Book review: 29 Seconds by T.M. Logan


Title: 29 Seconds

Author: T.M. Logan

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication date: 25th January 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

Give me one name. One person. And I will make them disappear . . .

When Sarah rescues a young girl in trouble, she expects nothing in return. But her act of bravery puts a powerful and dangerous man in her debt. He lives by his own brutal code, and all debts must be repaid – in the only way he knows how.

He offers Sarah a way to solve a desperate situation with her intolerable boss. A once-in-a-lifetime deal that will make all her problems disappear.

No consequences. No comeback. No chance of being found out.

All it takes is a 29 second phone call.

Because everyone has a name to give. Don’t they?

My review:

From the blurb I was expecting a typical thriller where the main character is frantically trying to find a missing person and several other characters hope he stays missing. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the premise of 29 Seconds is much more intricate and involves a range of complex and sensitive themes which were boldly developed.

Sarah is an interesting main character although some of her actions are certainly questionable. Faced with a difficult decision of making one person in her life disappear after witnessing and preventing a possible crime, she weighs up her options carefully and picks the one person who she knows she won’t miss. Her decision making assumes a considerable chunk of the book from which I understood that she was careful and calculating in her actions. However, I was somewhat disappointed that these qualities slowly disappeared and she became uncertain and reckless, a common and overdone trait in main characters of the genre.

The remaining characters in 29 Seconds all played an important role in developing the story line and dipped in and out with intention. In particular, the portrayal of her boss, Alan Hawthorne, was courageous in both motive and execution. It is revealed from the beginning that he has misogynistic tendencies in the work place and I liked how the author didn’t hold back on developing this scandalous side of him.

Several hard-hitting topics, such as sexual harassment, were introduced in a tasteful manner without ever feeling too overwhelming or insensitive. Sarah’s thoughts echo many women who face similar situations and the portrayal of this topic through the main character was expertly done. It also broaches several important and controversial questions about how we react in the work place and the efforts we would undertake to expose injustice.

The pace seemed just right and even though the plot spans a relatively short amount of time, the chain of events develop quickly. The twist in the end was unexpected although it felt a little unbelievable and did not tie in completely with Sarah’s personality. Nevertheless, it seemed fitting and a solid end to her troubles.

29 Seconds is an exciting thriller which managed to capture my attention from the start. The characters and plot worked well in sync and I was positively surprised by the ending. This is a noble addition to T.M. Logan’s books and I highly encourage other fans of the genre to read it.

Book review: Year One by Nora Roberts


Title: Year One

Author: Nora Roberts

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Piatkus

Publication date: 5th December 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“They call it The Doom – a deadly pandemic that starts on a cold New Year’s Eve in the Scottish countryside. There’s something mysterious about the virus and the way it spreads. As billions fall sick and die, some survivors find themselves invested with strange, unexpected abilities.

Lana, a New York chef, has the power to move things and people with her will. Fred can summon light in the darkness. Jonah, a paramedic, sees snatches of the future in those he touches. Katie gives birth to twins, and suspects that she has brought fresh magic into the world, along with new life.

But The Doom affects people differently. Along with the light, a dark and terrifying magic will also rise. As the remaining authorities round up the immune and the ‘Uncannies’ for testing, Lana, Katie and others flee New York in search of a safe haven. The old world is over, and Year One has begun.

My review:

Year One had been sitting on my shelf for a while and I finally decided to read it in March to try and distract myself from the surreal situation the world was suddenly thrown in. Unfortunately I had completely forgotten the premise of the book and didn’t recall that it revolves around a deadly pandemic until I was into the first chapter.

Luckily the writing style and atmosphere created in the first few chapters were enough to hold my attention and I realised that despite the stark similarities to the current situation in the world, I needed to know more about The Doom. This mysterious disease sweeps across the world with extraordinary speed and a few months into the New Year the world is in a dreamlike state where half the population has been wiped out and countries are run by tenth in line leaders. The knowledge that the pandemic we are experiencing in real life has lower repercussions and is not as deadly was slightly reassuring and actually made me feel safer so perhaps it wasn’t the worst idea to read this book during lockdown.

My struggles with Year One became apparent at the midpoint where too many characters are introduced and it becomes difficult to focus on each one. This diminished any possibility of character development although there were many opportunities. I struggled to remember the relationships and connections between the characters and none of them stood out. However, there was an ongoing sense of community and generosity as the group attempted to rebuild their life in a secluded area and decide on new laws to abide by.

In terms of the fantasy element, the author did an excellent job of incorporating this into the new post-pandemic reality. At first I enjoyed the mysterious nature of the characters’ powers, known as the Uncanny, but I was hoping that more details would be revealed on how and why they are gifted with these powers. Unfortunately even by the end it still wasn’t clear why some characters have these skills and others don’t and how they work exactly. This provides the perfect opportunity to a sequel but I would have preferred a deeper insight into the Uncanny as it seemed overlooked.

Nora Roberts dips into the Fantasy genre with confidence and I truly enjoyed reading a new and different style of books to her usual. Although certain aspects such as the characters and fantasy element could have been addressed better, Year One paves way to a solid start in the series and poses important questions related to the true meaning of humanity and solidarity. Many will enjoy reading this book and I can highly recommend it to anyone considering exploring the genre.

Book review: What Lies Between Us by John Marrs


Title: What Lies Between Us

Author: John Marrs

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication date: 15th May 2020

My rating: ★ ★ ★

Summary:

Nina can never forgive Maggie for what she did. And she can never let her leave.

They say every house has its secrets, and the house that Maggie and Nina have shared for so long is no different. Except that these secrets are not buried in the past.

Every other night, Maggie and Nina have dinner together. When they are finished, Nina helps Maggie back to her room in the attic, and into the heavy chain that keeps her there. Because Maggie has done things to Nina that can’t ever be forgiven, and now she is paying the price.

But there are many things about the past that Nina doesn’t know, and Maggie is going to keep it that way—even if it kills her.

Because in this house, the truth is more dangerous than lies.“

My review:

What Lies Between Us is a riveting thriller filled with deceit, riddles and secrecy and built on the most twisted mother-daughter relationship one could possibly imagine. If you thought you have experienced dysfunctional relationships in other thrillers then brace yourselves because John Marrs brings out the anarchic and twisted side of Maggie and Nina’s bond and leaves the reader questioning all their actions and thoughts.

The storytelling in What Lies Between Us is flawless. The plot is divided in chapters with alternating POVs between Nina and Maggie and the first person narrative works extremely well in establishing a connection between the reader and the characters to help understand their actions. It has the perfect balance between character development and plot and keeps the reader guessing as both characters’ motives are slowly revealed through the multiple unanticipated twists.

I find relating to unlikable and unreliable characters extremely difficult in thrillers yet I was surprised to find that there were parts of both characters that I could connect with. They both make some difficult choices but with the intention to protect and help their loved ones. I was constantly undecided on which character was evil and unbalanced and with each twist I became more convinced that I had figured out their backstory until the shocking turn of events at the end which left me speechless. Looking back, I realise that it would have been impossible to guess the reasons behind their actions and figure out the ending as it is so twisted and unexpected.

After reading The Passengers by John Marrs, I was convinced that I had discovered a possible new favourite author and this book confirmed my suspicions. I was thrilled to hear that it has already sold TV rights and can already imagine some of the dark scenes from this book reproduced on the big screen. I highly recommend this book to all fans of the genre and cannot wait to read John Marrs’ previous books.

What Lies Between Us is now out to buy!

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

Book review: The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal


Title: The Doll Factory

Author: Elizabeth Macneal

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Picador

Publication date: 2nd May 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★

Summary:

London. 1850. The Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and among the crowd watching the spectacle two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment – forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning.

When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love.

But Silas has only thought of one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening . . .”

My review:

The Doll Factory takes place in 1850s London and narrates the touching story of Iris and Rose, two sisters stuck in a never ending cycle of misery. Written with flair and confidence, the beginning of the story sucked me in immediately and I was transported to a London so different to the one I know and eager to immerse myself in the dark and gothic setting.

Iris hopes for more than the shabby setting and poor working conditions of painting dolls and dreams of a faraway life filled with opportunities. The possibility of escape surfaces when she is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite painter Louis Foster who she bargains to model for in exchange for art lessons. This engrossing beginning outlined an array of possibilities for Iris who soon found herself detached from her sister and entered a world completely different to the one she knew. I found her journey through London while getting to know Louis a marvellous adventure and truly connected with her character.

Unfortunately towards the halfway mark certain events linked to Silas, a taxidermist infatuated with Iris, were enough to put me off and I skimmed through a large chunk of the book. Although the writing was sharp and articulate, the descriptions involving killing and stuffing animals were too distasteful and not to my liking. The connection between Silas and Iris was also too constrained and not a story arc I appreciated.

I loved the gothic and mysterious setting but was not expecting such a dark and twisted turn of events. The characterisation was powerful and the pace seemed right but by skipping through several parts I lost the momentum and this ultimately shaped the book to be an average read for me despite the strong start. The Doll Factory has the potential to charm many readers with its setting and storytelling and I would recommend it to fans of period features and lots of drama but it could be a difficult read for readers who don’t digest gory details well.

Book review: Recursion by Blake Crouch


Title: Recursion

Author: Blake Crouch

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Macmillan

Publication date: 13th June 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★

Summary:

What if someone could rewrite your entire life?

‘My son has been erased.’

Those are the last words the woman tells Barry Sutton before she leaps from the Manhattan rooftop.

Deeply unnerved, Barry begins to investigate her death only to learn that this wasn’t an isolated case. All across the country, people are waking up to lives different from the ones they fell asleep to. Are they suffering from False Memory Syndrome, a mysterious, new disease that afflicts people with vivid memories of a life they never lived? Or is something far more sinister behind the fracturing of reality all around him?

Miles away, neuroscientist Helena Smith is developing a technology that allows us to preserve our most intense memories and relive them. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss or the birth of a child.

Barry’s search for the truth leads him on an impossible, astonishing journey as he discovers that Helena’s work has yielded a terrifying gift . . .”

My review:

“If memory is unreliable, if the past and the present can simply change without warning, then fact and truth will cease to exist. How do we live in a world like that?”

Reading Recursion for me felt like a profound investigation of what it really means to be human and alive and living in the here and now. It posed some of the most ambitious questions that surround humanity and the consequences of our actions. After finishing the first few chapters I was already convinced that I would soon be immersed in an exciting tale of deception and turbulence and could not wait for the exciting journey ahead.

The premise of Recursion is simple enough to captivate the reader right from the start. Imagine a world where your memories never existed and suddenly you are hit with the reality that you are not who you are and you have never met the people you most love. This stark beginning was enough to hold my attention and leave me wanting more. The phenomenon was described as False Memory Syndrome, a rapidly spreading condition which NYPD detective Barry Sutton is investigating. I thoroughly enjoyed following Barry in his quest to expose the secrets which powerful forces behind the syndrome are hiding. Through an unusual set of circumstances Barry meets with Helena Smith, a neuroscientist who invented the device behind the phenomenon. What follows is an extraordinary set of events as Barry and Helena attempt to stop the evil powers who are trying to use the device to bring out the worst in humanity.

The dual timelines worked extremely well at the beginning and supported the plot effectively. In particular, Helena’s POV was pivotal in understanding both why and how she developed the chair which can be used to retrace, delete and alter memories. Several minor characters are introduced and each played an important role in developing the chair and challenging its function as a machine that could change perceptions of time and space. Unfortunately, I became lost in the alternating timelines towards the middle and there were several chapters where I wasn’t sure which storyline I was following and had to read back which detracted from the reading experience. Nevertheless, I was incredibly impressed with the author’s ability to build tension and create multiple worlds through the various timelines.

Ultimately what made Recursion an exceptional read was the moral aspect which the author introduced at the start. I was left wondering what would happen if the chair existed in this world and fell into the wrong hands, as it did in the book, as well as the endless possibilities of rewriting memories and how that would affect humanity. This was my first book by Blake Crouch but my fascination with his ability to build a world so similar yet different to ours has encouraged me to order his previous book, Dark Matter, and if it is anything like Recursion then I am sure that I have discovered a new favourite author.

“We think we’re perceiving the world directly and immediately, but everything we experience is this carefully edited, tape-delayed reconstruction.”

Book review: The Water Keeper by Charles Martin


Title: The Water Keeper

Author: Charles Martin

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Publication date: 5th May 2020

My rating: ★ ★ ★

Summary:

Murphy Shepherd is a man with many secrets. He lives alone on an island, tending the grounds for a church with no parishioners, and he’s dedicated his life to rescuing those in peril. But as he mourns the loss of his mentor and friend, Murph himself may be more lost than he realizes.

When he pulls a beautiful woman named Summer out of Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway, Murph’s mission to lay his mentor to rest at the end of the world takes a dangerous turn. Drawn to Summer, and desperate to find her missing daughter, Murph is pulled deeper and deeper into the dark and dangerous world of modern-day slavery.

With help from some unexpected new friends, including a faithful Labrador he plucks from the ocean and an ex-convict named Clay, Murph must race against the clock to locate the girl before he is consumed by the secrets of his past—and the ghosts who tried to bury them.”

My review:

I didn’t know what to expect when I requested The Water Keeper on Netgalley. I thought that it would be a steady paced and easy read however I was surprised to find a stimulating and complex plot with plenty of action and rollercoaster moments. It suited both the character development and story line well and never left me bored.

The characters in The Water Keeper are extraordinary. Murph at first appears to be a normal man with a love of boats but that doesn’t even cover the surface of the complexity of his character. His passion for justice is reflected in the risky work he undertakes each time he saves a girl from sex traffickers. His integrity and dedication is  ignited when he meets Angel, a young girl who soon becomes the target of a dangerous group of sex traffickers. I found myself warming to Murph with every decision he took to save her life and he soon became my favourite character. Secondary characters are often more difficult to connect with but that wasn’t the case in The Water Keeper as each character had a place and was beautifully developed. They included an unlikely mix of a convict, a dog, a young girl who is still trying to discover who she really is and a worried mother hoping to be reunited with her daughter.

At the forefront of The Water Keeper is the beautiful and calm scenery which perfectly challenges the turbulent plot filled with violence. I found the boat related descriptions too repetitive but I realise that it is closely connected to Murph’s love of boats and the sea and complements his passion well. The remaining imagery was delightful and superbly described. It takes the reader on a journey through both tranquil and dangerous waters as Murph and the team get closer to Angel and I thoroughly enjoyed following them on their journey.

The Water Keeper kept me guessing until the very end and there were several troubling moments where I wasn’t sure if it would end in disaster or not. However, I was satisfied with the ending which ties up all lose ends and also answers all the questions from Murph’s private life and why he chose to follow such a dangerous career. Filled with wonderful storytelling, a set of interesting characters and vivid scenery, The Water Keeper is a must read for anyone who is willing to be surprised and taken on an exciting adventure.

The Water Keeper is out to buy today!

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

Book review: Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce


Title: Blood Orange

Author: Harriet Tyce

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Wildfire

Publication date: 26th December 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise – she’s just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems…

Just one more night. Then I’ll end it.

Alison drinks too much. She’s neglecting her family. And she’s having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries may be more than she can handle.

I did it. I killed him. I should be locked up.

Alison’s client doesn’t deny that she stabbed her husband – she wants to plead guilty. And yet something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.

I’m watching you. I know what you’re doing.

But someone knows Alison’s secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she’s done, and who won’t stop until she’s lost everything….”

My review:

Even though she tries her best to hide it, Alison is a mess. At work she may appear to be a successful and levelheaded barrister but she struggles to spend enough time at home with her family and she abuses alcohol to the extreme. That coupled with her frustrating affair which she doesn’t seem to be able to end as much as she tries makes her out to be a realist and relatable character. I liked the fact that she desperately tried to improve her relationship with her family and I was silently encouraging her to do so until the end.

As the plot unraveled I found Alison more irritating as she took one bad decision after another. For a smart woman she appeared to be unable to tackle her problems head on and refused to stand up to the torment she was facing from both her husband Carl and her lover Patrick. I was eagerly waiting for the moment where she would finally take control and challenge both of them but this never happened except in a few situations towards the end where a fragment of her rationality surfaces. I was left disappointed and felt that as an intelligent main character she could have achieved much more.

At the background of Blood Orange is what appears to be an easy murder case which soon turns out to be much more twisted than Alison imagined. Her new client confesses to stabbing her husband multiple times yet Alison knows that she is hiding something and is keen to unearth her secrets. I found the legal side of the thriller intriguing and liked the connections formed between the trial and Alison’s personal life. The story line gained momentum towards the middle of the book when more hints were dropped and I was increasingly interested in solving the murder case.

The mounting tension in the final chapters leads to a twist which I unfortunately saw coming and was not as surprised as I should have been. Nevertheless, this didn’t diminish the rest of the book and I feel that the steady pace and tension filled plot created an engaging thriller and a quick read. I would have preferred more depth to the characters and to see an end to the self-destruction in Alison’s life but after reaching the conclusion I partly understood the decision to keep her character as chaotic as she started out. Although I wasn’t left stunned by this book, it held my attention until the end and I am sure that many readers would enjoy this legal thriller.