Book review: Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain


Book Cover

Title: Dirty Little Secrets

Author: Jo Spain

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: Quercus

Publication date: 7th February 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“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.”

My review:

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.

Book review: The Sacrifice by Indrajit Garai

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Title: The Sacrifice

Author: Indrajit Garai

Genre: Short Stories/Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Indrajit Garai

Publication date: 25th August 2016

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

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.

My review:

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.

Studious Saturday: The Out of My Comfort Zone Book Tag

studious saturdays

Hi everyone! I hope you are having a beautiful weekend and have been able to fit in some reading. I was recently tagged by Stephen in the Out of my comfort zone book tag which looks super fun. I am generally open to reading new genres and authors but I’m sure that I’ll surprise myself with some of my answers.

Rule:

You have to pick ONE GENRE that you frequently read about… and then, you can’t use ANY books from that genre while answering the questions!

I usually lean towards books in the Mystery/Thriller genre but I am not sure that I would typically choose any books of this genre as my answer to these questions. Therefore I have decided to extend the rule out to include Contemporary Fiction too which will make it even more interesting and difficult!

1. A Book That Is An Exception When It Comes To Genres Or Elements You Don’t Typically Like


I don’t usually read Fantasy but I decided to read this as part of the book club that I recently attended and I was astounded by the unique storytelling and even more surprised by how much I enjoyed the book!

2. A Book You Enjoyed From A Genre You Previously Held Some Stigma Against


This book was everywhere a few years ago and I still remember all my friends discussing districts, characters and other elements completely unknown to me so I ultimately agreed to borrow it from my flatmate and read it in one sitting.

3. A Book You Didn’t Know Was Out Of Your Comfort Zone Until You Started Reading It


I am a huge fan of Dystopian Fiction but I honestly did not expect such a hard-hitting story and I definitely didn’t think that it would affect me as much as it did. Nevertheless, this is still one of the most memorable books I have read and I recommend it to everyone (or at least try it even if you don’t manage to finish it).

4. Pick A Friend Who Motivates You To Pick Up Books You Might Not Normally Be Interested In – Is There A Book They Convinced You To Give A Try?


Another one of my flatmates convinced me to read The Martian (and watch it afterwards too). Unfortunately we don’t have the same tastes in books or movies but I did listen to his suggestion and was glad to read something different.

5. A Book That Is Out of Your Comfort Zone, But You Would Like to Read


Although I love suspenseful thrillers, I am not a huge fan of blood and gore but I have heard so much praise for Hunter Shea’s Creature that I have decided that it’s going straight to my TBR list.

6. A Book/Genre So Outside Of Your Comfort Zone That You’ll Probably Never Give It A Chance

Although I am open to many genres I don’t expect to read any Christian Fiction any time soon.

So those are my diverse and somewhat random answers to this tag. It’s been fun looking back at some of my odd choices and although I won’t tag anyone this time around, I hope those of you that decide to do the tag enjoy it!

 

Book review: Mala Vida by Marc Fernandez


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Title: Mala Vida

Author: Marc Fernandez

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Crime Noir

Publisher: Arcade Publishing

Publication date: 15th January 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“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.”

My review:

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.

 

Studious Saturday: My reading and blogging goals for 2019

studious saturdays

Welcome to the first Studious Saturday post of 2019 on Facing the Story! I hope that you have enjoyed the holiday season (I certainly did!) and are feeling refreshed and ready to start the new year. After a short social media and blogging break at the beginning of January, I decided to finally revive my blog again with a burning topic that I think many other book bloggers are currently discussing, namely their goals for the year. Mine are to…

Read 55 books

I have set my Goodreads challenge for 2019 on 55 books which is only 5 more than last year. I surpassed my goal of 50 books in 2019 by finishing one exciting thriller on New Year’s Eve so I feel that this goal is achievable based on my usual reading speed.

Branch out to other genres

It’s no secret that I usually lean towards the Mystery/Thriller, Contemporary Fiction and Historical Fiction genres, however I tried some Science Fiction last year which I enjoyed and I am hoping to carry on exploring the genre. I am also currently reading my first Fantasy novel and loving how different it is to my usual choice of books. This will definitely be one of my reading priorities for the year.

Discover Spanish Contemporary Literature

Living in Spain has its perks and one of them is the huge selection of novels by acclaimed Spanish and Latin American authors. Unfortunately I didn’t plan out my reading for 2018 so well and I only read one book in Spanish. I hope to correct this in 2019 and finally start on the never ending list of Spanish literature that my colleagues have recommended.

Schedule my posts in advance

This will be my main blogging goal for this year, especially as I have many other personal goals which mean that I will have less free time during the week to write and blog hop. I struggled with planning several times last year and I could tell the difference in the quality of my writing between the periods where several posts were scheduled in my queue and those where I was hastily proofreading and editing a post right before publishing it. Essentially, I am hoping to use Kaleena’s 2019 book blogger spreadsheet template to plan out my month in advance so I can fit enough time to blog hop, write out my posts and read ARCs with plenty of time to spare.

Design a new look for my blog

Although I am pleased and proud of my content, a fresh and clean design can really make a difference to a blog as a whole and I admit that my current design is not particularly eye-catching or satisfying. I am a huge lover of a minimalist look but I think the current design is a bit of an overstatement in this category. At some point this year I hope to create a new logo and background and also choose a new theme.

 

Those are my main reading and blogging goals of the year which I hope to achieve, although I know that sometimes life gets in the way and it is not always possible to achieve them all. Nevertheless, I plan to work hard on my blog this year and to enjoy the books I am planning to read. I also wanted to take some time to thank you all for staying with me during my blogging journey – I never believed that so many people would read my reviews and thoughts on books when I created Facing the Story last year and I am extremely grateful for your kind words and support.

Question time

What are your reading and blogging goals for 2019?

Studious Saturday: My Top Books of 2018

studious saturdays

It’s almost 2019 and time to reflect back on some of the best books I have read this year. As I am writing this I have read 48 books out of my goal of 50 (still 2 weeks to go so I know I can reach my goal!) and it has been incredibly difficult to narrow down my top reads. As I tend to read many backlist books due to my never ending TBR list, I decided to split my choices between the best 5 backlist book and the top 5 books published this year. You can find out my full thoughts on each one by clicking on the links below.

Top backlist books

Book CoverBook CoverBook Cover

5. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry  

4. We Were the Lucky Ones

3. Kane and Abel

2. The Travelling Cat Chronicles

1. Close to Home

Some of my top reads in this category were from the Historical Fiction and Contemporary Fiction genre and I was extremely pleased to find these four gems, some from recommendations and others at random. Cara Hunter has been my newfound top author in the Crime/Mystery/Thriller category this year. The ending of Close to Home was mind blowing and deserves the top spot here and the second book in the series, In the Dark, didn’t disappoint either.

Top books published in 2018

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5. A Spark of Light

4. The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae

3. In the Dark

2. The Tattooist of Auschwitz

1. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

A mixture of books from character-driven stories to the poignant tales of A Spark of Light and The Tattooist of Auschwitz are included here. However, I already knew the winner straight after I had finished this book and it was a very clear choice for me. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is incredibly clever and captivating and deserves to win every possible award. I have been recommending this book to everyone around me (I think some people may be getting quite aggravated by now) and will continue to do so going into next year. No words can do this book justice so you will just have to trust me here and read it, you won’t be disappointed!

It seems that 2018 was a great reading year for me and I can only hope that 2019 continues this way too. I already have my eye on several 2019 releases although there is still a tall pile of books from this year on my TBR list which I hope to eventually get to.

Question time

Have you read any of these books and what did you think of them? What are your top picks of 2018?

Book review: One Day in December by Josie Silver


Book Cover

Title: One Day in December

Author: Josie Silver

Genre: Romance

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 23rd August 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“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?”

My review:

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.