Review: Tim Johnston – Descent

Tim Johnston

Caitlin and Sean go for an early morning run, yet only Sean returns. Years on, nothing has changed and her family is continuing to rip apart at the seams. The locals have given up the search, but her father remains looking for closure.

Johnston_DESCENT_pbkcvr_rev.inddWhat I liked about this novel were the wide range of characters included. It felt like you were really getting entwined in the communities. They weren’t just one-dimensional characters brought in to further the story, it felt like they actually contributed to the lives of the family.

What I didn’t like about this novel was the pace. I started reading the novel, and didn’t get past ‘The Life Before’. I picked it up again and got about half way through. I just couldn’t get myself moving! That might have had something to do with the style of writing, particularly of Sean’s character.

This one of the better abduction novels I’ve read lately, although I wouldn’t classify it as a thriller the same way I would Babydoll. Far, far better than the last good day of the year, and better than The Leaving.

There’s a set of discussion questions in the back, which I appreciated. The one that resonated with me was the fact that Caitlin got into the car with her abductor, and whether I would have done the same thing. I considered that she had no way to know that this man was going to hurt her, so it was reasonable. If it was the only way she thought she had of getting help it’s what I would have done too. Maybe. All these abduction novels are setting me on edge!

I’m finding it hard to give this novel a star rating. It took a long time for me to be enthralled. I could give it 4 stars, because its so much better than the other offerings, but then again it didn’t grab me as hard as it should have. Rather, let’s give it 3.5 stars.


Review: Hollie Overton – Baby doll

Baby doll
Hollie Overton

Lily was stolen away from her life at age 16. 2 years later, she gave birth to a baby girl in captivity and named her in honour of the biggest thing she missed – the sky. Now her captor has left the door open, and she is free – to flee, but not necessarily safe yet.

26889278Here the multiple perspectives worked quite well, but not flawlessly. I could have done without some in favour of some more from Lily’s captor. I imagine that he would have been the hardest character to write, as he needed to be realistic and yet creepily absent at the same time. He reminded me of Breaking Butterflies.

The abuse scenes aren’t that bad, per se, but still will be triggering for someone who may have been in an abusive relationship. The manipulative lying, the barren comments, all of it is horrifying with the knowledge that in real life, people do this, and not all of them are caught.

I’m feeling a bit weak in my heart at the moment, so I didn’t want anything too scary. I haven’t read ‘Fear is the Rider’ yet because I’ve been terrified of it! This was fine, even though I worried that there wouldn’t be a ‘happy ending’. I think the ending was more realistic than anything else. I wish you luck Abby and Lily, getting your lives back.

Oh my goodness. This was haunting. I couldn’t put it down. I HAD to keep reading. For that reason, I’ll forgive some other ills and give it 4 stars.


Review: Iris Johansen & Roy Johansen – Close Your Eyes

Close Your Eyes
Iris Johansen & Roy Johansen

Kendra was born blind and spent years honing her remaining senses in order to avoid danger. After a stem cell operation restores her eyesight at age 20 years, her uncanny perceptions make the FBI call her in for case after case where they are baffled and she can solve a crime scene by simply walking in the door.

image001This novel was trying to see itself by other reviewers as a ‘thriller [and] a titillating delight’. Sorry, the sexual tension that Kendra seems to feel towards Lynch isn’t even that tensioned for me as a reader. I saw it, yes, but the gripping storyline was what did it for me.

If you liked Angel Killer, you’re going to love this one. This one does have some danger to Kendra herself, so if that’s your thing, this is going to tick the right boxes. Ok, so some of this one is a bit gorey and I really wanted to look away, but other times it just made me sympathise with Kendra even more.

I didn’t see this as a thriller, because I didn’t make the connection with a couple of ‘coincidences’. That being said, I kept reading and reading because I couldn’t work out what might happen next. I was sad when I finished it, because it hadn’t explained all the questions I had – but that just left us in the same position as Kendra.

This reminded me of the movie ‘The Librarian’, where the guy is just so geeky he can work out random things about others from the merest hints. Being so observant seems to make people a bit prickly though. I wouldn’t like people much either!

This was a fantastic novel that a publisher sent me, and that I ended up reading anyway even though it was an ebook. That’s what being stuck in an airport for 2 hours does to you, it makes you read ebooks when you’re too lazy to pack a novel in your carry on (because you are supposed to be working). I’ve giving it 4 stars.


Macmillan Australia | July 2016 | $9.99 AU | ebook

Review: Jessica Warman – the last good day of the year

the last good day of the year
Jessica Warman

Turtle is taken on New Years Eve, and her sister Sam watches a man take her and is able to describe him accurately for the police to pick him up, and charge him with murder. Years later, she moves back and other things begin to fall into place.

20613800If this novel had been billed as an expose of what it looks like when a family is ripped apart by a disappearance, then maybe I could have gotten into it. Even then, it was too caught up in what Sam felt for anything else to really come through. I never want to be in that position.

The twists and turns that could have added up so that the reader could get their own idea of the story? Yeah, I didn’t see why they were relevant until the end, and then I wasn’t interested. I was just grateful it was over. The front cover is lovely and creepy and subtle, but the storytelling and plot simply didn’t live up to it.

There was nothing redeeming about the end of this novel. I struggled to keep reading, and the thriller it should have been was broken for me by the constant jumping around in time. I simply wasn’t invested enough in Sam’s story. It’s a novel, it’s perfectly ok to give me a concrete ending to make sure everything is good. Or bad. Whatever.

Whether you’re looking for a low-key thriller, such as The Leaving or babydoll, or prefer something a bit more gritty like Irene or PainKiller, this novel doesn’t need to come near the top of your list. 2 stars from me.


Bloomsbury | July 2016 | $12.99 | Paperback

Review: Holly Seddon – try not to breathe

try not to breathe
Holly Seddon

Alex is a semi-functioning alcoholic uninterested in recovery, and with nothing to live for. When she finds herself researching coma patients for a freelance story, the pathos finally gets to her and she is able to take further steps forward in her life.

This was such a slow novel. I was halfway through and saying to my partner that I wasn’t sure I could face keeping on reading it. I started out being a bit wary of it, because of the changing perspectives.

Ugh. I don’t get the title. Everyone is happily breathing. By the end, I couldn’t have cared less who-dun-it. Those suspects? No, don’t care. Alex’s way of dealing with her alcoholic life? Nothing new there either, another novel I’ve read recently covers the willpower method.

For those people finding themselves captivated, I’m not sure I understand what you have seen in this novel. I haven’t read the original mainstream thriller ‘The Girl on the Train’, which is what this one is favourably compared to. I’m not sure now that I want to read it either. I want one where the danger actually becomes real to the reader and I’m looking over my shoulder in fear!

I’ve read other suspense novels that had more life to them than this one. Haha. Even ones where they actually die! Think Painkiller or Irene to see fantastic examples of this genre instead. With this in mind, I’m giving this one 2-3 stars. It’s fine for reading, it’s just not the astonishing work of fiction that I was promised.


Review: Tara Altebrando – The Leaving

The Leaving
Tara Altebrando

11 years ago, six children went missing from their school. Now they have returned, with nothing but a few scraps of memory of their time away. Stop there – only five have returned? What happened to Max? Why were they chosen?

26073074I wasn’t won over by the way there were ‘bytes’ of information from the way that Scarlett and Lucas thought. I didn’t like the consciousnesses changing, and I thought Avery was an idiot. A rich, spoilt idiot.

I think that the ‘romance’ in this one was just a distraction from the whole premise of the book. This is apparently a thriller, yet I never felt threatened. In fact, I’m not sure that the kids that returned felt threatened either.

That was one of the most unsatisfactory endings in my whole life. What is this, is it going to be a series? Is it just a discussion of losing your memory?

I’d like to read the science behind this. Brains are fascinating in the way that they forget things and develop false memories. I think it is well documented how dementia patients begin to suffer, and the way memories can be lost in childhood. I could certainly do without some of mine!

I so wanted to like this novel. Look at the pretty cover? Yes yes, it called to me. The blurb? Seemed good. But then it just took my time and I wasn’t even that keen on it. 2 stars from me.


Review: N.J. Fountain – Painkiller

N.J. Fountain

Monica suffers from chronic pain. Not just chronic pain, but chronic neuropathic pain. Every second of her life is filled with acute pain which breaks through even the toughest and strongest medications. When Monica finds a suicide note that she has written, her mind begins to question what else has happened in a past she doesn’t remember.

28259431Normally I couldn’t tell you the names of half the characters, but the advantage of this novel being pretty much from Monica’s perspective (which is limited to dealing with people as she can’t really go out very much) meant that I got a good solid grasp of them in my mind. When the perspective changes up, you still don’t know the whole story or a truth.

Ooh, this is a twisty one, this is. It wants to portray itself as a potential crime, but in fact it is psychological thriller which just happens to have a bit of ‘potential’ crime involved. Its far more gripping, and not nearly as bloody. Monica might be acting like a sleuth, but in fact she seems to be only just coping.

Its an interesting insight into the world of those with Chronic Neuropathic Pain. I don’t think I would be able to live like that personally. It’s certainly something my girlfriend and I spent some time thinking about! It’s a bit like dementia, but it is drug induced. Monica can hardly remember her own name, let alone who might be responsible for her condition.

I could not put this novel down. I just had to keep reading. I took it to work with me, and just couldn’t stop reading. 4 stars from me now I know ‘who-dun-it’.


Review: Sanjida Kay – Bone by Bone

Bone by Bone
Sanjida Kay

Autumn is being bullied in the aftermath of her parents’ divorce. A new school and new parents – her mother Laura is feeling lost too. When Laura acts thoughtlessly in protecting Autumn, the wellbuilt range of lies in the community will come tumbling down.

28209238The whole time, I was on Laura’s side. I couldn’t believe how shallow some people were. But at the same time, I couldn’t believe how stupid Laura was. As if you would let an unknown person unlimited access to your computer! And use the same password for everything. And not have backups!

I kind of wished that I could have had more insight into Autumn’s mind. As it was, Laura’s mind was so full of thoughts and questions that I felt quite lost. Why oh why does she not stand up for herself? Why do neither of them?

Bone by Bone was a horror. I didn’t know what to expect, and the creepy corners were completely unforseeable. The ending! Oh dear. I don’t know how I felt about that. How can people so horrible exist?

I’ve been reading a bunch of novels at the moment which are filled with incomprehensible violence and awful people. The question is whether or not I’ll be able to keep tolerating and enjoying it, or whether I will become immune to it.

I didn’t know if I wanted to pick it up, the synopsis made it seem more boring and straightforward than it actually was. Then I did, and it was worth it. 4-stars from me.


Interview with Valerie Davisson

ValerieDavissonPortraitAn Interview with Valerie Davisson, author of Shattered* and ‘Forest Park’. Stay tuned for my review of ‘Forest Park’ coming soon! *Here’s the link for my review of Shattered

I am reviewing your current set of novels. From your other published novels, are there some that I should absolutely read?
This series is my first! Each book is a new adventure for me as well as my protagonist, Logan McKenna. My other books are non-fiction and poetry.

I both love and hate novels that don’t leave a discrete ending for the reader. Have you ever felt the need to write sequels for specific novels, other than this set?
If I had a standalone novel, I’m sure I would want to know what happens next with the characters – as long as we’re alive we have room for growth and change.

There’s always another novel in the pipeline to write… Tell me about it! Does it have even a working title?
Ahh…yes! I just sketched out the main points for Logan Book 3 and am digging into the research. This one takes her back to Jasper, her home town on the Southern California coast. All I can say now is that it involves sea otters, seduction and salty dogs…

Some advice other writers have given is that your first novel is best sitting in a drawer for a while, because then you feel stronger about chopping up ‘your baby’. Do you still have a copy of your first novel? Whether this was published or unpublished, I need to know!
Great question! SHATTERED: Logan Book 1 is not only my first novel in the series, but my first novel ever! I wanted to see if I could write one. Once I make up my mind, I just do it. I had no idea what I was doing, so went to a writers’ conference in La Jolla, found some experienced people to show me the ropes and off I went. It’s been a roller coaster ride ever since. Why leave something sitting in a drawer?

Do you have a dedicated writing space? How does it meet your writing needs?
I do – it’s an open loft area in my home. I’ve got a drafting table with a large monitor on the top shelf, a comfortable chair in the corner where I can curl up and read drafts sometimes. When I’m in the final writing stages – that final 1,000-words-a-day push, I lock myself in up here, put on headphones, crank up a Tchaikovsky violin concerto or 2 Cellos and everyone knows the “Logan light is on!” I need quiet to juggle all the plot lines in my head, or try to get a line right. I can do white noise – coffee shops are fine – I just can’t carry on a conversation or listen to music with lyrics and write at the same time.

I also find myself working at the kitchen table if no one is home or I’m too lazy to walk up the stairs. It’s closer to the refrigerator…

What is your writing process? Have you ever thought about changing it? Other authors I have interviewed talk about having an outline – post-it notes in an office, or writing in paper journals. Is there something like that in your writing technique? Or is it all digital for you?
This question brings to mind my first attempt at plotting. I taped several large pieces of chart paper together and used different color post-it notes for each character, placing them along the arcs of the story. Needless to say it got too complicated, so I gave it up. But it looked really cool. Made me feel very official.

I next tried Excel to keep track of dates, plot lines and characters – who’s doing what when. Excel works for me once the story gets going.I am the Excel Queen!

In the initial stages, I write and sketch ideas on blank paper-mind mapping, jotting down thoughts as they come to me. Once I decide one thing, everything starts rushing into my head and I have to write fast to get it all down. I can always change it later if something doesn’t work, but I feel lucky that so far the ideas come easily – the patience and skill is in weaving them together.

How do you know when a novel or short story is finished? How do you know to step away and let the story speak for itself?
I read somewhere that a mystery novel should aim for about 65,000 words. So, I had that in the back of my head, but really, it just seems to work itself out. When it’s done, it’s done. I like resolving some big issues, but also leaving room for the characters to continue living their lives, even if we never see them again. But, of course, we will see SOME of them again…

Do you have a preference for ebook or paperback format? This is for both your own reading and your novels.
I was always a person who loved physical books – the feel of a book in my hand or on my lap – wandering through bookstores, selecting books off the shelves with great pleasure. But…in the last few years, almost all of my reading is done on my kindle. It’s lightweight and doesn’t keep my husband up with a bright book light I used to have to use. Also easier to travel with.

Social media is becoming a big thing. How does managing media outlets come into marketing your brand and your books?
Because I did a blog as part of a non-fiction book about conversation salons I wrote a few years ago, I was somewhat familiar with WordPress, so when the publisher wanted me to do an author website and Facebook page, it felt pretty natural. I enjoy posting – just wish I could clone myself. Sometimes it’s hard to find time to write your novel AND your blog posts.

You have answered other sets of interview questions, is there something you wish someone would have asked you? Or conversely, something you wish they hadn’t asked?
One of my favorite questions is which character is my favorite – and it’s usually a toss-up between Tava’e, the massive, Samoan Chess Queen who owns the coffee shop down the hill from Logan at the beach, and Iona Slatterly, the feisty head of security at the Otter Festival in SHATTERED: Logan Book 1. She was modeled after a woman I saw while serving jury duty years ago. Tiny woman marched in wearing skin-tight, hot pink jeans with matching nails and lipstick, over-bleached blonde, towering beehive and drawn on eyebrows. Cigarette dangling out of her mouth. I never got to talk to her, so I reinvented her as Iona in my first novel. She was a kick to write! Lived by her own rules. Heart of gold. Rough around the edges.

Review: Ann Morgan – Beside Myself

Beside Myself
Anne Morgan

Ellie and Helen swap places. Helen was the leader and Ellie was the follower. But Ellie refuses to swap back. Let with a host of behavioural problems, delinquency and chronic instability, Helen drops into madness, while Ellie lives a life of fame.

The twists and turns in this novel, both in time and perspective, made my head spin. Helen holds onto herself with difficulty, and you can really feel that happening. It’s nicely balanced between inaudible ramblings inside her mind, and outer thoughts that she can’t keep in. Not to mention how she interacts with other people.

Mental illness often runs in families, and this novel reflects that. It’s an interesting expose of how different people cope with being dubbed crazy, or just feeling crazy, or acting crazy because it suits them.

I couldn’t believe the twins’ mother! What a disgusting woman. Not to mention the rest of the family. No one says sorry about anything. Only Nick tries, and even then he is acting for his own purposes. Only the twins are really true to themselves, and even then things are skewed.

I felt completely confused by the ending. Why wasn’t she taking medication? How could things ever remain stable for her? Even with her studio. I can’t say too much here, but I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts. What did you feel about it? Were you satisfied? I was satisfied, yet confused all at the same time.

I got really trapped inside this novel and couldn’t put it down. I’m going to give it 4 stars, although perhaps it should be a generous 3.