Review: Second Life by S.J. Watson

Title: Second Life

Author: S.J Watson

Published: Doubleday February 2015

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Status: Read on February 11, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

SJ Watson’s debut, Before I Go To Sleep was a smash hit and I imagine the pressure to produce a similarly successful novel has been immense.

London wife and mother, Julia, is devastated when she is informed her younger sister, Kate, has been murdered by an unknown assailant in a Parisian alleyway. Half crazed with grief and guilt, Julia becomes obsessed with finding Kate’s killer, infiltrating an online ‘hook-up’ service her sister used in search of suspects.
Lukas is one of the first men to respond to her tentative approach, and though she quickly dismisses him as a suspect in her sister’s murder, Julia can’t seem to extract herself from the connection they have made. Her stolen moments with Lukas are a reprieve from her despair but as their relationship transitions from the virtual to the real world, Julia’s ‘second life’ unwittingly puts everything she has, and those she loves most, at risk.

What Watson does particularly well in Second Life is create a close, tense and increasingly disorientating atmosphere as Julia’s life spirals out of control.

My dissatisfaction with this novel can be laid at the feet of Watson’s protagonist, Julia. I just didn’t buy into her behaviour, despite the author’s rationalisations of grief and guilt. I found Julia to be painfully frustrating – naive, self obsessed, and later, wontingly self destructive.

Unable to invest in the character, I then struggled with the plot, which relies on Julia’s poor judgment to progress. There is tension and some surprising twists but it wasn’t enough to convince me to put aside my dislike of Julia. Perhaps the strongest element of the story is the pacy and shocking denouement, though I’m still not quite sure how I feel about its ambiguity.

Just barely an okay read, largely due to my frustration with the main character, unfortunately, I think Second Life suffers badly in comparison with Before I Go To Sleep.

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Review: Runaway Lies by Shannon Curtis

 

Title: Runaway Lies

Author: Shannon Curtis

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Published: Harlequin MIRA February 2015

Status: Read from February 01 to 03, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Runaway Lies is an engaging novel of romantic suspense from Shannon Curtis. The plot is fast moving, offering some exciting and dramatic moments, and the romantic tension sizzles.

Darcy Montgomery has managed to elude her former boss for four months but when she rescues the children of wealthy business tycoon Dominic St. James from his ex wife’s sinking car, her anonymity is at risk of being compromised. Despite her injuries, Darcy is determined to slip away before anybody discovers the dangerous truth about her.
Dominic is grateful to Darcy for saving the lives of his four-year-old twins, and feels responsible for her injury when it’s determined that the accident was engineered. He’s puzzled though by her reluctance to accept his offer of help, even when she has lost everything.
Despite Darcy’s hesitation, Dom convinces her to spend at least a few weeks recuperating with him and his family and, after months on the run, she finally begins to let down her guard. But just as Darcy decides to trust Dom with her secret, her carefully constructed facade collapses and Darcy has no other choice but to run to protect her life…and her heart.

I wasn’t sure what to think of Darcy at first. Curtis presents her as a guilty woman on the run and I made the assumption that she had somehow bought her troubles on herself. I was relieved to discover as the story unfolded that Darcy had simply found herself in an awful position and was doing her best to do what was right, even though it meant she had to lie.

I have to admit my least favourite character trope in romance is the ‘billionaire boyfriend’, it is usually relied upon as a plot convenience allowing the author to circumvent issues that would trouble someone without a Platinum credit card, but Dom’s wealth doesn’t interfere in the story. I liked him a lot, he proved to be a great guy and a caring father.

I really liked the way Curtis involved the children in the story. It’s notoriously difficult to do so in a way that is realistic but the author manages to integrate them neatly into the plot and keep their behaviour and actions age appropriate.

An entertaining tale of intrigue, action and romance, set in NSW, I really enjoyed Runaway Lies and would recommend it to fans of Helene Young and Bronwyn Parry.

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Review: The Exit by Helen Fitzgerald

 

Title: The Exit

Author: Helen Fitzgerald

Published: Faber and Faber UK February 2015

Status: Read from February 01 to 02, 2015 — I own a copy   (Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A disturbing novel of psychological suspense, The Exit is Helen Fitzgerald’s eleventh book.

The narrative alternates between the perspectives of 23-year-old Catherine, an unemployed, arrogant party girl, and Rose, an 82-year-old children’s book author and illustrator suffering from dementia, whose hold on the present is tenuous. Rose is a resident of Dear Green, a small private care home in Glasgow, Scotland, and the two meet when Catherine, at her mother’s insistence, reluctantly accepts a job in the private facility as an aide.

Of the handful of residents, Catherine is least repulsed by Rose, and when the old woman offers her £1000 to deliver a message she is happy to humour Rose’s ravings about ‘truth’ and ‘Room 7′. Catherine is thinking only of escaping to Ibiza to work on her tan when she discovers some creepy entries in the care log and she begins to suspect that Rose might be right, something is very wrong at Dear Green.

There are several unexpected twists and turns in The Exit which eventually exposes a dark and perverted secret but not before Catherine and Rose almost become victims of their suspicions. I was slow to warm to Catherine, who seems determined to live up to the stereotype of Gen Y, while Rose’s dementia, and tragic past, inspires a mix of pity and admiration, but I found myself anxious for the welfare of both women as the story unfolded.

There was a major element of the story, involving Catherine’s mother, that didn’t really work for me. I can’t reveal too much without risking spoilers but I felt it was an odd addition to the plot. In addition the conclusion was more ambiguous than I would prefer.

The story feels a little slow to start as Fitzgerald establishes character but the pace picks up, and The Exit is a quick read. What I didn’t really expect was the vein of humour that occasionally leavens the horror.

The Exit is an unsettling thriller, though I didn’t grip me the way The Cry did, I did enjoy it.

 

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Review: The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

 

Title: The Mime Order {Bone Season #2}

Author: Samantha Shannon

Published: Bloomsbury January 2015

Status: Read from January 22 to 24, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Bone Season introduced nineteen year old Paige Mahoney, a ‘dreamwalker’, fighting to survive in a world where possessing any clairvoyant ability is considered high treason. Caught and arrested by the governing body, Scion, Paige was sent to ‘The Tower’ where she was horrified to learn that captured voyants are handed over to a enigmatic otherworldly race that call themselves the Rephaite, to serve them as slaves or food.

The Mime Order begins as Paige, along with a few dozen other voyants make their escape, with the help of a handful of sympathetic Rephaite, after a bloody rebellion. Though forced to lay low as the Scion, whom she now knows is controlled by the Rephaite, hunt for her, Paige is determined to alert the underground community to the truths she has learned, but no-one, including her Underworld boss Jaxon, seems to care. Paige is baffled and frustrated by the disinterest until she uncovers evidence that several of the Syndicate gang leaders are in league with the Rephaite, profiting by handing over their own people. To fight back, Paige has only one choice…to become the Underqueen of the Syndicate, and then convince the voyants to stand with her against the Rephaite.

I like Paige a lot, she is smart, resourceful, feisty and both her talent and her personality are interesting. She has a core of incorruptible humanity and cares even when it is in her best interest not to. She is faced with some difficult challenges and decisions in The Mime Order but handles them well.

Set in future London following a timeline that splits from ours in the early 1900’s, Shannon’s world building is intricate and vivid. The focus here is on the underbelly of the city, forced underground, London’s clairvoyant’s have formed criminal enclaves each led by a Mime boss and nominally lorded over by an Underking or Underqueen. Paige is a Mollisher (second in command) to Jaxon (also known as the White Binder) but after the events in The Bone Season their relationship is an uneasy one, and only worsens over the course of the novel.

At 528 pages, The Mime Order isn’t a quick read. The pacing can be a little uneven though Shannon tries to ensure crucial information and detail isn’t simply dumped in the reader’s lap. There is plenty of action, danger and suspense as the novel progresses, and the conclusion ends on another cliffhanger.

An action packed fantasy adventure, well conceived and well told, The Mime Order is a strong sequel to The Bone Season. This series is expected to be seven books long, at the moment I can’t quite see how Shannon will manage to sustain the story for that long but I am eager to find out what will happen next.

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Read my review of The Bone Season

 

Review: Secrets of Whitewater Creek by Sarah Barrie

 

Title: Secrets of Whitewater Creek

Author: Sarah Barrie

Published: Harlequin MIRA January 2014

Status: Read from January 20 to 22, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Intrigue, action and romance blend to create an engaging read in Secrets of Whitewater Creek by Sarah Barrie.

Set in rural Australia, Secrets of Whitewater Creek introduces Jordan Windcroft, who has been running the family farm on her own since the tragic death of her parents. Independent, feisty and a hard worker, she is the town’s favourite daughter despite being on probation for the manslaughter, after claiming responsibility for a car accident to protect a friend from a corrupt judge.
Reid Tallon comes to Whitewater Creek posing as a probation officer, chasing a lead on a drug case he has been involved in for three years. He is hoping Jordan, who was also charged with possession when she was arrested, will be able to give him some insight into the local drug trade.
The attraction between the two is immediate, but Reid is undercover, and won’t let anyone jeopardise his case, and Jordan, whose focus is on saving her farm, has a secret she can’t risk him discovering.

I really liked Jordan who proves to be a practical, smart and strong woman, I enjoyed her quick witted banter, she isn’t afraid to say what she thinks and means what she says. She is loyal almost to a fault, and in her determination to protect her friends, she makes herself vulnerable to a dangerous stalker.
Reid is a smart and capable detective, determined to destroy the drug syndicate he holds accountable for his sister’s death.
Both Jordan and Reid try to deny their mutual attraction but it doesn’t last long. The development of the relationship is compressed due to the time frame of the novel but nevertheless believable and enjoyed the way they sparked off one another.

The story offers two main arcs, the first involving Reid’s investigation of the drug syndicate, the second sees Jordan’s life threatened by a crazed stalker. In the main, Secrets of Whitewater Creek is well paced, with a good amount of action balancing out the romance, though I thought that the stalker situation dragged on a little too long.

One aspect of the story that did bother me was the way that Jordan’s friends turn on her, suddenly suspecting her of being a drug abuser. I could understand why Reid would jump to the wrong conclusion but I didn’t believe that her close friends would do the same.

Still, overall I found Secrets of Whitewater Creek, (previously published as Deadly Secrets) to be a page turning Australian romantic suspense novel with appealing characters, an interesting story and well crafted setting. Perhaps Barrie will allow us to revisit Whitewater Creek again.

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Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Title: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Published: Transworld Jan 2015

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Status: Read from January 15 to 17, 2015 — I own a copy   {courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A tense and twisty thriller, The Girl on the Train is garnering plenty of well deserved attention for debut author, Paula Hawkins.

After a slightly bewildering start I was gripped by this chilling, tangled tale of love, hate and betrayal. Revealing much more than the back cover hints at risks spoilers that will ruin the surprises in store for the reader. I think it’s important to unravel the secrets and lies as the author intended and to allow yourself to become caught up in the twists and turns of the plot.

Astute readers may solve the mystery before the final pages but its unraveling is compelling. The conclusion may be a little neat but should also satisfy.

Clever and disturbing in equal measure The Girl on the Train is an engrossing read, don’t be fooled by the brevity of this review – I just don’t want to spoil anything for you!

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Review: Daughter by Jane Shemilt

Title: Daughter

Author: Jane Shemilt

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin Au January 2015

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Status: Read on January 02, 2015   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

When her young teenage daughter fails to come home one night after a school play performance, Jenny is frantic, Naomi is an innocent, her disappearance out of character and Jenny wants nothing more than to find her. As the police investigate, Jenny is stunned by what they discover, Naomi has been leading a life she knew nothing about.

The first person narrative shifts between the past – the days and weeks just before and after Naomi’s disappearance – and the present, nearly a year later. Surprisingly, this doesn’t really dampen the suspense as the drama unfolds in both timelines, slowly revealing shocking betrayals, truths and lies.

Jenny’s life falls apart in the wake of Naomi’s disappearance as the secrets her family have kept from her are revealed. I was disturbed to find myself judging Jenny, a busy GP, condemning her for being so oblivious to the reality of her husband’s and children’s lives. It’s not entirely unjustified and Shemilt seems to encourage that response, but it isn’t particularly fair. As a teenager I kept many secrets from my (working) parents, and now, even as a stay at home mother, I know my four children keep secrets from me, though nothing (I hope) as earth shattering as the ones Jenny’s children keep.

The writing is often atmospheric evoking the maelstrom of emotion experienced by Jenny, as well as the setting. The story is well paced, the tension of the plot is well maintained and the conclusion is a shock, one I’m still not sure about though.

Daughter is a haunting tale of guilt, betrayal, truth and family prompting the read to consider how well we really know the ones we love most.

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Review: Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman

 

Title: Rage Against the Dying ( Brigid Quinn #1)

Author: Becky Masterman

Published: Minotaur Books June 2014

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Status: Read from December 22 to 23, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Rage Against the Dying caught my attention when it was nominated for both The Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger and the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. I was further intrigued to learn the protagonist is a retired fifty something year old female FBI agent.

Brigid Quinn is a women with a secret. She lives happily with her new husband, Carlo, and their two pugs, in a nice house in Tuscon, Arizona and spends her days combing the nearby wash for interesting rocks and learning to cook. Yet just a few short years ago, Brigid hunted sexual predators killers and human traffickers as an agent with the F.B.I. In Rage Against the Dying one of her past cases comes back to haunt her when a man is arrested and claims to be the ‘Route 66′ killer, responsible for the murders of a dozen women, including Brigid’s protegee, Jessica. Floyd Lynch’s confession is compelling, he is aware of details the FBI never released and leads them to what remains of Jessica’s body, nevertheless when Agent Laura Coleman voices her doubts Brigid feels she owes it to Jessica, and her still grieving father, to investigate.

Fast paced, with plenty of tense, gritty, action, Rage Against the Dying is a complex mystery. The main plot centers around the confession of the serial killer and Brigid’s doubts about it, but is further complicated by attempts on Brigid’s life, another missing FBI agent and ‘office’ politics. The plot twists and turns, and though at times it relies on some contrivances that are a bit of a stretch, it offers an interesting story.

I love that Brigid is an older woman who remains feisty, resourceful and even sexual. She is complicated, flawed, and damaged but I found I both liked and respected her. Her cynicism is offset by her emotional vulnerability, and her confidence by her past failures. On a couple of occasions though I thought the author allowed Brigid to make mistakes an experienced agent wouldn’t for the sake of the plot, which was a tiny bit disappointing.

Rage Against the Dying is an introduction to a series I think has real potential and I am looking forward to reading Fear the Darkness

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Review: Eden by Candice Fox

 

Title: Eden {Hades #2}

Author: Candice Fox

Published: Random House December 2014

Status: Read from December 02 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

The sequel to Candice Fox’s stunning debut, Hades, Eden is a story about monsters, not the type that hide under the bed or in your closet, but those that walk amongst us, wearing the face of humanity. Murderers, rapists, pedophiles and cannibals shrouded in the guise of well dressed gentlemen, respected police officers, and restless children.

The narrative is a bit of a surprise, I was expecting, given the novel’s title, that the story would unfold more fully from Eden’s perspective, instead it is the first person voice of Frank, and a series of flashbacks illuminating Hades’ past that dominate.

Frank is still reeling from the events that occurred in Hades and is drowning in booze, pills and sorrow, resisting Eden’s attempts to get him back to work. But Eden doesn’t take no for an answer and she forces his hand, first when she asks him to do some work for her father, Hades, and then when she accepts an undercover assignment in pursuit of a serial killer.

While Eden searches for the murderer on an isolated farm housing runaways and petty criminals, Frank divides his time between watching over Eden and searching for clues to decipher the fate of a girl Hades once knew, in order to shake the attentions of her nephew who is convinced Hades killed her.

Flashbacks of Hades early years introduce the girl, Sunday, and provide insight into the formation of the man and underworld legend. Fox has developed a dark and twisted past for Hades, stained with violence and loss which is not always easy to stomach.

As dark and gritty as its predecessor, Eden is a riveting story, rippling with tension and barely leashed savagery. This is compelling reading.

 

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****

Click the cover to learn about Hades

 

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Review: Believe No One by A.D. Garrett

Title: Believe No One { DCI Kate Simms and Professor Nick Fennimore #2}

Author: A.D. Garrett

Published: Corsair: Constable & Robinson UK November 2014

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

My Thoughts:

Authored by A.D. Garrett, the collaborative pseudonym of award winning author Margaret Murphy and renowned forensics expert Professor Dave Barclay, Believe No One is the second gripping crime fiction installment to feature DCI Kate Simms and Professor Nick Fennimore.

UK Detective Chief Inspector Kate Simms is on a six month ‘method’ exchange with the St Louis PD when her cold case team uncovers evidence of a serial killer dumping bodies along a 600 mile stretch of the I-44. For Professor Nick Fennimore, touring the Midwest promoting his latest book, it is a convenient coincidence that a case he has been invited to consult on in Oklahoma, concerning a murdered woman and her missing child, links with Kate’s investigation.
As the ad hoc task force involving Simms and the St Louis PD, Fennimore and the Williams County Sheriff’s Office, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and an FBI Behavioural Analyst get closer to identifying the killer, they discover a link to a crime that happened more than two decades before, and a world away. Fennimore is stunned by the possibilities given his own tragic loss, and with another body of a young mother and her child missing, he isn’t about to let this killer get away.

Part police procedural, part thriller, the third person narrative exposes the perspectives of the investigators, the killer and a young boy running scared.

I really enjoyed seeing the case come together through the hard work and persistence of the officers despite political maneuvering from a boorish local sheriff and the occasional inter-agency skirmish. I felt Kate got a little lost within the cast though I did like her colleagues, particularly the gruff Ellis. Abigail Hicks was an interesting character as well, and I was surprised to learn that deputy sheriffs receive so little training or support for their role.

The killer is suitably creepy with an interesting pathology and surprising motive. Some of the scenes involving the torture of his victims are disturbing, but thankfully are mostly light on details.

‘Red’ is the nine year old son of one of the victims who escapes the killer but is too afraid to go to the police. I felt both sad and afraid for him and I’m still not sure how I feel about the unusual situation he winds up in.

The personal lives of the feature protagonists, Kate and Nick, matter within the context of the story too, though it is Fennimore’s history that is more relevant. Five years ago Nick’s wife and daughter were abducted and while his wife’s body was recovered in a marsh, his daughter has never been found. Fennimore is convinced she is still alive and the similarities between this case and his own tragedy has him on edge. Meanwhile Simms accepted the exchange in part to escape Nick and their complicated dynamic so she isn’t thrilled when he involves himself in the investigation.

With a complex plot and interesting, well developed characters, Believe No One is an entertaining and exciting novel. Though it conceivably works as a stand alone I would recommend reading Everyone Lies first.

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