The Cuckoo Tree by Joan Aiken – Wolves Chronicles #6

This book was actually the first one I read from this series, back when I was about 9 years old. I absolutely loved it and I loved its sequel, Dido and Pa. This books is what sparked my interest in the whole series and I’m so happy to get the chance to read it now in the correct order! I wanted to know if, after reading about all of Dido’s other adventures, whether my opinion on this novel would be different or not … so here is my review:

Just as Dido Twite makes her way back on English soil, she lands in trouble. When her carriage overturns and her friend Captain Hughes is injured in it, Dido is forced to stay at Dogkennel Cottages to tend to Captain Hughes. There, she meets the odd inhabitants of Tegleaze Manor: fussy old Lady Tegleaze, her nephew Tobit, and his witchy nurse, Tante Sannie. However, there are suspicious things afoot: a priceless miniature is stolen, Tobit is framed, and a twin sister is discovered. And soon Dido discovers that she is in the midst of another Hanoverian plot! Can she get to London in time to save the king?

Once again, we are in for a wacky adventure. Every time Dido had a remark or thought about something, I couldn’t help but laugh – she is just that funny and sarcastic of a character. There’s quite a bit of witchy magic going on in this novel, which was super fun to read about. This novel was a bit darker than Dido’s time on Nantucket, but I really liked that because it gave it a bit more depth. Of course, depth doesn’t mean that this novel was more serious; if anything, the story was even wackier than any before it! We have the presence of an elephant again, which was something that I just didn’t understand, and didn’t like as much, but overall, this story was just as fun to read as every other one in the series. After rereading this book, I think it is still one of my favorite novels in this series! Now, time for the next one!

Happy reading ~

The Child by Fiona Barton

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I read The Widow by Fiona Barton when it first came out and it was definitely one of my favorite books out there. I was excited to see what the author would come up with in her next novel so I was super happy to have received this ARC! Here is my review:

When an old house is demolished, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton buried for years. When journalist Kate Waters hears this, she believes this story will turn out to be a great scoop. However, she needs more answers to her questions, especially the ones surrounding the identity of the baby. As Kate begins to investigate, she discovers a connection to a crime that occurred a decade ago: a newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward and was never found, leaving the parents devastated. But there is more to the story, and Kate gets drawn into the pasts of the people who once lived in the neighbourhood being demolished. And the more secrets she discovers, the more torn she becomes on what she can and cannot reveal.

I cannot begin to describe how much I loved this book! Just like in The Widow, the novel features a journalist who is amazing at investigating and putting together the clues; in fact, she does a better job than the police! I love how kickass Kate is; for once, the woman solves things and doesn’t just get pushed to the side. Kate doesn’t make stupid mistakes. She is perfectly capable of handling the situation and doing a competent job. This is one of the many things I love about the novel. Having a journalist as the main character was really awesome to see and gave me a really cool insight into the world of investigative journalism. This book was all about motherhood and the ways in which we see mothers in the world. This book also deals with sexual violence and can be quite graphic, so consider this your trigger warning. My main attraction to this novel was its focus on multiple women and the way they handled traumatic situations in their lives. I honestly did not see the ending coming until most of the clues were given to me, and the thrill factor was definitely ramped up with this story! My one teeny complaint would be that I wished that when they talked about the court proceedings, the author had gotten into more detail; it felt a bit rushed after this amazing drawn-out story. Overall, another amazing thriller from Fiona Barton that you definitely do not want to miss out!

Happy reading ~

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

I read the debut novel by Ruth Ware In A Dark Dark Wood when it first came out, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped, and I chalked it up to the fact that it had been compared to Gone Girl. This new novel has received a lot of positive reviews, so I decided to give it a real shot without any prejudices.

Lo Blacklock is a travel journalist who has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on an intimate luxury cruise. This is the perfect break for her, especially since she had just been a victim of a burglary. At first, Lo’s stay is pleasant: the cabins are beautiful, the dinner parties are extravagant, and the guests are all very posh. But as the week goes by, things begin to fray at the seams. When Lo witnesses a woman being thrown overboard, she is beside herself and reports the incident right away. The only problem is, all the passengers on board are accounted for. As the ship sails on unperturbed, Lo cannot shake off the feeling that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

In the beginning, I was intrigued by the way the author started with the story. Unlike other novels where we are just told that the main character has gone through something traumatic, the author lets us be a part of that traumatic experience. I appreciated this, and liked how it segued into the rest of the story. However, once Lo got onto that cruise ship, the story began to falter for me. I didn’t really like the other characters, and never felt like I got a good understanding of any of them. I also found Lo to be quite annoying and stereotypical, with her excessive drinking. The idea that her memory is not to be trusted because she takes medication and drinks a lot is a story line that I’ve seen many times, so I didn’t really care much for it. I also didn’t care for the ending, which felt rushed and not well planned; I really had to stretch my imagination to allow for things to play out in the manner that they did and I prefer having at least a little bit of realism. The one thing that I did enjoy was that at random points in the story, we would see how Lo was herself in danger through newspaper articles and messages on social media; that was a really cool aspect and the author did a great job of integrating it into the story. Overall, this was an okay thriller with nothing that lends it praise but nothing that causes me to hate it. I give this a 3/5 stars and would recommend it to people who like Ware’s style of storytelling.

Happy reading ~

She’s Not There by Joy Fielding

I’ve always been a fan of Joy Fielding, ever since I first read her book Heartstopper back when I was in grade 10. Granted, I haven’t read a book by her in a while, but reading this one makes up for it!

15 years ago, Caroline Shipley was looking forward to her wedding anniversary. But the celebratory trip to Mexico with her husband and friends became a disaster when her infant daughter, Samantha, was kidnapped. Now, 15 years later, there is still no trace of Samantha. Divorced and isolated, Caroline is forced to relive the horrible event every year by reporters who won’t stop calling her. But this year, when the phone rings, Caroline hears another voice – the voice of a young girl claiming to be Samantha. Taken back into a world of heartbreak and suspicion, Caroline doesn’t know who or what to believe. But when she starts to piece things together, she finds the answers are dangerously close to home.

I’m still trying to put my thoughts together on this novel so I’m going to start off by saying the things that I liked about this novel (this is basically my way of saying I’m going to ramble):

This book is emotionally charged and it does a really good job of staying that way. It shows the ways in which this kidnapping affects not only Caroline but her older daughter, Michelle, too. And while Michelle’s character might be annoying, she is arguably accurately depicted. In fact, everyone is accurately depicted, and I love that the author took the time to make realistic characters. It made the story that much more believable and emotional.

The story flits back and forth in time, to show the events leading up to and after the kidnapping, as well as showing what is happening in the present moment with the mysterious caller. It was a nice effect and kept me intrigued with the actual mystery of the story.

However, and this is the one thing that has made me feel confused in terms of my feelings about this book, I didn’t like the actual mystery aspect. For 90% of the book, the author focuses on the emotions and the events themselves, not bothering to mention how such an act could have happened. And I was fine with that. The story was gripping enough as it is and the mystery of the identity of the caller was good enough for me! But in the last few chapters, the author decides to unveil the perpetrators of the crime. And while this was necessary, it is the one thing that I don’t think was done well. There was a lack of build-up, of investigation, and it gave the effect of just being plopped down there as an afterthought. A few more chapters that focused on the whodunit aspect would have been appreciated and would have allowed for a smoother transition. I especially did not like the cliched effect of having all of the suspects in one room and having each one be hinted at as the possible kidnapper, only to finally reveal the truth. It reminded me of something out of Hercule Poirot, and it just made the whole scene really cheesy.

Another thing that felt a bit weird to me was when the mysterious caller arrives and just integrates “so well” with the family. It was a bit cheesy and made the story fall a bit, especially when compared to the previous spot-on emotional aspects of the story.

While this novel was emotionally strong, with great characters and details, it rushed parts of the ending and gave the feeling of not being satisfactorily completed. For that reason, I would give this novel a 3.5/5.

Nightbirds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken – Wolves Chronicle #3

So far, I think I’m doing a pretty good job of keeping up with this series! I have to admit that I may have bitten off more than I can chew when it comes to the number of books I’ve borrowed as well as the number of ARCs I’ve received, especially considering my current workload in my Masters. But I’m determined to do it all – even if it means many sleepless nights! Anyways, I like reading the books in this series because they are fairly short and full of so much adventure that the story just whizzes by!

Dido Twite wakes up to find herself on board a ship. While she’s grateful for having been saved, all she really wants is to go home to England. However, Captain Casket decides to land in Nantucket, and leaves Dido and his daughter, Dutiful Penitence, behind in the care of Dutiful’s sinister Aunt Tribulation. Life is unbearable at Aunt Tribulation’s farmhouse with all of the chores that the girls are made to do. When mysterious men begin to lurk about, Dido takes it upon herself to rally against their shenanigans with the help of Dutiful, a cabin boy named Nate, and a pink whale. 

I’m happy I got to read more about Dido, as she is my favorite heroine of all times! I love her plucky attitude, and her “brattiness” that was seen in the previous novel is all but gone! I will admit that I didn’t enjoy this story as much as I had hoped; it felt a bit too disjointed for me. While I’m used to reading about ridiculous and funny characters in this series, Captain Casket was a bit too ridiculous, and I found his obsession with the pink whale to be perplexing. If I’m honest, I didn’t really get the point of the pink whale for most of the story, and when the author DID tie it all in, I still felt as if it was a bit lackluster. I know this may sound hypocritical coming from me, especially since what I love about Joan Aiken and this series is the complete weirdness of it all, but in the case of this novel, it just didn’t work for me. However, the overall story was funny and interesting with more Hanoverian plots thrown in! I am going to continue to read the next book in the series and see what else Dido is going to do!

Happy reading ~

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Meredith Oliver is not friends with Lisa Bellow. Meredith is unspectacular and Lisa is the most popular girl in middle school. It just so happens that they both are in a sandwich shop at the same time. But then a masked man with a gun enters, and Meredith finds herself ordered to the filthy floor where she lies face to face beside Lisa. The moments tick by and both girls are terrified, Lisa openly sobbing and Meredith doing her best to comfort her and stay calm. Then the man orders Lisa to stand and come with him. She does. And Meredith is left behind. After Lisa’s abduction, Meredith is a changed girl. As the story follows the trajectory of a community rocked by tragedy, it begs the question: what happens to the girl who is left behind?

When I read the synopsis for this story, I expected it to be more of a drama than a thriller. Which ended up being true. However, nothing happened. At all. The author definitely did a good job in writing this story in the perspective of a middle schooler. But seriously. Nothing happens. Meredith is a character I felt pity for at times but mostly, I was just bored with her and the entire story. There’s only so much I can read about inane things in her life, like how bad her mom’s pancakes are, and how she likes to sit in a certain spot in the car. While I don’t think the story needed to be a thriller, I still think it could have been a bit more …. interesting. It’s a sad story, but I felt that I was more drawn to Lisa Bellow than to Meredith and her family. In the end, this novel just didn’t do it for me.

Happy reading ~

Say Nothing by Brad Parks

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A parent’s worst nightmare comes true: Judge Scott Sampson is about to pick up his 6-year-old twins on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon when his wife, Alison, texts him to say she will be picking them up instead. It isn’t until she comes home later in the day that Scott realizes she doesn’t have the kids. And she never sent that text. Then the phone rings. Someone has stolen the twins and warns the judge to follow exact instructions on a case he is about to rule. If the judge fails to follow the instructions, it is the children who will suffer. This one call is the beginning of the breakdown of marriage and life for Scott and Alison. Through it all, they are prepared to do anything to get their children back, no matter the cost to themselves – or to each other.

This was definitely a fast-paced thriller and the author definitely created a great situation for mistrust among life partners. I got caught up in the story and in trying to put the pieces together. I won’t say that this is the best thriller I have read, but it was gripping and action-packed. I quite liked the legal aspects of it; there were a lot of detailed explanations on court rulings and procedures and the duties of a judge that I found quite interesting, especially since I didn’t know anything about it! The story does shift between the perspective of Scott and the kidnappers, which added a nice twist. Overall, this was a decent novel that had enough elements to keep me interested – but not enough for me to rave about.

Happy reading ~

Blink by K.L. Slater

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A mother’s worst nightmare comes true in this novel. 3 years ago, Toni’s 5-year-old daughter disappeared after school. The police have been unsuccessful in finding her, largely because there is simply no trace of Evie from that day. Toni is insistent that her daughter is alive. As the pieces come together, the past comes to light, and reveals a devastating truth.

The first few chapters of this novel hooked me right away. It starts off with the reader hearing from a woman in a comatose state who is completely cognizant of everything around her but is, of course, unable to move. The story switches from past to present, which was done quite well. The novel was fast-paced and there were loads of candidates for the role of antagonist, which led to a fun guessing game.

However, the story suffered because of the characters. There was nothing redeeming about many of the characters and they were all 2D. I really couldn’t feel any sympathy for the main character, and Toni’s actions made no sense to me whatsoever. I found that the plot twists at the end weren’t well developed or explained; they caught me off guard but it was more out of disbelief than anything else. Unfortunately, the rapid pace and switching between past and present wasn’t enough to save this story and I would have to give it an overall low rating in terms of character development and illogical twists.

Happy reading ~

Baby Doll by Hollie Overton

When I read the premise of this novel, it immediately reminded me of Room by Emma Donoghue, one of my favorite novels of all time. Like Room, this novel deals with a woman who was kidnapped and kept hidden by her abductor. But that’s all that is similar between these two novels, as the author here took an entirely different approach.

For 8 years, Lily has been held captive in a basement cellar, and has gone from being a naive teenager to a scarred adult. Her daughter, Sky, has never set foot outside of this cellar and calls their captor Daddy. But one day, their captor makes a mistake: he leaves the door open. What happens next will change the lives of everyone – Lily, Sky, Lily’s twin sister, and the man who caused this mess in the first place. 

At first, I was intrigued by this novel. In Room, we only get a brief glimpse of what life is like for Bree and her son after they escape. This novel solely focuses on life after captivity. The first few chapters were interesting enough and I became excited for how the rest of the novel wold shape up. Unfortunately, it didn’t continue as strongly as it began. Quite often, I felt like I was reading something from a soap opera scene, rather than reading about the aftermath of a terrible event. Lily didn’t seem as disturbed as I would have expected for a victim, and the focus on relationships and affairs seemed to take the seriousness out of the story. I thought it would be grittier, more heart breaking. Instead, it just felt a bit blah. There was some excitement at times but not enough to make this novel a winner for me. So while the initial premise was good, the overall story let me down.

Happy reading ~ 

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

True to my word, I did not try to compare this novel to Gone Girl, even though the title gave me the opportunity to do so; all the author needed to do was add the word “girl” to the end of her title (okay, not a funny joke, but it made me laugh in my head)! It was a relatively short book but it is packed with so much emotion and twists that it felt way more substantive!

13-year-old Julie Whitaker was kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night. The only witness for this event is her younger sister, Jane. The family is shattered by this event, but manage to stick together, hoping for Julie’s safe return. 8 years later, the family is trying to stay strong and move on. But then, one night, the doorbell rings. A young woman who looks like Julie is standing there, looking exhausted and broken. The family is ecstatic, their long-lost daughter has returned home – but Anna, Julie’s mother, has whispers of doubts. These doubts only grow louder when she is contacted by a PI who voices his suspicions over the identity of the young woman they have welcomed home. Anna must now search for the tortuous truth and determine whether this girl is the daughter she has been waiting for.

This novel…. where do I begin? The story mainly focuses on Anna and “Julie”; the rest of the family are still present but they take a backseat here. While there are quite a few people who have complained about that, I actually quite liked that there was a limit to how many characters I was required to focus on, especially as the story became more convoluted. And I mean convoluted in a good way… if that even makes sense. The story switches between Anna, who is going through the present-day events, and “Julie” with her many different personas, who is recounting all of the things that have happened to her in the past 8 years that she has been missing. At times, trying to keep the story straight can be a challenge, but it was still executed so well and kept me engrossed. As I kept reading, I was overwhelmed by all of the emotions. The pain that every family member felt was so strong, and I could sense it in every word, and action. Every family member may not have been represented as much in the story, but their emotions were aptly shown. Just reading about the experiences that “Julie” has gone through was heart-breaking, and I almost cried. Not only did this story deliver in the amount of unexpected twists, it also sent me on an emotional rollercoaster. At the end of the novel, I was exhausted by the journey… and was astounded by the quality of the work and the caliber of this author. All in all, this was a great novel that tugs at your heart while also playing on your sense of paranoia, as you try to piece together the truth behind Julie’s identity.

Happy reading ~