Book review: The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances


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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


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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


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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: The Coordinates of Loss by Amanda Prowse

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Title: The Coordinates of Loss

Author: Amanda Prowse

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Publication date: 25th September 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ✰

Summary:

When Rachel Croft wakes up on her family’s boat in Bermuda, it’s to sunshine and yet another perfect day…until she goes to wake her seven-year-old son, Oscar. Because the worst thing imaginable has happened. He isn’t there.
In the dark and desperate days that follow, Rachel struggles to navigate her grief. And while her husband, James, wants them to face the tragedy together, Rachel feels that the life they once shared is over. Convinced that their happy marriage is now a sham, and unable to remain in the place where she lost her son, she goes home to Bristol alone.
Only when she starts receiving letters from Cee-Cee, her housekeeper in Bermuda, does light begin to return to Rachel’s soul. She and James both want to learn to live again—but is it too late for them to find a way through together?

My review:

I decided to read this book after finishing Anna by Amanda Prowse which I really enjoyed. Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint. She chose a very complex subject matter and explored it through Rachel and James’ relationship after their son Oscar disappears at sea. Grief is a particularly difficult topic to discuss which I believe she handled well with a lot of carefully chosen words and phrases. Most notable of all were the different stages of loss that Rachel struggled through which I felt were especially well documented through the first person narrative.

Character development plays an important part in books written in this style and I must say that we saw all characters grow through expressing their thoughts and reflecting on the past. Cee-Cee was a very pleasant character, often driving the plot forwards and supporting Rachel with the healing process. Her empathy and kindness is so comforting and she quickly became my favourite character.

The Coordinates of Loss is an emotional and poignant book, perfect for readers who are after a true to life story and are keen on exploring family dynamics. However, it should also be noted that this book lacks a fast-paced plot and does not provide any relief until the very end, which is something I believe many readers may also be looking for.

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

Book review: The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

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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: 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.