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: The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

Book Cover

Title: The Family Next Door

Author: Sally Hepworth

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 22nd March 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Synopsis:

The small suburb of Pleasant Court lives up to its name. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbours, and children play in the street.
Isabelle Heatherington doesn’t fit into this picture of family paradise. Husbandless and childless, she soon catches the attention of three Pleasant Court mothers.
But Ange, Fran and Essie have their own secrets to hide. Like the reason behind Ange’s compulsion to control every aspect of her life. Or why Fran won’t let her sweet, gentle husband near her new baby. Or why, three years ago, Essie took her daughter to the park – and returned home without her.
As their obsession with their new neighbour grows, the secrets of these three women begin to spread – and they’ll soon find out that when you look at something too closely, you see things you never wanted to see.

My review:

I feel hesitant posting this review after reading other readers’ thoughts on this book and I think I might be one of the only ones to give it an average rating. This is a quick and engrossing read, similar to other domestic thrillers with confident and headstrong female leads. The story line follows three neighbours from Pleasant Court, a suburb in Australia, who each hide their own secrets, unaware that a huge discovery is about to be made by their new neighbour Isabelle. The pace is steady and secrets are revealed with purpose and in the right doses throughout the book. Despite my initial concerns, the subject matter related to each secret is heavy but unpredictable and very well analysed by the author who delves into each character, narrating their story with close attention to detail.

My main issue with this book is the interaction between the neighbours which I found to be very superficial and gossipy. Some of the themes discussed were dark but this was usually portrayed in the narrative where characters’ thoughts were revealed, unlike the conversations at the suburb which often felt superfluous and repetitive. I understand that perhaps this is also telling of the different ways we hide information from our peers compared to our thoughts when we are alone, but the dialogue left me feeling disappointed and sometimes even irritated. I could not relate to Isabelle or any of the other women and was not impressed by how uninteresting their husbands were portrayed either.

Overall, this book fell a little flat for me and made me question some of the characters’ decisions which I don’t believe was always intended. However, the pace was good enough to draw me into the world of Pleasant Court where relationships are tested and important topics such as parenthood, marriage and mental illness are discussed. It is a quick and entertaining read and perfect for anyone looking for a domestic thriller narrated from a woman’s perspective.

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.

Book review: Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer


Book Cover

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


Book Cover

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 Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland


Book Cover

Title: The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae

Author: Stephanie Butler

Genre: Romance

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication date: 19th April 2018

My rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis:

Ailsa Rae is learning how to live.
She’s only a few months past the heart transplant that – just in time – saved her life. Life should be a joyful adventure. But . . .
Her relationship with her mother is at breaking point.
She knows she needs to find her father.
She’s missed so much that her friends have left her behind.
She’s felt so helpless for so long that she’s let polls on her blog make her decisions for her. And now she barely knows where to start on her own.
And then there’s Lennox. Her best friend and one time lover. He was sick too. He didn’t make it. And now she’s supposed to face all of this without him.
But her new heart is a bold heart. 
She just needs to learn to listen to it . . .

My review:

This was a simply marvelous read and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering the courageous and quirky Ailsa Rae. The author has developed a very likable character in Ailsa and it was a pleasure joining her in her adventures such as learning to Tango, discovering love and finding her father. Despite the tough subject matter, the author explores Ailsa’s courage through her positive stance in receiving her new heart by fearlessly throwing herself into all life has to offer. I especially liked her dedication to her blog and the connection she developed with her followers, basing each decision on their comments but also enjoyed her persistence and willingness to make her own decisions as her confidence grew.

Seb plays an interesting part in this book and I enjoyed seeing his friendship with Ailsa flourish. Although their mutual condition of post-operation recovery originally unites them, it soon becomes clear that there is a romantic touch to their relationship that they are keen to explore. However, I still don’t believe that the romantic part of this book overrides the other predominant themes and I would struggle to mark this book as romance only.

For me the most appealing part of the book is the need to find your true self and live life to the fullest. The author took a very difficult subject and presented this concept beautifully through Ailsa’s character which made this book even more engaging and enjoyable to read. I think I will remember it for a very long time and I am glad to have stumbled across it.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Book review: A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa

Book Cover

Title: A River in Darkness

Author: Masaji Ishikawa

Genre: Autobiography

Publisher: Amazon

Publication date: 1st January 2018

My rating: ★★★★☆

Synopsis:

Half-Korean, half-Japanese, Masaji Ishikawa has spent his whole life feeling like a man without a country. This feeling only deepened when his family moved from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was just thirteen years old, and unwittingly became members of the lowest social caste. His father, himself a Korean national, was lured to the new Communist country by promises of abundant work, education for his children, and a higher station in society. But the reality of their new life was far from utopian.

In this memoir translated from the original Japanese, Ishikawa candidly recounts his tumultuous upbringing and the brutal thirty-six years he spent living under a crushing totalitarian regime, as well as the challenges he faced repatriating to Japan after barely escaping North Korea with his life. A River in Darkness is not only a shocking portrait of life inside the country but a testament to the dignity—and indomitable nature—of the human spirit.

My review:

This was an incredibly tough book to read but so powerful and vivid that I managed to finish it in one sitting. The first person narrative added a very intimate touch that made his story feel even more heartbreaking. Gripping from the very first chapter, I was immediately drawn into his worries of moving to North Korea and shortly after the struggles his family faced to survive. The narrative feels extremely real and the events so disturbing that it is almost unbelievable how bad the totalitarian regime in North Korea is.

It is probably of no surprise that what I most enjoyed in this book is the end where Masaji shows courage and an exceptionally strong character by trying to escape from North Korea. This was perhaps where the story took a turn for the better and we followed a much more promising, although still rough, journey through Asia to safety. His will to survive is overwhelming and it puts everything into perspective, celebrating the little things in life that we often don’t realise we have.

My only criticism would be the very abrupt end and lack of narrative following his life to date. No information of the author’s life is available online and it is unknown how this story was published or who helped him in writing this book, an important detail that I wish was shared with us, although I feel that this was done on purpose to protect him. Nevertheless, this book is a real eye-opener and I highly recommend it to everyone.