Friday, 22 July 2016

"In a Dark, Dark Wood" by Ruth Ware | Book Review

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Publishing Date (Paperback): July 12, 2016
Pages: 352
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

Out of the blue, Nora is invited to a hen party for an old friend she hasn't seen for nearly a decade. What should be a fun weekend with a few people in the English countryside turns into a night of horror, betrayal, and revenge.

I love me some psychological thrillers, there's no two ways about it. I love that feeling of knowing something is off, but not quite being able to put my finger on what exactly it is. Maybe it's because I read this immediately after finishing another psychological thriller that blew me away, but this one didn't quite do it for me.

Now, don't get me wrong - this is a really well-written, intriguing story that I barely put down. But some points of the story dragged a little and I was left hoping the story would move along quicker, especially leading up to the action.

Once we got into the more intense part of the story, the clues kept coming, and along with those, the doubt about who we thought committed the crime. This story really makes you question the characters you feel like you've come to know, even though you've really only spent a weekend with them.

An interesting tidbit: Reese Witherspoon's production company has acquired the rights to make this story into a movie, and I'm definitely looking forward to that because I think this story will lend itself well to the big screen.

Overall, In a Dark, Dark Wood is an interesting, twisted thriller, even though it does drag in some places. Despite not being bowled over, I really enjoyed this book and I'd recommend it to anyone in the mood for a quick, dark read.

*This book was sent to me by Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Interview with S. E. Lynes, author of "Valentina", plus a Giveaway!

Hi everyone! If you read my last post, you know I loved Valentina, and today we're joined by the author herself! I got a chance to ask S. E. Lynes a few questions about plot twists, writing, and becoming a sociopath...

First off, I want to say I love the book! It was enthralling and kept me on the edge of my seat - and I was always questioning what I thought was going on.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? What made you want to write a psychological thriller?

I am from the North of England. I am a linguist/polyglot and have always written, always wanted to write. I live in Greater London and before that I spent 5 years in Rome - and before that I lived in Aberdeen with my husband (and yes he went offshore). I have three kids. Most of my early attempts at writing I deleted or threw in the bin but then I did a writing course at Richmond Adult Community College and discovered that writing is a process, an art form like any other, and that you get better with practice. That course taught me to give myself permission to be rubbish for a bit - and that's what I say now to my students and to anyone trying to write - give yourself time and permission to be a bit crap and don't worry about that - keep doing courses and practising as you would a musical instrument - every day, in order to get a little bit better.

I wrote a psychological thriller after writing three other novels which got great feedback but which my agent at the time could not place. I realised I needed to write something people were mad about reading! I read Gone Girl and loved Flynn's prose and her fearlessness with her female character. I read Sister, Before I Go to Sleep, The Girl on the Train and loved the pared down nature of those books and, of course, I read Rebecca, in which Daphne du Maurier puts the reader ahead of the heroine and plays with the whole "somethin' ain't right" thing - you can't quite put your finger on why. For me, psychological thrillers are more intense the less characters there are - in film, that is shown brilliantly in Hitchcock's Psycho, of course, and I loved Single White Female too, which was also an influence.   

There's some sociopathic, if not psychopathic, behaviour prevalent in the story. What was it like getting into the mindset of people who think "outside of the box" and will do almost anything to make their lifestyle work? Did you have any sort of ritual to get into this mindset?

There is psychopathy/sociopathy in the book. I read up on these things. I won't say too much because I don't want to give any spoilers but to me there is no "getting in the zone" because all you're doing is writing a character, with as much richness as you can, but you are removing empathy and responsibility. So in that sense it is more useful to know and understand true love and true friendship - you have to understand the emotional stakes so better to subvert them, much as a comedy writer subverts expectation with surprise to create laughter.

Did you have the entire story planned out in your head when you started writing, or were there instances (related to twists) that came up that surprised even you?

I set out with something quite different for Valentina.  A hippy whose BoHo exterior masked a deeply materialistic nature, a woman who sees another woman's life and wants everything about it whilst seeming not to care a jot for those mundane things. But as the plot developed, so did the characters. I had no idea how I would get over certain hurdles but the solution to the biggest hurdle came in a blinding flash, as indeed it did to the character herself (you possibly know which moment I mean). The characters come from the demands of the plot - who do they need to be to go along with events, to react the way I need them to etc. Shona had to come from an urban and, as some would see it, crowded environment in order to idealist the country idyll, she had to be feisty and instinctive too... 

What was your favourite part about writing Valentina? What was the hardest?

My favourite part about writing Valentina was having the various plot epiphanies, which felt exciting. Also, I enjoyed camping it up as the 'baddie', working the whole fairytale wicked queen vibe. There are many obvious and obscure fairytale references in the book, including a Russian fairy tale called The Firebird and the Falcon. The hardest part was fighting feelings of nausea at the morally repugnant situation I was creating.

Do you have any writing quirks? For example, I once read a Dan Brown interview where he said he liked to wear gravity boots when he needed inspiration!

I don't have any gravity boots. I just walk the dog, shove a wash on and buckle down because I only have a couple of spare hours to play with. I do read all my work aloud - so towards the final drafts I can get quite hoarse.

Did you learn anything while writing this book? If your readers could learn one thing from the story, what would you want it to be?

I guess for me, this is a book about love and friendship. Love is the most important thing there is - it is the only thing that matters - and one should never play fast and loose with it. If you do, bad things happen!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, and best of luck with Valentina!

You can read my review of Valentina here.

And now for a giveaway! If you're itching to read Valentina after hearing how well-written and intriguing it is, and after hearing insights from the author herself, then today's your lucky day because the lovely people over at Blackbird Digital Books have been kind enough to provide 3 (three) digital copies of the book for this giveaway!

Some rules and general info:

1. This giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.

2. You must be following my blog - this giveaway is for my readers (if you're following by email, make sure to confirm your subscription)!

3. Keep in mind that the prizes are digital copies (you'll have an option between Mobi, ePub, or PDF), so you need some kind of platform to view this on.

4. I will be sending the 3 winners' emails to someone over at Blackbird Digital Books, and they will be sending you your prize. Please only enter if you're comfortable with this! The email you enter with will be the email your prize is sent to.

Best of luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, 8 July 2016

"Valentina" by S. E. Lynes | Book Review

Valentina: A hauntingly intelligent
psychological thriller
by S. E. Lynes
Publishing Date: July 1, 2016
Pages: 280
Publisher: Blackbird Digital Books
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book DepositoryAmazon | Kobo

When Shona moves into a cottage with her partner, Mikey, and their daughter, Isla, in picturesque rural Scotland, they think all that's ahead of them is bliss. How very wrong they are. With Mikey working offshore and Shona left alone with their baby in the isolated countryside, Shona quickly becomes restless. But just when she needs her the most, Shona meets Valentina and they become best friends. But everything is not as it seems.

Valentina is an intense and, as the subtitle suggests, highly intelligent psychological thriller. The tension is palpable throughout as we feel the effects of cabin fever starting to show in Shona, and as little things keep cropping up that aren't quite right.

We know something is off before Shona does, and as such we start picking up on clues, trying to guess what exactly is going on. I was able to figure out most of what was at play fairly early on, but it was a hell of a ride anyway. I could barely put this book down because it was so intriguing. The story leaves you wondering: who can you really trust?

Initially, I found the switch in perspective we get about two thirds of the way through a little awkward, but I quickly became engrossed in the new information, the other side of everything leading up to that point. The story is so well written and you find yourself feeling empathy for and understanding points of view you wouldn't normally identify with.

I found the characters themselves really interesting and it was easy for me to become invested in their stories. Shona is a no-nonsense Scottish journalist, trusting and strong, a woman who wants to do what she thinks is best for her family. Mikey is a doting husband and father, the picture of the hard-working provider. And then there's Valentina, the mysterious, free-spirited best friend who seems to know more than she's letting on.

Valentina is one of the best psychological thrillers I've read to date, and it's definitely one of my favourite books of the year so far. It's a page-turner that will leave you second-guessing yourself. Psychological damage can make people do drastic things...

*This book was sent to me by Blackbird Digital Books in exchange for an honest review.