Stephanie, a widow and active mummy blogger, has fully immersed herself in creating her own online space where she reaches out to “the sisterhood” for validation and adoration. Stephanie adores her only child, a six-year-old son, but a life occupied by endless maternal domesticity, Stephanie freely acknowledges, is not always completely satisfying. The disappearance of Stephanie’s dear friend, fellow school mother Emily, propels the mundane arrangement of an overextended playdate into the crashing together of two volatile families, both scrabbling to find out the truth.
A SIMPLE FAVOUR is an absolute treat of a book and for a debut novel, remarkably polished. Punch after surprising punch is delivered to the reader who resultantly never quite knows who to root for. Considering that a child has been abandoned by his mother, A SIMPLE FAVOUR stays well clear of portraying maudlin maternal emotions and instead examines what happens when someone decides to put their best foot forward in their new and changed circumstances. Stephanie’s character set in a different book would be just as chilling, and the familiar environment of home and hearth is anything but comforting in this surprising and gripping novel.
Read without guilt! A SIMPLE FAVOUR scoots along at a breakneck space and is anything but predictable.
Review - The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman, Mindy Mejia
Hattie Hoffman is the brightest of the bunch. A small town girl with big dreams, Hattie is counting the days until her high school graduation is all over and done with so she can proceed with the life that she really wants to lead; that of an aspiring actress in New York. Hattie loves her parents and enjoys hanging out with her friends but the Hattie they all see is an act. The real Hattie dwells within and is nothing like the girl everybody thinks they know.
THE LAST ACT OF HATTIE HOFFMAN has a lot of balls in the air at once and does an admirable job with the interplay. As with any small town crime, the suspects are taken out of a smaller pool and you are able to examine each viewpoint for clues. Flipping between past and present it features the viewpoint of Hattie, the Sherriff tasked with investigating her murder and that of the new person in town, Peter Lund. There are only a few small irks with this read. Perhaps it’s too much of a sensitive insight but it does veer close to victim blaming. The strength of this read is in the cast of characters, all unique and drawn with economic strokes but with warmth and purpose.
Ignore all the book comparisons as it doesn’t do this clever little mystery justice; it is all about the journey here and the big reveal is not the tantalizing part of the read. THE LAST ACT OF HATTIE HOFFMAN is a very satisfying read and deservedly one of the buzz books of the summer.
Review - All Is Not Forgotten, Wendy Walker
Teenager Jenny Kramer attends a high school party where most of her town’s young people are in attendance. Friends and people she has grown up with in a small town. Children of family friends. Making the decision to leave the party early, Jenny is brutally attacked nearby by an assailant whose face she never sees.
As the teen struggles to deal with both the mental and physical trauma, Jenny’s parents make the decision to allow medics try a new drug on their daughter that will serve to delete the immediate painful memories of the attack.
Charlotte and Tom Kramer come to regret that decision as they witness Jenny’s struggle to return to her former self in the following months. In comes Dr Forrester, who currently is dealing with a volatile male client who has also has lost trauma memories. It is the belief of the psychiatrist that recovering those lost memories will greatly aid his patients on their road to recovery.
As it is with all books written in the first person narrative, we are required to spend a lot of our reading time immersed in the thoughts of one character. Dr Alan Forrester is also seeing the parents of the victim, and believes in the holistic approach of counselling the entire family. Or is that what he is really doing?
As the doctor pontificates on about his psychiatric profession as it now relates his new case, three quarters of this book become quite soporific to read. In its last quarter ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN however finds its feet and we are dragged onwards to the conclusion with ill feeling. This is not a novel about the victim of a violent crime; we don’t in fact hear much from the victim. The book is full of self-serving individuals who all have a connection to our narrator, the narcissistic psychiatrist who has an agenda of his own that is always at the forefront. It is very much a book about avoidance.
It does feel too much too late when we are introduced to the major plot twist; backstory at the end when it could have been fed through the narrative to create a greater sense of foreboding. ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN is an uneasy dark thriller that has a very, very slow burn. It does give an interesting alternate viewpoint to the ripple effect of a violent crime in a small community where each decision made and each confidence revealed can catalyst further catastrophic events.
REVIEW - TURBO TWENTY THREE, JANET EVANOVICH
When her latest skip leads her to a stolen truck with a dead frozen mansicle inside, bounty hunter Stephanie Plum isn't sure she'll ever pick up a Bogart Bar on a hot day ever again. These things tend to scar you. Fortunately her skips have never the brightest and after all a girl has a hamster to feed. Stephanie almost always gets her man.
You know you are in safe hands with Janet Evanovich. At some point you are going to snort out loud, roll your eyes, or maybe just cheer for Stephanie Plum as the sanest and most likeable person in Trenton, New Jersey. This long running series consistently performs to expectations and it's comfortable that nothing really changes in the world of Stephanie Plum. Cars will get blown up, the bad guys will be caught, Stephanie will be embarrassed royally by her family and there will always be a romantic moment or two with either of her two leading men in Morelli or Ranger.
There's something endearingly kitsch about this low tech series in that even the bad guys usually have something endearing about them. Stephanie Plum in Turbo Twenty-Three is perfectly happy to step outside her comfort zone once again, demonstrating that placid nature that allows her to follow her friends anywhere they need her to be. It never gets too dark and it always stays entertaining.
Save this one for your quiet day over the Christmas period as you KNOW you are going to love and enjoy it for what is - a fun escape from the every day and a welcome update as to what is new with your favourite friends in the 'burg'.
REVIEW - WONDERMENT IN DEATH by J.D. Robb
Lieutenant Eve Dallas has had to deal with a few jumpers in her time as a New York detective but the investigative waters are muddied this time when the victim is a member of the social circle of Eve and her billionaire husband Roarke. Despite what the building's CCTV is telling her, Eve's gut instinct and the protests of mutual friends convinces the Lieutenant that the deceased, one young and vibrant socialite, was never planning her own death. Something is not right when someone in the prime of their life murders their own beloved sibling and then leaps off a high rise.
The biggest testament to J.D. Robb's aka Nora Robert's writing ability with the "in Death" series is that the books still appear fresh and not 40 odd entries in to what has been a consistently popular series. Eve and Roarke are now getting that "forever young" feeling though so WONDERMENT IN DEATH is a nice little vignette of the two of them (more Eve included than Roarke though) with no personal drama sub plots included that might have otherwise packed the pages out to a full length novel.
This novella is technically 41.5 in the series, but can be read as a standalone easily enough if you can get your head quickly around the future setting and the (cool) gadgets of living in a more modern age than our own. One for the fans and anyone else who wants to be entertained for a short and happy while, with no carry on after thoughts. You'll knock this little piece of escapism off happily enough in a couple of commutes.
Review - DARKNESS by Karen Robards
You just can't go wrong with a good plane crash in an thriller read. It is not the crash itself but the aftermath here that is so well described; the isolated and bleak setting, the struggle to rescue the sole survivor. DARKNESS contains two crashes, and it is after the second that the rescue takes place.
There are all the unusual incongruities in this book where exciting things needed to happen one after the other with the characters still in good enough shape to deal with them; gunshot wounds, the plane crashes, gun-toting foreign assassins and there's the whole not actually freezing to death problem. Plus there needed to be time inserted for the characters to indulge in a few steamy bouts of sex to move the burgeoning relationship along. Robards juggles all of this like the master storyteller she is, pinging the bullets around, sourcing convenient secluded caves, lucky shots and latent handy skills in both of her protagonists.
Robard's scene setting is excellent and keeping her cast small here has helped focus our attention on Gina and Cal. This novel is propped up by stereotypes of course but it makes little difference to the read which zips along in the frosty air and maintains a good sense of suspense, despite the necessary pauses for the characters to connect and have the obligatory deep and meaningful conversations.
For those who like more action and less smooching in their romantic suspense reads, DARKNESS is a fast paced novel of danger and love in the snow. Plus you will pick up a thing or two about what to put in your survival pack next time you head out camping.
Review - THE OBSESSION, Nora Roberts
Photographer Naomi Carson has surprised even herself with her urge to buy a house and put down roots. A fixer upper in a beautiful rural town seems a perfect clean slate on which to begin her new life and she feels at long last that she can relax and plan for the future. Naomi soon finds that with making personal connections comes complications, but they are welcome ones to someone who has spent most of her life leaving as small an emotional footprint on the world as she can.
Best selling author Nora Roberts excels in churning out the whip fast reads, and THE OBSESSION is another book where the dialogue is snappy, we have a savvy and feisty heroine, and the love interest is uber masculine and good with his hands. You will be half way through this novel before you know it, caught up in the evolving relationship between the two leads whilst not losing sight of the fact that there is someone waiting and wanting to bring all that happiness down.
There is quite a contrast between the present day Naomi scenes, and the first few chapters set in the past where the horror all began. It is relayed in such a teen thriller fashion that you are almost expecting a punch line or to find out it was some horrible dream. These introductory chapters don't gel with the bulk of the book, which is breezy modern romance. The book finds its pace when we have Naomi in her new home, making renovation plans with her builder, pottering around with her photography and meeting the townsfolk. Naomi is a trauma survivor and it is in the many smaller details of how she builds this new home for herself where satisfaction lies for the reader.
There are no surprises in this novel and the crime aspect is almost unnecessary, other than as a way to explain why Naomi is gun shy of relationships and is starting out anew. Fans will enjoy this read and care for both Xander and Naomi, and Naomi's family and the townsfolk as well. A sweet winter read about moving on and not letting the past limit your future happiness.
BLACK-EYED SUSANS, Julia Heaberlin
Seventeen-year-old Tessa, dubbed a 'Black-Eyed Susan' by the media, became famous for being the only victim to survive the vicious attack of a serial killer. Her testimony helped to put a dangerous criminal behind bars - or so she thought. Now, decades later, the case has been reopened and the black-eyed Susans planted outside Tessa's bedroom window seem to be a message from a killer who should be safely in prison. Tessa agrees to help with the investigation, but she is haunted by fragmented memories of the night she was attacked and terrified for her own teenage daughter's safety.
BLACK-EYED SUSANS is a full arc crime novel. There is the immediacy of the act and recovery for the victim and then there is hindsight through to resolution. Tessa is a grown adult with a child of her own in alternating scenes of this novel. Whilst the killer in this read has attacked multiple victims this is not a serial killer novel. BLACK-EYED SUSANS has resonance with the “after”; as in what happens to child victims of crime; how do their lives go on, does it forever after affect their development into adults and the fact that the bulk of their life is being lived after experiencing such horrific trauma.
There is nothing wrong with a slow build, that being the usual framework of a suspense novel after all, but there can be such thing as too much navel gazing when a novel is written in first person narrative. BLACK-EYED SUSANS has many strengths but loses some pace in the final quarter as we are being guided towards discovery. Our protagonist has been watching her back and jumping at shadows for a very long time since she was taken in childhood so as Tessa begins to question her own long thought and cemented assertions, the process is a little drawn out.
Author Julia Heaberlin has created an “everyperson” novel and that is the prime appeal of this read. There is nothing unusual or exceptional about Tessa as a child and she hasn’t developed superhero abilities as part of her recovery; she has lived her life never being sure of what exactly happened and begins to question her own reactions and processes in relation to who was around her at the time of the crime, and to who is sharing her life now in the present.
As a final note, props to the designer of the cover! The distinctive cover art of this book has repeatedly caught the eye of this reviewer in online publications.