Friday, 19 August 2016

Book Review | Only Daughter | Anna Snoekstra

One of my favourite genres is psychological thrillers and, after reading this fabulous debut novel by Anna Snoekstra, I have been left wanting more.

On the 17th January 2003, Rebecca Winter finished a late shift at the McDonald’s restaurant in 
Manuka, Canberra but somehow, between there and home, she disappeared, never to be seen again.

In 2014, an unknown young woman is caught shoplifting and, trying to save herself, tells the police that she is the missing Bec Winter.

As the imposter artfully insinuates herself into the Winter family’s lives, skilfully dodging the police questions by feigning confusion, it’s not long before she realises that something is seriously wrong and her own life may very well be in danger!

I have no doubt that, like the Black Saturday Bushfires of 2009, the 2003 Canberra Bushfires are probably still sadly etched in the minds of most Australians (but what a perfect backdrop on which to set the story of a missing person) and what intrigued me the most was the premise, as I wondered how Anna was going to pull it off – after all, how could a mother mistake someone else for her own daughter?

But pull it off she does, with the novel not only being lauded by bestselling authors Lisa Unger and Mary Kubica, but also heading for Hollywood after the film rights were sold to Universal Pictures and Working Title films.

Told in first person from the imposter’s point of view in the present and third person from Bec’s in the past, the reader gets a sense of who these two young women are, or were, and the utter fear they both experience, while discovering that not all is as it should be in the Winter household.

Written with clever twists and turns and skilfully creating an eerie, tension-filled atmosphere, Anna Snoekstra takes a timely subject and puts her own disturbingly chilling spin on it, displaying not only her creative writing abilities but also her screenwriting and cinema expertise.

With a surprise ending that I wasn't expecting, preceded by a final twist that will have the reader agape (which includes some graphic images), you’ll be forgiven for thinking that you’ve waded into a slightly tamer version of a Stephen King novel. I have, however, absolutely no hesitation in recommending this one to all those thriller lovers out there and cannot wait for the movie (The New Winter) to hit the big screen.

I wish to thank Harlequin Mira for providing me with a NetGalley proof for review.

About the Author

Anna Snoekstra was born in Canberra, Australia to two civil servants.

At the age of seventeen she decided to avoid a full time job and a steady wage to move to Melbourne and become a writer.
She studied Creative Writing and Cinema at The University of Melbourne, followed by Screenwriting at RMIT University.

After finishing university, Anna wrote for independent films and fringe theatre, and directed music videos. During this time, she worked as a cheesemonger, a waitress, a barista, a nanny, a receptionist, a cinema attendant and a film reviewer.

Anna now lives with her husband, cat and two housemates and works full time writing.

About the Book

Home can be the most dangerous place of all...

In this chilling psychological thriller, one woman’s dark past becomes another’s deadly future.

In 2003, sixteen-year-old Rebecca Winter disappeared.

She’d been enjoying her teenage summer break: working at a fast food restaurant, crushing on an older boy and shoplifting with her best friend. Mysteriously ominous things began to happen — blood in the bed, periods of blackouts, a feeling of being watched — though Bec remained oblivious of what was to come.

Eleven years later she is replaced.

A young woman, desperate after being arrested, claims to be the decade-missing Bec. 

Soon the imposter is living Bec’s life. Sleeping in her bed. Hugging her mother and father. Learning her best friends' names. Playing with her twin brothers.

But Bec's welcoming family and enthusiastic friends are not quite as they seem.  As the imposter dodges the detective investigating her case, she begins to delve into the life of the real Bec Winter — and soon realizes that whoever took Bec is still at large, and that she is in imminent danger.

Only Daughter will be published on the 22nd August but can be pre-ordered here.

Published: August 2016
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
ISBN: 9780778319443

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Book Review | Blame | Nicole Trope

In this sixth novel by one of our very own queens of psychological family drama, Nicole Trope brings to life what it’s like to walk in the shoes of two tormented women for a while, masterfully creating a narrative of unexpressed despair and hopelessness.

As the blurb alludes to, there has been a tragic accident and best friends, Caro and Anna are brought in for questioning. Over the next two days and, told in alternating chapters, these two women will lay bare their souls as they are interrogated by detectives in a bid to find out exactly what happened. But who is telling the truth? And who is going to take the blame!

A reader tends to be moved by a story when they feel that they are living in the world of that story, allowing them to experience the character’s struggle and, it’s the mark of a good author if they can extract a range of emotions and feelings from me. Nicole Trope did just that, evoking a mixture of sympathy, disbelief, antipathy, doubt, contempt and exasperation in me for both Caro and Anna who are seriously flawed human beings.

Although I didn’t particularly like Caro, I had even more disregard for Anna and felt that she wasn’t deserving of my empathy – even though, at times, I found myself floundering between kinship, sheer frustration and anger at the resentment and bitterness that she displays. Her bemoaning in particular is hard to swallow but really, what do I know? I’ve not had to live her life so who am I to judge!

It’s a book I was totally absorbed in, despite my inner storm, and I was in awe of the way Nicole manipulates tension, keeping her plot tight and the reader engaged by exacerbating the internal conflict with the external.

Nicole touches on mental health issues triggered by a variety of other historical situations the characters found themselves facing, including the stillbirth of a child (I only mention this as a subtle warning to those who have lived and currently live with the loss of a baby), as well as a severe case of autism which in turn leads us into the territory of alcoholism and its effects, not only on the person affected but also their family and friends.

A compelling psychological drama about best friends caught between family and friendship, envy, truth and lies and what happens when the lies begin to unravel, Blame shifts between sheer anguish and an uneasy mystery, is brutally honest, thought-provoking and somewhat disquieting. Do yourself a favour and put it on your reading list.

I wish to thank Allen & Unwin for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

Nicole Trope is a former high school teacher with a Masters Degree in Children's Literature.

In 2005 she was one of the winners of the Varuna Awards for Manuscript Development. In 2009 her young adult novel titled I Ran Away First was shortlisted for the Text Publishing Prize.

Blame is Nicole's sixth novel. Her previous titles include the acclaimed The Boy Under The Table, Three Hours Late, The Secrets in Silence, and Hush, Little Bird.

About the Book

A tender and terrifying page-turner from the master of white-knuckle suspense and searing family drama.

'If you love writers such as Jodi Picoult, Nicole may just be your cup of tea.' The Hoopla

'I am here because they suspect me of something. I am here because I am a suspect. I know that, she knows that. Everyone knows that.' Anna

'It wasn't my fault. None of this is my fault!' Caro

Caro and Anna are best friends... they were best friends. Over a decade, Caro and Anna have bonded while raising their daughters, two little girls the same age but living two very different lives. The women have supported each other as they have shared the joys and trials of motherhood, but now everything has changed.

There's been a terrible car accident, an unimaginable tragedy that leaves both families devastated. Over two days, as Caro and Anna each detail their own versions of events, they are forced to reveal hidden truths and closely guarded secrets.

The complicated lives of wives and mothers are laid bare as both women come to realise that even best friends don't tell each other everything. And when hearts are broken, even best friends need someone to blame.

A hard-hitting, provocative and gripping read from the queen of white-knuckle suspense and searing family drama.

Published: July 2016
Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia
ISBN: 9781760293154
RRP: Paperback - $29.99

Blog Tour | Aussie Author Round-Up | JM Peace

Today, it is with great pleasure that I welcome the somewhat elusive Australian author, JM Peace to my blog to celebrate the recent release of her second Constable Sammi Willis novel, The Twisted Knot.

An avid reader and writer from an early age, Jay wanted to be a writer, so she studied journalism figuring this would be a way of turning a passion into a job. Her career as a print journalist failed after a single year, and the experience completely sucked the joy out of writing for her. So, she took a complete change of direction by becoming a police officer and, over the past sixteen years has served throughout south-east Queensland in a variety of different capacities, including Intelligence and CIB.

After her children were born, the dangers and stresses of the job made it unappealing so, in the search for a new career path, she returned to her childhood dream. By carving a spare hour out of every day, she wrote the manuscript for A Time To Run whilst juggling her family commitments, police work and running a household.

Jay currently lives on the Sunshine Coast with her partner, wrangling her two cheeky children, a badly behaved dog and an anti-social cockatiel. Although she travelled extensively when she was younger, these days she is just happy if she makes it as far as the beach on the weekend. Her current goals are trying to teach her children to surf and finishing the next book in the ‘Constable Sammi Willis’ series.

Please feel free to pull up a stump and get to know her a bit better.

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Pan MacMillan Australia for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.

Wow Jay, it’s fabulous to finally have you here! It appears that the proverbial cat has been let out of the bag and it’s no longer imperative that we keep your true identity a secret?

I was worried that there might be a conflict of interest between being a cop and a crime writer, but I’ve been a published author for over a year now and no one appears bothered by it. I’m a bit more relaxed this time around.

Could we start off with you telling us a bit about your childhood.

My parents are German migrants who taught me to work hard and make the most of every opportunity. I have an older brother who showed a lot of promise as a writer when he was a child. Perhaps that’s why I’ve pursued this career? (I win this round, Robert…)

I’ve just recently finished reading The Twisted Knot and, like A Time to Run, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but for those who haven’t yet heard about your latest, would you mind sharing with us your version of the story they can expect?

Sammi returns to active policing duties at Angel’s Crossing and finds herself caught up in the suspicious suicide of a suspected paedophile. The story attempts to show some of the difficulties and frustrations involved in the burden of proof in some police investigations.

Because you’re a serving Queensland Police Officer I’m sure you have a treasure-trove of knowledge to fall back onto when it comes to subject matter for your novels but, are there still certain aspects for which you conduct research?

Research is probably a lot easier for me because I can generally find the right person to chat with. My policing background is in general duties, so I have spoken to specialist officers in CIB, CPIU, Forensics and also the Fire Service about different things.

I’m sure that when you were trying to keep your identity a secret it presented its own challenges but what other types of challenges did you need to overcome to get your first novel published?

There were all the usual hurdles of trying to find a publisher willing to take a chance on an unknown author’s debut novel. But one thing I didn’t realise would work against me was that I live on the Sunshine Coast. I love it here but it is not Sydney or Melbourne which is apparently where you are meant to do all your networking.

What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?

A typical working day consists of me getting my kids off to school and going to work at the police station. Writing is not work for me – it does not pay the bills so it is still a hobby. I try to write for an hour in the evenings. I don’t have a dedicated writing space so there always seem to be distractions. I aim for 1000 words a day but usually fall short. There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day at the moment. Sometimes I’m surprised that I have actually managed to write these stories.

Do you, as a writer, have a motto or maxim?

“You can’t edit a blank page”. Just start writing. Something. Anything. Once I get going, I usually end up keeping most of it anyway.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received since you started writing?

“Don’t read the comments”. I steer clear of most reviews, Goodreads is a minefield for writers. There might be twenty good reviews, but you will always focus on the one person who says “this is rubbish”. That can absolutely floor you on a bad day.

Any advice for aspiring crime writers?

Become a cop? I think it would be quite difficult to write the police side of a crime story without knowing how all the procedures and processes fit together.

Now for the easy questions:

What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?

Can you believe you are a published author? Sometimes I can.

Pizza or Pasta?

Pizza – I make homemade pizza regularly. But pretty much anything if there’s lots of chocolate for dessert.

If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?

‘Like I Can Love’ by Aussie author Kim Lock. Aside from giving a spine-tingling portrayal of domestic violence, it is also an intriguing and multi-layered read.

Give us three good to know facts about you – be as creative as you like.

1. I don’t drink coffee. I don’t like the taste. This seems to baffle people.
2. I’ve backpacked through 43 countries.
3. I can touch my nose with my tongue.

Jay it’s been such a treat having you visit the blog and I just want to say thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join me today.