Flower by Safira X

A BarksBeachesBooks Review

Flower 🌸 🌺 🌹

THIS is a short story.

This is an INCREDIBLE short story.

A FEMINIST, TWISTED, BLOODY, HORRIFIC, incredible short story.

I was on the edge of my seat the entire time which is what I expect from thriller/horror stories. And if it’s short? I expect you to pack an explosive story in there. I know I have high expectations BUT Safira X accomplishes that several times over in this 40 page sucker punch.

Murder ✅ Revenge ✅ Torture ✅ Fragile Masculinity ✅ Sexism ✅ Blood & Gore ✅ Animal Abuse (not my fav but works in favor of the story) ✅ Sex ✅ Supernatural ✅ “40 pages? No way there could be any of the back story or character development needed to make it so good.”FALSE.

I am so impressed and I canNOT wait for the next book!

How Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann

A BarksBeachesBooks Review

Raymond Fleischmann gives us a beautifully written debut novel with How Quickly She Disappears. Following Elisabeth on dual timelines we witness in one the grooming and taking of her 11-year-old twin sister, Jacqueline, and in the other we watch Elizabeth slowly unravel at the appearance of a mysterious man named Alfred. Alfred, who claims to know what happened to Jacqueline. Alfred, who knows everything about Elisabeth though they’ve never met. Alfred who might be a little bit mad.


Elisabeth is living in remote Alaska with her distant husband and fiercely intelligent daughter, Margaret. When Alfred shows up claiming he needs to rest before a flight, Elisabeth allows him to stay in their guest room. From there things quickly spiral out of control. Even after murder, her daughter’s attempts to get attention, her husband constantly battling her beliefs and actions, and prison (among other things) Elisabeth pursues the truth about her sister. 


This book reads like The Silence of the Lambs watches (I’ve only seen the movie) with a drawn-out cat and mouse chase between Alfred and Elisabeth. Alfred’s quickly changing moods do nothing to quell Elisabeth’s hunt for facts. Repeated attempts from her husband and police to stop her vigilante investigationdoes not deter her. I loved the steady pace of this book and the way Raymond really brings us with him to watch Elisabeth lose herself in her search for her 20-years-missing sister.


This book is dark and beautiful and haunting and I will absolutely be buying Raymond’s next book.

Return to Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven

A BarksBeachesBooks Review

What a wild ride we are given by Mr Van Laerhoven in a novel where Sin City meets Glass meets No Country for Old Men – a story of stories. In Return to Hiroshima we are drawn to the frontline of several lives being intricately woven together and then filleted right before our eyes. This is a dark, complicated and challenging read set during the 50th anniversary of Little Boy being dropped on Japan, the past and present evident in every decision made. 

We are thrown into the middle of a battle of completely differing morals. Mitsuko is fleeing her father, Rokurobei, the leader of an underground crime organization who she has witnessed murder several people. Including her own mother? On the other hand, Rokurobei is tracking Mitsuko down not because of her knowledge of his unsavory affairs, but due to her mental health and the problems it has caused. Including murdering her own mother? Upon meeting Yori and Reizo who offer her a place to stay, Mitsuko soon learns that she has more to fear than just the wrath of her father.

Yori and Reizo are part of the “Suicide Club”, a group of young squatters avoiding reality with jobs as pickpockets and street performers. Yori is drawn to the madness of the psychopaths around her, like that of none other than her boyfriend Reizo for whom she helps lure a foreigner to try and poison. The reason for this? A story to tell. And we will find that Yori is a sucker for a good story…

Of course, in any stories as dramatic as these the police are involved which is where inspector Takeda comes in. He is determined to solve several crimes that he has been told to leave alone by his superiors. He quickly gets a target on his back due to not following orders, putting those around him in danger as well. Are all these good intentions to help redeem himself for previous actions of his own? But of course. 

Rokurobei quickly traces Mitsuko to the Suicide Club where he encounters Reizo, who leaves him with a cryptic clue to the location of Mitsuko…and then Yori, who is as smitten by the madness of Rokurobei as she was Reizo…and then inspector Takeda and the police doctor’s investigations into crimes that should not concern them…and then, and then, and then. He is on a cover up spree, and it seems that no one will be spared.

It is soon revealed that Rokurobei also means Lord of Lies, and we quickly learn that it’s hard to tell who, if anyone, is telling the truth or just their truth. It seems, due to the differing sets of morals mentioned above (Rokurobei’s mirroring those of Anton from No Country for Old Men), that everyone completely believes their own versions while simultaneously being drawn to the voice and ideals of Rokurobei. We see this several times as people easily place their trust in a madman even as they become witness to the wake of his horrific acts.

Bob Van Laerhoven writes in quick, detail packed chapters in alternating points of view. There are several characters contributing the each other’s stories even though these are people that never should have met except for fate. Fate is a strong theme throughout the course of this book as everyone is back in Hiroshima to meet theirs. From Xavier Douterloigne, a diplomat’s son that grew up in Japan, to a German photographer on a mission to prove her talent, to police inspectors and commissioners, to underground crime organizations. It seems everyone is connected, even when they come from worlds apart.

The extreme dualities of the characters extends to the overall story itself as well. Bob somehow managed to seamlessly connect noir crime fiction with historical fiction. As soon as I type those words I realize that of course the two genres should go hand in hand, yet how often have I read a story like that? This is the first.

Author Bio

Bob Van Laerhoven is a 66-year-old Belgian/Flemish author who has published (traditionally) more than 45 books in Holland and Belgium. His cross-over oeuvre between literary and noir/suspense is published in French, English, German, Spanish, Swedish, Slovenian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, and Russian. A Chinese translation is currently in production.

In Belgium, Laerhoven was a four-time finalist of the ‘Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Mystery Novel of the Year’ with the novels ‘Djinn’, ‘The Finger of God’, ‘Return to Hiroshima’, and ‘The Firehand Files’. In 2007, he became the winner of the coveted Hercule Poirot Prize with ‘Baudelaire’s Revenge’, which, in English translation, also won the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category ‘mystery/suspense’. His first collection of short stories ‘Dangerous Obsessions’, published in the USA in 2015, was chosen as the ‘best short story collection of 2015’ by the San Diego Book Review. The collection has been translated into Italian, (Brazilian) Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish.  ‘Return to Hiroshima’, his second crime novel in English, was published in May 2018 by Crime Wave Press(Hong Kong).  The British quality review blog Murder, Mayhem & More has chosen ‘Return to Hiroshima’ as one of the ten best international crime novels of 2018. MMM reviews around 200 novels annually by international authors. Also in 2018, the Anaphora Literary Press published ‘Heart Fever’, his second collection of short stories. ‘Heart Fever’ was one of the five finalists of the American Silver Falchion Award. Laerhoven was the only non-American finalist. The collection has been translated into Italian and Spanish. A German translation is currently in production.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bob.vanlaerhoven

Website: https://bobvanlaerhoven.be/en

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The Poison Garden by A.J. Banner

A BarksBeachesBooks Review

Who is really the crazy one in the latest psychological thriller from A.J. Banner, The Poison Garden? Because I’ll be honest, it could have been any of them from the first page. The opening page brings us to Elise Watters running for her life with a quick, pulse raising one-and-a-half-page prologue. And then we are purposely disoriented, being thrown back to the “before” of the chase with a calm ferry ride back to her island home after attending business on the mainland.

Elise has an interesting life though it seems she tried to make it as dull and peaceful as possible. No drama, just simple things that make her happy – a beautiful home surrounded by beautiful gardens, running an herbal boutique. But she did just lose her mother. She just got married. She just started working full time in the herbal shop inherited from her late mother. She also just came home early to catch her husband in the middle of an affair…among other things.

On top of that, she’s unearthing secrets as quickly as you’ll flip the pages of this book. And, she’s sleep-walking?! Not entirely strange in and of itself, but the activities she’s enjoying while doing so are a little suspect.

The duality of all these characters is incredible. There is the crazy woman that her husband was caught with (what exactly is she involved in?). Her neighbor is one of her good friends, but also a grieving schemer. Her ex-husband is around every corner because he’s the island’s go-to Mr. Fix IT…or he’s stalking her. Small island; hard to tell. And then there is Elise’s husband himself, good looking, patient favorite Dr. Kieran Lund. He seems like a good guy who made a mistake. He does everything to make it up to Elise-and I mean everything. They go through a lot in such a short time and he really is holding Elise upright. But it’s either him who’s crazy or Elise. It can’t be both…right?

A.J. Banner does such a great job of misdirection in The Poison Garden that you really won’t know what’s what and who’s after who until the very end. I LOVED the ending. Oh my gosh, just such a good twist! (Let’s be honest, twistS.) I highly recommend this fast paced, psychological thriller with a poisonous touch-it’s just up my alley!

And now, a comprehensive list of people I suspected throughout the book: Everyone.

Enjoy!

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

Mary Kubica is an expert at twists, as you know if you’ve read Pretty Baby or Don’t You Cry. The twists you expect are the breadcrumb clues she lays out for you to follow, only to make a 180 at the last minute. However, what I loved the most about this book was not the plot twists (the last of which was kind of genius), but rather the genre twist. What starts out as a mystery/psychological thriller does not end in the same way. Mary sets you on one path only to realize you were never really going in the right direction.

Another aspect of Mary’s writing that is appealing to me is how much detail she uses. Personally, I have never had an issue going to sleep. It may not be great sleep, but falling asleep in and of itself is not a problem I can say that I have had. Insomnia as a major theme in the book is something that drew me to it. I knew that I would be able to experience it (if only in my imagination) if Mary was the one describing it – and I was not disappointed. My point here is not that I want to have insomnia, but rather that an author that can use details like Mary does is an amazing thing in helping you really be transported into the story. Nevertheless, due to the detail-oriented writer that she is, there were no doubt sometimes that I wanted the descriptions to just “Hurry up already!” so that I could get to the good stuff – what did she find in the closet crawl space? Who was the man in the garden? Did the clues lead where I thought they would? (Almost never.) Instead I found mini-cliffhangers and then I would be hooked again, reading for hours at a time as I followed a new lead.As an avid reader, I rarely don’t finish a book. I always try to push my way through to give every book a chance. Of course, this has been a waste of time on many books; not this one. Even though I did find myself at certain points begging to know whose social security number it really was, I know that if it weren’t for all the scenic descriptions I wouldn’t be as invested in the story. So, instead of judging a book solely based on what I feel while reading it (this time: frustration, anxiety, determination to guess the twists), what I rely on is the feeling I get after I am finished reading. Is it easily forgettable or am I still constantly thinking about it days later? In this case, and this is my mini-cliffhanger gift to you, the ending was in no way what I expected and I am still heartbroken for Eden’s story even days later. I urge you to give this book a chance to play with your mind a little. I challenge you to get ahead of Mary and figure out her ending.