review: The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

20455343.jpg

{Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I greatly appreciated the chance to read this book!

Official Synopsis
In a forest in Denmark, a ranger discovers the fresh corpse of an unidentified woman. A large scar on one side of her face should make the identification easy, but nobody has reported her missing. After four days, Louise Rick—the new commander of the Missing Persons Department—is still without answers. But when she releases a photo to the media, an older woman phones to say that she recognizes the woman as Lisemette, a child she once cared for in the state mental institution many years ago.

Lisemette, like the other children in the institution, was abandoned by her family and branded a “forgotten girl.” But Louise soon discovers something more disturbing: Lisemette had a twin, and both girls were issued death certificates over 30 years ago.

As the investigation brings Louise closer to her childhood home, she uncovers more crimes that were committed—and hidden—n the forest, and finds a terrible link to her own past that has been carefully concealed.

Review
From the very first words —

Gone is coming. Gone is coming! The words pounded in her ears as the rocks and branches of the forest floor tore her feet and shins. Her head was whirling and fear made her heart constrict.

I was riveted by this compelling mystery.

The Forgotten Girls is Sara Blaedel’s seventh in her Louise Rick mystery series, translated from her native tongue to English – much to my delight! I haven’t read any of the others (I will be rectifying that quite quickly) but had no issues in picking up the book and diving right in. There are minimal references to other cases / characters, but this novel is the beginning of a new career for Louise, so it’s in some ways a natural starting point.

Louise is heading up a new agency, searching for missing persons. Her new partner, Eik Nordstrom (who I kept picturing as Eric Northman from True Blood… delicious!) has to be picked up from a bar the first day, and she quickly realizes that her boss wants her to close cases quickly, without doing the necessary and crucial police work that Louise so loves.

When the case of Lisemette crosses her desk, Louise expects that she will be able to solve it before dinnertime. After all, the dead girl has a large and grotesque scar down one side of her face. Surely someone will recognize her and come forward?

But no one does, and Louise begins to learn of the forgotten girls… and all that has befallen them since they were institutionalized many, many years ago. In between searching for Lisemette’s twin sister, Louise and Eik also deal with the very real and very present-day threat of a vicious rapist and murderer, attacking women as they walk through a nearby wood.

Are the cases related? Will Louise be forced to confront the very painful realities of her past?

I could not put this book down, and read it in one evening. Sara Blaedel has the refreshing style of many Scandinavian writers – succinct, raw and often disturbing. What happened to the girls is so revolting as to be almost unfathomable. It presents uncomfortable questions of morality and cruelty – and surely echoes what must have gone on in many of these institutions in the past.

These girls were for all intents and purposes, dead to their families, and suffered because of it and beyond it. Truly forgotten in the darkness, as if they slipped into an oubliette, out of reach, out of sight, but trapped in their own terrorized bodies.

review: In the Waning Light by Loreth Anne White

inthewaninglight {Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Montlake Romance for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it, as always!

I moved this week. The house is a shambles. My husband and I have been turning corners in the kitchen, unaware of where we put the knives, or the ground cinnamon, or the plates.

But still, I read. I had to. Loreth Anne White is quickly becoming one of my favourite mystery authors, and after A Dark Lure, I knew that In the Waning Light was at the top of my must-reads list.

This tale is captivating. It has one of my book kinks – a tragic past following the heroine into the future – immediately I was hooked. This book is unputdownable. It’s the story of Meg Brogan, a true-crimes author who returns to her childhood home to write about her own sister’s brutal murder. As a teen, Sherry Brogan was viciously raped and strangled. On that night, Meg was also hurt and almost died – but her memories have been washed away, like a footprint at high tide.

Upon her return, it becomes evident that the residents of Shelter Bay are unimpressed with Meg digging around in the past. Some violently so. As Meg peels the onion of her sister’s murder, she also finds herself again – in love and life, reconnecting with her first boyfriend, Blake Sutton. Although the romance is lovely AND sexy (a rare thing), it’s her relationship with Blake’s son Noah that I found most touching. This young boy, so desperate for affection and grieving so intensely for his mother – he’s heartrending, and Meg engages with him in such a way that tells the reader she is truly a good person. Brave, strong, compassionate and pretty badass.

I guessed who murdered Sherry mid-way through, but I did NOT guess the reasons behind it, nor the circumstances. It’s a shocker, and it’s brutal and upsetting and horrifying. Loreth Anne White is not afraid to go into the darkness, nor is she afraid to take you there with her. Her sense of place is astounding. It’s one of her biggest talents as an author.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out some repetition in the phrasing and prose. When I was in creative writing class, my teacher told me that although she loved my poetry, she found I had a few favourite words and phrases, and fell back onto them time and time again. White does this often – with things like “bowels”, “black and inky”, “black and oily” and “chinkled”. It’s a little distracting – because the phrases are so raw and distinctive.

Overall, highly recommended. I cannot wait for the next mystery from White. She’s truly talented and creates worlds that you can reach out and touch, taste, feel and experience.

review: A Dark Lure by Loreth Anne White

adarklure {Source: GoodReads.com}

READ THIS BOOK READ THIS BOOK READ THIS BOOK

Now that that’s out of the way. Ahem. I LOVED this book. It’s not often that I can say that. Especially in this genre, which so often misses the mark. Either I loathe the main character, or the symptoms of PTSD are glossed over, or the mystery isn’t compelling. A Dark Lure has it all: a complicated and intelligent heroine, a complex and layered portrayal of trauma, a sexy and compassionate hero, beautiful and elegant writing AND it scared the you-know-what right out of me.

I couldn’t read it alone. That’s how frightening I found the subject matter.

A Dark Lure tells the story of Olivia West (nee Sarah Baker), who lives with the memories of a nightmare that happened over a decade past, but feels as fresh as a raw wound. Twelve years before, Olivia was kidnapped, held captive, raped and almost gutted by the Watt Lake Killer. After escaping, Olivia loses everything – her husband, her family, her child and almost her mind. She finds some solace in the wilds of Broken Bar Ranch, rebuilding her life one piece at a time with the help of her rescue dog Ace, and the cantankerous owner of the ranch, Myron McDonough.

When Myron’s health begins to fail and his son arrives, Olivia’s carefully constructed existence begins to crumble. Cole McDonough is sexy, rugged and smart – he begins to awaken desires in Olivia that she believed to be long dead. When a brutal murder occurs nearby, capturing nationwide attention for its similarities to the Watt Lake killings, and a storm threatens to enrobe the ranch in chilling white, Olivia begins to wonder if the nightmare is closer than she thinks…

Genuinely terrifying, with a thrumming romance at its centre, and a well-sketched cast of characters (plus a few twists along the way), A Dark Lure was the perfect read. Rich, weighty, satisfying and with a gasp-inducing climax.

I loved it. 5 well-deserved stars.

review: Affinity by Sarah Waters

72929{Source: GoodReads.com}

Lyrical, gripping, melancholy, heartrending and sensual – Affinity is one of Sarah Waters’ best novels, and also one of her most depressing. I believe even Waters herself admitted to being eager to escape from the dank, grey walls of Millbank Prison.

Affinity is the story of Margaret Prior:

description

Margaret is “lady visitor” recovering from a suicide attempt due to the death of her father and the death of her romantic hopes. She is counseling female prisoners who have found themselves heading toward a dark path.

While at Millbank, Margaret meets a young “medium” named Selina Dawes, and her beauty, stillness and mystery intrigues Margaret, bringing her back to the prison day after day to visit with her.

description

Desperate and filled with longing, Margaret is convinced by Selina to help her escape from Millbank, and in true Waters fashion, nothing is as it seems. Margaret’s final thoughts are truly heartbreaking, because you know she had finally imagined herself free, in love, unconstrained by “false boundaries” — and yet the dream was never quite what Margaret believed.

‘It is a world that is made of love. Did you think there is only the kind of love your sister knows for her husband? Did you think there must be here, a man with whiskers, and over here, a lady in a gown? Haven’t I said, there are no whiskers and gowns where spirits are? And what will your sister do if her husband should die, and she should take another? Who will she fly to then, when she has crossed the spheres? For she will fly to someone, we will all fly to someone, we will all return to that piece of shining matter from which our souls were torn with another, two halves of the same. It may be that the husband your sister has now has that other soul, that has the affinity with her soul—I hope it is. But it may be the next man she takes, or it may be neither. It may be someone she would never think to look to on the earth, someone kept from her by some false boundary…’ – Selina Dawes

review: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

thenightwatch {Source: GoodReads.com}

One major reason I love Sarah Waters’ books is that she paints such a rich history for women. I love how she features lesbians and lesbian life throughout history. There is much written about men and gay men (natch, why shouldn’t men take over literature too?) and yet, not a lot of quality, compelling, raw, devastating and accurate prose written about women, women who loved other women. It’s so important that we have Sarah Waters.

The Night Watch is my favourite Waters novel. It’s perfect. Everything about the way she constructed the book, everything about the editing of it, the descriptions of World War II and its aftermath (gah, I can’t get over how well she writes period dramas, without delving into cliched tropes), the characters, the relationships. It’s perfection, beginning to end.

And oh, how I adored the people we met.

Gentle, vicious, frustrating, frustrated, impulsive, silly Helen.

description

Noble, complicated, intelligent, miserable Kay.

description

Gorgeous, devastating, intimidating, wealthy Julia.

description

Irrepressible, disappointed, beautiful, melancholy Viv.

description

Interestingly, Waters chose to begin this novel at the end, and go back in time to find out how our characters came to be where and who they are. It’s a frustrating tactic (because in a way, we’ll know all we know by the first act) but an effective one, as Waters peels the onion slowly and lyrically.

She brings wartime London alive with precision and grace, and her characters stumble through their lives, never quite making the right decisions, never quite realizing where they will end up. The relationships are so skillfully woven here, and the vividness of certain scenes and images still stick in my mind.

By the end, you might feel a little cheated – I did when I first read it- but I now choose to marvel at how Waters unraveled their stories and how she showed what was truly vital for us to know – after all, hindsight is 20/20, and these characters never knew and might never have dreamt, where they’d be after the war.

Were they would be after those rash decisions, when it seemed as though the world would end – but then, it didn’t.

review: Beneath the Skin by Nicci French

beneaththeskin {Source: GoodReads.com}

This review contains mild spoilers, though I tried to allude rather than reveal.

What made (makes) this book so beautiful to me is twofold.

1. The casual elegance of the writing. Nicci French (for the purpose of just plain not feeling like typing out two names, I will ignore that this is a pseudonym and just pretend it’s one author) is brilliant at sketching characters that feel like real people and for using spare, simple and yet beautiful prose. I really love her style and always have. It’s especially evident in her earlier works and now in the Frieda Klein series.

2. The relationship between the three women, invisible, like a thread – but so strong that not even death shakes it. I thought this was a haunting river through the novel.

Beneath the Skin is not my favourite of French’s novels (that award goes to Land of the Living, but it is one of her best, in my opinion.

Zoe, Jenny and Nadia are three women with a horrible connection. but wait, there’s more…

review: Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon

trynototbreathe {Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine – for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I can’t BELIEVE this is Holly Seddon’s first novel! It’s engrossing, raw, mesmerizing and utterly unputdownable. I was so entranced with this mystery that I actually snapped at my husband when he interrupted my reading. I put off chores so I could finish it. It’s THAT good.

Try Not to Breathe is the story of Alex Dale, a journalist teetering on the brink of disaster. Every morning, Alex writes freelance stories. Every afternoon, Alex gets blind drunk and often wakes up with urine-soaked sheets. It’s a devastatingly accurate depiction of severe alcoholism, and Seddon doesn’t sugar coat it. Alex is truly without a friend in the world – her only friend, her only love, is drinking.

But then – one day, while researching the work of a doctor who specializes in comatose patients, Alex stumbles upon a patient she recognizes. Amy Stevenson, a young girl who was attacked and left for dead over fifteen years before – now in her thirties, frozen somewhere in the quagmire of her own mind. Alex sets out to unravel the mystery of Amy’s attack – hoping to track down the person(s) responsible and in doing so, find some kind of redemption – personal and professional.

I absolutely adored spending time with Alex. After all, perfect characters are boring. Alex is a messy disaster of a person, and yet. You just can’t help rooting for her to get herself together and find the truth. The mystery is riveting, the peeks into Amy’s drifting, vanishing life are heartbreaking, and the surprise twist at the end actually *surprised* me. Excellent, excellent work.

5 enthusiastic stars. I can’t wait to read much, much more from this author. She’s off to a fantastic start in her professional writing career.