Tag Archives: #suspense

BOOK REVIEW – The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

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From now on, in every book review, I will include the one single idea that stood out the most for me in that book. Every book has one. I’d love it if you shared yours with me from the same book.

The Marriage PactI loved this while I was reading it; couldn’t put it down! But then afterwards, when I gave it some thought (and I suppose that is a plus: that I was still thinking about it for a while afterwards), I started thinking about how much of the story was so highly improbable. Yes, I know it’s fiction, but there does still need to be a certain measure of belief and sustainability to keep a story within the realms of possibility, especially when it’s meant to be happening in the here and now. If this had been set in the near future, I think it would definitely lend more plausibility.

So … the premise is that Jake and Alice are newly-weds. They’re not young or naïve. She is a lawyer, he’s a psychologist. They receive a mysterious wedding gift from one of Alice’s clients – actually he’s a client of the firm that Alice works for; a very prestigious client, and she was instrumental in winning his case. On a whim, she invited him to their wedding and was surprised when he accepted. In hindsight, it’s an invitation she wishes she never extended!

The strange gift turns out to be an offer to join a covert club known as ‘The Pact’. Members of this fellowship are couples who are extremely devout (to the point of fanaticism) about their marriages, and the marriages of all others who are part of this organisation with them. There are rules … oh so many rules! The main ones being that you do not mention The Pact to anyone outside it, and once you’re in, you can never, ever leave! It’s a bit odd that Alice, a lawyer doesn’t seem to grasp the ‘small print’, or even fully read it before agreeing to enter into The Pact.

The amount of time this couple takes of work throughout this book was one of the things that I found myself constantly shaking my head about! There’s a vague reference once or twice to Jake’s colleagues questioning his increasing absence, but other than that, everyone seems pretty accepting of these unaccountable lapses in being present at their places of work.

The concept of this ‘Marriage Pact’ is an interesting one, and I suppose that’s what makes the book highly readable. The execution of the actual idea itself is sometimes a little off kilter though. Clearly the membership is made up of an intricate network of friends in high places, well connected, and well versed in the art of manipulation. Just how are the powers that be so all-knowing and all-seeing?

This book really had me hooked, but my suspension of belief was stretched to its limits so I’m giving it a 3.5. You need to read this one for yourself and decide.

STAND-OUT IDEA: “Answer the phone when your spouse calls. Every time. No exceptions.” While this stood out for me like many other concepts in the book, and the overall notion of the Pact itself, I found myself questioning whether this is actually possible? Jake is a psychologist – surely he can’t answer the phone during a session with a client? Alice is a lawyer – if she’s in court, she wouldn’t be able to answer the phone, would she? Similarly in our everyday lives, while theoretically the idea might be a good one to try and implement wherever feasible, it’s not always going to be achievable. I guess we can try our best though, right?

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25/01/2018 · 09:23

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 – 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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BOOK REVIEW – Things Unseen by Pamela Power

things-unseenEmma and Rick seem like a typical upper middle-class Joburg couple, until the night that they’re attending a social event and Emma tries unsuccessfully to contact her mother. Feeling unsettled, she begs Rick to take her home and discovers that her mom’s been brutally murdered. Sadly, it’s a common event in crime-stricken Johannesburg and police see it as an open and shut case, blaming the immigrant gardener, Surprise (that’s his name). But Emma is adamant that it couldn’t have been him, and so we enter into her world … a world that looked like it was pretty ok on the outside before tragedy struck, but actually wasn’t that great to start with. This was just the trigger she needed to motivate her into action.

Supported by her best friend Gay, who is in fact, not straight (I love Pamela Power’s quirky sense of humour) Emma tries to manoeuvre her way through the minefield that is her current life: the reappearance of her past love, Craig; the volatile behaviour of her arrogant, controlling husband, Rick; the juvenile and irresponsible antics of her brother, Ross who’s returned from Australia, supposedly because of the family situation and the ongoing police investigation.

Power has created an extremely clever and tight storyline that never wavers, keeping you guessing all the time, while you alternate between hastily turning pages, and biting your nails! Adding to the ever-increasing excitement is the fact that chapters are interspersed with flashbacks that tell of past child abuse, but who is the child? It could be any one of our characters, and the suspense builds, keeping you guessing all the way.

Each personality is well rounded, and comprehensively portrayed.  The references to well-known Johannesburg landmarks added to my enjoyment of the book (as this is my hometown). This will undoubtedly strike a nostalgic chord with any ex-pat reader, and the writer’s familiarity with her environment only enhances the depth and atmosphere of her storyline, but this will be appreciated by any reader, regardless of their having no prior knowledge of the area.

And that storyline, while being a tense ‘whodunnit’, manages to deftly deal with numerous uncomfortable social issues that weigh greatly on the shoulders of the South African middle-classes on a daily basis: the ever-lingering shadow of racism , class disparity and gender discrimination, just to name a few! Power seamlessly weaves these all into her narrative while managing to maintain a punchy pace, a feat that not many authors can achieve.

My only complaint? I raced through this so quickly! It’s one of those books that’s easily read in just one or two sittings, and then you’re disappointed it’s over so quickly! It’s an excellent 5-star read!

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