Review of Blackout by Emily Barr – 5 Stars

BlackoutBlackout by Emily Barr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Crime Thriller

Premise: Sophie should have a perfect life. she has the perfect man, Rob, a hard-working school teacher, and now a new-born baby son called Arthur. When she wakes up in Paris, in a strange house, on her own and recognising no-one she panics. No passport, no money, she needs to get back to London back to her family and figure out what on earth has happened to her.

I liked this book. It is part of the “quick reads” collection which I have begun looking through lately. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books are that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast paced with a lot happening in less time. Blackout is no exception, with a clear-cut and fast-paced plot it meets the quick read criteria perfectly.

I always think it is useful to see an extract of an author’s writing and in this book, there are quite a few action-focussed parts to choose from but I thought this one is quite interesting as its intriguing without giving too much plot away:

“It is Thursday. The day that should be Monday is actually Thursday. Even at my worst I never lost three whole days. Nobody loses three days. It is not possible. Days come one after the other, from the day you’re born until the day you die. If you stay in bed for a day, the day still happens. If you black out in a coma or something, you wake up in hospital. You do not wake up in a mysterious room in Paris.

I went back and forth on whether to give this book 4 or 5 stars but I settled on 5 as despite the books small size it captured quite a few themes; relationships, trusts, childhood memories, post-partum depression, estrangement (to name a few), and I think that is an amazement achievement for an author.

I also liked the character Sophie, she was an interesting mix of vulnerable and strong and I think she came across as very likeable.

I had never read any of Emily Barr’s work before, but I will certainly look forward to reading more of her works.

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Review of Clouded Vision by Linwood Barclay – 4 Stars

Clouded VisionClouded Vision by Linwood Barclay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Crime Thriller

Premise: Keisha Ceylon is a fraudulent psychic who passes herself off as possessing real powers in order to extort money from vulnerable families with missing family members, in return fpr psychic predictions regarding their disappearance. When Keisha spots Wendell Garfield on tv pleading for information regarding his wife’s disappearance she decides to pay him a visit. However, the man might not be quite as innocent as he looked on camera.

I am a Linwood Barclay fan. His books are all quite similar and if you have read one of the books, the others are quite predictable. That said I do enjoy his style of writing, easy to read, quick-paced and not overly gory. This book is part of the “quick reads” collection, which I have begun looking through lately. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books are that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast paced with a lot happening in less time. This shorter novel suits Linwood Barclay’s writing style.

The only downside to this book (and I realise it is a personal taste thing) but this is one of the reasons I haven’t given it 5 stars, is that in this book there are actually no likeable characters. Keisha who seems to be the main character/hero of the book, you are told from the outset is a fraud and is there to pray on vulnerable people. The grieving husband is covering something so already you like and distrust him, even the vanished wife is a constant nag and in some ways, you think the family are better without her.

I always think it is useful to see an extract of an author’s writing and in this book there are quite a few action focussed parts to choose from but I thought this one is quite interesting as its intriguing without giving too much plot away:

You started off vaguely, with something like, ‘I see a house… a white house with a fence out front…’
And they’d say, ‘A White house? Wait, wait, didn’t Aunt Gwen live in a white house?’
Someone else would say, ‘That’s right, she did!’
Then picking up the past tense, you said, ‘And this Aunt Gwen, I’m sensing… I’m sensing she’s passed on.’
And they said, ‘Oh my god, that’s right, she has!’

I did enjoy this book. As I said, it was predictable especially if you are familiar with Barclay’s previous work but it was still a good read.
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Review of Wrong Time, Wrong Place by Simon Kernick – 4 Stars

Wrong Time, Wrong PlaceWrong Time, Wrong Place by Simon Kernick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Crime Thriller

Premise: Ash and Guy are hiking in the Scottish Highlands with their couple friends who they are quickly becoming irritated with. The couples come across a girl. She is half-naked, has been badly beaten, and she can’t speak English. She is clearly running away from someone or something. The couples argue whether to leave her or help her when Ash makes the decision they should help her and they take her back to the holiday home they are renting. However, unbeknownst to them the girl is being followed and the follower is determined to cover their tracks at all costs.

I liked this book. It is part of the “quick reads” collection which I have began looking through lately. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books are that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast paced with a lot happening in less time. Wrong Place, Wrong Time is no exception with a clear cut storyline and fast paced plot it meets the quick read criteria perfectly.

The only downside to this (and the main reason I haven’t given it 5 stars) is that in this book particularly you aren’t really given the time to really like or hate any of the characters. Ash who seems to be the main character/hero of the book, I couldn’t remember the name of and I had to flick back through the book to find it out before writing this review. I have read a few books in the quick reads series now and others seem to manage this slightly better.

I always think it is useful to see an extract of an author’s writing and in this book there are quite a few action focussed parts to choose from but I thought this one is quite interesting as its intriguing without giving too much plot away:

 

The last thing she remembered was the current driving her into the shallows where she could feel the ground beneath her feet. Then, finally, everything went black.

This book takes place in the Scottish Highlands and I think the author manages to capture the sense of remoteness and isolation very well in this book.

I liked the ending of this book. It was not what I expected at all and I love when a book can still surprise me. All in all a pretty good read. A great introduction to this author and I look forward to reading more of his work.

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Review of Holy Island by L.J. Ross (DCI Ryan #1) – 5 Stars

Holy Island (DCI Ryan Mysteries, #1)Holy Island by L.J. Ross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stumbled across this book by chance when it showed up rather cheaply on a Kindle titles sale and the outline sounded quirky and I must say I am very pleased with the find.

This is actually the first of the DCI Ryan detective mysteries series by L.J Ross and it starts the series off with a bang – especially the ending, great job on keeping us readers hooked for the next one in the series. I do think the writing in general was very good, not overly police procedural, plenty of characters to set it up for a series but not too many that you can’t figure out who is who, enough of an intriguing back story about the characters that I suspect may come back to haunt them at a later date. A very strong start to the series.

The plot mainly includes two interlinked storylines/character viewpoints. DCI Ryan has taken a sabbatical from his police duties after a traumatic experience during a murder investigation and temporarily moves to Lindisfarne. After several weeks of calm enjoying the peaceful island, his sabbatical is disrupted when the body of a young woman is found murdered at the priory. The murder looks staged with cult underlying’s and soon more murders in the small island follow. The murderer is smart, leaving very few clues and cleaning the sites so that the investigating team struggles to narrow it down. In the meantime, questioning becomes more and more difficult as the Islanders try to protect their own from outside police interference.

In the second storyline, we follow former local girl Anna who travels back to the island as an informant on the occult. When one of her own family members turns out to be the next murder victim Anna is removed from the case but fearing for her safety and his new-found feelings for her DCI Ryan insists she move into his small cottage that is doubling as police base on the island.

The storylines are very sharp, intricate and clever, but the book itself is not as dark as you would expect for a murder mystery, certainly, there is actually very little gore allowing you to sit back and enjoy the storyline.

I think Ross has done a great job, leaving plenty of room for the characters evolving, in this novel you really feel sorry for Ryan; his mental trauma from his past and how he is suffering trying to suppress those feelings to deal with the new case. I actually finished this book a little while ago but the story and characters still feel very vivid and I think that is a sign of how well the story has been told.

One of the real big highlights for me was the locations. I loved the rugged windswept island and it’s close knit community. The one pub that you need to visit to find out what is going on. Unless you want to risk speaking to the gossipy landlady of the local b&b. All great places and very easy to visualize.

For those that haven’t discovered the DCI Ryan collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to something like Elly Griffiths (Ruth Galloway Series – also very good if you haven’t read that). It is crime but not really dark gritty like rebus or anything, also not a Miss Marple cosy crime, something in the middle.

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Review of How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst – 5 Stars

How I Lost YouHow I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I even opened this book I was hooked, of all the taglines I have seen this has got to be one of the best – “They told her she killed her baby, She served her time, What if they lied?”
This book is about a woman named Susan Webster who is accused of killing her baby Dylan whilst suffering from terrible post-partum depression. Susan has no recollection of the incident but all those around her; doctors, police & even her husband tell her she has done this terrible crime. When she gets out of prison and starts her new life as Emma she receives a photo of a small child claiming to be Dylan. Throwing her fresh start out the window Susan (with some help from a journalist and her previous prison inmate) begins to hunt down the truth. Can she find it in the web of lies that surrounds her?
This is Jenny Blackhurst’s debut novel and she hasn’t half burst her way onto the crime fiction scene. Her writing style is very fluid, sharp and clear keeping you gripped from the very first page. Loads of twists and turns and hints of information and characters dropped in at just the right time. So many underlying secrets that you can’t tell who is a goodie and who is a baddie.
Psychological thriller huge genre with similar stories out there yet this still stands out very much on its own as a great storyline and excellent writing. If you liked Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson style of suspense writing then I think you will enjoy this novel.
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Wow! Dazzling Debut Novel. Can’t wait to read more from this author.

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Review of Malevolent by E.H. Reinhard – 4.5 Stars

Malevolent (Lieutenant Kane, #1)Malevolent by E.H. Reinhard

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

A woman arrives at an airport, the next time she is seen is when she is found dead in an alley in a dumpster wearing only green lingerie. Worse she has holes drilled into her head and a powerful drug in her system. Soon the press label the killer psycho surgeon and it’s easy to see why. Can Lieutenant Carl Kane and his partner hunt down this killer before more woman show up?

This book his pretty intense, certainly gory as other readers have pointed out in reviews, so if you’re a bit squeamish there will be a few chapters to skip over. I did get this book for free and although a fan of detective crime fiction was unsure what to expect from this new author in a field that is already pretty full with the likes of Mark Billingham, Ian Rankin, amongst countless others. That said I actually found myself really enjoying this book. It was very well written.
Not going to lie, the book is dark. That just makes you want the good guys to catch the bad guys, even more. Kane himself is quite likeable, with a good spark between him and his partner. Kane lives alone with his cat, he even finds time for a love interest.

The only real negative I would say is there are a few places that there is a lot of descriptions going on that’s purpose seems to be just to fill out the pages a little, especially in comparison to the mostly sharp action-filled pace of writing Reinhard seems to adopt for the majority of the book. Then again, this could be to give the book a bit of a relief from the fast pace.
All in all, a fabulous start to a great new series. Book works perfectly as a standalone novel but there is plenty of room for the character to grow and I expect this will be a long-running series. Not for the faint of heart, perfect for those that enjoy the grittier side of crime drama. Action heavy, fun, fast-paced novel.
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Review of Skeleton Key by Robert Richardson – 4 Stars

Skeleton Key (Augustus Maltravers, #1)Skeleton Key by Robert Richardson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brief Outline
Novelist Augustus and his girlfriend Tess have planned a week’s holiday staying with friends in Bellringer. This stay is immediately disrupted when a skeleton is stolen from Edenbridge House, the stately home of the Earl of Pembury. The mystery of the missing skeleton surges through the village with rumours abound. So when the heir to the estate, Simon (Lord Dunford) is found murdered, most people find themselves as suspects.
Maltravers and Tess find themselves caught up in the mystery of vengeance and murder. Could it be Simon’s own cousin Oliver Hawkhurst or the estate’s coldly efficient secretary, Mister York? Who had the strongest motive for murder? Maltravers and Tess increasingly want to know the truth and more importantly, want to stop the killer from killing again.
Writing Style
This book does start very slowly (particularly for a crime novel) and it does take a while to build up the suspense and the storyline. I think this is partly to do with a lot of characters in the book for the reader to get to know. However a few chapters in it gets going and the mystery starts to take shape. I would say this is more of an Agatha Christie or M.C. Beaton style of pace.
The storyline is quite interesting and the settings are very well described; a small village, cricket pitch, large estate house, etc. There are quite a lot of characters in this novel to get used to, each with their own agendas and interest in the murder, this was probably my slight criticism of the novel as it distracted me from the story a little trying to remind myself who was who and what they had said/done previously. However the main characters Maltravers, Tess and Simon were all very interesting and it was enjoyable to read their story unfold.
Summary
An enjoyable book, particularly for fans of MC Beaton, Agatha Christie style of the crime genre.
About the author
I came across this book as the author has won the John Creasey Annual Award given by the Crime Writers Association. This award is for the best crime novel by a first-time author of any nationality first published in the UK in English. I have adored the work of some of the previous winners including SJ Watson and it is always a helpful place to discover new talent.

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