HarperImpulse

Publication date: 4th May 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Synopsis:

Violet North is wonderfully inconvenient. Abandoned by her family and lost in an imagined world of moors and adventure, her life changes in the space of just 37 words exchanged with a stranger at her front door.

Decades later, Daniel Bearing has inherited his father’s multi-million pound business, and is utterly lost. He has no idea who he is or where his life is headed.

When Violet’s granddaughter’s marriage falls apart, Tilly, always adept with numbers, compiles a detailed statistical report to pinpoint why. But the Compatibility Index Tilly creates has unforeseen consequences for everyone in her world.

Tilly and Daniel share a secret too. 10.37am, April 22nd.
Soon, a complex web of secrets and lies is exposed and an adventure begins with a blue typewriter…

My review:

It’s not often that I come across a book with such a distinct style of writing so I was pleasantly surprised with the choppy and quirky narrative. However, it wasn’t quite for me; the story line was monotonous and the characters  too flat for my liking.

Around halfway into the book the reader starts to understand the direction the story is following and the characters’ plot lines begin to intertwine. I enjoyed Tilly’s story and the Compatibility Index that she ultimately designs to explain why her marriage is failing. Looking back, I also think that the author revealed the link between Tilly and Violet in a very clever way and it was a joy following Tilly in her adventure to pursue her grandmother’s tales.

This was an uplifting and inspiring book and I wish that I was more patient at the start rather than rushing to understand from the beginning how the characters are connected. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for something different and is able to look past the short chapters and unconventional writing style.