Friday, March 29, 2019

Review: Her Father's Secret by Sara Blaedel

Title: Her Father's Secret
Author: Sara Blaedel
Series: Ilka/The Family Secrets series, #2
Published: March 2019, Grand Central Publishing
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Source: Publisher

A woman's murder is only the beginning as a daughter races to unravel the maze of secrets her father left behind--before she becomes the next victim--in the latest emotionally gripping novel from Sara Blaedel, #1 internationally bestselling author with over 3 million copies sold worldwide.
After suddenly inheriting a funeral home from her father--who she hadn't heard from in decades--Ilka Jensen has impulsively abandoned her quiet life in Denmark to visit the small town in rural Wisconsin where her father lived. There, she's devastated to discover her father's second family: a stepmother and two half sisters she never knew existed. And who aren't the least bit welcoming, despite Ilka's efforts to reach out.

Then a local woman is killed, seemingly the unfortunate victim of a home invasion turned violent. But when Ilka learns that the woman knew her father, it becomes increasingly clear that she may not have been a completely random victim after all.

The more Ilka digs into her father's past, the more deeply entangled she becomes in a family drama that has spanned decades and claimed more than one life--and she may be the next victim...

My thoughts: As many of you might already know, I am a big fan of Sara Blaedel's books. She writes one of my favorite crime-fiction series, the Louise Rick series, and now she has a second series out. This second series, the Family Secrets series, focuses more on the characters and the secrets they have as opposed to the crimes that are committed which is what the Louise Rick series tends to focus more on.

This is the type of series where it really would benefit you by reading it in order. While this is only the second book, there are quite a few threads that are continued and while Sara does give some recap, it's quite brief, and having the whole picture would make this much more meaningful and enjoyable. 

This book does pick up right where the previous book ends - and if you remember, that one ended in quite a cliffhanger. We jump right back into the fray and I love that. There's no re-introduction of the characters or ambling around to get to the heart of the story - we are right there from the first page. 

The problems are still stacking up against Ilka as she tries to settle up things regarding her father. Her biggest issue is trying to sell the funeral home and she seems to be running into roadblocks left and right. In the meantime, there is little money left to run things and while going through some of her father's belongings she came across blackmail letters. What is going on?

This book is filled with mysteries...not just one, but a few, which keeps the book moving. The story is paced just right - not too fast, but not slow either. There are a few twists here and there to keep things interesting and just when you think Ilka is making progress, something new pops up. 

I also love that in this second book, we continue to get to know the main characters. There is definitely some mystery to some of them and I liked that we started to get into their backgrounds a little more. Not enough that you know the whole picture, but enough to keep you reading and wanting more.

This book kept me engaged from start to finish, and speaking of the ending...once again we are left with a bit of a cliffhanger. I can only hope that book 3 is being translated as we speak because I need it sooner rather than later!!!

Books in this series:
  1. The Undertaker's Daughter
  2. Her Father's Secret


Review: Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

Title: Beautiful Bad
Author: Annie Ward
Published: March 2019, Park Row Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 368 pages
Source: Publisher

In the most explosive and twisted psychological thriller since The Woman in the Window, a beautiful marriage turns beautifully bad.
Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry... That something is really, really wrong with me.

Maddie and Ian's romance began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian's PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son, Charlie; and the couple's tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.

From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, sixteen years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.

My thoughts: I picked up this gem last Spring at Book Expo and have been so excited to read it. I just knew it was going to be a book that had the potential to stir up discussions and boy, have I seen some/been part of some good ones!

I loved the way this book was told. It's definitely more of a slow-burning type of suspense that just pulls you in and keeps you hooked by dropping little hints as to what the big reveal is finally going to be...a reveal that I sure didn't see coming! It starts in the present day with a 911 call in a chapter entitled "The Day of the Killing" so you know someone ends up just don't know who. And believe me, you will come up with many possibilities that will change many times over the course of this book. Maybe you will figure out who is killed, but will you know why? The other chapters alternate between the weeks leading up to the event and going back into the past when Maddie and Ian first met.

I loved that I had such mixed feelings about these characters. I was constantly flipping back and forth as to how I felt about them and whether I trusted them. This is definitely the kind of book that gets under your skin with how the characters behave, so much so that you really have a hard time putting it down. I was completely invested in this book, desperate to find out just what had happened and why. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!

This book is dark and at times quite intense. It takes you to Balkans where the social climate there seems to mirror the already growing tension of the book. It highlights just how unstable things really are in this marriage. I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading more by this talented author. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Review: The Secret Child by Caroline Mitchell (audio)

Title: The Secret Child
Author: Caroline Mitchell
Series: DI Amy Winter, #2
Narrator: Elizabeth Knowelden
Published: March 2019, Brilliance Audio
Length: 9 hours 43 minutes
Source: Publisher

DI Amy Winter knows evil. She’s lived through it.

Four-year-old Ellen is snatched by a stranger in the dead of night. Her devastated mother, Nicole, receives four identical phials and a threatening note in a familiar scrawl that chills her to the bone. But she always knew this would happen. She’s been expecting it for years…

According to the note, one of the phials is poisoned. Nicole is given a deadly challenge: if she drinks one, the sadistic kidnapper will notify the police of Ellen’s location. The sender claims to be Luka Volkov but Luka is supposed to be dead, killed long ago in a fire that haunts all those involved.

DI Amy Winter is still reeling from the discovery that she is the daughter of a serial killer, and her childhood trauma only makes her more determined to bring Ellen home. When another child is taken, Amy finds herself in a race against time. To rescue the children, must she seek help from the one person she wants to forget…?

My thoughts:  This is the second book in Caroline Mitchell's newest series featuring DI Amy Winters and I love it! This is such a gripping series - the books really grab you and hold your interest, though I will say, they are dark and a bit disturbing, so be forewarned! 

DI Amy Winters is such a complex, complicated character. She is still dealing with the revelations that she learned in the first book. Now, while this book can be read as a stand-alone, and we are given a bit of the backstory here, I strongly urge you to read this series in order. It will just make this series stand out that much more. 

This latest installment deals with experimentation on children and really kept me glued to the pages the entire time. I wasn't sure where things were headed and I loved that the story is fast-paced and action-packed. Things move the entire time, yet having chapters narrated by the guilty party adds an eerie quality to the book. I love being able to get inside their bad guy's head and finding out their motivations.

I love how the book is perfectly balanced between the case and Amy's personal life. There is so much to discover about Amy and I think even after book 2 that we have only just become to scratch the surface. There is a lot going on in both and the book flows seamlessly back and forth between the two, though at times it seems that they do intersect. Intentions are not always pure and motivations are not always sane.

This book is filled with many twists and turns, in both the case and Amy's personal life, that really keep you on your toes. I found myself completely hooked from start to finish and couldn't wait to see how everything played out. I've long been a fan of Caroline's writing, but this series is really showing just how dark and diabolical she can get and I love it!!! I cannot wait to see what comes next for DI Amy Winters!

Audio thoughts: I had so much fun listening to this book and was glad to see that Elizabeth Knowelden was back to narrate it as she did the narration of the first book, which I also listened to. I'm a big fan of consistency, whenever possible, in series. Elizabeth did a great job with the voices and was consistent with the characters that carried over from book 1 to 2. I hope that for however long this series runs that she will continue to be the narrator!

Books in this series:
  1. Truth and Lies
  2. The Secret Child


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

Title: The Library of Lost and Found
Author: Phaedra Patrick
Published: March 2019, Park Row Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 352 pages
Source: Publisher

A librarian’s discovery of a mysterious book sparks the journey of a lifetime in the delightful new novel from the international bestselling author of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people—though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible.

All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend—her grandmother Zelda—who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.

Filled with Phaedra Patrick’s signature charm and vivid characters, The Library of Lost and Found is a heartwarming and poignant tale of how one woman must take control of her destiny to write her own happy ending.

My thoughts: Sometimes you just need to pick up a book that's a little different from the usual books you read. As you know, I read a lot of thrillers/psychological suspense/mysteries and so when this book came across my door, I wasn't quite sure about it at first, but needing something a little light after a few heavy reads, I decided to pick it up and I'm so glad I did...I loved it! It was charming and had the most endearing main character.

I think one of the reasons I so enjoyed this book is that I could see a little of myself in Martha...I am one of those people that has a hard time saying no when others ask me to do something or offering to help when I wasn't even asked. So I could completely empathize with how "stuck" she felt...and how she wanted to change things but didn't really know how to take that first step on her own.

This book is such a heartwarming, and at times heartbreaking, story about family, about self-discovery, and finally having the courage to stand up for what you want. I loved the journey we take with Martha as she comes into herself and I absolutely adored Zelda...what a character she was! 

This is the first book I've read by Phaedra Patrick but it definitely won't be the last. I think I might have one of her books sitting somewhere on my shelf (or more likely sitting somewhere in a box!) and I'm going to have to find it! I think I need more of her writing in my's such a nice change from the usual darkness that I tend to read.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Book Spotlight & Giveaway: Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah

Earlier this month, Glendy Vanderah's debut novel, Where the Forest Meets the Stars, was published. Because I ended up with an extra advanced copy, I'm going to give it away to one lucky reader. 

I just finished reading this book and posted my review earlier today - you can find my review here.  

Read on to see what others have to say and then enter the giveaway!!!

Title: Where the Forest Meets the Stars
Author: Glendy Vanderah
Published: March 2019, Lake Union Publishing
Format: ARC Paperback, 332 pages

In this gorgeously stunning debut, a mysterious child teaches two strangers how to love and trust again.

After the loss of her mother and her own battle with breast cancer, Joanna Teale returns to her graduate research on nesting birds in rural Illinois, determined to prove that her recent hardships have not broken her. She throws herself into her work from dusk to dawn, until her solitary routine is disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious child who shows up at her cabin barefoot and covered in bruises.

The girl calls herself Ursa, and she claims to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles. With concerns about the child’s home situation, Jo reluctantly agrees to let her stay—just until she learns more about Ursa’s past.

Jo enlists the help of her reclusive neighbor, Gabriel Nash, to solve the mystery of the charming child. But the more time they spend together, the more questions they have. How does a young girl not only read but understand Shakespeare? Why do good things keep happening in her presence? And why aren’t Jo and Gabe checking the missing children’s website anymore?

Though the three have formed an incredible bond, they know difficult choices must be made. As the summer nears an end and Ursa gets closer to her fifth miracle, her dangerous past closes in. When it finally catches up to them, all of their painful secrets will be forced into the open, and their fates will be left to the stars.

What readers are saying: 

“Though the novel appears to start as a fantasy, it evolves into a domestic drama with murder-mystery elements, all adding up to a satisfying read.” —Booklist

“Vanderah’s beautifully human story reminds us that sometimes we need to look beyond the treetops at the stars to let some light into our lives.” —New York Journal of Books

“Where the Forest Meets the Stars is a magical little gem of a book filled with lots of love and hope.” —HelloGiggles

“A heartwarming, magical story about love, loss, and finding family where you least expect it. This touching novel will remind readers of a modern-day The Snow Child.” —Christopher Meades, award-winning author of Hanna Who Fell from the Sky

“Where the Forest Meets the Stars is an enchanting novel full of hope and the power of love that will pull at your heartstrings. Perfect for fans of Sarah Addison Allen.” —Karen Katchur, author of The Sisters of Blue Mountain

“Where the Forest Meets the Stars will grab you from the very first page and surprise you the whole way through. This is an incredibly original, imaginative, and curious story. Glendy Vanderah has managed to create a world that is very real and, yet, entirely out of the ordinary.” —Taylor Jenkins Reid, acclaimed author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

“In Where the Forest Meets the Stars, Glendy Vanderah weaves a deft and poignant story with well-drawn characters, including clever Ursa. With an unexpected and heart-racing climax, readers will wait breathlessly to find out what happens. A beautiful story of love, resilience, and the power of second chances.” —Susie Orman Schnall, award-winning author of The Subway Girls

“Where the Forest Meets the Stars is a lovely, surprising, and insightful look at the way bonds are formed—both the ones that we choose and the ones that seem to choose us.” —Rebecca Kauffman, author of The Gunners

“Where the Forest Meets the Stars is an enchanting novel…Readers will be taken by Glendy Vanderah’s rich and relatable characters and the way in which she weaves their stories together. At its core, Where the Forest Meets the Stars is about having faith, nurturing hope, and trusting your heart above your head, because when you do, miracles are possible.” —Janis Thomas, bestselling author of What Remains True

“A powerful story of the way in which hearts are mended by love, compassion, and everyday miracles. Cleverly plotted and building to an intense crescendo in the final chapters, Where the Forest Meets the Stars is a beautiful and unforgettable debut.” —Julianne MacLean, USA Today bestselling author


Giveaway Details -- (US Only) 
Thanks to the publicist, one reader will win a copy of  Where the Forest Meets the Stars  by Glendy Vanderah. To enter the giveaway, please fill out the rafflecopter by April 1st.
  (Reminder - this giveaway is for an advanced copy, not a final copy.)

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway is open to US residents only and ends April 1st.

Good Luck!!! 

Review: Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah

Title: Where the Forest Meets the Stars
Author: Glendy Vanderah
Published: March 2019, Lake Union Publishing
Format: ARC Paperback, 332 pages
Source: Publisher

In this gorgeously stunning debut, a mysterious child teaches two strangers how to love and trust again.

After the loss of her mother and her own battle with breast cancer, Joanna Teale returns to her graduate research on nesting birds in rural Illinois, determined to prove that her recent hardships have not broken her. She throws herself into her work from dusk to dawn, until her solitary routine is disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious child who shows up at her cabin barefoot and covered in bruises.

The girl calls herself Ursa, and she claims to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles. With concerns about the child’s home situation, Jo reluctantly agrees to let her stay—just until she learns more about Ursa’s past.

Jo enlists the help of her reclusive neighbor, Gabriel Nash, to solve the mystery of the charming child. But the more time they spend together, the more questions they have. How does a young girl not only read but understand Shakespeare? Why do good things keep happening in her presence? And why aren’t Jo and Gabe checking the missing children’s website anymore?

Though the three have formed an incredible bond, they know difficult choices must be made. As the summer nears an end and Ursa gets closer to her fifth miracle, her dangerous past closes in. When it finally catches up to them, all of their painful secrets will be forced into the open, and their fates will be left to the stars.

My thoughts: There are some books you read that you just know are ones that are going to be ones you will never forget, be it for the story itself, for the characters, or for the themes they touch upon. This book is one of those books and it's because of all three reasons, at least for me.

I adored this book...I was immediately captivated right from the start and found myself completely invested in the characters and all that they were going through. These characters - Jo, Ursa and Gabe - are such complex, unique characters and you just want life to finally deal them a good hand. They each have their own demons to deal with and seem to be handling it in their own way, for good or bad. But it's when they come together that seems to be the magic touch. 

This book will capture your heart and put it through the wringer. It takes three damaged souls, and in such a unique way, has them help each other find a way to a happier life. It's not all sunshine and roses, though. There is a bit of heaviness here as we learn just what has gone on in each of their lives, and believe me, you need to know this to fully appreciate each of the characters. But the way this book is written, the way these heavy subjects are woven into the story line, it works. And it's balanced by an equal dose of lightheartedness that will make you smile through the tears that will inevitably come at some point.

I was completely surprised by this book, in a good way! It's one of those books that once you start reading, you just cannot put down. As much as you want to savor your time with these characters, you also want to devour it, to find out what the ultimate resolution is going to be. This book and these characters will definitely be staying with me for a long time...and I am still flabbergasted that this is a debut novel! I cannot wait to see what is in store next for Glendy Vanderah!

***And stay tuned...I'll be posting a #BookGiveaway for this book a little later today!!!


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Review: Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

Title: Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Published: December 2015, Broadway Books
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Source: Personal copy

The author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, tackles the critical question: How do we change? 

Gretchen Rubin's answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives.

So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits?

Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good. Infused with Rubin’s compelling voice, rigorous research, and easy humor, and packed with vivid stories of lives transformed, Better than Before explains the (sometimes counter-intuitive) core principles of habit formation.

Along the way, Rubin uses herself as guinea pig, tests her theories on family and friends, and answers readers’ most pressing questions—oddly, questions that other writers and researchers tend to ignore:

• Why do I find it tough to create a habit for something I love to do?
• Sometimes I can change a habit overnight, and sometimes I can’t change a habit, no matter how hard I try. Why?
• How quickly can I change a habit?
• What can I do to make sure I stick to a new habit?
• How can I help someone else change a habit?
• Why can I keep habits that benefit others, but can’t make habits that are just for me?

Whether readers want to get more sleep, stop checking their devices, maintain a healthy weight, or finish an important project, habits make change possible. Reading just a few chapters of Better Than Before will make readers eager to start work on their own habits—even before they’ve finished the book.

My thoughts: I don't tend to read a lot of non-fiction, nor do I read a lot of self-help books, but I recently read a few articles by Gretchen Rubin and became interested in her work. Digging a little deeper, I saw she has written a few books and I decided I would start with this one - I'm a big believer in establishing good habits - and this one peaked my curiosity.

This is a book that is meant to be read and then reread because it is chock full of information and needs time to be internalized. I have made notes and added sticky notes to this book as I read it and know that it will be a treasured part of my library. Not having read any of Gretchen's previous books, I wasn't familiar with some of her terminology, so that took some time for me to get used to that, whereas if you already know her work, that will be a nice refresher. I do plan on reading more of her Four Tendencies, as I find this to be equally fascinating.

I liked the way this book was set up. It's quite clear that a lot of research went into it, but it never once felt like I was reading a research paper. I liked that she asked a lot of questions - this really makes you think about how the different aspects of putting a habit into place and what may or may not work for me, given my personality and what motivates me.

I'm looking forward to putting some of these practices into place to establish some new habits, particularly regarding bedtime as I hope it will help with my bouts of insomnia. Have you read this book or any of Gretchen's other books? I know she just wrote a new book that I am quite eager to check out - Outer Order, Inner Calm.


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Review: Her Pretty Bones by Carla Kovach

Title: Her Pretty Bones
Author: Carla Kovach
Series: Detective Gina Harte, #3
Published: January 2019, Bookouture
Format: ARC E-copy, 330 pages
Source: Netgalley via Publisher

She’s just the girl he’s looking for…

A young woman falls from a van speeding down a quiet road. Battered and bruised, she turns her head to the person who comes to her aid. ‘Help her’, she whispers before her eyes close.

Days later, the body of another young girl is found in a shallow grave just a few miles away. The similarities between the two girls are startling – same age, same frail body, same shocking red hair.

As the town fears there’s a serial killer living amongst them, Detective Gina Harte must put aside her own struggles at home, and catch the killer before he finds another perfect girl.

AN ABSOLUTELY HEART-STOPPING CRIME THRILLER FROM CARLA KOVACH – if you like Lisa Gardner, Robert Bryndza or Clare Mackintosh, Her Pretty Bones will have you hooked.

My thoughts:  This is the third book in the Detective Gina Harte series and  I think this series just keeps getting better! It's so addicting and compelling...I just love when I find these crime fiction/police procedural series with a strong female lead.

While this third book can definitely be read as a stand-alone - something that I am finding most books in series can be done these days - I will say that I highly recommend reading the previous books first. There is quite a lot of backstory on the characters that I think is helpful in really understanding the characters more fully. Plus, this book in particular does reference quite a few times events that happened in the previous book, events that if you were to read it after the fact, would in fact be considered spoilers.

Once again, I love that Detective Gina is pulled into a case and you see that she is putting all of herself into solving it. But, and this is a huge but, this time, there are a few mitigating factors standing in the way. First, she might have come back to work a little too soon after the last case...I won't say too much due to spoilers, but just know that this causes a bit of a rift between her and her daughter. Her daughter seems to think that Gina always puts work first, and this time she might just be correct! I really like that we see this family feud play out and that we see Gina struggle with her new-found anxiety throughout this case. It's real and it's definitely not without warrant.

This latest installment is told from multiple points of view and the three threads that keep the story moving are woven together to form quite an unforgettable story. The twists and turns really keep you guessing not only as to what is going on and who is involved, but also it keeps the suspense ramped up. 

I hope there is another Detective Gina Harte book out soon. I really like this series and cannot wait to see what is in store for Gina and her team next!

Books in this series:

  1. The Next Girl
  2. Her Final Hour
  3. Her Pretty Bones

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Short & Sweet Review: The Trial by James Patterson

Title: The Trial
Author: James Patterson
Series: Women's Murder Club, #15.5
Published: July 2016, BookShots
Format: Paperback, 110 pages
Source: Personal copy

"I'm not on trial. San Francisco is."

An accused murderer called Kingfisher is about to go on trial for his life. Or is he? By unleashing unexpected violence on the lawyers, jurors, and police involved in the case, he has paralyzed the city. Detective Lindsay Boxer and the Women's Murder Club are caught in the eye of the storm.

Now comes a courtroom shocker you will never see coming.

***Short & Sweet Reviews are short, quick reviews. These will mainly be used for series books where I have already done full reviews on some of the earlier books or for books that I feel will suffice with a quick review. These will not be used for review requests or blog tours.

My thoughts:  This is the first BookShots to be part of the Women's Murder series and it was a good novella to feature my favorite ladies - and with the nature of the Bookshots being what it is, that of a fast-paced story - there is not a whole lot of room for any character development here. We jump right into the action and there is little room for anything else. 

I liked this little novella - it's like having a little teaser in-between the regular full-length novels. It's quite an intense read and it focuses on one case, which I happened to like. This book grabs you by the throat and pulls you right in and doesn't let up until the end, which a great ending. I like how this was incorporated into the series and will be curious to see how the next one is worked in...

Books in this series:

1.   1st to Die                                    13.   Unlucky 13
     2.   2nd Chance                               14.   14th Deadly Sin
     3.   3rd Degree                                15.    15th Affair
     4.   4th of July                                 15.5   The Trial
     5.   The 5th Horseman                   16.    16th Seduction
     6.   The 6th Target                          16.5   The Medical Examiner
     7.   7th Heaven                                 17.    The 17th Suspect   
     8.   The 8th Confession                  18.   The 18th Abduction - due out April 2019
     9.   The 9th Judgment
    10.  10th Anniversary
    11.   11th Hour
    12.   12th of Never     

Monday, March 18, 2019

Review: Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson

Title: Unwanted
Author: Kristina Ohlsson
Series:Fredrika Bergman & Alex Recht, #1
Published: November 2012, Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Format: Paperback, 368 pages
Source: Personal copy

In the middle of a rainy Swedish summer, a little girl is abducted from a crowded train. Despite hundreds of potential witnesses, no one noticed when the girl was taken, and, in what seems to be merely a coincidence, her mother has been left behind at the previous station. Inspector Fredrika Bergman and her team of federal investigators are called in and assigned to what at first seems to be a classic custody dispute.

But when the child is found dead in the far north of Sweden with the word "unwanted" scribbled on her forehead, the case soon turns into the investigation team's worst nightmare -- the pursuit of a brilliant and ruthless killer.

My thoughts: A few years ago, I read The Chosen, the 5th book in Kristina Ohlsson's Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht series, when it was released, and I immediately ordered the previous four books. Of course, they have just been sitting on my shelves, waiting for me to find the time to pick them this year, I am determined to do just that. 

I really liked how this book, the first in the series, is a really good combination of police procedural and psychological thriller. It has many points of view, including the police detectives as well as the criminals - which I always love because these chapters tend to be chilling and twisted, giving us access to the inside thinking of the mastermind behind the crimes. I also like that these parts, the parts narrated by the criminal, are relatively anonymous - our only hint that it is male, given that he is referred to as "The Man." 

The team working on the case is comprised of three investigators: Alex Recht, who is the most experienced, and senior, detective of the three, Peder Rydh, who is a young, ambitious detective, and Fredrika Bergman, who is a civilian investigative analyst. They all bring different strengths to the team and I liked that, as this is the first book of the series, we got plenty of backstory on each of the three characters. They are all complex and well-drawn and I am looking forward to seeing how each of them develop as the series continues. 

The characterization in this novel is fantastic. The author really does a great job making the characters feel relatable and yet you might even find them unlikable at times, but you also can understand their problems. The way they are written, you end up finding out what it is they have to cope with and why it is they act the way they do. Their inner dialogue allows us to see their strengths, weaknesses and even their insecurities. This allows you to get a better feel for them on the whole. 

I liked how the book focuses as much on the mystery as it does on each investigator's approach to the case. They each have a very different take on how to solve this case and I liked this. We see just how different these three investigators are, and we see the case coming together from different angles.

I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to continuing on with this series. This book kept me completely engaged and invested from start to finish and I hope the rest of the books do the same!

Books in this series: 
  1. Unwanted
  2. Silenced
  3. The Disappeared
  4. Hostage
  5. The Chosen   

Friday, March 15, 2019

Review: The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag

Title: The Wolf and the Watchman
Author: Niklas Natt och Dag
Published: March 2019, Atria Books
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Source: Publisher

In this breathtakingly bold, intricately constructed novel set in 18th century Stockholm, a dying man searches among the city’s teeming streets, dark corners, and intriguing inhabitants to unmask a ruthless murderer—perfect for fans of Perfume and The Alienist.

It is 1793. Four years after the storming of the Bastille in France and more than a year after the death of King Gustav III of Sweden, paranoia and whispered conspiracies are Stockholm’s daily bread. A promise of violence crackles in the air as ordinary citizens feel increasingly vulnerable to the whims of those in power.

When Mickel Cardell, a crippled ex-solider and former night watchman, finds a mutilated body floating in the city’s malodorous lake, he feels compelled to give the unidentifiable man a proper burial. For Cecil Winge, a brilliant lawyer turned consulting detective to the Stockholm police, a body with no arms, legs, or eyes is a formidable puzzle and one last chance to set things right before he loses his battle to consumption. Together, Winge and Cardell scour Stockholm to discover the body’s identity, encountering the sordid underbelly of the city’s elite. Meanwhile, Kristofer Blix—the handsome son of a farmer—leaves rural life for the alluring charms of the capital and ambitions of becoming a doctor. His letters to his sister chronicle his wild good times and terrible misfortunes, which lead him down a treacherous path.

In another corner of the city, a young woman—Anna-Stina—is consigned to the workhouse after she upsets her parish priest. Her unlikely escape plan takes on new urgency when a sadistic guard marks her as his next victim.

Over the course of the novel, these extraordinary characters cross paths and collide in shocking and unforgettable ways. Niklas Natt och Dag paints a deliciously dark portrait of late 18th century Stockholm, and the frightful yet fascinating reality lurking behind the powdered and painted veneer of the era.

My thoughts: Last year, I watched the TV mini-series The Alienist and loved it - and it happens to be one of my husband's all-time favorite books...he owns THREE copies of the book, including a first edition! I still need to read the actual book, but when I saw that this book, THE WOLF AND THE WATCHMAN was being compared to The Alienist, I knew I wanted to give it a go - a historical fiction crime thriller - sounds right up my alley!

This is a dark, gritty, macabre read...not sure what that says about me as a reader, but I was fascinated with the story. It is a little slow going and it does take a while to get into the rhythm of the story, but I tell you, I found myself captivated. It's certainly not a fast, thrilling read - this is definitely a different kind of absorbing read, yet one that still had me invested in what was going on.

I will say this is not a book for everyone - it's violent, at times graphic, in nature. But if you can get past that, it really is quite an intricately woven tale that will take you down a path in history you probably know nothing about. It takes us into the underbelly of Stockholm in the late 1700s and believe me, it's not really a time you would want to live. What kept me going was the compelling descriptions that we get and the characters we meet. There are a few mysteries and of course I needed them to be solved! I needed to know how everything tied together.

The characters in this book are so well-drawn. We get their full back story so that they have depth and complexity. This draws you in as much as the brilliant descriptions of the setting. You really get a sense of what Stockholm was like back in the 1790s - it comes alive with the author's writing. There is such a sharp contrast between the haves and the have-nots and this is clearly due to the writer's talent.

This was quite a compelling read and one that is not soon to be forgotten. I will absolutely be keeping an eye out for what comes next from this author...his writing is quite remarkable.

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