Never Smile At Strangers

never smile at strangers

Never Smile At Strangers
by Jennifer Jaynes

When nineteen-year-old Tiffany Perron vanishes without a trace, the residents of rural Grand Trespass, Louisiana, launch a desperate search to find her. But few clues are unearthed, and before long another young woman disappears.

As locals continue to vanish, residents begin to discover that they might not know those closest to them as well as they had thought. Lies and insecurities quickly surface, leading everyone to question one another…and their involvement in the disappearances.

Meanwhile, an unstable, twisted killer is hiding quietly in their midst. Ever since his mother’s murder four years earlier, he’s been forced to raise his disturbed teenage sister. He’s terrified of her—and of women in general—and his world revolves around his fear of and obsession over them.

In this USA Today bestselling thriller, debut novelist Jennifer Jaynes delivers a psychologically riveting page-turner that is packed with surprises and will have readers guessing to the very last page.

This is a story about a missing girl, Tiffany,and how her disappearance affects the other residents of her home town. Although this is a crime thriller with a serial killer on the loose, it is not a straightforward police procedural. In fact the detective, although he is referred to throughout the book, has very little to do with the crime or the solution.

The story belongs to four characters: Haley, Tiffany’s best friend and the only one who truly believes that Tiffany hasn’t just run away; Erica, a disaffected young girl whose mother left for New York abandoning the family; Rachel, whose husband was having an affair with Tiffany; and lastly the killer, whose disturbed psyche is revealed in chapters throughout the book.

The book is set in Grand Trespass, Louisiana and Jennifer Jaynes does a brilliant job of describing life in small-town America. There is a fantastic sense of place, and the characters with their secrets, lies and neuroses are compelling. Showing the killer’s background in a series of POV chapters is brilliant. You find not really a monster but an extremely flawed human being, which means you have to think hard about your feelings.

If I have a complaint it is that there was no spark in the reveal of the killer. It needed a shock and awe moment, perhaps the detective could have been better employed.

This is a solid debut novel, really enjoyable. I guessed the killer quite early on but it certainly didn’t spoil the book for me as I’ve been wrong more times than I care to mention. 🙂

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a crime thriller with great characters. I am looking forward to Jennifer Jaynes’ next novel.
****

The Glass Castle

the glass castle

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing–a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

The Glass Castle is a memoir of Jeannette Walls’ life with her dysfunctional parents and her three siblings. From the first few pages it becomes clear that the Walls family is no ordinary family. They live by nobody’s rules but their own. Jeannette is cooking her own dinner at three years of age and whilst doing so ends up in hospital for weeks on end badly burnt. They live wherever they land often sleeping in the desert, following their father on his constant search for gold to fund his dream of building a glass castle which he has lovingly drafted in intricate detail

This book left me with such conflicting emotions, especially regarding the father. I liked the father. There I’ve said it! I couldn’t help it. Despite his alcoholism he really did love the kids and he taught them so much, about science and nature and the world in general. He just really did not want to live in a Capitalist world where he would be trapped. The problem was, living the life he wanted to was to the detriment of the kids he loved so much. When his drinking became worse he was hateful; ruining Christmas and stealing money amongst other things. But the things he gave them, non-materialistic things, were beyond compare. And while I would never try to justify his failings, they were great indeed, there were a lot of positives that other parents could take note of because sitting your child infront of the TV or Xbox all day is not clever either.

The mother on the other hand left me furious. She had no business having kids, she did not have a maternal bone in her body. Quite early on in the book when Jeannette is only four or five years old she falls out of a moving car, cutting her face up quite badly. She then has to sit by the roadside waiting for the car to return as they haven’t noticed that she has gone. When they do return the father jumps out and tenderly cares for his daughter. The mother just sits in the car waiting.

She is beyond selfish. She won’t work even though she is a qualified teacher and there are huge shortages. She just wants to concentrate on her art and herself even though her kids are half starving.
When there was no money in the house, the kids found a diamond ring and wanted to sell it and buy food but their mother insisted on keeping it because it improved her self-esteem and that, she said, was far more important.

Jeannette Walls tells her story in a calm non-judgemental way. But as she moves towards adolescence her faith in her parents is compromised and when Lori, her elder sister, decides to get out, Jeannette makes the move as well. They both end up in New York and make decent lives for themselves being joined by their brother later.

The only one of the children who was badly affected by their upbringing was the youngest girl Maureen who had perhaps been protected from the worst of her parents’ excesses by her elder siblings and found it difficult to survive on her own.

This book has a lot to recommend it. It is harsh but at the same time uplifting. It makes you mad but then makes you chuckle. Moreover it shows you that children are a lot more resilient than they are given credit for and in this over-cosseted world that is worth remembering.
****

The Safe Word

the safe word

The Safe Word
by Karen Long

There are rules that every player of every game must abide by, no matter how dangerous the sport.

Toronto has become the backdrop to a macabre set of artistic installations: women kidnapped, tortured and horrifically displayed by a killer with a vision.

Only someone capable of understanding the killer’s creative desire will be able to stop the murders and D I Eleanor Raven is uniquely qualified. Driven by a complex personality she pursues only the facts, only the things she can see, but never casts a judgement.

But she also has a dark and dangerous secret – one that will threaten her very survival.

The Safe Word is Karen Long’s debut novel and what a cracker it is. There is a serial killer who is killing women and leaving their bodies wrapped in plastic and on display D.I. Eleanor Raven and her team are tasked with bringing the killer to justice.

D.I.Eleanor raven is no ordinary detective, she announces herself at the start of this book in spectacular
fashion. I can’t think of another detective that has made their presence felt quite as strongly in the first chapter, but I live to be corrected. She has a secret and it’s a secret that she really wants to keep from her colleagues, but the killer’s modus operandi is a little too close for comfort.

I have to say that I really didn’t like Eleanor raven, but that’s not a criticism. I always think an author is doing his or her job well if I have strong feelings either way about a character. The supporting cast are wonderful with Laurence Whitefoot, Raven’s new partner, stealing the show for me.

If I have a small gripe, it is that I didn’t get much sense of place and I was confused with an accent which was coming through to me as English (the dropped Hs). I had to check where the novel was set.

Reading this book you really wouldn’t know it is a debut novel. It has a great plot and moves along at a fast pace with lots of twists and turns. The denouement was brilliant and very cleverly handled. I loved how the book finished.

I am looking forward to karen Long’s next book in the series which is already on my tbr pile.
****

Mrs Hemingway

mrs Hemingway

Mrs Hemingway
by Naomi Wood

In the dazzling summer of 1926, Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley travel from their home in Paris to a villa in the south of France. They swim, play bridge and drink gin. But wherever they go they are accompanied by the glamorous and irrepressible Fife. Fife is Hadley’s best friend. She is also Ernest’s lover.

Hadley is the first Mrs. Hemingway, but neither she nor Fife will be the last. Over the ensuing decades, Ernest’s literary career will blaze a trail, but his marriages will be ignited by passion and deceit. Four extraordinary women will learn what it means to love the most famous writer of his generation, and each will be forced to ask herself how far she will go to remain his wife…

Luminous and intoxicating, Mrs. Hemingway portrays real lives with rare intimacy and plumbs the depths of the human heart.

This is such a sad book. Sad for the women in Ernest hemingway’s life whose lives revolved around this charismatic man. But sad also for Hemingway, who despite all his literary success was a desperately needy man who just couldn’t cope on his own.

The book is beautifully written. Naomi Wood’s prose is mesmerising. The raw emotion and intensity is visceral. There are moments of such intimacy that you feel you really shouldn’t be looking.

The author gives an equal voice to each wife and manages very well not to come across as judgemental or biased towards any of them. No such restraint from me:

His first wife Hadley is my favourite; badly betrayed by her ‘best friend’, she acted with good grace and moved on with dignity on realising that her marriage was finished. She comes across as a lady that anyone would be proud to be able to call a friend.

Fife on the other hand is the epitomy of everything you wouldn’t want in a friend, two-faced, underhand, selfish and I can’t say that I was sorry when the axe fell on her.

Martha, a fellow war correspondent, seems to be the one that challenged Hemingway the most. Having a career that she put before her husband was not something that he was used to, or liked. Although as usual Hemingway chose his next wife before ending with Martha, she had as much say in the split as he did.

Mary was his last wife and widow, and even though he stayed with her until his death, it is very difficult to say she didn’t draw the short straw. Having to deal with his deepening depression, his temper and ultimately watch him kill himself.

Even though the basics of the marriages are common knowledge this book is so worthwhile. It is a novel but feels biographical. Naomi Wood has done an excellent job bringing not only the characters to life but the whole era.
Recommended ****