Always With a Book

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Review: A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell (audio)

Title: A Simple Favor 
Author: Darcey Bell 
Narrator: Andi Arndt, Xe Sands, Matthew Waterson 
Published: March 2017, HarperAudio 
Length: 8 hours 55 minutes 
Source: Library

She’s your best friend.
She knows all your secrets.
That’s why she’s so dangerous.
A single mother's life is turned upside down when her best friend vanishes in this chilling debut thriller in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

It starts with a simple favor—an ordinary kindness mothers do for one another. When her best friend, Emily, asks Stephanie to pick up her son Nicky after school, she happily says yes. Nicky and her son, Miles, are classmates and best friends, and the five-year-olds love being together—just like she and Emily. A widow and stay-at-home mommy blogger living in woodsy suburban Connecticut, Stephanie was lonely until she met Emily, a sophisticated PR executive whose job in Manhattan demands so much of her time.

But Emily doesn’t come back. She doesn’t answer calls or return texts. Stephanie knows something is terribly wrong—Emily would never leave Nicky, no matter what the police say. Terrified, she reaches out to her blog readers for help. She also reaches out to Emily’s husband, the handsome, reticent Sean, offering emotional support. It’s the least she can do for her best friend. Then, she and Sean receive shocking news. Emily is dead. The nightmare of her disappearance is over.

Or is it? Because soon, Stephanie will begin to see that nothing—not friendship, love, or even an ordinary favor—is as simple as it seems.

A SIMPLE FAVOR is a remarkable tale of psychological suspense—a clever and twisting free-fall of a ride filled with betrayals and reversals, twists and turns, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge. Darcey Bell masterfully ratchets up the tension in a taut, unsettling, and completely absorbing story that holds you in its grip until the final page.

My thoughts: Sometimes you pick up a book and you aren't quite sure what to think of it...even after sitting on it for a while. That is how I feel about this one - what the heck did I just read? 

Domestic thrillers seem to be picking up steam and I would certainly classify this book as just that. It's intense for sure, it's full of unreliable characters and boy oh boy do these characters have secrets. I think that's what kept me going - I needed to find out what was going on and where it would all end up! I have to admit, I was hooked.  

The story is told from three points of view - Stephanie, Emily and Sean. We start off hearing from Stephanie, both from her and through her blog. Then we hear from Emily and Sean, but believe me when I say - nothing is as it seems. Each of these characters have more secrets than you can possibly imagine. 

I will say that the book starts off a little slow - while I found the use of the blog to tell parts of the story interesting, at times its quite cloying and annoying. Though, I I did think it was quite interesting how the blog posts Stephanie writes were very different than reality...hmmm! But, once it gets into the real life of the characters - then the story picks up. Fair warning though...these characters really have no redeeming qualities...these are the kinds of characters you love to hate! But I think that's what makes this book all the more want to see them get what's coming to them. And trust me, you definitely won't see how this all plays out!

All in all, this was a rather uniquely enjoyable thriller that kept me engaged. I would definitely check out what comes next from Darcey Bell, especially if she wrote another book in this genre! 

Audio thoughts: Listening to this book was quite a treat. I am a big fan of Xe Sands, but the other two narrators were new to me. That being said, I thought they all did a great job with this audio production. I really enjoyed it and will certainly be looking to see what else they have narrated. 


Monday, November 20, 2017

Review: Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra

Title: Little Secrets 
Author: Anna Snoekstra 
Published: October 2017, MIRA 
Format: ARC E-copy, 336 pages 
Source: Netgalley 

What happens when ambition trumps the truth?

A town reeling in the wake of tragedy

An arsonist is on the loose in Colmstock, Australia, most recently burning down the town's courthouse and killing a young boy who was trapped inside..

An aspiring journalist desperate for a story

The clock is ticking for Rose Blakey. With nothing but rejections from newspapers piling up, her job pulling beers for cops at the local tavern isn't nearly enough to cover rent. Rose needs a story-a big one.

Little dolls full of secrets

In the weeks after the courthouse fire, precise porcelain replicas of Colmstock's daughters begin turning up on doorsteps, terrifying parents and testing the limits of the town's already fractured police force.

Rose may have finally found her story. But as her articles gain traction and the boundaries of her investigation blur, Colmstock is seized by a seething paranoia. Soon, no one is safe from suspicion. And when Rose's attention turns to the mysterious stranger living in the rooms behind the tavern, neighbor turns on neighbor and the darkest side of self-preservation is revealed.

My thoughts: Last year, I read Anna Snoekstra's debut novel Only Daughter, which I liked and have been looking forward to seeing what she wrote next. So when I saw that her sophomore novel was available on Netgalley, I jumped at the opportunity to read it. 

This is a smart, small-town crime thriller, that focuses on what happens when people act without thought to the consequences. It isn't really fast-paced at all, it has more of a slow-burning aspect to it that will consume you as you read it, desperate to figure out how all the pieces come together. 

What I really enjoyed was the sense of paranoia that develops as the story progresses. The suspense ratchets up and you end up not knowing who is trustworthy. The characters, while not very likeable, are compelling and they get under your skin - you just need to know what is really going on and why.

This atmospheric mystery was full of suspense, yet has a dark underlying tone to it. It a small-town filled with secrets and kept me guessing right up to the very end. I look forward to seeing what comes next from this author.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Review: Winter Solstice by Elin Hildebrand (audio)

Title: Winter Solstice
Author: Elin Hilderbrand
Series: Winter, #4
Narrator: Erin Bennett
Published: October 2017, Hachette Audio
Length: 8 hours 41 minutes
Source: Library

Raise one last glass with the Quinn Family at the Winter Street Inn.

It's been too long since the entire Quinn family has been able to celebrate the holidays under the same roof, but that's about to change. With Bart back safe and sound from Afghanistan, the Quinns are preparing for a holiday more joyous than any they've experienced in years. And Bart's safe return isn't the family's only good news: Kevin is enjoying married life with Isabelle; Patrick is getting back on his feet after paying his debt to society; Ava thinks she's finally found the love of her life; and Kelly is thrilled to see his family reunited at last. But it just wouldn't be a Quinn family gathering if things went smoothly. A celebration of everything we love--and some of the things we endure--about the holidays, WINTER SOLSTICE is Elin Hilderbrand at her festive best.

My thoughts: This is the fourth and final book in Elin Hilderbrand's Winter series and I am so bummed! I absolutely fell in love with the Quinn family and loved being able to visit Nantucket these past four years during the winter. 

Before I go any further...I will say that to fully appreciate this series, I think you really should read these books in order. The books are quite short - all less than 300 pages - and they are rather quick reads. The character development builds from the first book, with each one adding on a little more, and that really is the heart of this series, and this last one really does tie everything up, for good or bad - all loose ends are wrapped up as we bid the Quinn family one last goodbye. But of course, that's just my opinion.

So, here we are, the fourth book - a bonus book in what was supposed to originally be a trilogy - of an outstanding series...a series about what can only be called a dysfunctional family. Don't get me wrong - I loved the Quinn family...but they were dysfunctional. But that's what made them so endearing because they weren't this picture-perfect family. They had issues - all of them! And in this latest book, we get one last chance to see what they are up to. Most of them are, as usual, in some sort of limbo - about to make a big decision that will affect the rest of their life. But that's not to say the book isn't without it's usual drama - because there is plenty of that, too.

There are also a few cameo's throughout the book of some minor characters who were part of story lines in earlier books. I liked this...I liked seeing them one last time, having them pop in again as a final goodbye. But the best cameo by far was Fast Eddie and his family. If you've read The Rumor, one of Elin's summer books than you know all about him...and if you haven't - you really should (it came out in 2015). I loved seeing him in this book and I believe this was the first time Elin has done a cross-over like that with her characters.

This book has all the will make you laugh and smile and it will most likely also have you shedding a few tears. It is a fitting ending to a great series and while I am sad to see it end, I am happy to report that Elin Hilderbrand will be writing another series...YAY!!! I absolutely love her books - I have read everything she has written to date and have met her numerous times. She is genuine and charming and her books are the perfect balance of fun with a little substance. 

Audio thoughts: Erin Bennett really does a great job narrating this book. I had listened to the previous book and really enjoyed that narration, so I decided to listen to this one as well. Erin gives each character their own unique voice, her pacing is good and she uses just the right amount of emotion in her voice as needed. 

Books in this series: 
  1. Winter Street
  2. Winter Stroll
  3. Winter Storms 
  4. Winter Solstice


Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: The Watcher by Ross Armstrong

Title: The Watcher 
Author: Ross Armstrong
Published: April 2017, MIRA Books
Format: Hardcover, 370 pages
Source: Publisher

She’s watching you, but who’s watching her?
Lily Gullick lives with her husband Aiden in a new-build flat opposite an estate which has been marked for demolition. A keen birdwatcher, she can’t help spying on her neighbours.

Until one day Lily sees something suspicious through her binoculars and soon her elderly neighbour Jean is found dead. Lily, intrigued by the social divide in her local area as it becomes increasingly gentrified, knows that she has to act. But her interference is not going unnoticed, and as she starts to get close to the truth, her own life comes under threat.

But can Lily really trust everything she sees?

My thoughts: I love when I get unsolicited books, especially ones that are from debut just never know what to expect. Luckily, this one ended up being such a crazy, twisted ride with one interesting, compelling narrator that just begged you to keep reading to see what was going on with her!

It's no surprise that I love a really good psychological thriller and this one is just that. I will say I was a little weary of the whole bird-watching thing, but that just adds to a crazy dimension to the story. It's told in journal-like format from the perspective of Lily and she is a bit out there - to the point where you start to wonder if you are dealing with an unreliable narrator - luckily for me, I absolutely cannot get enough of these types of books, so this totally appealed to me. 

I loved that I had no idea where this book was going. I was on edge the entire time, trying to put the pieces together, trying to guess what Lily really saw through her binoculars while she was birdwatching one day. She's convinced a woman was murdered and her mission to find out the truth borders on obsessive. At the same time, the twists and turns that occur in the book are dark and creepy and will keep you frantically flipping the pages until you reach the conclusion.

I enjoyed this atmospheric, haunting novel and will definitely be keeping an eye out for what comes next from Ross Armstrong. 


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review: Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan

Title: Odd Child Out
Author: Gilly Macmillan
Series: Jim Clemo, #2
Published: October 2017, William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: ARC Paperback, 432 pages
Source: Publisher

How well do you know the people you love…?

Best friends Noah Sandler and Abdi Mahad have always been inseparable.  But when Noah is found floating unconscious in Bristol's Feeder Canal, Abdi can't--or won't--tell anyone what happened.

Just back from a mandatory leave following his last case, Detective Jim Clemo is now assigned to look into this unfortunate accident.  But tragedy strikes and what looked like the simple case of a prank gone wrong soon ignites into a public battle.  Noah is British.  Abdi is a Somali refugee.   And social tensions have been rising rapidly in Bristol.  Against this background of fear and fury two families fight for their sons and for the truth.  Neither of them know how far they will have to go, what demons they will have to face, what pain they will have to suffer.

Because the truth hurts.

My thoughts: This is Gilly Macmillan's third book and the second book in her DI Jim Clemo series. It was one of the books that was high on my list of priorities at BookExpo last Spring...Gilly Macmillan is definitely an auto-read for me!

I loved this book - I loved the set-up and how it drew me in right from the start. It is a slow-burning suspense and the use of multiple narrators, each chapter alternating from narrator to narrator, just helps to ratchet up the tension ever so slightly. I felt that each time something was about to be revealed, each time we were on the cusp of fully having something being completely developed - there would be a switch of narrator and it would leave you hanging until you got back to that narrator again. It was like mini-cliffhangers almost throughout. But at the same time, all these threads are being woven together to develop a full picture of what really happened. It really was a brilliant way to tell this complex, yet heartwrenching story.

And that brings me to the characters - they are absolutely what made this story. I have never felt more attached to the characters in a book as I did in this story. DI Jim Clemo was already a favorite from Gilly's earlier book, What She Knew, so I was excited to see him again. This is his first case back from that book, and what a case to come back to! Then there are the two boys, Noah and Abdi. I had such a sweet spot for both of these boys, for different reasons and loved the way Gilly made each of them so strong, yet so vulnerable. This book is all about relationships, and that is so evident in how Abdi's mother and sister, Maryam and Sofia are portrayed. I loved the chapters that were narrated by Sofia - such a strong young woman she was, yet so conflicted by all that was going on around her. All these characters were so richly and realistically drawn, yet full of flaws. 

This book is so much more than a straightforward mystery. It touches on some heavy topics, including race and immigration, yet it also looks at family and what you consider your "family" to be. Secrets abound in this book and as it typical in must suspense books, this is definitely a case of being more than what first meets the eye. This book will keep you engaged from the very first page and have you begging for more as the pieces start to slowly come together to all make sense. It truly is a brilliantly written, memorable book.

Books in this series:
  1. What She Knew
  2. Odd Child Out 


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: Until I Met Her by Natalie Barelli (audio)

Title: Until I Met Her
Author: Natalie Barelli
Series: Emma Fern, #1
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Published: July 2017, Brilliance Audio / Thomas & Mercer
Length: 8 hours 42 minutes / 304 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audible / Print - ARC E-copy via Netgalley

Beatrice Johnson Greene, a bestselling crime writer, has an unusual favor to ask. When a chance encounter brings Emma Fern into her life, she thinks she’s found just the person for the job. Soon Beatrice will wish they’d never met.

For Emma, desperate to please, it’s an offer she can’t refuse. All she has to do is lend her name to Beatrice’s next novel, her first in a new genre. But when the book becomes a huge triumph, Emma finds herself the toast of the literary world. From nobody to somebody without writing a word.

It’s her first taste of success, and now Emma wants more. This is her masterpiece, after all. It says so on the cover.

Only Beatrice knows the truth. And surely there’s a solution to that.

My thoughts: I think when you read as many psychological suspense novels as I do, you tend to find that they somehow have the same feel to them in some way or another. Yet, this one, this debut novel from Natalie Barelli, totally breaks that mold. It is unique, witty and grabs your attention from the very beginning.

This is the tale of a friendship...until it isn't. It's about how far you are willing to go to protect something that shouldn't even be yours in the first place. I loved the craziness of Emma. But what I loved the most is the way everything played out. You aren't quite sure just what is going on...who is really manipulating who here. There are some really twisted, crazy characters here, not at all likeable, but compelling to say the least. They get under your skin and you just have to keep reading to find out what is going to happen next.

This is the type of book where you are not sure where it is going to go. It's very captivating and takes on some rather intriguing moral and ethical dilemmas. An addictive read, for sure, and I cannot wait to start the next one in this series, which I hope is just as addictive and crazy!

Audio thoughts: I thought Kate Rudd did a great job with this audio production. She was really able to bring these characters to life and use just the right amount of tension and emotion in her voice as needed. 

Books in this series:
  1. Until I Met Her
  2. After He Killed Me

Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner (audio)

Title: Persons Unknown
Author: Susie Steiner
Series: DS Manon, #2
Narrator: Juanita McMahon
Published: July 2017, Random House Audio / Random House
Length: 11 hours 46 minutes / 368 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audio / Print - ARC Paperback via Publisher

In this brilliant crime novel from the author of Missing, Presumed, a detective investigates her most personal case yet: a high-profile murder in which her own family falls under suspicion.
As dusk falls, a young man staggers through a park, far from home, bleeding from a stab wound. He dies where he falls, cradled by a stranger, a woman's name on his lips in his last seconds of life.

Detective Manon Bradshaw handles only cold cases. Five months pregnant, in pursuit of a work-life balance rather than romantic love, she's focused on being a good mother to her two children: her adopted 12-year-old son, Fly Dent, and the new baby. 

But the man died just yards from the police station where she works, so Manon can't help taking an interest. And as she sidles in on the briefing she learns that the victim, a banker from London worth millions, is more closely linked to her than she could have imagined. When the case begins to circle in on Manon's home and her family, she finds herself pitted against the colleagues she once held dear: Davy Walker and Harriet Harper. 

Can Manon separate what she knows about the people she loves from the suspicion hanging over them? Can she investigate the evidence just as she would with any other case? Persons Unknown shows acclaimed author Susie Steiner writing her most intricate, suspenseful novel yet.

My thoughts: This is the second book in Susie Steiner's DS Manon series and I just love this series. I had stumbled onto the first book in the series and was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it, so I was quite eager for the next one to come out. While I had picked up the galley of this book at BookExpo, I had enjoyed the narration of the first book so much, I decided to listen to this one as well and am so glad I did.

I just love DS Manon Bradshaw...she's quite the contradiction at times. She's tough and inconsiderate and pushy, but then she's also loving and feels all the guilt about being a single, working mother. She's a deeply flawed character and this makes her all the more relatable. Now that she finds herself pregnant, her guilt seems that much more magnified and though she's supposed to be working cold cases to keep her work life a bit more quiet, when the murder of her sister's ex happens, that all goes out the window. Life has just got really complicated...and about to get even more so as the main suspect is none other than her adopted son.

I love that there are multiple narrators in this book. We have Manon; DS Davy, who is working on the murder and was part of Manon's team from the first book; a shop clerk named Birdie and a young woman named Angel who Birdie ends up helping. At first, I was a bit thrown off by the parts told by Birdie and Angel, but I have to say, I became just as consumed by their story lines as I was with the rest of the book. In a way, I found it to add a bit of suspense, as I found myself constantly wondering how this all tied together.

This is such a complex novel, yet it brings about such a level of sympathy among characters - it's so unique in that way. I would almost venture to say that this crime fiction novel leans more to a character-driven plot than an action one. It's tightly woven and highly engaging, and one of my favorite series and I cannot wait for the next book!

Audio thoughts: I was thrilled to see that Juanita McMahon was narrating this book. I thought she had done a great job with the first book and so I jumped at the opportunity to listen to the second book. I felt that she was pretty consistent with the voices in this book and gave each character their own unique voice and personality. Her pacing and tone were spot on and I really hope she continues to narrate this series for as long as it goes on.

Books in this series:
  1. Missing, Presumed
  2. Persons Unknown 

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