Obsessed meets obsessed

‘Secret Smile’ – Nicci French


Secret smile

You have an affair. You finish it. You think it’s over. You’re dead wrong . . . 

Miranda Cotton thinks she’s put boyfriend Brendan out of her life for good. But two weeks later, he’s intimately involved with her sister.

Soon what began as an embarrassment becomes threatening – then even more terrifying than a girl’s worst nightmare.

Because this time Brendan will stop at nothing to be part of Miranda’s life – even if it means taking it from her . . .

First off, let me get this out in the open. David Tennant is Brendan Block. I’m not totally mad. Back in 2005 (thanks IMDB), there was a television adaptation (pretty good, if my memory was right) and Tennant was soooo good at the role of Brendan Block that, since picking up the book again, he was all I could imagine when reading of this antagonist.

Moving on, this is not the best Nicci French book out there. Whilst it starts with a pretty good “bang”, I think it loses pace and I found the plot drifting, chapter to chapter, until French found they could justify getting to the final ending. Secondly, the protagonist, Miranda, is just a little too obsessed for my liking. Whilst she is accusing Block of obsessions, it’s her stalking and repeated “I’m going out of my way to make a point and prove something that no one else can see” that made me feel like she is the obsessed, she is the harasser.

Some of the characters are pretty dumb too. It’s difficult to believe that only Miranda has the inkling about Brendan, whilst everyone gets sucked into such a creepy, brain-washing persona. Even her sister puts a stranger before her own sister, not to mention Miranda’s own parents take Brendan’s side over their daughter’s. Unbelievable and, let’s face it, a bit grim that a stranger can turn literally everyone against you.

That being said, the ending was, well, pretty acceptable. To be honest, it technically doesn’t end but thankfully I’ve got no whiff of a sequel. Because that just wouldn’t work and it would be even more repetitive. I was glad when there was finally closure and all this stalking and harassment could come to an end. Four stars because I think it’s worthy of it for a first time read but, if like me it’s your second or third, it has less of an impact and leaves you feeling more cynical than satisfied.


Twisted and disturbing

‘Sharp Objects’ – Gillian Flynn


Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn

When two girls are abducted and killed in Missouri, journalist Camille Preaker is sent back to her home town to report on the crimes. Long-haunted by a childhood tragedy and estranged from her mother for years, Camille suddenly finds herself installed once again in her family’s mansion, reacquainting herself with her distant mother and the half-sister she barely knows – a precocious 13-year-old who holds a disquieting grip on the town. As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims – a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

Having read Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’ a few months ago, I was keen to see what her other books were like. ‘Sharp Objects’ doesn’t disappoint and follows the same crime/thriller genre that kept me guessing almost until the very end. However, I found the narrative quite suffocating and twisted, and the protagonist, Camille, rather disturbing.

Without wanting to give too much away, I found the plot development rather slow and dense. It took me a while to really get into the story and I think this reflects Flynn’s writing style as this was the same for me when reading ‘Gone Girl’. Perhaps I was trying to compare the two novels because I had enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ so much, it distracted me a little from what was happening in the opening chapters. But writing this review now, I guess the suffocating narrative simply reinforces Camille’s home town of Wind Gap and how the community have reacted to the murders of two young girls.

As readers learn more about Camille and her family, you cannot help but be shocked by the revelations. This is what I found cleverly disturbing and what I consider to be the main hook of the story. Finding out about Camille’s childhood and growing up in Wind Gap, it is hardly surprising that she carries such emotional baggage and it makes you question whether she can really handle investigating these murders. In addition, the stark contrast between her and her half-sister, Amma, really blew me away. I forgot the massive age difference between the two based on how they behaved and this I feel became another element to the narrative’s development.

So, to consider this novel twisted and disturbing is, in its own right, a compliment. Once you are hooked and get a “feel” for what ‘Sharp Objects’ is offering, you cannot help but follow Camille on her journey. The ending was full of unexpected surprises that redeemed the slow start for me. If you enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ then definitely pick up this read. Like me, you might find yourself comparing the two novels, but I feel that ‘Sharp Objects’ certainly deserves an identity of its own.

A powerful, roller-coaster read

‘Gone Girl’ – Gillian Flynn


Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

Who are you? What have we done to each other?

These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren’t made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.

So what did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?

From the beginning when Amy’s disappearance is established, I immediately found myself pointing the finger of blame at Nick. There were so many things that I disliked about his character and the way he handled his wife being missing, that I felt sure he was a cold-blooded killer. Without giving too much away, Flynn takes you on a roller-coaster ride and, as the tag line says, there are most certainly two sides to every story.

The book switches from present day, narrated by Nick as Amy’s disappearance and the subsequent police investigations develop; to Amy’s diary in the years leading up to events. The relationship between Nick and Amy comes across as just about ok, and literally, you can feel that something is just not right. However, Flynn carefully crafts the narrative and gradually leads you down a winding, thrilling path that slowly reveals more and more about the two characters.

And this is something that I particularly enjoyed about ‘Gone Girl’. Like a roller-coaster, the plot was unpredictable and it left you feeling breathless throughout. I could not foresee where the story was going to progress and Flynn cleverly plays on readers perceptions of characters to make the next plot twist even more unexpected. At first I struggled to enjoy the different narrative styles between Nick and Amy’s diary entries, but grew to realise that this was another way of showing what the character’s were really like.

The book is split into three parts and just when you think you have nailed it and can anticipate what is coming, Flynn throws in another surprise. I really enjoyed the secrecy and psychological games that were played because it made me question my initial perception of Nick. The dual-narrative adds to the tension in the story as Amy’s journal entries encourage you to understand the motives behind her apparently violent disappearance.

This is the first book I have read by Gillian Flynn and I was not disappointed. This was a thrilling read with plenty of twists and turns along the way; so many, that it is one I could easily revisit, just to find more clues that I may have missed this first time around. I can’t wait to read others by Flynn and really hope they deliver the same level of enjoyment as ‘Gone Girl’ has for me. I beg of you, don’t pass up the opportunity to read this one.

Bloody brilliant

‘Persuader’ – Lee Child


Persuader - Lee Child

Persuader – Lee Child

Never forgive, never forget.

Jack Reacher lives for the moment. Without a home. Without commitment. But he has a burning desire to right wrongs – and rewrite his own agonizing past.

Never apologize. Never explain.

When Reacher witnesses a brutal kidnap attempt, he takes the law into his own hands. But a cop dies. Has Reacher lost his sense of right and wrong?

This is the first Jack Reacher novel I have read and regardless of the fact that it is the seventh book in the series by Lee Child, I did not feel like I was missing out on a back story. Straight from the beginning I was hooked into the story and with the opening (but lengthy) chapter finishing with an unexpected ‘I’m in’, I just couldn’t put this down from start to finish.

Truth be told, I have seen the ‘Jack Reacher’ film with Tom Cruise so I guess this did help me to understand his character. And, of course, I could quite easily imagine Tom Cruise playing Jack in this story, albeit the key fact that Child describes Reacher as being over six foot tall… ‘Persuader’ was equally exciting as the film, if not more, and I was glad that the first Jack Reacher book I picked up was not the one that was used for the basis of the film.

Child’s narration took a bit of getting used to. Reacher is very matter-of-fact and straight to the point and this is reflected in the sentence structure. With lots of simple sentences used, I initially found it frustrating that everything was being simplified and events reported so factually. But as I learned more about Reacher’s character, it is clear that Child is doing this deliberately to reflect the calculations Reacher processes in any given situation. In contrast, the chapters are quite lengthy and I think this just encourages you to devour the book even more rapidly.

There are so many exciting moments in this book that I almost enjoyed the lull in action (although they are few and far between). The pace is fast and you are barely given time to process what Reacher has done before he is in the next dangerous situation. At times, I found his calculating way of measuring how he could injure the person he is speaking with very similar to the scenes in the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films where Holmes describes how he could also take down his opponent. As such, I think this novel could very easily be turned into a film.

This is a great read and I cannot recommend it more. I have never read a novel by Lee Child and I rarely read thrillers. This was an exciting surprise and I am really keen to find another Jack Reacher novel. I just hope that the next one I read will live up to the same high standards because this was such a gem of a novel!

Fast-paced and thrilling

‘Zero Alternative’ – Luca Pesaro


Zero Alternative - Luca Pesaro

Zero Alternative – Luca Pesaro


Scott Walker is a fugitive from the quicksands of Finance, with one card to play – DeepShare, a silicon oracle coveted by billionaires, hitmen and hackers. As he fights for survival and vengeance, digging deeper into the dark heart of the global economy, one question torments him: what price will the world have to pay?

‘Zero Alternative’ is an action-packed conspiracy thriller that plucks at the heart of human nature. When our grip on love, hope and morality starts to slide, the only future worth living is the one we choose for ourselves.

About the author:

Luca Pesaro was born in Italy in 1971, but he has spent most of his adult life in the US or UK. Being a proud UWCer, he likes to think of himself as just another random citizen of the world.

After spending a few years gaining a degree (LSE) and masters (Bocconi University) in the now mainly discreted pseudo-science that is Economics, he got bored, jumped the gun and became a derivatives trader in financial markets, first with the tragic Lehman Brothers, then with a bunch of other banks, somehow always managing not to blow up. He wrote his first novel in Italian in the mid-nineties, but then decided English worked much better for the type of stuff he liked to read and write, and switched. (Easy to do, he has forgotten most of his written Italian).

Recently he has decided to dedicate himself fully to his great passion since the age of eight – writing, mainly Fiction, but anything that amuses him at any given time. Zero Alternative is his first English novel, and he is hard at work on his second thriller, A Game of Kings.

He is married to the awesome F. and has two children, A. and J. who always manage to annoy, surprise and delight him beyond any reasonable expectation.

Author links:

Facebook / Goodreads / Web


‘Zero Alternative’ starts off with a bang and got me hooked straight from the beginning. With its fast pace and rapidly developing storyline, this book had me pulled in so quickly that before I knew it I was racing towards the end. Completed in one day, this was a totally satisfying read and for a debut English novel, I look forward to seeing what Pesaro has to offer next.

I don’t read thrillers very often and have in the past found them to be a little predictable. ‘Zero Alternative’ certainly was not this. I love the world of stock trading and have always been fascinated when I have seen characters in films desperately trading before the market closes. I still don’t properly understand this environment and how it all works and whilst ‘Zero Alternative’ is set in this industry, my lack of understanding did not hinder my enjoyment of the story. There is enough explanation behind the premise of the story and the new technology that Walker is being hunted for, but without it coming across as patronising or dull. This definitely appealed to me and helped me get into the story.

Walker’s character comes across as a typical broker – lots of money, reckless, with plenty of alcohol and women. At first I thought I would despise his confidence (almost arrogance) but as he quickly finds himself in a game of cat and mouse, I was rooting for him to find someone he could trust and rely on to escape the danger. The narrative follows Walker (nick-named “Yours” because of his reputation as a trader, which, I must admit, was a little annoying and confusing when I read this and thought there were typos!) but often switches to the mysterious bad guys. This change in focus was refreshing because not only did we find out how close they are to Walker, you are given enough clues to speculate who it might be. That said, when the pieces were finally put together, it wasn’t a character I had suspected – another bonus for this read.

There are some gory scenes in this book but don’t let this put you off. Whilst I don’t like reading graphic scenes of torture, I was so amazed by what I had read I just couldn’t help but repeat it to my husband and literally cringe at what was happening! It is all part of the story and is not just an added-in feature to give more substance to the story. It reflects the danger of Walker’s situation and made me even more keen that he reach safety.

This was a great read and I feel so lucky to have been able to review it. I really enjoyed it because it was so different to other books I have come across recently and, with the subject matter focusing on something I don’t know much about, it made this all the more enjoyable. I’m excited to see what Pesaro writes next.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Buy links:

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk


An irritating novel

’48 Hours’ – J Jackson Bentley


Image courtesy of ebookstore.sony.com

48 Hours – J Jackson Bentley

“If you don’t pay me £250,000.00 in the next 48 Hours you will die”. The text on Josh Hammond’s BlackBerry was blunt and chilling. Surely it must be a joke, but when Josh is attacked in broad daylight and people around him start to die he knows that his blackmailer is deadly serious. Can Josh raise the money, can his attractive new bodyguard protect him, who is blackmailing him and why? He has 48 hours to find out. 

Don’t be fooled by the title: ’48 Hours’ doesn’t minutely focus on the 48 hours that Josh Hammond suffers after receiving a text message blackmailing him for a quarter of a million pounds, like a series of ’24’. No, the large focus of this book is about trying to capture the villain and links made to other crimes that the blackmailer is committing. I did enjoy this element to the story as I felt this made it more interesting to read, but I did feel that it dragged on a fair bit towards the end.

I enjoyed piecing together the clues to the crime and as I don’t read many crime novels, congratulated myself when my predictions came true! But then some of my guesses were so obvious that I doubted the intelligence of the detective inspectors and this is where the novel started to irritate me.

The fact that the main character appears to sit in with the police investigations seems incredulous to me and Josh is treated like a qualified inspector at times.  True, he is the victim, but I found it hard to believe that this is how the police operate. Secondly the relationship between Josh and Dee seems farcical and its developments come across as an after thought to the plot. I would have preferred if the writer had focused more on the police investigation than Josh, his football interests, and lustings towards Dee.

This was an okay read . It passed the time and was quite good but I found the plot quite thin in places. I feel like my rating is a bit optimistic because it did annoy me a fair bit, but what I did enjoy is how the characters linked together over the crime.

A punchy opening with plenty of twists and turns

‘The One You Love’ – Paul Pilkington


Image courtesy of amazon.com

The One You Love – Paul Pilkington

Emma Holden’s nightmare has just begun. Her fiancé vanishes, leaving the battered and bloodied body of his brother in their London apartment. Someone is stalking her, watching her every move. And her family are hiding a horrifying secret; a secret that threatens all those she loves. In a desperate race against time, Emma must uncover the truth if she ever wants to see her fiancé alive again. 

There’s lots of twists and turns in this novel and although I tend not to read crime/thriller books, I quite enjoyed this one. There were moments when I felt like screaming at the main character, such as when she happily gets into the van of a stranger, but I guess that comes with books of this genre. As the first book I have read by Pilkington, I was pleasantly surprised and would not be put off reading others by him, but with the ending being so open-ended, I feel that it would have worked better if this was a one-off book. (This is part of a trilogy, so I will keep my eye out for the next part of the series.)

The novel starts quite punchy, with a murder and a missing fiancé, two weeks before the wedding is due to take place. The mystery deepens when we learn about Emma (the main character) and her stalker, Stephen Myers; and the secrets her brother, Will, has been hiding. The different strands to the plot meant that I was always guessing “who dunnit?” and this certainly maintained my interest in the story. I kept coming back to this book (it is one of the few books I have ever read in my lifetime as an e-book: I don’t tend to enjoy reading an electronic book, but don’t get me started on that debate) and although I did dip in and out of the story, I quite easily picked it up from where I left off.

True, some parts of the novel are a little predictable, so I guess you do have to just let yourself go and enjoy what Pilkington has to offer. The secrets that Will is hiding from his sister are not truly revealed until you are a good way through the novel and this naturally led me to distrust how he supports his sister, Emma. Although it was sometimes a bit of an anti-climax, I felt that there was more to Will’s character than suggested, and I was not wrong in my judgement.

Towards the end I felt that the plot did just “carry on” a little bit and was looking forward to finding out the answers to the crime. I felt sorry for Emma as those she felt she could trust had proved they were hiding something from her and the end just confirmed this to me. It was disappointing that it ended so openly as I felt the author could have done more to close the plot off. Also, by the time I was reaching the climax of the novel, I had already guessed what had happened, so the suspense was certainly not there any more.

This is not a bad book to dip in and out of. This may be why I found it tedious in places and a little predictable, but as far as crime/thriller/suspense novels go, it’s not a bad read on the whole.