When We Believed In Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal

Book Cover

Description

Her sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news…

Josie Bianci was killed years ago on a train during a terrorist attack. Gone forever. It’s what her sister, Kit, an ER doctor in Santa Cruz, has always believed. Yet all it takes is a few heart-wrenching seconds to upend Kit’s world. Live coverage of a club fire in Auckland has captured the image of a woman stumbling through the smoke and debris. Her resemblance to Josie is unbelievable. And unmistakable. With it comes a flood of emotions—grief, loss, and anger—that Kit finally has a chance to put to rest: by finding the sister who’s been living a lie.

After arriving in New Zealand, Kit begins her journey with the memories of the past: of days spent on the beach with Josie. Of a lost teenage boy who’d become part of their family. And of a trauma that has haunted Kit and Josie their entire lives.

Now, if two sisters are to reunite, it can only be by unearthing long-buried secrets and facing a devastating truth that has kept them apart far too long. To regain their relationship, they may have to lose everything.

From the author of The Art of Inheriting Secrets comes an emotional new tale of two sisters, an ocean of lies, and a search for the truth.

My thoughts

I really enjoyed this book.

I liked the writing style and I really loved Kit’s character. I could really feel her conflicted emotions and empathise. Perhaps it was because we first learn about her through Kit’s narrative and I felt a bit of a grudge against her from the get-go, but I just didn’t feel the same amount of empathy toward Josie/Mari the way I did Kit, even though her story should have had me weeping for her. That moment on the beach with Dylan and Cinder struck straight at my heart because it was so unexpected and unbelievably poignant.

As a New Zealander I did eye twitch at a couple of errors which no one but another NZer would notice (for example, there is no ‘s’ in the Maori language so the plural of kiwi is kiwi. It does get ignorantly added in speech, but in written form there should not be an ‘s’ on the end). I can’t even remember the other things now as they were trivial and they certainly didn’t impede my enjoyment of the book.

It was a good ending, although one bit was just a little soppy. I would absolutely pick up another book by this author.

The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean

Description


A woman being held captive is willing to risk everything to save herself, her unborn child, and her captor’s latest victim in this claustrophobic thriller in the tradition of Misery and Room.

On an isolated farm in the United Kingdom, a woman is trapped by the monster who kidnapped her seven years ago. When she discovers she is pregnant, she resolves to protect her child no matter the cost, and starts to meticulously plan her escape. But when another woman is brought into the fold on the farm, her plans go awry. Can she save herself, her child, and this innocent woman at the same time? Or is she doomed to spend the remainder of her life captive on this farm?

Intense, dark, and utterly gripping The Last Thing to Burn is a breathtaking thriller from an author to watch.

My thoughts:

Wow!

This book absolutely gripped me from the beginning and did not let go. Most of the book takes place within the walls of a small isolated farmhouse and contains just two characters, and the atmosphere and tension that is created in this setting kept me riveted and I read it in one sitting.

Jane (but that’s not my name) was imprisoned seven years ago as the victim of a human trafficking ring. Her life of slavery exists within the confines of the farmhouse and immediate surrounds and every move she makes is monitored by cameras, 24 hours a day. Any perceived mistake reaps severe punishment, and her daily life is one of emotional, psychological and physical abuse.

As the book progresses, so does the suspense. With the addition of a baby to protect, and the arrival of a new victim who is being subjected to torturous and life-threatening conditions, Jane knows that to survive she must try to escape but the consequences of failure are unthinkable. The last third of the book was a nail-biting page turner.

My only criticism is that the ending seemed rushed and a little abrupt. Everything was complete, but with the author having taken such meticulous care throughout the rest of the book the pacing at the end seemed off by comparison.

As psychological suspense goes this is right up there with the best.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Book Cover

Description

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

My thoughts

This is a very fast read. The book itself isn’t long and the chapters are short and snappy. Some are only a sentence or two long, so you can clip along at a good pace and finish the book quickly. And I think it is a book that is best read quickly to maintain the flow.

I really enjoyed this dark and humorous story. Korede is at her wits end trying to figure out what to do about her little sister’s murderous inclinations since Korede is the one who inevitably ends up having to literally clean up the mess. Korede and Ayoola are well written. I think we’ve all met (minus the murders) someone like Ayoola who glides through life thanks to nature having bestowed upon them looks and charisma, and people like Korede who have been less blessed and for who life insists everything is worked for and earned. I thought the book was a great character study of both girls, and the roles and expectations placed on them, and also the other people in their lives. I especially liked the personal politics of the hospital where Korede works, and her changing relationships with her colleagues.

A fast, fun read.

Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya

by Bruce Kirkby

Book Cover

Description

A warm and unforgettable portrait of a family letting go of the known world to encounter an unfamiliar one filled with rich possibilities and new understandings. 

Bruce Kirkby had fallen into a pattern of looking mindlessly at his phone for hours, flipping between emails and social media, ignoring his children and wife and everything alive in his world, when a thought struck him. This wasn’t living; this wasn’t him. This moment of clarity started a chain reaction which ended with a grand plan: he was going to take his wife and two young sons, jump on a freighter and head for the Himalaya.  

In Blue Sky Kingdom, we follow Bruce and his family’s remarkable three months journey, where they would end up living amongst the Lamas of Zanskar Valley, a forgotten appendage of the ancient Tibetan empire, and one of the last places on earth where Himalayan Buddhism is still practiced freely in its original setting.

Richly evocative, Blue Sky Kingdom explores the themes of modern distraction and the loss of ancient wisdom coupled with Bruce coming to terms with his elder son’s diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum. Despite the natural wonders all around them at times, Bruce’s experience will strike a chord with any parent—from rushing to catch a train with the whole family to the wonderment and beauty that comes with experience the world anew with your children. 

My thoughts

Rounded up to 4.5

I love any story, fiction or non fiction, which involves people disconnecting from social media and turning to a simpler lifestyle, so picking this book up was a no-brainer.

It turned out to be a hugely interesting read. Bruce not only packed himself up, but he also packed his wife, Christine, and their two young sons and took them halfway around the world by boat, train and bus, to a remote and completely unplugged monastery in Tibet. Once there they share a small and basic home with the head Lama. The facilities are so basic as to be almost non-existent and I really admired the family for the way that they adapted to fit in and become as much a part of the community as possible. Some of their experiences are funny or heartwarming, and others are very poignant. What shone through was how beautiful the spirit of the Tibetans is, something I’ve read time and time again.

Another facet to the adventure is how it impacted on their eldest son, Bodi, who is on the autism spectrum. Bruce and his wife were brave to take him out of his routine and honest about their fears over how it would affect him and how he would react. Bodi seemed to flourish in the austere and regimented setting of the monastery and was absorbing small practises, in the natural way that children do, which were good coping mechanisms. I’d love to know how he is doing back in Canada.

I highly recommend this book. It was a fascinating and satisfying read.

Finnegan Found – Surviving the POW Camps on the Yalu by John N. Powers

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Description

A story untold. Left in the dark. For seventy years. This novel tells that story, shines a light on that darkness. Our prisoners-of-war in Korea are truly the forgotten men of the forgotten war. The prisoner-of-war camps along the Yalu River saw half the prisoners die during the first winter. Then the Chinese began their efforts at “re-education.” The Chinese attempted to convince the prisoners of the decadence of capitalism and the glories of communism. Those “students” who failed to demonstrate the correct amount of enthusiasm were punished.

Swede is one who fights back. Only nineteen years old, he escapes three times and pays a price for each. He is starved and exposed to the freezing winter night while buckets of water are thrown on him. His guards beat him-and worse. Swede decides they might kill him, but he will never give up. Finally allowed to rejoin the main camp, he teaches others to resist, becoming one of the worst of the men the Chinese fear – the Reactionaries.

Swede escapes from his cell night after night to steal food and medicine for his fellow prisoners, each time returning before he is caught. He joins men like Earl Stoneman and Henry Page to convince other POWs to fight the Chinese efforts at poisoning their minds. He becomes involved with a B-29 the Chinese have captured and burns records the Chinese keep on the prisoners. When he is sentenced to a year in a penal camp, Swede continues to escape at night to help fellow prisoners being isolated and tortured. He saves a friend from certain death at the hands of the Tiger, a fanatical Korean who executes prisoners. In doing so, he buries another friend in secret.

Swede decides to continue the fight against this new enemy, even though he is still trying to understand what causes men to inflict such pain and suffering on their brothers.

Forgotten for seventy years. Now is their time to be remembered.

My Thoughts

Paul Larson ‘Swede’ grew up as an honest, hard working farm boy. At age 19 he enlists in the army to gain some life experience and is sent to Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He is captured on his second day there and begins life as a POW in North Korea where the Geneva Conventions regarding the health and welfare of POWs mean nothing. Instead he and his fellow prisoners are force-marched, starved, and not given essential medical treatment. Those unable to keep up are shot on the roadside. The camp they eventually reach is unsanitary and brutal. And this is only the first of several camps that Swede is sent to, varying in degrees of brutality and neglect.

Over the following two years Swede meets and works with a close-knit group of other POWs to bolster morale, throw as many obstacles in the way of their captors as possible, and help other POWs to survive – often risking severe punishment and possible death.

This was not an easy book to read in places. The POWs in this war have not had fair coverage of the hardships they faced, and the author has told their story perfectly. In the end notes the author mentions that most of what happens in the book is based on real accounts from POWs, and their different stories have been coalesced into this book – fiction based heavily on factual accounts.

I feel as though I have been educated by reading Finnegan Found. It’s a sad and sobering read and gave me my first real understanding of why so many American POWs in the Vietnam War either didn’t come home, or came home psychologically damaged – in some cases irreparably. And also why they didn’t receive the same welcome and support on their return as the POWs from previous wars.

A very solid 4.5 stars. Highly recommend.

The Glass House by Jody Cooksley

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Description

What is a life without Art and Beauty? Not one that Julia chooses to live. And so she searches the world for both, discovering happiness through the lens of a camera.

A fictional account of pioneer photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, and her extraordinary quest to find her own creative voice, The Glass House brings an exceptional photographer to life.

From the depths of despair, with her relationships strained and having been humiliated by the artists she has given a home to, Julia rises to fame, photographing and befriending many of the days most famous literary, artistic, political and scientific celebrities. But to succeed as a female photographer, she must take on the Victorian patriarchy, the art world and, ultimately, her own family. And the doubts are not all from others. As Julia’s uneasy relationship with fame grows into a fear that the camera has taken part of her soul, her search leads her full circle, back to India, in her lifelong quest for peace and beauty. A poignant, elegant and richly detailed debut.

My thoughts

This is a fascinating insight into the life of a pioneer in her field, Julia Margaret Cameron. Although told from a fictional point of view, what is known about her life is incorporated into this book. I was intrigued enough to Google search her and read more about her and her family as they were so convincingly written I felt as though I knew them. It was also interesting to see some of the particular photos that were referred to in the book.

Julia faced a lot of prejudice as she struggled to make her art and search for Beauty be taken seriously, first in her oil and watercolour painting and then in her soft focus photography. In her time the Arts were solely the domain of men and prospective new artists could only be confirmed as such by men. I could feel her frustration at being continually disregarded and belittled because the results she strove for did not meet the accepted norms of the time.

Oddly enough, in the book at least, although Julia was an outspoken rebel with a cause when it came to fighting for the right to be taken seriously despite being a woman I thought it was strange that with very few exceptions she put her female models into female stereotype roles.

I really liked the way her character was written, and also those around her. I could feel their love and frustration at the way her passion for what she was doing overrode everything else, resulting in some relationships suffering as a result. And the author has a beautiful way of capturing the essence of the places she lived: India, England, the Isle of Wight, and Ceylon.

I’d not heard of Julia Margaret Cameron before reading this book but I’m glad I have now as she had such an interesting life and contribution to modern art photography.

An Ordinary Life by Amanda Prowse

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Description

From the bestselling author of The Girl in the Corner comes a tale of love, loss—and one last extraordinary dance.

Christmas Eve, 2019. Ninety-four-year-old Molly lies in her hospital bed. A stroke and a fall may have broken her body—but her mind is alive with memories.

London, 1940s. Molly is a bright young woman, determined to help the war effort and keep her head up despite it all. Life becomes brighter when she meets and falls in love with a man who makes her forget everything with one dance. But then war forces her to make an unforgettable sacrifice, and when she’s brought to her knees by a daring undercover mission with the French Resistance, only her sister knows the secret weighing heavily on Molly’s heart.

Now, lying in her hospital bed, Molly can’t escape the memories of what she lost all those years ago. But she is not as alone as she thinks.

Will she be able to find peace—and finally understand that what seemed to be an ordinary life was anything but?

Description

This is the sometimes bitter-sweet story of Molly, a now 94-year old woman lying in her hospital bed following a fall and a stroke. Unable to communicate she instead thinks about her life and the important letter she had written just before the fall and which she is now afraid will never be sent or seen.

As the book goes back in time to 1943 London, we meet a young Molly full of drive and ambition. Unforeseen events mean her intended career ambitions are pushed aside, but instead this strong woman finds new opportunities to feel useful and important even while having to make some heartbreaking decisions.

As the book progresses we see that, despite Molly’s life appearing to be very ordinary to those who think they know her, in fact her life has been filled with extraordinary moments. There are some strong themes running through the book of the different forms that love can take. I particularly loved how strong and honest the relationship was between Molly and her sister. Another strong theme is about how quickly things can change and to never take anything for granted.

And what of the letter? You’ll have to read it and find out for yourself 😉

The House In The Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

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Description

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

Quote

I am but paper. Brittle and thin. I am held up to the sun, and I can never be used again. These scratches are a history. They’re a story. They tell things for others to read, but they only see the words, and not what the words are written upon. I am but paper, and though there are many like me, none are exactly the same. I am parched parchment. I have lines. I have holes. Get me wet and I melt. Light me on fire, and I burn. Take me in hardened hands, and I crumple, I tear. I am but paper. Brittle and thin.

My thoughts

This was a slow burner for me. I think I read it at the wrong time because it is currently being talked about everywhere and I should have waited a year or so for the hype to die down. I was at the 30% mark before my interest started to pick up, and the halfway mark before I can say I was enjoying it. However by the time I finished I can honestly say it’s a lovely story about what it means to be different, and how and why we should embrace our own differences and those of others, and I’m glad I persevered and finished it because it was well worth it.

The Boatman’s Wife by Noëlle Harrison

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Description

There was some dark secret in this western edge of Ireland that her husband never wanted her to find out. She might never be able to lay his body to rest, but she could gain some kind of closure by finding out who the man she married was.

When Lily married her soulmate Connor, buffeted by the sea spray and wild winds of her coastal homeland in Maine, she never imagined she’d be planning his memorial just three years later. Connor has been lost at sea in the bleak stormy Atlantic, leaving Lily heartbroken.

But as she prepares to say goodbye to Connor for the last time, she is shocked to discover a message to him that he never told her about:

Does your wife know who you really are, Connor Fitzgerald? Don’t ever think you can come home. Because if you do, I swear I’ll kill you.

Unable to bear living in the home she and Connor shared, Lily decides to find out her husband’s secret. She flies to Connor’s home town of Mullaghmore on the west coast of Ireland, a harbour town hugged by golden beaches and emerald-green fields. But when doors are slammed in her face, she begins to realise that she knows nothing about her husband’s past.

Connor’s grandmother, a hermit living on the cliffs of the wild Atlantic, must know the truth about her grandson. But when Lily tries to find her, threatening notes are pushed through her door warning her not to stay. Will Lily leave the darkness of the past where it belongs? Or will she risk everything to find out the truth about the man she married…

A completely heartbreaking story about the lies we tell to protect the ones we love. Fans of The Light Between Oceans, Lisa Wingate and Susanne O’Leary will lose their hearts to The Boatman’s Wife.

My thoughts

The story is told via a dual timeline told from the POV of newly widowed American Lily, who finds a threatening email on his computer and realises her husband may have a history she knows nothing about, and Irish Niamh, who comes of age during an active period of the Troubles and becomes involved in the cause.

Niamh felt real and more fleshed out as a person, and the conflict over the border was very well told. The choices made and actions taken felt authentic and I could feel the ever-present undercurrent of danger that her situation put her in. In contrast, where I should have been feeling Lily’s anguish over becoming a very young widow and the tensions it caused within her family, I never quite warmed to her or felt any of that anguish.

This was a good story and I did enjoy it, but I definitely found myself enjoying Niamh’s parts more than Lily’s. I liked the ending.

Their Frozen Graves by Ruhi Choudhary

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Description

Two women are dead. They both look like you.


The giant stretch of frozen river was melting and the light made the lake glitter like crystals. The women lay side by side on the shore, eyes open and glassy. Their long, dark hair was like tangled rope, their faces a reflection of each other…

When two bodies are found dumped in a vast lake in Lakemore, Washington, Detective Mackenzie Price is first on the scene. She identifies one of the victims as Katy Becker, a local known for her work helping the community. The other victim looks strikingly similar.

Still grappling with a shocking revelation from her past, Mack is only too happy to throw herself into the case. But when she goes to break the news to Katy’s husband, the investigation takes an unexpected turn: Katy is very much alive, and has never met the women who resemble her so closely.

Now the race is on to find the killer before Katy becomes the next victim. But when Mack unearths a disturbing connection to a sixteen-year-old suicide, she realizes they could be hunting someone whose crimes span decades—and there are more lives than just Katy’s at stake.


Addictive, pulse-pounding and packed full of jaw-dropping twists, fans of Lisa Regan, Angela Marsons and Karin Slaughter will love the Their Frozen Graves.

My thoughts

This is the first book I have read by this author. It is the second book in the series but it was fine jumping in with this one. I picked up on the threads of the main character’s life quite easily.

I liked the characters. Detective Mackenzie “Mack” Price’s life is thrown a curveball when her assumed long-dead father turns up on her doorstep. There are reasons why this is extremely unsettling and Mack has to play things carefully throughout the book as she tries to figure out why and how he has reappeared in her life.

Alongside this story is the mystery of the bodies that were found in the frozen lake. They are strikingly similar in appearance, not just to each other but to a well-known local woman. Mack and her team have to figure out what is happening and who might be at risk next.

I love trying to figure things out and seeing if I guessed right, but this story line had me guessing until the end. The writing style has a nice flow to it and I’ll look forward to the next book in the series.