Review: Come Back For Me by Heidi Perks

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Genre: Thriller

Similar to: Now You See Her, The Girl on the Train… all the usual suspects

Could be enjoyed by: Thriller fans – this is definitely a good example of the genre 

Publication date: 1st June 2019

I feel like I need to start this review with an apology – I received an email giving me super early access to read this book AGES ago and I’ve only just got round to writing the review. Luckily I’ve just about managed to beat the publishing date soooo…. yay? Ooops? Not really sure. Anyway, life has taken over a bit from the blog recently so I’m sorry that I’ve not been around much and I’m sorry that it’s taken me until now to write this review – especially as I really enjoyed Come Back For Me.

Grovel over… on to the review!

Stella grew up on a tiny island just off the British mainland and had a seemingly idyllic childhood – think The Famous Five but without the racism. Then one day – completely out of the blue – her Dad decides that they all have to leave, despite the huge storm that makes it totally unsafe to travel. Despite the fact that the family survive the ferry crossing to the mainland, they’re oddly changed by their move. Stella’s parents split up, her brother moves away and severs contact, her mother dies. She has no idea what happened and longs for her picture perfect childhood home. Then one day she spots her old house on the news – it seems that a body has been found buried in the garden. Stella is both horrified and intrigued and as she struggles to understand the implications of the discovery, she realises that it’s not just human remains that have been uncovered – it’s a web of family secrets too.

I really love the way that Heidi Perks writes. Her descriptions of the island and it’s inhabitants were brilliant and I could see the kind of utopia that she’d created – all children doing wholesome activities like climbing trees whilst their mothers baked bread and hung out the washing. There was a real risk that her setting could have felt too old-fashioned for the 1990’s but it was just the right side of modern but cozy.

The family exodus takes places in the first chapter and my heart was absolutely in my mouth. The writing was so tight and the situation so dangerous that it really kicked things off with a bang. It opened up numerous possibilities for the reasons behind the family needing to urgently leave and I loved how I was immediately drawn into the novel, inventing my own theories as to what had happened straight away.

As the book progressed, the tension built brilliantly and there was a good number of red herrings thrown in to the twisty turny plot that kept me constantly re-evaluating what I thought I knew. I loved the way that island setting slowly moved away being safe and secure to being smotheringly claustrophobic once secrets started to be revealed. I actually struggled to put the book down, so much so that I put off doing some major household tasks so that I could sneakily finish it off. Sorry bathroom ceiling, you’ll have to wait for that final coat of paint!

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Come Back for Me and thought that it was a thoroughly engaging read. My only issue with the novel was with the name of the island – Evergreen. Guess what I was singing in my head every time it was mentioned…

 

 

Four “We’re gonna take this life and make it…” out of five

Really addictive, exciting and fast paced – a hard book to put down.


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of NetGalley and Penguin Random House. Thanks to Natalia Cacciatore for giving me advanced access!

 

Review: Lullaby by Leila Slimani

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“The baby is dead, It only took a few seconds.”

Genre: Domestic thriller

Similar to: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Could be enjoyed by: The happily child free (the book hits very close to home)

Publication date: 18th August 2016

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #10 Read a translated book written by and/or translated by a woman.

I’d heard a lot about Lullaby from various different sources; what with it being the genre-du-jour (domestic thriller) and the winner of the Prix Goncourt there seemed to be a lot of buzz about it. So when I saw it in the library I couldn’t wait to start reading it – and I can honestly say that the book is well deserving of the hype.

Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, is the mother of two children. Her and her husband Paul vowed not to let the kids dictate their lives but since becoming a parent Myriam has struggled with her role as stay-at-home-mum. She decides to return to work and employs Louise, a seemingly Mary-Poppins-perfect nanny. Louise is all the things that Myriam isnt; a great cook, a calm and efficient caregiver, a neat and tidy individual who leaves the apartment looking better than it ever has. But as Louise works her way further and further into Myriam and Paul’s lives, they slowly realise that no-one is perfect…

I’ve just finished reading Lullaby and I honestly couldn’t put it down. The book is super tense – claustrophobic even, written in an unusual style (you know what happens in the first few pages; the narrative then goes back to examine the events that led up to it). Even though the characters are all horrible people, you get completely drawn into their lives and I spent the whole book trying to psychologically profile them and even apportioning blame (which is a terrible, judgemental thing to do, even to fictional characters). But that’s part of the book’s charm – it forces you to look at the judgement surrounding child-rearing and it magnifies each and every lazy stereotype that we have of the clueless father, the selfish career woman, the stay-at-home mum, the immigrant domestic help, the borgeoise children, the educated liberal elite… I could go on.

I loved the different cultural norms that were explored, especially in relation to race and social status and I think that perspective could have only been written so sensitively by an author of colour. For example, at one point Myriam states that she doesn’t want to hire a nanny with the same heritage as her because their shared culture and language would create an uncomfortable intimacy. Whilst I can understand this on some level – I guess it’s a bit like employing your friends – I would never have considered the tension that this could create and blithely assumed that Myriam would want her children to be as entrenched in their dual heritage as possible. That’s another of my lazy assumptions challenged!

I listened to a podcast where Lullaby was being discussed and one of the contributors said that she had to DNF the book because it hit too close to home. I can completely understand that – the book is an exploration of imperfect family life, guilt about not being a good enough mother and having the worst thing that can happen to you actually happen – in graphic detail – so it obviously hits quite a lot of sensitive areas. There’s no doubting that it’s a disturbing read. Several scenes made my skin crawl and as Myriam starts to see Louise in a new light I could viscerally feel her revulsion.

The ending is not for everyone but I enjoyed the open-ended finish. Again, you’re left to draw your own conclusions and I appreciated not having any kind of moral judgement or explanation foisted upon me.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Lullaby and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fast paced domestic thriller – as long as they had a strong stomach.

 

Four “The chicken carcass scene will haunt me forever”s out of five.

Thrillingly fast paced, enthralling but with just the right amount of disturbing imagery, Lullaby is a fantastic read.   

 

 

 

Review: Now You See Her by Heidi Perks

“A missing girl. Two sides, one truth”

Genre: Mystery and thriler

Similar to: Every other “domestic thriller” with a blue cover and yellow writing (why this combination?)

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of blue books with yellow titles

Publication date: 26th July 2018

So it seems that domestic thrillers are fast becoming a guilty pleasure of mine. Yes, they’re genre so essentially follow a tried and tested formula but when they’re well written they’re utterly addictive – and luckily for me, Now You See Her is completely, totally unputdownable. In fact, I read it in one sitting (I say read – guiltily consumed it when I should have been working is more accurate). Therefore, I’m marking it as a bathtub book – as in, run a bath and be prepared not to move for the next three hours ☺.

The story focuses on Charlotte, a busy mum of three kids. Two weeks ago was the day of the school fete, when she agreed to look after her hyper-protective friend Harriet’s little girl along with her own children. Harriet’s daughter goes missing and Charlotte is beside herself – but is she actually guilty of negligence or is there something else going on? The book alternates between the events of two weeks ago, Harriet’s childhood and the present day and as it progresses we are slowly drip fed information about what has really happened. And seriously – a lot of shit has gone down.

I LOVED the way that Now You See Her was written. Heidi Perks did a fantastic job of writing such well-rounded, believable characters and built the tension up through the narrative brilliantly. I thought that the reactions of all of the characters was utterly believable and the sense of dread and panic was palpable. I also liked the way that the novel alternated between then and now – I’m not always a fan of a time slip but this one was easy to follow and didn’t require an idetic memory to establish whereabouts in the timeframe each chapter was taking place. In a lot of ways the book reminded me of a less complex Big Little Lies, but faster paced and with more drama. High praise indeed!

I really empathised with Charlotte’s character. She wasn’t perfect but she seemed very real – just an ordinary busy mum trying to keep all of her plates spinning. As the novel progressed and we found out more about Harriet she went from being a slightly annoying, one dimensional woman (the classic no-fun mum) to a complex, ambiguous individual with a disturbing past and an even more disturbing present. I really liked how the characters were played off against each other as it added to the drama and the twist at the end made me want to stand up and cheer. 

I wasn’t a huge fan of the “now it’s a year later let’s see how everyone’s getting on” final chapter as it felt a bit flat after all of the drama – but that’s only a minor criticism. 

Overall I thought that Now You See Her was a great novel – not hugely original but completely engrossing and would make a fab beach read.

Rating: Four “I’m on my way – honestly’s!” out of five

A total page turner of a novel – a great holiday book. Just don’t start reading it if you have immediate plans.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!

 

Review: Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

“Cross my heart and hope to die”

Genre: Fiction/Mystery and Thriller

Similar to: The Girl on the Train, The Lie, Dr. Foster

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of domestic thrillers (they all seem a bit samey to me but this one is written particularly well)

Publication date: 14 May 2018

I really enjoyed Sarah Pinborough’s last book “Behind Her Eyes” (#WTFthatending) so I was excited to see her latest offering. I’m pleased to report that this novel did not disappoint. I’m a weird way, these domestic thrillers are becoming a bit of a guilty pleasure – I love the way you can speed through them because you can’t wait to see what happens next (although the non-hubs is less appreciative when I’m still reading at 2am and he wants to go to sleep). I do find that the quality within this genre is pretty variable though, so I was relieved to find that Cross Her Heart was within the upper percentile of my personal bell curve of likeability. 

Yay! 


Cross Her Heart is about a single mum, Lisa, living with her daughter Ava. They seem to have a pretty normal, happy relationship although Lisa can be a bit over protective. However, weird things start happening – familiar baby toys then up, a photo is smashed when the house is empty – and Lisa begins to panic. As she starts to link these instances together we learn more of her past until events conspire to make her history public. When the truth does out, it seems like the whole world turns against Lisa – just when she needs help the most. 

Oh, and there’s obviously a dramatic ending that you definitely don’t see coming. Obviously. 

The writing in this book is excellent, really pacey and consistent. One of my major bugbears is incongruous details – things that don’t quite add up or appear to be thrown in as a big obvious red herring and, happily, there’s none of that. As I mentioned, I’d previously read Behind Her Eyes (look, there’s a review and everything) and because of the way that book ended I couldn’t help thinking that there would be a similar theme. That took me off on a completely different – and entirely wrong – tangent (presumably deliberate) which I thought was a very subtle and very clever way of misleading your reader. Top marks, Ms Pinborough!  

I really liked all of the main characters in this book and I loved how the different relationships were portrayed. Some of the mother/teenage daughter scenes were cringily reminiscent of my own adolescence, where I was also full of irrational rage and certain that I had the most overbearing mother in the world (I didn’t – sorry Mum). I also really like the female friendships and the way that the two female characters had each others backs no matter what. However, the thing that stood out for me was the way that domestic violence and coercive control was written about – I thought Sarah Pinborough did a brilliant job of showing such an accurate portrayal. 

On the downside, there’s often a part of the storyline in thrillers where you have to suspend your disbelief for a second and I will say that I found the ending just a tiny, tiny bit unbelievable – although the author clearly recognises this and does her best to make it seem realistic. At least you won’t see it coming!

If you haven’t read this book, I would recommend that you read Behind Her Eyes first – they’re both completely stand alone novels but knowing how Sarah Pinborough writes really expanded my ideas about how her second book would end – and this absolutely added to the drama *happy face*. 

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Cross Her Heart. It’s never going to make it as classic fiction, but in a crowded marketplace this book ticks all the right boxes. I’m now a full on fan of Sarah Pinborough and can’t wait to see what she does next!


Rating: Four teenage temper tantrums out of five.

Pacey, addictive writing with realistic portrayals of women, female relationships and – amazingly – very little information about the size of their boobs. I mean, it was a struggle but I just about managed to picture the characters despite not knowing this vital information. Revelation!  


Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!

 

Review: The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

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Picture courtesy of Goodreads

I don’t know what’s happening to me. I am notoriously stingy when it comes to dishing out stars for my book reviews. I’m happy to rant and rave about a novel but still give it four stars because there’s usually some tiny details that I feel could be improved upon. However, I recently gave a five star review (for The Girl in the Tower) and…uh oh….I think it’s happening again! Aargh!

I would define The Woman in the Window as a dark thriller (I just made that category up, I don’t know if it’s real or not). It’s being made into a film (yes, even before it’s release as a book – I think that tells you everything you need to know). Unusually, I am actually looking forwards to the film because the book is so cinematic and has so many other film noir references that I think it could be made to look like a beautiful black and white Hitchcock style movie. I doubt this will actually happen but it would look AMAZING. Just saying, all-the-Hollywood-producers-who-don’t-read-my-blog.

The book stars (do books have stars?) Anna, a psychologist living with agoraphobia which is so severe that she can’t leave the house. Unable to work and with alcohol dependency issues, she finds solace in online communities talking to other people in similar positions. Anna is also an avid watcher of people and knows everything that’s going on in her neighbourhood with the help of her trusty zoom lens camera. Most of the events that she glimpses are fairly mundane, until she spots what she believes to be a crime happening in the house next door. However, Anna’s diet of merlot and anti depressants make her a thoroughly unreliable narrator. Did she see what she thought she did? Is her mind playing tricks on her?

I read this book almost in one go, it was *that* good. Unfortunately, I started it in the bath, which made for one very cold and tired Lucinda so if you do decide to give it a read then please, make yourself comfortable before you begin. I really did find the novel unputdownable, it was so fast paced and there was so many twists and turns that kept me guessing right to the end. I did half work out part of what was going on but there was still enough red herrings included to make the outcome utterly unpredictable.

It’s at this point that I feel I should mention the elephant in the room – the comparison to Gone Girl. I fully expect the advertising for this book to begin with the line “fans of Gone Girl will love…” and it’s true that the overall “domestic drama” tag can be applied to both novels. Despite the similarities (unreliable narrator, female-centric, lots of twists and turns) there are also a lot of differences. Gone Girl is very much a 21st century novel, whereas The Woman in the Window has a much more vintage feel. Gone Girl has a major twist, The Woman in the Window has lots of little twists that help you to gradually build a picture of what’s going on. Gone Girl has a bit of a let down ending, The Woman in the Window finishes with a real bang. I loved both books but it’s important to note that The Woman in the Window is not the next Gone Girl, but a brilliant thriller in its own right.

I loved how beautifully dark and twisted The Woman in the Window was. Anna’s obsession with old black and white films, the restricted setting, the references to old Hollywood actresses all made the book feel like it was a revision of a play or an adaptation of a script from the 1950’s. I thought that the level of violence was just right – enough to provide a shock but not so much that it’s turned into a gore fest. The overall tone was a sense of foreboding dread, something that I think is really hard to maintain throughout an entire novel but which was dealt with brilliantly by the author.

I adored Anna’s character and I thought that her psychological problems were handled really well. It was good to see a middle class, educated person struggling with their mental health whilst also receiving treatment – usually if a character has money their problems are swept under the carpet. It was great that Anna’s character showed that depression and addiction can affect anyone and can be incredibly difficult to treat, regardless of how much you know your behaviour is irrational and self destructive.

The only teeny tiny criticism that I have of this book is the cover. Seriously, who came up with such a dull picture? I’ve also seen one that features the side of a building’s external fire escape (literally nothing to do with the story). I guess there’s been a very limited budget given to the artwork because I’m sure that once the film is released there’ll be a terrible “Now a major motion picture” cover but still, could they not have come up with something more intriguing in the meantime?

Overall, I absolutely loved this book. It had me gripped from the start and kept me in suspense right to the end. I loved the old Hollywood film noir feel juxtaposed with the gritty realism of alcoholism and depression. A great novel to get lost in.

Rating: 5/5
Just one more chapter!

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #20 Read a book with a cover that you hate.

Review – Fellside by M R Carey

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Photo credit: http://www.goodreads.com

Let’s get this out of the way IMMEDIATELY – this book is not The Girl With All The Gifts. It’s not as fast paced, nowhere near as interesting, the characters are not as well developed, the action isn’t as constant and there are parts where it’s just plain hard to believe.

*so tempted to just write rating: 2/5 and leave it at that*

But I wouldn’t do that….

So, Fellside is the story of Jess, a young heroin addict who is convicted of manslaughter. She has very foggy memories of the event (she is accused of starting a fire which kills a young boy) but through a series of visions/hauntings (not really sure what to call it) and with the help of her legal team she unravells what really happens. That’s kind of the main plot but there are lots of other side stories that take over and tenuously link together. Its all a bit confusing to be honest.

Because the multiple storylines are all smushed together, you would think the action would be a mile a minute – like reading two books at once. Well, you’d be wrong. There were some parts of Fellside that really needed expanding upon – in particular I would have liked a lot more character description as with quite a large cast it was easy to get people confused – and some parts where literally. nothing. happened. and it was so slow and boring that I wanted to give up reading it. Apart from not really getting a sense of the main characters, I also felt that the smaller characters were all pretty bland and samey so it was easy to forget their back stories. This did not help when, at the end, some of these bit parts became pivotal to the storyline – I kept having to flick back to try to work out who was who.

Of the main characters that I could get a handle on, they collectively had very few reedeeming features so I didn’t really care what happened to any of them. I suppose I felt a bit sorry for Jess but she just seemed so bland and hopeless early on that by the time she had picked herself up I really wasn’t that bothered.

I found a lot of the storyline pretty unrealistic. I can deal with the fact that its a supernatural thriller, but there were lots of inconsistencies that made me question what was happening. For example, Jess is really badly injured in the fire and has to have reconstructive surgery on her face. By the accounts of the other characters the success of the surgery is limited by the seriousness of her burns and she is left with a weirdly frozen expression that a lot of her fellow inmates find creepy. And yet, despite having limited interactions with Jess (and when they do meet Jess literally says nothing) her lawyer falls completely in love with her. I’m not saying that Jess’ facial features preclude her from having someone fancy her, but I felt that the insta-love was totally inappropriate given that the characters hardly say two words to each other. Or when Jess is at death’s door early on and you know she can’t die because she’s the main character. Yawn.

I also struggled with how random the plot was. Instead of having exciting twists that you didn’t see coming (where the reader would think ‘oooh! I did not see that coming!’) we instead had bizzare plot detours where you were left thinking ‘what?!?’. I really hated that.

Despite nearly giving up on this book a number of times, I did read it to the end because a) it was part of a reading challenge, b) my friend had leant it to me with the warning ‘it drags on’ and c) my momma didn’t raise no quitters. Perhaps crime thriller/supernatural thriller/horror fans would enjoy it more but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. 

Overall rating: 2/5 (but you knew that already).
Disappointing, hard to believe that this was written by the same author as The Girl With All the Gifts.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #17 Read a book involving a mythical creature.