Review: The Accusation by Wendy James

 

Title: The Accusation

Author: Wendy James

Published: May 20th 2019, HarperCollins AU

Status: Read May 2019- courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

The Accusation is author Wendy James’ contemporary take on the Canning Affair, an eighteenth-century criminal case that titillated the Victorian public, a compelling story of trust and betrayal, guilt and innocence.

Susannah Wells, a high school drama teacher, has been living with her mother in the small rural community of Enfield Wash for a just a few months. It’s a quiet life, her mothers dementia driven outbursts aside, in contrast with the years she spent as a young starlet on a popular TV soap.

Susannah, like the rest of the residents in Enfield Wash, expresses her shock when news breaks that a frail, bedraggled young woman has been found on the outskirts of town, claiming to have been abducted, drugged and chained to a bed for more than a month. When presented with the initial results of the police investigation, Ellie tearfully confirms the identity of her captors- Susannah Wells, and her mother, Mary.

Susannah vehemently denies the accusation, but with her arrest, her friends, even her closest friend, her colleagues, the townspeople, and the public at large, judge her guilty. Only her lover, Chip, is willing to believe in Susannah’s innocence, but even his faith begins to waiver as seemingly irrefutable evidence against Susannah builds.

If Susannah is innocent, why was evidence of Ellie’s ordeal found in her home? If Susannah is innocent, what possible motive could a stranger, especially a beautiful and bright young woman like Ellie, have to accuse her? If Susannah is innocent, who is guilty?

I raced through The Accusation, utterly engrossed by the question of Susannah’s guilt or innocence. James skilfully keeps the reader guessing, even while probing the possibilities of truth and deceit.

The story is structured in three parts, covering a period of about 12 months, for the most part progressing linearly, with the occasional slip backward and forward in time. Primarily the narrative unfolds from the perspectives of Susannah, and Honor, Ellie’s PR representative, with brief excerpts from a documentary produced about the case, after its resolution.

Of particular interest is the way in which James explores the role of ‘spin’ and social media in contributing to Ellie’s new found celebrity status, and Susannah’s public vilification. It’s an all too real scenario that demonstrates how easily the public can be manipulated, and how easily truth is dismissed.

The Accusation is provocative and gripping, a contemporary psychological thriller that should be moved to the top of your reading list.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

 

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Also reviewed at Book’d Out by Wendy James

Review: The Woman In Darkness by Charlie Donlea

 

Title: The Woman in Darkness

Author: Charlie Donlea

Published: April 2nd 2019, Bantam

Status: Read April 2019- Courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

In 1979, a serial killer was arrested, but jailed for only a single murder – that of Angela Mitchell whose body was never found. Now, after forty years of incarceration, ‘The Thief’ is finally being recommended for parole.

In 2019, Rory Moore, a talented and dogged forensic crime reconstructionist, is forced to put her law degree to use when her father passes away, and she is required to represent his long time client at his parole hearing.

Rory is baffled by the forty year clandestine relationship between the alleged serial killer and her late father, and with the obsessiveness she is known for, begins to dig into the past, uncovering a stunning secret.

The novel unfolds over two timelines which largely follows Rory in the present, and Angela Mitchell in the past, offering the occasional brief chapter from other characters who are significant to the story including The Thief, Rory’s father, and her Aunt Greta.

Rory is an interesting character, it is her obsessive nature that contributes to her skill as a cold case reconstructionist, she immerses herself in the minutiae of a case, searching for patterns and overlooked details. Though she maintains an intimate relationship with her boyfriend Lane, and her Aunt Greta, she is essentially a loner, who avoids social interaction and has regular episodes of anxiety.

Rory is intrigued by the similarities between herself and Angela Mitchell. Angela too was a victim of anxiety and exhibited obsessive-compulsive behaviour. In 1979 the murders of five young women caught Angela’s attention and she secretly spent hours every day studying the details of the crimes, eventually finding a pattern that led to the identity of the killer. Fearful her psychiatric history would prevent the law from taking her seriously, she anonymously shared her theories with the police, and then disappeared. The police assumed she too had become a victim of ‘The Thief’, but Rory soon comes to believe otherwise.

It’s not so much the mystery that surrounds the identity of ‘The Thief’, or even Angela’s fate that is central to The Woman in Darkness, though the answers to both are compelling. Donlea’s focus is on the repercussions of the secrets revealed, especially for Rory. I enjoyed the twists of the plot and its dramatic revelations, and I thought the pacing was well measured.

I did think it was a shame that the case the Detective had brought to Rory at the beginning of the novel went no where, I would have liked to have seen how Rory worked a standard case as a forensic reconstructionist. Perhaps it’s something Donlea is planning to explore in a later book, Rory Moore has potential as a central character in a series, otherwise it was a needless distraction.

The Woman in Darkness is an engaging thriller with an appealing protagonist, this is Charlie Donlea’s third novel, though the first I have read.

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++++++

 

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Published  in the US as Some Choose Darkness

Review: The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

 

Review: The Girls in the Garden

Author: Lisa Jewell

Published: June 7th 2016, Atria Books

Status: Read April 2019 – courtesy Atria/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

In need of refuge after a family tragedy, Clare and her two pre-teen daughters, Pip and Grace, move into a central London flat that backs onto a walled communal park. It’s not long before the girls make friends with some of the other children in the community, notably homeschooled sisters Catkin, Willow and Fern, neglected wild child Taylor, and the handsome Dylan, but the girls presence unwittingly upsets the delicate balance of the insular group.

The narrative of The Girls in The Garden is divided into four sections. It begins with a shocking incident on midsummers eve, then leaps back several months to relate earlier events in ‘Before’, leading to the immediate aftermath in ‘After’, with an additional epilogue set ten months later. It’s an effective format that piques the reader’s interest from the outset, however though we learn how, and why, Grace was attacked, to me the story ultimately felt unresolved. I think this is due to what I felt was a lack of consequences for all those involved.

Themes Jewell explores in the story includes mental illness, contrasting parenting styles, the illusion of safety, and the dynamics of group behaviour. The setting of the private community was an inspired choice, providing the ideal backdrop for the author to delve into these issues.

It’s commonly accepted to be difficult to authentically portray children in novels. To be fair they are often contradictory creatures, and ‘tweenagers’ are particularly mercurial. I thought Jewell captured the personalities of the quite adolescents well in The Girls in the Garden, however the contradictions in Pip’s character didn’t quite work for me. I just didn’t believe she had the sophistication necessary to interpret the undercurrents of motive and emotion in the story in the manner in which she did.

Though it has its flaws, I did quite enjoy The Girls in the Garden. It was a quick read, that I found thought provoking and suspenseful.

++++++

 

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Review: Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline

Title: Most Wanted

Author: Lisa Scottoline

Published: April 12th 2016 St Martins Press.

Status: Read April 2019 – courtesy St Martins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Scottoline is known for stories that explore emotive issues which affect families within the context of a thriller, ensuring a loyal readership. I selected this book on the strength of its description, it offers a compelling hook, and definitely has genre appeal.

Most Wanted begins strongly as Christine and Marcus struggle with the idea that the biological father of their unborn child may be a serial killer, but unfortunately it soon devolves into a farce.

Unlike some other readers I actually thought that Marcus’s behaviour throughout was believable, but I could find nothing that supported Christine’s actions. I empathised with her initial fears, but really could not rationalise her subsequent conduct. Christine’s insistence on her intuitive ‘connection’ with Zachary, the donor, was laughable, and while elementary teachers are generally resourceful, I thought the way in which she inserted herself into the investigation was implausible.

On a slightly more positive note, Most Wanted was a quick, well paced read, though largely because it lacked any real substance.

I felt Most Wanted began with an intriguing idea, unfortunately I just thought it was poorly executed.

++++++

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Review: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence

Title: The Lost Girls

Author: Jennifer Spence

Published: Simon & Schuster January 2019

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

I had made some assumptions about this novel, based mostly on the cover and title. I was expecting a fairly standard novel of mystery involving a missing girl or two, but what I discovered was a compelling and unique story using one of my least favourite tropes – time travel.

It is 2017 and sixty three year old Stella Lannigan is making her way home from a night out when she realises that her surroundings seem somehow changed. Baffled, she wonders if she absentmindedly took a wrong turn, but the landmarks are familiar, just not quite… right. Stella slowly realises that she has inexplicably stepped into the past, it is 1997, and as she stands outside her former home, she watches her forty three year old self step out of the front door.

What would you do if you had the chance to change a moment from your past, to rewrite your history, and avoid inevitable tragedy? Stella knows she will do whatever she must to subvert her daughter’s fate.

The concept of time travel is, as I have said, one of my least favourite devices in film and literature. It’s either presented in a too simplistic, or convoluted, manner. In The Lost Girls, Spence uses it in a way that made sense to me. As Stella insinuates herself into her family, posing as her own long last aunt, she subtly attempts to manipulate the future, but destiny, it seems, is not as malleable as it may appear.

There is also a traditional mystery, with a missing girl at it’s heart, which is central to the story.

I’m loathe to say much more, lest I inadvertently spoil your own future reading of this novel . Suffice it to say, The Lost Girls is a poignant, intriguing ,and captivating read I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

 

+++++

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Review: Darkest Place by Jaye Ford

 

Title: Darkest Place

Author: Jaye Ford

Published: Random House Feb 2016

Read an Extract

Status: Read on February 08, 2016 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I should have known better, being familiar with Jaye Ford’s previous novels. I picked up Darkest Place at 2am to read a few pages before bed and didn’t put it down til I finished the last page, just minutes before my husband’s alarm woke him for work at 5am.

After enduring years of guilt, heartbreak, and regret, Charlotte Townsend has finally found the strength to leave her past behind. In a new town, with a new apartment, and a new name, Carly has enrolled in college and is looking towards her future, but three days into her new life she wakes to find a stranger in her bedroom. When the police answer Carly’s call for help, they find no sign of the man and assure her it was likely a crime of opportunity. Though shaken by the intrusion Carly refuses to let the incident destroy her fledgling confidence…until then it happens again, and then again.

Darkest Place is an absorbing tale of psychological suspense. The tension builds slowly, gathering momentum until you realise you are holding your breath in anxious anticipation.

“She wants to scream. It’s building in her chest. Trapped there, scratching at her lungs as though her ribs are the bars holding it back. She hears breathing. Not her own. Deep and unhurried. It whispers across her face like a warm cloth. It turns her skin to ice. She lashes out. Hits, twists, kicks. She sees it in her mind, feels it in her muscles. But it doesn’t happen. She doesn’t move. Neither does he. She sees him now. A shape in the darkness. Above her, black and motionless. He is watching. She watches back. Fear roaring through her bones, pulse thumping in her ears. Her voice is wedged in her throat now and choking her. No. Something else is squeezing, pushing down, making blood pound in her face. Warm hand, hard fingers. She doesn’t want to see. Doesn’t want to feel. She shuts her eyes. Waits. “

Carly is a complex character, and given her emotionally fragility, I was never quite sure if I could trust her perception of events as the story progressed. The police certainly have their doubts about the reliability of her reports, and Carly’s psychiatrist offers a rational opinion that could explain her experiences, but I was sympathetic to her distress.

“She caught sight of herself in the mirror. Hair a mess, face tear-stained. Dark-ringed, pale, wild-eyed. And she spun away, the image burned onto her retinas. Distraught, panicked, confused. She looked like Charlotte. No, worse than that. She looked crazy.”

I have to admit I was ambivalent about the ending, though it works within the context of character and story, I didn’t find it wholly satisfying, though I can’t really reveal why I feel that way without the risk of spoilers. Nevertheless, there is closure and a sense of triumph and hope.

Darkest Place is Ford’s fifth novel and I would say her best to date. Clever, thrilling and gripping.

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Also by Jaye Ford reviewed at Book’d Out


Blog Tour Review: All That is Lost Between Us by Sara Foster

 

Title: All That is Lost Between Us

Author: Sara Foster

Published: Simon & Schuster AU Feb 2016

Status: Read from February 03 to 04, 2016 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

All That is Lost Between Us is a compelling modern domestic thriller from Sara Foster.

Unfolding from the perspectives of the four members of the Turner family, it is a story about guilt, secrets, betrayal and loyalty.

Seventeen year old Georgia Turner, high school student and champion Fells runner, is preoccupied by a secret she can’t share, not even with her best friend and cousin, Sophia.
Anya is frustrated by her inability to connect with her increasingly withdrawn daughter who spurns both her concern and affection, as does her husband, Callum.
Callum, mired in unspoken resentments, has thrown himself into his voluntary work with the local Fells rescue team, and taken solace in the attentions of a younger colleague.
When Zac accidentally discovers a shocking photo hidden in his sister’s bedroom, he is at a loss as how to best deal with his discovery.

A hit and run incident involving Georgia and Sophia is the catalyst that drives the members of the Turner family to the brink of crisis. As suspicion grows that the actions of the unidentified driver was deliberate, Foster builds the tension as secrets begin to collide.

One of the main themes Foster’s story thoughtfully explores is the vulnerabilities of family. Emotional distance has frayed the bonds between husband and wife, parent and child, in All That is Lost Between Us. The strained relationships are sensitively and realistically portrayed, disconnected, they are each vulnerable in the crisis and struggle to bridge the gap to offer each other the support they need.

Georgia’s angst is well drawn, her increasingly fraught emotional state is believable as she obsesses over her secret with the self absorption of youth.
I empathised strongly with Anya, it is difficult to let your children pull away from you, to find the balance between encouraging them to make their own choices, and protect them from their inevitable mistakes. My oldest daughter is 19 and I too feel as if she is “breaking off a piece of my heart and taking it with her.” as she forges her own life.

Set in England’s Lake District, Foster’s descriptions of the landscape are vivid and evocative. The rugged beauty of the Fells, its craggy peaks and forested valleys and sheer cliffs, also reflects the changeable emotional states of the characters.

All That is Lost Between Us is a captivating read I’d recommend to both an adult and mature young adult audience.

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Review: Mercury Striking by Rebecca Zanetti

 

Title: Mercury Striking {The Scorpius Syndrome #1}

Author: Rebecca Zanetti

Published: Zebra: Kensington Jan 2016

Status: Read from January 28 to 29, 2016 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A fast paced, action packed dystopian romance, Mercury Striking is the first in a series from Rebecca Zanetti.

After the world is devastated by a mutated alien virus that usually either kills it’s victims or turns them into psychotic killers, Lynn Harmony, a former director at the CDC, is probably the only person left alive who can find a cure. She desperately needs information from a lab in Los Angeles but to get there she has to safely traverse the dangers of the lawless country while eluding the President’s men and then beg favour from Jax Mercury – nicknamed the King of L.A.

Zanetti has created a rich and intriguing world, the population of America all but decimated by the Scorpius Syndrome. Of the few that survive the virus most become ‘Rippers’, uncontrollable serial killers, but a handful recover most of whom develop varying degrees of sociopathic behaviour.

Small enclaves of survivors fight to endure the destruction of society and its infrastructure across the US including the stronghold ‘Vanguard’ in L.A. led by ex special ops soldier and former gang member, Jax Mercury who protects a group of around 500 men, women and children.

Jax is the only one placed to help Lynn find ‘Myriad’ and complete an important task but with the stain of her glowing blue heart and a presidential bounty on her head she is taking a huge risk when she seeks his help. Jax grants her request for asylum under strict conditions as eager as she to find a cure, but neither is prepared for the relationship that develops between them or the consequences of their relationship.

This is story with plenty of grit, involving plenty of action including deadly firefights and chases, and with some brutal scenes of violence and death, but at its heart Mercury Striking is a romance. . It’s all very ‘alpha male’ meets ‘feisty damsel in distress’ but I enjoyed the development of their relationship and the physical intimacy between Lynn and Jax sizzles (though I really could have done without the spanking scene).

The secondary characters, both allies and enemies, add interest and breadth to the story. I’m guessing that Raze and Vivienne will be the couple to feature in the next book to continue the series.

A quick, exciting, escapist read with an interesting premise and appealing characters, I enjoyed Mercury Striking and I’ll be looking for the next in The Scorpius Syndrome series.

 

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Review: Try Not To Breathe by Holly Seddon

 

Title: Try Not To Breathe

Author: Holly Seddon

Published: Corvus Jan 2016

Status:  Read from January 19 to 20, 2016 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Try Not to Breathe is Holly Seddon’s debut novel, an interesting story of psychological suspense which has been picked up by publishers worldwide.

The story unfolds through the perspectives of three main characters; Alex Dale -a barely functioning alcoholic working as a freelance journalist, Amy -who has lain comatose for fifteen years after a brutal attack by an unidentified assailant, and Jacob -Amy’s teenage sweetheart who has never quite been able to let her go. Their lives become entwined when Alex, writing a story about a medical breakthrough in communicating with patients in a persistent vegetative state, recognises Amy from the reports of the crime at the time, and becomes obsessed with her story.

Slowly Seddon allows Alex to unravel the mystery by digging through media and crime reports and speaking with Amy’s family and friends. Despite his misgivings, Jacob, Amy’s boyfriend at the time of the attack, agrees to cooperate with Alex. He has secretly been visiting Amy regularly for the last decade and now with his wife about to give birth to their first child is desperate for closure.

There are a number of red herrings in the plot though honestly it’s not difficult to guess the identity of Amy’s attacker fairly early on. Still the author maintains the general tension well as Alex pieces the circumstances together.

Seddon’s characterisation of Alex is the star of this novel. Deeply flawed, Alex is an alcoholic whose drinking has destroyed her marriage, career and friendships. She devotes a few hours every morning to her freelance work and then begins drinking at noon til she passes out, waking up with soiled sheets and little memory of her nights, to repeat the cycle again. As Alex delves into Amy’s life she is forced to exert more control over her drinking if she has any hope of seeing justice done.

Amy’s dreamy, confused narrative meanwhile lends a real sense of poignancy to the story and ensures the reader doesn’t forget the reality of the tragedy. And though Amy’s possible level of awareness is in reality unknowable, her plight is heart wrenching.

Try Not to Breathe (though I’m at loss to explain the relevance of the title) is an impressive debut novel with an intriguing premise and well drawn characters. I’m looking forward to seeing how this author develops.

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Review: Desert Flame by Janine Grey

 

Title: Desert Flame

Author: Janine Grey

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin Jan 2016

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on January 19, 2016 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Desert Flame is a contemporary novel of romantic suspense set in rural Australia from author Janine Grey.

Eliza Mayberry is stunned when she learns her late father’s company is near bankrupt. With little left of her former life of privilege except the company name, ‘KinSearchers’ Eliza agrees to assist the firms single remaining client who wants Eliza to meet his long lost great nephew. Eliza’s search leads her to an opal claim near Lightning Ridge in outback New South Wales where she meets the disturbingly attractive Fingal McLeod, who couldn’t be less interested in reuniting with the family who abandoned he and his mother.

Fin’s focus is on his search for the rare Dark Flame opal to provide security for his ailing mother but Eliza proves to be a distraction he can’t ignore. The relationship between Eliza and Fin is initially based on mutual attraction and lust, which soon develops into admiration and respect as they get to know one another. The development is perhaps a little rushed but I did enjoy the romance. There are several intimate encounters in the novel and I thought they were well written, offering something more interesting (especially that outdoor shower spectacle) than the standard soft focus bedroom scenes.

Several threads of mild suspense run through Desert Flame. The first involves the suspicious behaviour of Fin’s mother’s long term companion, the second a series of mishaps at the mine, and the third involves the fate of Logan McLeod, Fin’s deadbeat dad. Grey balances the multiple story arcs well with the burgeoning relationship, creating a novel with an engaging mix of drama, tension and romance.

Humour springs from the quirky townspeople of Helton, such as cheeky Mick and the brassy barmaid. I thought Grey’s vivid descriptions of the mine and its surrounds evoked the heat, dust and isolation of the region. The only real flaw perhaps was the pacing which I felt was a little slow at times.

A quick and pleasant read, I enjoyed Desert Flame and I’d recommend it to fans of the genre.

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