BOOK REVIEW – Mother By S.E. Lynes

MotherChristopher Harris has always been somewhat of a misfit. He’s just never really felt part of anything, especially not his family – and that was even long before his 2 siblings arrived. He just doesn’t know how to ‘be’; doesn’t ever feel comfortable with himself, or with anyone else.  Discovering he’s adopted does go a long way towards explaining his lifelong feeling of not fitting in, and it’s almost as if Christopher’s always known that something like this is what’s prevented him from being part of the life that he finds himself living. He endeavours to set out and find his birth mother, and luckily she’s just as enthusiastic about finding him as he is to find her!

One piece of writing advice I’ve never forgotten refers to characterisation: “When creating your characters, you need to get to know them so well that you know which brand of toothpaste they use.” Well, obviously I’ve remember little else when it’s come to writing advice, as I haven’t quite managed to write that book yet! But S.E. Lynes took that recommendation and ran with it! I have no doubt that she not only knows what toothpaste Christopher prefers, but also what dental floss he uses, and whether he dreams in black and white or full technicolour! She’s created a character so deep and complex that one cannot help but become fully immersed in his twisted persona, and wow, twisted is certainly what he is! Although at times I really did feel terribly sorry for him, he is so difficult to like and I think that this is what the author’s intention is. He hasn’t been created as a protagonist that one warms to.

Likewise with the parallel character of Ben: arrogant and self-assured – the polar opposite to Christopher. Quite an obnoxious character who’s really unpleasant, but who at the same time you can’t help wanting to know more about because you can’t wait to see where he fits into the picture!

The story is related to us by a mystery narrator. This is so clever, and absolutely crucial to the plot. I couldn’t figure out who it was right up until the reveal!

Threaded through the tense plot is the dark shadow of the ongoing case of The Ripper, and Christopher’s increasing preoccupation with the case. Lynes cleverly intertwines this with her own narrative, which works so well to heighten the feeling of unease throughout the book.

Highly recommended!

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BOOK REVIEW – The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The couple next doorI loved this fast-paced, breathtaking psychological thriller! This is one of those ‘just one more chapter’ books, and before you know it, it’s 2:00 am!
Marco and Anne are invited to their neighbours for dinner. Sounds non-threatening enough doesn’t it? But Anne’s not too sure. Manipulative Cynthia has made it quite clear that the baby isn’t welcome at her husband Graham’s birthday dinner.
Anne’s been struggling with post-natal depression. Baby Cora is just 6 months old. Marco desperately wants a grown-up evening out. And so, a babysitter is arranged and it’s decided that they’ll go.
But the babysitter cancels at the last minute and although Anne’s quite happy to stay at home and let Marco go to dinner without her. He insists that they stick to their arrangements. After all, they’re only going next door. They can take a baby monitor with them, and pop home every half-hour to check on her. By 1 in the morning, Anne’s had quite enough. They’ve all had far too much to drink, and nobody else seems to worried about the fact that Cynthia is shoving her cleavage in Marco’s face!
When they eventually arrive home, their worst nightmare becomes reality when they discover Cora is not sleeping soundly in her cot … or anywhere else. She’s gone! And Anne realises that she was quite right to think she was a bad mother to leave her baby at home unattended.
A roller-coaster ride ensues in which the reader gets whiplash with all the twists and turns, all the allegiances and alliances, deciding who would have, could have taken baby Cora!
Very cleverly written with deep, dark pasts, secrets and causes for motives being revealed and no stones left unturned. Shari Lapena doesn’t disappoint as she drags us along to a gasping finish!

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BOOK REVIEW – Did You See Melody by Sophie Hannah

Did You See MelodySo disappointing! The plot sounded so promising, but ended up being boring and dragged out with characters who were so unlikeable I hardly cared what happened to them by the time I skimmed my way to the end. To use a phrase coined by someone I once knew: “one, two, skip a few …”
So … Cara Burrows has fled from her family in England due to their unsatisfactory response to her unexpected third pregnancy. Strangely, I could relate to her reaction. She told her husband and two teenage kids that number three was on the way, and asked how they felt about that and they were extremely unhappy. But nobody bothered to ask her how she felt about it, hence her anger and flight instinct!
She flies across the world and books herself into a 5-star resort for some time to self reflect. Arriving on her first night, exhausted and still emotionally fraught, she’s given the wrong door key and enters a room that’s occupied by a man and a teenage girl. The error is hastily rectified by the over-obliging, apologetic receptionist, but Cara is left jittery by the encounter.
The following morning she overhears an elderly guest telling a staff member that she’s convinced she’d seen ‘Melody’. And any normal person would just ignore such a comment but not our Cara, who feels the need the throw herself, all Nancy Drew-like, into an – until then non-existent – mystery! You’d think she has enough of her own issues to try and sort out, which is why she’s there in the first place, but no, she decides to throw herself full-tilt into chasing a shadow who up until then she’d never even heard of! But of course … wouldn’t you?
And from hereon in we’re confronted with an entourage of loathsomely tedious individuals: Tarin and Zel Fry – an obnoxious mom and daughter duo; opinionated talk-show host, Bonnie Juno; insipid cop Orwin Priddey; and the illusive figures of Riyonna Briggs, Annette and Naldo Chapa, Kristie and Jeff Reville.
There are many long (oh, so long) transcripts of Juno’s so-called interviews from her talk show 7 years previously, when Melody disappeared, that I just couldn’t bring myself to read. These are inserted at regular intervals as Cara attempts to pursue the truth and discover if the girl she saw on her first night at the resort was indeed Melody Chapa, who is in fact supposed to be dead!
And then, as if the long-winded interviews weren’t enough, there are also diary excerpts from someone who talks about being looked after by people who she refers to as the ‘Kind Smiles’ (a name which for some reason irritated the living daylights out of me).
Basically it was just endless, the twists turning out to be rambling meanders rather than the sharp, edgy turns you want from a thriller.
It’s so rare that I give a book such a negative review. I can’t even say that I really stuck to it until the end because I didn’t. The A-ha moment never arrived, even though I did page (swipe) on through to see how the whole thing panned out, but it just didn’t work for me.
This is the second book I’ve read by this author, and although I know she’s hugely popular, obviously her writing style isn’t one that I enjoy so I’ll know in the future to leave it to her many fans.

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BLOG TOUR! THE GOOD SAMARITAN by JOHN MARRS

The Good Samaritan

 

I’m thrilled, honoured and most privileged to be here on Day 2 of the Blog Tour of The Good Samaritan by John Marrs. Thanks have to go to Tracy Fenton of THE Book Club, not only for inviting me, but also for creating a truly amazing online haven and marvellous home from home for any discerning book lover and author stalker.

 

 

 

THE BOOK …

Thank goodness for those Good Samaritans who you know you can call when you have absolutely nobody else to talk to (here in South Africa, you call LifeLine). You know they’re there to listen with a non-judgemental ear, and gentle encouragement. And after sharing your problems, even if you’ve been offered no solutions, you just feel better.

For some though, there really is no way out and they feel there’s only one option and that’s when they call End of the Line. Here again, there’s no judgement just people to listen without questioning your choices.

But then there’s Laura … she has an entirely different agenda.

Laura’s a master at the art of illusion. She appears perfectly normal: your typically warm, caring wife and mom who’s content with her life. Someone who has it all and wants to give back to others by volunteering for those in need. She looks after her colleagues, remembering birthdays, names of family members and their ailments and allergies. Is anyone really that ‘lovely’? Doesn’t she seem just a teeny bit too good to be true?

Only one of the End of the Line team isn’t quite taken in by Laura. But that’s OK. Laura knows how to handle her. Because Laura is extremely clever, exceptionally devious, and has excess time on her hands, which seems strange for someone with a family at home to look after, doesn’t it?

The thing is with such clever people, they always think they’ve got everything worked out absolutely perfectly. They assume everyone else is beneath them, that nobody’s quite as clever as them and that they’ll never get caught. And that’s when they take things just that step too far. People forget: someone will always outwit you!

Once again, John Marrs presents his readers with a dark and complex main protagonist.

John Marrs

John Marrs himself!

It becomes clear quite early on that Laura is beset by demons, but exactly who or what these are is not quickly revealed. In true Marrs style, we are made to wait patiently … ok, not patiently at all!! We are forced to read into the wee hours, alternately turning pages (or swiping them, in the case of kindle readers) and biting nails, anxiously desperate to race to the conclusion. And then disappointed with ourselves, because it’s over, and we should have made it last just a little longer because now we’ll have to wait a while for John’s next cracker of a book!!

This is the emotional roller-coaster that The Good Samaritan will take you on. It delves into the emotional and psychological questions of why, when people are at their lowest, most hopeless ebb, they would choose to pick up the phone and call a faceless stranger, and shows the level of vulnerability that person has reached and how easily they can be manipulated.

How do you know that person really has your best interests at heart? What lies behind that soothing voice on the end of the line? How do you know they aren’t going to say the wrong thing, something that might just be the trigger you don’t need to send you over that proverbial edge? They really do have your life in their hands. The moral implications are huge, but when you’ve reached a level of despondency where you feel that you’re so wretchedly irredeemable, that doesn’t occur to you, just as it doesn’t occur to Laura but for entirely different reasons.

Hearing how John describes himself (and basically all authors) as a ‘thief’, reminded me specifically of Jodi Picoult (yes John, I think I’m comparing you to Jodi Picoult!). When she visited South Africa a few years ago, at one of her public appearances, someone asked ‘that’ question: “Where do you get your ideas from?” She replied that her ideas were often sparked by those tiny, obscure articles that you find (or maybe you don’t), tucked away in an almost un-readable little block around page 11 of the newspaper. She’d read these little tidbits of random information, that most people classified as newsless, and she’d think, “What if …?” and then ‘whammo!’ … another bestseller!!

John’s books have become bestsellers. From initially self-publishing his books to now having a publishing deal with Thomas & Mercer, he’s living the author dream, but not without a ton of damn hard work, and not a small amount of stalking by a certain small group of (carefully selected) individuals known as the John Marrs Groupies – of which I am a proud member!!

 

 

 

The Good Samaritan 1

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02/11/2017 · 08:51

BOOK REVIEW – Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Then She Was GoneUtterly riveting! I couldn’t put this one down. 15-year-old Ellie Mack disappears without a trace one day. She’s the centre of her mom Laurel’s world, and her family can’t believe that this beautiful, young ‘golden’ girl (as she’s described) would leave home of her own accord as the police would have them think. But there’s no sign of her. What could have happened?

Ten years later, Laurel and Paul, Ellie’s parents have split up, unable to withstand the aftermath of her disappearance, and her siblings Jack and Hanna are somewhat estranged from their mother who they feel was unable to focus on them, but only on their absent sister.

Laurel leads a sad, solitary life unable to forgive the rest of her family for wanting to move on. Until one day she meets Floyd and he’s quite lovely, which makes her wonder if she’s made a mistake to remain in the past all this time. Laurel starts to slowly come back to life and as her relationship with Floyd begins to blossom, she meets his 9-year-old daughter Poppy. It’s a bit startling though, how very similar Poppy is to Ellie when she was that age. And suddenly Laurel is unnerved and all of those unanswered questions into Ellie’s disappearance come bubbling to the surface once again.

Cleverly told, in five parts, told mainly from Laurel’s point of view, but giving insight into Ellie’s world as well, Lisa Jewell has created an enthralling piece that reminds us that people are so often not how they present themselves to others. Hidden agenda’s are the order of the day and who is hiding what is what Laurel needs to discover in order to return to a semblance of normality.

Jewell’s characters aren’t always likeable, in fact some are downright bizarre, but she creates them with such clarity that one can easily understand why that act and react in the ways that they do.

This is a 5 star read. Highly recommended!

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BOOK REVIEW – Reported Missing by Sarah Wray

Reported MissingDescribed as a ‘completely gripping, suspenseful thriller’ and suggested for fans of Louise Jensen, K.L. Slater and The Girl on The Train, one would expect a little more from this lukewarm book than it actually delivers.

Rebecca Pendle is hiding out in a caravan park from a town that has turned its back on her. Four months ago, her husband disappeared. You’d think she deserves a bit of sympathy, but teenager Kayleigh Jackson has also not been seen since that same day. For some reason, everyone, including the police (who inexplicably seem to have done minimal background research and called in very little support backup from surrounding areas) have branded Rebecca as the enemy.

I couldn’t force myself to like any of the characters. Rebecca is a weak, sad type, wallowing in her misery and in alcohol most of the time. When she does gather herself towards herself occasionally she makes strange, misunderstood attempts to approach random (horrible) teenagers, who all turn on her and bully her, increasing her sense of self-loathing and sending her back to her lonely caravan. Even the absent Chris and Kayleigh are not painted in a positive light, so you don’t feel much sympathy towards their situation (whatever that may be) either!

To its credit, Wray’s writing, although slow and slightly laboured at times, did keep me reading until the end. I wanted to see how things were going to turn out for the seemingly defeated Rebecca (I always have that little voice inside me shouting for the underdog, even if they aren’t shouting for themselves). Strangely, I was more interested in seeing how it all turned out for her than for the missing Chris and Kayleigh!

3 stars out of 5 for this one. Thanks to Bookouture and to Netgalley for the ARC in return for an honest review.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse

The Art of HidingIt was extremely fitting that I read The Art of Hiding while on a flight to join a women’s tour-group for a week that was to be a life-changing experience. It was trip that was all about sisterhood, finding strength from the power within us and discovering that we are each unique, beautiful souls with our own talents to nurture and share. And that’s exactly what this book is about!!
Nina seems to be leading a charmed life with her successful husband Finn – the gorgeous house, 2 sons at a top private school, whirlwind social life, complete with enviable holiday destinations. Until Finn dies suddenly and it seems that it was all a facade.
Reality comes calling in the cruelest possible way as Nina and her sons’ comfortable world is ripped out from under them. It would be easier to curl up under the blankets and never have to face the world again, but that’s not a possibility, and Nina’s about to discover that resilience appears when you least expect it, and your champions present themselves as the most unlikely candidates.
This is a wonderful story (and don’t kid yourself, stuff like this happens more often than you think) of inner strength and the fabulous support systems that women create for themselves when push comes to shove.
Amanda Prowse has the incredible ability to create characters so real that you want to pluck them from the pages and invite them into your kitchen for a cup of coffee and a heart-to-heart chat. They’re warm, loveable, remarkable people that you want to keep in your life, and you are left feeling quite bereft when you reach the final pages of her books.
The Art of Hiding is no different, and it gets 5 stars from me!
Thank you so much to Amanda and Simeon for sending me an ARC of this book, and for including me in your trusted circle of early recipients. It is such an honour!

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BOOK REVIEW – The Hoarder’s Widow by Allie Cresswell

The Hoarder's WidowThis is the poignant story of Maisie who is suddenly left widowed after the death of her husband Clifford, in what can only be described as a freak accident.

Throughout their marriage Maisie and her children have been surrounded by Clifford’s hoarding obsession, and I must admit I started to see this as a type of abuse. In fact, right from the start where we first meet the young couple, and he’s bought this run-down, out-of-the-way house without even telling her or getting her opinion, I didn’t like him!

Cresswell writes beautifully though, and has a way of engaging her reader and almost ‘talking you round’ your dislike of a character. Through her eventual revelations as to why Clifford was the way he was, I grudgingly admitted a certain compassion towards him. I would have thought that upon his death, one of the first things Maisie would have done would have been to open those boxes that were strictly off limits for her entire marriage. I still think that the fact that it took her so long to do so was borne out of a certain measure of fear.

I loved Maisie’s practical pragmatism. Although she’s initially overwhelmed by the curveball that life has thrown at her, realising that she literally has a mammoth task to confront, she soon settles to breaking it down into small, bite-size chunks, clearing out manageable sections of the house at a time. She also teaches herself to navigate the outside world on her own, one step at a time, something that she’s not used to, as Clifford wasn’t partial to socialising (again, I interpreted this as a type of abuse and manipulation, although I may be being a bit extreme due to my initial dislike of his character).

One of my biggest shocks, quite early on, was to discover that Maisie was not the elderly widow that I had imagined her to be! I was picturing her as this sweet, rather feeble lady, possibly in her late sixties or seventies and she’s only 48 – that’s a year younger than me!!

This is a charming book that takes a sensitive look into the relationships that exist in a marriage, between both husband and wife and parents and children; between families, extended families and their social interactions. It examines what we’re willing to tolerate for our partners and what we’re able to overlook for the sake of keeping the peace in our homes.

Many thanks to the author and TBC Reviewer Request Group (on Facebook) for my copy of this book in return for an unbiased review.

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BOOK REVIEW – UNPRESIDENTED by Paige Nick

UnPresidentedHe, he, he … Paige Nick is very, very clever! I would rate this book eleventy one out of ten, if I could!!

Unpresidented is a tongue-in-cheek parody, set in the not too distant future (2020 to be precise) about ex-president Jeremiah unpronounceable-middle-name Muza who finds himself in extremely dire straits. Having been released from prison on medical parole, he’s returned to his homestead only to discover that it’s looking far shabbier than the palatial home he remembered. In fact, it’s in a dismal state of disrepair, with only 2 wives remaining and not much of his former entourage to speak of. But never fear, for Muza is not one to allow reality to interfere with his plans; and he has big, big plans!

Muza doesn’t plan on remaining the ex-president for long … he’s going to become ‘King of the World’ … just you wait and see, and Matthew Stone is going to help him get there. Stone is a journalist … currently in a state of disgrace, who not a single member of the media is willing to touch with a 10-foot-bargepole! So, he and Muza are pretty much in the same boat. He’s been employed to write Muza’s memories … errm, sorry … his memoirs! Trouble is, Muza has a rather tenuous relationship with the truth, and what he wants Stone to write bears very little resemblance to anything that actually occurs in his life, past or current. How on earth is Stone ever going to redeem himself if he can’t even get an honest word out of the man whose memoir he’s meant to be writing?

What ensues is an intricate and convoluted comedy of errors involving Stone, Muza, 2 strong and empowered wives, (both Muza’s), a long-suffering parole officer, a Malawian drug dealer with deep-seated Jewish mom issues, and a sad, skinny dog! And all along, you’ll be wondering … “But what if …?” or “Could it be …?” No! Read the small print on the back cover carefully: “Any similarities to any persons (living or dead) are entirely coincidental. Promise.”

Once you’ve read this book once, you’ll need to go back and read it again. There’s so much ingenious detail and slick innuendo involved that you’ll want to double check that you haven’t missed anything. And the truth is that it’s all so shrewdly put together that in just one reading it’s impossible to have caught it all. So read it again, just to be sure. It’s worth it just to get double the laughs!

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BOOK REVIEW – SPIRE by Fiona Snyckers

SpireImagine being in one of the most remote places on the planet … alone … but inexplicably, not alone, which is somehow worse! That’s what Fiona Snyckers presents us with in SPIRE, set in the South Pole International Research Establishment.

Dr Caroline Burchell has been selected as part of a team to ‘Winter over’ at the base. They’re there for the full season until September, which is when the next planes arrive to relieve them of their duties. She’s brought with her a container of mutated viruses which have been cryogenically frozen. Very soon after her arrival, however, the rest of her team begin to succumb to all manner of illnesses and before too long, Caroline is the only surviving team-member left on the base! How on earth does one survive in such isolated, harsh conditions, especially when you’re suspected of being a mass murderer?

While a devastating Arctic storm pounds at the base, Caroline is determined to survive to prove her innocence, despite the increasingly chilling evidence that someone is trying to thwart her every move. Using every available resource, including an unlikely external ally, and a very unreliable Skype connection, the reader is led breathlessly through this edge-of-your-seat thriller that will keep you guessing, as you cheer for this inventive heroine.

Ice Cube - Neutrino Observatory in the South Pole
Ice Cube – Neutrino Observatory in the South Pole

The topic of the Arctic is intriguing to many; the isolation, the temperatures, the climate, are all things that are possible topics of interest. I have to admit, I’ve never given the subject much thought, but after reading SPIRE, my curiosity was piqued. What fascinated me the most, however, was the exceptional research that the author has done in the creation of this novel. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it because it’s truly remarkable!

5 big glittery stars for SPIRE and an extra one (just because I can!) for the extraordinary amount of research that impressed me so much!!

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