Book review: The Missing Sister by Elle Marr


Title: The Missing Sister

Author: Elle Marr

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication date: 1st April 2020

My rating: ★ ★ ★ 

Summary:

Shayna Darby is finally coming to terms with her parents’ deaths when she’s delivered another blow. The body of her estranged twin sister, Angela—the possible victim of a serial killer—has been pulled from the Seine. Putting what’s left of her life on hold, Shayna heads to Paris. But while cleaning out Angela’s apartment, Shayna makes a startling discovery: a coded message meant for her alone…

Alive. Trust no one.

Taking the warning to heart, Shayna maintains the lie. She makes a positive ID on the remains and works to find out where—and why—her missing sister is hiding. Shayna retraces her sister’s footsteps, and they lead her down into Paris’s underbelly.

As she gets closer to the truth—and to the killer—Shayna’s own life may now be in the balance…

My review:

When Shayna arrives in her sister’s apartment in Paris, she is shocked to discover a message on her noticeboard written in their secret language. Certain that her sister is still alive, Shayna endeavours to uncover the truth and find her sister, fearing that she is in danger.

The beginning of The Missing Sister shows a lot of promise and I had high hopes for an exciting mystery. Set in the catacombs of Paris with secret riddles and code names, the prospect of following Shayna on this adventure was thrilling. The author did a wonderful job in this area and I thoroughly enjoyed the foreign and different setting. The first few minor characters which were introduced appeared grounded and I was hoping for deeper interactions between them and Shayna. Unfortunately, many of these minor characters dipped in and out and towards the end I was struggling to remember them.

I started to lose interest in the middle of the book and found that I was skimming through the main plot. A lot of the story line is based on Shayna following clues and speaking to people who her sister interacted with before her disappearance. There was little evidence to suggest how she found those clues which resulted in a weak argument when the kidnapper was revealed. It also didn’t help that the majority of the plot happened in the last few pages of the book as the pace felt uneven. Although I usually appreciate fast-paced endings when well done, here it seemed like the author was in a rush to finish the story.

The Missing Sister explores a complex relationship between twin sisters which thrillers rarely cover and was one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects. That coupled with the mysterious setting created a strong base for a promising read. Ultimately the weak links in the plot and unbalanced pace did not sit well but I was still able to find a lot to like in this debut.

The Missing Sister 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: The Whisper Man by Alex North


Title: The Whisper Man

Author: Alex North

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 13th June 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

” If you leave a door half-open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken…

Still devastated after the loss of his wife, Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake move to the sleepy village of Featherbank, looking for a fresh start.

But Featherbank has a dark past. Fifteen years ago a twisted serial killer abducted and murdered five young boys. Until he was finally caught, the killer was known as ‘The Whisper Man’.

Of course, an old crime need not trouble Tom and Jake as they try to settle in to their new home. Except that now another boy has gone missing. And then Jake begins acting strangely.

He says he hears a whispering at his window…

My review:

“If you leave a door half open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken.
If you play outside alone, soon you won’t be going home.
If your window’s left unlatched, you’ll hear him tapping at the glass.
If you’re lonely, sad, and blue, the Whisper Man will come for you.”

After suffering the tragic loss of his wife, Tom Kennedy decides to start a new life with his son and soon finds the perfect place for their future: Featherbank. Years ago the Whisper Man haunted the lives of its inhabitants and some still remember the pain he caused. Others doubt he ever existed. However, when Jake starts hearing whispers and Tom is certain that there is no one else in the house, reality hits close to home and Tom begins to doubt if he and his son are really safe in their new environment.

The premise of The Whisper Man is intriguing and boasts potential of an electrifying thriller. It comprises the perfect blend of character growth, plot and setting. There were many red herrings and tense moments, creating an eerie feeling that lingered throughout the book. Questions were raised on whether the whole scenario was a hoax or if the Whisper Man had returned and I enjoyed the hints dropped which helped the reader discover the truth.

An important aspect in The Whisper Man, not to be forgotten, is the relationship between father and son which was extremely well portrayed. Mixed emotions such as grief, distress and love are explored as Tom and Jake adjust to their new life. I warmed to both characters and enjoyed following their journey to acceptance and content.

The plot is incredibly well developed with many unexpected twists thrown in at the most tense moments. I ultimately guessed the big reveal correctly but this didn’t hinder the ending as the execution was slick and tied in well with the remaining part of the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed every twist and turn in The Whisper Man. Few thrillers manage to grab my attention from the first chapter but the solid writing, tense atmosphere and likeable characters made this book an exception. I advise all fans of thrillers to consider reading this debut and am certain that they will not be left disappointed.

Book review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware


Title: The Turn of the Key

Author: Ruth Ware

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Vintage

Publication date: 8th August 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“When she stumbles across the advert, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious ‘smart’ home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in a cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she’s made mistakes. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

My review:

Rowan doesn’t know what to expect on her first day at Heatherbrae House. The job ad seemed perfect and she is already experienced at taking care of young children. The idyllic family home is located in rural Scotland and features contrasting state of the art smart home characteristics which baffle her. When she finds signs from the children and past nannies that the house is not what it seems to be and advice to get out while she still can, Rowan wonders if she perhaps made the wrong choice in coming here after all.

The premise of The Turn of the Key presents a variety of opportunities for suspense and tension and Ruth Ware takes advantage of these possibilities, creating a plot thick with ever increasing tension. The letter format is original and matches the atmosphere well. I am also pleased that the author chose to write the book in first person narrative as there were several uneasy moments where this style perfectly reflected the mood.

Although I had my doubts about Rowan at first as she seemed an unreliable character, as more bizarre events occurred I soon took her side and eventually warmed to her. The letter format help to present her as an innocent and sincere person who seemed to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of her decisions aggravated me and there were many missed moments where she didn’t take the lead which made her appear weak and passive. The other minor characters, especially the children, were presented as indifferent to the strange events happening at the house which ultimately made me believe that the whole mystery was somehow linked to Rowan.

I was completely invested in The Turn of the Key until the very end which felt very anticlimactic and rushed. There were many red herrings throughout the book and I thought that at least one of them could have explained the creepy events but the big twist let me down and felt too unbelievable.

An original format and first person narrative makes The Turn of the Key easily digestible and a quick read for anyone looking for a straightforward thriller. Although the ending was ineffective, the build up and suspense was authentic and merits praise.

Book review: The Muse by Jessie Burton


Title: The Muse

Author: Jessie Burton

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Picador

Publication date: 30th June 2016

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

A picture hides a thousand words …

On a hot July day in 1967, Odelle Bastien climbs the stone steps of the Skelton gallery in London, knowing that her life is about to change forever. Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, she has been offered a job as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous and enigmatic Marjorie Quick. But though Quick takes Odelle into her confidence, and unlocks a potential she didn’t know she had, she remains a mystery – no more so than when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.

The truth about the painting lies in 1936 and a large house in rural Spain, where Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, is harbouring ambitions of her own. Into this fragile paradise come an artist and revolutionary, Isaac Robles, and his half-sister Teresa, who immediately insinuate themselves into the Schloss family, with explosive and devastating consequences …

Seductive, exhilarating and suspenseful, The Muse is an addictive novel about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception – a magnificent creation and a story you will never forget.

My review:

Historical fiction novels which feel both pivotal to their period and discuss a variety of hard hitting and complex societal topics are hard to come by. Often authors develop the setting beautifully and transport the reader to another time but they fail to inspire when it comes to tackling controversial issues for that time period. The Muse is an exception and Jessie Burton successfully manages to tell the most beautiful tale of hope, distress and love while engaging the reader in some of the most disputable topics at the time.

Shifting between 30s rural Spain and 60s busy London, the setting in The Muse is possibly one of the most magnificent I have encountered in Historical Fiction to date. The level of detail was astounding and I could easily see myself following Olive around the villa on a warm summer’s day or keeping up with Odelle’s busy life in London. I adored both backdrops and, although I could easily relate to both after living in both countries, the period features and details in the nature and architecture felt authentic to both the time and setting.

The characters and story line in The Muse suited each other perfectly. I quickly warmed to Odelle and recognised her assertiveness and desire to find her place in busy London in myself. Although I struggled more with the characters in the 30s setting I eventually connected to them as well and appreciated how different they are in personality to Odelle. As the story line progressed from the hectic London backdrop to a more relaxed and artistic rendition of Spain, the characters also developed and grew into their identities.

Unfortunately I had great difficulties with the pace and structure in The Muse to such an extent that I considered leaving it several times. It is not until nearly the halfway point that the two story lines merge where it becomes clear how the characters are connected and this lack of cohesion made me lose interest at the beginning of the book. I decided to power through and keep reading with the mindset that both story lines would converge and I was not disappointed. From the halfway point I witnessed a literary masterpiece, not only through the artwork but also the deep connections formed between these characters and the magnitude of social topics explored, such as classism and social exclusion.

Featuring a cast of strong female characters, settings one can only dream of and a poignant and bittersweet story, The Muse is a gem in the Historical Fiction genre not to be missed. Although the pace seemed distorted at times, Jessie Burton balances this with a beautifully told tale difficult to forget.

Book review: All the Rage by Cara Hunter


Title: All the Rage

Author: Cara Hunter

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 19th December 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“The first girl came back.The next might not be so lucky.

A teenage girl is found wandering the outskirts of Oxford, dazed and distressed. The story she tells is terrifying. Grabbed off the street, a plastic bag pulled over her face, then driven to an isolated location where she was subjected to what sounds like an assault. Yet she refuses to press charges.

DI Fawley investigates, but there’s little he can do without the girl’s co-operation. Is she hiding something, and if so, what? And why does Fawley keep getting the feeling he’s seen a case like this before?

And then another girl disappears, and Adam no longer has a choice: he has to face up to his past.

Because unless he does, this victim may not be coming back . . .

My review:

The fourth addition to the DI Adam Fawley series did not disappoint. As with its predecessors, it features a wonderful mix of interesting and multidimensional characters and a crime brimming with secrets, ready to be unearthed. Needless to say, I inhaled All the Rage in only a few sittings.

Cara Hunter has already made a name for herself in the Crime genre and with each addition to the series the detectives, in particular Adam Fawley, become more refined and easier to relate to. More details on Fawley’s past are also revealed in this book and I particularly liked the balance between his backstory and the crime. At no point did it feel like the author was forcing Fawley’s past hardships to gain the reader’s empathy but rather attempt to form a natural connection to this central character without removing focus from the main crime. My personal favourites, Somer and Everett, feature heavily in All the Rage and by the end I had formed an even closer connection with both detectives.

When it comes to storytelling and plot development in a crime novel, Cara Hunter is by far one of the best at gaining momentum and always keeping the reader guessing. The minor characters she introduces in each book always feel central to the plot which makes guessing the suspect much harder. The twists are always unexpected and shocking and there were several times in this book where I almost couldn’t believe some of them and had to read back to check if I understood them correctly. In particular, the ending astounded me and left me with an unpleasant feeling. Unfortunately it felt a little unrealistic and farfetched and I could not imagine similar events unfolding in real life but I appreciate the effort and detail she invested in the story line.

Cara Hunter successfully developed the team of investigators and narrated an increasingly complex crime with ease. I was invested in the plot throughout the entire book and was not able to guess the killer or their motive until the very end. Fans of the DI Adam Fawley series will be pleased with this addition to the series and those who haven’t yet read any of the past books will also find themselves constantly guessing.

Book review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides


Title: The Silent Patient

Author: Alex Michaelides

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Orion

Publication date: 7th February 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“Only she knows what happened.
Only I can make her speak.

I love him so totally, completely, sometimes it threatens to overwhelm me.
Sometimes I think-
No. I won’t write about that.

ALICIA
Alicia Berenson writes a diary as a release, an outlet – and to prove to her beloved husband that everything is fine. She can’t bear the thought of worrying Gabriel, or causing him pain.

Until, late one evening, Alicia shoots Gabriel five times and then never speaks another word.

THEO
Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber is convinced he can successfully treat Alicia, where all others have failed. Obsessed with investigating her crime, his discoveries suggest Alicia’s silence goes far deeper than he first thought.

And if she speaks, would he want to hear the truth?

My review:

“You become increasingly comfortable with madness – and not just the madness of others, but your own. We’re all crazy, I believe, just in different ways.”

I have been waiting for a psychological thriller to blow me away for years. Endings almost never shock me and I can see twists coming from miles away. Throw in a few unlikable characters and a shaky plot and it’s no surprise that my disappointment grows with every psychological thriller I finish. Although there have been a few pleasant surprises over the years, nothing can quite compare to The Silent Patient.

The writing in The Silent Patient is articulate and succinct. The author develops Alicia’s voice, or lack thereof, in a compelling way through the use of her diary, and the jump from the first-person journal narrative leading up to the murder to Theo’s current point of view is incredibly effective. Although Alicia chooses not to speak, she still remains a vocal character through the use of her body language and attitude which I found to be one of the most powerful and impressive aspects in the beginning of the book.

When it comes to characters in psychological thrillers I am always intrigued by mysterious characters who seem to be hiding something and both Theo and Alicia fit perfectly in this category. It was clear from the start that Alicia had been through a traumatic event but it was frustrating that so little information was shared to explain why she refused to speak. This concept puzzled me the entire time and I was both mindful of the possibility that she is the enemy and concerned that she could be a tormented victim not yet ready to speak the truth. Theo was just as complex and the simplicity of his backstory had me question his intentions and interest in Alicia. Ultimately it was the intensity of the interactions between these two characters which impressed me and had me swiftly flipping the pages.

Without a doubt my favourite part of The Silent Patient was the ending. With each chapter I was sure that I was closer to finding out the truth about the murder of Alicia’s husband and a few chapters before the end I was almost certain that I had figured it out. I have never been so stunned by an ending before. I had to read it back several times and still couldn’t believe it. It stayed with me for a long time afterwards and with time I recalled several hints which were revealed but which I didn’t pick up on. The ease with which Alex Michaelides reveals these signs is astonishing and he deserves all the praise for this skill.

The Silent Patient consists of all the necessary ingredients for a gripping psychological thriller: a cast of complex characters, a plot thick with tension and a compelling mystery begging to be solved. It held my attention until the very end and left me with the conclusive feeling that this is one of the best books in its genre. Readers who relish unforeseen twists and unexpected endings will find a lot to love here.

“Perhaps some of us are simply born evil, and despite our best efforts we remain that way.”

Book review: The Italian Villa by Daniela Sacerdoti

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Title: The Italian Villa

Author: Daniela Sacerdoti

Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication date: 17th February 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

Inspired by true events, and for fans of The Beekeeper’s Promise and The Tuscan Child, comes a passionate, heartbreaking and absolutely unputdownable story of two remarkable women, separated by history, finding the courage to look for light in the darkest places.

As she staggers through the woods towards the smoky remains of her village, she sees the wounded, all those familiar faces covered in blood and ashes, and remembers she isn’t just a woman; she is a doctor, and she is needed…

1938 – A young Italian couple cling to each other in the shadow of the Montevino mountains, Mussolini’s call to war ringing in their ears. They vow to stay together, no matter what, and hatch a plan to wed in secret before fleeing to the woods to join the resistance.

Present Day – Callie Di Giacomo, a waitress from Texas, is still reeling from the discovery that she is adopted when she arrives in Montevino in search of answers – the keys to the stunning hillside villa she just inherited clutched tightly in her hand. In her birth mother’s wardrobe grief-stricken Callie finds a diary belonging to a woman named Elisa Stella, one of Italy’s first ever female students of medicine, wrapped in pale blue ribbon.

Page by page, Callie unravels the story of a passionate young doctor who risked everything to marry her sweetheart, who was betrayed by her own people, and forced into hiding as Montevino was invaded. Elisa knew she must survive against all odds to see her loved ones again. But history had other plans…

As the diary ends, a startling revelation about who Elisa was offers a chance for Callie to heal past wounds and spark a new future. But is she brave enough to take it?

This unforgettable story of love, loss and resilience by the author of million-copy Amazon No 1. bestseller, Watch Over Me, is perfect for anyone who loved The Letter, The Tattooist of Auschwitz or The Dressmaker’s Gift.”

My review:

On her twenty-first birthday Callie discovers that she is adopted and has inherited a villa in a remote Italian village from her birth mother. The news both overwhelm and excite her as we soon find out that her adoptive parents died in a tragic accident when she was a child. Inspired by the prospect that she may still have living relations, she embarks on an adventure that will take her to her new home and reveal the family she never knew she had. When she discovers a stack of old handwritten letters from someone called Elisa, she is certain that she is even closer to finding out the truth about her birth parents.

My favourite aspect of this book was most definitely the setting. The gorgeous Montevino is portrayed as a blissful and cozy Italian village with a strong sense of community and a slower pace of life. The author develops this idea beautifully and the eloquent and poetic writing perfectly match the setting. I was also impressed by her ability to explore complex family relationships, in particular when addressing Elisa and her family which mirrors Callie’s in many ways.

There were several minor characters in this book which stood out for different reasons: Flora for her stubbornness and Elisa for her determination. I could not warm to the male characters and found Callie’s love interest uninteresting but I think that this is ultimately a personal feeling as I don’t always appreciate romance enough in Historical Fiction. However, this minor touch wasn’t enough to sway my original feelings of the book.

The Italian Villa is a literary gem which transports the reader on an adventure and interprets hard hitting topics such as loneliness and family relationships with ease. I devoured it in just two sittings and was left with a feeling of warmth and serenity which stayed with me for a long time. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to escape to another place and time and join a charming main character on an exciting adventure.

The Italian Villa is out to buy next Monday!

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