Always With a Book

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: The Watcher by Ross Armstrong

Title: The Watcher 
Author: Ross Armstrong
Published: April 2017, MIRA Books
Format: Hardcover, 370 pages
Source: Publisher

She’s watching you, but who’s watching her?
Lily Gullick lives with her husband Aiden in a new-build flat opposite an estate which has been marked for demolition. A keen birdwatcher, she can’t help spying on her neighbours.

Until one day Lily sees something suspicious through her binoculars and soon her elderly neighbour Jean is found dead. Lily, intrigued by the social divide in her local area as it becomes increasingly gentrified, knows that she has to act. But her interference is not going unnoticed, and as she starts to get close to the truth, her own life comes under threat.

But can Lily really trust everything she sees?

My thoughts: I love when I get unsolicited books, especially ones that are from debut just never know what to expect. Luckily, this one ended up being such a crazy, twisted ride with one interesting, compelling narrator that just begged you to keep reading to see what was going on with her!

It's no surprise that I love a really good psychological thriller and this one is just that. I will say I was a little weary of the whole bird-watching thing, but that just adds to a crazy dimension to the story. It's told in journal-like format from the perspective of Lily and she is a bit out there - to the point where you start to wonder if you are dealing with an unreliable narrator - luckily for me, I absolutely cannot get enough of these types of books, so this totally appealed to me. 

I loved that I had no idea where this book was going. I was on edge the entire time, trying to put the pieces together, trying to guess what Lily really saw through her binoculars while she was birdwatching one day. She's convinced a woman was murdered and her mission to find out the truth borders on obsessive. At the same time, the twists and turns that occur in the book are dark and creepy and will keep you frantically flipping the pages until you reach the conclusion.

I enjoyed this atmospheric, haunting novel and will definitely be keeping an eye out for what comes next from Ross Armstrong. 


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review: Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan

Title: Odd Child Out
Author: Gilly Macmillan
Series: Jim Clemo, #2
Published: October 2017, William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: ARC Paperback, 432 pages
Source: Publisher

How well do you know the people you love…?

Best friends Noah Sandler and Abdi Mahad have always been inseparable.  But when Noah is found floating unconscious in Bristol's Feeder Canal, Abdi can't--or won't--tell anyone what happened.

Just back from a mandatory leave following his last case, Detective Jim Clemo is now assigned to look into this unfortunate accident.  But tragedy strikes and what looked like the simple case of a prank gone wrong soon ignites into a public battle.  Noah is British.  Abdi is a Somali refugee.   And social tensions have been rising rapidly in Bristol.  Against this background of fear and fury two families fight for their sons and for the truth.  Neither of them know how far they will have to go, what demons they will have to face, what pain they will have to suffer.

Because the truth hurts.

My thoughts: This is Gilly Macmillan's third book and the second book in her DI Jim Clemo series. It was one of the books that was high on my list of priorities at BookExpo last Spring...Gilly Macmillan is definitely an auto-read for me!

I loved this book - I loved the set-up and how it drew me in right from the start. It is a slow-burning suspense and the use of multiple narrators, each chapter alternating from narrator to narrator, just helps to ratchet up the tension ever so slightly. I felt that each time something was about to be revealed, each time we were on the cusp of fully having something being completely developed - there would be a switch of narrator and it would leave you hanging until you got back to that narrator again. It was like mini-cliffhangers almost throughout. But at the same time, all these threads are being woven together to develop a full picture of what really happened. It really was a brilliant way to tell this complex, yet heartwrenching story.

And that brings me to the characters - they are absolutely what made this story. I have never felt more attached to the characters in a book as I did in this story. DI Jim Clemo was already a favorite from Gilly's earlier book, What She Knew, so I was excited to see him again. This is his first case back from that book, and what a case to come back to! Then there are the two boys, Noah and Abdi. I had such a sweet spot for both of these boys, for different reasons and loved the way Gilly made each of them so strong, yet so vulnerable. This book is all about relationships, and that is so evident in how Abdi's mother and sister, Maryam and Sofia are portrayed. I loved the chapters that were narrated by Sofia - such a strong young woman she was, yet so conflicted by all that was going on around her. All these characters were so richly and realistically drawn, yet full of flaws. 

This book is so much more than a straightforward mystery. It touches on some heavy topics, including race and immigration, yet it also looks at family and what you consider your "family" to be. Secrets abound in this book and as it typical in must suspense books, this is definitely a case of being more than what first meets the eye. This book will keep you engaged from the very first page and have you begging for more as the pieces start to slowly come together to all make sense. It truly is a brilliantly written, memorable book.

Books in this series:
  1. What She Knew
  2. Odd Child Out 


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: Until I Met Her by Natalie Barelli (audio)

Title: Until I Met Her
Author: Natalie Barelli
Series: Emma Fern, #1
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Published: July 2017, Brilliance Audio / Thomas & Mercer
Length: 8 hours 42 minutes / 304 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audible / Print - ARC E-copy via Netgalley

Beatrice Johnson Greene, a bestselling crime writer, has an unusual favor to ask. When a chance encounter brings Emma Fern into her life, she thinks she’s found just the person for the job. Soon Beatrice will wish they’d never met.

For Emma, desperate to please, it’s an offer she can’t refuse. All she has to do is lend her name to Beatrice’s next novel, her first in a new genre. But when the book becomes a huge triumph, Emma finds herself the toast of the literary world. From nobody to somebody without writing a word.

It’s her first taste of success, and now Emma wants more. This is her masterpiece, after all. It says so on the cover.

Only Beatrice knows the truth. And surely there’s a solution to that.

My thoughts: I think when you read as many psychological suspense novels as I do, you tend to find that they somehow have the same feel to them in some way or another. Yet, this one, this debut novel from Natalie Barelli, totally breaks that mold. It is unique, witty and grabs your attention from the very beginning.

This is the tale of a friendship...until it isn't. It's about how far you are willing to go to protect something that shouldn't even be yours in the first place. I loved the craziness of Emma. But what I loved the most is the way everything played out. You aren't quite sure just what is going on...who is really manipulating who here. There are some really twisted, crazy characters here, not at all likeable, but compelling to say the least. They get under your skin and you just have to keep reading to find out what is going to happen next.

This is the type of book where you are not sure where it is going to go. It's very captivating and takes on some rather intriguing moral and ethical dilemmas. An addictive read, for sure, and I cannot wait to start the next one in this series, which I hope is just as addictive and crazy!

Audio thoughts: I thought Kate Rudd did a great job with this audio production. She was really able to bring these characters to life and use just the right amount of tension and emotion in her voice as needed. 

Books in this series:
  1. Until I Met Her
  2. After He Killed Me

Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner (audio)

Title: Persons Unknown
Author: Susie Steiner
Series: DS Manon, #2
Narrator: Juanita McMahon
Published: July 2017, Random House Audio / Random House
Length: 11 hours 46 minutes / 368 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audio / Print - ARC Paperback via Publisher

In this brilliant crime novel from the author of Missing, Presumed, a detective investigates her most personal case yet: a high-profile murder in which her own family falls under suspicion.
As dusk falls, a young man staggers through a park, far from home, bleeding from a stab wound. He dies where he falls, cradled by a stranger, a woman's name on his lips in his last seconds of life.

Detective Manon Bradshaw handles only cold cases. Five months pregnant, in pursuit of a work-life balance rather than romantic love, she's focused on being a good mother to her two children: her adopted 12-year-old son, Fly Dent, and the new baby. 

But the man died just yards from the police station where she works, so Manon can't help taking an interest. And as she sidles in on the briefing she learns that the victim, a banker from London worth millions, is more closely linked to her than she could have imagined. When the case begins to circle in on Manon's home and her family, she finds herself pitted against the colleagues she once held dear: Davy Walker and Harriet Harper. 

Can Manon separate what she knows about the people she loves from the suspicion hanging over them? Can she investigate the evidence just as she would with any other case? Persons Unknown shows acclaimed author Susie Steiner writing her most intricate, suspenseful novel yet.

My thoughts: This is the second book in Susie Steiner's DS Manon series and I just love this series. I had stumbled onto the first book in the series and was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it, so I was quite eager for the next one to come out. While I had picked up the galley of this book at BookExpo, I had enjoyed the narration of the first book so much, I decided to listen to this one as well and am so glad I did.

I just love DS Manon Bradshaw...she's quite the contradiction at times. She's tough and inconsiderate and pushy, but then she's also loving and feels all the guilt about being a single, working mother. She's a deeply flawed character and this makes her all the more relatable. Now that she finds herself pregnant, her guilt seems that much more magnified and though she's supposed to be working cold cases to keep her work life a bit more quiet, when the murder of her sister's ex happens, that all goes out the window. Life has just got really complicated...and about to get even more so as the main suspect is none other than her adopted son.

I love that there are multiple narrators in this book. We have Manon; DS Davy, who is working on the murder and was part of Manon's team from the first book; a shop clerk named Birdie and a young woman named Angel who Birdie ends up helping. At first, I was a bit thrown off by the parts told by Birdie and Angel, but I have to say, I became just as consumed by their story lines as I was with the rest of the book. In a way, I found it to add a bit of suspense, as I found myself constantly wondering how this all tied together.

This is such a complex novel, yet it brings about such a level of sympathy among characters - it's so unique in that way. I would almost venture to say that this crime fiction novel leans more to a character-driven plot than an action one. It's tightly woven and highly engaging, and one of my favorite series and I cannot wait for the next book!

Audio thoughts: I was thrilled to see that Juanita McMahon was narrating this book. I thought she had done a great job with the first book and so I jumped at the opportunity to listen to the second book. I felt that she was pretty consistent with the voices in this book and gave each character their own unique voice and personality. Her pacing and tone were spot on and I really hope she continues to narrate this series for as long as it goes on.

Books in this series:
  1. Missing, Presumed
  2. Persons Unknown 


Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon (audio)

Title: Flight of Dreams
Author: Ariel Lawhon
Narrator: John Lee
Published: February 2016, Random House Audio / Doubleday
Length: 12 hours 45 minutes / 336 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audible / Print - ARC E-copy via Netgalley
On the evening of May 3rd, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems; the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart; a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world’s largest airship; an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany; and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.

Flight of Dreams is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe and before them is looming disaster. But for the moment they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.

Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, Flight of Dreams is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing till the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.

My thoughts: This is the second book I've read by Ariel Lawhon and I really enjoyed it. I find that her ability to weave fact and fiction into an intelligent and engaging tale is truly remarkable. 

I have to say that I didn't really know much about the Hindenburg before picking up this book...and so I was completely enlightened by what really happened. I know that this is considered historical fiction and that Ariel has taken some liberties here and there, but I also know that she has based her story on fact. She really does her best to stay true to actual events whenever she can and the characters, from what I understand, are all actual people who were on board that fateful journey. 

Knowing this, you would think that this would be a boring, straight-forward stale tale, and yet it is anything but. I found myself immersed in the tale and found that the characters, who again were all based on real life people, really came alive in this book. I found their stories to be so interesting - what their roles where and why they were on this airship. 

What I love most about this type of book is that is makes me want to know more...not that this book is lacking in any way, but I want to delve deeper into the history of the Hinderburg - I want to pick up more books about it, see what else has been written about it, both fiction and nonfiction. As I mentioned, I didn't know much about it and now I have a thirst to know more. That's why I love reading historical fiction - I love when a topic spurs me to want to know more about a particular subject and Ariel Lawhon has done just that!

Audio thoughts:
This was a great book to listen to and John Lee was the perfect narrator for it. I found his voice to be calm and steady throughout and he gave each character their own unique voice. I enjoyed listening to him and to this audio book.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Review: Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre

Title: Three Days and a Life
Author: Pierre Lemaitre
Published: November 2017, MacLehose Press/Quercus
Format: ARC Paperback, 208 pages
Source: Publisher
In 1999, in the small provincial town of Beauval, France, twelve-year-old Antoine Courtin accidentally kills a young neighbor boy in the woods near his home. Panicked, he conceals the body and to his relief--and ongoing shame--he is never suspected of any connection to the child's disappearance. 

But the boy's death continues to haunt him, shaping his life in unseen ways. More than a decade later, Antoine is living in Paris, now a young doctor with a fiancee and a promising future. On a rare trip home to the town he hates and fears, Antoine thoughtlessly sleeps with a beautiful young woman from his past. She shows up pregnant at his doorstep in Paris a few months later, insisting that they marry, but Antoine refuses. 

Meanwhile, the newly discovered body of Antoine's childhood victim means that the case has been reopened, and all of his old fears rush back. Then the young woman's father threatens Antoine with a paternity test--which would almost certainly match the DNA found on the dead child's body. Will Antoine finally be forced to confront his crime? And what is he prepared to do to keep his secrets buried in the past?

My thoughts: This is my second Pierre Lemaitre book and I have to say, I was once again blown away by the quality of his writing. While the two books of his that I have now read are quite different, I do have to say I am definitely a fan of his works and will certainly be going back to read the rest of his books while I wait to see what comes next!

This book, as compared to the previous book I had read of his, Blood Wedding - which I absolutely loved! - is, in my mind, quite different as it's more of a character study than a psychological thriller. That's not to say that it's not as compelling, but it just has a bit of a different feel. It's still dark, but not quite driven by the crime as much as I feel Blood Wedding is. In a nutshell, Three Days is a very chilling account of what is really a very unfortunate event in the life of a child that is then compounded again and again. 

I think what kept me engaged in this story is that the suspense is not in your face but rather it builds ever so slowly. Most of the story takes place over the course of three days, right after the first unfortunate event...when Antoine is haunted by what he has done, but is not sure what he should do now. We are privy to Antoine's every thought and action...should he turn himself in, should he run away...we know all his plans and fears. And as all this is going on, you find yourself constantly in flux as to how you feel about this character - who after all is a child himself, but one who has committed the worst sin. You find yourself alternating between sympathy for him and then wanting him to turn himself in...that's what I found to be so crazy! How truly remarkable this writer is to make me feel that way.

This book is so unlike anything I've read before. It's so not cut and dry. It's not black and white. There are shades of gray will feel sympathy for Antoine, you will rage against him. You will feel many things for him, but most importantly, this book will make you think! And that is what I love...I love a book that makes me think. This is not a twisty, fast-paced crime thriller by any means, but rather an intense, character-driven tale about how guilt over one senseless act can impact the rest of your life. 

Two different books by this author have really made quite an impression on me and now I cannot wait to read more by him. I really need to get my hands on his Camille trilogy - have you read them yet? And I hope to hear that he has another book in the works I am definitely a fan!!!


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Review: The Missing by C.L. Taylor

Title: The Missing
Author: C.L. Taylor
Published: November 2017, William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: ARC Paperback, 496 pages
Source: Publisher

A harrowing psychological thriller about a missing teenage boy whose mother must expose the secrets within their own family if she wants to find her son—perfect for fans of Reconstructing Amelia.

You love your family. They make you feel safe. You trust them. Or do you…?

When fifteen-year-old Billy Wilkinson goes missing in the middle of the night, his mother, Claire Wilkinson, blames herself. She’s not the only one. There isn’t a single member of Billy’s family that doesn’t feel guilty. But the Wilkinsons are so used to keeping secrets from one another that it isn’t until six months later, after an appeal for information goes horribly wrong, that the truth begins to surface.

Claire is sure of two things—that Billy is still alive and that her friends and family had nothing to do with his disappearance.

A mother’s instinct is never wrong. Or is it…?

Combining an unreliable narrator and fast-paced storytelling, The Missing is a chilling novel of psychological suspense that will thoroughly captivate and obsess readers.

My thoughts: This is the first book I've read by C.L. Taylor and I can definitely tell you - it will not be the last! I was captivated from the first page and despite the fact that this book is quite the chunkster, coming in at almost 500 pages, I flew through has you frantically flipping the pages, desperate to get to the bottom of what really happened.

I think what I loved most about this book is that it constantly kept me on my toes. I felt as  though there was always something new being uncovered that would cause me to change the way I was thinking about what really happened to young Billy Wilkinson and that made the book all the more engaging. I didn't know who I could trust and I loved that there were so many secrets that just kept coming out. This book is just chock full of them!

The characters in this book are so vivid and real - they are all flawed and deeply affected by what has happened to Billy and are struggling in their own ways. Their pain and grief is palpable. Claire, Billy's mother, and the main narrator of the story, is at times unreliable and this makes you question her, especially when she starts having amnesiac episodes. They are quite frightening, but is it trauma that is causing it or just the stress of her son being missing? 

I thought I had figured things out a few times, only to be completely gobsmacked when it was finally revealed what had actually happened. I would never in a million years guessed that ending...and I loved that! That to me is why I love and continue to read these types of books - they keep me thinking all the way through...they challenge me and keep me on my toes. And now I definitely have to pick up more of C.L. Taylor's books, especially if they are anything like this one!

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