Psychological thriller

All posts tagged Psychological thriller

Hush Little Baby – Joanna Barnard

Published November 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When baby Oliver breaks his arm, no-one can (or will) say how it happened.

His mother is exhausted.

His father is angry.

His older sister is resentful.

And they all have something to hide

What did I think?:

First of all, a big thank you to Ebury Press, part of Penguin Random House publishers for sending me a copy of this fantastic thriller in exchange for an honest review. Hush Little Baby was released in August 2017 and apologies that I’m only getting round to reading it now, I certainly won’t make that mistake again with any future novel I happen to read by Joanna Barnard. This book was such a wonderful surprise, exciting, tense and twisty that delves into some very dark places and controversial issues with ease and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment, racing through it in less than twenty-four hours like a woman possessed!

The above synopsis says everything you really need to know concerning what this book is about. As you may know, I’m not one for revealing spoilers so I’m hoping to be as deliberately vague as possible regarding the plot. It’s basically the story of a family – Sally, her husband Richard, their baby Oliver and Oliver’s teenage half-sister Martha. All their lives are turned upside down one night when Oliver has to be rushed to hospital after mysteriously breaking his arm with an injury the hospital are certain is unequivocally not accidental. No one is accepting responsibility for the incident and each member of the family has their own issues to deal with about the night in question i.e. where they were, what they were doing etc. Now social services have become involved and have removed Oliver from his parents to his grandparents custody whilst they try to find out what has happened. Hush Little Baby is a novel where parental responsibilities are questioned, dark secrets are unearthed and the actions of all our characters are revealed slowly and steadily with an ending that will leave you dumbfounded and in my case, slightly unsettled.

This fascinating novel is told in one of my favourite ways, from multiple perspectives. We hear from all three “potentially guilty,” parties in alternating chapters: Sally, Richard and Martha who were all there in some way when baby Oliver was injured. It was quite early on in the story that I began to have opinions on all three persons concerned, all of whom have made mistakes on that night but it’s up to the reader to decide who indeed might have made the biggest mistake. The plot itself deals with multiple issues, apart from the obvious issue of child abuse/neglect, it also explores mental illness, relationship difficulties and there are trigger warnings for self-harm which you should be aware of if you are sensitive to this subject. Because of this, it goes to some incredibly murky depths to paint the picture of what *might* have happened to Oliver and who *may* be to blame.

I have to say it made my emotions go haywire at points, particularly with the character depiction. I wanted to shake one of them at one point, I despised another with a passion and then I wanted to just take another far away from it all. It is the story of what happened to Oliver but mainly, it’s a novel about how a relationship can be affected by a crisis such as this, how people either do or do not take responsibility for their actions and how detrimental your actions can be to another person (or people) without even being aware of it. If you’re after a psychological thriller that is much more about the reactions of characters rather than what actually happened to the child, I would definitely read this book. Personally, I’ll definitely be checking out Joanna’s first book, Precocious on the strength of this one and I can hardly wait.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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The House – Simon Lelic

Published November 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

What if your perfect home turned out to be the scene of the perfect crime?

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.

Because someone has just been murdered. Right outside their back door.

And now the police are watching them…

What did I think?:

I remember reading one other novel from Simon Lelic in my pre-blogging days which was called Rupture or alternatively A Thousand Cuts and really enjoyed it, giving it four stars on GoodReads so goodness knows why it’s taken me so long to get round to another one of his books! I borrowed The House from my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads after a bookish trip to Bath when she was reading it and she had so many different facial expressions and reactions whilst she was reading that I was instantly intrigued and begged to borrow it from her. The House has everything you would want from a gritty thriller – unreliable narrators, suspense, mystery, twists and turns and a gripping plot that makes it pretty much impossible to put the book down.

One of my favourite things about this novel is the way in which it is initially written. We hear in alternate chapters from a couple, Jack and Sydney as they recount recent events in their lives that began with them buying a house in London and ended with a murder and the suspicion of the police landing firmly on their doorstep. We learn a little bit about their past lives, in particular Sydney’s traumatic childhood which led to her abusing drugs and unable to trust anyone until she meets the love of her life, Jack. We also learn how they came to buy the house in London, their concerns and misgivings about the process and, crucially, the gruesome discovery that they find when they begin living there which precipitates a host of other events leading to the turbulent situation that the couple find themselves in at the present moment.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot as the beauty of this novel is to go in knowing as little as possible to make the surprises the author springs upon the reader as deliciously astonishing as possible. Luckily, Chrissi didn’t tell me anything (she’s good like that!) but as soon as I saw some of her facial expressions, as I mentioned, I knew I was in for quite the ride and I was right. Simon Lelic writes a fascinating tale where you have no idea what on earth is happening, who to trust/believe and what the possible outcome of such a situation could be and he had me on tenterhooks from the very beginning to the very satisfying conclusion. For me, Sydney felt slightly more fleshed out as a character and I found her back story to be incredibly powerful and moving, especially one scene in particular involving a male character in her life and a gun which sent shivers down my spine. Reading The House has made me definitely want to seek out the author’s other two novels and additionally, makes me hugely excited for anything else he publishes in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Talking About Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land with Chrissi Reads

Published September 2, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Milly’s mother is a serial killer. Though Milly loves her mother, the only way to make her stop is to turn her in to the police. Milly is given a fresh start: a new identity, a home with an affluent foster family, and a spot at an exclusive private school.

But Milly has secrets, and life at her new home becomes complicated. As her mother’s trial looms, with Milly as the star witness, Milly starts to wonder how much of her is nature, how much of her is nurture, and whether she is doomed to turn out like her mother after all.

When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother’s daughter.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: I started this book a bit before you and told you how disturbing it was. Did you agree with my initial impression? What were your first impressions?

BETH: It was quite funny in a way. You started reading it and then texted me just two words – “Woah dude.” Then I got to the exact same point in the book that you did and texted you exactly the same thing! I know we usually hate comparisons and like that a book should stand on its own but as you said to me, this was one of the most disturbing things I’ve read since Gone Girl, I think. Obviously I don’t want to go into too many details for fear of spoilers but this novel is a lot darker, a lot twistier and more warped than I could have ever expected. You would think I might be expecting this if you read the synopsis? No, I wasn’t prepared for how “wrong,” it was going to get.

BETH: What did you think of the character of Phoebe? Could you sympathise with her at all?

CHRISSI: It’s an interesting question as Phoebe is such a complex character. I felt sorry for her because her home life was pretty horrific. Her mother didn’t have a great bond with her and she was feeling left out when Milly was getting a lot of attention from Phoebe’s parents. That can’t be nice. Especially when Phoebe’s mum gave Milly a gift that Phoebe thought was a precious thing between Phoebe and her mother. However, I didn’t feel comfortable with the bullying that Phoebe and her friends were inflicting upon Milly. Bullying should never be excused in my eyes!

CHRISSI: Ali Land is a Child and Adolescent Mental Health nurse – how do you think this affects the way she has written this novel?

BETH: I think it’s given her a perfect insight into mental illness in children, to be honest. She’s probably seen and experienced some things in her career and understands how a child may view a certain situation, what they might do and what kinds of emotions they might be experiencing as a result. Because of this, the novel came across as very authentic to me and as I mentioned before, I certainly wasn’t prepared for the directions the author took with the story.

BETH: Milly has to give evidence in a court in front of her mother – how do you think this was handled in the novel?

CHRISSI: I thought this was dealt with really well in the novel. Milly wanted to be there in court and this wasn’t disregarded because it was too tough for her. The adults around Milly seemed to listen to her. I also enjoyed how the court scenes were written. I loved how Milly’s mother’s presence was so strong in the novel. It was almost creepy. She felt like an incredibly evil character (what she did was awful!) and her little movements mentioned in the court scene made my skin crawl. I loved how the author made us feel her presence in court (despite Milly not physically seeing her) and how much Milly was aware of it.

CHRISSI: What does this story tell us about the question of nature vs nurture?

BETH: As a scientist (by day!) I probably could have a very scientific answer for you… 😝 but to be honest, I think the book explores both aspects. Is it the genes within us that programme us to be what we are and how we react to certain situations? Or is it the environment outside i.e. how we are brought up, who we interact with that determines our behaviour and actions. If I’m fair, poor Milly didn’t have much of a choice either way considering she was brought up with a serial killer for a mother. It’s how she responds when taken out of that situation however that gets very interesting.

BETH: How would you describe the relationship between Milly and her mother?

CHRISSI: In two words… incredibly unhealthy! I felt like Milly constantly struggled with the feelings towards her mother. It says it all really in the title ‘Good Me, Bad Me.’ Milly was so aware of what was right and wrong. She knew what her mother had done was wrong, yet she still felt a strong pull towards her, despite all of the awful things that had happened to her. Milly really was messed up by her mother and understandably so. Their relationship was toxic. Milly’s mother ‘training’ her daughter for such awful things…

CHRISSI: How does this book compare to others in its heavily populated genre?

BETH: I was a huge fan of this book. I think it stands heads and shoulders above quite a few books in the genre. I don’t know if it’s the writing style, the subject matter or the fact that the author isn’t afraid to go to incredibly dark places but I loved what she did with the story and even though it made me feel intensely uncomfortable and disgusted it was an unforgettable reading experience.

BETH: Would you read another novel by this author?

CHRISSI: I really would! This is such a promising debut novel. I loved how Ali Land didn’t shy away from such an uncomfortable topic.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Without a doubt!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

 

Gone Without A Trace – Mary Torjussen

Published May 24, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

GONE WITHOUT A TRACE by Mary Torjussen is a chilling, twisty, compulsive thriller about a woman whose boyfriend has vanished. Fans of I LET YOU GO and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN will be gripped.

No one ever disappears completely…

You leave for work one morning.

Another day in your normal life.

Until you come home to discover that your boyfriend has gone.
His belongings have disappeared.
He hasn’t been at work for weeks.
It’s as if he never existed.

But that’s not possible, is it?

And there is worse still to come.

Because just as you are searching for him
someone is also watching you.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the lovely Millie Seaward from Headline Books for sending me over a copy of Mary Torjussen’s exciting and gripping novel in exchange for an honest review. I love a good mystery and a compelling psychological thriller and Gone Without A Trace was both of these as well as being very fast paced which meant that I managed to finish the story in the space of twenty-four hours, a definite sign of a good read.

Our main character Hannah, when we meet her is on her way back from a very successful business trip where she may have even snared herself a promotion. She walks through the door of the house she shares with long-term boyfriend Matt, champagne in hand to find something very disturbing. There is no trace of Matt’s personal belongings or indeed himself at the property at all. In fact, it’s as if he never existed in the first place. All Hannah’s personal items have been placed in the position they were in when Matt first moved in and stranger still, all traces of Matt on social media, text messages and emails on Hannah’s phone has been permanently deleted. She dials his phone number but it has been cut off, she phones his place of work but they tell her they have no-one of that name working there. Matt has literally disappeared into thin air and Hannah doesn’t know what, if anything, has gone wrong in their relationship. She begins to search for Matt through any means possible which leads to her life unravelling astronomically and her current friendships and relationships being threatened. Then the anonymous text messages start to arrive and strange things happen in her house that she cannot explain and no one else will believe. Is Hannah finally losing her grip on reality or is something a lot deeper and darker going on?

Well, to be perfectly honest when I started this story I didn’t know what to think. The character of Hannah herself isn’t the most likeable individual, I have to say and at times when her search for answers bordered into the obsessive, threatening her livelihood and her mental health, I felt terribly frustrated with her and yes, wanted to give her a fictional shake. This was a great tool used by the author however as believe me, it’s all for a greater purpose. By the time I got further through the novel as more secrets were unearthed, I realised why the author had written it as she did. And damn, was it effective! I was totally shocked and surprised and really appreciate a narrative where I cannot predict what’s going to happen next. Aside from this, I really enjoyed the other difficult relationships that the author chose to explore, such as Hannah’s love-hate friendship with her childhood friend, Katie and her very strained relationship with her mother and father. By the end of the novel, little things that happen throughout start to add up and everything will make sense, I assure you. Personally, I found this a hugely enjoyable novel and I look forward to what Mary Torjussen comes up with next!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Talking About The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena with Chrissi Reads

Published May 18, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Fast-paced and addictive, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR announces a major new talent in thriller writing. You never know what’s happening on the other side of the wall.

Your neighbour told you that she didn’t want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn’t stand her crying.

Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You’ll have the baby monitor and you’ll take it in turns to go back every half hour.

Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last. But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She’s gone.

You’ve never had to call the police before. But now they’re in your home, and who knows what they’ll find there.

What would you be capable of, when pushed past your limit?

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What was your first impression of this book?

BETH: I was really pleased to see The Couple Next Door on Richard and Judy’s Summer Book Club this year, I’d heard a little bit about the book and it falls into a genre that I really like to read so I was excited to get started. It was an incredibly quick read and I surprised myself with how quickly I managed to read it but the story was quite gripping and that urged me to keep on reading instead of putting the book down.

BETH: Anne initially blames Marco for their daughter’s disappearance. Do you agree with her?

CHRISSI: I think Anne and Marco were equally to blame, as Anne agreed to leave the baby. It wasn’t as if Marco forced her to go next door. Anne had her own mind and could’ve said no. She decided to go with Marco to the party, so no… I don’t agree with Anne.

CHRISSI: Which characters, if any, do you sympathise with in this novel?

BETH: This is a really difficult question because, to be honest, I don’t think the whole novel had a hugely likeable character in it for me. That’s not a bad thing at all as I often find myself enjoying books more if there’s an unreliable narrator or a character that is written in such a way that it makes it difficult for you to like them or understand their motivations. This is certainly true of The Couple Next Door. The main couple in the novel leave their baby in the house alone to go to a party next door, taking just the baby monitor with them and taking turns to check on her every so often. At the end of the night, she has disappeared. Obviously this is a terrible thing to happen and I did automatically sympathise with the situation they found themselves in but also found I blamed them a little for what had occurred.

BETH: How do you think Anne’s struggles with post natal depression play into her feelings about the loss of her daughter?

CHRISSI: I think Anne’s struggles with post natal depression really do play into her feelings about the loss of her daughter. Anne is obviously struggling with her mental health and that’s going to affect how she feels about the loss of her daughter. Anne really starts to struggle with her emotions and really question whether she did something wrong, whilst checking on her daughter. I was actually questioning it too. I found Anne’s post natal depression made her a really unreliable narrator.

CHRISSI: Discuss the moral dilemma around the decision to leave the baby in the house next door.

BETH: As I mentioned in the previous novel, Anne and Marco have left their baby behind while attending a party at their next door neighbours and the worst possible case scenario has happened – their daughter has disappeared. It did seem to be more of a dilemma for the mother, Anne to leave her child behind. The host of the party next door Cynthia made it quite clear that her baby was not welcome at the party and Anne’s husband, Marco did a good job of persuading her that everything would be okay. After all, they had the baby monitor and they would keep going back to check on her. Obviously the chances of anything like this happening to your child are very slim but you just need to look at the famous Madeline McCann disappearance to understand that while unlikely, parents shouldn’t even dare take the chance of assuming that “everything will be fine.”

BETH: Did you enjoy the twists and turns in this novel?

CHRISSI: I did. I like a thriller to have twists and turns and The Couple Next Door certainly delivered. I loved the pace of the story and even though I kinda guessed where it was going, it didn’t ruin it for me!

CHRISSI: How does this book compare to others in its genre?

BETH: I felt it compared very well. I enjoyed the plot, disliking the characters, the slight twists and turns and how everything was wrapped up at the end. It was certainly fast paced and kept me reading and as a mystery and thriller it does what it says on the tin. I loved how everything was slowly revealed and although I’m afraid I kind of guessed where it might be going I still enjoyed the story as a whole.

BETH: Would you read another novel by this author?

CHRISSI: I would. I enjoyed the writer’s style and thought it was a gripping read!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Close To Me – Amanda Reynolds

Published April 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Close To Me is a gripping debut psychological drama that will appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty’s bestselling The Husband’s Secret, Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, and Linda Green’s While My Eyes Were Closed.

She can’t remember the last year. Her husband wants to keep it that way.

When Jo Harding falls down the stairs at home, she wakes up in hospital with partial amnesia-she’s lost a whole year of memories. A lot can happen in a year. Was Jo having an affair? Lying to her family? Starting a new life?

She can’t remember what she did-or what happened the night she fell. But she’s beginning to realise she might not be as good a wife and mother as she thought.

What did I think?:

I got the opportunity to meet the lovely Amanda Reynolds in person at a Headline bloggers evening I went to recently where I also picked up a copy of her debut novel, Close To Me in exchange for an honest review. Thank you very much to Wildfire Publishers (an imprint of Headline) for a copy and to Amanda for the wonderful chat we had that evening. Now, if you like your psychological thrillers, Close To Me is a novel you definitely shouldn’t miss out on reading, it’s a fantastic and tense tale that had me gripped right until the end and I became terribly attached to the characters and their lives – the sign of a wonderful author.

The premise initially reminded me of the brilliant Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson i.e. a woman has an accident which results in her suffering amnesia and questioning whole periods of her life that she has missed. It wasn’t long before I realised that although there were slight similarities at the outset of the novel, Close To Me stands by itself quite independently and should not be compared or any potential twists anticipated. Our protagonist, Jo Harding has lost one year of her life after falling down the stairs at home but snatches of events keep coming back to her as she is recovering from her head injury. She begins to realise that certain things are being kept from her by her husband and her two grown up children, but why? What has happened in the past year that has been so terrible that her family are keeping secrets from her in this way? Also, if Jo manages to uncover what has happened in the past year, will that be a good thing or will she wish she had never remembered?

I loved the way this novel was structured. We only hear things from the perspective of Jo but she is such a fascinating character (and somewhat unreliable narrator due to her head injury) that I immediately warmed to her and was rooting for her to get to the bottom of what precipitated her fall down the stairs in the first place. The reader is transported between two time periods, Jo’s present situation and her fight to recover her memories and back to a year ago where one of her last memories is dropping her son off at university. As we, the reader find out things as Jo is finding them out herself it felt very intimate and exciting as a reading experience and I thoroughly enjoyed all the revealing moments, especially close to the end where I quite literally could not put the book down until I had found out EVERYTHING. This is a strong, very memorable psychological thriller and a brilliant debut for the genre. I wish Amanda Reynolds every success for the future and I’ll certainly be reading whatever she writes next.

Interested? Buy Close To Me from Amazon now as an e-book for the absolute bargain price of 99p!:

Paperback release is 27th July, 2017.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Talking About Lying In Wait by Liz Nugent with Chrissi Reads

Published April 13, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The last people who expect to be meeting with a drug-addicted prostitute are a respected judge and his reclusive wife. And they certainly don’t plan to kill her and bury her in their exquisite suburban garden.

Yet Andrew and Lydia Fitzsimons find themselves in this unfortunate situation.

While Lydia does all she can to protect their innocent son Laurence and their social standing, her husband begins to falls apart.

But Laurence is not as naïve as Lydia thinks. And his obsession with the dead girl’s family may be the undoing of his own.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book?

BETH: I thought it was a unique premise for crime fiction. From the very beginning, we know exactly what happened on the night of Annie’s murder even down to whom was responsible for the crime. The novel follows how the murderer(s) try to cover up their tracks to resist detection over a number of years. We get multiple perspectives across two very different families (the perps and the victim’s family) across an extended period of time. It was a different way to approach a novel in this genre and I enjoyed being part of the author’s little secret as we saw the repercussions of the crime on many different people including the murderer themselves.

BETH: Discuss the relationship of Lydia with her son Laurence.

CHRISSI: Ooh, good question. I think Lydia’s relationship with Laurence is incredibly intense. Lydia has a hold over Laurence. He is her everything. Lydia’s relationship with her son grows stronger over time and I think it becomes more damaging over time too. The relationship is certainly not healthy. As a reader, we get to see the cracks in the relationship grow over time. The ending as well… phew!

CHRISSI: Liz Nugent is a radio and TV scriptwriter – do you think that affects the way that she writes her novels?

BETH: I wasn’t actually aware of that but looking back on it, it really comes across in the way that she writes. You can almost imagine each scene as being part of a movie or play and I would love to see it being adapted for film! It wouldn’t be hard, the author has provided everything in such clear detail and although I wouldn’t say it is necessarily “action-packed,” there is no need at all for this story to have a fast pace. It’s almost like a character study and is slowly chilling.

BETH: Many of the characters in this novel are not particularly likeable. Do you need to be able to empathise with characters in a book to enjoy it?

CHRISSI: Definitely not! I actually think it’s fun not to like characters. Maybe that’s a little warped of me? I don’t know. However, I absolutely loved hating some of the characters, especially Lydia, the mother. She was completely warped but I loved reading about her. Lydia’s narration was fascinating to me. The way she thought…wow!

CHRISSI: Discuss how the author structures the novel to build the tension.

BETH: I think it helps the novel to have the story told from multiple perspectives. From Lydia and her son Laurence (who were especially fascinating to read about) to Karen and the effect that her sister’s murder has on the entire family. You would come to the end of a particular perspective and there may be a slight cliff hanger but then perspectives switch and you read from someone else’s point of view. This means that the reader has to wait a little while before resuming the original thread they were reading and believe me, the wait is always worth it!

BETH: What was most enjoyable about this book for you?

CHRISSI: It’s hard to pinpoint what I enjoyed about this book. I didn’t read the synopsis before going into it, which I like to do with books like this. I just like to read it and see how it unfolds. I think the characters were fascinating, I enjoyed the multiple narration and I loved how messed up it became. I have to say, I think Laurence and Lydia made this book for me.

CHRISSI: How does this book compare to others in its genre?

BETH: Easily rises to the top of the pack in my opinion. I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like knowing everything about a murder at the beginning of the novel but the author manages to make this story so compelling with such fascinating characters that I was utterly hooked for the entirety of it. I’m actually really keen now to read Liz’s debut novel, Unravelling Oliver which I’ve heard great things about but if it’s anything like this one I know I’m going to love it.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would! I am also intrigued to read her debut novel, because I found her writing style to be incredibly engaging.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0