Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Books I have read

Don’t You Cry – Mary Kubica (Blog Tour)

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller

Blog Tour Banner Don't You Cry

When Quinn Collins realises that her dependable flat-mate, Esther Vaughan is not at home where she left her the night before, nursing a minor ailment, she is at first far more confused than concerned. That Esther has left her phone behind and the door to the fire-escape open, causes her moments of disquiet which slowly build into anxiety that something bad has happened. With the Chicago police not moved to do a great deal Quinn starts playing detective and finds letters that seem to indicate that Esther wasn’t the friend Quinn thought she was.

In a small town in Michigan Alex Gallo is working as a dishwasher, left behind by his school friends as he had to work to keep a roof above his, and his father’s heads. Alex’s father is a drunk. One day a girl Alex names pearl walks into the diner where he works and Alex develops a huge crush on Pearl and starts to take a real interest in her life. She reciprocates his offer of friendship but who is she and where has she come from?

With Quinn narrating the section in Chicago, we learn as much about her as we do Esther and likewise in Michigan, Alex reveals so much about his past, his present and his future which seems unrelentingly bleak. A boy with a brain but no prospects and doing odd-jobs for a woman with disabling agoraphobia; playing cards with her is the highlight of his week.

This is a far slower paced book than Mary Kubica’s previous two novels, but despite not being action-packed as the story unfolds the underlying darkness gradually comes into focus but not so much so that I had any clear idea what was ultimately going to be revealed. This is one of those books that should be held up of a good example of how to write a book that is compelling reading without being full of fancy techniques or non-stop action. I really wanted to find out what was behind Esther’s disappearance and whether Quinn’s suspicions were going to prove to be true. Mary Kubica is a master at making you look in one direction for clues and certainties and then sneaking up behind you to present an alternate possibility and I really do love it when a book convincingly deceives me.

When the storyline is light on action you do need solid characters to hold the reader’s interest and the people living amongst these pages were certainly convincing. The shades of their personalities came through in their own doubts; neither Alex nor Quinn were blessed with over-confidence and the confusion about the situations they found themselves in was only too believable. Thankfully despite the two young adults narration it was far from over-burdened with navel-gazing instead we see most of this from the way they interact with others around them.

As you know I don’t usually say much about the ending – this one was convincing and definitely borne out of the pages which preceded it or in other words, the clues were there; albeit buried! This is Mary Kubica’s third book and I was exceptionally impressed by the previous two; The Good Girl and Pretty Baby and once again the author has shown how versatile a writer she is, a different type of psychological thriller, a different structure and yet another great read. Mary Kubica is firmly on my list of must-read authors.

I was delighted to receive a copy of Don’t You Cry from the publishers Harlequin, this unbiased review is my thank you to them. Don’t You Cry was published on 19 May 2016.

I’m on the organised blog tour for Don’t You Cry today so if you want to find out more do go and visit the other posts!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Last Days of Summer – Vanessa Ronan

Crime Fiction 3*s
Crime Fiction

I have to say this is one of the hardest books I’ve had to review for a long time because I have such mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it is full of beautiful language, on the other, it is in short, a brutal read. In fact I feel sullied after reading it; does that make it good or bad?

We meet Jasper Curtis as he is being released from Huntsville State Penitentiary after serving a ten-year sentence. He is returning to his boyhood home, a home where his sister Lizzie lives with her teenage daughter Katie, and younger daughter Joanne who has vacated her room for her uncle. Lizzie’s husband and father to the girls, left many years ago and up until now they have been a threesome.

Vanessa Ronan does a fantastic job of creating a sense of place in rural America in land surrounded by prairies. The identity of the town and its inhabitants is steadily reinforced by the liberal use of apostrophes across the page during dialogue, something that I can find irritating but in this novel it really worked well to reinforce the setting. And what a setting it is, I don’t think anything lends itself better to crime fiction than a small town setting where everyone knows everyone else, and in this novel in particular, nothing is ever forgotten.

The characters, well what can I say except that they are a rum old bunch! We have the convict, the bitter sister, the teenage girl who think she knows everything and yet understands so little, the Reverend who speaks for the community, not God and a multitude of others who will never forgive the crime Jasper Curtis committed. The only one that was remotely likeable was eleven year old Joanne, and to be honest that is mainly because she is the only innocent in the whole book. Now just because I didn’t like the characters doesn’t mean I wasn’t able to understand some of them, but… and this is the biggie, Jasper is a repulsive man whose views on women in particular made my skin crawl, hence my opening statement about feeling uneasy about how to rate this book. I didn’t enjoy one little book how uncomfortable it made me feel but it did make an enormous impression precisely because of that!

The author increases the tension in a number of ways from the slow incremental hinting at what Jasper really did all those years ago along with a multitude of other half-kept secrets, to the raw anger that bubbles not far below the surface of Jasper and so the feeling of dread grows under her masterful pen. With no chapters to give the reader a comfortable spot to take a break and despite the story which at times seemed to move incrementally forward, I would have thought the switch between character’s viewpoints more prone to pull me out of the story than was actually evident. As the summer rolls on and tensions rise, at least we have a full view of Jasper and his family’s thoughts and feelings and all of this against the background of searing heat in a drought.

Please don’t be fooled by the cover, this is not the gentle story of redemption I was expecting, some of this book shocking even for this seasoned reader of crime-fiction. Be warned if you are averse to overt violence, you will struggle!

Am I glad I read this book? Honestly, I’m still not sure but it definitely is one that I will remember and perhaps in time as the shocks subside I will look back on this book more fondly than I currently feel which explains the middle of the road star rating.

I’d like to say thank you to Penguin Ireland who kindly sent me a copy of The Last Days of Summer. This, my honest opinion (although half-formed) is my thank you to them.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Missing Pieces – Heather Gudenkauf

Psychological Thriller 3*s
Psychological Thriller

I am a fan of Heather Gudenkauf and was eagerly awaiting this, her latest novel to read especially as the premise was a gripping one and it looked like it explored family secrets and lies, one of my favourite devices!

Sarah accompanies her husband Jack back to his home-town following his Aunt Julia’s hospitalisation following a fall at her home. Julia and her husband Hal had cared for Jack and his sister Amy following the death of his parents while Jack was still in his teens. The family was close but in twenty years of marriage this was the first time that the couple had returned to Penny Gate in Iowa. Once there Sarah, an investigative reporter soon realises that her husband has lied to her over the years and that’s when he hasn’t just refused to talk to her.

As Julia is ill in hospital and the family are turning on Amy who is clearly in a highly emotional state which is exacerbating a mental fragility, Sarah decides to find the missing pieces from the jigsaw that is the life of Jack Quinlan and what she starts to unearth quickly convinces her that Penny Gate is not a safe place she wants to be.
Unfortunately I’m afraid Missing Pieces didn’t quite live up to my expectations although I did need to read to the end to find out if my suspicions were correct; some were, some weren’t! The main issue I had was that the characters in this book, particularly Jack and Sarah who were a fairly unconvincing long-married couple. This combined with the fact that Sarah went into emotional melt-down on realising she hadn’t been told about one of Jack’s high-school girlfriends didn’t help. Now don’t get me wrong there were plenty of things that Jack should have discussed with her years ago but her response to this piece of news was far more fitting a teenager in a new relationship than one underpinned by twenty years of marriage.

While Sarah is out investigating what else Jack has hidden from her she meets the clerk, Margaret from the Sherriff’s office. This kind upstanding lady proceeds to risk her job, and one would presume the good-will of those around her by sharing information and files with Julia but she goes for it, just as well because without those missing pieces the truth would never have come out.

This wasn’t a bad read it just didn’t have much depth and although the characters were a little thinly-drawn the plot was good although you will note that I have some scientism on the methods used to move it along, and without spoiling the story there were many strands that the author kept sufficiently tangled to give serious misdirection on many aspects of the book. There was certainly enough points that kept my interest and it was perfect for a travelling day when books are opened and shut with alarming frequency as I moved to different modes of transport and their associated waiting areas.

I’d like to thank the publishers Harlequin UK for giving me a copy of Missing Pieces ahead of publication on 10 March 2016.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Ex – Alafair Burke

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction

Those of you who read my blog regularly have probably realised that my preferred location for crime fiction is the UK and although I’m not adverse to fiction from other lands per se, when it comes to how crimes are investigated and tried, I tend towards the UK. I have however recently got (belatedly) hooked on the TV series, The Good Wife, which has given me my sole grounding on the roles of the US defence and prosecution attorneys. So when I opened The Ex and was immediately introduced to the defence attorney, Olivia Randall I felt at home. Olivia is rung by the teenage Buckley Harris to ask her to help her father who is talking to the New York Police Department following a shooting in a nearby park.

Olivia had been in a serious relationship with said Jack Harris and has harboured guilt about the end of their relationship ever since. It is quickly established that Jack was at the park, he’s been caught on CCTV and the police soon come up with what seems like an excellent motive, one of the victims was the father of the boy who shot his beloved wife Molly in a mass shooting three years earlier. Jack with other families caught up in this earlier shooting were suing the father, but this had just been dismissed as no case to answer. Jack is confident all will be ok, after all he has an alibi of sorts, a good if totally bizarre reason to be at the park. Surely this misunderstanding will soon be cleared up?

This novel had me longing to know more with enough dilemmas to keep me questioning, not only whether Jack was guilty or not but also how wise Olivia was to take on the case given their shared background, albeit one that had ended on a sour note some twenty years before. The pace is good with the revelations if not coming thick and fast, in a steady drip so that if you are like me your opinion will change about the main protagonists a number of times before the finale. But best of all for me, was the courtroom drama which was a mirror image of an episode of The Good Wife with Olivia coming up with alternative scenarios to ensure that, despite the seemingly iron-clad evidence the prosecution have unveiled, that Jack will go home to care for his teenage daughter Buckley. All of this isn’t helped that her own investigations make Olivia herself wonder how well she really knows Jack now, and maybe how well she ever knew him.

I’m not going to pretend that I particularly liked many of the characters, they all, including Olivia had something ‘off’ about them, but I don’t read books to become friends with those who inhabit the pages, I read to be entertained, and this book gave me bucket loads of entertainment as well as a mystery to be solved. And yes, for once I had it worked out, not too early on, but satisfyingly not just before it was finally revealed so as well as a cracking good read, I get a pat on the back!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Faber and Faber who granted my wish on NetGalley which allowed me to read this complex drama that certainly kept my brain working at trying to solve the mystery while giving me a great courtroom drama.

The Ex was published on 2 February 2016 so if this sounds like one you’d enjoy, I suggest you get a copy.