ARC REVIEW: The Dinner Party – by Richard Parker

Title: The Dinner Party
Author: R.J. Parker
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: October 18th 2019
Publisher: Harper Impulse and Killer Reads
Finished reading: October 7th 2019
Pages: 400 

“Ted felt as if everything was slowing down. He was on the verge of sliding back into unconsciousness.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Harper Impulse and Killer Reads in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***


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I’ve read and enjoyed quite a few of Richard Parker‘s books in the past, so as soon as I saw The Dinner Party I knew I had to add it to my shelves. I admit there was a moment of confusion when I added the title to my Goodreads shelves, as it is shelved under a different author with the same name, but I can now confirm it’s the same Richard Jay Parker that has multiple previous titles published by a different publisher (Bookouture) including favorites Hide And Seek and Keep Her Safe. I had quite high expectations for this story, but somehow I didn’t end up having the reaction I expected to have to this story…

If you are looking for a twisty, explosive and shocking thriller, The Dinner Party fits all those points and more. The story starts with a bang: you are dropped right in the middle of a life or death fight and what is basically a superintense and bloody scene. No introductions, no explanations… Just that scene to leave your jaw hanging on the floor and wondering how that situation came to be. This intense introduction chapter is contrasted by the following ‘mild’ chapters talking about a dinner party involving four couples. Do they have anything to do with that first chapter? Which of them could be involved? The tone of this story is definitely set with that brilliantly played first chapter.

The tension is build up slowly but steadily in the rest of the story, mixing secrets and twists with moments of action and suspense. I initially had a very good feeling about this story, but as the storyline continued and evolved, I started wondering about the credibility of it all. Sure, there is no doubt that if you are looking for adrenaline and action you will be in for a treat with the second half of The Dinner Party. But I myself found everything that happened to the four couples simply to be a tad too farfetched. I could accept the first thing that happened, the second too if I’m generous… But afterwards things really went out of control and my eyebrows started raising themselves more and more and more. On top of that, I didn’t really find the final reveal or explanation behind it all credible at all… Making the ending a bit of a disappointment for me. I did like how we came a full circle and saw the first chapter described again in its proper place in the story though.

As for the characters… Sadly, I can’t really say I liked them. Apart from the fact that I would have liked to see more development, as some fell flat for me and were a bit of a cliche, I didn’t find them likeable at all. I get the secrets and I get that they are hiding things to help generate those plot twists and reveals later on, but somehow they didn’t manage to grab my attention at all. Which is a shame, because between the credibility and characters I definitely ended up having a different reaction than I thought I would. If you like your thrillers fast, thrilling and shocking and don’t mind some lack of credibility and an ‘over the top’ plot, you will probably have a better time reading this story. The fascinating premise and promise of a great story is definitely there!


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ARC REVIEW: I Will Make You Pay – by Teresa Driscoll

Title: I Will Make You Pay
Author: Teresa Driscoll
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: October 10th 2019
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: September 21st 2019
Pages: 317

“We hope that no one is hurt, we wish no ill. And yet? We secretly want a story all the same.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***


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!! Happy publication day !!

I’ve been meaning to try Teresa Driscoll‘s books for quite some time now, so when I saw I Will Make You Pay and read the blurb I just couldn’t resist. There is just something about the premise of this story and the stalker plot that made me want to read it straight away. And while I did ended up having some minor issues with it, overall it was without doubt a solid psychological thriller read.

I Will Make You Pay starts out as most regular psychological thrillers, but your attention is soon captured when the main character Alice receives the threatening phone call at the newspaper where she works as a journalist. This phone call marks the start of the so-called stalker plot and definitely takes the story to the next level. The story switches between past and present and gives us different POVs as well. On top of that, one of the storylines mentions a little boy and his grandmother without revealing how it all connects to the present situation, making you wonder how everything fits in. There are different layers as well as plot twists and secrets involved, all trying to throw you off the scent of the truth while they try to mislead you. I admit I guessed the ending quite early on though, but that might just be me reading too many books of the genre.

As for the main characters… Despite the fact that it should be easy to warm up to Alice and feel bad about what is happening to her, somehow I never really connected to her. I’m not sure exactly why, but there was just something about her actions and behavior that really irked me… Likewise, most of the other characters failed to charm me, with the exception of private investigator Matthew. I liked both his character and the different angle he provided to the story… Having a private investigator working on the stalking case while also working informally with the police definitely made the story more interesting. The whole journalist angle made for an interesting element as well, especially relating to the dangers behind sharing too much of your personal life and always being on the hunt for a good story seemingly no matter what the cost. The flashback chapters were intruiging enough, although they didn’t seem to be too relevant to the story at first… I’m still not sure what to feel about the ending though, as it felt a bit like an anticlimax. That said, psychological thriller fans will most likely have a good time reading I Will Make You Pay.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: The Birthday House – by Jill Treseder #RandomThingsTours #blogtour

Hello and welcome to my stop of the The Birthday House Random Things blog tour! A huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. There was just something about the blurb of this novella that spoke to me and while I did end up having mixed thoughts, there is no doubt that the premise of this story is fascinating. Want to know why? Please join me while I share my thoughts!

Title: The Birthday House
Author: Jill Treseder
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: June 24th 2019
Publisher: SilverWood Books
Finished reading: September 14th 2019
Pages: 149

“Gossip is not interested in innocence. It will curdle innocence in the blink of a curious eye.”

*** A copy of this novella was kindly provided to me by Anne Cater and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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When I received the blog tour invitation a while back, there was just something about the blurb that caught my attention straight away. The psychological aspect as well as the past mixing with the present in the form of memories sounded fascinating, and I was also curious about the murder, its effects on Susan and the why and how behind it all. While I did end up having mixed thoughts about The Birthday House, I have to stress that this doesn’t mean it’s a bad read, and the 3 star rating reflects my personal experience with this story. I’ll tell you all about what worked and what didn’t for me below.

First of all I have to say I still feel the premise of The Birthday House is engrossing and it’s without doubt one of the strongest aspects of this novella. While initially the murder is only hinted at, it is the psychological effects of Josephine’s death and the events leading up to that dreaded day in 1955 that have the main focus. Flashbacks to the past play a very important role throughout this novella, as we try to decipher what went on in the Kennedy house and why things happened that way. It was intriguing to discover that the author based this story on an event that happened to her in the past and now uses this story almost as a form of therapy… She stresses that the events in The Birthday House do not reflect what really happened in the case that affected her personally, but it’s only a possible explanation of what could have gone wrong in a similar situation. I applaude the author for being brave enough to face past demons and put it all out in the open…  I can imagine it can’t have been easy digging all those memories up again and her personal experience does give this novella an authentic touch.

That said, there were also certain aspects of The Birthday House I ended up struggling with… I personally wasn’t convinced with the novella having so many different POVs. It felt a bit chaotic and disorganized having to jump between so many characters as well as the past and present, especially for such a short story. I felt I didn’t get to know each character well enough this way, although I do get why the author opted for multiple POVs as I imagine she was trying to show the mental state of and psychological effects on the different characters involved. Still, the story lacked cohesion for me and I personally would have liked to see less POVs (for example by leaving Mrs. Harrison, the housekeeper, out of the mix to name one). I also wasn’t a fan of the tone and writing; it didn’t feel natural and some of the dialogue and thoughts sometimes even felt a bit forced… Susan’s 1955 POV felt a tad too childish as well, and I also felt part of the plot and reasons behind the murder were simply too cliche. This is my personal reaction to this story though and if you are able to connect to the writing and don’t mind a few cliches and a lot of POV switches, The Birthday House does have a captivating premise.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I started writing in a red shiny exercise book when I was seven years old. But in that time and place it was an ‘invalid’ activity, was overlooked, but never went away. It was many years before I felt able to call myself ‘writer’.

But there came a day when the phrase ‘I am a writer’ no longer sounded pretentious, but legitimate, and even necessary. Was it because I had a writing room instead of the corner of a landing? Or because I spent more time writing? Or because I’d got better at it? Or because I get miserable and bad-tempered if I don’t write? Probably a combination of all of the above.

Writing is my third career. The first was as a social worker with children and families, a job I loved, but left because I could no longer cope with the system.

This led to a freelance career as an independent management consultant, helping people to handle emotions in the work context. I worked in the IT industry, in companies large and small, as well as public organisations. Later I became involved in research projects concerned with the multi-disciplinary approach to social problems such as child abuse. So, in a sense, I had come full-circle.

All these experiences feed into the process of writing fiction, while my non-fiction book The Wise Woman Within resulted indirectly from the consultancy work and my subsequent PhD thesis,‘Bridging Incommensurable Paradigms’, which is available from the School of Management at the University of Bath.

I live in Devon and visit Cornwall frequently and these land and seascapes are powerful influences which demand a presence in my writing.

Writers’ groups and workshops are a further invaluable source of inspiration and support and I attend various groups locally and sign up for creative courses in stunning locations whenever I can. I try doing writing practice at home but there is no substitute for the focus and discipline achieved among others in a group.

I have written some short stories and recently signed up for a short story writing course to explore this genre in more depth.

I live with my husband in South Devon and enjoy being involved in a lively local community.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Cage – by Lilja Sigurðardóttir #RandomThingsTours #NordicNoir #Orentober @annecater @Orendabooks

Hello and welcome to my stop of the Cage Random Things blog tour! A huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I’ve been meaning to read this series for a long time now, and this blog tour was the perfect excuse to binge-read all three books. I’m still kicking myself for not picking up the books sooner! Want to know why? Please join me while I share my thoughts!

Title: Cage
(Reykjavik Noir Trilogy #3)

Author: Lilja Sigurdardottir
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: October 27th 2017
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: October 1st 2019
Pages: 276
(Originally written in Icelandic: ‘Búrið’)

“Life was like a game. Even with a handful of bad cards, it’s better to be the one calling trumps.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Anne Cater and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Isn’t it always the best feeling to find a new series to binge-read and love? You might have already seen me gushing about book one Snare and book two Trap during the last few days, and now it’s time to talk about the third and final book of the Reykjavik Noir Trilogy: Cage. Before we start with the content, let’s just sit down for a moment and appreciate just how eyecatching the titles and covers of this trilogy are. The titles instantly made me wonder what exactly is being hunted in the books or how the titles could relate to the plot, while the simple and colorful covers manage to catch your attention straight away… Top notch marketing and cover art I would say! Now before I start putting down my thoughts about Cage on paper, first a little disclaimer: The Reykjavik Noir Trilogy is definitely one of those series you have to read in order, because I don’t think the plot and character developments make much sense otherwise. So no cheating, otherwise you will miss out on all the fun that is this trilogy when you follow the reading rules!

Ready to read all about Cage? As I made clear my previous reviews, I’m a huge fan of the eclectic mix of different elements and POVs in the first two books. That is probably why Cage came as such a surprise to me, because there is no doubt whatsoever that the final book is quite different from the first two. I still can’t decide if it’s actually weaker though, but the road this third book took was definitely quite unexpected. Cage is set six years after the second book finishes (2017), so there is quite a gap to overcome as you try to figure out what happened to the main characters in the years in between. On top of that, the focus is almost fully on Agla this time around. Of course her character already played an important role in the previous two books, but she is definitely in the spotlight this time around.

Having the focus on Agla means that Cage is basically lacking the drugs angle so present in the previous two books, and I’m still not sure what to feel about that as this element is part of the reason why I was enjoying the series that much. To be honest, I was also quite surprised to see so little of Sonja and Bragi, but I guess their storylines were already exploited to the fullest in the first two books. Bragi actually almost made no appearance at all except for a short mention, but I guess he just retired from this trilogy as well as his customs officer job. Sonja herself, the so-called star of the first two books, only appears quite late in the story and has a surprisingly minor role in it all… Oh yes, this is 100% Agla’s book, with a secondary role for María. María’s character did appear in the previous books of course, although she wasn’t as present and to be honest she isn’t exactly my favorite. That said, we do have a new POV in Cage to shake things up a bit: the young Anton, Ingimar’s son. He definitely brings a dose of teenage angst into the story with his complicated relationship with his parents and girlfriend as well as all that talk about explosives and wanting to blow things up… I’m still not sure what to make of his POV, although it adds that hint of caos and suspense as you try to figure out what he has to do with the other POVs and if he will actually go through with his plans.

Like I said before, Cage is Agla’s book and we learn a lot about her situation, although you are also kept in the dark about what happened after Trap finished and how she ended up in her current situation. Not the prison part of course, which is hardly a surprise after the previous books, but let’s just say her emotional situation in those years in between (I don’t want to reveal too much to avoid spoilers). I personally thought the prison chapters were fascinating and helped restore part of the balance lost by mostly leaving out that now familiar drugs angle in Cage. Agla’s personal development plays a big role in this final book as well, with her first being on the border of desperation and giving up, then brought back by a new financial challenge… Having María also there, being forced to work together with the enemy, also made for very interesting reading material.

Another thing I couldn’t help noticing is that this story isn’t as international as the previous books. Cage is mainly set in Iceland instead, with only a couple of chapters set in the US as we follow María… Although I do admit that the whole investigation and amateur detective work by María adds some needed umph to the plot, especially when things escalate. María is a journalist now, and it is interesting to see this forced change in profession also caused drastic changes in her personal life. I’m glad the financial angle Agla has become known for is still here in this final book, and it’s without doubt the main connection with the previous two books. Her competitive spirit and need to always try beating the others with her superior knowledge, twisting any existent plan into something to her advantage, makes for some very entertaining reading.

As for the writing… The writing is just as solid as before and definitely one of the reasons I flew through the pages and finished this story in one sitting. A big thank you is in place for Quentin Bates‘ flawless translation, making it possible for us to enjoy this Reykjavik Noir Trilogy and a true Icelandic gem. While I confess I do prefer the first two books, mostly because of the drugs related elements and the fact I really missed favorite characters Sonja and Bragi, there is also a lot to love in Cage. It has excellent writing, and interesting plot and both the prison scenes and the investigation angle to uncover what Ingimar is up to were key ingredients in the success of this final book. Sonja shows up later on to tie some loose ends as well and I liked how everything wrapped up in the end. And there is no doubt that this trilogy is one of my favorite new discoveries this year! Nordic noir, crime triller and Narcos fans will most definitely have an excellent time reading Snare, Trap and Cage.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Icelandic crime-writer Lilja Sigurdardóttir was born in the town of Akranes
in 1972 and raised in Mexico, Sweden, Spain and Iceland. An award-winning
playwright, Lilja has written four crime novels, including Snare and Trap, the
first two books in the Reykjavik Noir trilogy, which have hit bestseller lists
worldwide. The film rights have been bought by Palomar Pictures in California.
She lives in Reykjavík with her partner.


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BOOK REVIEW: Trap – by Lilja Sigurðardóttir @Orendabooks #NordicNoir #Orentober

Title: Trap
(Reykjavik Noir Trilogy #2)
Author: Lilja Sigurdardottir
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: October 13th 2016
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: September 23rd 2019
Pages: 276
(Originally written in Icelandic: ‘Netið’)

“It was time to turn around, look fear in the face and swim back into the net. Somewhere in that tangle had to be the way out.”

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I know I’m a bit late to the party when it comes to this series, but I guess it also has the advantage of being able to binge read all three books in a row without the long and painful wait for the next book… And while I was already caught in a snare with the first book of the Reykjavik Noir Trilogy, this sequel has me completely trapped and under its spell. There are so many different elements in play in this series, and all those elements together create the perfect Nordic Noir recipe. Trap is no exception and is without doubt a fantastic sequel. So, what turned Trap into such a success for me?

First up, we have the international setting. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have a weak spot for stories with an foreign (to me) setting. My love for travelling as well as  learning about countries and cultures lesser known to me probably has a lot to do with this interest, and Trap is without doubt a little treasure mine for those who also have the wanderlust bug. Iceland, Greenland, Mexico, The Netherlands, Luxembourg… Those are only a few countries featured during this sequel packed to the brim with travel scenes and this story does an excellent job describing the different settings as well as giving little references to local culture. This aspect gives Trap a truly international vibe and it is one of the reasons this trilogy is quickly turning into one of my favorite new discoveries this year.

Another weak spot of mine is any mention of drugs smuggling, drugs related crime or the ‘war on drugs’. And guess what: you get a little dose of all three in Trap! We have the drugs smuggling angle, with how things can go wrong and escalate as well as the practical angle… We have the drugs related crime and maffia feel with a couple of very graphic and shocking scenes… And we have the ‘war on drugs’ in the form of Bragi and the other customs officers trying to stop the influx of drugs. All these different angles are expectly combined and incorporated into the plot and definitely give Trap an unique touch. And for me it was yet another reason I love spending time with Sonja, Bragi and the others.

This trilogy isn’t just another drugs related story though… With its complex and rich plot filled with a wide variety of interesting topics, this series truly has a lot to offer. Another important topic involves the banking crisis and financial investigations that come afterwards, connecting historical facts with fiction in a way that really makes this story so much more authentic. Agla is a fascinating character and I loved learning a bit more about the whole financial world through her character as well as the others involved. And it’s not Agla alone. Trap has a fascinating mix of different characters, all well developed and adding a little something unique to the story. I love that none of the characters are perfect; they have their flaws and make their mistakes, but they feel all the more realistic because of it. I really loved the development of the main characters in the sequel and especially Sonja and Bragi are quick to win over your heart.

The diverse characters also provide us with further interesting themes to enrich the plot… We have Bragi struggling to come to terms with his wife’s Alzheimer and trying to make her final stretch on earth more comfortable no matter what the cost. We have the family element, with divorced parents fighting over custody of their child. We have the LGBT angle and Agla struggling to accept who she is. On top of all those different elements mentioned, we have a number of plot twist bombs ready to be thrown at you at any moment… Creating that feeling of suspense and tension that will make you sit on the edge of your seat and will have you unable to let go until you find out how the story ends. And you won’t find relief after finishing Trap either. Because while it seemed like a happy ending, instead I was mostly left with feelings of dread and forboding… Will my intuition be right? Oh yes, the pressure is on! If you are looking for a dose of well written and captivating Nordic noir, love international settings, diverse characters and a complex and rich plot, the Reykjavik Noir Trilogy should be right on the top of your wishlist.


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BOOK REVIEW: Snare – by Lilja Sigurðardóttir @Orendabooks #NordicNoir

Title: Snare
(Reykjavik Noir Trilogy #1)

Author: Lilja Sigurdardottir
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: October 15th 2015
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: September 18th 2019
Pages: 276
(Originally written in Icelandic: ‘Gildran’)

“There was no way out. She was still caught in the snare, and the vicious beast had her in its bloody jaws, ready to rip away the most important part of her.”


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Why o why didn’t I pick up this trilogy sooner?!?! I have always loved a foreign (to me) setting in my stories and 2019 is definitely the year I have rediscovered my love for the Nordic noir genre. There is just something about the combination of a darker and mysterious story and the cold and harsh weather often present in Nordic countries that really makes my heart beat faster and the setting often gives the perfect backdrop for a blood chilling read.

The first book of the Reykjavik Noir Trilogy is mostly set, as you might have guessed already from the title, in Iceland and was originally published in that language. A round of applause for the translator Quentin Bates for giving us the opportunity to meet Sonja, Bragi and the rest of the characters with the help of his translation! The description of the setting is detailed and also incorporates two events in recent Icelandic history most people will remember into the plot: the 2008-2009 banking crisis and the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruptions that caused chaos in Europe with so many canceled flights and stranded travellers (including myself, as I was just about to go on a trip to the day it started). Snare is set in 2010-2011 and makes references to both events, although the criminal investigation involving Agla and the other important bankers plays a far bigger role in the plot. I personally loved these flashes of real historical references mixed in with the fiction, as it made the story feel even more authentic.

But that is not what I loved most of Snare. That prize goes to main character Sonja, Bragi and the whole drugs smuggling and airport customs angle. I admit I went in blind and it was the most fantastic surprise to find such an original plot! Snare wins a lot of brownie points for the drugs smuggling angle alone, but the interesting, well developed and diverse characters also have a lot to do with the success behind this first book of a trilogy I already know will be a new favorite. Every single main character is thoroughly developed and evolves as the story continues… Each character has its flaws and that makes them feel so much more realistic: especially Sonja and Bragi won me over quickly and I can’t wait to see more of them in the sequel.

Snare is not just about drugs smuggling and the corruption investigation; it has so much more to offer… We have the broken family element, the heartbreaking Alzheimer situation with Bragi’s wife, a LGBT angle and a character struggling to come to terms with who she is… We have the danger of the drugs smuggling, the feeling of being trapped in a snare and being in a hopeless and dangerous situation impossible to escape from… On top of that, we have a box filled with plot twists ready to be dropped on you any time, and those twists are well crafted and most definitely will be able to surprise you. The plot is well developed as well and the ending definitely makes me even more excited to pick up the next book soon. The writing is simply a pleasure to the eye! Snare is without doubt an excellent start of a Nordic noir trilogy with a original, exciting and well crafted plot fans of the genre will love. Recommended!


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ARC REVIEW: Here To Stay – by Mark Edwards @amazonpub

Title: Here To Stay
Author: Mark Edwards
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: September 1st 2019
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: September 17th 2019
Pages: 370

“Maybe I couldn’t trust anyone.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Basically it was Meggy’s review that made me realize I just HAD to read Here To Stay. I’m so glad she first pointed me towards this book, as I have been meaning to try Mark Edwards‘ books for a while now and there is no doubt that this book was everything I hoped for and more. I basically felt uncomfortable and threatened during the whole book, feeling what the main character feels while also just wanting to shake him and tell him to ‘man up’ and do something about his situation. It’s hands down one of the most frustrating stories I’ve had the chance to read this year, but strangly enough this feeling only made me appreciate this story even more.

I’ve had my thoughts marinating for a few days now, and I still can’t wrap my head around just how brilliant the premise and its execution are. The main topic of Here To Stay involves what you can call everybody’s worst fear: meeting/marrying someone you love, only to discover in-laws from hell come with the package. I lucked out with mine, but I can’t even imagine what it would be like opening your door and seeing the Robinsons on your doorstep and having them invade your safe haven… The main character Elliot is an easy character to connect to and the perfect good guy, which only serves as a bigger contrast with the Robinsons. Dear oh dear, what can I say about them without giving too much away? Let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to have them living in the same town, let alone have them in my own home… They will have you pulling your hair and shouting out of sheer frustration sooner than later, and that uncomfortable feeling will never be far away. This negative feeling should have put me off reading Here To Stay, but somehow in this story it had the opposite effect and I couldn’t resist picking up my kindle again and again to discover how far the Robinsons would go. I have to say that making you hate characters so profoundly, and despite generating those feelings of intense frustration still being able to deliver us a story that is essentially irresistible, is without doubt a truly remarkable achievement.

The plot itself is complex and well constructed, slowly building up that suspense and tension until things are spinning out of control. Plot twists, secrets and the escalating situation are all working together to keep you on your toes and will make it very hard to stop reading before you discover how it will all end. This is despite the fact that this story will make you feel very uncomfortable and frustated, because there is no doubt that Here To Stay has that je ne sais quoi that turns this story into something special. The development of the characters is well handled and feels quite realistic despite the fact that things can be said about some aspects being a bit cliche. I also loved the history of the Robinsons and those chapters set abroad and set in the past… And the crime aspect of Here To Stay was such a surprising angle as well! I don’t want to give to much away, but there are so many elements incorporated into this story and somehow it all combines to create the perfect thriller cocktail. There is no doubt that Mark Edwards has a new fan!


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