Review: The Heart Keeper by Alex Dahl

 

Title: The Heart Keeper

Author: Alex Dahl

Published: July 11th 2019, Head of Zeus

Status: July 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

“Hearts are wild creatures, that’s why our ribs are cages.”

The Heart Keeper by Alex Dahl is an intensely emotional story of grief, loss and hope.

Devastated by the accidental drowning death of her beloved six year old daughter, Alison reels brokenly between crippling emotional agony and a drug and alcohol induced stupor, unable to accept her loss. When her stepson raises the theory of cellular memory, which suggests that a transplanted organ retains some of the memories or personality traits of the donor that manifest in the recipient, Alison becomes obsessed with the idea that somewhere Amalie lives on…and she wants her back.

“I envision her heart beating in this moment, sutured in place in a little stranger’s chest. I see fresh, clean blood pumped out and around a young body, carrying miniscule particles of my own child. I stand up and press my face to the window. Out there, somewhere, her heart is beating.”

The narrative of The Heart Keeper moves between the first person perspectives of Alison, and Iselin, whose paths cross when Alison seeks out the recipient of her daughters heart, seven year old Kaia. At first Alison believes just a glimpse of her child’s ‘heart keeper’ will ease the ache, but it’s not enough, and she arranges a meeting with Iselin, ostensibly to commission some artwork, which simply feeds her obsession.

“I couldn’t have grasped, then, that it would grow bigger and sharper every day, that it would rot my heart, that it would devour everything that was once good,…”

Alison’s pain is so viscerally described by Dahl, the intensity is difficult to cope with at times. Her slow unraveling is utterly compelling, and though it’s known from the outset the direction the plot will take, Alison’s journey, her longing for her daughter, is what drives the story.

“You and her, you’re one and the same. I can’t believe I didn’t realize this before, that all of this time, you were right there.”

With richly drawn characters and raw emotive writing The Heart Keeper is an engrossing, poignant and heartrending story about death, and life.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins AU

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Review: The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Title: The Chain

Author: Adrian McKinty

Published: July 9th 2019, Hachette Australia

Status: July 2019 courtesy BFredricksPR

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My Thoughts:

 

“Number one: you are not the first and you will certainly not be the last. Number two: remember, it’s not about the money—it’s about The Chain.”

Adrian McKinty’s The Chain is a riveting thriller with a terrifying premise.

The Chain works like this: your child is kidnapped, and the only thing that will ensure their safe release is the payment of a ransom, and for you to then kidnap a child, whose parents must in turn pay a ransom, and kidnap a child. If you fail to comply, your child will die, if your victim’s parents fail to comply, you must kill their child and choose another target, or your child will die. Attempt to inform law enforcement, or in anyway interrupt The Chain and you and your entire family will be the first to die.

Rachel Klein is not an obvious target for this macabre network. She is newly divorced, recently in remission after treatment for breast cancer, and has very little money. When her thirteen year old daughter, Kylie, is abducted, and Rachel receives the chilling instructions as the newest link in The Chain, she balks, as most right-minded people would. What Rachel is being asked to do is unthinkable, but with the life of her beloved daughter at stake, Rachel realises she has no choice.

The first half of the book is an absolute page turner, I raced through it wondering just how far Rachel was willing to go. McKinty skilfully communicates the fear and desperation experienced by victims of The Chain. When the lives of our children are threatened there is very little a parent won’t do to protect them, and it is exactly that primal instinct that the sociopathic minds behind The Chain exploit.

“Be thankful for our mercy and remember that once you are on The Chain, you are on it forever. You are not the first and you will not be the last. We are watching, we are listening; we can come for you at any time.”

The pace slowed somewhat during the second half as Rachel, and Kylie, struggle with the aftermath of their experience, but it ramps up again as Rachel realises the only way she and her daughter will ever escape The Chain, is to expose the diabolical masterminds behind the scheme.

The Chain is an impressive thriller that will get your heart racing and keep the pages turning. Don’t miss being part of The Chain.

Read an Extract

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Available from your preferred retailer or

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or your preferred retailer

Review: The Roadhouse by Kerry McGinnis

Title: The Roadhouse

Author: Kerry McGinnis

Published: July 2nd 2019, Michael Joseph: Penguin

Status: Read July 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

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My Thoughts:

The Roadhouse is an engaging story of romantic suspense, the eleventh novel set in the Australian Outback region from author Kerry McGinnis.

When Charlie Carver learns of her cousin’s suicide, she decides to leave behind her life in Melbourne, making her way to the remote roadhouse, east of Alice Springs, that she calls home. Little seems to have changed during her five year absence, except her mother appears to be struggling, and within days of Charlie’s return, Molly has a heart attack is is airlifted to Adelaide for life saving surgery.

Charlie willingly steps up to run the roadhouse with the assistance of long time handyman, Bob, and a new cook, Polish backpacker Ute, and is also tasked with taking care of the details related to her cousin’s death. Though she disliked Annabelle, whose beauty barely masked her selfishness, and is beginning to suspect that the suicide could have been faked, Charlie is as shocked and puzzled as everyone else when the body of a murdered woman is found at a nearby abandoned mine site, and is identified as Annabelle.

When Charlie’s family home is ransacked shortly afterwards, she believes the incident is somehow connected to a visit Annabelle made shortly before her death, and danger could be closer to home than anyone expects.

I really enjoyed the mystery element of The Roadhouse, which firstly focuses on the possible motives for Annabelle’s suicide. Charlie is suspicious of the verdict from the outset, believing that even if Annabelle killed herself, she would never choose that particular manner in which to die. After the discovery of Annabelle’s body proves her right, Charlie speculates as to the meaning of a recent visit Annabelle made to the Roadhouse with a strange man in tow, and after the break in at her home, rashly follows a hunch and finds herself in a fight for her life in a tense and thrilling confrontation.

Unfortunately I did feel that the relationship between Charlie and Mike, a stockman she meets from a nearby station, was underdeveloped. The seeds of attraction were sown, but the couple spent very little time together, even less time alone together, and their relationship was unusually chaste for two twenty somethings in this day and age, all of which made Charlie’s ‘proposal’ awkwardly presumptuous, rather than romantic, in my opinion.

The Roadhouse is also a story about family. Molly was not a demonstrative mother, and Charlie’s feckless late father favoured Annabelle, who came to live with Charlie’s family as a young girl after the death of her own parents. Charlie felt overshadowed by her beautiful cousin whose spiteful behaviour towards her often went unnoticed. Charlie hopes to forge a closer relationship with her mother on her return home, and

over the course of the novel comes to understand more about her family’s dynamics.

Ute, with her unique grasp of English, was probably my favourite character in The Roadhouse, I enjoyed the humour she brought to the story and her practical approach to every facet of her life. I also liked the curmudgeonly Bob, whose gruff exterior fails to hide his soft spot for Charlie and Molly.

With a dramatic suspense plot, and likeable characters, in an uniquely Australian setting, I enjoyed The Roadhouse.

Read an Extract

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Available from Penguin Australia

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#lovebetweenthepages

Review: Six Minutes by Petronella McGovern

 

Title: Six Minutes

Author: Petronella McGovern

Published: July 1st 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

“Three hundred and seventy-one, three hundred and seventy-two, three hundred and seventy-three…I’ve made it. I can stop counting now. Three hundred and seventy-three seconds. Six minutes.”

Six minutes after leaving her daughter, Bella, playing happily with her friends at playgroup, Lexie Parker returns to discover the three year old is missing, and none of the mothers that were supposed to be watching her can tell Lexie where her daughter went. Lexie clings to the idea that Bella has somehow simply wandered away, and be will found any minute, but as the hours pass and an extensive police search fails to find her, Lexie has to face other frightening possibilities. Someone knows what happened in those six minutes, but who?

McGovern provides us with plenty of suspects in the abduction of Bella, and keeps us guessing as the plot unfolds. The narrative moves between the perspectives of several characters, among them Lexie, her husband and Bella’s father, Marty, the investigating officer, Detective Sergeant Caruso, and Tara, one of the mother’s present at the playgroup when Bella went missing.

Everyone has secrets, some which prove to be relevant to Bella’s disappearance, some not, and the story is told in such a way that it’s almost impossible to guess where guilt or innocence may lie. While the question of what happened to Bella is Intriguing on its own, there is more than the one mystery in Six Minutes that kept me turning the pages.

I haven’t read many books set in Canberra (in the Australian Capital Territory), but the small community on the fringe of the city felt authentic and familiar. Residents turn out in force to help search for Bella, the media descends and causes chaos, and outsiders, and insiders, speculate wildly on social media, eager to be heard.

With a compelling cast of characters and a riveting plot, Six Minutes is an engrossing thriller from debut author Petronella McGovern.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

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Review: The Boy in the Photo by Nicole Trope

 

Title: The Boy in the Photo

Author: Nicole Trope

Published: June 18th 2019, Bookoutre

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Bookoutre/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

The premise of The Boy in the Photo, Nicole Trope’s ninth domestic thriller, is topical and heartbreaking.

As the school playground empties, Megan begins to wonder where her six year old son, Daniel, is. Learning he has been collected earlier by his father, her heart sinks, and it quickly becomes clear that in an act of extraordinary spite, her abusive ex-husband has taken Daniel and vanished.

Six years later, having recently married the Detective initially assigned to Daniel’s case, and given birth to a daughter, Megan receives the call she feared would never come. Her son has been found.

The Boy in the Photo unfolds from the perspectives of Megan and Daniel, revealing events that occurred during their period of separation, and the story of their reunion. It’s a heart wrenching situation, sensitively explored by the author. While Megan searches for her missing son, struggling with her enormous loss, Daniel is living an itinerant, isolated lifestyle with his father. His homecoming should be the happy ending they both deserve, but Daniel is not the loving, happy little boy Megan remembers, instead he is an angry, sullen teen, mourning his father, and contemptuous of Megan. The inevitable twist is somewhat predictable, but still thrilling.

Megan and Daniel immediately invite sympathy. Trope’s characterisation of an anguished mother yearning for her missing child, and a traumatised boy confused by his father’s unpredictable behaviour, is skilful and sensitive. I found Daniel’s attitudes and behaviours on his return to be believably rendered. I’m afraid I didn’t think the same of Megan’s however, which was a big sticking point for me. Every time Daniel acted out, and Megan was at a loss, I wondered why the two of them weren’t in intensive counselling. In no way would one hour a week with a therapist, whom Megan didn’t even trust, be responsible in these circumstances. To be fair, that probably would have been a difficult plotting obstacle for the author, but it bugged me, and honestly affected my response to the story.

Having read five of Nicole Trope’s backlist novels, all of which I’d enthusiastically recommend, I do think this story is slightly weaker. Nevertheless, I did find The Boy In the Photo to be an emotionally charged and affecting read.

++++++

Available in digital format from your preferred retailer

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Also by Nicole Trope reviewed on Book’d Out

 

Review: Conviction by Denise Mina

 

Title: Conviction

Author: Denise Mina

Published: June 25th 2019, Little, Brown & Co

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Mulholland Books/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Sharp, fast-paced, witty and vivid, Conviction by Denise Mina is a lively and engrossing thriller.

Reeling from learning that an old friend, Leon Parker, is assumed to be responsible for the murder-suicide of his two children during her morning coffee on her favourite true crime podcast, Anna McDonald is further devastated when her husband announces over breakfast that he is leaving her, for her pregnant best friend. As she lies on the floor in her hallway considering ending it all, Anna is interrupted by her best friend’s shattered husband, celebrity Fin Cohen and, in need of a distraction from the mornings events, she impulsively decides on a road trip, Fin in tow, with the idea of proving that the producer of ‘Death and the Dana’ has got it all wrong. It’s not the wisest of decisions, especially when a photo of her with Fin goes viral, and now Anna, who used to be someone else, is back on the radar of the woman she believes killed Leon and his family, the same woman who once wanted her dead.

I found Anna to be an utterly compelling narrator for reasons I can’t quite define. Anna is, at least initially, not very likeable, she is unpleasant, rude, and an admitted liar, but well, we meet her on what we assume is probably the worst day of her life. As the story unfolds the reliability of Anna’s narrative remains suspect, but somewhere along the line she earns sympathy, admiration, and eventually trust.

Conviction has more depth than one might expect, exploring themes such as privilege, corruption, mental illness, assault and identity. While the plausibility of the thriller plot may be stretched a bit thin, I found it easy to dismiss any inconsistencies and absurdities. I guessed where responsibility for The Dana’s fate lay fairly early on, but there were other surprises I didn’t see coming, and I was particularly stunned by the circumstances that forced Anna to hide her identity.

I really liked the way in which Mina grounds the novel so thoroughly within modern society and she does an excellent job of exploring the double edged power of social media. The true crime podcast ‘Death and The Dana’ frames the mystery, as Anna and Fin google, tweet, Instagram, and ‘cast as they race across Europe, in their pursuit, and escape, of the truth.

Conviction is a terrific read- entertaining, astute, and inventive. This is the first book I’ve read by Denise Mina, but on the strength of it I have every intention of hunting up her backlist.

++++++

Available from Hachette Book Group US

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository I Booko

Alternate Cover

Review: The Hurricane Lover by Joni Rodgers

 

Title: The Hurricane Lover

Author: Joni Rodgers

Published: December 10, 2013 Stella Link Books

Status: Read June 2019 courtesy Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

I was intrigued by the premise of The Hurricane Lover by Joni Rodgers, billed as a romantic thriller.

“During the record-smashing hurricane season of 2005, a deadly game of cat and mouse unfolds and a stormy love affair is complicated by polarized politics, high-strung Southern families, a full-on media circus and the worst disaster management goat screw in US history. As Hurricane Katrina howls toward the ill-prepared city of New Orleans, Dr. Corbin Thibodeaux, a Gulf Coast climatologist and storm risk specialist, preaches the gospel of evacuation, weighed down by the fresh public memory of a spectacularly false alarm a year earlier. Meanwhile, Shay Hoovestahl, a puff piece reporter for the local news, stumbles on the story of a con artist who uses storm-related chaos as cover for identity theft and murder. Laying a trap to expose the killer, Shay discovers that Corbin, her former lover, is unwittingly involved, and her plan goes horribly awry as the city’s infrastructure crumbles.”

The strength of The Hurricane Lover lies in the setting. Rodgers descriptions of the onset, duration, and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are raw and affecting, particularly as Shay is caught in the flooding. Events are easily visualised given familiarity with the media coverage of the time. Chapters are headed by snippets from weather forecasts and warnings, press releases and emails from Michael Brown, who was the undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the time, adding to the sense of realism as the story unfolds.

Unfortunately I felt the main characters were the weakest element of the story. Neither were particularly likeable, and I thought they were strangely one dimensional. Dr. Corbin Thibodeaux, paleoclimatologist and weather risk expert, is a roguish, though needfully intelligent, drunk, and Shay Hoovestahl, a morning show reporter comes, across as spoilt and selfish. Their relationship is messy and dysfunctional, and there was very little in the way of romance through the story, though plenty of lust.

The plot regarding the serial killer, who uses a website devoted to Hurricane tracking as a cover to lure, murder and rob victims, was unique and interesting. However it was slow to start, and overall I was expecting it to have a more central role in the story.

I did enjoy the Hurricane Lover, it just didn’t quite live up to its potential as either a romance or a thriller.

++++++

Available from Amazon or Kobo in your country

Review: Those People by Louise Candlish

 

Title: Those People

Author: Louise Candlish

Published: June 27th 2019, Simon & Schuster UK

Status: Read May 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster AU/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Lowland Way is a desirable suburban address in the south of London. The homes are well maintained, the gardens manicured, the school district is favoured, the street even closes to traffic on a Sunday to allow the children to play freely. So when Darren Booth, and his girlfriend Jodie, move into Number 1, the residents are shocked by the new neighbours disdain for the status quo. They are loud, uncouth, and crude, and everyone wants them gone, but is someone on Lowland Way willing to kill to accomplish it?

Taking place over a period of a few months, we learn immediately that someone is dead. The story moves back and forth between the events unfolding on the street, and statements taken by the police in the aftermath of the death. Curiosity should keep your attention through the first third of the novel, and though the pace lags a little in the middle, it picks up and wallops you with quite a twist when you least expect it.

What I most enjoyed about Those People was the way in which Candlish’s ‘respectable’ characters fall apart in the presence of this interloper. Their veneer of civility slips, bit by bit, as their frustration and outrage grows. Only a handful of neighbours are directly affected by Darren’s behaviour, and while they try to do the right thing to start with, lodging complaints with the police and council, bureaucracy moves slowly, too slowly for some.

Those People is a provocative psychosocial drama, which offers some interesting twists. I found it a quick and entertaining read.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU I Simon & Schuster UK I PenguinRandomHouse US

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 US Cover

Review: Devil’s Lair by Sarah Barrie

 

Title: Devil’s Lair

Author: Sarah Barrie

Published: June 17th 2019, HQ Fiction

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Harlequin Australia

+++++

My Thoughts:

Two years after Callie’s life is devastated by a shocking incident she flees relentless scrutiny to find sanctuary in a rural cottage in the Central Highlands of Tasmania. Changing her name, and her look, Callie hopes to make a fresh start, and when she is unexpectedly offered a job at nearby tourist retreat, Calico Lodge, she decides it’s an opportunity too good to pass up. Made to feel welcome by the owners, particularly Connor Atherton, and slowly winning over her gruff landlord at Waldron House, Callie begins to believe she can escape her past…until a psychotic killer revives a long held grudge.

Blurring gothic sensibilities with psychological suspense, The Devil’s Lair by Sarah Barrie is a gripping thriller that kept me compulsively turning the pages until the early hours of the morning. I experienced an almost visceral reaction to the sense of unease that builds as the story unfolds, finding myself startling at every unexpected noise outside my darkened window.

Barrie establishes the disquieting presence of Waldron House with descriptions of ‘shabby green walls and scarred wooden floors’, dim rooms crowded with boxes and dusty antique furniture, and the overgrown, wild gardens. Strange symbols are carved or drawn on door frames, the cellar door sports a large padlock, and chunks of black tormaline are placed on window sills. Add to that the odd noises and other strange occurrences that begin to plague Callie, as well as the disturbing rumours that persist regarding the property’s history, and the grandeur of Waldron House begins to lose its charm.

Callie is a sympathetic character, the tragedy that caused her to flee the Hunter Valley is horrifying to contemplate, and then, just as she begins to find her feet in Tasmania, members of the community are targeted by unspeakable violence, and Callie experiences a cascade of unsettling events that causes her to question not only her safety, but her sanity.

Contrivances were easy to dismiss as I got caught up in the story, and as the truth about the past and present unravels, Barrie stuns with plot twists that reveal shameful secrets, dangerous obsessions, and horrifying acts of revenge.

A compelling and darkly atmospheric tale, Devil’s Lair is a riveting thriller. I enjoyed it so much I’ve ordered Blood Tree River, also by Sarah Barrie, which shares the novel’s location and some of the characters though it is not directly related.

Read an Excerpt

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Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins AU

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Review: The Ex by Nicola Moriarty

 

Title: The Ex

Author: Nicola Moriarty

Published: June 17th 2019, HarperCollins

Status: Read May 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

I have to be honest, I’ve been agonising over this review for days, worried that no matter how carefully I word it, that I’d inadvertently reveal something that could spoil The Ex for the reader. Something I definitely don’t want to do. I’ve drafted paragraph after paragraph, and deleted them all, so I’m going to make this short and sweet.

Having finally found her feet after a difficult few years, Georgia Fitzpatrick thinks she now may have also met ‘the One’. Luke is handsome, charming, and most importantly, makes her feel safe.

Georgia can understand then why Luke’s ex-girlfriend is reluctant to let go, but as Cadence’s behaviour escalates from nuisance texts to increasingly threatening notes, Georgia is worried about just how far she will go. Despite Luke’s assurances that he will take care of it, when Cadence’s latest stunt affects the job she loves, Georgia is determined to confront the ex, and put an end to the harassment, once and for all.

A compelling story of love, betrayal, and revenge, The Ex, offers enthralling twists and turns, even though I found, in part, I was able to predict the path the story would take. The pace was just about perfect, and I finished it very quickly, even for me. The characters are intriguing, and Moriarty deals sensitively with issues raised concerning Georgia’s mental health. That I’m familiar with the setting (Castle Hill, NSW) was a bonus for me.

The Ex, Nicola Moriarty’s fifth novel, is a gripping domestic thriller I’m happy to recommend.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins AU

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Also by Nicola Moriarty reviewed at Book’d Out 

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