Friday, 28 July 2017

Review: Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

I found this one when it popped up as an advert on my Kindle. I usually zone these out but the title caught my eye. I had the idea it was some kind of paranormal about ghosts - it isn't, not in the traditional sense of the genre anyway. I read a sample, thought 'This is the strangest book I've ever read' but was hooked enough to download the rest.

The first chapter is set in the 16th century and is about Edmund, who is shipwrecked and dies before he can reach the shores of America. The next chunk of book is a thriller set in Chicago in the present day, where a sniper has the inhabitants terrified. Special Agent Will Brody and his boss (and lover) Claire McCoy are desperately trying to find him before he can claim his next victim. The blurb on the back of the book gives the next victim away as Will himself. The clue is also in the title, right? But that doesn't necessarily mean the end of Will ...

This story is a mash up of a crime thriller and horror/fantasy, so I can see why the reviews are mixed. The first chapter you think you're reading a horror/fantasy, the next chunk turns into a thriller, then we're into paranormal/fantasy. It shouldn't work but it does. On the cover it says "Imagine the love story of the movie Ghost dropped into The Matrix" and yes, I can see this book appealing to fans of The Matrix (perhaps not so much Ghost!). Also fans of Stephen King (The Gunslinger), Philip Pullman (The Subtle Knife), TV shows such as Supernatural (the hunt for a monster that's not quite understood) and The Waking Dead (a community fighting against a supernatural enemy) - although there are no zombies; the Eaters (enemy) in this story feed on energy/souls.

There is romance between Brody and Claire, but it doesn't dominate the story. There is a little bit of humour. There are a few sex scenes. There is a bit of violence but not too much gore. It's not science fiction and it's not a ghost story, even though most of the characters are dead. Are you still with me?

The only negative for me was that I felt the author, after setting up these amazing alternative realities, didn't know quite how to wrap it all up. I would have liked a longer story, or maybe a trilogy.

Verdict? Seriously weird, totally brilliant! I would definitely recommend it - but it might be worth downloading a sample first to make sure it's the kind of thing you would like too!

Thank you to Marcus Sakey, Thomas & Mercer and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Review: Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Then She Was Gone is a clever psychological suspense about a mother who has never given up hope of finding her missing daughter.

Ellie Mack disappeared ten years ago and the rest of her family, particularly her mother Laurel, have never recovered from the shock. Laurel's marriage crumbled and her relationship with her other children deteriorated until it was non-existent. Now Laurel finally has the strength to move on. She meets a handsome, funny, clever man and begins to fall in love. And then meets his young daughter, Poppy, who is the spitting image of Ellie ...

I usually avoid books about missing children, but the premise of this one intrigued me. As I read the story I thought I had the end all worked out - and I did, to a point. There were some twists that surprised even me. I got about a third of the way through the book, thought I'd just read another chapter before bedtime - and didn't put it down until I'd finished the story at 1.00 am. And then lay awake for another hour thinking about it! It really is that gripping.

I can't say much more because I don't want to spoil it for you. I can't even say it's like a cross between 'x' and 'y', because then you'll work out where the author is going with the story and it will be more fun for you going in without a clue. So I'll just say that if you love well-written psychological suspense you are in for a treat! Recommended!

Thank you to Lisa Jewell, Cornerstone Digital and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Review: The Killings at Badger's Drift (Midsomer Murders Mystery #1) by Caroline Graham

I love the Midsomer Murders TV series (I've probably seen every episode), so I'm not sure why I've never read any of the books that the series was based on. Surprisingly there are only seven of them. This is the first, and I picked it up on Kindle for only 99p. Doing my usual read-a-series-in-the-wrong-order thing, I'd somehow already bought #2 in paperback sometime previously. 

The Killings at Badger's Drift (great title!) is a contemporary cosy crime/murder mystery written in a similar style to Agatha Christie. When I started reading I found it a little old-fashioned, but that is because I hadn't realised it was originally written in 1987. The idea of a Detective Chief Inspector doing door-to-door enquiries (although the reason is explained in the story), and the way everyone happily tramples over a crime scene, made me smile. Having said that, it is darker and funnier than the kind of cosy crime published recently, and once I got into it I couldn't put it down. The mix of characters, who all had plausible motives for murder, were so beautifully drawn - the Rainbirds, in particular, were genius. I hadn't got a clue who the villain was and I was completely in awe at the way the intricate plot strands all came together. It's a masterclass in cosy crime.

When retired school-teacher goes orchid-hunting in the local woods, she sees something she shouldn't - and is murdered for it. Only her best friend Lucy Bellringer (a nod to Miss Marple?) is convinced her death was unnatural, and she persuades Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby to investigate - with the help of his sidekick, Detective Sergeant Troy (who inadvertently provides much of the humour).

I loved this book and I'm really looking forward to reading the next one in the series. Recommended for anyone who likes classic, contemporary murder mysteries, and for fans of authors like Agatha Christie. (And I love the cover!)

Friday, 21 July 2017

Review: Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

I'm a huge fan of Kathy Reichs. I've read and loved all her books. I couldn't wait to read this one, a standalone featuring reluctant private investigator Sunday Night. Yes, I know, that name! It grated on me at first, then I got used to it, and then at the end of the story it was explained how she came by it and all made sense. I'm not sure whether this will be the start of a new series. I do hope so, because I loved the character of 'Sunnie'!

As Kathy Reichs says in her introduction, Sunnie has a 'dark outlook and an even darker past', and I found that intriguing. Ex-military and ex-police, Sunnie now lives a hermit's life on a 'skinny strip of sand' known as Goat Island with only a squirrel (Bob!) for company. She'd have been perfectly happy to stay that way, but her mentor turns up with a job for her. An extremely wealthy, elderly lady wants Sunnie to locate her granddaughter, missing after a terrorist attack on a school.

Sunnie is a completely different character to that of Tempe Brennan, which I liked. She is awkward and mouthy, and has a wisecrack for every occasion. She also talks in very short, staccato sentences, which makes this a very quick read. It reminded me of the old 1940s 'gumshoe' detective novels. Sunnie has a bad habit of rushing in without a thought for the consequences, so it's lucky she has her far more laid-back brother, Gus, to help out. Is this why the story is called Two Nights? Not quite ...

I wasn't so keen on the plot - rescue the old lady's granddaughter and track down the terrorists before they could strike again. Personal preference here. There have been similar real-life attacks recently, and I prefer the books I read to have more of an element of escapism. Also, the pace was a mix of fast (as they rushed from city to city) and slow (stake-outs), and I think I preferred the steadier mystery-solving approach of the Tempe Brennan books. But there are some excellent twists, some funny one-liners and I did love Sunnie! And there were also tips on how to hack into someone's email, which I'm sure will come in handy one day ...

Thank you to Kathy Reichs, Cornerstone Digital and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Review: The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase

During the hot summer of 1959, Margot and her three sisters are dumped at Applecote Manor by their feckless mother - and into the care of their aunt and uncle, whose own young daughter disappeared five years previously. It is unsettling for them, not least because their cousin Audrey still 'haunts' the house; her bedroom is as she left it, her parents have obviously never got over the shock, and the villagers regard the family with deep suspicion.

In the present day, Jessie and Will are hoping for a new start in the now ramshackle Applecote Manor, along with their young daughter Romy, and Will's rebellious teenage daughter Bella.

I loved everything about this book. It ticked every box for me: family secrets, an old mystery and a spooky house. I found the 1959 timeline authentic and totally absorbing. By contrast, it was the present day part that felt more dreamlike - but in a good way! This concentrated on the increasing tensions between Jessie and Will, and the never-that-great-to-begin-with relationship between Jessie and her step-daughter, whom she can never quite bring herself to trust. When Bella becomes obsessed with the history of the house, and the teenage girl who disappeared sixty years previously, Jessie feels own her grip on reality begin to unravel. Will the sinister atmosphere of the house destroy them? And will the tragic events of sixty years ago start to repeat themselves?

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde* is part coming-of-age, part gothic mystery/romance, and part psychological suspense. It's brilliantly written, with memorable characters, and is very cleverly plotted. I loved the relationships between the four sisters, the sibling rivalry over the village boys, and the way they ultimately looked out for each other. For fans of Kate Morton, Daphne du Maurier, and perhaps Shirley Jackson too. One of my favourite reads this year.

Thank you to Eve Chase, Michael Joseph and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

*Published as The Wilding Sisters in the USA.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

I downloaded How to Stop Time because I follow Matt Haig on Twitter. He's funny and entertaining, but also talks honestly about more serious issues. I'd never read any of his books before but the sound of this one intrigued me. I knew I'd enjoy it but I was surprised by how much, and I started recommending it to my friends before I'd even finished it.

For some reason I'd got it into my head it was about time travel - it isn't. It's hard to explain the story without giving away too much of the plot, but basically our hero, Tom, was born in 1581, the son of aristocratic French immigrants. His father was killed in the religious wars, and Tom and his mother are now scraping a living in Suffolk. But Tom has a secret that in those days could get you killed. He ages at about the rate of one year to everyone else's fifteen. When the story continues in the present day, he still appears as though he's only in his early forties.

How to Stop Time reminded me a bit of that old 1980s movie Highlander (only without the beheadings!) as Tom tries to live his life throughout the centuries, forced to be constantly on the move in case he is found out, and trying not to fall in love. And  I loved the way he kept accidentally bumping into famous historical figures!

What I particularly enjoyed was that it read almost like a collection of short stories. We are shown glimpses of Tom's past life mixed in with his present one as a history teacher. It's like that old 'gather around the fireside and I'll tell you a story'.

The writing is fabulous, I loved all the quirky historical facts and pertinent things Tom has to say about how we live our lives in the 21st century. It was one of those books I really didn't want to end and I'd have loved to have heard more of  Tom's stories about the past.


Thank you to Matt Haig, Canongate Books and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Review: The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

I couldn't resist downloading this one because of the beautiful cover, the clever title, and the fact that it is about time travel! I read so many books it is a joy to find something that's just that little bit different!

Luna has always known she's a bit odd. She's grown used to seeing people that no one else can, and assumes they're either hallucinations or ghosts. Then her mother dies, leaving a cryptic message for Luna to 'find her' in her childhood home - Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Yet when Luna arrives in America her hallucinations grow worse. But what if they're not hallucinations? What if she has the ability to slide through time? What if she can meet her mother, just before the moment that ruined her life? What if Luna can actually go back and change the past?

The Summer of Impossible Things is part The Time Traveller's Wife, part Back to the Future. It's about a daughter's love for her mother and how one moment can change your life - but what if you can change it back? And if you muck that up, can you try again? And what about the consequences?

It's hard to talk about this book without revealing spoilers. So I'll just say that I loved the characters and I loved the setting, and I particularly loved Mrs Finkle and Michael. I even loved the way the author sneakily played the writer's equivalent of the three card trick when I wasn't paying attention! 

The Summer of Impossible Things is a beautiful, magical story that I didn't want to put down and I certainly didn't want to end. There's a romance and a mystery, and just when you think you've worked out how the story is going to end - well, no spoilers, right? 

One of my favourite reads this year. Recommended!

Thank you to Rowan Coleman, Ebury Press and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.