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#TuesdayBookBlog Saigon Dark by Elka Ray (@ElkaRay) (@crimewavepress) A blend of psychological (noir) thriller with domestic drama, with a conflicted protagonist #Bookreview

Hi all:

I had this book on my list for a while and when I read it I realised it can fit in a category of books that seem to have become more and more popular recently. Those who read my blog regularly might remember our discussion about it (waving at you, Debby!).

Book review. Saigon Dark by Elka Ray
Saigon Dark by Elka Ray

Saigon Dark by Elka Ray

“There’s no way this book can be easily described – well written and fascinating subject matter is only the beginning. It could easily become a huge hit and also has all the hallmarks of a Noir classic.”

— Lissa Pelzer, Author & Crime Critic

A STORY ABOUT FAMILY, BETRAYAL AND BELONGING – AND HOW HARD WE FIGHT TO PROTECT THOSE WE LOVE.

In Saigon, a grief-stricken young American mother switches her dead child for a Vietnamese street kid. Then she returns to the US. Good and bad. Life and death. Some choices aren’t black and white

She remarries and starts to feel safe until she gets a note: ‘I know what you did’.
Can she save her daughter from her dark secret?

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Saigon-Dark-Elka-Ray-ebook/dp/B01M4PZWBX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Saigon-Dark-Elka-Ray-ebook/dp/B01M4PZWBX/

Author Elka Ray
Author Elka Ray

About the author:

Born in the UK, and raised in Africa and Canada, Elka now lives in Central Vietnam. She’s the author of two novels, a short story collection and three kids’ books that she also illustrated. To learn more about Elka’s upcoming projects, please visit www.elkaray.com

https://www.amazon.com/Elka-Ray/e/B004VRXDM0/

My review:

Thanks to the publishers, Crime Wave, for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This novel is a thriller that takes place within the domestic sphere and one of its unique features is that it is set (mostly) in Vietnam. The main character is a paediatric surgeon, Lily, whose family escaped to the United States when she was a child, and after studying Medicine decided to go back and work there. Although she is a successful professional, her personal life is not a happy one. Her husband, another doctor from a similar background to hers, has left her, and her youngest child, a little girl, suffers from a rare genetic condition, and she does not know how well she will develop. Tragedy strikes; the character seems unable to react rationally due to the pain and makes one disastrous decision after another. We all know that secrets have a way of coming back and biting us, and although Lily is quite lucky, not even she can escape the consequences of her actions, or can she? (I am trying not to reveal any spoilers).

The novel is told, in the first-person, from the point of view of Lily, and as was the case with a recent novel in the same/similar genre I read and reviewed, that might be a problem for some of the readers. It is impossible not to empathise with Lily, and although some of her reactions are bizarre, the author is very good at getting us inside her head and making us understand her disturbed mental state. Perhaps we think we would never do something like that, but we can understand why she does. Personally, I did not sympathise with her (or even like her very much) and at times felt very frustrated with her. I had to agree when one of the other characters told her that she was selfish, blind to other’s needs, and she never thought of anybody else. This is all the more evident considering her privileged existence in contrast to that of the general population, and how much of what happens is a direct result of her actions and her decisions, whilst others are victims of the circumstances with no options to escape. She seems to realise this towards the end, when even her son is more together than her, but all that notwithstanding, the action of the novel is gripping, and it is impossible not to feel curious about what will happen next and wonder if fate and karma will finally catch up with her.

The novel moves at a reasonable pace, at times we seems to be reading a standard domestic drama (about child-rearing and the relationship with her new husband), whilst at others it is an almost pure thriller, and we have blackmailers, red herrings, betrayals, and plenty of suspects. I think those two elements are well-combined and are likely to appeal to fans of both genres, although those who love hard thrillers might take issue with the amount of suspension of disbelief required to accept some of the events in the novel.

The ending is fairly open. Some questions (perhaps the main one) are resolved, but some others are not, and this might be frustrating for readers who prefer everything to be tied up in the end. There is a hint of some insight and growth in the character, but perhaps not enough considering the hard lessons she’s gone through.

There is some violence (although not extreme), serious issues are hinted at (domestic violence, poverty, bullying), and I particularly liked the realistic setting, and the way it depicts Vietnam, Hanoi and Saigon, the big social differences, and the expat scene.

In sum, a blend of psychological (noir) thriller with domestic drama, intriguing and heart-breaking at times, which takes place in an unusual and fascinating setting, recommended to those who don’t mind first-person narration and slightly open endings and who prefer their thrillers with more drama and less emphasis on procedural accuracy.

Thanks to the publishing company and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, feel free to like, share, click, review, and above all, keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE PARTY by Lisa Hall (@LisaHallAuthor) An unsettling page turner recommended to lovers of first-person narratives.#domesticnoir #thriller

Hi all:

I bring you a review of a novel in a genre that has become all the rage in recent times, domestic noir.

Book review. The Party by Lisa Hall
The Party by Lisa Hall

The Party: The gripping new psychological thriller from the bestseller Lisa Hall by Lisa Hall

It was just a party. But it turned into a nightmare.

‘Compelling, addictive…brilliant’ B A Paris

When Rachel wakes up in a strange room, the morning after a neighbour’s party, she has no memory of what happened the night before. Why did her husband leave her alone at the party? Did they row? Why are Rachel’s arms so bruised? And why are her neighbours and friends so vague about what really happened?

Little by little, Rachel pieces together the devastating events that took place in a friend’s house, at a party where she should have been safe. Everyone remembers what happened that night differently, and everyone has something to hide. But someone knows the truth about what happened to Rachel. And she’s determined to find them.

The Party is the gripping new novel from bestseller Lisa Hall.

Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Party-gripping-psychological-thriller-bestseller-ebook/dp/B06W5RT7JD/

https://www.amazon.com/Party-gripping-psychological-thriller-bestseller-ebook/dp/B06W5RT7JD/

Editorial Reviews

‘A dark, compelling read that demands to be read in one sitting.’ Sam Carrington

Praise for Lisa Hall:

‘Breathlessly fast-paced and cleverly unsettling, this thriller about a couple trying to escape their past is the very definition of unputdownable.’ Heat

‘An uneasy creeping feeling followed me through the book – I was never quite sure who I should be trusting – I read this book in one sitting because I had to know what was going to happen next. An excellent thriller that had me hooked from the start.’ Katerina Diamond, author of The Secret

‘A paranoia-inducing plot that makes you question everyone! Lisa Hall’s new novel is one to get under your skin and has an ending that’ll leave you reeling.’ Sam Carrington, author of Saving Sophie

‘Gripping and unforgettable… and will leave you wondering who you should really trust…’ Inside Soap

‘What a page turner! Compelling, chilling and an incredibly impressive debut.’ Alex Brown

‘A gripping psychological thriller with a level of tension that will leave you breathless.’ Tracy Book Lover

‘Lisa Hall has yet again written an exciting, yet unnerving novel in TELL ME NO LIES. I was gripped, I was uneasy and I was utterly enthralled in every page, every word, every letter.’ Brunette’s Bookshelf

‘After reading this book I can guarantee that you will Never.Trust.Anyone.Ever.Again.’ My Reading Corner

Author Lisa Hall
Author Lisa Hall

 

About the author:

Lisa loves words, reading, and everything there is to love about books. She has dreamed of being a writer since she was a little girl – either that or a librarian – and after years of talking about it, was finally brave enough to put pen to paper (and let people actually read it). Lisa lives in a small village in Kent, surrounded by her towering TBR pile, a rather large brood of children, dogs, chickens and ponies and her long-suffering husband. She is also rather partial to eating cheese and drinking wine.
Readers can follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaHallAuthor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lisa-Hall/e/B01BGRIUXY/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to HQ for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is an unsettling novel. It starts with a woman, Rachel, who wakes up after a New Year’s Eve party not remembering what has happened and feeling quite vulnerable, and as she tries to get her bearings and find out what went on, while keeping face (as she’s in one of her neighbours’ houses and feels more than a little embarrassed), she comes to realise that something horrible has taken place. The author’s use of first-person narration immerses the readers in Rachel’s mind and makes us share in her fear, confusion, and contradictory feelings. There is physical evidence that something has happened to her, but she cannot recall what, or who might have done the deed.

The story moves between the immediate aftermath of the story, in chronological order, and interspersed chapters that share the events prior to the party, always from the protagonist’s point of view, but they don’t reach into the faraway past and only takes us a few months back, giving us some background that helps us understand why the people closest to Rachel (especially her husband, Gareth) react as they do to the events.

In the present time, somebody starts playing with the protagonist, in a game of cat-and-mouse (which sometimes takes on gaslighting characteristics) and manages to make her doubt herself and everybody around her, from mere acquaintances to those closest and dearest to her.  The first-person point of view works well at making readers feel the claustrophobia, paranoia, anxiety, and sheer terror of not knowing who to trust and seeing your whole life crumble around you.

The book, which fits into the domestic noir category, uses well some of the tropes of the genre, including the protagonist who feels trapped and not taken seriously by the police and therefore has to do her own investigating. There are also plenty of red herrings and a number of credible suspects that make us keep turning the pages to see what will happen next, although readers of thrillers will probably guess who the culprit is (I did).

On the negative side, personally, I did not feel a connection to the characters, particularly Rachel. I empathised with her circumstances, and with the terrible crime she has survived, but I did not feel there is enough information provided about her to create a credible individual. One of the other characters at some point talks about her belief that she is a strong woman, and I wondered what that was based on, as we are only given snippets of her current life and her recent past, and nothing that makes her come alive (What does she like? What did she do before she got married? Does she have any passions, apart from her relationships? She has a friend but other than calling her for support, there is no indication of what that friendship is based on). She does things that are morally questionable, but that was not my issue (I have long defended unlikable main characters, but I still need to feel that they are real, somehow). I wondered if this was intentional, trying to make sure that everybody would be able to identify with Rachel and her plight, rather than making her too distinctive and individual, but, for me at least, the opposite is the truth, and we know enough about her to make her different from us, but not perhaps to make us feel as if we know who she is. This would not bother me so much in a standard plot-driven thriller, but when the book depends so closely on the protagonist’s voice and on her sense of identity, it didn’t gel for me. There were also some things that I thought readers who are not fond of first-person narratives might find annoying (like the character looking at herself in the mirror as a way of providing us a description, something that is frown upon in general writing advice, and a leaning towards telling rather than showing in the bulk of the writing).

The novel moves at a good pace, it creates doubt and hesitation in the readers’ minds, and it has a good sense of timing. And the ending will probably satisfy most fans of the genre. It also touches on an important and, sadly, topical subject, although it does not cover new ground. It brought to my mind C.L.Taylor’s The Fear and I noticed the author, Lisa Hall, had reviewed that novel. I have not read the author’s previous books, but I am curious to see how this compares to her other novels.

A page-turner I recommend to lovers of domestic noir, particularly those who enjoy claustrophobic and unsettling first-person narratives.

Thanks to NetGalley, HQ and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE CHALK MAN by C. J. Tudor (@cjtudor ‏) A morally ambiguous thriller and a story of tainted friendships that will appeal to readers of King’s It. #crimefiction

Hi all:

I read this book a little while back but I waited until it was published (it was due for publication on the 11th January 2018, so I hope it’s now available) to share it, so you wouldn’t have to wait to read it if you felt as intrigued by it as I was. Well, I won’t make you wait any longer:

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor
The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man: A Novel by C. J. Tudor

A riveting and relentlessly compelling psychological suspense debut that weaves a mystery about a childhood game gone dangerously awry, and will keep readers guessing right up to the shocking ending

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.
In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead.
That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.
Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

Preorder THE book of 2018. The Chalk Man is coming . . .

None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning.

Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own?

Was it the terrible accident?

Or when they found the first body?

****

What authors are saying about The Chalk Man

 

‘[I] haven’t had a sleepless night due to a book for a long time. The Chalk Man changed that. Many congrats C. J. Tudor’ Fiona Barton, bestselling author of The Widow

‘What a great book. A twisty thriller and downright creepy ending. 5 stars’ Sarah Pinborough, the bestselling author of Behind Her Eyes

‘Tense, skillful storytelling’ Ali Land, bestselling author of Good Me Bad Me

‘Absolutely brilliant. I was expecting a creepy horror story that I’d have to read with all the lights on but this book is so much more than that – it’s witty, insightful, clever, thoughtful, mysterious, gripping, nostalgic and utterly compelling. Publishers often talk about “an exciting new voice in fiction” and I genuinely think C. J. Tudor is going to be huge. This book has bestseller written all over it and if it doesn’t go to number one I will eat my crime writing hat’ C. L. Taylor, bestselling author ofThe Missing

‘With its driving plot and sensitive evocation of friendship and loneliness, The Chalk Man is an utterly gripping read, with an ending that will make the hairs on the back of your neck bristle’ Karen Perry, bestselling author of Can You Keep a Secret?

‘What an amazing debut! Such an ingenious, original idea. I was engrossed from the very first page. I loved how the 1986 and present day storylines weaved so skilfully together to create that unforgettable and unexpected ending. Compelling, taut and so very, very chilling. This book will haunt you!’ Claire Douglas, bestselling author of Last Seen Alive

‘It’s been a while since I’ve read such an impressive debut.The pace was perfectly judged, the characters superbly drawn and there’s a creeping sense of unease that starts with the prologue and grows throughout the book. And then that ending! It feels so fresh and deserves to be a huge success’ James Oswald, bestselling author of theInspector McLean series

‘Impossible to put down, cleverly constructed and executed’ Ragnar Jonasson, author of the bestselling DarkIceland series

‘Finished reading The Chalk Man by C.J Tudor last night. What a book! Enjoyed every minute of it.A total banger!’ Amy Lloyd, author of The Innocent Wife

‘Kept me up until five in the morning. Wonderfully written. I loved it!’ Kimberley Chambers, bestselling author of Backstabber

“The grip the past has on the present reveals itself in ever more sinister and macabre ways in this utterly original and relentlessly compelling psychological thriller. The Chalk Man kept me guessing all the way to the end” Fiona Neil, bestselling author of The Betrayals

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chalk-Man-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B06XXSVQ9T/

https://www.amazon.com/Chalk-Man-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B06XXSVQ9T/

Author C.J. Tudor
Author C.J. Tudor

About the author

C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, where she still lives with her partner and young daughter.

She left school at sixteen and has had a variety of jobs over the years, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, shop assistant, ad agency copywriter and voiceover.

In the early nineties, she fell into a job as a television presenter for a show on Channel 4 called Moviewatch. Although a terrible presenter, she got to interview acting legends such as Sigourney Weaver, Michael Douglas, Emma Thompson and Robin Williams. She also annoyed Tim Robbins by asking a question about Susan Sarandon’s breasts and was extremely flattered when Robert Downey Junior showed her his chest.

While writing the Chalk Man she ran a dog-walking business, walking over twenty dogs a week as well as looking after her little girl.

She’s been writing since she was a child but only knuckled down to it properly in her thirties. Her English teacher once told her that if she ‘did not become Prime Minister or a best-selling author’ he would be ‘very disappointed.’

The Chalk Man was inspired by a tub of chalks a friend bought for her daughter’s second birthday. One afternoon they drew chalk figures all over the driveway. Later that night she opened the back door to be confronted by weird stick men everywhere. In the dark, they looked incredibly sinister. She called to her partner: ‘These chalk men look really creepy in the dark . . .’

She is never knowingly over-dressed. She has never owned a handbag and the last time she wore heels (twelve years ago) she broke a tooth.

She loves The Killers, Foo Fighters and Frank Turner. Her favourite venue is Rock City.

Her favourite films are Ghostbusters and The Lost Boys. Her favourite authors are Stephen King, Michael Marshall and Harlan Coben.

She is SO glad she was a teenager in the eighties.

She firmly believes that there are no finer meals than takeaway pizza and champagne, or chips with curry sauce after a night out.

Everyone calls her Caz.

https://www.amazon.com/C.-J.-Tudor/e/B074WBT1GL/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This story, told in two different time frames by Eddie Adams (known as Eddie Munster as a child, because all the friends had nicknames and somehow the Munsters and the Adams became conflated into one…), has all the elements fans of mysteries and thrillers love. Strange characters, plenty of secrets, red herrings and false clues, lies, many suspects, a slightly odd setting, bizarre murders, strange relationships… A murder involving bizarre circumstances (a chopped-up body with a missing head, strange chalk drawings…) took place in a small and picturesque UK city (it sounds small enough to be a town, but as it has a cathedral, it is a city) in 1986 (although there were other strange things that happened at the time too, coincidental or not), and became known as the Chalk-Man murder. Thirty years later someone starts asking questions and stirring things up. Eddie narrates, in the first-person, the events, including his memories of what happened when he was a teenager and also telling us what is happening now. Those of you who read my blog know I have a thing for unreliable narrators, and, well, Eddie is a pretty good one. He is an English high school teacher and seems fairly reliable and factual in his account, and he does a great job of making us feel the emotions and showing us (rather than telling us) the events; although slowly he starts revealing things about himself that make him less standard and boring, and slightly more intriguing. Eddie does not have all the information (it seems that the friends kept plenty of things from each other as children), and sometimes he is unreliable because of the effect of alcohol, and possibly his mental state (his father suffered early dementia and he is concerned that he might be going down the same path). But there are other things at play, although we don’t fully get to know them until the very end.

The story reminded me of Stephen King’s It, most of all because of the two time-frames and of the story of the children’s friendship, although the horror element is not quite as strong (but there are possible ghosts and other mysterious things at play), and the friends and their friendship is more suspect and less open. In some ways, the depiction of the friend’s relationship, and how it changes over time, is more realistic. Of course, here the story is told from Eddie’s point of view, and we share in his likes and dislikes, that are strongly coloured by the events and his personal opinions. The main characters are realistically portrayed (both from a child’s perspective and later from an adult one), complex, and none of them are totally good, or 100% likeable, but they are sympathetic and not intentionally bad or mean (apart from a couple of secondary characters but then… there is a murderer at work). Morality is ambiguous at best, and people do questionable things for reasons that seem fully justified to them at the time, or act without thinking of the consequences with tragic results. I am not sure I felt personally engaged with any of the characters (perhaps because of Eddie’s own doubts), but I liked the dubious nature of the narration, and the fact that there were so many unknowns, so many gaps, and that we follow the process of discovery up-close, although there are things the main character knows that are only revealed very late in the game (although some he seems to have buried and tried hard to forget). The parents, and secondary characters, even when only briefly mentioned, serve the purpose well, add a layer of complexity to the story and are consistent throughout the narration.

The mystery had me engaged, and the pieces fit all together well, even when some of them are not truly part of the puzzle. I can’t say I guessed what had happened, although I was suspicious of everyone and, let’s say I had good reason to be. I liked the ending, not only the resolution of the mystery but what happens to Eddie. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean.

The writing is fluid, it gives the narrator a credible voice, it gets the reader under the character’s skin, and it creates a great sense of place and an eerie atmosphere that will keep readers on alert. The story deals with serious subjects, including child abuse, bullying (and sexual abuse), dementia, and although it is not the most graphically violent story I have read, it does contain vivid descriptions of bodies and crime scenes, and it definitely not a cozy mystery and not for the squeamish reader.

A great new writer, with a very strong voice and great ability to write psychological thrillers, and one I hope to read many more novels by.

Thanks very much to Penguin, NetGalley and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and of course, REVIEW!

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