Sunday, 28 January 2018

The Great Alone

Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: February 6, 2018
First Line: "That spring, rain fell in great sweeping gusts that rattled the rooftops."

Book Description from GoodReadsAlaska, 1974. Untamed. Unpredictable. A story of a family in crisis struggling to survive at the edge of the world, it is also a story of young and enduring love. Cora Allbright and her husband Ernt, a recently-returned Vietnam veteran scarred by the war, uproot their thirteen-year-old daughter Leni to start a new life in Alaska. Utterly unprepared for the weather and the isolation, but welcomed by the close-knit community, they fight to build a home in this harsh, beautiful wilderness. At once an epic story of human survival and love, and an intimate portrait of a family tested beyond endurance, The Great Alone offers a glimpse into a vanishing way of life in America.

With her trademark combination of elegant prose and deeply drawn characters, Kristin Hannah has delivered an enormously powerful story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the remarkable and enduring strength of women. About the highest stakes a family can face and the bonds that can tear a community apart, this is a novel as spectacular and powerful as Alaska itself. It is the finest example of Kristin Hannah's ability to weave together the deeply personal with the universal.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Kristin Hannah's latest book is a story about a family in turmoil set against the ruthless yet stunning beauty of Alaska in 1974.

This family saga felt like two different books. The first three-quarters was a gritty look at the Allbright family as they struggled to settle into the wilds of Alaska and deal with the trouble within their own family. Life in 'off the grid Alaska' was harsh, dangerous and lonely but Hannah's descriptions of the unforgiving wilds of Alaska were my favourite part of the book (with Alaska herself easily becoming my favourite character). 

But after awhile the story started to feel redundant as the same issues kept popping up with the characters reacting in the same way each time. There's also a fair amount of 'telling, not showing' and I found the dialogue weak which didn't bode well for building a connection with Leni and the other characters who were a one-dimensional bunch.

Then, at three-quarters of the way through the book, it had a different feel. I ended up skimming the last hundred pages which was filled with hard to believe scenes and an ending that felt rushed and tied up so easily that it was eye-roll worthy. Hannah was going for tragedy and there are bucket loads of it but there were so many issues (PTSD, abuse, poverty, death ...) that it felt soap opera-ish. It was tragedy after tragedy without enough room in between for readers to take a breath.

Overall, I appreciated the beautiful descriptions of Alaska (and the delightful Large Marge - who should have had her own chapters) and I liked the premise but overall this book fell short for me.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Look For Me

Author: Lisa Gardner
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Series: #9 in the Detective D.D Warren series
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Dutton
First Published: February 6, 2018
First Line: "A year later, what Sarah remembered most was waking up to the sound of giggling."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner's latest twisty thrill ride, Detective D. D. Warren and Find Her's Flora Dane return in a race against the clock to either save a young girl's life . . . or bring her to justice.
The home of a family of five is now a crime scene: four of them savagely murdered, one—a sixteen-year-old girl—missing. Was she lucky to have escaped? Or is her absence evidence of something sinister? Detective D. D. Warren is on the case—but so is survivor-turned-avenger Flora Dane. Seeking different types of justice, they must make sense of the clues left behind by a young woman who, whether as victim or suspect, is silently pleading, Look for me.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: This 9th book in the D.D Warren series has the experienced detective in the middle of a murder of a family and includes Flora Dane, a character from the previous book, Find Her, who becomes D.D's sidekick/confidential informant. 

The addition of Flora's POV and different methods of getting information added an extra layer to the plot and funny banter between the seasoned police detective and the vigilante. But, there was often overlap between the two POVs which sometimes gave the story a 'didn't I just read about that?' feel for me.

This book picks up two years after 2016's Find Her (a wonderfully gritty read and one of my top reads of 2016). While readers don't have to read previous books in the series, I highly recommend reading Find Her to get Flora's back story which is important to understanding her character's development.

In Look For Me, Gardner gives her readers another twisty read and provides insight into the overburdened foster care system, how it has helped some kids and failed others. Gardner also addresses the issue of family, mistakes and healing and the addition of a teen's school essays on what 'The Perfect Family' means to her were touching and poignant.

This is a clever police procedural that kept me entertained, had some twists (even though I figured out the culprit) and an important social aspect. And while I can't say I was totally wowed this time out, I look forward to reading the next installment in this series.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Girlfriend

Author: Michelle Frances
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Kensington
First Published: January 30, 2018
First Line: "Laura had a good feeling about today."

Book Description from GoodReadsA girl. A boy. His mother. And the lie she'll wish she'd never told.

The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances is a gripping and chilling debut psychological thriller, based on the fall-out following an unforgiveable lie. It looks at the potentially charged relationship between girlfriend, boyfriend and his mother, which most women can identify with, and locates it in an extreme but believable setting.

Laura has it all. A successful career, a long marriage to a rich husband, and a twenty-three year-old son, Daniel, who is kind, handsome, and talented. Then Daniel meets Cherry. Cherry is young, beautiful and smart but she hasn't had the same opportunities as Daniel. And she wants Laura's life.

Cherry comes to the family wide-eyed and wants to be welcomed with open arms, but Laura suspects she's not all that she seems.

When tragedy strikes, an unforgiveable lie is told. It is an act of desperation, but the fall-out will change their lives forever.

My Rating
: 2 stars (aka 'meh')

My Review:
This book is marketed as a 'chilling psychological thriller' but it is a domestic drama at best. It lacks tension and depth to the story and instead gives readers a long-winded, slowly paced story with lukewarm characters who behave exactly how you'd expect, making this debut 'just okay' at best.

The premise had heaps of potential, but the author couldn't pull off a 'thriller'. It just wasn't clever enough. It felt like the author had to lay out every character's thoughts and didn't trust her readers to be able to piece together a more intricate plot. This may appeal to people who want a mild, family drama read but for avid readers of the psychological suspense genre, like myself, this doesn't add anything new to the genre (either domestic drama or psychological thriller).

With thinly constructed characters, a weakly executed premise and a lack of suspense, this quickly became one of those books that I wasn't eager to get back into.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Hazel Wood

Author: Melissa Albert
Genre: Teen, Dark Urban Fantasy
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Flatiron Books
First Published: January 30, 2018
First Line: "My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways."

Book Description from GoodReadsSeventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland super fan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I can't remember having such drastic feelings about a book. The first half (which I read in one sitting - thank you, insomnia!) captivated me. I found it suspenseful, engaging, a little creepy and I was intrigued by the stunning cover and the dark fairy tale aspect.

And then, a little more than half way through, the book took on a different feel. At this point, the story became convoluted and the world building was done so quickly, not giving readers time to acclimate, that I was left feeling an overall sense of confusion. Many secondary and tertiary characters float in and out of the story that it left me wondering who was important.

The Hazel Wood has a unique premise that is very much story-centric leaving readers with only two main characters - Alice and to a lesser extent, Ellery Finch, her school mate who is an avid fan of Alice's grandmother's book. Alice is an unlikable, ornery main character and without a connection to her, and with a confusing second half of the book, I can't say that I finished the book as enamoured with it as I began. I definitely liked parts - Finch, the writing and suspense in the first half but the last half of the book pulled my rating down.

I realize that other readers have adored this book and perhaps this dark urban fantasy read just isn't the book for me. If you're into dark fairy tales and want a story to take you to places you've never imagined this may be a book for you.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Need to Know

Author: Karen Cleveland
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 286
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Penguin Random House Canada)
First Published: January 23, 2018
First Line: "I stand in the doorway of the twins' room and watch them sleep, peaceful and innocent, through crib slats that remind me of bars on a prison cell".

Book Description from GoodReadsIn pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, a CIA analyst uncovers a dangerous secret that will test her loyalty to the agency--and to her family.

What do you do when everything you trust might be a lie?

Vivian Miller is a dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst assigned to uncover the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States. On track for a much-needed promotion, she's developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America's borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her--her job, her husband, even her four children--are threatened.

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she's facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: When I received my advanced copy of this book there was no blurb on the back. The only description was that it was debut novel that's 'impossible to describe without spoilers' and included a comment from author Lee Child that once you read one chapter you'll be hard pressed to put the book down.

I have to agree with Mr Child.

This book took over my life for a day and a half. Normally, I don't read spy novels, but I was intrigued by the hype and soon found myself hooked. The story focuses on Vivian Miller, a CIA counterintelligence analyst who works to identify Russian sleeper spies living in the US. She soon becomes tangled in an increasingly dangerous plot that threatens not only national security but her life and the lives of her family.

This book will keep you reading into the week hours with its high energy, tension-filled plot loaded with twists, culprits and Vivian's increasing paranoia. The author, a former CIA intelligence analyst herself, brings an authenticity to Vivian's character from a professional standpoint and readers are also pulled into Vivian's family life which plays a pivotal role.

There were a few times that Vivian seemed too naïve for someone in such a top-secret position and sometimes the family scenes interrupted the tension and flow but other than those two small issues this was an amazing read. Towards the end I thought we'd have an easy, predictable ending but Cleveland pulls out some final twists which left me muttering 'Well played, Karen Cleveland. Well played".

While this is a perfect read for fans of political/spy thrillers, it will also appeal to fans of suspense who enjoy short chapters that entice readers to read 'just one more chapter'.  Engrossing and well-paced, this impressive debut shows the sophistication and depth of spy agencies and also touches on personal issues of trust, betrayal, loyalty and the depths one will go to protect their own.

Note: The buzz surrounding this book has already caught Hollywood's attention - it's been optioned for a movie starring Charlize Theron (who will also produce the film).

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Murder Stone

Author: Louise Penny
Genre: Mystery, Canadian
Series: #4 in the Inspector Gamache series
Also known as: The Rule Against Murder
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 424
Source: Personal Copy from a second-hand bookstore
Publisher: Sphere
First Published: 2011
First Line: "More than a century ago the Robber Barrons discovered Lac Massawippi."

Book Description from GoodReadsBeneath the scorched summer sky, the wealthy Finney family have gathered at a lakeside manor to honour their late father. But when the heat wave boils over into a mighty storm, a dead body is left in its wake - and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache finds himself with a building full of suspects.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: The Murder Stone is the fourth book in the popular Inspector Gamache mystery series by Canadian author Louise Penny. It sets itself apart from the earlier books in the series because it isn't set in the quaint village of Three Pines. Instead, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation at Manoir Bellechasse, a small, posh inn on the shores of a secluded lake in eastern Quebec where he and his wife Reine-Marie are spending their 35th anniversary weekend.

The different setting is quite a departure from the usual small Quebecois village, but readers are still given un petit goût (small taste) of Three Pines. I admit to missing the colourful small-town characters but it was nice to spice things up with a different venue. It also had a very Agatha Christie-esque feel, since the suspects are isolated at the grand inn and its grounds.

As always, Penny gives her readers several red herrings and Armand is a wonderful main character who you will easily root for. He's a family man, has a great relationship with his wife, kids and grandkids and is well respected for his murder solving skills. On the opposite end of the character spectrum is the Morrow/Finney family, a truly dysfunctional group who are also staying at the inn. While their issues made for an interesting read and multiple culprits, the amount of dysfunction in one family was a little hard to believe.

I highly recommend this series (read them in order!). You know you're reading one of your favourite authors/series when, after only the first couple of paragraphs, you let out a big sigh and hunker down for a story you know you'll enjoy with characters you've found yourself missing since the last book. That is what it's like to read Louise Penny.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Just Between Us

Author: Rebecca Drake
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Griffin
First Published: January 9, 2018
First Line: "Funerals for murder victims are distinguished from other services by the curiosity seekers."

Book Description from GoodReadsFour suburban mothers and friends conspire to cover up a deadly crime in this heart-stopping novel of suspense in the tradition of Lisa Scottoline and Lisa Unger.

Alison, Julie, Sarah, Heather. Four friends living the suburban ideal. Their jobs are steady, their kids are healthy. They’re as beautiful as their houses. But each of them has a dirty little secret, and hidden behind the veneer of their perfect lives is a crime and a mystery that will consume them all. 

Everything starts to unravel when Alison spots a nasty bruise on Heather’s wrist. She shares her suspicions with Julie and Sarah, compelling all three to investigate what looks like an increasingly violent marriage. As mysterious injuries and erratic behavior mount, Heather can no longer deny the abuse, but she refuses to leave her husband. Desperate to save her, Alison and the others dread the phone call telling them that she’s been killed. But when that call finally comes, it’s not Heather who’s dead. In a moment they’ll come to regret, the women must decide what lengths they’ll go to in order to help a friend.

Just Between Us is a thrilling glimpse into the underbelly of suburbia, where not all neighbors can be trusted, and even the closest friends keep dangerous secrets. You never really know what goes on in another person’s mind, or in their marriage.

My Rating: 3 stars

My ReviewJust Between Us focuses on four suburban moms, the secrets they keep and the lengths they'll go for each other to keep those secrets hidden. But what happens when your secret comes out?  How far would you go to help a friend?  These are the questions that Rebecca Drake asks her readers in this new suspense read.

Readers will notice a strong Big Little Lies vibe which is enticing and smacks full of girl power. There are some twists and I thought it was a good read but could have been a lot better in terms of suspense and character development. Its appeal began to falter for me after that fateful phone call when many of their actions became too far-fetched to the point of being silly.

Each chapter is told by a different character, but these four friends were hard to differentiate from each other and I didn't feel the connection between them. When you add in remembering which husband, kids and career belong to each character, it became quite a task to remember who was who and that interrupted the building tension. 

Overall, this was a decent read that focused on secrets and lies of four friends. While this wasn't a big hit with me, I can see this book being enjoyed by those who want a lighter suspense read set in a Desperate Housewives/Big Little Lies-type setting. 

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Anatomy of a Scandal

Author: Sarah Vaughan
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book

Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: January 23, 2018
First Line: "My wig slumps on my desk where I have tossed it like flattened road kill."

Book Description from GoodReads: An astonishingly incisive and suspenseful novel about a scandal amongst Britain’s privileged elite and the women caught up in its wake.

Sophie’s husband James is a loving father, a handsome man, a charismatic and successful public figure. And yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to rip them apart.

Kate is the lawyer hired to prosecute the case: an experienced professional who knows that the law is all about winning the argument. And yet Kate seeks the truth at all times. She is certain James is guilty and is determined he will pay for his crimes.

Who is right about James? Sophie or Kate? And is either of them informed by anything more than instinct and personal experience? Despite her privileged upbringing, Sophie is well aware that her beautiful life is not inviolable. She has known it since she and James were first lovers, at Oxford, and she witnessed how easily pleasure could tip into tragedy.

Most people would prefer not to try to understand what passes between a man and a woman when they are alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in an elevator… Or alone in the moonlit courtyard of an Oxford college, where a girl once stood before a boy, heart pounding with excitement, then fear. Sophie never understood why her tutorial partner Holly left Oxford so abruptly. What would she think, if she knew the truth?

My Rating: 2.5 stars (aka 'just ok')

My ReviewThis book started off strong - interesting characters with questionable pasts, secrets and lies - setting it firmly in the suspense genre. But around the half way mark it turned into more of a contemporary fiction/weak legal thriller. 

I liked the premise of the book but, besides the slight twist in the middle, this was more of a boilerplate read -- nothing too jarring, assumptions were proven true and nothing caused me to reconsider my initial assumptions about the characters, many of whom remained stereotypical.

With the number of men who have recently come forward about their sexual misconduct (or worse) in the media, the topics discussed in this book (consent and women's rights) are quite timely. Unfortunately, I didn't feel like Vaughan followed through with enough depth with these issues or her characters leaving me without a connection to any of them. 

I'm a big reader of suspense books but unfortunately this book fell short for me. While this book gives readers some food for thought about sexual consent it fell short for me in suspense, character development and a hard-hitting ending.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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