Sunday, January 28, 2018

The detour by S.A. Bodeen

Life is great for seventeen-year-old Livvy Flynn, she is a bestselling author and living the good life.  Her books are loved by millions, have been translated into other languages, and she has enough money from her book deals to do just about anything she wants.  It's not all a dream life though, being famous means she has to be careful about what she does, and it also means that she has to put on public face and spend time with her fans.  Her dream life comes crashing down when she crashes her new sports car in somewhat spectacular fashion on the way to a writers retreat. 

The crash was bad enough, but when she wakes up she realises that she is in a nightmare that she can't wake up from.  Instead of waking up in a hospital she wakes up in a basement - a basement that includes a woman who demands that Livvy apologises from what she has done.  Terrified and in pain Livvy tries to think about what she could have possibly done to this woman or her daughter and comes up with a blank - could they have targeted her just because she is famous?  As her hopes of being rescued slowly start to fade Livvy has to find the strength to fight for her life in a situation that is increasingly scary and dangerous.  As Livvy tries to stay strong she can't help but relive her past, and if her fans knew what she was remembering they would realise that her life is not as perfect as people think it is.

The detour was yet another thrilling read from S.A. Bodeen, a tensely and sparely written book that has you wondering what could possibly come next for Livvy.  It was all too easy to put yourself in her shoes and wonder a) what could possibly come next, and b) what would I do in the same situation.  Without wanting to give too much away, it becomes clear quite early on that nothing is what it seems, and that Livvy and her perfect life are not as perfect as they seem either.

One of my favourite things about Bodeen and her books is that she makes her stories accessible to such a wide audience.  While there are mature themes here because of the kidnapping and some of the other events, it is written in such a way that teens who struggle with reading can read the book, and 'tweens with advanced reading and social ages can also enjoy the story (it was also a rather nice diversion for this adult reader too).  There is a puzzle aspect to this story, trying to figure out all the pieces before the story ends, and while I did figure them out I enjoyed the ride and I get the feeling that the won't be as obvious for readers who don't read as widely as I do!  A great read, and a fantastic diversion on a hot summer afternoon when it was too hot to do anything else but sit indoors and read.

If you like this book then try:
  • The compound by S.A. Bodeen
  • The Gardener by S.A. Bodeen
  • The raft by S.A. Bodeen
  • Checkers by John Marsden
  • Proxy by Alex London
  • Island of the blue dolphins by Scott O'Dell
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • The Cay by Theodore Taylor
  • When we wake by Karen Healey
  • Survival by Chris Ryan
  • I am the cheese by Robert Cormier
  • The limit by Kristin Landon

Reviewed by Brilla

Home sweet murder by James Patterson

Home sweet murder is one of a series of books written to tie-in with the Murder is forever television series.  Each book in the series includes two stories based on actual events that have been slightly fictionalised, but that doesn't take away from the stories covered.

Leo Fisher and his wife Sue are going through their normal nightly routine of preparing dinner when there is a knock at the door.  The man on their doorstep claims to be an SEC agent, but Leo knows that he's not and over the next few hours he proves that by restraining them and threatening them.  Leo may be the main target, but that won't stop Sue from facing her share of the torment.  Who has targeted Leo and why?

The death of a child is something no one should have to face - especially the gruesome murder of a child in their own home.  That is exactly the nightmare that Hunter family faces when their youngest son and their housekeeper are killed in the family home, but they are lucky enough to have Detective Derek Mois on their side, because over the next few years he is going to prove just how determined he is to solve the case and bring the killer to justice.  Piecing together a series of seemingly unrelated events will finally bring the killer to justice.

Like the stories covered in Murder, interrupted these are compelling stories are intriguing and disturbing in turn - shining a light on the people who have a twisted need for revenge against real and imagined slights.  I am not usually a fan of fictionalised real life stories, but this series is well written and Patterson has done an excellent job of remaining sensitive to the victims.  In many ways these stories are scarier than anything he could have dreamed up in one of his own stories because these are real murders with real motivations, and people that you can realise despise for what they have done.  

If you are interested in reading more real life reads and true crime stories then try some of the these books:

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Murder, interrupted by James Patterson

Murder, interrupted is one of a series of books written to tie-in with the Murder is forever television series.  Each book in the series includes two stories based on actual events that have been slightly fictionalised, but that doesn't take away from the stories covered.

In the first story Murder, interrupted,  we learn about mother-of-three Nancy Howard who was shot in the head by an apparent stranger.  The truth is stranger than fiction though, because the person who wants Nancy dead is not a stranger, but her own husband.  Frank Howard has been living a double life, one with his wife of twenty-eight years in Texas, and the other with his mistress in California.  For years he has dreamed about killing his wife so he can move on with his life, but despite hiring a hit man it has never gotten anywhere - until the night a stranger shoots Nancy and leaves her for dead.  Frank has been keeping secrets and living a double life, and the lies are about to come crashing down around him.

Dee Dee Blanchard is a single mother who has devoted her life to caring for her sick daughter Gypsy Rose.  Wheelchair bound and chronically unwell, Gypsy Rose can only dream of a normal life.  Then the unthinkable happens - Dee Dee is found stabbed to death in their home, and Gypsy Rose is nowhere to be found.  As the police investigate the murder the shocking truth is uncovered - Gypsy Rose was never truly sick, Dee Dee was making her sick.  What would drive a mother to make her own child sick, keeping her a virtual prisoner in a weak and poisoned body?  And what would that child do when she discovers the truth?

These two compelling stories are intriguing and disturbing in turn - what drives a person to commit crimes like these?  While I am not usually a fan of fictionalised real life stories, Patterson has done an excellent job of remaining sensitive to the victims.  In many ways these stories are scarier than anything he could have dreamed up in one of his own stories because these are real murders with real motivations, and people that you can realise despise for what they have done.  I am already part way through the other book in the series that I have, and it is just as engaging/scary as Murder, interrupted.

If you are interested in reading more real life reads and true crime stories then try some of the these books:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, January 26, 2018

Chained by Eileen Brady

Chained is the third book in the Kate Turner, DVM series and while you can read it as a stand alone you will enjoy it more if you read the series in order - so start with Muzzled and Unleashed first.

Kate Turner is finding herself increasingly at home in the small town of Oak Falls, and the local residents appear to have accepted her as the local vet - and the local amateur sleuth.  It has been a while since Kate was involved with a murder, but that changes when one of her patients proudly returns home with a human bone.  It turns out that the bone belongs to Flynn Keegan, who everyone assumed had run off to Hollywood ten years previously. 

When Kate is approached by his family to investigate the murder it becomes clear that she is getting something of the reputation - and this time the case may be a little out of her league.  Solving a fresh case is relatively easy, but how do you go about solving a cold case when you weren't even living in the town at the time of the murder?  As she digs into the case Kate realises that there are quite a few people keeping secrets in her little town, and that there are some wounds that even ten years can't heal.  As the cold case starts getting warmer Kate finds herself playing host to a former boyfriend and an increasingly complicated personal life that may lead her into trouble before the case is over.

Chained is the third book in the charming and fun Kate Turner, DVM series.  In this third book Eileen Brady appears to have hit her writing stride, with a story that has all the charming and engaging characters we are used to, along with a feeling of being more polished and finely tuned.  The characters have started to feel like real people, and with this third outing the characters have more depth and more evolved back stories (thanks to having read the series in order).  You could read this series out of order with enjoyment, but it is definitely a series that deserves to be read in order so you can gain the benefit of watching the relationships develop and grow.

This small town gets smaller with each new book, but each book expands the world we know and sees Kate become a greater part of her new community.  A fun read that deserves to be discovered and enjoyed in a single session.  Can't wait to see what is next for the town of Oak Falls.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, January 19, 2018

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

A freak accident shatters the seemingly perfect life that Gina Royal was living - loving husband, two perfect children, and the comfortable family home.  It turns out that her husband was not the loving man she thought he was, he was in fact a sadistic killer who tortured and killed women a stones throw from the family home.  Gwen was swept up in the case, accused of being an accomplice because no one could believe that she didn't know about the murders when they happened so close to home.  She was finally cleared but not before the damage was done = to her life, and that of her children.

Years later Gina is now Gwen Proctor, living in a small town with her two children, carefully hidden away from the world under yet another new identity.  She may not be in an official witness protection programme, but with some help she has become very good at starting over when her identity is discovered.  She is not just hiding from her past, she is also hiding from the people who stalk her online, threatening violence to her and her children - violence and threats that are both sickening and scary.  It is a careful balancing act, trying to keep one step ahead of the people who are stalking her, while also trying to maintain as normal a life as possible for her family. 

They appear to have found a home on the shores of Stillhouse Lake, but the discovery of a body in the lake brings that slowly tumbling down around her ears.  The body looks as though it could be one of her husband's victims, and what evidence there is seems to point towards Gwen.  As her real identity is revealed Gwen is forced to make some difficult choices, and when she is cornered she calls on all her resources to fight for her new life.  Someone is stalking Gwen and her family, but they don't realise that the person they think they are hunting no longer exists - Gina was a meek woman and the perfect victim, but Gwen is not Gina anymore and is stronger than they know.

Stillhouse Lake was a surprise discovery at the local library, and when I picked it up I quickly found myself hooked and not wanting to put it down.  The subject matter was confronting and challenging, but it was also deftly written and very subtle in setting up some of the intense moments that happen throughout the story.  Stillhouse Lake punches well above it's weight, it's 286 pages packed with twists and turns, as well as some intensely emotional moments.  I couldn't help but put myself in Gwen's shoes and wonder what it must have been like to realise that you married a monster, and then on top of that having to live with the venom and threats of people who blame you for not noticing or who refuse to believe that you didn't know about what your husband was doing.  On top of that she has to deal with a teenage daughter who is angry and acting out, and a pre-teen son who is keeping secrets.

This is an intense and highly rewarding read, and I can't wait to get my hands on the next book in the series to see what happens next.  

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, January 5, 2018

Freed by flame and storm by Becky Allen

Freed by flame and storm is the sequel to Bound by blood and sand and it is highly recommended that you read the series in order.  This review contains ***SPOILERS*** if you have not already read Bound by blood and sand.

No one could ever have imagined that one of the Highest, the ruling class, would ever work with a Closest - but that is exactly what is happening.  Jae was born into the Closest, the lowest caste of society, considered to be traitors and generations later they are still paying that price.  Elan was born into the Highest, the ruling caste, and he has discovered that everything he thought he knew was a lie, and if he and Jae don't work together then their world is doomed.  Jae has freed her mage powers, and has plans to free the rest of the Closest from their slavery, no matter what it costs her personally - and Elan has thrown his complete support behind her, because now he knows the truth he is willing to make his own sacrifices to save his world.  

Convincing others to believe their story is only part of the problem, generations of lies and secrets has lead to mistrust of the Closest, and when the Highest have control of the Twill and Avowed Jae and the Closest have a massive fight on their hands.  Jae and Elan are not the only ones fighting for what they believe in, and when Erra discovers that she is the one person in her generation who has to protect her people she takes the responsibility seriously - even though it means that she has to keep her beloved brother at arms length.  Elan is determined to reach out to his sister, but with lies and secrets flying all around them will he be able to convince her that his truth is the real truth?  A war is coming and the winners will decide the fate of their world, and with both sides thinking they are in the right desperate people will be pushed to desperate action.

Freed by flame and storm was one of the books I was really looking forward to reading in 2017, but I didn't get my hands on it in time so it was one of my first books for 2018 instead.  I was expecting great things from Freed by flame and storm and it is a relief to say that I was not disappointed, as Allen closes her story arc in a way that is both satisfying and rewarding.  Jae stays true to her character throughout the story, growing and developing as she learns to be free and learns what it means to be a leader.  Elan also changes and grows, learning how to leave behind the trappings of being a Highest while also learning how to stand up for what he believes in.  The rest of the cast of characters that support the story are also realistic and relatable - lovable, engaging, or reviled in turn.  

This duology has been an amazing read, and the second book in the series is polished and well written - somewhat didactic with some of the messages, but flawlessly delivered as a story rather than a lecture.  The themes of this series are well thought and delivered, and would make engaging set reading for themes around slavery, how history is changed to suit the victors, and loyalty.  I'm glad I got to read the book in one sitting (mainly thanks to a 10 hour power cut with nothing else to do) and I hope that this is not the last we see of Allen - even if it revisiting the world of Jae and Elan in several generations to see what happens next, or travelling back in time to see what started it all!

If you like this book then try:
  • The girl of fire and thorns by Rae Carson
  • Sandry's book (The magic in the weaving) by Tamora Pierce
  • Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody
  • Winter of fire by Sherryl Jordan
  • Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
  • The halfmen of O by Maurice Gee
  • Under the mountain by Maurice Gee
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • The Menagerie by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland
  • Walk on Earth a stranger by Rae Carson
  • Snow in Summer: Fairest of them all by Jane Yolen
  • The castle behind thorns by Merrie Haskell
  • Soundless by Richelle Mead
  • Crown duel by Sherwood Smith

Reviewed by Brilla

The vanishing season by Joanna Schaffhausen

Fourteen years ago Abigail Hathaway was abducted by serial killer Francis Michael Coben, and thanks to young FBI agent Reed Markham Abigail survived and became the victim who lived.  Thanks to careful management of the press case Abigail was able to transition to become Ellery Hathaway, small town police officer in Woodbury, Massachusetts.  No one knows who she once was, and because she is a survivor Ellery takes pride in being independent and living her own life - though surviving Coben has left it's scars, physical and mental. 

Life in a small town is soothing and familiar, a place where Ellery can just be Ellie, the only female cop in a small police force.  Someone knows who she really is though, someone who has sent her a birthday card each year for the past three years, each card coming around the same time as a missing persons case that no one seems to think needs solving.  Dreading the arrival of yet another birthday card, Ellie reaches out to Agent Markham for help, not realising that he is battling demons of his own.  Can Ellie and Reed solve the case that no one thinks needs solving - especially when the local Chief wants nothing to do with Ellie's obsession and Reed's sudden appearance?  Chasing cold cases is never easy, and knowing the clock is ticking for another victim pushes Ellie and Reed to take desperate steps in the hopes they won't be too late and have to wait another year for the killer.

I stumbled across The vanishing season in the new books section of my library website, and while I wasn't too sure about reading it for the first few pages I was soon hooked on the story.  The start is very dramatic and it takes a moment or two to realise what we are witnessing, but it lays the ground work beautifully for the rest of the story.  Ellie is a scarred and damaged person, exactly what you would expect from someone who lived through what she did - and the ways she interacts with people feels very genuine.  In his own turn, Reed is also what you would expect from a seasoned FBI agent, especially one who deals with the cases that he does.  Ellie and Reed somehow manage to represent victims and law enforcement everywhere, without drifting too far into the cliché.  Small town America, and pretty much small town anywhere, is also reflected in the way the towns people interact and interrelate.  

While The vanishing season is not the most polished of books, it benefits from that rather than suffers.  The length was pretty much perfect, and the pace was bang on, keeping you reading and hooked without making you feel like you were being dragged down by superfluous side stories and characters.  There are some delightful little twists and hints dropped that keep you hooked in the story until the big reveal at the end - and if you are someone who likes to play along and try and figure it out before the big reveal (I certainly do), then it was a nice challenge to try and figure it out before the end.  This was an amazing debut novel, and hopefully we see more from Schaffhausen, maybe not set in Woodbury (although it feels like there could be more here) but she has great potential and it would be interesting to explore other characters and stories with her,

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mercy killing by Lisa Cutts

Detective Inspector Harry Powell and his team are about to catch the worst kind of case - a case they don't really want to solve.  Albie Woodville has been found murdered in his flat, nothing unusual in this day and age, DI Powell and his team see murders all the time - but Albie Woodville was a convicted child sex offender, and no one likes kiddie fiddlers, especially not the police.  Determined to be professional and solve the case quickly Powell directs his team to follow up all and any leads, starting with the scarce evidence at the crime scene and spreading to include his victims. 

Unfortunately there are plenty of potential suspects, especially after the Police released information about his past to Albie's girlfriend and the amateur dramatics society he had joined.  As they interview potential suspects and witnesses the team chases any lead that may help them catch the killer or killers - no matter how distasteful that line of query may be for the officers involved.  As they get closer to the killer the team has to balance their personal lives with their professional lives and put aside their own feelings to solve the case.

As sometimes happens I picked up the sequel to Mercy killing, Buried secrets, and read that first which means that I had a somewhat backwards introduction to the world of East Rise Police Station.  Reading Mercy killing was challenging at times because of the theme of child sexual abuse that runs through the novel, but Cutts handled it very well and was realistic about the aftermath without being gratuitous and clichéd.  The characters, both Police and civilian, were well developed and interesting, and I found myself caught up in the story and trying to figure out who the killer was from start to finish. 

I spent the last part of 2017 on something of a British crime spree and the East Rise books were two of my favourite books of the past six months - I enjoyed them because they felt so real and show the personal toll policing can take on the people who protect and serve (to borrow the American phrase).  This series is polished and I really wish I had read them in order because it would have made the second book more enjoyable after the introduction to some of the characters in Mercy killing.  There are some loose ends at the end, but that is only to be expected because in real life crime isn't always perfectly solved and delivered with a big bow on top. 

Hopefully there are more books to come about the East Rise team, because Cutts is a very talented author and her characters are relatable and all to easy to imagine as real people.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla