Review: I’ll Be Watching You by Beverly Barton

 

Title: I’ll Be Watching You

Author: Beverly Barton

Published: Avon UK October 2014

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Status: Read from October 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publicist}

My Thoughts:

I’ll Be Watching You by Beverly Barton is a romantic suspense novel with elements of erotica and mystery. After spending fifteen years in jail for a crime he did not commit, Reed Conway is determined to return to Spring Creek and prove his innocence by outing whoever really slit his step father’s throat. When Ella Porter, the daughter of the man who secured Reed’s conviction, receives a vulgar and threatening anonymous letter the day after Reed is paroled, Reed is an immediate suspect but after Ella confronts him, she As threats against the Porter family escalate Ella, swayed by Reed’s sexy charm, begins to believe in his claim that he is being framed now, as he was fifteen years ago, but can she really trust a man convicted of murder with her life?

Unfortunately I wasn’t terribly impressed with this story. The plot resembles a daytime soap opera arc with the a small cast tangled in an almost incestuous web of abuse, deceit, betrayal, adultery, obsession, and murder. The suspense is okay but the plot shocks are fairly heavily foreshadowed and when the killer’s identity was revealed, I realised I wasn’t surprised in the least.

The narrative is written in the third person using multiple perspectives, including that of the anonymous killer. If I am honest, I didn’t find any of the the characters very convincing as individuals, not helped by their convoluted relationships to one another.
Nearly thirty and a circuit judge, Ella Porter lacked the presence or personality I would expect from such an accomplished, mature woman. She’s a daddy’s girl, believing him to be infallible and completely clueless about the state of her parents marriage. And despite believing that Reed is a killer who plans to harm her, she dissolves anytime Reed looks her way.
Reed is described appealingly “A good six three. Broad shoulders. Biceps bulging…surprisingly tanned…thick tawny hair curled about his neck and ears…A lazy, raw sensuality oozed from his pores.” However the moment he is distracted by Ella he completely forgets about searching for the killer who framed him, despite spending the last 15 years in prison waiting for his opportunity to prove his innocence.
The chemistry between them is a bit contrived (bad boy meets good girl) but the erotic scenes are written well enough, if a little florid. Be aware that Ella and Reed aren’t the only couple to share some steamy moments, and there are several erotic encounters through the book.

There is a distinct southern small town feel to the setting, both through the use of double barreled first names like Jeff Henry and Joe Brierly and the brief descriptions of the town and its social structure. The language is a bit odd though, sometimes feeling very stilted and formal for such a contemporary setting. I think it was an attempt by the author to distinguish between class – but it just came off as weird.

Though I’ll Be Watching You didn’t really work for me, it was a quick and undemanding read. it seems to have an appreciative audience from readers who enjoy the soap opera style melodrama and sexy bits, so if that is you..enjoy!

 

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Review: Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James

 

Title: Cooper Bartholomew is Dead

Author: Rebecca James

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Status: Read from October 13 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

When Cooper Bartholomew’s broken body is found at the base of a cliff his death is declared a suicide but Libby, Cooper’s girlfriend, refuses to believe him capable of it. Desperate to understand what led him to the edge, Libby retraces Cooper’s last hours, eventually unraveling a tale of betrayal, jealousy, and shocking secrets.

The story unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Cooper, Libby, Sebastian and Claire, and shifts between ‘then’, detailing the events that led up to Cooper’s death, and ‘now’, exposing its aftermath.

Though well paced, the novel lacked much of the tension I had been expecting, this is more of a psychological drama than a thriller. I found the plot fairly predictable and while the circumstances surrounding Cooper’s death, when finally revealed, are emotionally powerful, they didn’t come as a surprise to me. However, I found the narrative very compelling, due in no small part to my investment in the characters.

All four protagonists felt genuine in ways to me that other characters in the New Adult genre have rarely done, I believed in their emotion, motivation and actions. The characters have distinct voices, which is important given the structure of the narrative, and are complex individuals. The relationship dynamics are also convincingly drawn.

An engaging read about friendship, first love, loss and lies, I really enjoyed Cooper Bartholomew is Dead. This is Rebecca James’ third novel following on from Beautiful Malice and Sweet Damage.

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Review: The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan

 

Title: The Hawley Book of the Dead

Author: Chrysler Szarlan

Published: Ballantine Books: Random House September 2014

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Status: Read from September 23 to 24, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“On the day I killed my husband, the scent of lilacs startled me awake.”

When someone exchanges the blank in her prop gun for a real bullet, Revelation ‘Reve’ Dyer unwittingly shoots her beloved husband dead during the final act of their world renowned Las Vegas magic show. Reve is devastated and then terrified when she realises the murderer still has Reve and her three daughters in his sights. To protect her family, Reve flees Nevada and takes refuge at Hawley Five Corners, her family’s abandoned estate in the woods of Massachusetts. But Reve has something the killer wants and he won’t give up until he gets it.

With its blend of mystery, suspense and the supernatural, The Hawley Book of the Dead offers a complex story about family secrets, magic and revenge.

Told in the first person, it introduces Revelation and her intriguing family history. Reve is the descendant of a line of women who have always wielded great power. Her grandmother can transport people with a thought, her mother is a healer, Reve can disappear by stepping into the veil between worlds, a talent she was born with but has never fully explored, her ten year old daughter Caleigh can weave magic with string, but the abilities of Reve’s fifteen year old twins, Faith and Grace, have yet to manifest.

In general, I feel Szarlan created well rounded and interesting characters, I found Reve frustrating a lot of the time though. She has the ability to disappear, her family line is littered with women whom she has accepted have true magical abilities, yet she dismisses most other instances of magic out of hand. This ploy may serve the needs of the plot but I felt it damaged the credibility of her character.

I did enjoy the blend of magic and myth which Szarlan gives her own little twist. The true motivations of the ‘Fetch’ stalking the family turn out to be quite unique and his relentless pursuit of Reve provides plenty of tension. The romance element, involving childhood sweetheart, now Hawley chief of police, Jolon, is a little awkward though considering Reve’s husband has just died.

The setting is great, Szarlan’s description of Five Corners and the surrounding woods are evocative and atmospheric. I loved the stories of the vanishing townsfolk and the ghostly cowherd and could easily imagine the abandoned estate and the manor house that is home to Reve and her family.

Not so great is the uneven pacing and the author’s attempt to force suspense surrounding the disappearance of the twins when their fate is blindingly obvious.

I really like the concept of Hawley Book of the Dead and there are elements of the story and character I think are creative and well done, and while overall I am not excited by this book, I do think the series has potential.

 

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Review: Lyrebird Hill by Anna Romer

 

Title: Lyrebird Hill

Author: Anna Romer

Published: Simon & Schuster Au September 2014

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Status: Read from September 18 to 19, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

As in Romer’s debut novel, Thornwood House, the past casts deep shadows over the present in Lyrebird Hill, a haunting story of family secrets, mystery and murder.

Ruby Cardel can’t remember the events surrounding the tragic death of her sister, Jamie. She knows only what she has been told, that Jamie died in an accident when they were children, slipping and falling into the river that bordered their property, Lyrebird Hill and that Ruby was found nearby, bruised and disorientated, her memory of the past year gone. Though Ruby has built a life for herself, opening a bookstore in Coffs Harbour and is in a relationship with handsome self help guru, Rob, her sister’s death continues to haunt her, and she is stunned when her mother is forced to confess that Jamie’s death was no accident. Despite a persistent feeling of dread, Ruby decides it is time to uncover the truth about that fateful day and returns to Lyrebird Hill in the hope of finding the answers she seeks.

As Ruby tries to unravel the mystery of Jamie’s death, a second narrative emerges telling the tale of Brenna Magavin. In 1898, nineteen year old Brenna was the carefree young mistress of Lyrebird Hill, owned by her father. When financial ruin threatened to force the sale of the property, Brenna agreed to marry a family friend, a peer of her father’s, in exchange for the clearance of the debt, only to discover she made a deal with the devil. When Ruby discovers a tin full of letters written by Brenna buried at Lyrebird Hill she learns her family’s history is blighted with tragedy, betrayal and murder and fears it is a legacy she has unwittingly perpetuated.

The dual narratives of Lyrebird Hill weave a captivating and complex tale as the mysteries surrounding Jamie’s and Brenna’s fate unravel. The atmosphere darkens as secrets are revealed and danger lurks. There is unspeakable violence, bitter regrets and shocking treachery but also a thread of redemption, of truth and even triumph.

The prose is lush and lyrical evoking both the landscape of Lyrebird Hill and the fraught emotions of Romer’s characters. There are distinct modern gothic undertones to the story, with a hint of fairytale morality. I did find the pacing a little slow, more so in the contemporary timeline, but the stunning twists presented in the conclusion of both narratives easily compensate for the small lag.

An absorbing and atmospheric tale, beautifully told, I enjoyed Lyrebird Hill and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

 

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Review: One Kick by Chelsea Cain

 

Title: One Kick {Kick Lannigan #1}

Author: Chelsea Cain

Published: Simon and Schuster UK/AU September 2014

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Status: Read from September 17 to 18, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

One Kick is the start of a new action packed series for suspense/thriller writer Chelsea Cain who is best known for her popular Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell series.

When the FBI raided an isolated farmhouse they were shocked to discover twelve year old Kathleen Lannigan, abducted six years earlier from outside her home, who destroyed their case against her abusers with a push of a button. Ten years later, ‘Kick’ as she insists she be called, is still struggling with the legacy of fear, shame and emotional trauma inflicted by her captors, and is desperate to find a way to redeem herself. Despite mastering skills in martial arts and marksmanship, amongst other things, to ensure she will never again be a victim, Kick feels useless, until a stranger breaks into her apartment and asks for her help. Bishop is hunting the pedophiles behind the recent abduction of two children and believes she is his best chance at finding them. Kick can’t refuse, but saving them may cost her everything.

With plenty of tension, convincing emotion and harrowing scenes, One Kick is a page turning thriller from the first page. The plot is fairly simple, but holds together well, anchored by Cain’s strong protagonist, Kick.

Kick is a survivor, and to be admired for all she has endured and battled to overcome, but she is damaged. She is all but estranged from her family, resists authority and is obsessed with abduction cases, though at a loss as to how to make a difference. She has never fully resolved her relationship with her abductor, Mel, and is overly attached to her aging dog, Monster. The story places Kick in circumstances that challenge her psychologically, forcing her to confront her dark past and it is impossible not to feel for her and hope that she will triumph. My only niggle with her character is that much emphasis is placed on her finely honed physical skills but when she needs to use them, they all but fail her.

Bishop is a fairly stereotypical character for the thriller genre – tough, enigmatic and ruggedly handsome, though not entirely infallible. His motivations for the hunt are revealed gradually, though his benefactor, who provides the money and resources needed to follow the clues from Seattle to San Diego, remains a shadowy figure.

Kick’s experiences as ‘Beth’ are never really articulated but what is implied is horribly confronting, and may be a trigger for some readers. Cain also exposes some of the sickening details of pedophile rings who rely on a network of safe houses, false identification and anonymous computer networks to procure and trade children while protecting their dirty secret. It makes for disturbing reading.

One Kick is a solid thriller with a strong protagonist and a storyline that is both confronting and exciting. I’m eager to see how the series and its characters will develop.

 

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Review: The French Prize by Cathryn Hein

 

Title: The French Prize

Author: Cathryn Hein

Published: MIRA: Harlequin AU September 2014

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Status: Read from September 10 to 11, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:
The French Prize is a contemporary romantic adventure set in Provence, a change of pace for author Cathryn Hein who has a reputation for her heartwarming Australian rural romance novels.

Dr Olivia Walker is a historian obsessed with finding the mythical sword, Durendal, said to have belonged to the warrior Roland, a champion of Charlemagne’s court. When she is employed by the wealthy Raimund Blacard to recover La Tasse due Chevalier Gris, ‘The Cup of the Grey Knight’, she is one step closer to realising her dream and silencing her detractors, for etched around the rim is a clue to legendary sword’s location.
For centuries the descendants of one of Charlemagne’s most trusted aides, Guy of Nabonne, have been the guardians of Durendal but in the 14th century its hiding place was lost. Foreign Legion Captain Raimund Blacard is the last of his family line and he is determined to recover the sword before his murderous rival Gaston, and to Olivia’s horror, destroy it.

In part, The French Prize is an Indiana Jones style treasure hunt for a lost relic as Olivia and Raimund search for the clues that will lead them to Durendal. The sword, and the legends of Roland and Charlemagne, are historical facts which have been incorporated into the story and then blended with Hein’s imagination.

If I am honest the romance was a touch heavy for me personally with all the yearning and the brooding, it didn’t quite overwhelm the plot but I did feel like it threatened to on occasion. That said, the chemistry, relationship development and conflict between Olivia and Raimund was believable within the context of the story.

Olivia, as a passionate historian who has chased the legend of Durendal for most of her life, is horrified by Raimund’s plans to destroy the sword and hopes to convince him to spare it. She naively refuses to let the hunt go, even with Gaston posing a very real threat, but proves capable and resourceful.
Raimund is all about duty and honour but his elder brother’s murder at the hands of Gaston has him swearing to destroy the sword, despite his family’s legacy of guardianship. Grieving and weary, he sees himself as cursed which is why he rebuffs Olivia despite their obvious mutual attraction.

Hein’s settings are nicely realised, from the landscape of the French countryside to the hidden room storing Raimund’s family treasures, her characters are well drawn and the plot is neatly crafted. Combining romance with well paced action and suspense, The French Prize is an engaging novel.

 

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Review: Already Dead by Jaye Ford

 

Title: Already Dead

Author: Jaye Ford

Published: Random House AU September 2014

Status: Read on September 08, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“She was waiting for traffic lights at the start of rush hour on a Monday afternoon when a man opened her front passenger door, got in and pointed a gun at her chest…
‘Drive’.”

Miranda Jack (Jax) is stunned when a strange man climbs into her car and forces her to drive north on the highway at gunpoint. He is highly agitated, pressing the gun barrel into her ribs while looking frantically over his shoulder, and when Jax asks what he wants, who he is, he roars at her; I’m already dead. That’s my name now. That’s what they called me. That’s me. Nice to meet you. I’m Already Dead.”
Two hours later, Jax stands trembling on the roads edge, the man’s gun in her hand, surrounded by police, and trying to understand what just happened. Brendan Walsh, her abductor, is dead, and Jax is wondering how much of what he told her during their crazed journey is true. The investigating detective seems certain that Brendan’s ravings can be dismissed as the paranoid delusions of a soldier suffering PTSD but Jax, a journalist, isn’t so sure. She needs answers… but the questions she is asking may prove deadly.

Thrilling from the very first page, Already Dead, is an exciting tale of suspense. I read it in a single sitting, absorbed by the intensity of emotion, the fast paced action and the complex characterisation.

Jax is an interesting protagonist. Still struggling with her husband’s unsolved murder barely 12 months earlier, it is because she has no answers about his death that she becomes obsessed with investigating Brendan’s. Ford brilliantly captures Jax’s vacillating emotions through out the story creating a believable and appealing character who draws on her instincts and inner strength to expose the truth.

Ford’s exploration of the issues associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Already Dead gives added depth to this work of crime fiction. Walsh has struggled to readjust to civilian life after two tours in Afghanistan and people are quick blame PTSD for his accusations. Jax, in the wake of the abduction, is also suffering from the disorder’s symptoms – nightmares and anxiety, exacerbated by her still fresh grief and a history of tragedy. After her ordeal Jax, and Detective Aiden Hawke, are quick to dismiss her continuing sense of unease as a reaction to the stress, allowing events to quickly spiral out of control.

Well crafted with page turning appeal, Jaye Ford’s fourth novel, Already Dead, is a gripping psychological thriller. You will never feel safe idling at traffic lights again.

 

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Also by Jaye Ford reviewed at Book’d Out


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Review: Craven by Melanie Casey

 

Title: Craven {Cass Lehman and Detective Ed Dyson #2}

Author: Melanie Casey

Published: Pantera Press May 2014

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Status: Read from August 29 to 31, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Craven, by Melanie Casey, is the sequel to Hindsight, featuring Cass Lehman, a woman with the psychic gift of retrocognition, and South Australian police detective, Ed Dyson.

As the book opens we learn that Cass has taken the leap and left home, securing a teacher’s position at a college in Adelaide. Cass is hoping for a fresh start but during her very first lesson she is recognised by her students and almost immediately becomes a target of gossip and derision.
Ed is conspicuously absent, it seems their romance stalled in the intervening months, though we soon learn that Ed is also in Adelaide, working with a local command on a year long secondment, and when Cass’s car is painted in blood with ‘Freak’ scrawled across the windshield he is the first person she calls. Thrown together as Cass’s stalker grows more violent, Cass is inevitably drawn into Ed’s latest case – a search for a serial killer.

Though I still really like concept of this series I was disappointed by the execution of this novel. I had issues with the uneven pacing and with what I felt were several underdeveloped elements in the plot. There was too much focus on the mundane details of Ed’s often circular investigation, and the obnoxiousness of his new partner. The identification of the stalker taunting Cass seemed come from nowhere since he barely rated a mention in the story.

The killer did have an interesting story and his motivations were suitably dark and twisted. There were moments of high tension, though much of the real action is crammed into the last few chapters when Cass is once again at the mercy of an insane murderer.

Despite the flaws in Craven I am still intrigued by the potential of this series and I hope Casey regains her footing in the third installment.

 

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Review & Giveaway: Quick by Steve Worland

 

Title: Quick

Author: Steve Worland

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin August 2014

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Status: Read from August 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Steve Worland’s newest novel, Quick, is a fast paced, octane fueled thrill ride set in the exciting world of international motor sport.

After a spectacular career ending crash, former V8 Supercar driver Billy Hotchkiss joined the police force hoping for opportunities to sate his craving for the adrenalin rush racing once gave him and when he stumbles across a diamond heist in action, he doesn’t hesitate to jump into the fray. Billy’s heroics captures the attention of Interpol who think he is the ideal candidate to track down the diamond thieves, convinced the Melbourne heist is connected to a series of diamond thefts by a crew associated with the Formula 1 World Championship. Billy, along with his reluctant partner, Claude, is sent in undercover, joining the ‘Iron Rhino’ racing team, and they begin closing in on the criminals, only to uncover an explosive secret. Suddenly, Billy and Claude find themselves racing along the streets of Monte Carlo to save thousands of spectators before everything crashes and burns.

Though I am not generally a fan of motor sport, I was caught up in the fast paced excitement from the opening pages of Quick. From Billy’s spectacular crash on Mount Panorama to his surfing an armoured truck being dragged down Melbourne’s busy streets and later sliding down the roof of the Mall of Emirates while being chased by a Uzi wielding diamond thief, the action is non stop both on and off the track. There are explosions, gunfights, car chases and car races, plus a black panther and a damsel in distress.

Worland’s fearless hero, Billy, is a likeable protagonist, forthright with a dry Aussie sense of humour. He misses the adrenaline rush of racing and, having survived a near fatal accident, isn’t afraid to take risks as he tries to stop ‘The Three Champions’ in their tracks. Billy is teamed with veteran Interpol agent Claude, a dour Frenchman who is initially unhappy with the assignment and his reckless new partner, but eventually see’s things Billy’s way.

I compared Worland’s Velocity to Con Air and Combustion to Die Hard 4, Quick could perhaps be described as a cross between The Fast and the Furious and Speed Racer, but there really isn’t anything quite like this on the big screen and there probably should be.

Quick is the perfect Father’s Day gift for race fans or anyone who appreciates a rip-roaring and racy adventure thriller. Take Quick for a spin, and enjoy!

 

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Review: The Catch by Taylor Stevens

 

Title: The Catch { Vanessa Michael Munroe #4}

Author: Taylor Stevens

Published: Crown Publishing: Random House July 2014

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Status: Read from August 18 to 19, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Catch by Taylor Stevens is the fourth book to feature the unusual character of Vanessa Michael Munroe.

Regrouping after the events of The Doll, Munroe has been biding her time in Djibouti, Africa, working as an interpreter for a small private security company as ‘Michael’. When Munroe’s boss accepts a job on a freighter bound for Kenya, Leo, jealous of Michael’s closeness with his wife Amber and oblivious to Michael’s real gender and talents, insists she accompanies the team. Part way through the voyage, the ship is attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia but Munroe escapes with the injured freighter captain in tow. It quickly becomes obvious that the pirate’s target was not the cargo, which included a secret cache of weapons, but the captain, and to save the crew Munroe must negotiate the shadowy world of piracy, Hawala and corruption.

Munroe is such an intriguing character, a borderline sociopath capable of lethal violence with finely honed instincts, she is also highly intelligent, resourceful and has a prodigious talent for languages, skills which she makes good use of in The Catch.

The story of The Catch is perhaps more cerebral than in previous installments. Gathering information and planning strategy is more important than Munroe’s physical prowess as she scrambles to understand the motives of the pirates while nursing debilitating injuries inflicted by a vicious group of hired thugs.

The weakness for me in this story is in the motive Taylor ascribes to Munroe for saving the ship and its crew. I just wasn’t convinced Munroe’s attachment to Amber was strong enough to risk so much for her, even given Munroe’s unique sense of justice and loyalty.

Though The Catch could be read as a standalone, familiarity with the unique character of Munroe lends a richness that enhances the story. As someone familiar with the series I was satisfied with this installment and I am eager to discover what Munroe’s next move will be.

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