Review: Jack Jordan – Do No Harm

Do No Harm
Jack Jordan

As a talented heart surgeon with a better-than-average success rate for saving patients, Anna has been presented with an impossible choice – kill a patient and make it look like an accident, or have her kidnapped son dumped in a well. As Anna’s previously picture-perfect life tumbles out of reach, the question remains – can she get away with murder?

This novel was terrifying and nail-biting and brilliant! I feel like I haven’t read such a great psychological thriller for a long time. I’m not even sure how to start reviewing it, I want you to trust my word for it and go read it!

Anna is somehow a distinctly relatable as a full-time working mom who is going through a messy divorce and is stressed out about not spending enough time with her child. The novel opens on her feeling horrible regret that she was unable to save the patient on her operating table – something that most people don’t have to feel responsible for! But the human factors of Anna draw us in, even as Margot’s character makes us turn away.

Something that always confuses me a little in these crime syndicate novels is that if they threaten to kill you or a loved one, what are the chances that they still won’t just kill you when you’ve done what they’ve wanted? I feel like if you’ve killed that many people before, what’s one or two more to the body count?

This was a compulsive read. However, now that I know the ending, I’m not sure how keen I am to read it again. Perhaps in another couple of years when I have forgotten the epic twists in the tale? 4 to 5 stars for me – go and read this novel. You’d better start reading in the morning though, because you aren’t going to want to put it down until the bloody end.

Simon & Schuster | 1 June 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Kassandra Montag – Those Who Return

Those Who Return
Kassandra Montag

Lore is taking time out after her traumatic exit from the FBI. There is no better place than the Hatchery House – an isolated, live-in psychiatric facility for mentally ill children and teens. Lore has her own demons to exorcise with her fellow resident psychiatrist – but everyone is keeping secrets. After a death, Lore finds herself questioning everything she’s learnt about her practice so far.

I loved the way the author seamlessly incorporated elements of an unreliable narrator into the main character. I think this novel could have been even better if – wait for it – it had multiple perspectives. The protagonist being a psychiatrist was pretty illuminating, but I think that a little more insight into the twisted psyche of the killer could have been interesting.

This book’s ending felt a little unfinished. It was very unclear where Lore ended up. I wasn’t ready to leave the story! I detested the narrative framing because I didn’t really care about that character. I was desperate to find out what Lore did next!

I’m giving this book 3 stars, because it was decent to read and did keep me reading – but the ending disappointed me. I’d recommend it for anyone who has an interest in psychology/psychiatry as a light read that nevertheless has a powerful message to share with the reader.

Hachette | 12th April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Sascha Rothchild – blood sugar

blood sugar
Sascha Rothchild

Ruby is facing a lineup of four photos – each one is of a person is dead, and she’s responsible for three of them. She doesn’t feel any guilt, so why should she be prosecuted? And she didn’t kill the one that she’s most likely to stand trial for…

This book unfolds slowly and juicily in a way that you can’t help think the same way as Ruby about each of the deaths. She’s so smart, and so not a serial killer! It’s very difficult for me to write a review, because I don’t want to spoil anything. You’ll be happy to know that the blurb doesn’t really give much away, so you will be guessing along with the police.

Look at that lovely jacket art. Provided that you’ve not read the summary on Goodreads (which gives waaayyy too much away) you’ll be like me – wondering why it’s called blood sugar. You won’t be disappointed. Ruby’s fragmented narrative is reliable yet skewed at the same time. The navel gazing she does is interesting, and left me thinking about whether anyone else has been getting away with murder in regular life! I’d have to think so.

There’s a bit of specific legalese here that some readers might be able to pick apart better than I. I was so attached to Ruby that I was too busy digesting her justifications to do anything except keep reading. The time perspective jumped around a bit, but I tolerated it quite well because I was entirely stuck into the story.

If you enjoy a thriller but hate jump scares and the feeling that the murderer might live next door, this novel is for you! The murders are all in the past, and so it feels perfectly ok to be reading this in the dark past your bedtime. I feel a strong need to share this novel with everyone! Go buy a copy, and then buy one for a friend so that you can both discuss it together. I’m giving it 5 stars, and when I’ve forgotten the plot enough I’ll read it again.

Hachette | 26th April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Catherine Ryan Howard – 56 Days

56 Days
Catherine Ryan Howard

Ciara and Oliver bump together in a seemingly-innocuous moment of time – both waiting to buy their lunch. Ciara seems shy, and is surprised that Oliver would pay her any attention. Oliver is worried about getting her attention, but it’s not clear why. When lockdown against COVID-19 occurs, Oliver invites Ciara to move in with him. 56 days later, there’s a body in Oliver’s apartment.

This was gripping! For a while, I wasn’t even sure which character was the one who had ended up dead. I was even vaguely hoping that it was a total stranger dead in there, but then I noticed the blurb, and that ruined it for me. So trust me, just pick up the book and read it, don’t read the blurb. I stayed up late and got told off – but I just needed to know what happened next!

This novel keeps twisting, but not in a way that is at all predictable. You think that you know everything about all three of the perspectives, but it turns out that 2/3 of them are only telling the reader a partial truth. I had forgotten how much I can enjoy an unreliable narrator when it’s a three-perspective novel (even though normally multiple perspectives isn’t my thing).

I’m absolutely raving about this novel. Go out and buy it. You’d think that a novel set in our current pandemic would be depressing or gloomy, but instead we see people making the most of the opportunities they have – even if it might be to get away with murder. I’ll be interested to see crime patterns in the real world in years to come too!

I can’t wait to unleash this book on others in my life. I’m going to make sure they don’t read anything about it first, and go in blind. Then I’m going to pick their brain at each step to see if they can work out the TRUTH. It won’t be quite as good as a reread for me, but I think it’s still worth it. 5 stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 5th January 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Catherine Steadman – Mr Nobody

Mr Nobody
Catherine Steadman

Dr Emma Lewis is a specialist in memory loss and brain damage. Perhaps it comes from her own past, a man who did something terrible and a memory Emma couldn’t forget. Mr Nobody has no memories of his own, but he knows things about Emma that he shouldn’t know.

There is a beautiful slow pacing in the first half of the novel which potentially could be considered glacially slow if you prefer a novel with a bit more action. I wasn’t in a hurry because I’d only brought one book! I enjoyed the perspectives, although I felt like there was perhaps too much insight into each of their minds. I also didn’t really ‘need’ all of the characters. For example, the nurse wasn’t that necessary.

The ending to this one was a bit of a twist, but not quite as twisty as I thought? I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Honestly, after all the build up I thought something exciting might happen in the final pages. I was wrong, and it made me sad. It seemed like Emma had given up (something nebulous that I’m not going to say because it’ll spoil the book).

Thanks to COVID-19 I’m more than a year behind on reviewing this novel. With all the bad stuff that was/is happening in the world I couldn’t face a thriller. This is worthy of three stars – 4 from the beginning and 2 for the ending! If you want a gripping crime go check out Before Her Eyes.

Simon & Schuster | 1 February 2020 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Lois Duncan – Down a Dark Hall (K)

Down a Dark Hall
Lois Duncan

When Kit’s mother and stepfather go to honeymoon in Europe, Kit is sent away to a boarding school in the middle of nowhere. She hates the idea from the very beginning, but little does she know, the school is much worse than she could have ever imagined.

This book was focused more on atmosphere and feeling than on having a complicated storyline, with detailed descriptions of the characters and scenery. At first I wasn’t too fond of the descriptive nature as I felt like it was just fluff that didn’t add to the story, but over time I realized that it added to the atmosphere of the book and made it a much scarier read than it otherwise would have been. Considering that I read this book in the middle of the day, it did a great job at getting me spooked.

The mystery throughout the book, on what the school was trying to do, was quite well-written. The blurb on the back, describing it as a ‘psychic prison,’ gave away some of the mystery, which I wish hadn’t been included, but the details of what exactly was going on were still left to be discovered.

The ending of the book took me on quite a roller-coaster. At first, it seemed like the book was going to end in quite an unsatisfying manner, but at the last minute everything got turned around, and it became much more exciting.

This was quite a satisfying short book. I typically prefer reading longer books as I spend a lot of energy getting invested in characters, but for a short, few-hour read, it went through a nice arc and had a satisfying conclusion. The book also feels complete, which is nice as I often feel that shorter books leave loose ends that need to be tied up. The version of the book I read is the one written in 1974, not the 2011 update.

(This book was given to me by my grandmother, so I wanted to say thanks! And I love you <3)

Review: John Ajvide Lindqvist – I Always Find You

I Always Find You
John Ajvide Lindqvist

John moves into a basement apartment to prepare to enter a competition of magicians and get away from his mother. Instead he finds himself adrift and poor in a city that doesn’t care about him, with people who are indifferent to everything. Except maybe whatever is hiding in the laundry room.

Who always finds John? Is it the guy calling him and asking for Sigge? What does that even mean? Does Sigge mean a particular word in Swedish? Is it actually important that John is a magician? Or would like to be one? Does anything matter? I think the answer is no.

Honestly, I’m not sure why I finished this novel .Was I torturing myself in some way? Hoping for a redemptive ending? It went from strange to weird, to even more strange. Maybe it’s all my fault for reading a second book in a trilogy out of context? But is it actually relevant since it’s Lindqvist pretending to be the protagonist in his novel?

Is this a horror story? I mean, I felt terrible for the child with the broken legs, but I wasn’t horrified by it. And the thing in the bathtub? That wasn’t horror. That was just a thing in the bathtub! I didn’t mind that things might come out of the Subway – because they never did. It seemed like the horror was just an excuse to let people be mean and nasty to each other.

I know that since I finished this I shouldn’t technically give it 1 star. But since I don’t know why I finished it, I’m not going to worry about it! Perhaps it would appeal to readers who love Lindqvist’s other novels? But for me, I know that I’m not going to touch anything by this author ever again if I can help it.

Text Publishing | 2nd July 2018 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Brad Parks – Closer Than You Know

Closer Than You Know
Brad Parks

Melanie aged out of the Foster Care system and is determined to never be like her parents for her own son. When she arrives to pick up her son from childcare, she finds herself being reported and jailed for domestic disturbance and an unknown drug charge. In the pages that follow, Melanie cannot defend her innocence,

This novel is told from the perspectives of Melanie (the accused ‘Drug Mom’) and Amy (the prosecutor), with interjections from the whispering rapist. The perspectives felt noticeably different while I was reading them, and their interactions felt real. I would have liked to be able to identify the rapist myself, as in other novels (Before Your Eyes), but that is a minor complaint. I could feel Melanie’s anguish at the same time as I saw things from Amy’s frustrated perspective.

I didn’t pick up this novel for almost a year because I thought it would be focused on the problems with the Foster Care system. Instead, despite the blurb, I found this to be a fast-paced thriller, even if it wasn’t totally psychological – it was more about how some disasters can’t be prevented, and that sometimes you just have to trust other people to have your back. I also learnt an interesting fact that prisons will let you keep your underwear (at least in Virginia), so if you’re going to be arrested, make sure you are wearing plenty of pairs so that you can use your own underwear. YMMV (pun intended)

When I was 3/4 of my way into this novel, I thought to myself that the ending would either make or break it. Thankfully the ending was really quite satisfactory, if not quite creepy enough for me. I felt that the ending really wrapped up a bit too quickly for me, as I wanted a little more information about Marcus (ew). How did the reader not see that coming? Or was it just me in the dark… 4 stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 28th March 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Jack Jordan – Before Her Eyes

Before Her Eyes
Jack Jordan

Naomi Hannah has been blind since birth, abandoned in a bus shelter and brought up in a loving family. She’s always felt alone, but at least safe in her little town. When she stumbles across a body in an alley, and the murderer caresses her, it starts a chain of reactions that steadily get more sinister. Who is leaving her alive at each crime scene, and why?

This novel put the creepy factor up high right from the beginning and it only got worse (or better?)! This is a true psychological thriller that caused me to shiver and make sure I had a good grip on myself (and my stomach). Some of the passages when Naomi were alone almost took my breath away.

Oh, the ending was perfect! I read the novel at a frantic pace for about two hours straight, holding out for an ending that would be satisfying and amazing. And it was everything I could have hoped for. Even possibly more than I could have hoped for. Go read it for yourself already!

This could have simply been a thriller and I would have enjoyed it, but having a disabled, black woman as the protagonist warmed this novel up from another run of the mill (but very good) crime novel to a great one with a diverse range of characters. Her unique perspective put me literally into her shoes. However, I could have had more insight into Lisa as the eventual explanation of her character didn’t exactly ring true for me.

Having finished the novel I can say that it was a totally engrossing read. Since I’ve read it, and I know the thrilling ending now I don’t think I’d reread it. But I think that if you’re a psychological thriller lover you are going to really enjoy this novel. 4 stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 12th September 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Laura Purcell – The Corset

The Corset
Laura Purcell

Ruth is in prison for murder and is awaiting hanging. Dorothea is a well bred woman with a fascination for phrenology (skull physiology that predicts character traits). When Dorothea sets out to map Ruth’s skull she is forced to decide whether she believes in Ruth’s truthfulness or her own ‘scientific’ mind.

The detailed gore at the beginning of the novel was cringe worthy and my feeling was that it was unnecessary. The torture might have been intended to make things feel Gothic and gloomy, but instead I just felt revulsion. I also couldn’t work out why I should care about David and Thomas. What were the men’s purposes in this novel?

It’s such a pity. The cover of this book was such that I expected a peacock to feature. Instead this felt a little like symbolism gone wild. The corset! The corset! And in the end, is it even what she thought it was? The reader and Dotty seem to move towards believing in magic, but the ending makes you questions that – and not in a good way.

About halfway through this novel I thought to myself that the ending would make or break the novel. I didn’t know what would constitute a good ending, but I knew it needed one. The ending I received however was disappointing and unsatisfying and made no sense to me. Will she recover? Was Ruth actually hanged?

Other reviewers are saying this is historical fiction, and I’m saying it might be. But there are plenty of other sources of historical fiction that are better focused and with better endings. 2 stars from me because I finished it, but I wish I hadn’t done so because it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Bloomsbury | 1st November 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback