Mini Reviews #4 | Jaybird’s Song & The Breakdown

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Again? So soon? I’m afraid so. I liked Jaybird’s Song by Kathy Wilson Florence and it’s perfect for lighter southern fans, but I was quite disappointed with The Breakdown by BA Paris. Let’s see…

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Affectionately called “Jaybird” by the father she adores, Josie Flint’s idyllic childhood in 1960s Atlanta is defined by her role as the oldest of the three Flint sisters and crowned with the presence of her grandmother, Annie Jo— the maypole that centers the Flint family. Surrounding their world, however, is the turbulent South as Jim Crow laws come to an end. As Josie’s school desegregates and the country meanders through new ideas brought about by the Civil Rights movement, a personal tragedy breaches Josie’s world and shatters that perfect childhood. Josie’s story is told from her early teenage years and 35 years later when her beloved grandmother dies. And when a long-kept secret unfolds for the Flint family, a new kind of heartache begins.

I was looking for a change after a couple of serial killer books and I still had this book on my Kindle, so I thought it was time to read it (as it was published in February). This is the story of Josie, a woman who grows up in Georgia in the 60s. Many years later, in 2003, her grandmother passes away and she remembers her childhood and teenage years.

I had a small issue with the way the book was written. The flashback parts felt like the author was telling us stuff that had happened but we didn’t get to enjoy. Lots of paragraphs filled with sentences like: “She became my best friend and we did everything together. And two years passed and then we grew apart. And on my 15th birthday, I had a big party and everyone came”. In spite of that, Jaybird was a lovely novel, a nice, feel-good southern saga that made me imagine a different kind of life. So yes, I enjoyed reading it although it didn’t leave a lasting impression. I think I had similar feelings with Dollbaby: the secrets weren’t surprising enough because I had already read and watched tons of similar stories. Would I recommend it? Yes. Because that’s just my experience, after all.

Netgalley, Smith Publicity, 2017

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Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside―the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped. But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby. The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt. Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

Most of you know that Behind Closed Doors was one of my favorite books of 2016. I knew that The Breakdown would be a different kind of experience because I read a lot of reviews, so I wasn’t as excited as I would’ve been otherwise. This isn’t a matter of simply being disappointed.

I must say I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I wanted to know what was going on and it was an easy read, just like BCD was. On the other hand, the first half of the book, maybe until 60% was quite repetitive and I didn’t think it was going anywhere. Yes, we get it: Cass is forgetful. She is confused, she forgets things. My main issue with the plot was that there were too many situations that felt coincidental and seemed too contrived for my taste. Unrealistic, even. I don’t want to dive into spoiler territory, but for example, there’s a scene where our main character, Cass, discovers the truth about something and it was so improbable that I couldn’t believe that was actually happening. And once we all begin to learn the truth, there were too many coincidences, just so everything could be connected. Like the weapon thing. I mean, really? Why would someone do that?

Still, I really liked how the ending played out, maybe because it reminded me of Behind Closed Doors and I’m a fan of that type of situations. But I can’t ignore all those coincidences.

Netgalley, St Martin’s Pres, 2017

Mini Reviews #3 | Here and Gone & The Fourth Monkey

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And it’s that time of the month again! Today I want to talk to you about two of my most recent reads: Here and Gone by Haylen Beck & The Fourth Monkey by JD Barker. Both thrillers, one action, the other  a serial-killer mystery.

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Here and Gone is a gripping, wonderfully tense suspense thriller about a mother’s desperate fight to recover her stolen children from corrupt authorities… It begins with a woman fleeing through Arizona with her kids in tow, trying to escape an abusive marriage. When she’s pulled over by an unsettling local sheriff, things soon go awry and she is taken into custody. Only when she gets to the station, her kids are gone. And then the cops start saying they never saw any kids with her, that if they’re gone than she must have done something with them… Meanwhile, halfway across the country a man hears the frenzied news reports about the missing kids, which are eerily similar to events in his own past. As the clock ticks down on the search for the lost children, he too is drawn into the desperate fight for their return

Here and Gone is a thrilling and nail-biting book that depicts a situation that felt realistic and scary at the same time. I think the beginning was my favorite part, as I got super nervous while reading Audra’s encounter with the sheriff. You could feel the heat, the silent violence, the threats, the tension. I could picture it all in my head.

The whole book is a big “gaslighting” episode and it makes you feel so powerless that you wish you were there helping the main character get her kids back. It reminded me of Little Deaths by Emma Flint, although that one had a mystery component, whereas this one was more of a straight-forward thriller. Perhaps, the fact that there were no surprises is what prevents me from “loving” this book a bit more. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I admired Audra and Danny’s determination, but I thought the forum messages meant that there was someone else involved, and instead, I found the “chase” a bit predictable overall.

Netgalley, Harvill Secker, 2017

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For over five years, the Four Monkey Killer has terrorized the residents of Chicago. When his body is found, the police quickly realize he was on his way to deliver one final message, one which proves he has taken another victim who may still be alive. As the lead investigator on the 4MK task force, Detective Sam Porter knows even in death, the killer is far from finished. When he discovers a personal diary in the jacket pocket of the body, Porter finds himself caught up in the mind of a psychopath, unraveling a twisted history in hopes of finding one last girl, all while struggling with personal demons of his own. With only a handful of clues, the elusive killer’s identity remains a mystery. Time is running out and the Four Monkey Killer taunts from beyond the grave in this masterfully written fast-paced thriller.

This was a lovely buddy read with Zuky @Bookbum. Sometimes, I’m in the minority and I’m afraid this is one of the cases. I believe The Fourth Monkey was a fun and entertaining thriller, but unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations. I enjoyed it for the most part (especially the first half), but the whole third act felt too predictable and it didn’t impress me.

I’m a big fan of serial killer books and the comparisons to Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs made me incredibly excited to read this one. At first, I was sure it was going to be one of my faves, just like Ragdoll & Kill The Father, but once my initial suspicion turned out to be true, I was quite disappointed. I couldn’t believe Zuky and I had guessed something so important within the first pages. However, I did love the last scene and the fact that the main character wasn’t young, but I didn’t connect with the police team dynamics and I was expecting a more explosive and shocking ending, I guess.

ARC, HQ, 2017

Review: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne @KarenDionne @LittleBrownUK

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‘I was born two years into my mother’s captivity. She was three weeks shy of seventeen. If I had known then what I do now, things would have been a lot different. I would have been a lot more understanding of my mother. I wouldn’t have adored my father.’ When the notorious child abductor known as the Marsh King escapes from a maximum security prison, Helena immediately suspects that she and her two young daughters are in danger. No one, not even her husband, knows the truth about Helena’s past: they don’t know that she was born into captivity, that she had no contact with the outside world before the age of twelve – or that her father raised her to be a killer. And they don’t know that the Marsh King can survive and hunt in the wilderness better than anyone…except, perhaps his own daughter.

Most of you know that The Marsh King’s Daughter was, probably, my most anticipated release this year. I was obsessed with the book before I even got it. I love stories about kidnappings and the way the blurb described the events had me all curious and excited.

When you read the synopsis of a book, sometimes you get some ideas and, without even realizing it, you might create unrealistic expectations. To be honest, I expected this novel to be something like Still Missing by Chevy Stevens or even Room, but the truth is The Marsh King’s Daughter was nothing like those books. Hint: It was better. If you’re wondering which book could offer the same vibe, I’d say 12 Lives of Samuel Hawley. However, I enjoyed this one way more.

I’m fascinated by stories where people don’t recognize right from wrong because they don’t know any better. A child born into captivity is the perfect way to explore those themes and The Marsh King’s Daughter does it beautifully. Helena is the absolute main protagonist of this book. Helena wants us to discover her story and she wants us to know this tale is only hers. Not her mother’s (we don’t even learn her name) or her father’s (the notorious child abductor). Because how can Helena not love her father? He’s the only man he knows and practically the only person who interacts with her, as her mother barely acknowledges her. Helena herself is a fascinating character too. That doesn’t mean she’s likable, because she isn’t, really. Still, I couldn’t help but become completely absorbed in her twisted fairy tale.

The alternate timelines worked so well here. On the one hand, we learn about the years in captivity, Helena’s childhood and relationship with her parents. Her unconventional skills, her ties to nature and the wilderness. On the other hand, many years later, Helena is free, married, and with two kids of her own. Her father has escaped prison, and she’s determined to track him down and kill him. But can she really do that?

A haunting, unique and atmospheric novel that is bound to become a big success. I’m already thinking that this would make a fantastic movie.

ARC, Little Brown UK, 2017

You Don’t Know Me (Imran Mahmood)

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An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech. He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth. There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions… but at the end of the speeches, only one matters: Did he do it?

Have you ever come across a book that you just knew you had to read as soon as possible? It didn’t matter that you didn’t know the author or hadn’t read any reviews… you just needed it. That’s what happened to me with You Don’t Know Me. One look at the blurb and I was sold.

I admit I was scared I wouldn’t like this as much as I hoped, but it was quite the opposite, actually. This novel blew me away. And I’m perfectly aware that it won’t be a book for everyone (because of the ending, for starters), but those are perhaps the most interesting ones. And I know it was the right book for me, as I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for days.

This is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It might be a legal thriller, but only on the surface. The whole book (well, except for a couple of chapters at the end) is told from the defendant’s perspective. We’re told that he has fired his lawyer and has decided to make his final speech all by himself. And what a speech! The book is violent, gritty and filled with plenty of wrong decisions. I was completely enchanted by his monologue.

The story just flows. It is written in a very “informal” style, the way a man his age would talk in real life. And it kept me glued to the pages like no other. It’s impossible not to care for the main character (we don’t even learn his name). After all, he’s telling you his entire life. His story was sad and devastating at times, but it’s an excellent one and I’m so glad I was able to read it.

As captivated I was by You Don’t Know Me, I couldn’t help but feel that the jury would be fed up with him. He talks for about ten days! And the story isn’t exactly straight-forward, as the guy surely likes to talk. Nevertheless, I thought it was endearing and I couldn’t put it down. I started it before going to bed one evening and as soon as I woke up the next morning, I read the rest in one sitting.

If you want to read something completely unique… don’t look any further. And let’s discuss it afterwards!

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ARC, Michael Joseph, 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley (Hannah Tinti)

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After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter Loo to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past – a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. Both a coming of age novel and a literary thriller, THE TWELVE LIVES OF SAMUEL HAWLEY explores what it means to be a hero, and the price we pay to protect the people we love most.

This novel had one of the most wonderful beginnings I’ve read in quite some time. As soon as I started reading The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, I knew it would be a highly unique story. Hours later, I had finished it and I knew I had been right: I had never read something quite like this. However, my initial delight wasn’t always present, as I admit I struggled a bit because of its length.

I wouldn’t say this is a mystery; it’s more like a coming of age story and a contemporary action thriller: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a tale about family, loneliness and fitting in. The writing by Hannah Tinti is brilliant and the characters are simply unforgettable. I think we can expect a film sometime in the next few years.

Who are the main characters? Let’s introduce you to Samuel Hawley and Loo (father and daughter). They’ve just moved to Olympus, Massachusetts and they’re having a hard time fitting in. Years pass (Loo is twelve at first and seventeen in the last chapter) while we’re witness of their struggles and endless adventures. At the same time, there are some flashback chapters where we learn about Samuel’s 12 lives (bullet scars that he carries on his body). Initially, I thought this flashbacks were a great idea, but the more I read, the more these parts felt repetitive. For once, I was more interested in the present story, especially Loo’s “coming of age”.

As I said, Loo was simply amazing (independent, strong and complex) and, even though we didn’t get to know her that much, Mabel Ridge was also a character I wanted to know more about. The mystery surrounding Loo’s mother, Lily, was one of my favorite aspects of the book. And I appreciated how the author made no excuses for anyone’s behavior. After all, when you love someone, you’re able to overlook their mistakes… Blood is thicker than water.

In the end, I think I will remember this book because there’s something quite special about it. It hasn’t been my favorite read of the year, but I’m not sure I’ll read something quite like it anytime soon. And that’s not something you can say often.

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Netgalley, Tinder Press, 2017