Liar Liar by M. J. Arlidge

imageDetective Helen Grace has never seen such destruction. Six fires in twenty-four hours. Two people dead. Several more injured. It’s as if someone wants to burn the city to the ground…

With the whole town on high alert, Helen and her team must sift through the rubble to find the arsonist, someone whose thirst for fire—and control—is reducing entire lives to ashes.

One misstep could mean Helen’s career—and more lives lost. And as the pressure mounts and more buildings burn, Helen’s own dark impulses threaten to consume her…

I don’t like fire, it’s one of those things that has always scared me a little and the thought of being caught in one terrifies me.  Liar Liar, then, is probably not a book I should have been reading.  However, it was next of my list of books staring DI Helen Grace and – as I’ve loved them all so far – I couldn’t say no, afraid I might be missing out on something good.

One of the reasons I don’t like the idea of being caught in a fire is that feeling that there isn’t much you can do about it once your trapped and M J Arlidge has pretty much convinced me I’m right thinking that.  He paints quite a scary picture of just what it feels like to get caught in a fire – the panic people feel when they wake up to find their houses on fire, their bodies in some cases, and the sheer battle they face against the smoke and the heat to escape.  Like I said, the idea terrifies me, and even reading about it made me more than a little uncomfortable.

Thankfully for the people of Southampton, the arsons are being investigated by DI Helen Grace who is like a dog with a bone and the force’s best detective.  Unfortunately for them, for most of the book the arsonist is one step a head and the fires continue to burn.  That’s because they are clever, leaving no clues as to who they are or what their motive is.  Helen and her team seem to be on the loosing side for once and, as they scrambled to make sense of what was happening, as a reader I could fee the tensions rise.

I also had no clue who the guilty party might be, which was great as quite often with these books it becomes pretty clear early on and then it’s just a case of understanding the why. When the big reveal came, it was a good one and – I thought – clever to.  Not your usual suspects and no one that had been on my radar.   Then there was a final twist in the tale which, if you read my reviews regularly, you’ll know I’m not always the biggest fan of but here made perfect sense and was a fitting ending to a great story.

Beyond that there isn’t much else to say other than the things I’ve said about every book in the series so far.  I love Helen, she’s a great character and her team are coming to life more and more with each story, making me care for them too.  The book is really well written, with short, punchy, chapters that keep you turning the pages and wanting to know what happens next.  The only difference with this book to the last three is that this is perhaps more of a slow burn (pun intended) with the arsonist not being revealed until close to the end and not having much of a voice bar a few blog posts throughout the story.  This is no bad thing though and didn’t leave me feeling like I was missing anything.  I liked this book a lot and would definitely recommend.

Emma

liked-it-a-lot

Source: Library
Publisher: Penguin Crime
Publication Date: 10th September, 2015
Pages: 442
Format: paperback
Genre: crime fiction

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The Missing by Caroline Eriksson

32875064An ordinary outing takes Greta, Alex, and four-year-old Smilla across Sweden’s mythical Lake Malice to a tiny, isolated island. While father and daughter tramp into the trees, Greta stays behind in the boat, lulled into a reverie by the misty, moody lake…only later to discover that the two haven’t returned. Her frantic search proves futile. They’ve disappeared without a trace.

Greta struggles to understand their eerie vanishing. She desperately needs to call Alex, to be reassured that Smilla is safe, or contact the police. But now her cell phone is missing too. Back at her cottage, she finds it hidden away under the bedsheets. Had she done that? Or had someone else been in the cottage? But who, and why?

As Greta struggles to put the pieces together, she fears that her past has come back to torment her, or she’s finally lost her grip on reality…

The Missing is one of those books that seems to have been written just for me with the mysterious disappearance of a father and daughter and the woman who loves them desperately trying to figure out what has happened to them, at the same time as holding onto her sanity.  Because she has secrets, lots of them it turns out, which mean going to the police or calling anyone else for help doesn’t feel like an option.

It starts innocently enough, a trip across the lake to an island that locals call Malice because legend has it people disappear from it never to be seen again.  Just like Alex and Smilla.  Greta, though, isn’t from the area.  She doesn’t take it seriously.  Until she wakes up from a nap and knows instantly that they aren’t there.  Days of frantic searching lead to nothing but a run in with a gang of youths who are more than a little threatening and who seem to think Greta has stolen from them.

Left on her own in a remote cabin, Greta starts to see things in the water, in reflections in mirrors and windows, and in the eyes of the few people she comes across.  She loses track of time and what is real and what isn’t.  The past, the things she has lived through, the secrets she has kept, all seem to come flooding in.  As they do, tensions build and Greta’s behaviour becomes more and more erratic.

Along the way, I found I had great sympathy for Greta, though I didn’t necessarily warm to her.  She has had a hard life and one that seemed almost destined for her to end up where and how she was.  There was just something missing for me.  I wanted to feel more strongly about her.  Instead, I felt like an outsider looking in. It meant that, even though the book was well written and well translated with lots of twists and turns I found myself easily distracted from it. For me, it wasn’t a page-turner. Though I didn’t dislike it, I just wasn’t connected. A shame but this one is a like not a love review.

Emma

liked-it-a-little

Source: Purchased
Publisher: Amazon Crossing
Publication Date: 1st January, 2017
Pages: 201
Format: eBook (Kindle)

 

The Ice Twins by S. K. Tremayne

imageA year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives.

But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity—that she, in fact, is Lydia—their world comes crashing down once again.

As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past—what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died?

I had heard a lot about The Ice Twins before I bought it – which was quite a while ago if I’m honest – and I had also read The Fire Child, S. K. Tremayne’s second book, which I’d enjoyed.  This meant I had high expectations for this book even before I’d crack the spine, not always a good thing as it’s much easier to be disappointed.  I have to say, however, that I wasn’t. This is a good book and better than The Fire Child in many ways.

It’s better because the characters feel more solid and real, the husband a little less unrealistic in his behaviour, and because it’s spookier.  I know this isn’t a ghost story but it has elements that definitely lend itself to that, especially whether there are one or two twins living in the remote farmhouse with Sarah and Angus.  They are identical so if there were two, how would you tell?  And what about the toys that keep appearing, the way that children at school respond to Kirstie / Lydia?  It’s a great set up and S. K. Tremayne does a great job of keeping you guessing as, slowly, secrets are revealed.

This is one of those books where nothing is as it seems, no one is telling the truth and no one is quite as perfect as they may initially appear.  At the heart of it all though is a distraught little girl who can’t seem to get anyone to believe her.  But then, to do that, her parents would have to face some hard realities.  I loved all the “is she / isn’t she” Kirstie or Lydia questions and the twists and turns the book took.  I couldn’t decide if I liked Sarah or Angus or if they were right, wrong, good or bad.  Add to that the remote setting, with the harsh conditions and the not so trusting locals and it really did make it a page-turner.

I can see why so many people raved about it when it was released and think I am now one of them.  I would recommend this book, especially as the nights draw in as it’s the perfect time for something a little spooky, and liked it a lot.  Enjoy!

Emma

The Highway by C. J. Box

25586477

It was Danielle and Gracie’s secret. A teenage adventure. A 1,000 mile drive along the spine of the Rocky Mountains to visit Danielle’s boyfriend in Montana. Their parents were never to know.

But now the girls have simply vanished.

The only person who knows they’re missing is Danielle’s boyfriend. He persuades his father – a disgraced, suspended cop – to search for them.

But he too simply disappears.

Now it’s up to rookie cop, war widow and single mother Cassie Dewell to find them. Her investigation will introduce her to FBI’s Highway Serial Killer Task Force, compel her to confront a spate of roadside sexual mutilations and murders, and lure her towards a darkness greater than anything she could ever have imagined.

I love discovering a new author – or at least new to me (C. J. Box has been around a while and has quite a back catalogue) – and new characters that I immediately like and want to get to know more.  There is a feeling of real satisfaction when you do either but both is a real win in my book and it’s how I felt reading The Highway which I really enjoyed.

The story itself is pretty simple – two girls go missing and a serial killer is on the loose.  He is convinced he has a fool proof plan, picking up women in truck stops.  He just doesn’t count on a renegade cop with nothing to lose picking up his trail.  Make that two renegade cops as Cassie is almost as willing to go rogue as her mentor Cody Hoyt.  Both are like dogs with bones, willing to stop at nothing and suspicious of everyone – rightly so it turns out.

I loved Cassie’s doggedness and her need to do the right thing, even if that wasn’t always in line with the law of the land.  At the same time, she isn’t rock-hard, invulnerable.  Often in these books the female detectives don’t have a family or boyfriend and so nothing to connect them to real life.  This can make them hard and unlikeable.  Not so the case with Cassie – she has a life in the form of a little boy.  It meant Cassie was connected to the world and so it made her more human.

I also loved the setting for the story – Montana, a place I’ve always wanted to go and where the rugged and harsh landscape added to the sense of tension and dread as Cassie and Cody searched for the girls.  It also added to a sense of danger, not just for the girls but for the detectives.  It is a place, as described, where people are loners and don’t welcome outside interest, especially not from law enforcement.

It all made for a really cracking piece of crime writing, well-paced and well written and, as said at the beginning, I really enjoyed reading it. I will definitely be reading the follow-up, which I have read is even better, and am definitely recommending this book.  Liked it a lot!

Emma

 

 

Blame by Nicole Trope

image

‘I am here because they suspect me of something. I am here because I am a suspect. I know that, she knows that. Everyone knows that.’ Anna

‘It wasn’t my fault. None of this is my fault!’ Caro

Caro and Anna are best friends… they were best friends. Over a decade, Caro and Anna have bonded while raising their daughters, two little girls the same age but living two very different lives. The women have supported each other as they have shared the joys and trials of motherhood, but now everything has changed.

There’s been a terrible car accident, an unimaginable tragedy that leaves both families devastated. Over two days as Caro and Anna each detail their own versions of events, they are forced to reveal hidden truths and closely guarded secrets.

The complicated lives of wives and mothers are laid bare as both women come to realise that even best friends don’t tell each other everything. And when hearts are broken, even best friends need someone to blame.

Reading the blurb for Blame it sounded like my type of book. Two friends, a tragedy, secrets and lies. What could be better? Not much where this book is concerned, especially given how unexpectedly emotional it was too. It is well written, well plotted and has a clever way of letting the story unfold that drew me in from the first page.

It starts with Anna going to the police station. Her daughter is dead, killed by her best friend Caro in what sounds like a tragic accident. Only she and Caro were there and police want to understand what happened.  It seems simple enough – so why is Anna so nervous and why is she telling herself to stay calm and stick to her story?  It’s a story Caro, who is in the interview room next door, tells differently. Yet it’s one she is convinced no one will believe.

With each chapter alternating between their two witness statements a much more complicated story than it initially appears to be is told. For Caro and Anna life hasn’t turned out as they planned and it has all culminated here. As I came to understand this, I started to feel for them. I also started to wonder just where the truth lay. Needing to find this out kept me turning the pages. As I did I went back and forth, first blaming one character then the other as their actions were revealed, both by their friend but also by themselves as they each seemed to realise that the truth was easier to tell than the lies they had been.

The police who took their statements, the husbands who tried to support them, were catalysts and so not fully formed (though they were detailed enough that I didn’t feel something was missing).  You see them only through Anna and Caro’s eye. Both women were really well drawn though. I could picture them in my minds eye and they felt very real for me. Human, which is what this story was, and why it was more emotional than I thought. It wasn’t just about secrets it was about honesty and misunderstandings, friendship and love, fear and pain. It is why I enjoyed it so much and why I would say it’s a recommended read – loved it!

Emma

note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

(Revisiting) The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

imageProud and solitary, Eel Marsh House surveys the windswept reaches of the salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway. Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the house’s sole inhabitant, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows. It is not until he glimpses a pale young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black – and her terrible purpose.

I first read The Woman in Black over twenty years ago, right before going to see the stage play, and loved it. I loved the stage play too and have seen it several times since, always amazed by how much it still spooks me out. I know that the play isn’t exactly the same as the book but it is really well done and the changes are more about how it is presented (with only two actors it’s very clever and if you haven’t seen it and get the chance you should). The story itself isn’t really changed.  I think that’s what I expected when I watched the movie. It’s not what I got. Though it’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen I spent most of it distracted thinking “I don’t remember this”…which is why I decided to re-read the book.

The Woman In Black is a fairly short story, which I think a lot of the best ghost stories are. To me, they need to be read in one sitting, at night with the curtains drawn and – ideally – with the rain lashing against the windows. It’s also a simple story – a young man travelling to a remote part of England to deal with the estate of a recently decayed spinster. Once he arrives he finds the locals skittish and unwilling to help him in his mission or talk to him about the mysterious woman in black he keeps seeing. As he begins to realise she isn’t what she seems and things start to go bump in the night, the tension builds and his mind starts to crack. It’s cleverly done and well written and, even though I had read it before and knew the ending, I still found it enjoyable to read and scary and spooky.

I like Susan Hill’s way of writing and how she had reflected the style of the time in which it is set (the late 1800s) in that it is written as a memoir in the first person and quite formal. It fitted the story well and drew me in. It also makes the story feel quite timeless, which I guess it is given it has remained as popular as it has on page and stage (it is apparently the second longest running in the West End after The Mousetrap). After twenty years I still liked this one a lot and am glad I found an excuse to re-read it. A recommended read.

Emma

Only The Brave by Mel Sherratt 

img_0390When DS Allie Shenton gets an early morning call letting her know that a dead body has been found, she hesitates just for a second. Her sister is on life support and the prognosis isn’t good – she should be with her…but that’s where she has been for the last few weeks and she needs a distraction. Murder may not be the most pleasant one but it’s her job, and she’s good at it, so she heads out.

When she arrives at the scene she finds the victim is a local gangster, Jordan Johnson; Jordan also happens to be the boyfriend of Kirstie Ryder, linking back to the first book in this series. Kirstie is the daughter of Terry Ryder, the most feared gangster in Stoke, even though he’s behind bars (thanks to Allie). Given the link, Allie knows there has to be more to Jordan’s death than his just being in the wrong place at the wrong time despite the seeming randomness of the crime.  She also knows that the last people she wants to get involved with again are the Ryders – they are nasty pieces of work.

And then, as if she didn’t have enough on her plate, she has to keep looking over her shoulder, trying to figure out just who is stalking her – when all she knows is that it’s the same man who attacked her sister 17 years before, leaving her with significant brain damage. Never caught, he is back and after Allie.  This is another thread from previous books but I don’t think you have to read them to enjoy this novel because it does work as a standalone.  It is, however, the one gripe I would have about the book – this storyline didn’t feel as strong as the central one and I felt it was a bit rushed. I wish it had rolled over to another book and been the central story.

The main storyline, though, the murder, was well written and tightly plotted – taking place over the course of just over 24 hours with chapters for timeframes. This was well done, keeping me turning pages, and – as I’ve read quite a few books recently with characters / alternating chapters – a good change of pace for me. It didn’t make the story any less compelling though – it was, very, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing.

The main characters were also well developed too, and Sherratt has added layers to them with each book. Allie is more complex than I originally thought, in part because of what happened to her sister but also in her relationship with her husband Mark, who came into his own a bit more in this book. They are people I want to get to know more so I’m hoping that there is another in the series in the offing because I really liked this book a lot. A recommended read.

Emma

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

There are very few authors in recent years whose books I have looked forward to reading as much as Mary Kubica’s. I really liked her debut, Good Girl, and loved her follow up, Pretty Baby…meaning I had high hopes for Don’t You Cry. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.

The story opens with Quinn being woken by her flat mate Esther’s alarm clock. Slightly worse for wear after a boozy night out, she turns off the alarm and goes back to bed, barely registering that Esther isn’t in bed and her bedroom window – which is next to a fire escape – is wide open, not something you would expect for winter in Chicago. When she wakes for the second time later in the day, Esther still isn’t home and Quinn still isn’t concerned; her roommate must be at church, she thinks, or shopping or with other friends.

Gradually, though, it dawns on her that this doesn’t make sense. It just isn’t like Esther, or at least the Esther she knows, to go off without letting her know and so – at last – she begins to get worried.  Unfortunately the police aren’t as concerned so Quinn starts to try and figure out what has happened to Esther on her own. The more she searches for answers, though, the more she starts to have questions about just who Esther is…and the more her concern turns into fear for her own life.

Eighty-odd miles away, Alex wonders if he has met the girl of his dreams in Pearl who has appeared seemingly out of nowhere and spends her days sitting in the diner he works in staring out of the window. He is fascinated by her and, as they spend time together, the snippets of her life she shares with him seem to mirror his own.  At 18, Alex is lost, taking care of his drunken father and yearning for the love of a mother who left him when he was a young boy. In Pearl, he sees an answer to his loneliness but also behaviours that scare him. The reader sees someone who looks exactly like Esther.

Told through the eyes of Alex and Quinn in alternating sections and across a series of days, all I could do was wonder what was going on. What was Esther – if it was Esther – up to? I really had no idea till the final chapters when it all came together and started to make sense – at which point most of what I thought I knew had been turned on its head. Kubica is brilliant at doing this and it’s one of the things I’ve liked best about her books.

I also like how she creates characters that are flawed but likeable. The trick is, I think that the flaws aren’t big and scary but make the people who inhabit her pages human. Here, I especially liked Alex. He hit a note with me and I hoped everything would work out for him in the end. He was a decent person and deserved a happy ending. With Quinn, I just hoped would come to her senses and stop thinking the worse; she is quite a selfish character in places. Yet, I didn’t dislike her, just found her frustrating at times and I wanted her to maybe grow up just a little bit.

Other than that, though, I really can’t fault this book. It was well written, a real page turner, and I loved reading it. Highly recommended!

Emma

Note: Don’t You Cry will be published 17th May, 2016. I received a copy of this book via Net Galley / Harlequin in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own. 

The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson

Never-Open-Desert Diner3Ben spends his days driving route 117, delivering packages to people time and the rest of the world seem to have forgotten.  He is their lifeline to the “real” world and they help him eke out a living in a town that is on the edge of nowhere and the desert.

There is a reason that people live off 117 – they want to be left alone or are leaving something behind.  For Ben, it’s being without family and with few friends; he was abandoned as a baby and is a loner by nature.  For Walt, it’s the diner he never opens – or hasn’t for a long time, ever since his wife died.  And for Claire, well – at least at first – Claire is a mystery, one Ben can’t help being drawn to.

He thinks he knows every nook, cranny and turn-off on route 117 until a random stop one day leads him to a house in the middle of the desert and Claire.  She is newly arrived and definitely not wanting to be found.  An ex-husband is in the wings – and might be the one following Ben as he makes his deliveries. It’s all very complicated but also very simple and his and Claire’s lives begin to intersect and then seek each other out as they fall in love.

As they do, life goes on in the desert.  People live, they die, they help each other when they need to.  Anderson’s characterisation of these secondary characters is wonderful.  I felt I knew every single one of them and liked every one of them.  I liked Ben, Claire and Walt too, the central characters.  All are completely dysfunctional but not in a bad way.

Ben, especially, is the type of character I like and, whilst this isn’t a piece of crime fiction, I was reminded in a way of James Sallis’ characters.  He is a man of few words who has made mistakes.  He tries to live his life the best way he can and accepts people for who and what they are.  He doesn’t conform – and doesn’t intend too.    I wanted to be Ben’s friend, or at the very least, have him on my side in a fight.

I also liked the way the novel was written in general, the descriptions of the desert.  I felt how lonely and isolating and harsh it could be but also it’s beauty.  There are moments when I felt I was there and there are moments when I was glad I wasn’t because I’m not sure I would survive.  I was completely drawn in from the beginning.

If I had any criticism it would be that I, personally, didn’t need the ex-husband story line.  I wanted more of Ben and Claire falling in love, more of their relationship developing.  It was the heart of the story and could, for me, have been the story.  That said, it wouldn’t stop me recommending the book at all – I liked it a lot.

Emma

Note: I received this book from blogging for books in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own. 

 

 

 

 

Carrie by Stephen King

Iimage‘m not much of a one for horror stories (or so I say because given my love of all things vampire-related, I probably read more horror-ish books than I think) but that didn’t stop me signing up for the Spring into Horror read-a-thon organised by Michelle at Seasons of Reading. It’s a low pressure read-a-thon (one of the things I like about participating) and you only had to commit to reading one horror. Because I have never read any Stephen King – an author I immediately associate with horror – I decided he was the man to read.

After much humming, haa’ing, and attempting to read some of his lengthier novels, which left me daunted, I settled on Carrie – his first book and one that came in at just around 200 pages so it also felt manageable to read in a week (well less by the time I made the decision). After taking so long to settle on a book, I wasn’t feeling too positive when I started. That changed pretty quickly and I ended up really enjoying it.

Published in 1979, Carrie is almost as old as me and I imagine a story most people know. Carrie White is a teenager who has spent her entire live being bullied, by her schoolmates and her mother, a religious fanatic who locks her in the closet whenever she needs to be taught a lesson. What no one knows is that Carrie has telekinetic powers, powers she uses to deadly effect on the night of the high school prom and after a particularly nasty prank is played.

The book is in three parts, before prom, prom night, and the aftermath. It’s told through a mix of perspectives including Carrie’s, other students, her mother, and then excerpts from reports, scholarly articles and court transcripts written after the fact. It sounds confusing but it isn’t and it gives what is actually a very simple story more depth than it might have had otherwise. The changes in perspectives were also quite short, sometimes only a paragraph or two so it kept the story moving and me interested. Once I got used to the way the story flowed and the language, which had a bit of a stream of consciousness to it in some places, I found I couldn’t put it down.

I also found that I felt really sad for Carrie, despite the lives she took in the end. I didn’t blame her because there is only so much a human being can take and her classmates were cruel and her mom pretty evil for a God fearing woman. I didn’t feel bad for anyone she took revenge on, other than Tommy who took her to the prom and was a pretty decent guy.

I was surprised by what happened to Carrie at the end though. For some reason I had been expecting a different ending, not that I’m sure what it could have been. Despite this though, I wasn’t disappointed but actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. I may even go back to some of those meatier novels…liked this a lot.

Emma