Category Archives: Book Reviews

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 – 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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DELILAH NOW TRENDING – BOOK REVIEW AND INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR, PAMELA POWER

Delilah Now Trending 2School is a scary place! The hierarchies, the who’s who, the procedures, the uniformity, the enduring methodology of it all! And I’m not sure if it’s worse among the parents, the teachers or the actual children themselves! Single mom Delilah’s about to find out that it can be a very tough place indeed. Her lovely 12-year-old daughter Daisy is about to be named head girl of Hill House prep school, but then … she isn’t.

Delilah is perplexed to say the least. Daisy is popular, bright, and pretty much an all-round achiever academically, culturally and on the sports field – not to mention the fact that she has a wonderful mom who overcame all odds to get to where she is today. Why on earth would they pick Rosie to be head girl when her mom (Buffalo) Beth is a complete nightmare? And then, as if things weren’t awful enough, Rosie meets with a bit of an accident. Who’s responsible and will it be possible for Delilah and Daisy to emerge from the trenches of institutional warfare unscathed?

Delilah Now Trending 3Thankfully they don’t have to battle on alone. They have loyal troops in their corner. There’s Henry, Delilah’s fabulously flamboyant business partner – I dare you to not fall instantly in love with him! Every single one of us deserves a Henry in our lives! Cass is Lilah’s straight-talking, rather scary lawyer. Fantastic if she’s fighting for your team, but beware if you’re anywhere near the opposition … you will not win! There’s also the delightful Portia, who … ummm … well … she doesn’t do much, at least not much of the stuff she’s supposed to do, but she’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that Delilah and Daisy are safe and secure.  The delectable Sam adds some roguish spice into the mix too, ensuring that all is not just gloom and doom for our Lilah.

Power is wickedly witty and there are many (oh, so many!) laugh-out-loud moments in this rather dark, but completely on-point, story about the psyche of mob mentality and how social media feeds it. WhatsApp groups run amok; Instagram feeds increase by the minute and Facebook groups attract all manner of unknown individuals. Who knows who’s out there and who’s going to start the next rumour? Who do you trust when you’re caught in the eye of the storm?

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Pamela in conversation with Amy Heydenrych at Love Books, Melville during the launch of Delilah Now Trending

Delilah Now Trending is fast-paced. Chapters are interspersed with anonymous diary entries, adding to the building intrigue, and you get that tight, knot-in-your-stomach feeling as you start to wonder if Daisy is quite as innocent as you were originally led to believe. I loved it, and it gets 5 fat, glittery stars from me!

Before Pamela’s book launch, I had the chance to sit and chat with her about some of the themes in Delilah Now Trending, and how she felt while writing the book:

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JBB: You mentioned that Delilah Now Trending is about finding your voice. Do you think that schools manage bullying issues adequately today, what with social media being such a major part of this? Were you ever bullied? Do you think all pre-teens should have cell-phones?

PP: It’s the way of the world today. I was extremely bullied as a child, but strangely didn’t even think of that while I was writing the book! I don’t think it’s completely the school’s responsibility to manage the bullying issue. It’s ultimately up to parents to equip their kids with the tools to manage these situations.

JBB: Would you agree that no matter how old we are, no matter how successful in our careers, we never leave the playground? We always have to deal with authority figures who make us feel inferior, whether intentionally or not, in situations of confrontation over our kids, with other parents, and over differing parenting styles and opinions.

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PP: Absolutely! When your kids go to school, so do you! You can’t maintain distance when your kids are going through a hard time and you have to equip your children with life skills from an early age.

JBB: Do people, especially women, ever truly not care what others think of them? Lilah has fingers pointed at her for her drinking, her relationship with her black, gay business partner, the way she allows Portia to behave, the way she treats her ex-husband (despite the atrocious way he’s behaved) … the list seems endless!

PP:  Unfortunately the truth is that a successful woman can never win. That feeling that you don’t care may lessen, but it never goes away. There’s always going to be judgement, and to some degree or other you’re always going to care, depending on who’s doing the judging. Some opinions will matter, while most actually don’t!

JBB: What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book?

PP: It actually flowed easily! I wrote it at the same time as I was writing Things Unseen (Pamela’s previous book. Very brilliant! If you haven’t read it, then you really must!), so this one clicked easily. The topics that required the most research were those about disciplinary hearings and more medical aspects. I had a lot of assistance from ISASA (Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa) and from the ex-head of The Ridge School. I wanted this to have a domestic feel to it so that readers could easily relate to it and my 13-year-old daughter Ruby helped with the beta reading. I did have to give her a rather sanitised version though!

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Pamela with her gorgeous kids: beta-reading daughter Ruby, and son Liam

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BOOK REVIEW – The Optician’s Wife by Betsy Reavley

the-opticians-wifeThis one grabbed me even before the first page! When I saw the words ‘Inspired by true events’ I was already hooked.

We meet Deborah in mid-April 1983. She’s 17, unattractive, overweight, unhappy, and practically friendless … until for some reason, the dashing Larry Miller takes an unfathomable interest in her. After that, her life is never the same. Before she knows it, he’s decided that they’re getting married, and that’s fine with her. Larry takes full control of her life, makes all the decisions and Dee (because that’s what he calls her) feels safe and protected, which is actually quite relevant at the time as there seems to be a serial killer doing the rounds in their hometown of Cambridge.

The chapters are fairly short, making the story edgy and fast-paced. The characters are all pretty dysfunctional, and there’s something not quite right about most of them, which only makes you read that little bit faster so that you find out what it is!

And then from about halfway in, we jump ahead about 10 years and Dee is sitting in an interrogation room! Why? What’s happened? The second half of the book then goes backwards and forwards, twisting and turning, leading readers on a disturbing, yet intriguing dance as we try to race to the harrowing conclusion as quickly as we can!

It’s psychological thriller writing at its best, and if you’re a fan of this genre then don’t bypass this one!

 

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