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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

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Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

*********

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is one of my favourite books of this year.  It’s a wonderful read: quirky, funny, sometimes a bit sad but hopeful – a complete delight.

Eleanor is almost 30, lives alone and has a very ordered life. She goes to work in an office, wears the same clothes, has the same lunchtime routine every day and buys two bottles of vodka every weekend. She doesn’t socialise with colleagues and doesn’t engage with anyone. She is very direct and says what she wants to say without irony. Once a week she talks with her mother who dispenses advice (and criticism). In fact the mother comes across as a horrendous character.

Eleanor narrates her story in a very matter-of-fact manner. There is no hint of self-pity. As the story progresses you sense that her upbringing wasn’t exactly normal but she got a university degree and a job.

Eleanor is completely fine in her self-contained life until she finds the love of her life and decides to embark on a makeover and engage (just slightly) with the modern world. This makes for some very funny misunderstandings and yet I felt sadness at her predicament.

Eleanor is totally alone although she doesn’t see herself as lonely. She considers herself completely fine but she really lacks the ability to engage with other people and she takes everything very literally. I found it quite sad they way her colleagues talked about her.

Things start to change for Eleanor when an old man collapses in the street. Raymond from work just happened to be walking alongside Eleanor, making conversation while Eleanor was desperately trying to avoid any interaction. Raymond ran over to the man and got a reluctant Eleanor to help too.

Raymond is a warm, friendly, thoughtful character. Somehow Eleanor finds herself becoming less self contained. It’s a very gradual process but she starts to blossom (not sure if that’s the right word!) It’s not all plain sailing and there are setbacks. It’s not a romance in the traditional sense. It’s more about an unlikely friendship and Eleanor’s journey.

Although Eleanor comes across as slightly odd, I found her very likeable. The story is well written and is funny and sad in equal measure. I found it easy to picture the characters and the scenarios. It’s a very enjoyable, entertaining story. I definitely recommend it.

My thanks to NetGalley who provided me with a digital review copy.

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Cold Blood by Robert Bryndza

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When a battered suitcase containing the dismembered body of a young man washes up on the shore of the river Thames, Detective Erika Foster is shocked. She’s worked on some terrifying cases but never seen anything like this before. 

As Erika and her team set to work, she makes the link with another victim – the body of a young woman dumped in an identical suitcase two weeks ago. 

Erika quickly realises she’s on the trail of a serial killer who’s already made their next move. Yet just as Erika starts to make headway with the investigation, she is the victim of a brutal attack. 

But nothing will stop Erika. As the body count rises, the twin daughters of her colleague Commander Marsh are abducted, and the stakes are higher than ever before. Can Erika save the lives of two innocent children before it’s too late? She’s running out of time and about to make a disturbing discovery…there’s more than one killer. 

*********

Cold Blood is number 5 in the Detective Erika Foster series and it’s another cracking thriller from Robert Bryndza.

This time a man’s mutilated and dismembered body is found in a suitcase washed up on shore of the River Thames.  There is no identification with the body but Erika manages to link the case to a young woman’s body that had been washed up in an identical suitcase two weeks earlier.  It appears the gruesome murders could be drug related and also that there may be at least two killers involved.

There are lots of things I like about Robert’s crime writing.

I love the way we are straight into a crime scene almost on the first page – no beating about the bush.

I like that we get to know fairly quickly who has ‘done the deed’ and we see events unfold from the perpetrators’ point of view as well as Police investigations. This doesn’t spoil the story; that’s when it becomes a gripping psychological thriller – how Erika and her colleagues work to solve the crime and try to catch the criminals. Robert is a very good storyteller. You also see the killers’ relationship change throughout the book. What starts off as something that might be considered an infatuation quickly develops into something more sinister and manipulative and then something very violent, brutal and shocking.

I like the fact that it’s a series, that characters have a bit of depth and there is some continuity although they may have a principal supporting role in one book and in another a more minor role. Equally important, each book can be read as a stand alone although I would recommend reading them in order. I really like Robert’s writing style and the way the words flow easily.

I’ve read all the Erika Foster books and travelled with her on her ‘journey’. She has definitely moved on from the first book/s. She seems more mature, mellow. She began by fighting against her superiors frequently – not always to Erika’s advantage. If she believes she is right she will argue her case and then do what she feels she has to do. She is still disagreeing with her superiors but I get the feeling she’s a bit less abrasive and argumentative. Even if she’s taken off a case, she’s more than likely to find another way of continuing her investigation.

In the last couple of books I feel she’s been more reflective, wondering what path she should take. She’s now a widow in her 40s (approaching 50) with no children. She’s turned down a promotion because she couldn’t see herself as a pen pusher stuck in an office most of the time.

There are some pretty gruesome bits to this book. The horrific murders, a shocking betrayal by a colleague, a brutal assault on Erika herself, the kidnap of Commander Marsh’s two young daughters, a race against the clock to find the little girls all leading to a shocking climax.

I would definitely recommend this book to those who like crime thrillers.  In fact I recommend all five books in the series so far.  They can all be read as stand alone but are best read from the start of the series.  Here are links to my previous reviews.

The Girl in the Ice

The Night Stalker

Dark Water

Last Breath

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Bookouture for providing an advance copy]

 

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Last Breath by Robert Bryndza

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When the tortured body of a young woman is found in a dumpster, her eyes swollen shut and her clothes soaked with blood, Detective Erika Foster is one of the first at the crime scene. The trouble is, this time, it’s not her case. 

While she fights to secure her place on the investigation team, Erika can’t help but get involved and quickly finds a link to the unsolved murder of a woman four months earlier. Dumped in a similar location, both women have identical wounds – a fatal incision to their femoral artery. 

Stalking his victims online, the killer is preying on young pretty women using a fake identity. How will Erika catch a murderer who doesn’t seem to exist? 

Then another girl is abducted while waiting for a date. Erika and her team must get to her before she becomes another dead victim, and, come face to face with a terrifyingly sadistic individual.

**********

Last Breath is the fourth Detective Erika Foster novel from Robert Bryndza. I’ve loved every one of them. They just seem to get better and better.

Erika is still not happy in her current post – in the Projects Team. She is not meant for pen-pushing and is desperate to get back to the Murder Investigation Team and do the job she is best at.

The book opens with a body being placed in a large rubbish container and the subsequent discovery of the mutilated body.

Although no longer a part of the Murder Investigation Team, Erika, due to circumstances, manages to be one of the first officers at the scene where she has a run in with Superintendent Sparks. Despite being told to leave in no uncertain terms, being Erika, she goes behind his back and talks to witnesses.

When she later get more information from a witness, she passes it on the the officer in charge but again she is warned to stay out of the investigation. Of course, she continues to make her own enquiries. She comes across a potential link to another case and passes the information on to the DCI in charge of the case but gets no response. To compound her woes it turns out Erika had applied to be transferred back to the Murder Investigation Team but has been turned down.

Her frustration at being locked out of the case is so great that she even considers apologising to Sparks and is prepared to grovel to get back to what she does best – solving murders.

It’s a very good, satisfying thriller that moves along at a good pace. You do get to know “whodunnit” early on. It’s as if you are able to see inside the head of the killer and the lengths he will go to, to avoid being caught. There is a kind of game of cat and mouse between the killer and the Police. He uses fake identities on social media to trap his victims and then later tortures them. The story is sometimes quite dark and violent but it never seems excessive. There is a good balance of action, dialogue and background information. The different threads of the story come together very well. I think also that knowing the identity of the killer early on makes it even more exciting. There are also red herrings and plot twists and the action keeps on coming right to the end.

I like the way that Erika and other characters have developed and changed since the first book. Erika has definitely softened a little and mellowed since the first book but her tenacious and sometimes stubborn streak still appears. Former colleagues are also back in this book. Having said that you could easily read book 4 as a stand alone and still enjoy it. Previous relationships are briefly explained where necessary. Of course if you read all four books in the correct order I think you would get even more enjoyment.

Occasionally you get a series of books where the first one is exciting and brilliant but over time subsequent stories seem less exciting and fresh. I certainly haven’t found that with Robert Bryndza’s books. I think they get better and better. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend his books to people who enjoy a good well plotted crime thriller.

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Bookouture for an advance copy of Last Breath]

Note:  When I started to draft a review of Robert’s latest Erika Foster novel (Cold Blood) I realised I hadn’t actually posted a review of Last Breath.  Maybe you can tell I’m a fan of all Robert’s writing.

 

 

 

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Last Seen – Lucy Clarke

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Two boys missing. A seaside community with a dark secret at its heart…

Two little boys go missing out at sea – and only one is brought to shore.

For the boys’ mothers, best friends Sarah and Isla, the tragedy splinters a friendship. And The Sandbank – once an idyllic seaside haven – becomes a place of ghosts.

On the anniversary of the drowning, the other boy is missing. Parents Nick and Sarah try to quell their panic, but the Sandbank hums with tension as decade-old memories rise to the surface.

The truth lies in the past, like broken glass buried in the sand. Someone is hiding something – the question is, what did they see?

*********

It didn’t take long for me to get engrossed in this book. Last Seen is a rather good psychological mystery.

Sarah and Isla met when they were teenagers and quickly became friends. They dreamed of buying neighbouring beach huts on Longstone Sandbank, and spending long summers there. And they did. They also fell pregnant around the same time and gave birth to sons within days of each other. As adults they got to spend summers in their neighbouring beach huts and their sons were best friends. It all sounds very idyllic but tragedy strikes on Jacob’s 10th birthday. The boys went swimming in the sea and only one returned. Sarah’s son Jacob was saved and survived, Isla’s son drowned.

Then Jacob disappears on the night of his 17th birthday which is also the anniversary of Marley’s death. Sarah is distraught when he doesn’t come home especially since they had had an argument before he left the house to join his friends. His phone appears to be switched off too. Sarah’s husband Nick has gone away on business and Sarah is alone when she realises Jacob hasn’t been home.

As time passes you get a sense of her panic while trying to reassure herself that he’ll be a friend’s house, or there will be a simple explanation. But she still can’t reach him on his phone either.

The tension builds fairly slowly at first but increases by the day. When the police are called and start asking questions there’s a sense of information being withheld – not so much lies being told but more a sense of not being told the whole story.

It’s a small community and suspicions abound. Some characters are not particularly likeable. There are hints of jealousies and secrets and lies. Does someone in the community know something but isn’t telling?

The book is good. The story is told by Sarah and Isla in alternating chapters and day by day following on from Jacob’s disappearance. You get different viewpoints of past events and glimpses of the women’s characters. You learn more about their teenage friendship and their relationships leading to the present day.

Could it be things aren’t quite as idyllic as they may have appeared. Were they even ever perfect?

This is a perfect read for the holidays. You can just picture warm summer days on the sandbank – playing on the beach, swimming in the sea, messing about in boats or even just watching them but be prepared for a few surprises. Just immerse yourself in it and enjoy.

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing an advance copy]

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The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter

 

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Description

Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind…

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy smalltown family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father – Pikeville’s notorious defence attorney – devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself – the archetypal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again – and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatised – Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case which can’t help triggering the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime which destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried for ever…

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I’m almost ashamed to say this is the first Karin Slaughter book I have read. I have friends who are big fans of her novels. They’ve recommended her books to me several times. I should have listened to them! I got completely engrossed in this one.

In The Good Daughter a family are torn apart by a brutal and terrifying attack on their home. The mother is shot dead, the father, a criminal defence lawyer, who wasn’t at home, is left devastated. One teenage daughter is left mentally broken, the other physically broken.

Twenty eight years later one of the daughters, Charlotte, finds herself first on the scene of another horrendous attack that affects the whole town, this time a school shooting. Two people are dead, one of them a child, and a 16 year old Goth, Kelly Wilson is sitting with a revolver in her hand. The sight and sound of the horrific shooting triggers flashbacks to Charlotte’s mother’s murder and the terrible assault she and her sister suffered.

Charlotte is a defence lawyer like her father but although they work in the same building she does not work for her father. And she doesn’t take on the same type of cases. Unlike her sister, she has a some kind of relationship with her father. She’s remained in Pikeville because her husband Ben, an assistant district attorney, liked it there, although they have been separated for several months.

Her father Rusty, takes on Kelly Wilson’s case. He’s quite a complex character. He always does what he thinks is right but he takes risks.  He is assisted by his long term secretary Lenore who is quite a character too. He also manages to get Charlotte to help him with the early formalities of Kelly Wilson’s defence. He isn’t particularly popular around town as he believes in justice for all and will represent anyone accused, no matter how awful the alleged crime.  A lot of people hate him for the cases he takes on.  At the time of his wife’s murder, the the family had recently been forced to move to another property following an arson attack on their home.

Meanwhile Samantha, the older sister, is a very successful patent lawyer living in New York but she struggles physically with problems that are a direct result of her injuries sustained in the first attack. She has no contact with her father or sister and knows nothing of what is going on in their lives. Although her father sends her a regular voicemail, she never responds. She’s never returned to Pikeville even when her business takes her within 2 hours drive of the town.

It’s a wonderful, multi-layered plot about two sisters with completely different characters, whose lives were changed and the family destroyed when their home was attacked, and their relationship (or non-relationship) with each other and their father.  Both sisters are lawyers but practising in different areas of law.

It’s a dark and brutal story. It’s full of interesting characters and is never boring. The author brilliantly weaves an engrossing story linking two brutal attacks twenty eight years apart.  How are they linked? Apart from Charlotte being present both times, are they linked?

I like that both girls’ stories are told from each one’s point of view both in the past and the present. There are chapters headed, “What happened to Samantha”, “What happened to Charlotte” and “What really happened to Charlie.” I feel it’s an interesting device. I was slightly confused at first and had a feeling of deja vu as I knew I had read that part before, but for me it works.  You read about a brutal, life-changing attack; then when you come across it again later in the book (almost identical words but with differences) the attack is even worse than you first thought. It certainly ramps up the tension and fear.

When the father ends up in hospital again with serious stab wounds, thought to be because he was representing the teenage school shooter in court, Charlotte who was already fragile, just can’t cope. Her husband makes contact with Samantha and there is an attempt at some kind of reconciliation between the sisters. There are some recriminations and words but they end up investigating the school shooting case on their father’s behalf. That is definitely not the end of the story.  There are a few twists leading ultimately to a shocking revelation. I really didn’t see that ending coming.

For me, this book definitely gets 5 stars.

The Good Daughter is available now in hardcover and eBook.

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review]

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31 Days of Wonder by Tom Winter

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Description

Alice is stuck in an internship she loathes and a body she is forever trying to change.

Ben, also in his early twenties, is still trying to find his place in the world.

By chance they meet one day in a London park.

Day 1
Ben spots Alice sitting on a bench and feels compelled to speak to her. To his surprise, their connection is instant. But before numbers are exchanged, Alice is whisked off by her demanding boss.

20 minutes later
Alone in her office toilets, Alice looks at herself in the mirror and desperately searches for the beauty Ben could see in her.

Meanwhile, having misunderstood a parting remark, Ben is already planning a trip to Glasgow where he believes Alice lives, not realising that they actually live barely ten miles apart.

Over the next 31 days, Alice and Ben will discover that even if they never manage to find each other again, they have sparked a change in each other that will last a lifetime. In 31 Days of Wonder, Tom Winter shows us the magic of chance encounters and how one brief moment on a Thursday afternoon can change the rest of your life.

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Sometimes when you approach a book with an open mind you are taken by surprise. I had never read anything by Tom Winter and I wasn’t sure if I would have time to read and review this one. I’m so glad I did.

I loved this book. 31 Days of Wonder is a delightful read. It’s very funny and although some of the humour is quite dark there are lots of poignant and touching moments too.

Alice is a young, hardworking intern at a PR firm who is overweight, who has a boss from hell and colleagues who seem to put her down all the time, making horrible remarks about her weight. She also lives with an awful flatmate.  Alice is one of those really nice people who wants to do the right thing and try to please everyone. Her best friend Rachel doesn’t have a job because she is convinced she is going to be a pop star despite being a terrible singer. She’s pretty bossy and expects Alice to help her achieve her dream.

Ben is a young man with mental health issues – he’s impulsive and says what he thinks, but he also has a flatmate who sounds quite sensible and caring. He also has a job. He has been brought up by his grandparents following the death of his parents when he was very young. He knows he has problems.

Ben spots Alice in a park one day – a girl in a yellow dress – and feels compelled to approach her to tell her how beautiful she is but Alice is whisked away by her boss, Geneva, before he can say anything more. But he does hear mention of Glasgow and is led to believe she lives there.

Without too much thought he decides he is going to Glasgow to see her. Despite his flat mate trying to dissuade him, he still wants to go. He seems rather obsessed by Alice who had actually smiled at him. He also starts ‘seeing’ Alice in various places and situations but knows it’s all in his head. He is still determined to go to Glasgow and he sets off on a borrowed bike.

Meanwhile Alice, to get out of something her friend Rachel wants to organise, says she can’t help because she has a date with Ben and from there the ‘fib’ grows.

The story is what happens to both Alice and Ben in the next month (31 days) and how their very brief encounter starts a journey for each of them that will change their lives.  Their stories are told separately, each chapter heading telling us how near or far apart geographically they are. The book is funny, sometimes poignant and very entertaining.

There are some great characters, including Neville the parrot, and I felt I wanted to help and encourage Ben and Alice as they slowly come to realise that their lives don’t have to stay the same and that things can be different. Ultimately it is a story that leads to hope and possibility.

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy]

31 Days of Wonder is published (hardcover and Kindle) on 10 August 2017.

 

 

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Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

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DESCRIPTION

Audra has finally left her abusive husband. She’s taken the family car and her young children, Sean and Louise, are buckled up in the back. This is their chance for a fresh start.

Audra keeps to the country roads to avoid attention and finds herself on an empty road in Arizona, far from home. She’s looking for a safe place to stay for the night when she spots something in her rear-view mirror. A police car is following her and the lights are flickering. Blue and red.

As Audra pulls over she is intensely aware of how isolated they are. Her perfect escape is about to turn into a nightmare beyond her imagining…

Dark secrets and a heart-pounding race to reveal the truth lie at the heart of this page-turning thriller.

*********

Wow. I loved this book. I was there – right from the first page of Here and Gone. You feel the hot, dry Arizona heat, the dust, Audra’s exhaustion, her aching muscles.

She is travelling through Arizona on her way to California, trying to keep to country roads, with her two children aged 11 and 6 in the back of the station wagon, hoping to make a fresh start, having fled New York and an abusive husband. She’s looking out for a safe place for them to stay for the night.

When a police cruiser appears behind her and gets her to pull over in an isolated area a few miles from where there is a place to stay, she’s fearful that the authorities have found her and will have her charged with parental abduction. The officer tells her the car is overloaded and that it’s not safe to drive and offers to move some of her stuff from the back of her car into his cruiser and to take Audra and the children to the guesthouse in town and arrange for her car to be towed there later. However while moving some of her stuff, the officer finds a bag of marijuana. Audra swears the drugs are not hers but she is arrested, handcuffed and searched, despite no female officer being present. You quickly realise Officer Whiteside is not a nice character. He radios for his deputy to come and get the children and take them to a safe place.

As she sees her children being taken from her in a police car, her thoughts turn to the past 18 months and we get some insight as to why she left her husband and also the fact that in the past she had a history of substance abuse.

I don’t want to give too much away here but when Audra is taken to town the Deputy’s car isn’t there. Aura keeps asking for them but after she is processed and taken to a cell on asking again where her children are, the officer’s reply is “What children?”

Now the real nightmare begins. Audra is totally alone. When she is allowed to phone, she phones the ‘friend’ in California she is told not to contact her again. It gets worse, the authorities suspect she has harmed the children and hidden their bodies. The investigation gets very serious. The FBI’s Child Abduction response deployment team arrive. Someone leaks details of her medical history. The press get hold of the story and it’s all over the television. However someone called Danny sees the news reports and realises he has a similar story to tell: missing child, wife blamed, wife committed. No one had really listened to his thoughts on what had happened. He becomes part of the story too.

The story switches between what is happening to Audra and what is happening to the children. There is also a conversation happening in an internet private members forum and you just know something very bad is being planned. The pace is very good. There is a good balance of the different threads, a race against time, some twists. We get enough back story to make sense of the present. There are some strong characters, both good and bad. Audra’s past has made her stronger and a survivor, but there are a few moments when you feel it would be so easy for her to give in. There is also a wonderful sense of location. Heat and dust, a dying town, closed mine, dry riverbed, empty properties. You get the picture. It’s a well written story.

The story really grabbed me. It’s tense and the pace doesn’t really let up. I read it mostly in one sitting. I didn’t want to put it down. I managed to finish it around 1.30 am. The best kind of book  

I had intended to hold back this post until nearer publication date however Here and Gone is available now in ebook format. The hardcover version will be available later this summer.

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