Check out my review of Inga Simspon’s Nest #aww2015 here
am now blogging at www.annebuist.com
Thursday 26th March
Second Life by SJ Watson
Just saw the movie (having already read the book) of Watson’s first highly successful thriller Before I Go To Sleep and thought Nicole Kidman (my nod to Aussie women seen as this author isn’t!)and Colin Firth did it justice – now time for his latest, which I have to say, reads more like a movie than the first…
Second Life is about a woman, Julia, married to Hugh with an adopted son Connor (her sister’s son) after an earlier wild life which Hugh saved her from (hence the second life reference). It is divided into five parts, told in first person from Julia’s perspective. Set mostly in London it also goes to Paris, and has flashbacks to her time in Berlin (and the “first” life). This is a lot about the risks of online hook-ups …particularly ones that end up meeting in real life. Its easy reading and fast paced, but for the first maybe half I really struggled with Julia who really isn’t very likeable (though maybe we aren’t that far from her at least in our thoughts). The premise of her going online to find her sister’s murder is frankly not plausible and it irritated me—but after she admits that was in part an excuse she was using to herself I stopped being irritated at the author, and just stayed irritated at her.
The pace picks up a lot when things go wrong with the online lover, sometimes predictably but never-the-less this caused seat of the chair tension and the twists and surprises (some I guessed some not) come fast as it rushes to the finish. The end? Mmm. Not sure I like it, but authors are being pushed to be memorable and different and its not totally unsatisfying…though I still wanted to strangle her and really felt for her husband and son.
Thursday 19th March
Can You Keep a Secret by Caroline Overington
This is the sixth novel from an award winning journalist, now associate editor at Women’s Weekly, but the first I have read.
“Why do some people decide to get married when everyone around them would seem to agree that marriage, at least for the two people in question, is a terrifically bad idea?”
This is the opening gambit on the back page, before we are told Colby and Caitlin get together and the nightmare begins. The front cover has it as the “true definition of a page turner” and in small print: How well do you know the one you love?
With this lead in, and no previous experience of the author (which may or may not have been a guide) I was expecting a Gone Girl type thriller. The prologue has us in the future with a house burning down and a missing child we are told was adopted and it “hasn’t been gong that well’, so all in keeping with the back cover. So I was somewhat surprised by what seemed much more romance/family drama—well for the first half! So much so that if Colby and Caitlin from the back cover hadn’t appeared on the pages I was reading, I might have thought it had mistakenly been given the cover of a different book.
Expectations realigned, we follow the developing relationship (third person point of view) between a naive country Queensland girl, Caitlin, who is 1999 doesn’t know there is a type of coffee other than instant Nescafe, and sophisticated New Yorker Colby. It’s made plausible by the fact that Caitlin dropped out of school and normally works in a dubious pub, but is pulled into crewing on a Whitsunday yacht for a bunch of rich New Yorkers with more money than sense. Both our protagonists have a troubled background, and youth and Caitlin’s being miles away from the stress of Wall Street make the attractive more than possible. A little harder to believe is that after the holiday romance Colby stays in touch and eventually (as we watch the calendar years in anticipation) brings her to New York for a holiday. The inevitable happens—but rather than being a major feature of the book, Overington uses historical events as a reason Caitlin can’t go home, and a spur for their precipitous marriage. If for no other reason we want Colby to go ahead, ill-suited as they may be, just to stick it up his odious mother.
We see a bit of their difficulties and Caitlin’s struggles, particularly when they can’t have children—and then they decide to adopt.
From page 197 where we now find ourselves, the novel changes completely in tone, point of view and pace. Up until almost the end (page 361) it is now told in blogs, first person Caitlin, with “online” comments from someone we come to know and another who we guess at. Up until this change I hadn’t been grabbed—but after it, yes it was a page turner and I didn’t stop until finished in the early hours of the morning. In the “blog” I started to care about Caitlin, and though aware of her being a potentially unreliable (one-sided) narrator, the deteriorating marital situation began to reveal. The blogs are about the pitfalls of adopting an older child, and we feel for her, however naïve and misguided she may have been.
I didn’t see the twist until a few pages before and am not sure if I liked it or not—endings are always so hard! But Overington certainly makes you want to keep reading through the second half, and makes you think. Don’t get too fussed about the title, or the back blurb, think of it as being in two halves and just sit back and enjoy.
Thursday 12th March
The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna
I was kindly sent this book by Allen and Unwin as I was scheduled for a panel with her at the Adelaide Writer’s festival. My initial reaction was—what was the festival thinking? Our books are so very different! Tied together by motherhood, in Medea’s Curse the mothers’ are charged with murder – in Laguna’s book the mother is trying her best under difficult circumstances to be the best mother she can be. As it happens this is picked up in my book, and domestic violence is also a common theme. But it’s a long bow…
This charming book is told from the point of view of Jimmy, starting from age six, and gives a delightfully poignant idiosyncratic view of what is going on around him. He clearly isn’t ‘neurotypical’ – I’m thinking Aspergers or Autistic spectrum—and struggles to contain his behaviours for anyone other than his mother. At times, with an alcoholic father, this becomes a serious problem.
The prose is beautiful, largely made magical by her capture of Jimmy’s voice and her ability to have us see the world as he does, a mix of feelings and sensations and images mixed up in a way not thought of (well, not by me) but which makes perfect sense: “if Dad was made of glass you would have seen the beer through the tunnels of his legs….until every part of him was flooded. What happened at the refinery that day would be drowned.’
The pace ebbs and flows, this is not a plot driven book, the magic in the words and the images they form—and the sad world Jimmy is exposed to and has to work out a way of living in it.
As it happened, the discussion Sofie and I had with Jo Case, the mediator, and the audience, was lively and interesting, all the more fun for being under the canopy at the Pioneer Gardens in Adelaide.
Thursday 5th March
Fifty Years of Silence by Miranda Richmond Mouillot
It’s hard for me to separate the book from the woman—I met her at the Perth Writer’s Festival and had dinner with her along with other Text authors, and bought her book immediately and had to read it compulsively. Born and raised mostly in Asheville—a truly charming town in North Carolina where I stayed in a Yute overlooking the town and river and avoiding bears (and going to the “topless” bar she refers to in the book…)—she also had a European grandfather knock the American accent out of her English and French—she now lives in rural France and is quaintly and delightfully French. She also has a razor sharp mind inherited from both the grandparents she writes about in this non-fiction search for identity and what happened that meant her grandparents separated in 1948 and never spoke again. She cared for her grandfather, trekking between France and Switzerland as he became demented—but he saw the manuscript before he died and spoke his first coherent sentences in years on doing so. Her grandmother was a doctor who specialised in psychiatry post-war, and besides a formidable mind, seems to have also gifted her grand-daughter resilience, charm and a sense of humour.
This is a tale of hardship and pain, a revisit of Europe in World War Two and the atrocities of what happened to millions of Jews. But it is NOT a tale of misery and concentration camps; rather her grandparents hid/ escaped and the camps were postwar, and a useful reminder of how hard this was in light of our current refugee catastrophe. I have lived and have a house in rural France which possibly made this book even more real—she finds the ruined house her grandparents bought and starts to renovate it. The search for who her grandparents were takes turns and shows her rather who she is and what she can be. A charming, beautifully written memoir, uplifting—but I cried all the same.
Thursday 26th February
Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot by Annabel Smith
I wouldn’t normally have picked this book up—didn’t like the cover (my version has photos of two young men one upside down) and while the title is intriguing, not really my style, and it wouldn’t come up in thriller or crime. But I downloaded it because I was asked what I thought and had some reading time on my hands…and as is often the case, when I stray beyond my preferred psychological thriller genre, I was pleased I had. I’m not sure what genre you’d call it, but in a similar manner I picked up Jo-Jo Moyes (and loved Me Before You) and I’d put it in with her style: family or personal drama and growth through adversity. I then got to meet the author last week at the Perth Writers’ Festival, which is always a privilege.
Whisky and Charlie are identical twins and I guess this is primarily about exploring their relationship and where it went wrong. For a non twin there is always a bit of fascination about how one grows up with someone who looks exactly like you (and genetically is) so this is part of what makes it compelling. You read to find what went wrong and why, as well as what happened to Whisky and will he recover. There’s some really lovely scenes and reflections, great explorations of motive and reasoning not just between twins but in Charlie’s relationship with women and with his mother. I’m still undecided about the end—I think it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t. There was an inevitability about the ending in Me Before You that made the ending poignant that I think Smith could have got away with here, versus the unexpected twist in One Day in David Nichols book I haven’t forgiven him for—but also can’t forget. Anyway, read for yourself and decide!
Thursday 19th February
Back to Aussie women next week-here’s a well known one from USA worth a read if you like page turners with atmosphere…
Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger
Harlan Coben is quoted on the font cover as saying “if you haven’t experienced Lisa Unger, what are you waiting for?” as well as numerous other quotes from well known authors. I had—at least four other Unger’s, if not all eight (just didn’t write reviews back then…).
The back cover suggest we are in for an addiction story with the femme fatale keeping our hero hooked. Written in first person, from the point of view of Ian, also known as his comic hero (he writes them), Fatboy, we follow his current life, with interwoven chapters about his background. Ian meets Megan and falls in love. But Priss, who he has also fictionalised as a comic character, won’t let him go. Whenever it looks like he might live happily ever after, Priss intervenes and there’s a fire—or worse.
Set in New York City and Up State New York, this story grabs you from page one. Unger is a talented story teller, and though I got the twist/premise by page 50, it is clear certainly by half way through that she expects you to. She plays around with that little, straying too far for my liking into the paranormal realm, but ‘knowing’ and even knowing what the alternative might be, and what Fatboy believed, didn’t stop me from wanting to keep reading.
In many ways this is a story about loss in childhood of a sibling (both Megan and Ian have lost a brother/sister), and in Ian’s case, when a family’s own grief and mental illness had compounded the impact rather than buffered it.
Both in current time and as we unravel Ian’s past, there is plenty of action to keep us on the edge of our seats—so tighten your seat belt and enjoy the ride!
Thursday February 12th
Okay after Gone Girl this is the book looking next most likely…I don’t personally think it will have quite the GG longetivity on the charts (movie aside) – but who knows?
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Debut British author Paula Hawkins serves up a psychological thriller in the Gone Girl style- by from the point of view of three women in dysfunctional relationships: one married to Tom, one who was married to Tom and can’t let him go, and Megan a few doors down in the same street, married to Scott but tied to the other women in more ways than one. Told in first person from these three perspectives, the tension is there from the start and doesn’t let go, though I found it to be “constant” rather than building. There are some plot point shifts but perhaps because of the shifting POV it seemed more a linear story: also because of the compelling voices I found myself committed to read without a particular need to work out “who did it”: the crime doesn’t becomes evident until I guess end of Act One, when one women goes missing (and because their stories are in different times a year apart, this can be confusing if you’re reading on a kindle and can’t flick back easily). There aren’t lots of twists and surprises, but that said, immersed in the story I didn’t really work it out until probably the start of the final act.
A good read.
Thursday February 5th
Okay to be honest I’m putting this up on Sat 7th- my book launch was on the 5th and then did a Sisters in Crime talk with this author last night! She traveled from Newcastle (got up at 4.15am!) for the event though there was the added attraction that she got to catch up with her daughter in Melbourne, who came along as support.
Already Dead by Jaye Ford
Having been saved by one of this author’s sessions at a Romance conference (she had at the time better credentials to be at said conference, as she hasn’t written e-book romance under another name but she also writes thrillers. I was writing erotic romance albeit with loads of action), I bought her first two books there and then and her third one when I saw it come out. I missed the fourth so was thrilled when I was sent a copy because she and I appeared together (with my new hat as thriller writer) at Sisters of Crime in February.
This one is keeping with her others, starts off at a cracking pace and barely slows for breath. (After her first one, my girlfriends and I may never be able to go away for a weekend…the tension was relentless!). This one starts with a carjacking which takes up the first maybe quarter or fifth of the book. We then get to catch our breath and think—what now?
If it had been me (as the heroine) I’d have just thought the carjacker was unwell and not thought too much about the content of what he talked about (as a psychiatrist in my other life I would waste a lot of time and risk my own sanity if I got sucked into my patient’s delusions) but Jax is an investigative reporter with a reason not to let go…and so we get swept along with her and into another couple of chases (including one in a car, where she has the good sense to ask herself really?). A page turning ripper: might have liked a bit more of the relationship but what was there was good! I had a pre-release version and the only thing I would have liked to have fixed might have been in the final—minor point but psychologists can’t give medication!
Thursday January 29th
Okay Tess is a woman but American. As a nod to Aussie women writers do I count? Medea’s Curse (by Anne Buist) was released yesterday with Text publishers (and on Amazon and Aussie bookshops) but I guess I can’t review my own book!
Die Again by Tess Gerristen
I approached this with a little trepidation because from the blurb she was taking her Boston characters to Africa and in my experience this is the beginning of the end (when Kay Scarpetta (Patricia Cornwell) went to France it was all over…), though to be fair Elizabeth George managed her characters in Italy well.
I needn’t have worried. Not only that, but I found I loved the African section even more than the Boston section, probably because her characters (Rizzoli and husband Gabriel) are only in Africa briefly, and the stories run parallel until they collide. I picked most of the “who did it” as soon as the crime in Africa “finished” but there were plenty of loose ends that I hadn’t worked out and it was still exciting page turning reading.
In Africa it’s a safari gone badly wrong—in Boston it’s a taxidermist given some of his own treatment…and then more bodies kept turning up. I’m not fond of serial killers but this story focuses on the hunt and our first person African heroine, Millie, as well as our Boston regulars, cop Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles, which forme makes it far more compelling. Loved how it tied all up together back in Boston…but it might be a while before I book a safari…
Thursday January 22nd
It’s another one for the boys, but I have just read two Aussie women’s books so they’ll be coming soon! These two authors I met at the same festival (Brisbane) last year and did workshops with them both, so have a soft spot for them and their accents (though McBride is actually living in Scotland, whereas McKinty’s has come from Ireland via USA and now going Aussie…)
Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty
Amazon has worked out I like this writer so messages kept popping up to remind me McKinty’s new one was coming—and then there it was! I do like a book in hand, but sometimes impatience garbs me and there it is on the kindle, another Sean Duffy, ready to go.
We are of course, still in Ireland in the Troubles, and we see plenty of that up front and centre, in the every day activity of Duffy checking for a bomb under the car (this was a part of McKinty’s childhood in Ireland, he told us at a workshop) as well as circling in and around the murder-suicide (or is it murder-murder?) of a man and his two parents. Then another…
Duffy is as dysfunctional as ever and McKinty does an amazing job of getting us on side with a cop who isn’t opposed to putting aside some cocaine from a raid, for his own personal use. He doesn’t play by the rules, which works…most of the time. His love life doesn’t survive it all and I really do want to get into the book and sort it all out for him…
The writing, use of words, insight into Irish Troubles, as always is compelling: more of the latter in this one and less stand alone crime as in his previous.
Looking forward to being annoyed by Amazon again…
The Missing and the Dead by Stuart MacBride
Turn off the phone and fasten and seat belts—the latest Logan Macrae books starts at a full pelt (Macrae chasing a crim through the backyards of somewhere near Aberdeen) and rarely slows for you to take a breath. Macrae (still a sergeant after a demotion a book or so go) isn’t technically working with Steele but she keeps popping up and seems to think he is. There’s a dead girl, missing paedophiles, the dead girl’s mother, ex-girlfriend causing problems despite and in part because she is in a coma, burglars and druggies. It exhausts the cops—and as you are travelling with them all the way, expect to feel like you’re on a rollercoaster road with the on switch stuck. MacBride as usual has wonderful alive characters that jump off the page (sometimes you want to scream at them as much as the hero), great Scottish accents. A great read—just not if you have a hangover.
Thursday January 15th
The One Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
This book topped the charts for a long while in Canada (and presumably Sweden) but I haven’t really heard of it doing much elsewhere. In part this may be because of its ludicrously long name (which is really perfect for the book…) or difficulties in marketing it: I kept seeing it as a film like Fish Called Wanda, starring Bilbo Baggins, but part World According to Garp (or really any of Irving’s novels, preferably one with an elephant), The Eight (it rips through history in a highly original way!).
As a role model for how to grow old disgracefully—but with charm and style—this is a must for everyone aiming for their 100th birthday. It is ludicrous—but it’s hard not to go with the flow and turn the page to see what hilarious adventure occurs both in current time and in the parallel story of Allan Karlsson’s past. He finds himself in multiple wars across the globe (and on both sides) and often these contacts fortuitously turn up later to help him out. We could all learn something from the hero’s attitude to the world…though the police force may disagree.
A feel good read that will leave you with a smile on your face.
Thursday January 8th
NONFICTION: CRIME AND MENTAL ILLNESS
In keeping with the Aus Women Writer’s Challenge one of my reviews today is a recent release by Melbourne journalist ex-lawyer Julie Szego. The other is an older book I just read recently as part of my research for the sequel to Medea’s Curse (out January 28th!) by a Professor of Psychiatry about her own bipolar disorder. Both great reading. Enjoy!
The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama by Julie Szego
I am not much for true crime books—Helen Garner’s being the exception—and picked this up because I am a friend and colleague of the author’s sister. I am not sorry—even reading the acknowledgements at the front, where she thanks Garner for her help and support I knew I was not in for a salacious read but a thought provoking account of how badly our system can go wrong.
I had heard and read the media reports about the trial and had thought it was a (relatively) straight forward forensic science contamination stuff up. In some ways it was (though not the usual lab contamination) but this story is much more. It is about the Somali culture, about prejudices about blacks, loose women and to a lesser degree mental illness—and most chillingly, about how smart people, well intentioned people doing their job—don’t think hard or laterally and go at things as hard as they should, in part because of prejudice but also because (not explored really in the book but my own belief having been in a similar situation at times) we accept what we are told. Just like the psychology students who did what they were told even though they believed they were harming someone in the next room.
The book risked being diminished by Farah refusing early on to be involved (because he wanted to write his own story, and it was his story, until Szego made it something different, in a way that I doubt he could): like Szego I will read his account if and when it ever comes out, but that will be sure to include the time in prison when he was innocent which she can only imagine. What Szego does is takes us through our culture and how it came up against the Somali, helps us to get a little insight into their reticence to divulge and trust (having had a number of patients from this culture, her insights will be helpful in an ongoing way), and into the legal process. Perhaps because she is a lawyer there was a sense of justice prevailing and intelligence and good sense finally winning, but she was harsh enough on those who didn’t get it right—but as with the scientists, she is generous and understanding about the why and how.
A compelling story I couldn’t put down: Garner now has a protégée.
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Mood and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction and that which I do, tends to be psychiatric in nature, courtesy of me being a mental health professional. Like Life of I (on narcissism) and Confessions of a Sociopath (on psychopathy, the book I get most “likes” on my Goodreads review, by a country mile). This is as the title suggests, an autobiography of the author’s mental illness. There is a lot she doesn’t tell us about I would be interested in: from Wiki she is a psychologist, with an almost unheard of (in Australia anyway) appointment as a Professor of Psychiatry. That’s actually an interesting aside in this book—psychiatrists and psychologists seem to play very similar roles in the mental health system in the USA. Both have their “own” inpatients and ask each other to consult. Not so in Australia: because all inpatient mentally ill people have medication, all are under psychiatrists. Psychologists are much more likely to be generic case managers, though in some instances will be asked for specific skills eg CBT or neuropsychology assessments. Mostly they are in the community treating neurosis and leaving psychosis to psychiatrists (a small number of who also or instead, do psychotherapy like other people from any mental health background).
Anyway, Jamison is a highly respected academic, clinician and researcher. She also has bipolar (manic depression). And let’s be very clear about it because she is—when she is unwell she is very unwell—“mad”—and when she is well, and taking lithium which she attributes to saving her life, she is very well.
This is a straightforward story that shows all the highs and lows of the disorder, the tendency to avoid medication, the desperate desire for the highs and the costs of the lows. It is poignant and brave—all the more so for the stigma of “coming out” having such an enormous stigma within our profession. To admire her goes without saying: this is a must for everyone who cares for the mentally ill, everyone who has bipolar and all the rest of you who knows someone with bipolar (it affects 1%–higher amongst artists/writers and I see a number of barristers with it, so you just may not know!).
Thursday January Ist
My NY resolution- join the Aus Women Writers (badge above) and read and review Australian Women Writers – though I will be reading and reviewing others too!
Happy New Year everyone – hope your resolutions include lots and lots of reading! Including Medea’s Curse out on January 28th (can pre-order on Amazon or at Text…)
Okay for your January reads until then – a Sophie Hannah review! She’s on the bookshelves for her writing an Agatha Christie book (which I haven’t read) – here’s some of her thrillers!
I like some more than others, all well worth a read and some really excellent (as long as you don’t mind a slightly hysterical heroine). Enjoy!
The Telling Error by Sophie Hannah
Just finished this after resenting have to put it down to sleep (or eat or doing anything else!). It’s an easy read so I did manage it over two days, and a definite page turner. As a psychological crime thriller it’s one of the better, complex plot but better still, complex characters and psychological interplays. It wasn’t perfect—as always the end section is perhaps less strong than the rest of the book, but on the other hand not as disappointing as many. It’s easier to create tension than to bring things together in a satisfying and believable way. In this there are so many complex flawed characters it is probably inevitable that some are better than others. For me, the main woman, Nicki, who is the only sections we see form first person, is the most authentic. At times we are right in her shoes and feeling her angst, even though we don’t until later quite understand why she is into self-destruction. I have had a known a number of people sadly like her; perhaps not as extreme, but the same core here makes the character totally authentic. I found the true villain and sub-villains a little less believable, but regardless, the author has put forward plausible reasons for them being as they are. The plot is wonderfully intricate and subplots and characters are woven around each other artfully.
Overall—a thrilling read that is satisfying and reminds me why I love the genre.
The Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah
Filling in the holes in this series I read this one out of order though they do well by themselves (Simon and Charlie’s relationship however, really is bordering on unbelievable-him I can just accept, but why she puts up with it isn’t at all clear). This thriller started off well, focused around a documentary on women (apparently) falsely convicted of child murder/infanticide. There was some good bits and I think she was trying to make some interesting points but it sadly got lost and went off towards a frankly unbelievable conclusion that took away any of the earlier positives. Not in the same league as some of the others though still a somewhat annoying hysterical heroine.
Lasting Damage by Sophie Hannah (Culver 5)
Somehow I missed that this was a series and have read the latest and several early ones without some in between. Seems to be some overlap between characters but can’t recall her earlier ones now so not sure if they’re all (Simon and in this one, recent wife Charlie and her sister, Gibbs and Sam) are in them all but I’d certainly met them before (and they continue to be infuriating but never dull). This one like the last I read sets a cracking pace with loads of action and pathology. Her female characters (well the main heroine in this and the Telling Error and probably Little Face) have a sameness—somewhat hysterical and misguided—but they’re likeable enough mostly and the story in this engrossing if rather farfetched.
Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah (Book 7)
This, the Telling Error and The Carrier are the highlights of this series—great pathology exploration of female friends and extended families, lots of twists and a cracking pace. The weakest point for me was the hypnotherapist—narcissistic and overvalued and a little unbelievable in the end. But worth a read if you want a page turner!
The Carrier by Sophie Hannah (book8 Culver valley crime series)
Like most of Hannah’s books in this she explores what lies beneath the surface and in relationships. In this one there is plenty of pathology—right up there with Gone Girl in relationships, both the one with the dead women and with the would be new girlfriend! I enjoyed this one—a smart (but as usual slightly hysterical) woman who runs her own company and doesn’t suffer fools (no one would really say some of the things she says to Lauren (as much as we might want to) even though she is even more hysterical and annoying. But Hannah manages to pull together an unlikely killing of a terminally ill woman in with a plane delay in Germany and it’s a lot of fun getting there.
Thursday 25th December
Wondering what to download on your new Kindle? Here’s some suggestions!
Hope you have a great Christmas and if you didn’t get any books- go out and buy some!
I have an odd selection here as I’m doing the end of year trying to clear out things, so bound to be something you like.
Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin
I’m a late discoverer of Rankin—good thing about books is you can always catch up!
Rebus is back—as a DS, to Siobhan’s DI status (a telling tale of why it pays to adhere to the rules…)—and so are some of his old mates from when he was a DC in a section where they called themselves the Saints of the books title. Except they weren’t…
This is Rankin at his best. Great array of flawed characters and interwoven plots from past and present. Drugs, small time crooks and bigger time business men and politicians who may not be squeaky clean—nor are their kids it seems. A fast paced engrossing read.
Cold is the Grave by Peter Robinson
Reading this in France in an unusually cool August, on route to walk in Yorkshire where this is set, this was more spine chilling than warming! This is the middle of a series of novels based around DI Alan Banks—I haven’t read any others but will now look out for them. The author is very competent in pulling us in and having the pages turn; you don’t always know where he’ll take you but you sure as hell want to find out. A lot of police force friction, a wayward Chief Constable’s daughter, some dead low life criminals and things wind around each other and escalate. At times very considered and a little wordy, it still manages to keep the pace up and have you feel nervous (and cold) about walking the moors…
Death on a Galician Shore by Dominigo Villar
I was short of reading material on a recent holiday in France and thanks to previous tenants of the farmhouse I was in, got to choose from a selection I might not otherwise have found. This one was translated from Spanish and set in Northwest Spain so I could picture the region from the last section of my Camino walk three years ago. A somewhat depressed cop who can’t quite get his life in gear, watching his uncle die and father grow old, is the unlikely hero but compelling enough all the same. Definitely not Poiret but not quite Columbo either. The author brings the Spanish fishing village alive and while there aren’t many twists nor fast paced action, I enjoyed this for its evocative sense of person and place; and the story in the end was more than readable.
Killing Hope by Keith Houghton
This is written in first person by Gabe Quinn (and there are two more Gabe Quinn books after this and the author recommends reading in order. The voice hooks you in and mostly I wanted to keep reading (and did), but early on I decided that perhaps thrillers rather than cop procedural thrillers was more my thing. Then I thought maybe it was that I was just over serial killers. Always something I couldn’t quite put my finger on that didn’t quite work for me. Its fast paced, the hero interesting and there are often things he’s thinking or does that we are left up in the air about (for a while, the author comes back to it!) which mostly worked well to keep you reading but might have been problematic if you don’t read as fast as me because I don’t know if I’d have retained them. Then there’s the ending which didn’t really work for me. I think he self publishes and if so this is better than a lot but I can’t help but feel a more thorough structural edit might have helped.
Thursday 18th December
Great work from new Aussie author!
Hades by Candice Fox
I’d looked at this a few times and kept feeling it was semi-futuristic or at least quasi-Hunger Games type world (and while I liked the Hunger Games, it isn’t usually my thing) and then put it down again, but when looking at Angela Savage’s & Sue William’s list of shortlistings for the Ned Kelly I thought I needed to read a recent winner—as this did in 2014 for best debut novel.
I am glad I did! I know why I had the impression I did and I wasn’t entirely wrong – I guess more inspired perhaps by those types of worlds, but Hades is clearly contemporary, and clearly Sydney, though just where the underworld of Utulla tip is …well wherever you want to imagine it (“on the ragged edges of the Western suburbs”). Fox creates a fabulously rich and believable microcosm—a world we can see and fear and be fascinated by. She builds tension, entwines stories and has us routing for (or not…) her characters as they crash through at full pace to an exciting climax. I read it on the way to Sydney (and in bed that night) and bought the sequel Eden which I read on the way home (and undoubtedly in bed tonight!).
A very impressive book – and would be even if it wasn’t a debut.
Eden by Candice Fox
Okay this took me an extra night to finish, but was compelled to do so. Another page turner where we follow Eden going under cover and the story of missing girls who all stayed in a dead beat community Eden now joins. Juxtaposed with these chapters are first person account from her police partner, Frank, who as well as running the operation is recovering from his girlfriend being murdered and doing some work on the side for Hades, Eden’s crime king “father”. To add to the richness, we also follow Hades himself from young boy to disappearance of the girl he loved—the work on the side, because this is who Frank is trying to find. It sounds complicated and I guess it is, but the stories intertwine, are easy to follow and each one brings its own level of suspense and interest. I look forward to more work from this author.
Thursday December 11th
Two comfortable page turning reads as we head into the holiday season (down under anyway). On the Book Club last week (ABC television) the Summer beach reads were generally a good deal longer than either of these two books – but these fit into the wind down and don’t have to think types.
Damage by Felix Francis
Reading a Felix Francis book is like slipping on the bedroom slippers and returning to familiar comfortable territory—you know what to expect and are unlikely to be disappointed. That is I guess if like me you read all his Dad’s books and made the transition as the mantle was handed over.
We’re in the racing world (naturally) and mayhem of even greater than usual order is occurring and the racing body are being pretty inept. Our hero works under cover to save the day, with his sister having cancer/her stepson’s legal issues and the will he propose or leave Lydia all simmering in the background. Nothing startling—bedroom slippers not Manolo Blahniks. But sometimes what you need for the occasion.
The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson
Okay, hated the title (presumably inspired by Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but like the Observer said on the cover, it was hard not to read in one sitting- so I did. A solid debut novel, readable, page turning and with twists, it engages you from the start and holds onto you despite you seeing the trainwreck this slightly pathetic hero that never got over his first love is getting onto. The story if strong enough to make up for the hero who is just a little too passive and a loser for my liking (though he does pull his finger out, is honest to cops and does see the value of his on/off girlfriend, this is never quite enough for me), as well as the somewhat up in the air ending…but a worthwhile read. That said, posting this some months later, I find I can’t recall it: one of the challenges of page turners I think; if you’re too busy racing ahead you don’t retain as much.
Thursday December 4th: A Stephen White Fest!
Love this author- have reviewed all the Alan Gregory series previously and this is now it – with an added bonus extra book that stands alone- Kill Me. Loved it!
Last Lie by Stephen White
Okay I read this out of order (damn it was hard to work out!) and got to meet the neighbours from hell that were referenced in a later book…..Plenty of action (all starts out when Alan isn’t invited to his neighbour’s house warming. Big mistake though he would have worked it out too fast if he had been). All around a rape, it brings in psychotherapy supervision and what jumps off the page is that White knows what he’s talking about. Yes its fiction but he’s lived this and that helps the reader be sucked in and believe this really could happen in Boulder. Though whenever I stop I think: really? Not the Boulder I have stayed in with friends and had Thanksgiving there!
Line of Fire by Stephen White
After reading this I read it is his penultimate …. Something like 18th in the series and sadly only the 4th I’ve read because I’ve been singularly unsuccessful in getting the order right, partly because they aren’t all available on Amazon in kindle. Having read Lee Child’s Jack Reacher’s from 1 to 18 sequentially over about six weeks it’s sad not to have been able to do the same with this series… particularly as they develop the back story far more than Child does. So this one…well there is never a dull moment! Sometimes my husband complains about me having too many threads and plots…well in this White was on a roll and running! From chaos and action in one aspect of Alan Gregory’s life with lurch to the same in another. All the regulars are there with more of therapist colleague with PTSD, Diane, than I had seen before (though it’s clear she has had a big role in earlier books). Cop friend Sam’s crime comes back to haunt them…and let’s just say a lot happens everywhere and while I saw it coming it was clear White is tying things up. Now I need a drink to recover.
Compound Fracture by Stephen White
I knew this was the end and as he raced towards the climax in the Line of Fire the pace continues here, tying up loose ends and give us plenty of stuff we never saw coming. He had me wondering all sorts of things, some of which didn’t occur (thank goodness because I figured he could have done anything and just about does). Twists and turns as the Prosecutor from Hell is after him and he isn’t sure Sam can be trusted. And if his kid doesn’t have PTSD before this book they will now!
Kill Me by Stephen White
I am a White fan, having read all the Alan Gregory series that I could get on kindle and then recently sidelining into The Siege which takes Alan’s cop friend into a story of his own. I hadn’t realized this was a Gregory novel – it too is a bit of a sideline because in this Gregory had a bit part, and our hero is …well actually I don’t think we ever know his name (told in first person) and I only just realized! So as I said, I am a White fan and this isn’t going to change that – to the contrary, it takes his books to a new level. I’m still wiping the tears away.
I loved it, though I only chose it because of the author – from the blurb it didn’t sound like my type of book. The hero is the same character as the quadriplegic in Jo-Jo Moyes’s Me Before You (a complete tear jerker), but before he became disabled. How to describe? Yes it is a page turner, a thriller like nothing I’d read before. There is tension but not about who did it but when. A chase and a quest where it becomes more complicated and more tense in the last third as all good thrillers do, with twists that aren’t straight out of writing class 101 or even 909. This is one the surface superficial thriller, but really a book about relationships, love and loss. Oh wow. Don’t miss it.
Thursday 27th November
In the Morning I’ll be Gone by Adrian McKinty : Part Crime Thriller with a dash of Police Procedural and a Sprinkling of Gripping Politics
I’ve read the first two Sean Duffy police dramas set in the Troubles of Northern Ireland and really enjoyed them: this one is even better. McKinty somehow manages to wind a “locked room murder” in rural Ireland amongst M15 and a hunt for IRA escapees and what I think (it was a long time ago and I was young…) are some real factual threats that existed back then and nearly did real damage. He moves seamlessly between fact and fiction, big plot and smaller (but just as gripping in either), the pages keep turning and we are totally there with Sean Duffy who I think is part McKinty part Hunter S Thompson and who is very busy using up his nine lives…but fear not, just when you thought either the peelers (Irish police, one of the many titbits you get from the books) have had enough of Duffy or visa versa, something is going to happen to ensure they are locked together, for better and worse.
Thursday 20th November
JACK CAFFERY SERIES: MO HAYDER
Birdman by Mo Hayder
This is Hayder’s first novel is what was to become the Jack Caffery series; so this is where I started! Published in 2000 back when serial killers were the thing it was probably one of the best of this bunch. I am a bit over serial killers but wanted to start at the beginning and wasn’t sorry I did. Hayder does the relationship in the background well and this developed and is clearly going to continue to do so; DI Caffery is on the job from the first finding of the bodies, and battles another DI brought on board, but less so than his own demons of survivor guilt (not the only fictional crime character to have lost a sibling who is still an unsolved crime, but it adds to the grist and this mill is busy!). After finding the killer the police find things are more complicated than they thought and the plot weaves to bring in Caffery’s new squeeze as the tension increases and the end has a satisfying moral aspect/reflection that I suspect Hayder will return to. I’ll be looking for the series even though my preference isn’t for crime procedurals, largely because her writing is good and there is a string dose of the psyche of Caffery and his relationships, even if less about the criminal’s.
The Treatment by Mo Hayder (Jack Caffery 2)
Following on from the last book Jack is now in a relationship with Rebecca (who is struggling with dealing with what happened to her at the hands of the bad guy in the last one) and Jack continues to be obsessed with his brother who disappeared years earlier. This story has a very nasty paedophile at work which plays off and into the brother issue; and there are some very nasty developments there too. It is well written and a page turner, but not for the weak stomached or probably anyone with children! I found it hard to not really squirm—particularly with how the brother subplot develops. Slight spoiler- the end we know more than Jack and is to say the least unsettling. Don’t expect a happy ever after…
Ritual by Mo Hayder (Jack Caffery 3)
There is some masterly writing here; despite actively disliking Jack Caffery through most of this book, I still wanted to keep reading, and really liked it (best of the 3). He’s still on about his missing brother (whose demise we found out about in book 2 but he doesn’t know) but not as much, but he’s a self destruct course and it was hard not to wish he’d hurry up (using prostitutes was probably the deciding negative for me; I mean the man can’t maintain a friend let alone a relationship).
So why did I like it?
- Great story: both the main one with African muti (and its occasional hints of being real but nothing too much to swallow) and the subplot of Flea finding out about her parents.
- Flea—great heroine, troubled of course, but all the dive stuff is really engrossing.
- As always, fast paced and page turning
- Liked the Walking Man too…and Mo Hayder’s explanation at the back. Really good, rich stuff from real life.
- Okay Caffery slightly redeems himself…
Skin by Mo Hayder (Jack Caffery 4)
This continues on directly from the last, weaving the secret Jack is keeping for Flea in with extra help from the Walking Man and the Tolokoshe (we met in the African rituals of the last book). The new story is a psychopathic killer that ties in with another witness to what Flea did earlier, making for an intricate high paced thriller.
Gone by Mo Hayder
Have just downloaded Jack Caffery 6 & 7 (OMG I hope she’s still writing them…). Totally hooked. Hayder winds themes through the series so that things keep popping up, hinting at a possible relationship between Flea and Caffery (yeah, right…) then heads them off in wildly different directions. Car and child napping in this one…not the usual sexual sadist plot, and she had me guessing until near the end. A great depiction of grieving families, a police force barely holding it together and a cop trapped underground that keeps the pace rushing a along.
Poppet by Mo Hayder (Jack Caffery 6)
Jack and Flea are back and (thank goodness) we finally get some resolution on the long standing crime that has stood between them. Don’t get too excited though—this is the dysfunctional Jack (and Flea isn’t much better) so don’t expect candles and a HEA ending…! We have a new character, a psych nurse AJ who we follow around a fair bit, Penny who it takes a while to slot into the story, and a psychiatric hospital as the background for a number of unexplained deaths. I enjoyed this book but it was one of her least convincing—perhaps because I work in a psych hospital and it wasn’t quite right, but more that the two characters that explain all that happens were not very believable.
Wolf by Mo Hayder (Jack Caffery 7)
This is the latest in the series and I am hoping not the last though it may be- no HEA ending but she tied up the outstanding issues with Flea and Jack last book, and finally reveals to him the knowledge we have had since about book two regarding his brother. Rather brutally. This book has a nasty home invasion and a nasty killer(s) with plenty of twists. The home invasion had me feeling quite uneasy…tension is well written and though the end a little contrived/unbelievable, by and large a satisfying read. Book 3 & 4 remain my favourites. I’ll keep my fingers crossed about another but meantime the author has other books not in the series!
Thursday 13th November
Leaving Time by Jodie Picoult
I have read all of Piccoult’s and loved the poignant take on families and dynamics and important issues- sadly I can’t say that of this one. The characters were largely unbelievable (even before the twist), Thomas’s mental illness poorly researched (he had schizophrenia, not bipolar, though she intermittently suggest his mental state is all just trauma. Oh please!) and the only thing that feels real is the passion for the plight of elephants which was interesting to a point. Yes she has an easy reading style too but this without any of her usual pithy insights into human relationships (the grief discussions might be accurate for elephants, I wouldn’t know, but didn’t feel real for humans). Okay but why was I really pissed off? Can’t tell you because it’d be a spoiler, but REALLY? Didn’t do it for me: I guess it will be to some people’s taste but I felt tricked and unsatisfied.
Thursday 6th November (oops…Friday, I’m running late…)
Fall From Grace by Tim Weaver
I read the first four in one hit, so David Raker (5) was a year in the waiting. But I was back with him in an instant. This is a PI who does missing people: action, twists and a lot of relationship pathology—though not his own (brief reference to dead wife and ex-girlfriend-neighbour) though his daughter gets dragged into it (unnecessarily I think). I didn’t pick it (well I actually picked one big part but certainly not it all) and at times the plot did my head in (ok I had had a margarita as I was racing to the conclusion) but I enjoyed it. End of the day? Weaver is a good story teller.
All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke
This has two parallel stories from a cop and lawyer perspective, each told from close third (female) person. I’ll try not to do a spoiler…but it did occur to me that when we follow one character we expect them to still be alive at the end. Same rule may not apply in this format…
Set in and around New York/ NY State we have repeat murder with a strange unique style happening years after while the apparent perpetrator is still in gaol. Next thing he’s out, the cops want him back and his lawyer (the junior one) wonders if perhaps he did kill her sister after all and she should have stayed in the plush job she left. She should have and motive wise is a weak part of the story—there is no good reason for her to take on the case as soon works out.
So—did the bad guy that was put away actually do it and therefore who is the copycat, and who killed her sister if it isn’t either of them? We weave in and around past and present with some very current menace and a very irritating celebrity lawyer –when the end comes we know who did it in advance but probably not until two thirds the way through.
I didn’t enjoy it as much as an earlier Burke I read. Mostly because there were too many long pages on fairly dull dialogue and the characters weren’t quite real.
Thursday 30th October
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I didn’t specially like the cover and hated the title. It had the ‘shortlisted for the Booker’ which can mean unreadable and stultifying or brilliant. So I opened with trepidation and only because it had been given to us.
Never judge a book by its cover…
I was captured and captivated by the first paragraph: this book is simply beautiful. It made me think (a lot), cry (if sniffles included then an amount) and laugh (quite a bit). The voice (first person narrative) is quirky and special. The family quirky and irritating and makes you full of sadness for all the things that could have been, yet survivors and fighters and you can’t miss every round with them. All her characters are rich and alive and people we really want to meet even if it meant getting swept up into their chaos. Fowler has found a very special way of shaking us and making us really feel and think, about ourselves and our families and our society. About what is really important.
It isn’t perfect—the story and momentum fell off at the end though she pulls it back for the actual end. I read some of the people who didn’t like it on Goodreads (part of me wondered whether we had read the same book) and the style perhaps doesn’t suit everyone. For me the twist was a ‘oh’ –not like the AHHHH twist in a thriller—but then gave such a deeper perspective to everything. And it worked in part for me because I had seen a somewhat upsetting documentary (she mentions it at the end in her further info) so I had some insight into how well she was portraying the story (sorry to be obtuse but important to not do a spoiler), which clearly some of those who didn’t like it, didn’t get.
For me though, at risk of being unAustralian, this deserved the Booker.
Thursday October 23rd
The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid
I had tickets to go with my daughter to see the author come out to promote this book but ended up sending her with her boyfriend as it turned out it was my husband’s book launch night as well. They enjoyed her talk, even if they were younger than most (and possibly the only non-50 plus women with short grey hair) and my daughter usually enjoys her books but was disappointed this wasn’t another in the Tony/Carol story.
McDermid clearly wants to experiment and perhaps is bored with the same old same old (even though that’s what her readers want). Northanger Abbey (rewrite/modern take) certainly suggested this—I passed on that but was prepared to give this a go. Part police procedural with a Scottish woman detective, part war memoir-love story (Balkans, the 90’s) and part spy novel (lawyer would bes working with the international war crime commission trying not to get sacked), it has different sections that end up all tying in, but makes it tricky with names and recalling who is who initially.
In the end the police procedural section was by far the most interesting and engaging—the memoir/love story was all ‘told’ and I never felt a part of it or really felt for either Maggie or Mitja. Likewise the Balkan conflict didn’t really engage me as we were too distant in time from it (I mean in the book, not in real time).
I’m hoping for more Tony and Carol, however dysfunctional—I feel for them.
Thursday October 16th : Ian Rankin: why hadn’t I read him before?
The Falls by Ian Rankin
I thought I had maybe read a Rankin years ago and thought it too gritty/male/dour Scottish but forced indoors on a supposed summer (well it was Europe) holiday and scouring the farmhouse bookshelves I can up with this and another Rankin. It wasn’t what I had thought; rather a dense story with complex characters, lots of interplay between the cops and none of the Scottish brogue or excessive male cop grittiness and blood and guts either. Okay, it was Scottish, so dour does come to mind. Rebus, Rankin’s hero is an alcoholic and I got a bit sick of Laphroiag with a drizzle of water but he’s an interesting character, as are Siobhan Clarke who in this gets embroiled in an internet quiz game that definitely added to the pace and intrigue. All in order to find a missing girl there’s an historical quest too, a fascination with body snatchers, bad family blood and a touch of witchcraft. There is a reason Rankin is a best seller; a good read.
Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin
My second of Rankin’s novels with John Rebus, and enjoyed this even more than the last. Rebus is even more difficult than usual (but does occasionally have OJ instead of Lahroiag), with a great story that keeps you thinking right up until pretty much the last page. “Resurrection Men” refers to cops on their last warning sent back to school. Only this lot aren’t keen on graduating with honours. Meantime Siobhan Clarke is working a murder and red herrings and side plots wrap around each other, involving call girls, cab companies, art works and big time crims. Oh and the odd drug bust. Amazingly, it all comes together in the last few pages. Very satisfying.
Thursday October 9th: Stephen White’s Alan Gregory series – 4 more reviewed
Love this series…Gregory is a believable likeable but flawed character, Sam his cop friend likewise, and the psychotherapy/patient angle always holds my attention, but there’s plenty of action and twists too.
Warning Signs by Stephen White
Okay this one follows The Program, and Alan has a six month old baby. Just in case you want to do a better job than I did of working out what order to read them in!
This one has us pulled in by an unlikeable patient who we can still identify with—is her son planning the next Columbine or equivalent? Because the kid’s beef is with lawyers, Lauren may be a target, and Gregory’s usual infallible sense of judgement goes a bit haywire (put in down to male postnatal depression or at least postnatal protectiveness).
Sam’s partner Lucy is under suspicion for another murder and a mother in this one is a rival for fiction’s all time worst (in my vote it’s Cathy in east of Eden, but this one is up there in the same ball park). Lots of action and a high body count, and there isn’t a dull moment.
Blinded by Stephen White
In this Alan Gregory takes on a challenging patient and is soon worried about someone listening in to his sessions. The married couple from hell (think Gone Girl with sex games…) tie him and Sam up in knots, and as usual the pace is cracking and it’s hard to put down!
Spoiler alert re back story but read on if you want to orientate/ have read out of order; Sam breaks up with his wife and meets Carmen in this one and Grace is a toddler.
The Siege by Stephen White
This book takes a step away from the Alan Gregory novels (around two thirds through I think) in Boulder, following Sam Purdy (Alan’s cop friend) on a trip to the east coast where he is meant to be at a party with his pregnant girlfriend Carmen but she’s on bed rest so he’s there alone. A little far-fetched, he gets roped into helping the hostess through hostage crisis (she has loads of money and I think she’d have picked someone other than a cop she doesn’t know who has been suspended, and Sam looks like a cop…the small town (originally from Minnesota) overweight variety which I don’t think would inspire confidence). The hostage is actually the daughter and this takes Sam to Yale, my old hunting grounds (a sabbatical) so it was great to visualize the whole thing. We follow also Poe and Dee, FBI and CIA agents who aren’t meant to be there but can’t keep away from the action, or each other.
Missing Persons by Stephen White
I read this one a while ago and realised it was missing in my reviews! In this one a local psych is found dead by Alan and practice partner Diane who is arrested. There’s also a story about girls going missing at Christmas (it snows a lot in this series…) and of course Alan (and Sam) end up to their arm pits in suspense and action. Now well into the series, White is writing with skill; we know the characters but they don’t get boring and the plot is always enough to keep us reading.
If you have to accept some bits that are unlikely, it’s worth it. The characters are well drawn and there’s plenty of action to make it readable. There are tense moments though overall not so much in the way of twists or surprises which leaves the end a little flat, but good enough writing, story telling and character development for me to continue to look for more of this writer on kindle.
Thursday October 2nd : Let Her Go by Dawn Barker
This might be my last review of Aussie books – soon to become one of those myself I don’t want to upset any of my fellow authors (though I try always to be constructive, and also try to read only books that I think I’m going to like!).
Let Her Go isn’t a psychological thriller (my preferred reading), and nor was her first- Fractured – though it was said to be by one reviewer at least. They are psychological dramas (not page turning twists), somewhat in the style of Jodie Piccoult- important issues of our times, family dramas and the impacts and ripples of decisions that have unforeseen circumstances.
Let Her Go is a thoughtful finely observed story about surrogacy – but in a family that is well intentioned (so no paedophiles leaving a twin in Asia) and how the effects of decisions went through and impacted on the next generation. Real, well developed characters that are nicely developed and a story that while it might not have twists, you don’t always know exactly where its heading.
Thursday 25th September
The Rosie Effect launched yesterday!
I left the author Graeme Simsion in the middle of the city prior to the signing at Reader’s Feast, clutching 50 red roses wrapped in blue paper handing them to random strangers…
I was the first person to read it – honestly, while maybe not quite as funny (but then I did know all the laughs as I’d heard all the scenes whilst in the writing) I think its better. Warm, quirky, full of heart. Don is his usual alienated self trying to fit in. No I don’t think Rosie is horrible (as some early readers have suggested) – hell, how would you be in NY, no family supports, pregnant and trying to do a medical course and submit a PhD…and pregnant! Just the PhD would (and has been) enough to make me a little cranky!
Its not a romance but there are romantic bits, bits to help readers try and understand quirky nerdy guys and their mates and their struggles.
A lovely light read with depths to be plumbed. A more than a giggle … some funny scenes in planes, delivery suites …well sort of, childrens playgrounds and antenatal classes …and Sonia is a gem.
Shouldn’t be missed!
Thursday 18th September
The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day
A debut novel, this is divided into three parts (though not for an obvious reason) told alternatively by Amelia Emmet, a tenured university professor, and Nath(aniel) Barber her assistant/student. Its set is a Chicago university and revolves around why 10 months earlier a student she didn’t know shot Amelia and then killed himself.
This is not a book of especially rising tensions or detective work, though it has both elements. I was amazed at how much I had read with not much extra being found out, yet it didn’t overly worry me until perhaps towards the end of section two when we had wallowed perhaps a little too much in Amelia’s physical pain and psychological angst, as well as Nath’s feelings of inadequacy. But the author does it well and it a setting of genuine academe where tensions of both unmet lust and success do tend to be entwined. I can really picture this university on the banks of the lake and feel the menace.
In the last section things speed up and rap up; I didn’t pick it until close to the end and though it seemed a little unlikely, it was satisfying enough; overall it was a good read, with the setting the characters stronger than the plot but enough of the latter to keep you reading. Now some time later, I still remember this novel, far more than the other two reviewed today.
The Lie of You: I Will Have What if Mine by Jane Lythell
Alternating between two female protagonists, one heroine and one villain, we know from the start Heja is a stalker. What transpires is why and then where is leads her. There are some good moments in this; we easily identify with Kathy, however simple and naïve she is. Heja in being more realistic probably isn’t as creepy as she could be; certainly what she is doing is enough to make any mother’s hair stand on end, yet it doesn’t quite. More unease. Markus is suitably distant and irritating without being evil, simplistic or one dimensional. More could have been made of the havoc Heja could have caused; it’s a bit disappointing when she pulls out and goes to plan B which is an anticlimax.
Nothing ground breaking but easy reading.
I’ll Find You by Nancy Bush
Okay. If you’re a romance reader (Mills and Boon variety) and like a bit of action, you’ll like this. It has the same style of Romance novels, and yes there is a romance as Callie is chased by West Laughlin while protecting a son that isn’t hers…Essentially I found the plot too implausible and I am over cults…and the romance was all right but not enough to carry it.
Thursday September 11th
Life or Death by Michael Robotham
I confess to being a bit ambivalent about starting this; I like Robotham’s books and his psychologist hero, and wasn’t sure what to expect from this, given it’s a move from his usual characters (psychologist and cop) and country (UK to USA and he’s Aussie); I have also met him and liked him so I wanted to like it!
My ambivalence was still there for maybe the first quarter. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I had heard him say he’d been inspired by the idea of someone escaping bail just before he was due to be released, and he’d been to US prisons down south to research it. But beyond that?
I was hooked once I decided I liked the lead male character, Audie Palmer, though for a long time we have no real idea if he’s a good guy or what he’s up to. It slowly unfolds, and as the past moves towards present I was increasingly hooked. By halfway I still didn’t know what to expect (and Robotham does do some unexpected things….not sure I’ll forgive him for one or two…) but was glued to the page. The pace increases, the body count grows, and don’t want to do a spoiler so just says it’s a mixed ending in the happiness stakes. I’m still looking forward to the next thriller in his series, but enjoyed this as an alternative.
House of Grief by Helen Garner
I am a fan of Garner—I like her style and how she and her life are insinuated into the facts in a way that makes true life situations she writes about that are almost too impossible to be true become real. This is about the Farquarson trials—the father convicted for driving and drowning his three sons ostensibly as revenge against his wife leaving him, keeping the car and finding a new man. Sounds trite reasoning but men have done this for less.
I had followed the trails in the media and was a little disappointed that there were no ‘new’ facts revealed in this (but if you don’t know it, obviously this won’t be an issue for you). I enjoyed her writing as always, perhaps would have liked some more reflection. Her uncertainty mirrored my own ‘what abouts’ and ‘what ifs’ – ones it seemed not shared by two juries. I am not sure I could ever be totally convinced on anything where there was some doubt (beyond reasonable doubt—what does that mean?)so perhaps it’s just as well I won’t ever be on a jury more than likely (my job is deemed an essential service—not the erotic writing…). What was particularly well done was the take on the lawyers and the wife. The sheer determination and dedication of the defence attorney was worthy of Perry Mason. And the wife? Wow…no one would wish what happened to her on their worst enemy. But as Garner notes, what does grief look like? And it doesn’t look the same on different people at different times. A harrowing story. I hope justice has been done. But in a dark damn in the middle of the night? I know I would have panicked. I pray that what that panic would look like is never put to the test. And guilty or not, living with the guilt is a cruel form of punishment.
Thursday September 4th
The Secret Place by Tana French
I loved her last book and I love this one even more. Beautifully written and crafted—love the characters, story, place. Maybe a return to the bitchy teenage years if you are female won’t be to your taste but it brought up memories for me that made me rethink things, and French just does it so well (and however bad your teenage years were, probably not as bad as this, though I might be wrong!). Set over a single day, French manages to use a subtle sense of time pressure and tension of being trapped in this girl’s school to keep us on the edge of the chair. Terrific tension between the two cops that has a great twist when the third (the father of one of the girls) arrives on the scene. Don’t miss it if you have any remote interest in a murder in a girl’s boarding school that explores what it is to grow up and what friendships are all about.
No Safe House by Linwood Barclay
He’s a reliable page turning writer and in that respect this doesn’t disappoint. This appears to be a sequel—I’m sure I’ve read the earlier one but can’t recall its name. In this the Prologue takes us right into the action though it’s a little while before we work out how the elderly teachers fit in with the protagonists, Terry, Cynthia and daughter Grace. They family are already peripherally involved with Vince the bad guy, but soon get dragged in deeper whether they like it or not. Plenty of tension and uncertainty about just who is doing what and why. A solid good read.
Thursday Thursday 28th
Personal by Lee Child
I read the first 18 Jack Reacher books in sequence over six weeks, but had to wait for this to come out eight months later!
Reacher is back, this one in first person, takes us I think for the second time to the UK. When other popular novelists take us to a new territory it is mostly unsuccessful—Child however does it effortlessly, undoubtedly because he was originally English. As usual the story of farfetched and Reacher himself does note it seems unlikely International security would be relying on a retired military cop (even less likely that one would save the day), though interestingly there is a semi-plausible reason given in the twist at the end. Action as always, plenty of bad guys and bloodshed and Reacher reiterating he is a psychopath (ie without guilt) but we overlook this because unlike Star Chamber and the real world, Reacher doesn’t make mistakes…I think it must tap into a deeply primitive revenge fantasy we can’t do but enjoy watching him play out.
Apart from implausibility about Reacher being better than Russian, English and American intelligence agencies, my only gripe is that Child hasn’t done his research about antidepressants. There is a running line about the heroine popping anti-anxiety meds. The way Child describes it, the medication should be valium. Instead he uses Zoloft, an antidepressant/antianxiety disorder medication that does NOT work the way he describes; you do not get instant relief (in fact stop-starting it is likely to cause agitation) but rather have to take consistently for at least two weeks to get any relief. It also annoys me that he talks about her not needing the pills because she is competent therefore doesn’t have to worry about it. Depression and anxiety disorders (as opposed to the anxiety we all feel eg before exams) are not like this—they are there biologically and probably genetically in spite of “reality”.
Thursday August 21st
Cold Case by Stephen White (Alan Gregory)
This was the one I read first though it’s well into the series (annoyingly). That said it stands up fine alone. Alan Gregory is a clinical psychologist working in Boulder Colorado with a pregnant DA wife with MS. They both get roped into helping with a cold case in their area; two murdered girls with a connection to a politician whose wife was murdered. There’s lots of action, some brief intelligent reflection, some good characters and overall a good read.
Dead Time by Stephen White
The author was clearly experimenting – and it works. We jump between a tale in the Grand Canyon to current time between Alan and his ex, with different POV that keep out interest. As does the Canon story (I had done this walk so that really added to my enjoyment). In the background his wife’s story develops, and adds to me finding it very annoying that these aren’t all on kindle, and hard to work out what order they are in! Plenty of Alan Gregory at his best- as well as nearly being at his worst; White makes him very real.
Dry Ice by Stephen White
Plenty of therapy gone wrong, action and suspense as White has a previous killer/stalker escape and Alan Gregory’s life, family and practice are under threat. There’s plenty of dramas in his family life and tension with his wife as well. What makes these so enjoyable is the pace, how everything is interwoven and that there is never a dull moment. Any therapist planning to put a fountain in their waiting room, advice from this- don’t!
Thursday August 14th
Cop Town by Karin Slaughter
I’ve been reading her since Blindsighted and continued to (despite the “letterbox incident” – I can’t recall which book and won’t do a spoiler but it took a bit of deep breathing to trust her again…actually I don’t, but then who wants to know where the thriller writer is going to take you next! I do trust her to write well!). So when Sisters in Crime had her speaking last week naturally I had to go. She’s quirky and a bit sassy in a southern Georgia style (cop style not Southern Belle) and it was a great night with a good audience. Someone else other than I commented on something I have said in my reviews about some other successful crime- thriller writers that start to believe their own hype and go unedited and off into their own narcissism so I don’t read them any more—not so with this author. After the “letterbox” incident she moved from Grant County to a bigger city and the story got bigger than local cops (ie FBI) but still gritty Georgian USA crime.
In this book she goes back to her roots or rather cop roots in Atlanta in the 70’s (so this isn’t in her Sara/Will series) and is grittier and more real than ever. It is hard to believe any female cop would have lasted had it been as bad as it is portrayed, but she interviewed the cops from back then, so maybe…
Characters are great, story adequate to show the people and the times, which is what this one is all about. I had to debrief after or else I might have caused a domestic/road rage/ got sacked …this aggro women rub off on you!
Thursday August 7th
Life of I by Anne Manne
A thoughtful and thought provoking book, meticulously researched and with excellent case examples piecing together why some people end up as they do; cases like the Norwegian mass murderer and also chilling discussion by the young American man who raped an intellectually disabled woman and showed no remorse (and thought she should be grateful)…but whose mother had sacked every nanny he had ever tried to attach to because of her own narcissistic needs.
She analyses these cases and why there seems to be much more of this type of “me” thinking in First World, including the influence of Ayn Rand on American politics. I suggest everyone really should read this book, particularly if they have to intend to have children.
THURSDAY JULY 31ST
What Came Before by Anne George
I have to admit to some conflict of interest in reviewing this; naturally I am trying not to let any bias get in the way, but…another debut Melbourne author in my genre whose book came out before mine! Sister’s in Crime have (bless them) are wonderfully supportive of new writers but I had actually read it before I went to hear her talk last week at Readings. So my conflict of interest? I don’t like to say negative things about anyone let alone someone I might have to face off across the room at another event (I hope)…(This doesn’t imply I want to say anything negative, just setting the scene!) and I liked her and she and another local author gave a great interview to sisters in crime interviewer!
So – she tackles an important topic (DV) and references (as I do in mine) recent relevant local cases (hers are different cases as mine isn’t about DV). Apparently she has been writing it ten years but it does read as a post Gone Girl type of story (which must have annoyed the bejeesus out of her!). It’s a “his / hers” version of events (I’ll try not to do a spoiler); after a fairly nasty and terminal type of event with moves between past and present in both him and her voices, and clear views of the friends (well her girlfriend anyway). Its competently written, and I kept wanting to read despite already knowing it wasn’t a happy ending (it wasn’t marketed as a romance!). It’s also short! No idea how many words but read it easily in a half day—I’ve a feeling it’s the 60,000 word push from editors, and maybe it’s right for this uncomplicated story (for a real thriller with twists definitely needs to be longer). So well observed psychopathology and though there’s a bit of a twist at the end I’d call it a psychological drama rather than thriller.
THURSDAY JULY 24TH
Three great Stephen White books – a series not to be missed if you like psychological aspects to your crime and plenty of background family stuff happening and developing
Harm’s Way by Stephen White
I’m not sure what number this one is…in the first third I think! Alan Gregory, intrepid psychologist is married to DA Lauren Crowder and Peter and Adrienne are still neighbours. Well until Peter is murdered that is; I knew this from reading later books in the series so finally got to see it play out. The highlight for this book for me was Adrienne—a bolshi Jewish urologist who calls a spade a f*ing shovel, she is a delight (even more so in what I think is the next, Remote Control). Unfortunately I know more about her too from later books than I would like (hence do read them in order!) but it didn’t stop me being delighted in her every time she’s on the page.
The story is convoluted and oscillates between serial killer versus copycat and an only just satisfying ending that pulled most of it together.
Remote Control by Stephen White
I have enjoyed all of the Alan Gregory series and this is one of the best. He’s a good story teller but his characters are even better. This is woven around one very cold night in Boulder (I shivered and felt oppressed by the snow storm for most of the book) and artful flashbacks that really help build the tension and turn and twist the plot. Lauren in in custody and hospital for most of the book, kept apart from husband Alan by cops and lawyers; White really makes us feel for her (she can barely see due to a flare up of her MS optic neurititis). But there is also Emma who she is trying to hide and a web of technology and Right to Lifers ominously hovering in the background. Adrienne the four foot ten urologist is again a gem, Sam proves his friendship and there isn’t a dull moment. The end is never as good as the journey but this one is less disappointing than many.
Manner of Death by Stephen White
Having technically finished this series (ie read the last one) once, it’s increasingly traumatic that I am feeling the same again. I had had to order a pile of all I couldn’t download as books (they aren’t in shops here in Aus) from Amazon and now the pile is looking sadly low. Worse that I know the ending…ahhhh.
Anyway this was a really good one, hence the angst about them finishing up! Still pre- becoming a father, but married to Lauren (she really should have left him…in this she only just survives) we get flashbacks to Alan Gregory’s early years in psychology and romance, with interactions with Swayer his first love, now a forensic psychiatrist. There’s plenty of action and the pace and tension builds. Throw in a wild cat, a long ago plane hijacker and a murderer(s) intent on getting rid of an entire psych team, there is plenty to keep your interest.
THURSDAY JULY 17TH
Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse
This is promoted as being like Gone Girl and it is in some ways- a pathological relationship – but without the psychological developments and subtleties. That said, it’s easy reading, a definite page turner and quite tense in spots. While there are twists of sorts at the end for readers of this genre they don’t come as major surprises but in many ways providing a more satisfactory resolution for a light read. This book won’t leave you thinking like Gone Girl might have, but it’s an enjoyable read.
The Memory Child by Steena Holmes
This book was based on quite a good idea, and the writing, that is the prose, it competent and readable. But… I had two major problems with it. Firstly, there are two “twists” but the first was very obvious and that led to the second twist as likely. Which meant that the whole premise was under question from the start and became annoying. The other thing that gave me the greatest problem may not be much of an issue for most people, and I guess there is artistic license. But as an expert (in my other life) in the mental illness that is the premise of this book, that it is incorrectly and implausibly portrayed made this book unworkable for me.
THURSDAY JULY 10TH
Twisted by Lynda La Plante
La Plante is capable of tense thrillers with tightly drawn characters and stories; this isn’t one of them. It’s readable, light, keeps the pages turning but there’s a strong sense of ‘been here before and it was better then.’ It’s hard to make a thriller novel and psychiatric illness as so much has already been written about, but there was old ground here in Dissociative Identity Disorder and though I didn’t saw all the twists, I saw most of them, and all before well they came. We’re drawn in I guess by the anguish of the parents but even that’s hard to identify with because of Lena’s brittleness and essentially that neither she nor her husband Marcus are all that likeable.
Natural Cause by James Oswald
He is “puffed” as the new Ian Rankin and like Stuart MacBride (who is his mentor and amusingly he names a character for) but I don’t find him like either- apart from being set in Scotland! Set in Edinburgh this introduces Inspector McLean (and there are two more so far). It is less obviously Scottish than the Aberdeen based MacBride’s books and less gritty and tongue in cheek. It is also easier reading, though the head count of bodies certainly isn’t! There’s a very slight hint of occult (aside from in the murder itself), some interesting characters though McLean himself is fairly beige. Light on the romance, more on his personal life though and more undoubtedly to develop.
A solid debut without being knockout.
THURSDAY JULY 3RD
I soooo love it when I find a series I haven’t read I like; hours of pleasure ahead! Last time (okay David Raker series didn’t count, there were only four) was last year when I stopped ignoring Lee Child’s books…18 fabulous reads and now hanging out for the new one in a month!
Stephen White was my most recent find, recommended by a psychologist friend. Good thing- they are great reads, with interesting characters, plots and absolute page turners, set in Boulder Colorado where I have stayed and gone walking with friends. Bad thing- unlike the Jack Reacher (Child) series, they aren’t numbered and worse still some aren’t available for down load and I had to order from Amazon (would rather support local book shop but haven’t ever seen him in them, despite having been on NY Times best seller list). This is particularly annoying because unlike Reacher (ok there are about three where it is better to read in order, when he briefly has a relationship) there is a lot of ongoing developing of back story; his relationship, child, neighbors and cop friend Sam. I read them out of order (including the end AHHH!) and will try as best I can to review them in order…There are two in the series that go off the main character, psychologist Alan Gregory, one with Lauren his DA will become wife (this is clear form beginning so I don’t think its much of a spoiler) and the other with Sam the cop at Yale.
Enjoy! I’m on my last one (which is actually in the middle of the series) so out looking for a new series soon!
Privileged Information by Stephen White
This is the first of the Alan Gregory novels. I couldn’t get it online so had to order off Amazon. If you have a chance, start here!!! The background personal life is always there and significant, and it was so hard meeting all these people when I knew what happened to them (mostly not good!) in subsequent books. Here he has just separated from his wife, meets his next, meets Sam Purdy inauspiciously though later he (a cop) even gets a book all of his own. Oh yes, and there’s loads of gripping front story too; several patients meeting untimely ends, the villain that is referred to and reappears in later books. It’s slightly over-written compared to his later books when he settles in to the flow, but great characters, location (Boulder) and page turning story. White himself is a psychologist and it shows- he knows his stuff.
Private Practices by Stephen White
This is the second in the Alan Gregory series. I see him starting to really hit his straps here. It is probably too dense (and he settles down in later books) but is rich with character development and back story that he does so well (but also why it is better to read in order!). Here Alan makes decisions about his love life, his neighbour Adrienne provides some wonderful wry humour (how could she not as a Jewish urologist whose job description is that she deals with dicks…). The friendship with cop Sam Purdy becomes cemented and in the foreground we move through snowstorms, unethical therapists, recordkeeping, buried memories and yep, some more problems with ethics. A great read.
Higher Authority by Stephen White (3)
This was my least enjoyed of this series. We mostly follow Lauren, Alan Gregory’s fiancée rather than him which is perhaps a little of the problem (Alan and side kick cop Sam Purdy get a bit of a gig mountain biking through Utah and Colorado), but mostly because the story is thinner than usual it feels dragged out. There is a loose psychological underpinning of Lauren’s ambivalence about being tied down, again not as strong as usual, but mostly the problem is White seems to be on a soap box about Mormons. I’m not religious and know next to nothing about them (never watched Big Love either) and at first it was interesting but then got boring and repetitive.
THURSDAY 26TH JUNE
Song for the Dying by Stuart MacBride
I think the Aberdeen police force must have as good and dry a sense of humor as MacBride. Either that or he no longer lives there and watches his back. Of course maybe they are as incompetent as in this book (and let’s face it if there was this much crime they’d be flat out) or else secretly identifying with all the things all this lot get away with. MacBride follows up Birthdays for the Dead with another Ash Henderson book; this time he gets pulled from prison, no longer a police officer but gets let loose to act like one, ditsy psychologist in tow (literally as he has an ankle bracelet that requires her to be close by). There’s a revenge needed for all the horrible Mrs. Kerrigan has done to him (this woman is strangely believable, perhaps because Melbourne had their very own couple of crime matriarchs) and continues to do to others (Aberdeen must need a fair number of psychologists for the amount of PTSD this police force would need, though given MacBride’s treatment of them it would be a wonder if anyone would bother). Then there’s the poor missing five year old, and that’s before we get to the main plot – the serial abduction and killing/attempted killing of nurses.
So yes there’s plenty of action, plenty of dry Scottish dour humor and a satisfying end. In the middle MacBride’s style can be hard work at times; no dialogue tags (I learnt a lot from him about this in his class at Brisbane writer’s festival but I think a few tags are good…), lots done through dialogue and little in the head or description which makes it difficult at times to keep up. Not one to read with a hangover.
Under the Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes
Unlike Haynes’s other thrillers this is clearly going to be a series with DI Louisa Smith. The plot is about a murder in a smallish English town and the underlying tensions and issues between family and neighbors. There’s a few twists which made in compelling enough, but it is competent rather than memorable and without the tension and buildup of her other books. Nothing about the heroine jumped off the page for me; I’d read her other ones which I really enjoyed before this.
THURSDAY JUNE 19TH
Missing You by Harlan Corben
I had to do homework for a Master Class – examine a best-selling thriller against the “formula”. When I saw this I thought I’d combine pleasure and pain…and now have a detailed outline of this book, its inciting incident, plot points, dramatic questions and three act structure. Probably not an ideal way to enjoy the book, but it sure took the assignment pain away!
Corben is good at this; make no mistake, there is a reason he sells (James Patterson is the only exception and the same used to be said of him until he turned writing into a factory). And he is traditional; this isn’t a coincidence! Third person (close) with change of POV from Heroine Kat then into the “baddies” camp changes as to who as the body count goes up…) we have plot one and call to action related to a past boyfriend; is the man online really Jeff and what happened 18 years ago? Plot 2; who is killing people and why? And plot 3: who killed Kat’s dad (an old mystery not explained as people had thought)? Later we get a: who is Brandon? but this quickly becomes part of plot 2. There isn’t an obvious connection but after plot point two takes us into Act Three the pace is racing and you have to keep reading. Everything is tied up nicely and though there is some ambiguity at the end I like this; gives us something to think about (and it isn’t about who did it so don’t panic). A good read by one of the masters.
THURSDAY JUNE 12TH
Ah for some reason this didn’t go up last week but my tweets did- oops!
The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
Like many others I read and was engrossed by the Child 44 trilogy (becoming a movie I have read). This is the authors latest book and unlike the previous, is contemporary times and Sweden not behind the Iron Curtain. It has an unusual set up in that it is first person but is mostly the narrator’s mother telling him a story (at least until the very last section). Is his mother mad…or is his father trying to get her put away? It’s an interesting dilemma and written moderately convincingly; when he reaches what seems eventually an inevitable conclusion (well for me) then it sets off in another to resolve things in a somewhat unpredictable and reasonably satisfying way.
Not the gravitas of the trilogy, much lighter, but enjoyable.
Killer by Jonathan Kellerman
Another Alex Delaware I picked it through comfort in familiarity and thought the topic of parenting assessments (something close to my heart) might make for an interest topic. It does but it could have been done much better. In this Delaware is doing assessments for court in custody battles (a truly horrible part of the legal system) and gets tied up in one between sisters. There is an attempt to make the dynamics interesting but it is mostly exposition and not very satisfying. Then the plot goes off on a tangent and the end and how everything ties in and up (or doesn’t) wasn’t very satisfying.
THURSDAY JUNE 5TH
I’m falling behind again as I read madly while waiting for my edits…they are then likely to put me out of action for a little while but time has come to finish off Jack Reacher…well at least until August when number 19 is released.
Worth Dying For (15)by Lee Child
Despite the last Reacher novel tantalising us with the possibility he wasn’t indestructible this really was another stand alone novel with injuries and a destination inherited from the last. This one takes place on the desolate plains of Nebraska with a seriously unpleasant family that runs the town. Add to it a cartel with three other players in henchmen, well Reacher is in his element. More than others (though they all are to a degree) this is The Magnificent Seven teaching the Mexicans to take control of their town. Except of course there aren’t seven good guys, there’s one. Actually Yul Byrnner would have made a great Reacher (with a wig). The secret is a particularly nasty one and though there are moments when through gratuitous violence Reacher and other note he has ruined lives, you really want the bad guys to go down in the end.
The Affair (16) by Lee Child
My first thought when I picked up this and found it went back in time (like The Enemy) is that it seems like cheating. Besides I was invested in the present and wanted to know what happened next! But the feeling didn’t last long, and this is I think the best to date. I keep thinking I wouldn’t like military police stories but if this is an example I am definitely wrong! Reacher is undercover though not for long, in a small town where there is a military base. There are a number of murders and the military is implicated- but they want to make sure their involvement doesn’t ever surface if so. He soon teams up with the local sheriff (who is drop dead gorgeous) and work and pleasure gets very tied up. This is strong on the murders and its investigation (probably why I like it- more my genre) but also a stronger romance (well sex anyway) story again another reason to like it though I wasn’t really sure why he didn’t go back to her in the end. It would have happened if there hadn’t been another 16 books already written after it in time, to be sure! The plots twist and turn, there are a number of unexpected occurrences and yes we finally find out why he left the army.
A WANTED MAN BY LEE CHILD (17)
I near the end of my marathon (18 Reacher books back to back, in under a month) I’m already worrying about missing him! Coming off the last one which was my favourite to date A Wanted Man I have to say was somewhat of a disappointment. The first half was good; a lot of developing tension between the car occupants and Reacher who they picked up hitchhiking. There are the usual number of layers and angles but after the first issue resolves though technically it is still the same underlying problem, the tension isn’t the same and the plot largely resorts to chases and yes, you guessed it, lots of violence. Perfectly readable and a Reacher fan wouldn’t want to miss it, but not his best by a long way.
Never Go Back (18) by Lee Child
My odyssey finally comes to an end…now like all Reacher fans I will have to wait each year for the next instalment. Not my favourite- reading 18 in a row was much more fun! This one has the unlikely premise that Reacher is pulled back into the army under a fine print loop hole. Not likely. They would so not want him. Sure enough he doesn’t stay long and is on the road to work out who is behind the frameup of him and the woman he has been working towards meeting since 61hours. Child tantalises with him being a father and settling down, but not for long. The way I figure it Reacher is only going to settle down posthumously Child’s last unpublished book not to be released until his death) though more likely Child will kill him off…
Anyway loads of chases, action, romance Reacher style, perhaps less twists but good enough. And a new Sergeant to rival Neagley (Child must have been a Sergeant in the armed forces or else one saved his life…).
THURSDAY MAY 29TH
The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas
As usual Vargas’s characters are quirkily French and her crime novel bears no resemblance to the standard of the genre. In this case we have three impoverished historians (all from different time periods and dismissive of the other’s interest) plus a disgraced ex-cop uncle all living in a run down house in Paris. The inciting incident is a tree that is planted overnight in their neighbor’s garden by person(s) unknown. What transpires next is largely a long exploration of character that I found less compelling than the other two Vargas I read, and a more interesting third act when there is some (inept at times) investigating of the neighbor’s murder and things are tied up. We only are given enough information late in the book to have any hope of working it out, and Vandoosler is not as compelling as Adamsberg, her standard inspector.
The Night’s Foul Work by Fred Vargas
I was disappointed in the last Vargas I read (The Three Evangelists) but I thought I’d try another – and am grateful I did. This is the best of the four I’ve read; dense, convoluted and of course wonderfully, eccentrically French! Vargas winds Adamsberg’s private life with the estranged Camille and now young son, as well as his attraction to Adriane the pathologist in amongst some of the most unlikely crimes, including one from the past and one form the hero’s childhood (that intersects with the new recruit) that all come together which I’m sure in anyone else’s hands would be farcical. It is a hardly a surprise his team are a bit sceptical about Adamsberg’s interest in the shooting of two stags (to say nothing of chasing the quick of virgins…)—I try to picture Australian police being asked to do this and can’t imagine it would get more than a few choice expletives—but as readers her beautiful prose draws us in unquestioningly. The characters are vivid and alive (and we even see one of the men from The Three Evangelists) and all quite eccentric, the scenes in the village pub transplants me into the local French village where we have spent a lot of time and you never quite know where it is going to go. Wonderful.
THURSDAY MAY 22ND
Oops…forgot to put this up so going up on Forgetful Friday instead!
Catching up with the back load of Jack reacher now…in my mind because Amazon keep sending me an “order now” for number 19. I haven’t, but only because its on pre-order and not available until later in the year- I’ll download it then!
Here’s number 11 & 12
Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child
Having got to number 11 in a row I am probably a bit overdue for wondering why this series has been so successful and what do we like about Jack Reacher. If indeed we do. In this book, as he gets together with some of his previous Army special forces team to search for the missing members and in doing so move between Vegas and LA (with a visit to Denver by the bad guy- I was in Boulder Colorado reading it, and it was ten below…the bad guy was here in summer!) As usual there is plenty of action, guns and violence. Reacher with his own special ethics gets it wrong and breaks the good guys jaw and while this is worked out his statement about no remorse and never had puts him right in the psychopath ball park. Given he has no job or long term relationships (well not maintained ones) this adds further weight and hardly makes him the usual good guy. He muses in this that he is a failure compared to his Army buddies, but as they only have jobs and no relationships (and some of the jobs not reliable) this musing doesn’t go far. Overall it’s hard to actually believe Reacher is anything close to a real human being; his lack of need for intimacy at one level (and pathological level of need to move places) but his ready comfortable use of it with a variety of women along the way and strong loyalty and long term bond with his army buddies (Neagley from the earlier book where he saves the VP returns here) don’t really gel. We get hints at depths but mostly Reacher is what we see; a big violent guy with no remorse who looks like a bum. We hear about him washing his one shirt and either hanging it out or pressing it under the mattress, we hear about him throwing out one set of clothes and buying another but he only ever carries a toothbrush and I can’t stop myself wondering about underwear… the bum picture (which is mentioned as such) is probably so close to the mark most of us would run screaming. So why do we like him? Not sure I do. Certainly not the violence and there is an emptiness in him that no amount of brute force is ever going to make up for in making him more of a “man”. Why do I read them? Child is a great storyteller. His prose is efficient and effective and he has a great sense of place (and the drifter motif means we get to go all around America). Unlike Dan Brown, interestingly, he can also do relationships; the friendships and brief liaisons are real and have heart. But Reacher? I guess there is a part of all of us that like to think we could be totally free, at least for a little while. Reacher quite simply gives us this. For the boys, and maybe me a bit too, there is also mileage in the strong smart (as a fox) survivor that does things his own way. We all want a little of that too.
Nothing to Lose by Lee Child
Number Twelve has Reacher at his most bloody minded-est in the wilderness of the plains of Colorado (as opposed to the very pretty mountains). Thrown out of Despair (who the hell would want to be there) he fights to keep going back, dragging the cop from Hope into the picture where planes in the night, military facilities where they shouldn’t be and a fanatical preacher with a ton of money are all rolled into the mix. Having picked many of the plots and wasn’t going to pick this one. Compared to other books I’d have been furious at him leaving this particular woman but I guess I’m used to it and know she’s better off without him. Cold blooded again at times, violent quite a bit of the time. But he does know how to write a page turner…
THURSDAY MAY 15TH
I’m trying to clean out the back log of unposted reviews so you get a bit of a mish mash here: action in The Innocent, wry humour crime in Stiff and a page turning thriller in Just what sort of mother are you? Enjoy reading!
The Innocent by Taylor Stevens
This is the second in what looks to become a series, based around Vanessa (Michael) Munroe, a Lisabeth Salander like vigilante. I hadn’t read the first and won this, so read it without prior knowledge. Not a book I probably would have picked up, but it got me in quickly and kept the pages turning until the end. The heroine is likeable, smart and very dangerous, but if the level of her physical competence is somewhat implausible, this is easy to overlook; I would so like to be able to say ‘touch me and I’ll have to kill you’ and be able to follow through (well not with the killing, but some sort of retribution), and if I can’t great she can! The author as a refugee of The Children of God is well placed to write about cults and kidnapping from within; it’s a fast moving enjoyable light read.
Stiff by Shane Maloney
When I was introduced to Shane Maloney at a party I did a double take. The name was incredibly familiar but…wasn’t he a fictional detective? Nope, but he is an author of crime fiction that to my shame I hadn’t read. So went home and downloaded Stiff.
Set in Melbourne (bugger, so is mine- can everyone move somewhere else? Still it is fun reading about you home city and picturing the places, though I’ve never been in the creek his hero lands in (as does his car) and nearly drowns in.
So this is a crime book with a difference. The hero has nothing to do with investigations- he’s the electoral officer for a state labour candidate! But Maloney makes this work; his hero is immensely likeable, with a good dose of Aussie droll humour. A frozen stiff in the meat works might lead to union problems and our man is up to his neck in …well it isn’t clear what, but includes Turkish-Kurd tensions, pay roll issues and maybe drugs, to say nothing of ex-wife, nits and a ceiling caving in. Oh, and the heavily tattooed man who moves into the electoral office and doesn’t want to move. I picked the main driver as soon as it happens andiIt all raps up too quickly for my liking, but the ride was a fun one!
Just What Sort of Mother Are You? By Paula Daly
This is the first novel by British physio, set in the Lake District/Cumbria (where it rained constantly when I was there, but in this book there is rain and ice). I didn’t like the title (though having finished it like it a bit better) but liked that it was playing on our maternal anxieties, sure to keep the tension going, so picked it up and resented every time I had to put it down, finishing it quickly but over three nights because I was so busy!
Our heroine runs a dog shelter and has three kids and the crazy schedule a lot of women will identify with. It is largely written in first person (some chapters moving to see things, third person, from the point of view of the female cop who needs a boob reduction) which helps us root for her. At sometimes the character is a little pathetic and frustrating the reader as much as her husband for wanting to be accepted by the upper-middle class friend and her family, but it’s necessary as it happens to make the ending work, and by and large the situations and the wanting to be liked are things we have all probably done of occasion (well maybe not what she does in the bathroom, but even that is common).
I found it a real page turner and enjoyed it, though I felt the ending was wrapped up rather too quickly. I didn’t see it coming and while the first part of this was satisfying, I’m not sure she shouldn’t have put in some more hints to make the second part of the twist a little more believable. The characters are largely good and interesting, with the exception of Kate who I think needed work. But I’ll be looking for the next one.
THURSDAY MAY 8TH
As this goes live I’ll be heading back to Australia from New York – more reading and movie time! On way here watched About Time (ok schmulz but I loved it) and Captain Phillips (good solid case for PTSD well played by Tom Hanks). Here I’m cleaning up some of the bits and pieces from different genres I read last year…From a light/dark take on drug rehab to horse racing thriller and then the Stella prize (literary) winner from last year.
Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes
After reading and enjoying Keyes’s latest book The Mystery of Mercy Close I thought I’d read another and downloaded this for a ridiculous one dollar (how are writers meant to eat? I guess she unlike many of us are earning enough to live on from writing but this was ridiculous!). It’s a story from the same family as The Mystery of Mercy Close which follows the youngest of five girls, Helen. In this one we follow the middle girl, Rachel.
I read this in two takes separated by probably six weeks where other more gripping books called me. But when I re took it up and finished it I was surprised at how quickly I remembered the plot and people and how quickly I got back into it – and then enjoyed it and couldn’t put it down until the end. I suspect this means there was a lull in the second act as my husband who studied screen writing might say- it did get a little drawn out in the middle.
Rachel is a drug addict. This on the surface sounds very unappealing and likely to be dreary and full of despair and moments of pathetic lack of self-reflection. But it’s not. Keyes ultimately writes a comedic chick lit style, but in this book does so covering a serious topic and lull in the second act aside, does so very well. Rachel is funny and irreverent and a very unreliable witness. She is totally insightless and into denial and though in the flash backs we know we are watching a train wreck, and wish in the middle act where she is in rehab and doing all she can to not be rehabilitated that she’d get on with it, she is likeable and we want her to get there. As she does, and not without problems, Keyes gives us a lot on insight into the addict and shows they don’t have to come from frankly abusive families but rather a blunt and not enough sensitive caring can be harmful for someone who is sensitive. Her older sisters get the same nonsense from their mother and let it roll over them. Rachel has to learn to do this and separate it from herself worth. From my clinical work (and as one of four girls) this book rings true- if you have an addict in the family you can’t understand, read this book. The last third will open your eyes.
Refusal by Felix Francis
Okay I am a fan. I rode horses throughout my childhood and read every one of Dick Francis’s books and loved them even though I have no affinity for horseracing bar a one off attendance at the Cup. His son (ahh, now a grandfather- makes me feel ancient) has not long ago taken over the reins after his father’s death (they co-wrote for a while) and hasn’t changed a thing. If you are on a good thing stick to it I guess.
Completely at odds with the rave review of Fred Vargas I gave for being original, there was something delightfully comfortable in this book, like putting on a pair on old slippers. No surprises, just what you want and need. Sometimes, there is a place for this. If you are new to Francis it won’t disappoint if you want an easy reading page turning simple enough story with a bit of personal and a race through the heroes paces.
Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany
The positives- this book won the Stella and was short listed for the Miles Franklin. It is a book clearly that some at least of the literati like. The prose is polished and the book is ‘smart’ in that literary way that suggests a lot of time and agony went into each sentence and the drawing of a character without doing so in an obvious way. It’s set in the Australian country of the 50’s and comes across as being authentic in many ways. I like the title of the book and I like the sketches (and photo) of the birds.
There are a lot of literary novels I like, though I suspect these are the ones bordering on popular. I liked John Fowles and John Steinbeck, I loved Life of Pi long before the film. I coped with Foal’s Bread though I found it a struggle at times. But I didn’t like this one. A friend who read it on the two occasions I asked what they thought the reply was ‘hard going’. I had taken this to mean that the sexual abuse theme was going to make me want to slash my wrists like watching Beautiful Kate did. But it doesn’t have an abuse theme (thank goodness) or at least not of the obvious sort; it’s more a coming of age and man-boy father-son type thing. There is a lot of pissing in the open by women and men (really?). The writing is lovely, the author talented. But I simply like more story (The Goldfinch didn’t hold me either so this is more a comment about my tastes than anything else).
THURSDAY MAY IST
Fatal Impact by Kathryn Fox
Anya Crichton, forensic pathologist (as the cover says, Australia’s answer to Kay Scarpetta) is back and in Tasmania for a conference and to visit her parents, or estranged mother, also a doctor, more precisely. Fox is a GP and brings her medical knowledge into the book in spades; fatal EColi infections, and relatively rare immune diseases provide a subplot of ‘which illness is it’ to medical trained readers! The main plot has more than enough to keep you thinking though; GM modified foods, unscrupulous multinationals, Greenies…all the usual things Tassie is full of. At times it feels like it needs a bit of a prune – it gets long in places – but plenty of interesting characters and action. Not much in Anya’s romantic life (ex she was thinking of reuniting with is tucked away with their son back in Sydney) but more unresolved references to the missing sister. I expect Fox will finish that one off when she runs out of other ideas!
You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz
I found this book at times a little long winded and containing too much detail of the mundane but overall it was readable and had an interesting enough story to keep you wanting to read. Told from Grace’s point of view, a therapist with an (initially) over inflated opinion of herself, about to release a book called You Should Have known telling women to think carefully before picking their partner (and that they only have themselves to blame if it goes wrong), we see into her life and don’t particularly like her. But pride and falls and all that …the book is divided into Before, During and After, and we soon get to murder and see things better than Grace herself does, as her world falls apart around her and she tries to pick up the pieces. Her own life proves the point about choosing carefully, but also shows we see what we want to see. It doesn’t show enough of why people get it wrong, but then this is fiction…
Blind Rage by Terri Persons
I picked this book up in the hotel library of books left by residents and read it while Ayer’s Rock (Uluru) was sitting in front of me. It’s the second in a series, with FBI agent Bernadette St Clair, set in Minneapolis. I enjoyed the university setting because I had stayed and studied there for two stints and recognized some of the places. The writing engages and the pace fast, keeping us interested. It becomes apparent that Bernadette has a gift of a second sight which is overplayed and the level of magic I quite like. When one of her colleagues turns out to be a ghost this was a little too much, but after I accepted this, it isn’t overplayed either and didn’t get in the way. The plot about troubled university students dying implicates their lecturer, psychiatrist and the psychiatrist’s brother and all makes sense and for plenty more action as Bernadette and her boss Tony (who she fancies; this could have been played up) draw closer to working out who did it and to try and save the latest victim.
THURSDAY 24TH APRIL
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Okay she just got the Pulitizer…I wrote this months ago…
The length of the book and mixed reviews meant I lagged on downloading this, but eventually succumbed. I had liked The Secret History and in general if it’s good, being long is a positive (examples: I am Pilgrim and Shantaram). However this isn’t a racing thriller so long wasn’t so positive and in the end the biggest negative. It needed a significant edit. For me it was slow even in the first section when she has set us up well in present time knowing something bad is going to happen and our hero Theo Decker is going to end up in a bad way in a hotel in Amsterdam. It then goes to his mother dying and the relationship with her and gets to the inciting incident that results in The Goldfinch (painting) being in the 13 year olds custody. This takes a while but it is well written and I was still hanging in.
We then go to the back blocks of Las Vegas for a well told and what seems authentic (I haven’t ever been an adolescent boy rearing myself and drinking myself to sleep in between drug binges) tale of adolescence. I couldn’t dislike Theo for this because of his circumstances. But by the time he is back in New York and then an adult I had lost interest in him altogether. He just isn’t a nice or interesting person, weak and rather dull and this is where I thought it went on, and on, and on.
The end in comparison (I have read “contrived” but I didn’t feel this) is fast paced and things actually happen but it seems a bit at odds to the rest of the book and then goes for pages of moralizing and with making sense of his life which he never really does.
I have friends who enjoyed it and the writing is competent and in parts evocative. If you like the world of antiques and art, with all its duplicity, then you’ll like it. For me, the central character and the story just weren’t enough to carry 771 pages.
The Engagement by Chloe Hooper
I have been studying thrillers and how to plot them; after looking at a traditional one I thought I’d try this. I didn’t expect it to be traditional, and on this I wasn’t disappointed!
Hooper lulls us into thinking it’s a three act structure by dividing the book into three parts. I guess at some level it is, with gradual increasing tension, but the plot points aren’t as obvious as say in Corben’s thrillers. She sets up the two characters well, and weaves around unease about them both: Liese who is working as a real estate agent and uses the houses for her liaisons (doesn’t make you want to rush out and sell your house!); Alexander the man who pays to do so, gawky and perhaps the sort he who might need to. Then he takes her away to his mansion in the Western district; isolated, no phones, locked in. Good ingredients for a gothic thriller.
The theme of the letters, only mentioned briefly in part one picks up in part two; just who wrote them and why? I’m not sure I ever got the answer to this, though the obvious answer is probably the most likely.
He is a creep; yet she waxes and wanes, rethinks her position, considers marrying him even when he proposes. At this point she kind of lost me. I could believe the bad guy (and the ending even makes me shiver a bit more) but her? No, wasn’t convinced. She demonstrated some of the “battered” wife characteristics but without the right background, or more to the point, lead in. This type of abuse only works over a long period of time and there just wasn’t enough about Liese that made me believe it.
Nicely written and visualized, creepy, but ultimately it didn’t quite make it for me.
The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton
I found this story reasonably solid and though at the time I thought Reeve the heroine unlikely from point of view of recovering from her trauma to the level of gutsy-ness beyond most of us who haven’t had her trauma, the author did to be fair make her six years post trauma and with lots of therapy. I then read the same day after about a similar type of victim who had risen well above her problems without apparent deeper issues so maybe Reeve isn’t so unlikely. The bad guys we don’t see much of with the exception of the main perpetrator but there is some depth here and certainly in the other victim and family there is more than enough to make you want to keep reading. The main problem for me was there were no twists or anything unexpected and not enough tension. Enjoyable enough.
THURSDAY 17TH APRIL
Persuader by Lee Child
We are a little perplexed, but not for long. Reacher is right in the heart of the bad guy’s camp having “saved” their son from a second kidnapping (he’d lost an ear in the first). A couple of them look to be his equals physically (one superior after a long ingestion of steroids who plays some nasty psychological games with the lady of the house) and maybe one is also smarter (except we are talking Jack Reacher here…). There’s plenty of guns and violence, the good guys don’t all make it and the romance is low key. Plenty to keep the pages turning.
The Enemy by Lee Child
Without any explanation (I guess if you are Lee Child you can do what you like) we go back in time. Sticking to his return to first person account, Reacher is an MP and we start to see why he leaves the army. I have to say he is already such a maverick I find it hard to believe he hadn’t already been court martialled because my understanding and dealings with the military (admittedly very peripheral) is that they are sticklers for rules. Reacher just makes up his own. He gets it wrong too, which for the second time in one of these books it has made me think I really wouldn’t like him in real life and heaven help us if there really were too many people like him. But the story continues to be interesting, different and compelling as Generals and Colonels are found dead, a maverick group of special forces think Reacher did it and is after him, and the whole structure of the army looks like it’s going to crumble. Heavens knows what the real US military think of this book but I enjoyed it, and given I wouldn’t ever have picked it up given its military theme, that’s an extra bit of kudos for Child. Only other military book I liked was Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy and I only read that because I am a Conroy fan.
One Shot (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child
I finally made it to the one they made the movie of (I am yet to see it). Though Tom Cruise is on the cover I don’t think of him as I’m reading, and it isn’t just the height…Not sure why they picked this one- I would have thought there are more than enough sniper movies about and some of the first eight would have been a bit more novel. But then I am not in the movie business…
This said I haven’t read too many sniper books (probably only one, the famous one about assassinating the French president) and Child managed to twist this quite quickly in the beginning and give some quite unexpected angles (hence I guess why it appealed to Hollywood). So yes there’s a sniper, previous army connections (good and bad) and a bunch of bad guys that are sprung on us a little, but what the hell. Reacher as always proves to be a master of evasion and with his own moral code; when the good guy may not be good it’s interesting to see how Child makes this work. Because I’m reading these one after another though, I’m feeling it hard to believe Reacher’s need to keep moving. He’s off again at the end. Me, after a few nights on the road in the USA (okay I’m flying) I’m looking forward to staying put a while.
The Hard Way by Lee Child
It took to book ten for me to pick the plot (I half picked an earlier one); I saw the hint and never wavered though there was a false trail. But regardless of this, it was still a good read, made me homesick for New York as Reacher traversed the streets leaving ransom money and trying to find who picked it up. There are some memorable characters (the Englishman with the bad teeth, the mercenary with no limbs), a truly evil bad guy (more one dimensional than Child usually does) and the usual tense moments, shoot outs and a burial to top all others. I’ve already started the next and haven’t picked the plot there, so I just think this was more a standard kidnap story with only limited options rather than Child losing his touch.
THURSDAY 10TH APRIL
A week away from the thrillers! Three Different Books this week – none romances per se but all with love as part of the theme…and no stalkers and murders (well only in the past in the first one)!
Lilia’s Secret by Erina Reddan
I was doing a Master Class with Erina and being writers we exchanged books rather than cards…
This is a light touching drama with a wave of Mexican magic reminiscent of Like Water for Chocolate and other South American books; the sort of magic that really works for me. No aliens or strange creatures, but rather a sort of extension of sixth sense. This is a book about moving on from the scars of our childhood, with the emphasis on moving on with understanding. Too many books on this topic wallow around in misery- not this one.
Our heroine, Maddy, has found her soul mate. Until he suggests babies, which opens up too many painful memories. So she does what she had always done before; run away. This time she runs to Mexico and into the heart of her husband’s family mystery. Did his grandmother kill off her husbands, or even more fundamentally, was she good or evil? Our heroine links in with her and this allows her to feel and deal with her own pain from the past in order to be able to contemplate the future.
Our hero is not her husband or boyfriend but rather a sub plot story played in alternating chapters. Bill is a successful American business man who finds retirement way to vast a space without distraction and positive feedback. In the far too much time he has to reflect (something he doesn’t want to do) he runs to, finding himself a project; why did his father leave him and his mother and did he get murdered in Mexico? The journey has him meeting our heroine and together finding the last clues as to just who Lilia was. Her secret is also the keeper of her memories, and there is a nice feel good ending that resolves all our questions.
Now I just have to hope she writes faster; having read a small amount of the next I want more; Reddan captures heart ache poignantly and without excess sentiment. In her new one I think she will capture the heart of Australia as in this one she has captured a piece of Mexico.
Silver Playbook Lining (and a bit of Leonard Peacock) by Matthew Quick
Haven’t seen the film and read this after his new one my husband was sent to give an opinion on (Forgive me Leonard Peacock). I didn’t expect to like it to be honest; more popularist light weight stuff I thought after reading the film blurb. But the book as always …well it offers what a book can. Don’t know still about the film.
The hero is an unreliable narrator who, as a psychiatrist, doesn’t quite ring true, but what the hell. Who needs everyone to be in a category? He’s interesting and fun, as is Tiffany (also hard to categorise), I love the therapist doing Eagles (sports team) renditions, however inappropriate, love the ending (which I only partly saw coming) and what the hell? A good read with quirky characters that should make us think, easily accessible and not so very far from real life dilemmas that confront us all. In Leonard Peacock he has a more consistent recognisable adolescent angst voice, but with good solid characters around him (and a mother I wanted to take a knife to). In both the author shows with great skill how he knows how its is to be on the margins…and survive.
POSTSCRIPT- Have now seen the film; Robert de Niro clearly had the film father changed to suit him!!! Quite liked it but liked book more.
Love and the Chance of Drowning by Terre De Roche
My husband bought this book for me because he did a presentation with the author (and liked her) and thought it might inspire out joint book which has a journey in common. Our journey was a walk which we are fictionalising – hers is a nonfiction account of her sail from US to Australia (more or less). Just to get it out of the way at the start- there are no or at least very few overlaps/similarities so I don’t feel we’re in competition.
So the story is enticing; Aussie chick falls in love with hot Argentinean who is in love with a boat…potential here for disaster. I am obviously older than she is as she doesn’t see this or admit it for some time…
She gets seasick and is scared of the ocean. I can identify with both of these (and though she has more deep seated issues with the latter, let’s get real, anyone with a brain is scared of the ocean!!!). Yet love wins out (even though she fails the sailing test) and they embark on the journey regardless.
The heroine is engaging, the hero …well he is Argentinean (read Embedded) so what can I say?
Overall I enjoyed it, it did not want me to go any closer to a sail boat than I have ever been…but what the hell. Love people with passion.
THURSDAY APRIL 3RD APRIL
Chasing the Dead, The Dead Tracks, Vanished, Never Coming back by Tim Weaver
I saw Never Coming Back in WHSmith at Heathrow but went home and looked it up and found it was fourth in the series and downloaded them all to read in sequence. The hero is a PI in another guise, specifically he finds people and makes a lot of this and the psychological reasons (a little over done). He’s lost his wife to cancer so easy to have sympathy, though by the third I really thought he had a wish to join his wife as without any physical training he keeps put himself into ridiculously dangerous situations. With this thought I started the last and was so pissed off (the third is left hanging in the air) I put it aside until I ran out of other reading material, but then found out I’d been taken in and all was well…
Racy, keeps our interest up with an ok hero and some quite good plots, and some reflection though nothing very deep.
First a missing man who perhaps doesn’t want to be found, with an intricate plot of baddies helping people like him, the second a missing teenager, a run in with a cop or two and an unpleasant killer.
In the third we a disgruntled cop I knew would turn up again, a husband who disappears on the tube and some killers who like the underground disused railways. This is the one with the unclear ending…just get the next one!
The fourth goes back in time and is set up deliberately in a way that confuses initially but Healy the disgruntled cop is back and an intricate plot about a family that disappears.
THURSDAY 27TH MARCH
I was too busy writing (and doing a five day master class in writing) to remember to put something up last week! This week reading slowed down as am reading “7 Basic Plots” – homework from the Masterclass. Probably should have done years ago- a must if you want to be a writer I’m thinking! (Well a good one anyway)
The Other Woman by Hank Phillipi Ryan
If you like intricate interwoven plots this one’s for you. Easy reading, fast paced, the background relationship that can’t be (but you really want it to be) and the heroine desperate to regain her professional cred keep things moving. The main plot is about politician’s and big business men’s private lives and what goes wrong when secrets are kept. Our intrepid heroine naturally keeps at it, even though it looks for while she might be getting it wrong (again), and politics and a potential serial killer (relax, it isn’t, and the cop is sure of this from the start though I have to say I wasn’t quite sure why). That said there are a lot of bodies and perhaps a little too much coincidence to swallow, but by and large it works. Worth a holiday or wind down read.
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
Written in style reminiscent of Gone Girl this book follows Todd and Jodi and the demise of their marriage. At the start we are sympathetic to Jodi who had in all ways other than legally been Todd’s wife for some 20 years; they have a comfortable relationship which suits them both. That is until Todd’s mid-life crisis hits and we see the train wreck ominously ahead. The first third of the book builds this tension well and ensures we follow to the end, though the tension fades somewhat and doesn’t quite deliver. There’s a twist, some but not as much come-uppance as we might like if we were with a group of girls drinking as we plotted, but enough to provide a largely satisfying ending to a book at its heart about marriages going wrong.
THURSDAY 13TH MARCH
This is my new favorite thriller writer- I read the third first and then got the others and read them over the weekend!
Only the Innocent by Rachel Abbott
This is the first in the series with Tom Douglas as the policeman. Set in London where in the background he’s dealing with the break up of his marriage and his wife wanting him back because her relationship broke down and he’s inherited some money, the plot centres around the murder of a high profile Lord philanthropist (and his cause of rescuing Eastern European prostitutes), his wife, her friend and brother and the murdered man’s ex-wife, daughter and early childhood. While there aren’t as many twists and surprises as in the third of the series (which I read first and is as close to perfect as possible for a thriller to be), its still a gripping well written well paced thriller that I couldn’t put down.
The Back Road by Rachel Abbott
Second in the Tom Douglas series this takes him back to his roots in Manchester and meeting a new love interest while he has a peripheral interest in the local town’s gossip and intrigue. I found this more predictable than either one or three of the series and at times the heroine Ellie’s inability to just talk to her husband rather than continuing to misread things, a little annoying. But it’s a solid read, plenty happening and some good (or bad) characters that really spring off the page. Please may she write faster!
Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbott
Damn! This has to be a close to perfect thriller – and I didn’t write it! Loved it and couldn’t put it down, more enjoyable than Gone Girl though in the same space, this is about obsession and protecting your children. In Melbourne Australia where we are still reeling from the assholes that threw a child off a bridge and another that drove his three children into a damn – all to get back at an ex, this is a chilling but very satisfying read.
THURSDAY 6TH MARCH
Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly
I’ve read Connelly before, probably The Lincoln Lawyer because I recognised the character (who refers to his on screen persona somewhat annoyingly). He isn’t completely likeable and pushes things to the edge, but his heart is largely in the right place and Connelly shows the off side of getting it wrong, with Michael Haller’s private life a mess. In addition you get a reals sense of what being a defence lawyer is really like; a lot of time with a lot of low lives. The story is compelling, twists around and then you’re just hanging in to see it all come together in court. Finished a little rapidly from that point of view, but a page turning satisfying read.
If You Were Here by Alafair Burke
As a bit of a Fairstein fan and a lover of New York, I wasn’t sorry to see another New York ex-lawyer put pen to paper. I liked the novelty of this story; it didn’t at least at the beginning follow the usual arc, and for a long time I wasn’t sure where it was heading. Even at the end there were plenty of twists.
Heroine is an ex-lawyer now journalist/ novelist and has plenty of depth and interest. Her husband, apparently inspired by her real husband, curiously wasn’t nearly as well drawn and for a while I wasn’t even sure if we were meant to like him or not. This may have been deliberate on the author’s part given his role (which you’ll have to read to find out) but the negative is he came across as one dimensional and not all that interesting. Now some time later I find it is part of why the book is not so memorable.
The missing women is an interesting character however (as is her sister) though I was still unsure why our heroine went to so much trouble to track her.
This aside, it’s a page turning thriller I enjoyed and now will look out for others- she has written a number and the name rings a bell so I may have come across her in the past and then she dropped off my radar. There are so many writers and it’s hard to work out why some (eg Karin Slaughter and Linda Fairstein) are constantly on the shelves while others are harder to find. Not enough shelves I guess!!!
THURSDAY 27TH FEBRUARY
Six Years by Harlen Corben
I’ve read most if not all Corben’s books. I have an ambivalent relationship with Myron and his psychopathic mate Winston, yet I keep buying them, usually because I want a reliable easy gripping read. This one is a stand-alone book, so no Myron or Winston. It is also one of the best gripping thrillers I’ve read, certainly the best Corben. It pulled me in from the first page and didn’t let me go. I sat in on a rainy afternoon to finish it. You just have to keep reading to work out why the man’s love of his life married was actually married to someone else and then got murdered.
Why did I like it? Well I like first person. We have a flawed hero, who is an academic and its set largely on uni campus, Massachusetts (I think Harvard, but he calls it Langford) and in New York, both of which I have strong soft spots for (Loved The Rule of Four set at Princeton). It’s fast paced, there’s a strong love story, loads of twists and surprises. Okay, his language is sometimes basic. Maybe it’s a tad too farfetched. But hey, this is fiction, it’s all explained, and not from too far left field. I mostly picked it (well kind of eventually, but some I definitely didn’t see coming). Satisfying and a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.
Watch Your Back by Karen Rose
I was pretty sure I had read some of this author and liked her but I found I couldn’t finish this one. Too much time spent telling us who everyone is and were or is married to and I can’t believe they were all that important. Some of it was possibly filling in information from previous books but I really think if it was important it needed to be shown not told. The main character annoyed me too because she was putting everyone else (quite aside from herself) at ridiculous risk and when this included her daughter I gave up. Also her antipathy to the hero was not really believable. Read like a soap opera.
Blood Secret by Jaye Ford
This is her third book, set north of Sydney she sets up a tense stand off with a road rage guy and then the focus of the rage goes missing. Behind this is his girlfriend (who we follow) history which unfolds as increasingly unattractive, but also some of the man’s past and where that might fit in. After the early tension it is mostly predictable but a good light read.
THURSDAY 20TH FEBRUARY
Blessed are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt
I read the most recent of the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, 12222, first and then went back to the beginning (Blind Goddess) and am making my way through the series. This is the second. I am not great at recalling plot but there is one very clear difference about the heroine in 12222 and I am now waiting nervously for it to happen. It doesn’t in this one.
Hanne is an attractive introverted cop who keeps her private life (gay partner of 15 years) separate from work. That and her offsider’s (another cop) affair we delved into in Blind Goddess are there in the background as the novel jumps through the unusual heat of a Norwegian summer, between seemingly unconnected crimes and is at first a little hard to follow. As the threads become increasingly interwoven (however seemingly unlikely) it becomes easier to just go with the flow. Blood baths without an apparent victim, refugees and the horror of rape and its impact on the victim and her father are all in the mix.
I enjoyed it, but it was harder work and less tightly written than either the first or the last. I now have a few more to go to connect, still waiting for the change from this Hanne to the one I read about in 1222. Ideally, read them in order!
THURSDAY 13TH FEBRUARY
Blood Witness by Alex Hammond
This is a first novel by lawyer Alex Hammond, set in Melbourne (I’m starting to get paranoid that my locations in my psych thriller, just signed with Text out next year (Medea’s Curse, under my real name are being taken, but he doesn’t go anywhere near Collingwood thank goodness). It is part legal, part gritty grimy side of crime, set in the legal end of Melbourne and around little known (to locals like me) West Melbourne. Given it’s also got a “Will Harris novel” over the title, we can presume we’ll see more, though towards the end Will’s legal career and life look in doubt of any future at all.
There’s some nice taut tension between Harris, returning to the fold after the death of his fiancée, a successful and slightly greasy barrister (looking I think to return as his partner in later books) and boss who is s senior partner in the law firm who is only prepared to indulge him so much. There’s a love interest, and a well drawn gay couple, one of whom has visions, including of the murder around which this story revolves.
There’s plenty of action, page turning prose and more than enough to keep you interested. I was a bit disappointed that the opening information really didn’t tie into anything else rather than the fiancée’s sister being involved (I’m a diver and I was at least pleased he did acknowledge that she shouldn’t have died; they missed lesson 101 of diving) but I did like the alternate possibility for the vision. I’ll be looking out for the next one.
THURSDAY 6TH FEBRUARY
I haven’t reviewed The Book Thief here as I read it some time ago; I recall liking it and it is one of my friend’s favorites. I heard the movie wasn’t anything like it but I saw it a couple of nights ago and though there is porbably a lot of the book I have forgotten, I still think it captures the main essence and bis scenes. Isn’t it amazing what you recall? The only clear memory I had of the book was snow train and a graveyard (opening scene) and a river, two boys and a kiss (also in it); there is a MUCH bigger issue (I did recall it was in Nazi Germany and for those who feel they have read/seen enough, I do think this has a slightly different take, largely from an ordinary decent German family point of view) which I forgot until moments before. This (won’t do a spoiler) is done better in the book but I still shed a tear…
So while we’re on the war:
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The style took a little getting used to (somewhat Enid Blytonish for want of a better description) with its capitals and things in red and 1940’s jolly hockey stick language. It is a tale of friendship though and taps into some interesting aspects of the French- English resistance and SOE (I had just been to the international spy museum in Washington so it fitted in well with that) and it is probably true that there are some haunting aspects. I have to say I was a little disappointed though. A nice enough read but the hype suggested a degree of sophistication that wasn’t there. Worth a read but more light and touching than deep.
On a different conflict, this Bilal is the second in this series and he has a new one out I need to get!
Dogstar Rising by Parker Bilal
The beauty of ebooks- having heard the author speak about his new book I could download The Golden Scales and read that first. I went onto this one directly after.
Dogstar rising continues to follow Makana, a Sudanese refugee in Egypt who was a police officer in Sudan and now works essentially as a private investigator. In this book his past comes back to haunt him and we learn more about the atrocities in the Sudan (the book’s strength) and religious tensions.
Like the first in the series it is well written prose, but I found it a little less gripping than the last, perhaps because the world wasn’t as new to me. It still held my interest and I’ll look for the next, though I have to say it is the background that interests me more than the up front stor
THURSDAY 30TH JANUARY
TWO LISAS- AND TWO BOOKS EACH!
Fragile by Lisa Unger
I’ve read most if not all of Unger’s books and this is another in the same vein. I got it at a discount book shop where it had “Stellar read” on the cover, and this about covers it. Part Jodie Picoult family tensions, part crime thriller, it provides quick engagement and is easy reading. There are father-son tensions across a couple of families and generations, teenage angst and a dose of mother-son idealism and mother-daughter tension. Set in upstate New York (or maybe Connecticut) in a small town there’s a missing girl and in the process of trying to find out what happened to her, another missing girl story from a generation earlier surfaces with all its secrets. You don’t want to put it down, but it also ultimately won’t be one I remember.
In the Blood by Lisa Unger
A first person take I was expecting a nasty end than I got, (a feel better way to go!), with a diary take which I didn’t pick right. Family psychopathology of War of the Roses level (the film, not the historical time) and a kid that is enough to put anyone off having children. Yes- a good read, however more like fiction than real life with the ends all tied up. Why fiction is so much more satisfying I suspect!
Fear Nothing by Lisa Gardner
DD Warren is back. But interspersed between a first person take of …doctor or psychopath? Family pathology seems to be flavor of the month (also just read Lisa Unger’s In the Blood). A killer I didn’t pick, an ending I did but not until in the last third. Compelling readable as well as being an interesting aside on pain and its management.
Touch and Go by Lisa Gardner
Gardner is one of the authors that when I see she has a new book out, I buy it barely looking at what it is about. I know my daughter will also read it after me (and a sister as well). This one has led me to thinking about changing this routine. A good solid reliable author who writes character and plot well. A page turner with enough interest to keep you wondering (though I did get the main twist though I was well into the book by then).
The book alternates chapters: one about real time investigation of the kidnapping of a husband, wife and fifteen year old daughter and the other from the first person point of view of the kidnapped wife, largely in real time but with flashbacks to earlier in her marriage.
The characters are compelling and interesting- particularly the kidnappers, but also the family. Less so the investigators but good enough to keep us reading.
I don’t tend to remember much about her books months down the track- but this one it won’t take much to remind me. I felt and saw this one and it had enough differences to make it stand out. Keep writing Lisa!
THURSDAY 23D JANUARY
Stuart MacBride has a new one out so I’d better get these reviews out!!! Really like this guy; the Scottish wit oozes out once you get the hang of it!
Shatter the Bones by Stuart MacBride
This was(I thought!) the only book of the Logan McRae series I hadn’t read and is now the only one I have in a paper copy (the rest being on the iPad) but after doing a Masterclass with the author I felt I needed a signed copy. The Master class was on research for crime fiction, a topic he had been given and was unimpressed by: he answered it with typical Scottish dour tongue in cheek in one sentence: talk to a cop. But then (after a cop in the audience looked a little taken aback) he proceeded to fill three hours with lots of information and exercises so we got our money worth! I also grew to appreciate the Logan McRae even more. Firstly, I hadn’t noticed but in the last three books the author has used NO dialogue tags. Promptly reedited my work of genius (haha) and though I still have some, I was amazed at how many I could get rid of.
I have to say I find it a little hard work at times- much of the book is told in conversation and MacBride doesn’t mince his words when saying he’s only interested in improving his writing and writing for an intelligent audience. The second thing about having met him is I realised how much humour I was missing. Logan is a train wreck and if something bad can happen to him (or in this case his girlfriend) it probably will. Low lifes mix in with well, other low lifes in the guise of reality TV and Logan is up to his armpits in shit. An intelligent and drowly amusing cop yarn. God knows whether the Aberdeen police are still talking to the author….
Close to the Bone by Stuart MacBride
I was pleased to find that though I thought I had read all the Logan McCrae series, I hadn’t and the latest was sitting there waiting!
Since meeting the author I find the words just jump off the page and ring with such clarity and humour that I just want more! The Aberdeen police department are somewhat of a train wreck (I hope the real ones have a sense of humor) and the previously retired DI turns up in this one as a film director of ex-porn come magic-vampire type cult stuff, Steele continues to be as much a sexist pig as her male counterparts and poor Logan… well he’s still struggling. There’s plenty of action, and on one front in his life (don’t want to put in a spoiler) MacBride hit me for a six. Love the characters, so vivid I feel I know them, and the story? Well it races along and what else can you do but go with it?
THTHURSDAY 16TH JANUARY
A couple of thrillers from not so well known authors, worth thinking about…
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
When I read what it was about I didn’t think I could read it, but apart from the problem (my own as a mother) with the main premise of the adolescent child dying, possibly suicide, it sounded so much like my type of book I downloaded it anyway. I was right on all fronts, though it was easier than I expected reading about the teenage girl’s death. Trouble was, no matter what the mother found out, her daughter was still going to be dead; and as we read her voice it makes it harder and harder. I think it’s a tribute to the author’s skill that it is never-the-less a page turner; we route for Kate and I guess hope that at least it isn’t her bad parenting (you know, the stuff we all do no matter how hard we try) that caused the end result. I cried anyway, but at least not all the way through. The underlying “who is Amelia’s father” theme is a bit contrived and unrealistic (but then all thrillers are to varying degrees) but her portrayal of cyber bullying, bitchy teenage girls and a mother’s angst are all spot on.
Scared Yet? By Jaye Ford
Following after Beyond Fear which I reviewed last year and thought was very tension filled this story (new characters) has more twists and less tension, but taps into enough of thinks that make us anxious (like our children, ex-husbands and the wives they think can replace their mother…) and thus a compelling read.
This stalker really has it in for our heroine. Murderously so. Not her (well, don’t be too sure) but boy anywhere close to her is a scary and dangerous place. Having already lost her marriage and having to share access, our heroines job gets pushed to the edge, as well as her friendships. And really, can she trust anyone? The cops have doubts about those she wants to, and her isolation and desperation increase.
End is a little disappointing but everything does get tied up and it’s an enjoyable journey.
THURSDAY 9TH JANUARY
The best selling book list (Australia) is out! Of the top ten, four are kids books (there may be hope for the next generation). After excluding Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals there are only five fiction, four by Aussie writers, these being The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, reviewed by me through the year (scroll down!). I also reviewed Inferno. (The two I haven’t read are Matthew Reilly’s Tournament and Tim Winton’s Eyrie)
Here are another two that were on the best seller lists (Independent book shops anyway) for a while during the year I only read recently.
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
I have read the two prior Hosseini books, liking the first better than the second and was a little reluctant to take this up thinking it would be disappointing. But while Hosseini tackles big issues I needed to remind myself that not all books on big issues need to change the world or be perfect. This is one of those; some nice stories woven around each other over fifty years, through Afghanistan, France and the USA, with the primary theme of family ties and responsibilities and what we sacrifice for those ties. I personally think he tried too hard to do too much, that ultimately you were led to an important moment, deep and part of the core of humanity and then were moved on without enough time to pause and reflect. This seemed inevitable by the book jumping times and points of view and meant a lot of being told the missing bits rather than being shown. But I enjoyed it never-the-less, and the ache of a lost land was conveyed strongly.
The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
This is a very Australian book, located in both place and time by geography and language, back in the twenties post WWI on the coast of WA. The language of the geography is at times evocative, of the times also but I found the “struths” and “blimey’s” however appropriate to the time a little grating. The story is relatively simple, but the emotions underlying the desire and love for a baby and child less so, and the author encapsulates the pain of love and loss into a nicely told story.
THURSDAY 2ND JANUARY
Broken Harbor by Tana French
I am so far behind in posting reviews because I am reading so much so fast it is usually more than a month after I finish reading before I post. This has the advantage of helping me decide how really good it was- ie how much do I remember?
This book I just finished. It’s long and dense (maybe 170,000 words but you won’t want to lose even one), one of the few I have read as a paperback recently, given to me by the good people of King’s English bookstore in Salt Lake City where my husband was giving a talk. I had read her prior books and had good memories of them though I don’t recall them as exceptional. This one is. Hence why I am not waiting. And you do not need to have read her earlier ones.
This book is quite simply stunning. The writing is beautiful- definitely literature and some poetry but it pretends it isn’t, pretends it is a crime procedural (okay it is that too) and sucks you in until the words and the people are swirling around you and under your skin. This is a story of people, complex and difficult, the twists are there but not in the way you expect, and all about relationships and how life isn’t always the way you want it to be. It’s about lost hope, right from the Irish recession to perfect marriage and families that aren’t and can never be. Three dead, one alive from a family unit, and you never quite know about it or the complexities of being a cop, until French decides to show you otherwise. A truly brilliant crime thriller.
THURSDAY 26TH DECEMBER
Here in New York I’m among the last to get to Boxing day…but for all of you who got kindles then whether 26th or 27th you may still want inspiration for what to down load for the holiday read (if you’re in the southern hemisphere) or just what to head into the New Year with. Here are a collection of some of my or the NY best seller list favorites I have read this year and didn’t get around to putting up yet!
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
I tend to the thriller and psychological crime stories but I do read Jodie Piccoult and when this book kept coming up (and was one of the few Aussie writer’s to make the NY Times best seller list) and I do write romance (albeit it erotic) I thought I had better read it.
It is more Piccoult than romance, a wonderfully wound story of families and people and the complex layers of our lives. While the “secret” is a little outside the realm of most people’s lives the butterfly domino effect it has, and the very human reactions and responses to our heroes and heroines are very real and close to home. The characters are well drawn and I like that Moriarty doesn’t shy away from the two sides of guilt, particularly in the “affair” subplot. Its page turning, maybe a little slow at first but the pace soon picks up, easy reading and it’ll make you think and maybe shed a tear too.
I Hear the Sirens by Adrian McKinty
I’m not sure if it was because the first book in this series got me into the swing (and meant I didn’t have to rush to goggle to find out what the Irish organisational acronyms were) or because I had met the author, or that I read this straight after reading Stuart MacBride’s latest (had met him at same conference, they were on a panel) and he has a very lean dialogue driven writing style, but…. Well I found this immensely easy to read and it was fast paced, kept the interest up and has me hanging out for the next one. Sean Duffy (who looks like the author in my mind) is smart and stupid all at once and comes across as very real and you can’t help but root for him (ok except with women- he’s a disaster again in this and after what McKinty does to the latest love interest well, I hope for his wife’s sake Sean only looks like the author). Again there is a strong theme of The Troubles but less intrusive (I think I got used to it from the last book) and it makes the book interesting and stand out. A good read.
Say You’re Sorry by Michael Robotham
I heard Robotham do a radio interview last year where he recounted a story about an American who took exception to something one of his character’s said about the President (a Republican one, I think we were talking Texas or at least Midwest, and looked what happened to the Dixie Chicks when they did the same) and then the guy stalked him. Recognisable by the size of his cowboy hat. Anyway it ended well (though he’s still waiting for an insult to a Democrat) but I wonder if that’s why the Joe O’Loughlin books are set in UK. Robotham is an Aussie and a country one and out cowboys might have smaller hats but less likely to have guns but are in to king-hits. Whereas one can’t imagine the British are quite there yet.
In this book O’Loughlin has moved back to London, still separated and juggling a moody teenager, his Parkinsons and sex life. Most of the book is at Christmas time in Oxford and snow (this is probably really why the setting is UK; we colonials really like the notion of a white Christmas while sipping beer/white wine/gin &tonic after a swim). There is less illness and family than the last book (previously reviewed here) which I think is good. There is less Ruiz the side kick and I’d have liked more. More victim(s) and background (good). Overall enjoyable and suitably fast paced but thought it fell off towards the end and I liked the second last twist more than the final (re who did it) which didn’t quite gel for me. But I’ll read the next. This was his eight novel and he’s still writing a basic yarn I want to read, unlike say Patterson and Cornwall who I lost interest in some time ago.
THURSDAY 19TH DECEMBER
JACK REACHER BOOKS 3-6
I have read the series from one to now 18, back to back in the last month…
Tripwire by Lee Child (Jack Reacher 3)
This book starts with Jack working as a labourer in Florida but soon has him in New York meeting a childhood flame and thinking about settling (don’t panic, only thinking…). The new girlfriend is from the past and looks like she’s here to stay, daughter of a Colonel we met in the last book, and given book one and two had nice self-contained romances I predicted how this was going to end …and was wrong. She’s a lawyer though, and gets caught up in a nasty scam trying to nab Reacher before he puts it together. The pace as usual is fast and page turning. As this is my third Reacher in a row my husband just rolls his eyes and mutter about me being in bed with Jack…It’s violent, brings in Vietnam in a very accessible way for those of us who don’t like war movies and still shudder when we here helicopters after the ‘Nam movie starring a barely coherent Marlon Brando. And yes I reached for number four.
The Visitor by Lee Child (Jack Reacher 4)
This starts off in New York where the last finished off. Jack has been trying the home in the burbs (well almost country) but is restless. It isn’t that that sends him off all around the country- the FBI do, pulling him as an unwilling consultant under dire threats I truly hope our forces wouldn’t ever resort to. I may be naive. Either way it was totally believable and the reader is soon engrossed in a hunt for a serial killer. There is an army association (hence Jack’s involvement) and a gun scam as well, to say nothing of the New York thugs. It was written prior to 911 so references to the twin towers are unsettling. I figured it was also set pre 911 but I kept excepting them to be caught in the massacre.
The serial killer hunt, Jack’s fights with the FBI and the difference in how he thinks compared to them is compelling (though I don’t always agree with his logic). Interestingly, perhaps because this is the fourth, I picked the end or at least two out of three- who and why, just wasn’t sure how. The “how” I have to say is highly implausible in real life (I work in the area) but neither guessing nor this detracted for me from my enjoyment of the book. The romance is dealt with beautifully too; Jack isn’t anything like anyone I know, but he feels very real, as do his relationships. Okay, the violent tough guy stuff is for the movies, and the ripping story isn’t that real, but you sure as hell don’t want to stop reading. Going for number five now…
Echo Burning by Lee Child (5)
Five books in and he is still surprising me. After I picked a lot of the “answer” in the last one I had thought I was going to settle into comfortable (but maybe boring) predictability. Well I might before no. 18 but I sure didn’t in this one. Having dispensed with “the romance” that lasted two books this one didn’t just churn out another neatly contained one. It did give us a female protagonist who could have been but I didn’t like: Child very artfully maintained the balance of whether she was good or bad until the end. There is an unlikely tie up of two stories (only unlikely in that Jack picked it with minimal evidence, but what the hell he’s Jack Reacher I guess, they fitted just fine), a background tension as he played ranch hand to a racist family that needed their butts kicked (and its reassuring to know Jack will kick them), a shoot out and a nice satisfying everything’s tied up ending. Best to date.
Without Fail by Lee Child (6)
The premise didn’t grab me, dragging in one of his brother’s old girlfriends (guess is that if Child knew Reacher was going to be this successful and he was going to write so many books he might have given him some extra siblings…) and the FBI which is way too stuffy to bring a loner like Reacher on board. But it pulled me in. An extra army buddy from the past, a politician caught by the past and FBI technicalities resulting in the demise of one person I had predicted for another three books ago…A lot of action shooting and guns, the stuff I’m not that big into, but enough story and people stuff to hold me. I’m downloading number seven…
THURSDAY 12TH DECEMBER
TWO OUT OF THE ORDINARY CRIME/THRILLER BOOKS
The Chalk Circle by Fred Vargas
What a delicious book! After reading so many main stream psych-thriller and crime books, many of which I have enjoyed immensely, this book hit me with what started as a slowly encircling scent in the air, worked up to a delicious ten course meal and finished with a glass of centuries old Cognac. No, it didn’t have anything to do with food, but it was so deliciously French I felt a food and wine metaphor was apt! It is unpredictable, not like any other crime novel (perhaps with the exception of the other Vargas I read). There isn’t the same structure, Adamsburg the hero is unusual to say the least, two mysteries entwined of murder and odd circle drawing, and best of all, I had no clue about the ending, yet it worked and it was I guess all there. It reminded me of some French films I have seen (eg Ma Soeur) which is infused with a different mindset and sensibility. We have too much of a tendency to go for the mainstream US/Brit led style in everything. How refreshing to have something that isn’t!
The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper
This book is Dan Brown meets Stephen King. Or at least I think it is – I don’t read Stephen King (once a long time ago) but I did just read Inferno. So this hero takes us to Venice too, but with Paradise Lost rather than Dante. I am not a scholar of either so it’s hard to assess this part of the story (there are lots of quotes to help), either in Venice or the romp around the US. But compared to Dan Brown’s protagonist this one is far more human and while more understandably driven. He is more real, emotion, and as well, in contrast to my criticism of both Da Vince Code and Inferno, has a sub plot relationship- several in fact. On the other hand, the Stephen King bit comes in and we are stretched beyond what is believable unless you want to put metaphors for grief in here as we are probably meant to.
At the end of the day it is a hero’s journey, a father who has daughter has died and marriage failed, trying to make sense of it all. Does he- yes. Do we? Well maybe. I enjoyed his writing style, liked the development of relationships and the use of Milton’s text. But I suspect I didn’t quite get what he was trying to say.
THURSDAY 5TH DECEMBER
A JACK REACHER DOUBLE- STARTING FROM THE BEGINNING!
The Killing Floor by Lee Child (1)
I haven’t ever been drawn to Child’s books in the stores; just looked like boys books to me. Too much action and not enough brains. But he is consistently there in the best seller lists and I quite like action movies so will probably end up watching Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher on some plane trip so I thought I should try one. I’m not Cruise fan so I needed a point of reference to know he was a bad choice (mixed reviews I’ve read on this- main criticism seems to be height).
So this is written in first person by Jack himself. Important because the next one, and I am guessing future ones (18 according to Amazon), aren’t. As a writer this interested me- particularly that he changed from one style to another. I liked this being in first person, and yes there is a lot of action but there was plenty of story character and place too. A nice romance that was self contained (figured no woman was going to last 18 books). Writing is lean mean and Hemingwayesque. Hard to fault and it was good enough for me to download the second.
And on the Tom Cruise issue? Well I think Reacher’s laconic ease and smarts might have been better conveyed by Paul Newman (as he was in The Sting- there might have been a height issue here too, only Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart would have come close to six five but they wouldn’t have been bad picks had the movie been made long ago!), but my guess is Cruise is fine for the brawn basic action figure.
Die Trying by Lee Child (2)
First surprise as I am reading these in order, was that this wasn’t written in first person like Killing Floor. But he’s still the same Jack Reacher and the advantage is we can get to see situations he’s not in. Much more action and a little less story, and Child is way too fond and knowledgeable about guns for my liking (bound to belong to the Gun lobby the way he speaks of them and that doesn’t endear him to me), but couldn’t fault the writing, again the self contained love story, some good characters.
The beauty about his character, Reacher, being a drifter, is that you get to do a tour of the USA. This is set in the wilds of Montana, with a crazy religious militia group (who like guns and explosives). I am here currently in Arizona and heading to Colorado tomorrow…hope Reacher gets there sometime.
And yes, I am about to download the third.
THURSDAY 21ST NOVEMBER
A Ballantyne and a Barclay- two good thrillers one from a new author, other an established one
The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne
It’s always great finding a new author you like- though you just hope she writes fast and has more good ideas!
This is Ballantyne’s first novel and deemed a psychological thriller. It follows Daniel as a child in foster care (and we know something went wrong but not what) and then him as an adult lawyer defending an 11 year old boy charged with murder. The latter brings up feelings from his own childhood and we see what the boy was and what he became. In this in particular it is masterful, more so than in any twists or surprises (which more or less there weren’t or at least not ones I didn’t pick). This makes it all the more surprising how much I enjoyed it. The author brings Daniel and his foster mother jumping off the page, so much so I feel like I know them. It’s a touching and heartbreaking story, simple but beautifully executed. I look forward to her next (though some twists would be good too…).
A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay
Another fast paced thriller from Barclay that grabs you and doesn’t let go. Small town New York State, a hero who has made mistakes (and is still making them) and a story that had plenty of twists and turns. Two themes – the girl swop goes wrong where one girl is missing, and the dead son − wrap around each other pulling in the police department mayor and police chief, with the intriguing chapters in italics where for a long while I had no idea what they were. A light ripping read that is totally satisfying.
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 14TH
Cross and Burn by Val McDermid
Tony Hill and Carol Jordan are back; after the last book I had wondered. I think McDermid is one of those writers who gets to the end of the chapter and says: what’s the worst thing that could happen next? It seemed to have in the last book, but she’s back at it in this one, and I couldn’t put it down…
One of the things I like about these books is there is a lot for relationship sub plot (or non-relationship in Carol and Tony’s case- their degree of personal and joint pathology can be a bit hard to take at times, but the characters are so good you go with it). The interpersonal tension between the police is great though and reads authentic though I wouldn’t know, not being a police officer!
The plot is enough of a page turner to string all the rest together, and though no big surprises (and not much HEA…I can see why people like romance to cheer them up is this is real life…), it’s a book of its genre that doesn’t disappoint.
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 7.11.13
Just One Act of Evil by Elizabeth George
I picked this book up as soon as I saw it: had already looked at Amazon where I had to pre-order and thought I’d wait- didn’t have to wait long and there it was a day later (one for the independent book shops). I have read the series and am an addict…but given how much I have been reading (and writing and having my writing critiqued) I tried to think about what worked and what didn’t. I already knew that George’s novels don’t fit the usual prototype, if for no other reason than as this one is, they are long- 711 pages. It took me four consecutive nights and one full day, which given I can read four novels a week, this was a call well beyond the average!
For George fans, you’ll love it. I was pulled in, couldn’t stop turning the pages and couldn’t stop until I finished (compare to my review of Jo Nesbo’s latest, The Redbreast!).
The story. A kidnapping (with sleazy IT guys and PI’s) and then at the end of act two, something entirely else. It reminded me of the film Australia that was like two films combined and I groaned when the second started. But here there was a compelling link and it was unexpected and more interesting than the original crime.
Italy as a back drop. I often don’t like the travel theme of so many successful novelists who are getting bored and want to move their characters. But this worked. Salvatore and his boss are fabulous; she brings them alive and makes them alive. I think George does this best: professional issues and a side line of an estranged relationship, all in the delicious context of Italian police politics. I have no idea how accurate she is, but on the back of the Perugia disaster (British girl murdered, American and Italian convicted, overturned then retried…! Only in Italy) it hits exactly the right spot.
We have Thomas and Isabella again and it works because its professional with underlying overtones that if you’ve read early books you get, or else you will pick from the sufficient info you are given.
For me Thomas and his romances don’t work. I never liked Helen and more to the point their relationship was so strained and constipated I wanted to scream. I was happy to put it down to upper British class upbringing. But in this one the relationship is just as painful though ostensibly for her traumatic past and because she isn’t from his background, but I didn’t find it either compelling or believable.
Barbara Havers. God, where do I begin. I’ve never been a great fan (overweight, ugly , badly dressed and poor diet has never really done it for me- you can’t help how you were born but you can help what you do about it), but in the past her passion has won out. Well it’s in full force again here, but without giving anything away, as far as I am concerned she crossed over the line twice in this book and is totally unforgiveable on both counts (and it is impossible to believe that New Scotland Yard, and Lynley, wouldn’t have thought likewise, though George artfully brings us around on this at the end, though I still think really??? And would Salvatore really admire her??? Come on!).
Will I pick up the next one, even with Barbara in it? Yes, but I am on the edge of tolerance…
THURSDAY OCTOBER 31ST TWO GILLIAN FLYNN BOOKS- PRECURSORS TO GONE GIRL
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Probably like most people I read this after reading the phenomenally successful Gone Girl; but Sharp Objects was her debut novel and I have her second reviewed below(Gone Girl was her third). I am a fan on Nicci French (the husband and wife team) but if this (and Gone Girl) are representative, I think Flynn is taking the crown for disturbed protagonists. It is possibly a dubious crown; French’s heroines are largely likeable and easier to identify with. In Sharp Objects Flynn treads the fine line, mostly successfully, of keeping us rooting for her heroine who for most of us (even I working with some disturbed people) is well and truly two standard deviations away from what we consider “okay”. It is first person narrative by Camille, a journalist chasing a nasty story in her home town. In doing so she has to confront her own demons.
Despite the reviews saying the ending was totally unexpected, as a veteran of psych thrillers, I picked the main “twist” and there was always two or three other variations of which she took some but not all. It isn’t a HEA but there is hope and realism amongst all the psychopathology. She depicts small town pathology in intricate nasty detail and it is compelling; the family pathology has its own enthral and I was hooked, even if I did by and large know what was coming. A good read.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
This is the book prior to the success of her third, Gone Girl, and well worth a read if you like disturbed heroines and families and aren’t expecting too much of a HEA ending. The first person narrative of four foot ten Libby Day, alternates with her brother and mother’s perspectives, and all are very compelling. Flynn takes it right up to you on the first page, daring you to dislike Libby, and oddly, though she lacks many of the usual characteristics of the traditional heroine, we can’t help but root for her. Okay, she steals and she’s lazy, not good starts. Then she’s motivated by less than noble reasons. But maybe we stick with it through fascination; not many of us have survived a massacre of our family. Given she was only seven at the time, I gave her quite a bit of rope, but ultimately she proved herself more or less worthy of it. This is poor Midwest and all the unfashionable things associated with poverty, Nuevo Riche, broken families and bad parenting (dog turds left in the plush pile and covered up with spray…ugh). This is a page turner that takes some unexpected turns; I didn’t pick this yet it was all there. Well done!
THURSDAY OCTOBER 24TH
Bones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs
This writer somehow manages to write one book a year (has done for the last sixteen, starting in a bid to put her children through College), work as her heroine does, as a Forensics Anthropologist across two countries/counties AND do 22 episodes a year as part of the writer’s group for the Bones series (based on her books). Wow. I thought I did a lot but not after this!
Bones of the Lost takes in one of the author’s recent experiences of going to Afghanistan (in real life to increase morale) where Temp Brennan is asked for an opinion on two civilians killed by US troops. Unlike when Scarpetta (Patricia Cornwell’s character) jaunted around the world, I found this far more plausible because the job she does calls for rare skills that not many people have (and more specialised than Scarpetta- though in the latest Stuart MacBride novel, some what tongue in cheek, he suggests there is so little work for forensic anthropologists that now everyone wants to be a temp Brennan after the Bones series, they have to fight for every job) . That said, as it went into a completely different section, separate it seemed from the main story, I thought it was the author merely wanting to include Afghanistan and thought it was bit disjointed. But fear not! Reichs is the master of twisting plots around and all comes together in a satisfying end.
Oh by the way, unlike her character, you can offer Reichs a drink!
THURSDAY OCTOBER 17TH
TWO JO NESBO’S!
The Bat by Jo Nesbo
This is the first Harry Hole mystery, I think published into English after the success of later books. I went back to this having read and enjoyed The Snowman, and if I recall rightly, the events of this book were mentioned in the later one (certainly that it was in Australia).
This was an easy and enjoyable enough read but was not as tight in either plot or writing style as the later one. I had to get over the use of ‘mate’ several times in the first pages which as an Australian makes me cringe, particularly as it was in Sydney, not the outback. That’s not to say city Australians don’t say mate, I’m sure they do, but it is just a tad irritating to be so stereotyped. We hear a lot more about Harry’s past and his problems, probably a bit too much tell rather than show, and it wasn’t always clear why the story was going where it did as Harry went off on several wrong tangents.
I enjoyed it, if you like the series, read it, but as an author it’s great to know your writing improves…Nesbo’s has.
The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo
I’ve read most of the Harry Hole series and found them interesting and well written but at times uneven and unexpected. The first (ABOVE) set in Australia was I think when the author was still finding his feet; less polished and dense, easier to access and forget. I read The Snowmen first which was solid and kept your interest, somewhat of a page turner. Now this one, which is different again.
Firstly it is long, dense and complicated. This brings with it positives and negatives. It took me a long time to finish and in the interim I read maybe six other books that were easier. Getting back into this one each time didn’t do me or it any favours. Getting my head around the names each time was hard enough, but there is also the switches in time. For the first and last section of the book we go back to the war, and while this works well at the end I found it hard going in the beginning when they were on the front lines, easier when they were in hospital and not at the front. Then there is another section where Harry is leaving messages on his offsider’s phone which feels totally different again.
The plot is mainly about revenge, murder, traitors, but with a good dose of post war neurosis (or psychosis), love and some psychological theories. There’s also some police corruption and gun running, and a romance for Harry as well as the previous generation that is relived. Does this sound all over the place? Probably but Nesbo does bring it all together, just my brain is still trying to sort it out…
THURSDAY OCTOBER 10TH
TWO ANGELA SAVAGE BOOKS!
Behind the Night Bazaar by Angela Savage
So I meet the author at a party, am booked in to hear her interview Kathy Reichs and her sessions at Brisbane Writer’s festival…and I really liked her. Well I clearly needed to buy one of her books!
The author worked and lived in Thailand so that’s where she puts her PI Jayne Keeney (a heroine who looks rather like the author me thinks!). I struggled initially with the Thai names and of destinations Asia isn’t my favourite but the writing and the heroine won me over (and she’s rather tough on the hero, kind of like what my heroine does; what is it with Aussie women?). There is an unresolved gay friendship, several murders, police corruption, Aussies behaving badly and under aged sex rings. Plenty to keep the interest up and a cracking pace. A GOOD READ!
The Dying Beach by Angela Savage
It’s possible that Jayne Keeney, the PI we met in Behind the Night Bazaar, is a little more relaxed and fun in this book, but it may because having met the author I am merging the two… The opening is however on a Thai beach better known for holidays than dead bodies so this may help…but dead body there is, and more to come. Jayne has a new boyfriend/business partner, the younger Rajiv (wish fulfilment? Mmm), her usual run ins with Thai police, and more than ever she is wonderful at picking the cultural nuances at the Australian- Thai interface. There’s fun and action, and a slightly unusual structure with the plot seeming to be over by the end of the second act but then the third takes us off in a new direction solving the original problem! You don’t need to have read the first one to read this, but read both!
THURSDAY OCTOBER 3RD
This is How by M.J.Hyland
In the first instance let me be clear- I agree with virtually everything the reviewers are quoted as saying about this book (the exception being Helen Garner’s comment about your heart breaking for the character, and I didn’t find it thrilling). Yes it is a masterful study in claustrophobia and loneliness, yes it got under my skin, and it was merciless stunning psychological portrayal. The book is in two parts, the first leading up to and including the crime, the second in gaol. It is written in first person so you are in Patrick’s head. It is not, I have to say, a comfortable place to be.
Long before the crime I was feeling an ominous sense of dread and felt myself being sucked into a dark hole. I then came back to it determined to keep more distance, which I did and this helped. It reminded me of how Crime and Punishment made me feel in the summer holidays before I started my last year of school; but then I was thrilled to be uncovering literature I never knew existed. Thirty years later I was less excited about revisiting the same spot.
I think this is an important book, because it helps us conceive the unconceivable, to visualise from the perpetrator’s point of view, and with that can come prevention and perhaps compassion. But did I enjoy it? No. Would I read her again? Probably not if it was in a similar vein. I saw her speak at the Byron Bay writer’s festival and she’s an interesting woman who calls it as it is and has an interesting back story of her own.
Thursday September 26th
Reading four books a week at the moment so two quick reviews here to get through the backlog!
Assassin by Tara Moss
I won this (and nine other books) courtesy of Sister’s in Crime at Brisbane writer’s festival. I thought I had already read it (have read the earlier ones) but hadn’t. Like the others, starting with Fetish I think about the Stiletto murders this has Makedde and Andy in it and a stiletto murderer wanna be. It traverses Spain and Australia, with parallel tales of Mak being pursued by assassins (and turning into one herself) while Andy is back home sorting out the latest Sydney serial killer. I found it interesting to see how Moss changed her heroine in response to what was happening to her, making her a tough survivor who had to kill or be killed. Not sure it was terribly realistic, but a lot of fun, fast paced and easy reading.
After the Darkness by Honey Brown
I won this book too but thought it sounded the sort of thriller I liked and jumped into it. Easy to read, first person narrative that sucks you in, I never-the-less took a little while to not want to put it down. Then I wished I could put it down (but didn’t want to)because it went from train wreck to train wreck (and yes, showing how easily the wrong decision can lead to yet another) and it was hard (but compelling) to watch.
Overall I liked the story and enjoyed the read until the last couple of chapters, then felt a bit, really?
Thursday September 19th
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
I picked this book up at the Brisbane writer’s festival after I heard the author on a panel. He was a tad verbose (and hard to keep in line- though the moderator was clearly in awe so didn’t try hard) but very interesting in person…and he mentioned he liked the less restrictive environment of novel compared to screenplay. Mostly Hollywood don’t read scripts over 120 pages … and the novel is well beyond this equivalent!
To say the least it is a fascinating novel- a gripping yarn, a page turner and a novel I never wanted to finish. It starts as a murder mystery (and ends on this) but in the middle follows the life of Saracen, the man he has to find (to save the world, yep it’s one of those type of BIG books) from Saudi Arabia through Afghanistan to Turkey. The book is written in first person (Pilgrim’s POV) yet in the Saracen sections its third close person POV while still in ‘I’ from Pilgrim. He assumes the knowledge from his research and puts us in the other guys head. Never seen it done before! Found it a little strange but was so absorbed, it didn’t worry me.
We also have a strong 9/11 theme, the murder mystery ends up with a highly unlikely connection geographically and has some fun, but need to suspend belief at times, investigative techniques. There are some great characters, missing in the love affair stakes, and he does a lot of foreshadowing that works mostly (and he does tie everything up) though the bit he holds onto longest re his adoptive father was a bit disappointing and not as ‘neat’ as most of the book.
Overall there are probably lots of things that could be criticised but I loved it. If you are up for a fab yarn (way more satisfying than Inferno and at least as good if not better than Da Vinci Code), you like mystery, spies and jaunts across the Middle East this is for you.
Thursday September 12th
The Cold, Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty
I was prompted to download this after booking into a session at the Brisbane Writer’s festival in which he was presenting last weekend. Thought it would be a good idea to read him; I tend to do psych thrillers and this is more procedural, but it distinctive for its setting in Ireland during the Troubles. As my hero in my new novel (well love interest) was born in Ireland and spent his primary school years (and is same age and looks a little like this author…and I soon found out had both done a Law degree!) I thought it would be good to familiarise myself with some of the background (and I was hoping from reading his work to find one word he says to the heroine that would fit, but alas didn’t succeed so I thought I’d ask the author in person for any ideas!).
The book is first person Catholic policeman Sean Duffy. He has a tough job and no one seems to like the peelers let alone a Catholic one (McKinty has great stories from his background, women hiding bareetas under their negligees when he was 8. Incidentally he is protestant). The IRA appear (ok I know who they are) and Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein), yep know him too. But had to rush for google (where were we before it?) to make sense/remind myself of the couple of others that popped up- decided if it starts with U that’s Ulster, protestant and nasty.
The character and setting is definitely the books strong point, but the crime (two dead gay men with severed hands) is gripping too. A low key romance (and a one off in the midst, to say nothing of a gay encounter) kept it real, messy and a great read.
Oh, and Adrian doesn’t have a strong Irish accent (get him to say ‘Fantastic’ though…) courtesy of UK, NY and Boulder Colerado, but he did give me my word: Honey. Look out for it if my book ever comes out!
Thursday September 5th
Beyond Fear by Jaye Ford
This was an unexpected positive find from the Romance Writer’s Australia conference- Jaye did a workshop (on writing action, which I attended), and of course this book and Scared Yet, her second were available and I bought them both. If you aren’t a romance reader don’t be put off – this isn’t a romance! (Okay, for those who like a romance there is a subplot one, but it definitely isn’t the main driver of the book).
This is tense! Ford builds up the tension so artfully I thought I was on the verge of needing a valium. Four female friends go away for a weekend. I have three girlfriends and we occasionally do this – I was very pleased I wasn’t reading this on one such weekend! It goes from bad to worse (I could believe she got to the end of each chapter and thought ‘ah what can I have happen now…’). And then gets worse. Just when you think you can’t bear it any longer you get a change POV…and then the tension builds because we know what he’s about to end up in the middle of.
This isn’t a plot of twists but it is a great one for tension and action. Try to read in one hit or you won’t sleep!
Thursday August 29th
Bone Bed by Patricia Cornwell
This another Kay Scarpetta novel and on plot Cornwell is thankfully back in the USA and not doing implausible things with her heroine overseas. There is more edge to her character now though, an unease and unhappiness under the shadow of the dreaded aging and becoming invisible guise, but I have to wonder if Cornwell’s wrestles through the legal system aren’t showing. She’s no longer in Virginia having moved North to Boston which is kind of nice to get to know another region of USA though I am more familiar with this one than the previous. The pace keeps up, and it’s enjoyable enough but either I have grown out of these a little or maybe they have lost their edge compared to other newer authors I read, but I found it less satisfying and engrossing than the early Scarpetta novels. Still a bit of fun.
Thursday August 22nd
Unseen by Karin Slaughter
I have been to so many writer’s festivals lately it feels strange reviewing a book from an author I haven’t met! Maybe this pleasure is ahead of me!
I’ve read all of Slaughter’s books following Sara Linton, a doctor with the unusually-to-combine specialties of paediatrics and pathology, who was married to a cop in a small town and is now developing a stronger relationship with an FBI agent we’ve also seen quite a bit of (and a a writer it’s interesting to see what ‘flaw’ the hero/heroine has- Will has dyslexia which is interesting. Sara’s of course is attached to one of the earlier books so I won’t do a spoiler- you’ll have to read them). Lena makes a reappearance (too many flaws to list…), with no love lost between the two lead women as the action propels us forward to fast to think of anything but what’s on the next page!
Slaughter writes well, the characters are good, this story winds us through drugs, paedophilia and throws in some moral dilemmas about choices. An enjoyable read.
Thursday August 15th
Watching You by Michael Robotham
It’s possible that I think this is Robotham’s best book because I bought and started it in the sunshine of the Bryon Bay Writer’s festival (good weather has this effect on me) and because we were staying at the same hotel as the Robotham’s and spoke to them on the bus as well as enjoying his panels. But I don’t think so.
This book grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go until the very last line. Marnie is a likeable character and we agonise for her as the situation she is in gets worse and worse- and the questions we have get more and more! Joe(the psychologist) is back, with less about his family in this one; I usually like his family issues but didn’t miss it at all here (his daughter makes an appearance). There were plenty of other things to keep me occupied; what happened to Marnie’s husband, who is watching her (and why), and then who is responsible for the rising body count. The pace is fast, there are plenty of twists, and just when I thought the author was going to give in to popular gobbled gook he doesn’t (or does he…) and we leap into an almost second story as it hurtles towards the climax. Very satisfying!
Thursday August 8th
The Last to Die by Tess Gerristen
I heard the author speak a couple of years ago at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival and was already a fan; she was a good speaker too, though left me astounded that she just got her characters and ran with them. I did like the idea of getting to the end of each chapter and then (as the author) thinking : what’s the worst that could happen next? It doesn’t work for me (as an author) but as a reader…well there’s plenty of that happening in this book! It’s always interesting seeing where authors take the heroes we have come to know. Cornwall crossed the line as far as I’m concerned (though she returned), taking Scarpetta internationally and onto somewhat ludicrous plots. Gerristen is on the border of doing that here, but just stays short of the line thank goodness. Though the plot is international, medical examiner Maura Isles and cop Jane Rizzoli stay safely in Maine. Well not all that safely; this is a thriller/crime book after all!
Much of the book is set in an ‘alternative’ school in the wilds of Maine, and I quite liked this. Belief has to be suspended a little, but not too much, about its origins, and it makes a good background. The pages turn, you don’t want to put it down, and though it wasn’t hard to work out the main plot, there are still some twists and unexpected eventualities, and it makes a satisfying read.
Thursday August 1st
Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
I quite liked Human Remains though I thought it had problems, so I went back to try Haynes first book. This got her quite a lot of attention and prizes, a story of obsession in more ways than one. Lee’s obsession with Catherine weaves chillingly through the book, told chronologically going forward, in parallel with Catherine’s story four years later. The later story is also about obsession- her OCD and PTSD symptoms that have resulted from the trauma we work our way up to, which happened at the end of the relationship with Lee. Lee’s release from prison adds to the tension as we wait for him to invade the ‘current’ section as well as pervading the past.
This book has everything that a good psychological thriller should have. Gutsy heroine, chillingly plausible obsessive dangerous man, a cast of great other characters, her girlfriends, and loads of tension and suspense. While I kept thinking my girlfriends would never have been sucked in like hers, I took a look at my daughter’s girlfriends more in the age range, and then thought back to my twenties, and no longer doubted she got it right (well I don’t think I’ve ever had a Sylvia like friend but it all works). The love interest and ending of this thread is probably unlikely and a bit cheesy but we’ve chewed our nails down to the quick by this stage so we needed a reward for survival…will look for her second book now!
Thursday July 25th
The Ghost Riders of the Ordebec by Fred Vargas
My reading of this book is a testimony to the importance of the independent bookseller. I was on a five day break in Noosa and the bookseller got to know us because he was selling my husband’s book at a Long Weekend function, and because I kept going in buying books! He slipped this one to me and said “I think you’ll like it” and I briefly assessed and ran with it (I’d bought The Demonologist and a Harlen Corben from him at this stage).
I am so pleased he put it in my hand because I might otherwise have passed it over. He said “it has a spiritual/ mystic theme in all of them” which grabbed me, and having read it, how she (and Fred is presumably Frederique) does this is perfect for me- The Demonologist went over the line, Vargas keeps within it. History has the legend, real life has an explanation – but the two can be linked.
She is French and it is set in France, with all the French quirkiness that when you live there, as I have, is hard to pinpoint as an outsider. Her characters are great, the stories complex and interwoven. From the moment of meeting the hero Commissaire Adamsberg (not exactly an obvious name for a French man) we are pulled into his team of interesting misfits, a statuesque woman to be reckoned with, a bulimic, one with a sleep disorder, two rivals, and as well into the new relationship with a recently discovered son. Into this we have a woman with visions of the Ghost Riders, heralding deaths, a man blown up in his car and a small time hood who has been framed that Adamsberg saves…as well as saving a near dead pigeon. Believe or not, these all tie into together in a beautifully paced story that is never dull. And yes, I will be reading everything else she has written.
Thanks Ross at Noosa’s Mary Ryans.
Thursday July 18th
Boomer and Me by Jo Case
This was given to my husband (who had given a copy to Jo of his book) in a sharing of Asperger’s- fiction, The Rosie Project, in my husband’s case albeit inspired by a friend, and in Jo’s case nonfiction, about herself and her son.
It’s a somewhat long and rambling at times book, but all the warmer and more real for it. She is a keen observer at many levels, and even for a non-Asperger mother (either self or child) there is still a lot to identify with in her dealing with schools and other parents. If you have an Asperger’s child this is a must- it’s about difference not disability and the sheer raw heartfelt love for the boy overcomes all else.
Having now been to a number of my husband’s book talks, there is a lot of people who are affected by Aspergers, either because they are perhaps wired a little like that themselves (think IT, engineers, maths departments…) or have friends and family. Even if you don’t, the book is a nice read.
Thursday July 11th
The Golden Scales by Parker Bilal
I heard Jamal Mahjoub (the real name of Parker Bilal) present at the Perth Writer’s festival and picked up this book and the sequel because he was a good speaker (albeit a little serious) and this series seemed an ideal way to understand a bit about the political situation in the middle east from someone who knew a good deal more about it than me, while doing what I enjoy most in reading- taking in a crime/thriller.
The hero, Makana, like the author, is a foreigner to Egypt where the book is set, a refugee from a neighbouring African state, Sudan. I have been to Egypt and the book captures the feel of a more modern city than the one I saw – but then I was a tourist! It’s a good story, I can’t testify to how authentic it is regarding the corruption, but it reads real. A missing child from long ago, a murder, a missing soccer player-son all entwine through this ancient city that is also very much at the heart of the Arab unrest. A crime and corruption novel without the usual westernized background; intriguing and enjoyable, solidly written.
Thursday 4th July
Waiting For Wednesdays by Nicci French
As a hope to be writer of thrillers I try to ask myself when I’m reading a good one, what is it that makes it stand out? Why do I keep wanting to turn the pages? Not sure I have the answer, but as I sat and read this in one day (resenting the break for dinner) there was no doubt why this couple are so successful−I did want to keep reading and interrupted another book without hesitation to do so. So why did I want to read this and not the other in quite the same way (the other is quite good and I’ll get back to it, but it isn’t a MUST like this was from the start)?
This is the third book with the same psychotherapist character (with Thursday and Friday presumably planned). I’m not entirely sure I like her, some things she does are downright stupid and unrealistic (I have worked for many years as a psychotherapist as one of my hats – we don’t run round looking after very tenuous leads to an uncertain destination, possibly why we also don’t generally get knifed as this character did in her previous book…but this is fiction!), but she’s interesting and at times you are just compelled to watch the train wreck.
There’s a long running background light story that made me giggle- the unasked for renovations from hell, a not very convincing love story (very minor) and two stories, one that gets stronger as the other resolves. Oh, and the background psychopath that is always there to add the odd creepy moment. There’s lots of soap opera both in her niece’s life and the investigation of the dead woman’s as two families disintegrate, and on top of that the one I enjoyed the most, however slightly predictable, the battle with the psychologist from hell who is trying to discredit her.
So why did I want to turn the pages? Twists, turns (I did pick these but it really didn’t matter), good characters and LOTS happening. No wonder I couldn’t sleep when I finally did put it down. Bring on Thursday guys
Thursday 27th June
Dying Light and Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride
As an author I should know better than reviewing two books at once but they’ll never get on my blog at all at the pace I am currently reading so better one review than none. I read them one after another, hence the blurring a little in my mind, because it is the same team of cops (give or take) and we are still in a somewhat grim Aberdeen (I have a picture of some grim looking Scottish ancestors on my wall and I can see why they left…).
These books are gritty police drama. There’s a good sense of place, and solid characters though I’m not sure there is any gay woman quite as tough as DI Steele but I don’t have that much experience with gay women or cops and she is fun. Poor old Logan keeps getting things wrong (including with his partner in Broken Skin…I’m glad this is written by a bloke. Don’t think I could get away with it as a woman, but his reluctance to tell one woman the truth and the jumping of conclusions…well this is totally authentic. Hope MacBride’s wife forgave him….).
The crimes are grim and real, there’s plenty of them, and Aberdeen’s best and finest out there in their own time to solve it (I am so glad I didn’t marry a cop if this is what their lives are truly like…probably just ones in Aberdeen where the other options are limited). I prefer thrillers but these are good reads for police drama lovers.
Thursday 20th June
Night Games by Anna Krein
Me? Read a footie book? You’ve got to be joking…but I flicked through it in the book shop because of the culture it was about and the end of the prologue grabbed me and dragged me to the counter. This spoke of a smart women trying to be objective and struggling; I identified with her. Very Helen Garner whose books the First Stone and Jo Cinque’s Consolation I found fascinating. This topic wasn’t quite as interesting but it still kept me engrossed and while it could have been a bit shorter, this is an important journalistic on football and its culture as related to attitudes to women,, including of course rape, a trial which it follows.
In case you hadn’t guessed, I am not a football fan. Soccer is probably the only team game that holds any interest to me because it is about being smart not just brawn (I believe cricket is too, but I fall asleep before I can see anything more than a man and a ball). I have been at functions with Sam Newman and seen bits of the footie show. I don’t like him either, nor all the “negative” side of the game that seems to reside in him. He comes across as a misogynist and displays no respect for women.
This book is a lot about that, but Krein doesn’t heap rubbish on either men or the game per se (and I do like men in general!). She tries to look at the game, the clubs, the hierarchy and from interviews with numerous people and reference to rape trials other than the main one presented, gives I think an interesting overview and raises lots of questions. She doesn’t answer them – how can she – but if we can ask ourselves these questions and get the clubs and boards to, then we can move forward. We certainly need to.
Thursday 13th June
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
This book received a lot of hype with a big USA up-front payment unusual in itself, let alone to a first time novelist. It took me a while to get around to buying it; every time I looked at it I was reminded that perhaps my tastes are out of keeping with mainstream because historical fiction really doesn’t do it for me (I continue to walk past Hilary Mantel but I dare say I’ll give in there sooner or later). Add to that that this book is about the last woman executed in Iceland in 1830, it all sounded well a bit dreary. That said I did enjoy a recent Tudor novel about Katherine Parr (admittedly she did escape the axe).
So as I knew I was likely to meet the author (and did) at the Sydney Writer’s festival (she’s very sweet) I thought the time had come.
Firstly, it is beautifully written. But written in an easy style that doesn’t feel like she slaved over every sentence (she may well have) that you feel with some “literary” writers. This is easy reading and the prose is evocative; I feel and see the dark coldness of Iceland, the hovering around the dung fed fire, the hardness of life as it most surely would have been pre-electricity. Part of this is the prose, part comes from well-drawn characters, about which we do not know everything but come to see and feel them too as we become part of their lives.
There are no real surprises here; we do find out what “really” happened (in Kent’s mind anyway) and there is a satisfaction in this, but the story unfolds in the way you expect and while the characters attitudes change (and this is nicely observed) what is good about the book is not the plot, but rather the fate of an interesting person told well. It hasn’t convinced me to like historical fiction in general, but if you do, or just like easy flowing well written evocative prose, then this is probably for you.
Thursday 6th June
The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell
What is it about so many good thriller writers that never get on the best seller list? Read about this one in the Age review last weekend; they clearly liked her first book better, described the dialogues in this one as something like mundane to excruciating and described by the publisher as “easy to read” but concluded the end was worth the read.
So I walked into a book store (yes they still exist and I want to support them, though am being sucked in by the practicalities of Amazon, and am about to get my I-pad and download Secrets of the Tides) and asked for the first book (the one I am about to download) which they didn’t have, but they did have this one. Read it in two sittings.
I obviously like easy to read, and didn’t find the conversation anything except authentic (sadly I realised that the era of one of the “half” of the story was mine). I picked the ending (unusual that I don’t though if you scroll through my reviews on my website I think there was an Elizabeth Hayne’s I didn’t) so wasn’t as excited by that, but still thought it an enjoyable read.
We have two women thirty years apart telling the story of the same cottage. Both are troubled. We know they have to connect (unless you’ve never read a thriller in your life). Interesting stories, and I was more engrossed by Kat’s than I thought I would be; despite the age issue, I have never wanted to live in a commune or drop out of the world. Not sure I really believe Simon did either, but there is some real people and emotions amongst these troubles souls and a bit of escapism in joining them.
Thursday 30th May
Confessions of a Sociopath: A life living in plain sight. By M.E.Thomas
As a psychotherapist/health professional working with mental illness, this book fascinated me when I read excerpts in the newspaper and when I saw at in the airport bookshop, I grabbed it. A memoir, written under a pseudonym (though she invites you to find out who she is), it is highly unusual because psychopaths/sociopaths/ people with antisocial personality disorders are usually not insightful, do not think that they have a problem, just that they cause other people grief. I put these three different terms together (and she talks about them) because they are largely the same. We are not talking about people with a psychotic illness; sufferers are rational and can be charming and successful (as this woman is). They just have no empathy and unlike people with Asperger’s and Autism spectrum, have a disregard for authority and rules, learn to use their charms and fine tune their social skills, to manipulate and get their own way. They usually have run ins with the law as well.
We are more used to these characters being men, and in novels, serial killers. This one (or so she says) chooses to play by the rules. Given they lie…well that brings us to this book. How much to believe? What is her real goals and intentions? She believes herself smarter than the rest of us but she also likes to prove her superiority and “ruin” people. Or is she just making the whole thing up?
I am first to admit I am fairly gullible- I like to believe my patients. That aside, I’m not stupid. Evaluating this book, my sense is that she is for real. Her discussion of fluid sexuality and their lack of sense of self rings true of those I have known, and is not in DSM IV (the psychiatrist’s bible). She feels cold and you (well I didn’t) don’t feel sympathetic, there is always a layer between you and her. But fascinating? Oh yes.
I think the book could have been shorter, I think she is not as insightful as she thinks (but then given she is lacking the empathy gene this is probably to be expected). She does I believe have good insights into herself though, and the mix of genes and upbringing contributing. I’d be a little harder on her parents and their influence, and wish she would read We Must Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver before she has children. The neediness and cries of her child are likely to inflame her anger, because her own cries were never heard and dealt with. The church on the other hand seems to have had a very positive containing influence (that said it is hard to reconcile her adherence (supposedly) to no premarital sex, and the exploits in Brazil).
She says there are lots out there like her and she’s probably right. I know at least two, and they aren’t patients, though one nearly died by his own hands. It is interesting to hear their voice.
Thursday 23rd May
Inferno by Dan Brown
I have had people who can’t mention Dan Brown’s name without looking like they’ve sucked on a lemon. Personally I think they’re precious and literary snobs. So he isn’t for everyone and who is? He’s successful where as “literary” writers aren’t at this level: one only has to look at Fox TV to understand why. The masses aren’t that bright. If they are reading anything at all I think that’s brilliant!
The truth is he isn’t going to get a Booker, but Da Vinci Code was a fun page turning romp. I’ve read his others too but like the whole genre (I’ve stopped reading Steve Berry and the others…they all read like they are desperate to be a Hollywood movie, though I get this!) it loses some of its shine after the first few.
Inferno is a fast forward through Italian Art History, with a focus on Dante; primarily the The Divine Comedy but also the spinoffs such as Botticelli’s painting. Having just returned from Italy (though alas not Florence) it certainly made me want to rush back and if some of the art works described really exist (and I think they do) the museums better put on extra security to stop the public trying to wrestle them down to get to the secret passages or lay on them to hear the water…
The strengths? It’s fun and fast. Yes there are twists at the end. It might be enough to start its own panic because the graphs are real and terrifying. The man has a good point or two about religion and population explosion. But he also makes the point that we are pretty good at denial.
Weaknesses? High brow literature it isn’t, but give me this over James Joyce because at least I finished it and understood it without getting a headache. While the plot is fine for what it is, the characters are superficial despite his best attempts- maybe it’s just too hard to make people real when what they are doing isn’t (we don’t complain about James Bond being superficial one dimensional, though to be fair one of the strengths of Daniel Craig’s bond is that he has more depth). I like books with a stronger (well actually any) interaction between hero and heroine and I thought this was a weakness of the Da Vinci Code too and is even more so in this one. Will I forget it be tomorrow? Yep. But I might dredge it up (beauty of ebook) when I am next in Florence. But I promise not to try and wrestle art works off the wall…I’ll just try looking behind it surreptitiously.
Thursday 16th May
Thought I’d follow last review (Revenge of the Tides by E Haynes) with this one, as in both the heroines worked in shall we say the seedier side of life and are/have tried to get get out of it. Similarities end there though…
Stay Close by Harlan Corben
Meagan had a previous life that calls; and one mistake brings the past hurtling back. This is a competent quick read that I won’t remember too much about but was enjoyable enough at the time.
There are a lot of bodies over many years but the serial killer angle isn’t too eye rolling (I am a bit over serial killers) and the strength is the characters and their strengths and weaknesses. There is a bit of a superficial feel to some of them, but the cop that can’t let go and the drunk who never got over the woman he loved have enough authenticity to keep it real. The two psychopaths in the secondary story overall were probably unnecessary and more work on the main plot and characters probably time better spent. But hell, it’s hard to resist (and Corben must have been wryly giggling to himself) the perfect couple called Ken and Barbie who list torturing for God as a hobby.
Thursday 9th May
Revenge of the Tide by Elizabeth Haynes
This book grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. I’m not even sure why, but somehow the unlikely mix a houseboat and a past life as a pole dancer, neither obvious attractions to an avid thriller reader, had me into Genevieve’s world and not wanting to leave it.
Doing up an old houseboat does have a sort of romantic appeal; Haynes starts emerging us in there and it’s only because of the back cover blurb we know a body is going to turn up, but I wanted to keep reading anyway. The body does turn up, so does a cute cop and all the time in the background we know there is something about Dylan and a package.
Haynes takes us back to Genevieve’s earlier life, an uneasy brief mix of a normal London sales job and another life as Viva getting tips for pole dancing. I have never been in one of these clubs and know from people (girls) who have just how seedy the life is. But Haynes manages to take us beyond the seediness and open it up and make it fascinating. She also makes us want to know more about Dylan the bouncer and what happened between him and Genevieve and Fitz the boss.
In the end it finishes in somewhat of a romp and perhaps here is the only clue that the original version was written in a month. The rest is a polished wind through sleaze and to hopes of a new life for those who can keep a hold of who they are. I didn’t pick the ending, and who if anyone she was going to end up with was always up for grabs; but it was satisfying enough and all in all a great read.
Thursday 2nd May
Me Before You by Jo-Jo Moyes
What is there to say that hasn’t been already said about this book? Glowing reviews, one of the publishing people whispering to me “Oh that’s wonderful” and Jo-Jo Moyes herself being a complete delight. World Book Night ensuring another few thousand rush for the tissue box.
It grabbed me from the first page when I picked it off the table in the Artists area at World book night. While my husband was being photographed and sound tested, I was getting right into it and on the plane next day (despite three hours sleep) was back into it. Even Rome had to wait while I finished it.
In many ways it’s a simple, easy read. There aren’t twists or real surprises (though at one stage I thought the author was going to cheat and take the easy way out, but she doesn’t), mostly seen through Louisa Clark’s eyes (occasional chapter from her sister or Will the hero’s helper and father that helped convey some things that couldn’t be otherwise, but I didn’t think were all that necessary) it moves towards the inevitable with the tissue pile mounting.
So why was it so good? Simply two great characters (and Louisa’s family are really done well, and so in Running Man her boyfriend) and a great premise. A premise with heart, topical and important. Yet somehow Moyes manages to make Euthanasia gripping and uplifting; this is the real brilliance of the novel. Despite the tissues, and the topic, Louisa is zany, quirky and fun and there are plenty of wonderful light moments. I loved it, even if it does still bring tears to my eyes.
Thursday 25th April
One Day by David Nichols
This book takes a novel idea – each chapter is the same day a year apart, for twenty years. On the day we follow Dexter and Emma who really really like each other but can’t quite manage to get together. Dexter seriously loses the plot for a while, selling himself to the superficial life of the media, while Emma loses herself as she doesn’t quite fulfil all she had anticipated when she got a double first in English lit but at least isn’t as obnoxious.
Nichols follows the couple who aren’t (mostly) as they and their friends go through all the trials and tribulations of relationships, marriages, children and divorces on the background of the changing times (good heavens they don’t have mobiles back in 1988 when it starts!). It is wonderfully done, weaving its magic around the reader. It isn’t the sort of book I usually read but was because someone had said my husband’s book The Rosie Project was like One Day meets A Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night. Neither I nor he had read either, now I’ve read both. Yes Don is a grown up version of the child in Curious Dog but apart from Dex and Em seeming for some of the book (but not all, and they have a great friendship) an unlikely couple, I don’t see much similarity.
One reviewer suggested it’s a romantic comedy. The Rosie Project is- One Day is not. It is light and amusing at times and yes it is romantic, but a love story with grit and reality. Much more it is touching and moving.
I met the author at World Book Night in London two nights ago- a lovely person, I could see where the heart came from.
Warning – Spoiler alert coming so stop reading! I won’t say what the ending is but I find it hard to review this book without saying that I burst into tears, didn’t see the end coming and found it rather unsettling to say the least. Beautiful but well …I’m wishing it hadn’t ended as it had but maybe it had to.
Thursday April 18th
The Sacrificial Man by Ruth Dugdall
This is the second Cate Austin novel, the said Cate being a parole officer in this book preparing a presentence assessment for a court. As in her first book, The Woman Before Me, this book also follows another character, who is really the protagonist even if she is also the criminal. In this book Alice has helped her ‘boyfriend’ die, but all is not as it seems and as the book sucks us into this page turner, we aren’t sure who to like or feel sorry for.
Alice is a complex and largely unlikeable character but we believe her, and Dugdall takes us back to her childhood to show us how she became who she is. The twist in this one I didn’t pick, actually either of the two main ones, which is pretty unusual. One was more believable than the other but even then we are carried along and don’t question that as much as the consequences.
This is a well written interesting book, worth reading, but to be honest, Alice and the story in the end didn’t exactly leave me feeling great about anything. The book leaves a definite distaste behind…but then maybe this is because it has achieved what it set out to.
Thursday April 11th
Murder with the Lot by Sue Williams
I went to a Sister in Crime night to hear Katherine Howell (of whom I had read) speak, and the other speaker was a first time author Sue Williams. She was dryly sweet and I put her on my ‘to read’ list, but as comedy crime isn’t really my thing (prefer thrillers) I lingered a bit. Then I won a copy of her book which rather spurred me on to read her, and what a good thing!
Murder with the Lot …is well rather like the title (which she said in the talk was a problem initially because she had her man ordering fish’n’chips and it took the editor to suggest that he could order a hamburger after all…). It has a bit of everything; murder, missing bodies, villains, disbelieving sons, a love story of sorts. Most of all though it has a totally absorbing heroine, who a little like my brief impression of the author, is dry and quirky and lots of fun. There were times I laughed out loud (not common for me in books) at some of the ridiculous things Cass does, but even more so at her one liner takes. While she’s worrying about her son her elderly friend is carrying on in the background about how he kept all the women away from her (dead) husband by telling them he had VD. This is just a snippet of the type or wry humour that the book is bursting with. I have read other crime comedy, but none as funny as this. Right to the end, this is a heroine who should never be let loose with a gun, but be sure when she is, you’ll need to duck while you’re reading on.
Thursday April 4th
Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay
After being disappointed by the last book (really an extended novella) I read by this author, it was good to sink back into a more vintage Barclay. He’s taken a great idea, just waiting to be written about and turned into an intricate weaving of two very different story lines that come together through mishap. It makes for easy ‘can’t wait to turn the next page’ reading.
Thomas and Ray are brothers whose father has just died. Thomas has a mental illness (described as schizophrenia but a lot more like aspergers) and a photographic memory for maps of google, or rather whirlpool or something like that. One of the pictures happens to be taken during a murder. Given how many Thomas looks at this is less implausible than it may sound. Anyway it kicks off a series of events, connecting him and his brother to the bad guys. We have aspiring politicians, suicidal wives, Olympic gymnasts turned psychopath and a strong message that once you start down the path of evil it can rapidly escalate! That said the guy that says no (appropriately) doesn’t do all that well. Better than the others though.
There isn’t a dull moment, a bit of a romance too, and surprises right until the end. Bit of a romp I guess like the last one but with much better story, tension and twists.
Thursday 28th March
The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall
This is the first of (so far) two “Cate Austin” crime thrillers. The author is or was a parole officer, as is the heroine Cate, which actually makes for a novel take on crime, a different angle that is well done. I like the name of the novel too- I took it to mean one thing when in fact it means another, or maybe actually, both meanings are pertinent.
There is, besides Cate Austin, another main character, actually the main character. I am used to crime books where we are in the criminals head but always remain with the heroine crime fighter. In this book the ‘criminal’ is the protagonist in many ways and Cate Austin the moral centre. The story is compelling, well written and a definite page turner. There were twists though I mostly picked them, including the “shocking climax” but then I read LOT of thrillers, am writing one, and work in this particular area in my other life, so it doesn’t mean it was obvious, and it didn’t honestly change the enjoyment.
This is a book about the desperate need for a child, and the horror of a child’s death at one level, but at another it is much more about who one is and what makes us.
Thursday 21st March
The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid
I read somewhere that this authors early books were being re-released and when I read this my first thought was this must have been one of them but the book they were referring to had Christmas in the title so I guess not. The reason I thought this was The Vanishing Point is so different to her other psychological crime thrillers I wouldn’t ever have picked it being from the same author. It’s more adventure and romp …or rather this is how it seems and perhaps more like the author I know, things are not always as they seem!
The story follows a ghost writer and her relationship with the reality celebrity she writes about and the relationship that develops. It’s told in parallel with one thread current, where a kidnapped child is involved, and the other the story she is telling the FBI in the airport, going back in time and moving forward. There doesn’t seem like there is going to be any real twists or surprises, right up until she all but tells you who the kidnapper is (no surprises) and then….!!!
I wasn’t particularly enamoured of the reality TV world though her heroine reality star is complex and interesting and kept me reading even if I didn’t like the world she lived in. I’m still not sure about the ending. Needless to say I didn’t pick it but then I wasn’t expecting I had to. Perhaps a feat in itself.
Thursday 14th March
The Storyteller by Jodi Piccoult
I would have bought this anyway, because I read all Jodi Piccoult but I have to admit if it had been another author and the back page had mentioned what a good portion of the book is about, I may not have. And this would have been a mistake. The book is Piccoult at her glorious best, making us think and cry (but not really laugh though the idea of Jesus being baked in the bread was amusing).
The protagonist is Sage, a 25 year old from New Hampshire who is asked by a ninety five year old friend to help him kill himself. Sage herself has a number of issues she feels guilty about and this weaves into a story of guilt, lies and half-truths and the search for redemption.
I won’t put in any spoilers re twists but I am going to talk about what wasn’t on the back cover- so you may want to stop here.
The story is seen from Sage’s point of view, her grandmother during her time in Nazi Germany, as well as excerpts of a story she wrote back then-a wonderful allegory to her real world- and the agent who is attracted to Sage while searching for the ninety year olds identity as well as input from the elderly man. There are twists which I picked (I usually do) but nothing that stopped me enjoying the book (apart from wondering briefly why I was reading yet another account of the Holocaust during the grandmother’s flashback). It is beautifully written and brings into question about whether some things can never be forgiven. According to Piccoult (I’m not Jewish so I can’t verify), in Judaism murder and tarnishing a reputation are the two unforgiveable sins because neither can be regained, murder being literally unforgiveable as the victim is the only person who can forgive and they are dead, no one can do it on their part.
Though a long term tragic of every holocaust movie and book I have got to the point I don’t really want to read any more. We do need to ensure no one forgets, but this doesn’t seem to have stopped any number of other atrocities from one man to another since (Rwanda, Cambodia, Yugolsavia). Maybe it’s because these places haven’t seen all the movies and read the books I have. In any event, I think this book does add an extra dimension. I felt distinctly uncomfortable, interestingly, with the fact that Sage was fooling the man, guilty or not. I like honesty and it didn’t seem…fair. Because I live in a nice clean mostly fair world? Does the end justify the means? Should we forgive and forget? I don’t know and it isn’t my family it happened to (though I felt it was when I visited Anne Frank’s house, cried in everything from the Exodus to Schindler’s List, and when I cried for five solid hours in the DC Holocaust museum). But we do need to face some of these uncomfortable realities.
Thursday 7th March
Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes
This is an interesting book that overall I enjoyed and certainly wanted to keep reading. But it broke some rules, and that at times led it to seem a little long and slow around the middle.
Firstly though a clear psychological thriller, there are few surprises or twists. We know a third into the book who did it (and is continuing to do it!) and have a damn good idea who the next at least attempted victim is going to be.
There is where the second biggest rule gets broken−the heroine is not feisty, strong or decisive. She’s passive, asocial and nerdy and at times I wanted to give her a good shaking. There is a clear reason why Haynes has made her like this, and the whole theme of the book is in many ways about personality and choices and how much we let others influence us. To the extent Haynes wants us to believe we can be influenced (well some people at certain times) is a little hard to swallow but she manages to pull it off, just, as well as having the heroine win us over.
Another new idea Haynes plays with is we hear from the dead people. Novels often have people we hear from before they die, but these we hear from afterwards. It jars a bit at times and there are a few which disrupts the flow a little, but some are quite engaging and overall I decided I didn’t mind this.
With most things having been done before, Haynes gives us something a little new and she is an author I will be reading more of.
Thursday 28th February
Web of Deceit by Katherine Howell
I need to review this quickly- my husband has already sat next to her (at his own book launch) and liked her and there was a great review in The Age on the weekend. And I’ll meet her tomorrow at a Sisters in Crime night…must not be influenced, must not let envy, female bitchiness or nepotism come into play!
This is labelled an “Ella Marconi” novel. I have read some but not all of the previous ones.
It traces a number of intersecting stories, one of which in the twist I didn’t pick (well the intersection actually). Initially this is confusing. There seems to be too many heroes! Alex and Jane the paramedics (which she does well and really brings alive) and Ella and her partner – ok, I have already forgotten his name but that’s because we only found he had a girlfriend and not much else. The other three have major family complications however, particularly the paramedics.
There’s a dead possible suicide or was he pushed with a pregnant wife, a stalker, an ex-con wanting retribution and then a missing child, an affair and ex-wives on the warpath…kind of makes you want to do a sea change…
It’s fast paced and plenty to keep you reading. I finished it at 1am after getting back on the later flight from Perth…but will I remember it? No, rather think not. Neither character nor plot grabbed me at a deeper level. But then thrillers (and this probably just creeps into the genre rather than straight crime) are probably only meant to have us turn the page and enjoy it while we are. She achieves that.
Thursday 21st February
Never Saw It Coming by Linwood Barclay
Keisha is a psychic. Actually, intuitive maybe, psychic, no. Except her intuition doesn’t help when picking her boyfriend, Kirk, who is a loser. She does work out that there is something wrong with the new mark, which shows off her survivor skills. Enter twist one, and then another shortly after. We know who dies and find out pretty quickly who did it, so this isn’t a who did it as much as it is a ‘what is going to happen next?”
I have to confess that though I didn’t mind this, it was a bit disappointing compared to previous ones and when I got to the end the author’s note kind of explained why. It started as a novella, and still reads like a short story, one of those that’s fast moving and a bit farcical and somehow easier to manage in a short story but not so gripping when it’s longer (though this is still relatively short). It also read less ‘worked’. I didn’t really like any of the characters (10 year old whom we don’t see much of, aside). It’s very light reading and I guess would be good for a young adult that was ambivalent about reading and into crime. I like more character and story development rather than a romp and more tension.
Thursday 14th February
Bleed for Me by Michael Robotham
This is vintage Robotham. Child Abuse, race murders, and Joe O’Loughlin even though he’s meant to be lecturing and looking after his Parkinson’s is doing neither and embroils his family yet again in danger.
Like much of the current crime thrillers there is a strong back story about the protagonist, psychologist O’Loughlin, including the separation, difficult teenager (who stared in an earlier book and led to the marital breakdown) and his illness. He’s likeable but not always sensible, irritating at times but we root for him. I like his friend Ruiz even more (also a star of an earlier novel).
The bad guys are bad and those at the periphery one dimensional and the real bad guy hard to believe at times but truth is stranger than fiction and in the end there are enough ‘real’crime stories that have us accept him probably more than another I won’t say more about in order to avoid putting in a spoiler!
It’s an easy read and keeps you wanting to turn the pages and has me looking out for the next book.
Thursday 7th February
The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes
Genre: Mystery? Yes and with a PI. But it’s pure delicious comedy and character!
I hadn’t read any Marian Keyes though I’ve seen her name around often enough in book shops. I kind of had a vague idea she was chick lit and none of the titles appealed so they were never picked up.
Then she read and gave a great review to my husband’s book, The Risoe Project (reviewed last week, scroll down!) and her latest book had a title that appealed and if it was chick lit at least it was crime related. So I picked it up (all 505 pages) and thought I’d give it a go.
First off, it’s not chick lit as I think of chick lit being anyway. Not sure of the exact definition, but this isn’t about babies, periods or menopause. It does however have a sassy feisty and very unusual interesting female protagonist and it’s one of the few books that I have laughed out loud reading. And when I wasn’t laughing there was a lot of smiling. Which is pretty remarkable given that Helen Walsh, the PI heroine, has a bad attitude and is suicidally depressed.
Keyes is easy to read but I struggled to get engaged in the first few chapters. The main story line is where is Wayne Diffney (I feel he might have been in a previous novel but I’m not sure). He’s an ex- Boy’s band singer gone AWOL prior to a reunion gig a lot of money is hanging on, and I didn’t really care all that much.
But then Helen Walsh got her claws into me and wouldn’t let go. Keyes does her beautifully. I had a psychotherapy patient for many years who was suicidally depressed and had a very black sense of humour. She used to scour the internet for novel ways to kill yourself and send them to me. Once it was in cartoon format and very funny. I would have liked to have used it in a presentation but only patients and authors I think can joke about suicide, and to be fair Keyes does this I think well and sensitively also. Anyway, Helen Walsh is a pretty Irish version of this woman, and with lots of wonderful quirks and complexities.
Where does one start with the beautiful quirkiness of character and book? One of the best mother –daughter relationships on paper. Or worst, but it’s priceless. Then there’s the colour scheme of Wayne’s house- gangrene is one colour but you must read it to find the others! And the wonderful relationships that unfold; Jay (her ex) the hot current squeeze Artie, his precocious nine year old matchmaking daughter Bella, teenage gay horror son and ex-wife who won’t quite let go. Picture the boy band (think One Direction in twenty years) flying onto the stage in bird outfits and you’ve got the idea. And she does a really nice rounding up and tying up of loose ends. I will be out to get another from this author.
Thursday 31st January
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This is a book review with a difference- I was there right from the start with this one, though I didn’t write it. Just happen to be married to the author. Out yesterday in Australia (available on order at therosieproject.com.au where there’s a cute trailer and two questionnaires, one to find out if you are compatible with the hero-not neccessarily a good thing-and the other to find which character you are most like). There is a lot of hype re this book which won the Premier’s unpublished literary award and then sold in 32 countries. There are already a number of reviews on Goodreads (including one by me, not this one though) and it’s interesting to get peoples takes.
Firstly, its a romantic comedy (for most people) about a socially challenged genetics professor who sets out to find a wife scientificallly.
Secondly, I and a number of people find it very laugh out loud funny but of course not everyone does. One reason not to is because Aspergers (which Don the hero probably has though it is never said) is tough for those who have it and thos around them. My cousin’s son tragically did and suicided. But while we might laugh at Don we are also laughing at ourselves and the times we muck up, and we are simultanously cheering him on and delighting in his successes. I work with depressed people and a sense of humour, even black humour, can sometimes help get you through the dark times. Perspective is important. Don is ridiculous at times but so can we all be and if this book endears us to someone who is a bit different, then how wonderful is that?
Thirdly, the voice. I know a number of people with Aspergers and they aren’t all the same, but this voice is spot on. One of our friends with Aspergers thought Don was fabulous (rational like we all shoudl be!) but wasn’t sure anyone would ‘get’ him.
Fourth- the ending. Okay maybe it is a bit schmultzy but we girls tend to like that! And as opposed to some reviewers who thought it unbelievable that Don changed, I don’t think he changes much at all. Rosie changes more than he does…
It’s a romp, a lot of fun, and has some great characters (for those of you who don’t like Gene, Don’s Professor friend who is a tad sleazy, and who I so see as being played by Alec Baldwin, one of my husband’s writing teachers thought it would be good if he killed himself…)
Thursday 24th January
The Thirty Day Gamble by Jill Blair
Contemporary Romance, western/cowboys 56,154 words (available at Bookstrand)
I thought it important to give the book style details to orientate you. Since writing erotica I’ve become aware of the many different types of romance books from sweet to Xtreme, and that in reviewing them one needs to do so mindful of the genre and its rules. I don’t read much straight romance, though I have to say this had some steamy scenes and plenty of sex!
Blair has written a classic feel good romance. It’s easy reading and I read it in one sitting (actually laying as I have sciatica and am only allowed to stand or lie so this was a great excuse to spend some time reading and not feel guilty!). I’m not American (and when I did live there it was New York) so cowboys aren’t my area of expertise but who doesn’t like to fantasize about a hunky man on a horse?
This Simone is young, attractive and needs money. She lands on the door step of Brent, a North Dakotan landowner, hoping to convince him to sign over oil rights and is literally bowled over. He isn’t interested in oil- but is happy to string her along to keep her around. Their attraction is immediate and mutual and there is an attempt to hold each other off- but not for long!
The writing is competent, the pages turn effortlessly (even without a subplot which I usually like, driving it), the characters and story believable and likeable (okay you have to believe in love/lust at first sight but it has happened to me, so I do!). Their romance is full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes, with an odd hiccup, but not enough to cause too much anxiety about where it’s all heading. Want to feel good about love and have a few hours to fill in? Curl up with this!
Thursday 17th January
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan
As implied by the title and two authors, this is a book about two different main characters both called Will Grayson, in alternating chapters (presumably written by the different authors).
It took me a little while to get into it, not because it’s hard to read (it isn’t) but because unless you are an adolescent (17 year old) boy, this way of thinking and talking was usually (blessedly) restricted to interpretations of grunts from my son on walking in from school and at the dinner table where food was usually being inhaled and thus preventing meaningful discourse (not that there would have been any).
They do it well; the friendship and romance angsts, both gay and heterosexual, as well as the parental interactions. Throw in a larger than life best friend of one WG who befriends the other WG and there is plenty of room for fun. Particularly as the gay friend called Tiny (and who isn’t) writes a musical about being gay. It is so over the top it’s hard not to just enjoy the ride. The ending is kind of cute too (as well as the acknowledgements).
If you’re under 30 with a sense of humour this is definitely for you, or if your 17 year old is grunting rather than communicating. Everyone else – get into your teenage head space and you’ll have fun.
Thursday 10th January
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
A psychological thriller
If the key to a successful psychological thriller is gripping to the last page and not wanting to stop until you get there, then this has the master key. It’s Josephine Hart’s Damage and Sin, Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and a bit of East of Eden rolled into one and delivered by Catherine Medici.
Written in first person alternating chapters of husband and wife we follow early diary entries (hers) and post-her disappearance occurrences (his). For the first of the three sections. To say more risks a spoiler, though it was clear what the main twist was from the early on. That said, there are wonderful plot point turns to make us like, hate then like Nick again and much the same with Amy, though at the end it is hard to know who to like. The ugly long suffering cop perhaps.
Nick and Amy are wonderfully complex, alive and gritty real characters, though Amy ends up bigger than life (and I’ve know quite a few serious personality disordered people) and there is a degree of War of the Roses impossible! about it at times, particularly towards the end. But relationships are complex and often some of the most successful the most bizarre or unbelievable (think the Clintons, Jeffrey Archer and his infinitely complex wife…).
But the whole subplot of her Amy’s Amazing Amy childhood, living out her psychologist parents books, rings so possible that it is hard not to wonder at her complexity and how smart people survive childhoods either frankly abusive or more subtly so like this one. And why people stay in abusive situations.
A good read- but guys, not of you are about to get married to a pretty, cool, girl…
Thursday 3rd January
Love is a Canoe by Ben Schrank
This book follows author Peter Herman who published a one, one hit wonder a half century earlier. It’s a cutesy book called Marriage is a canoe and talks about a summer he spent with his grandparents and the lessons he learnt from them about love and marriage. Excerpts of this are throughout the book and break themain story set in present time nicely.
The publishers decide to do a new edition and run a competition. The winners, Eli and Emily get to spend the weekend with Peter who is now widowed and ambivalent about his relationship with a woman who wants him to move states to be closer to her daughter.
Schrank brings alive his characters, who are all real and flawed and want to live happily ever after but don’t seem to have the right ingredients in their relationship or personality to do so. Having been a marriage counsellor I cringed at the thought that the publisher and author thought he could effortlessly do this job with some home spun old fashioned wisdom and was relieved that what actually happens is indeed what may well have!
The biggest criticism of the book is that the first third is far too slow. Many people may have given up before the pace picks up and becomes well-paced and interesting. The ending has two components one of which is more realistic than the other but is ultimately satisfying. Some of the old fashioned advice isn’t so bad and worth the read too.
Thursday 27th December
Black Mountain by Greig Beck
This isn’t my usual sort of book but I was interested in it because of the mystical side and that it was set (in part) in North Carolina and in particular Asheville which I have a very soft spot for. A lovely place to holiday incidentally, and there are wonderful ‘Yutes’ to stay in above the town, with fabulous views along the river. But I digress…
This is in fact like two book styles woven into one and of what I have read is most like Matthew Reilly of whom my soon is a fan and the book will now go to him (if he can drag himself out of Game of Thrones).
One story line with its own hero and heroine (don’t get excited, no romance worth talking about) is about the creature (think Yeti) that returns to the modern world and the archaeologists/ historians that are trying to make sense of it. They work in with the police who need all the help they can get.
The other story line is the continuation it would appear f previous books, with the return of Alex Hunter, think sci-fi in the sense that man has been modified and has extra capabilities. In this he has lost his memory but senses the abduction of his mother from the other side of the world and goes to save her. Here we have US secret service and Mossad at loggerheads, another hero (Alex) and heroine but again no real romance.
There is lot’s of action, I enjoyed reliving the North Carolina mountains (though no Yeti’s when I was there), it has a cracking pace, is easy to read and a bit of fun. I suspect my son will enjoy it more.
Thursday 20th December
Citadel by Kate Mosse
Mosse has established herself as a writer of page turning quests.
This one is probably even thicker than the previous (a definite long holiday pick for slow readers) and deviates a little from previous with the main part of the story being set in World War II south west France following a fictitious group of female resistance fighters. In keeping with her previous taste for history we also follow the original keeper of the religious manuscript which has come to help the people of the Midi in the past and then gets called upon again finally by the resistance fighters.
I have lived intermittently in central France in another area where the resistance was strong so I found it easy to identify with her theme and Mosse creates believable characters and makes us feel we are in 1940 France. So many of the issues of loyalty and fighting for ones beliefs are still so current if not in France then certainly in the middle east.
There is a touch of religion but not too heavy, made more magical, a love story, courage and friendship. I enjoyed it but though the time is brought alive the story is not strong. I wanted to keep reading and it is light easy reading even if long, but there was nothing in the end to make it particularly memorable. Still worthwhile holiday read!
Thursday 13th December
Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
This is a book I read a long time ago, before the movie, and the one that made me a Pat Conroy fan (I’ve read them all). It is I think a pity that it was made into a film- not because I disliked the film, on the contrary, I loved it despite the appalling breach of confidentiality and professionalism displayed by Lowenstein (a psychiatrist played by Barbra Streisland very ably, and with the best office any psychiatrist ever had. We’d all see one if we could lie down in a room like this, complete with leather chairs, French desk and bookshelves lined with probably Freud’s original first editions). But the pity is that the current generation will think it’s old and not worth reading or why read it if you can see the movie?
I re-read this weekend, a break from cocktails and wine and fabulous food of a gourmet weekend when you are so replete even conversation is beyond you. Then I kept reading until it was finished, drinking in and savouring every word, the images of South Carolina jumping off the page, the pain of the Wingo family in all its unique magnificence (as per Tolstoy’s comment re all happy families being the same but unhappy ones…) weaving itself into my heart and soul and I wondered why it hadn’t been in my top five books of all time?
I have them there in my mind, all things: The Fountainhead for all it did and didn’t say about women and stereotypes and politics (I was very young), The Magus because it was the first Serious book I had ever read and it opened up an extraordinary possibility of language and story that excited me even if the last section was disappointing, East of Eden for all it said about mothers, childhoods and the choices we have once we are adults to choose who we are despite our pasts (and the choice, the Bible interpretation, still sends shivers down my spine, A Prayer for Owen Meany for no other reason than it made me laugh and cry and then think as I felt my spirit soar, pleased inordinately to be for a fraction of time a member of the human race that can at times be so truly incredible, and…My mind went blank. The fifth disappeared and so I think truly I must put Prince of Tides in this place.
So why is Prince of Tides so special? Firstly, the language. It is so wonderfully evocative it takes my breath away, but not in the Literary way that some Booker prize winners do, where you feel the pain of each sentence etched on the writer’s soul. These words may well be carved into Conroy but they flow like this is how he breaths, that language for him is like it is his food and water and air. It is for this reason if no other that the book transcends far above the movie no matter how good Streisland and Nick Nolte were (and they were very well chosen).
The narrator, Tom Wingo, is an unreliable witness, but he comes to New York to help his twin sister who has been institutionalised after a suicide attempt, in an attempt to face his own demons and past as much as hers. Current New Yorkers would find the length of her hospital stay unlikely in the current world of insurance driven health care, and as a health carer in my other life, some of the professional transgressions are cringe worthy and (sadly) the degree of dedication to understanding the patient by her psychiatrist as opposed to trying a new drug, bordering on unbelievable. But it gives us a wonderful setting for Tom to tell us the Wingo story, fall in love with Lowenstein and in the midst of this save them all. It is a story that most definitely makes you laugh and cry and think. The voice of the hurting Tom, that covers his pain with black humour and sarcasm, is achingly perfect. So perfect it is hard to believe that much of Conroy isn’t in him or that somewhere he found time to study psychiatry and Freud and all the nuances of the essence of an ambivalent mother-child relationship and the pain and ongoing scars it creates unless healed.
There is much pain in his childhood but while you feel it, there is no true self-pity here, and the pain does not make you want to slit your own wrists and wish you had never started the journey (as the movie Beautiful Kate did- not even the wonderful photography and good acting could save it as far as I was concerned) but rather, I wanted to cheer him and Savannah his sister and even his mother and father on, I moved with his forgiveness, the only way to ultimately move on from such a background, and I celebrated with him his capacity to do so.
But what it left me with was the whisper of the South, of a love of language, a triumph of human spirit and of love. The book and the movie end the same. I remembered it from all the years ago, and when I stared in my own movie (one that never saw the light of day beyond one wonderful showing at the Kino on my birthday where I fulfilled an unrequited dream to walk the red carpet) I did the same thing at the end as I drove my convertible over the bridge. It was just a different city in the background and different words on my lips, but the sentiment was the same. As I came to the end of this wonderful book for a second time I was terrified it had only been the movie that had ended this way. But when I turned to the final page it was there and I celebrated and cried as I closed the book, once more.
Thursday 6th December
Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd
I picked this book up (one click on Amazon) after reading an article in the Age about how women were expecting too much of men in bed. The article cited a woman divorcing her husband for being too boring; the journalist presumed she’d taken 50 Shades of Grey a little too far and hoped that Thursdays in the Park, more moderate by any standards but aimed at the grey haired audience wouldn’t lead to a rush to the divorce courts.
There is already, prior to either of these books a rush to the divorce courts, but I take the journalists point. If one believes in fiction, particularly over the top fiction like 50 Shades (and I put my books in the same category for this discussion) then we are set to be disappointed. But romance, erotica or otherwise has always been about fantasy. In my were-devils series there are two devoted men to one woman. The rules of the genre say they aren’t allowed to look elsewhere and the rules came about because the publishers want to give the readers something predictable. I cried at the ending of Bridges of Maddsion country (which is a love story, not a romance) and presumably women reading romances want to drift off to sleep happy.
Which brings us on a Thursday, to Thursdays in the Park. If you are searching for a second Christian Grey don’t look here. I wouldn’t have mentioned the two books in the same article if the journalist hadn’t. This is a love story, not a romance, but don’t panic, you’ll still be able to drift off to sleep happily.
While we are comparing, this one is not great literature but it is better edited, readable, but ultimately forgettable. It is much more realistic than 50 Shades, particularly the analysis of the marriage breakdown, the not talking and drifting apart after thirty years, the niggling irritations and the bigger elephants in the room. The heroine is turning 60 and most certainly does not want to be referred to as the ‘Old Girl’. She doesn’t feel it, is still active and enjoying her job. Her husband on the other hand has retired too early and is aging too fast.
The attraction to the other grandfather in the park is believable and develops in the same way it would have had she been younger (and as conservative) and I like this. Fifty and sixty year old still enjoy intimacy, need physical contact and affection. Being taken for granted doesn’t cut it- marriages have to be worked at. She develops some good characters (though the hero is the weakest), relatively complex three dimensional people with mixed motives, particularly her daughter and son-in-law (though at times he was hard to believe).
The resolution, the overly easy ends being tied up, is too trite and heads this back to being a romance. In fact the only reason it isn’t, is that the heroine is unfaithful (a taboo of romance genre). I was pleased that the characters were more realistic and older than the traditional, but it lacks in story (I tend to be story driven in my own work) and though the main characters are not bad, there isn’t enough in the end to make it as gripping and interesting say as a Joanna Trollope.
Thursday 29th November
Foal’s Bread by Gillian Meares
I knew this was a Literary book when I bought it. I was at the Premier’s literary awards and it won. It had Helen Garner on the cover saying it was “glorious” and the person who took the award on her behalf talking about her in hushed tones that along with the comments from the author at the end (which I read first) and the article in the paper, I knew this was a long time coming, a special book from a special person who among other things is well qualified to write about a chronic insidious illness. It was also about horses and I thought if nothing else this would speak to me, as I was brought up with them and though an eventer not show jumper, I still get a tear in my eye when I watch International Velvet.
So I was surprised at how much I struggled (but keep reading, the struggle was worth it). Because I read a lot of popular easily digested fiction, often the first chapter of Literary book is hard going. All those meaningful sentences that have been agonised over. But this struggle took me until half way through the book, not because of the obvious effort of literary genius (its very nicely written and not painfully Literary), but because of the Australian vernacular that she “effortlessly creates” and is lauded for but which just makes me cringe. I’m obviously a cultural snob but I have very little in common with people that sprinkle “fair dinkum” in their prose and I don’t like Kerry Greenwood’s Phyrne Fisher books for the same reason. It’s not just Aussie slang I don’t like, I disliked Grapes of Wrath as well.
Then there were the horses. This is about pre and postwar Jumping circuit and I struggled to believe it or make sense of it in the light of my own much more recent experience, including following serious eventers around. They were more like Jilly Cooper’s riders than this salt of the earth working class rural family.
But then about half way through what is a dense book, the transformation happened. I had been pulled in by Meares’s characters and they had woven their magic about me. There was no way I wasn’t going to finish. Her true genius I think is not in the sentences individually but how each reflection however brief, each thought of each character, are woven together to create a patchwork of complexity that have these characters jumping off the page (and over the jumps). Nothing is heavy handed, but with each look and regret you feel their pain and you long to fix it. But you also know their strengths and soar with them when they overcome and even when they give in, because it somehow seems right.
It is a story of pain, love and tragedy, of abuse and recovery, of damnation and redemption. I saw some of the ending coming but not all, and even then it didn’t matter. I wanted to ride the last jump and have the last final triumph and failure. A beautiful book and one that will be remembered in images but even more in the memory of feelings, and one that is certainly worth the struggle.
Thursday 22nd November
Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This is the third and unlikely to be the last (it leaves you with a definite more is to come ending) of the Cemetery of Books series (this is my name for them) starting with the best known, Shadow of the Wind, and followed by The Angels’ Game. It is in mood the same−highly evocative of Europe of the past for all its at least partly contemporary setting. Cobblestoned streets, dark lanes, mysterious strangers, and of course the library of lost books, sure to pull in every avid reader with its nostalgic charms.
He does character well, the wonderful Fermin who I would say was totally implausible in his manner of speaking if I didn’t know someone similar. Fabulously wordy and grand, where each sentence is half swallowed dictionary and half love poem. It would be too much if they all spoke like this- the contrast in wonderful with the more ‘ordinary’ characters, though they are only ordinary in their manner of speaking, and perhaps a little in the obviousness of their emotional reactions. But the circumstances are never ordinary so we are whisked along for the ride.
I read this pretty much in one sitting. It’s light, fun, and keeps you turning the page. Will I remember much in a few months? Probably not- but I will remember the feeling and just have too close my eyes and be in the old lanes of Barcelona.
Thursday 15th November
War and Peace and Sonya by Judith Armstrong
This is an interesting book in the manner of Wolfhall that is currently trendy- the fictionalisation of real people and events. Purists don’t like the idea but to me, as long as well researched, it helps bring alive people and time that adds to the enjoyment and understanding of their books. My days of reading Tolstoy are long gone- I loved Anna Karenina but I have to confess that I only read the ‘Peace” chapters of War and Peace and all those Russian names did my head in.
Armstrong’s book took me a while to finish (though not as long as War and Peace) but I did get there and I found it easy to pick up from where I had dropped off (and another more compelling book jumped into my hands). She follows Sonya, mother to Tolstoy’s 13 (7 surviving) children and famously the person who hand wrote War and Peace out multiple times. Love hath no limits…well it did ultimately in this tumultuous relationship. I’d have left her too but then I wouldn’t have stayed with him! I admire Armstrong’s ability to stay with them both. Sure they were off the times and their culture, but neither likeable.
I still struggled with Russian names, nicknames and all the damn children. Tolstoy in this version is moody and irritating, the genius refusing to take responsibility for anything pretty much and whose religion, morals and ethics were at best lacking perspective and were most surely key to the ongoing difficulties with Sonya who was long suffering but also excessively romantic and dependent (though very capable at the same time). Complex characters and lives- well written and interesting though I had to take it in chunks.
Thursday 8th November
Nine Days by Toni Jordan
This book moves away from her first two (Addition previously reviewed here, and Fall Girl which I believe is in a similar style but I haven’t read it yet). It was inspired by the photo that features on the cover, of a woman being hoisted on someone’s shoulders in order to be able to kiss a uniformed man hanging out of a departing train. We don’t know exactly the connection until near the end: Ms Jordan has developed a complex family and circumstances that finally come together in current time but harking back to the war (WWII) era of the photograph.
I wasn’t sure in the first chapter that the book was going to work for me. First chapter, beautifully created, is the world of a 14 year old boy (Kip) circa 1939, complete with Australian slang, working class Catholic ideology and a strong sense of place in the grimy surrounds of central Melbourne. It was well done, just not my thing. I nearly didn’t continue, but cast my eye over the next chapter as I closed the book and realized that she jumps into the future, current time, with a narrative from the first character’s daughter. This character is pure Jordan; funny, quirky and troubled. Luckily she decides being a counsellor is not for her. Many equally troubled soldier on…
Each chapter is from a different point of view, both Kip’s daughters, a grandson, his brother, his sister, his wife. It jumps between people and time but the thread is strong and easily followed. There are the triumphs and tragedies, a little predictable but nicely done without too much schmaltz and enough left to the imagination. Some characters I thought were stronger than others, but overall it’s a wonderfully woven tale of Melbourne from the last war until now, all inspired by a photo of unknown people whose real history has been lost in time.
Thursday 1st November
“Crime” and “Guilt” by Ferdinand von Schirach
These are two books, both by a German barrister relating fictionalised versions of cases he has been involved with over a long career. There are excerpts of lives, more longitudinal takes, snippets and short stories. They are beautifully written and I assume translated, though I have a Rumanian friend who reads things in German and says they are usually much more magical in a language that is poetic on paper if not to the ears. If so reading this in German would be wonderful, but alas beyond my capacity.
Given the author’s background the focus revolves to some extent around the crime, but the beauty of the books are the author’s perspective, balance and insights. These do not extend to deep psychological insights but there is always the sense that von Schirach intuitively understands the human condition, and is mindful of where the law does not always get it right. His balance, humour (one of the stories is laugh out loud funny) and sensitivity makes these stories touching and informative and should be compulsory reading for all future lawyers and criminal psychologists, but perhaps even more so, those who are quick to blame and think the world is black and white.
Thursday 25th October
Addition by Toni Jordan
Grace has a problem. Or at least some of us would think she has- she isn’t so sure. She likes numbers and numbers rule her life. Numbers of steps to get to places, how many times she chews her food. There aren’t too many places numbers haven’t taken over. She’s 38, living alone and no longer working as a teacher because the Education Dept want her to do more than count children…
Enter Seamus, an Irish-Australian who works in a cinema. He likes Grace for who she is but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to help her. An antidepressant and several group therapy sessions later she’s mostly rid of her OCD (a simplification in the real world but I can buy this) but just where does this leave her?
This is a really nice book at two levels. Just reading it as it is, a flawed heroine and a hero who means well and gets it wrong- and who wouldn’t-means this is a feel good novel for the troubled. He does also get it so right sometimes and I’d like to bottle him for some of my patients! It does end happily (well you could argue this one).
Then at the other level is the one that therapists should read. In my other life I treat women with OCD, with drugs and with therapy. What I like about this book is that it accepts and outlines current evidence based treatment but then counters it with the reality of the experience that most therapists don’t like to acknowledge. The treatment is not perfect. It has side effects. And patients, those that are the sufferers, make choices that we as the therapists don’t always like or agree with. The antidepressants put on weight, take away her libido and worse, they take away from Grace the feeling of who she is. From the outside the benefits of not counting, that she can get to her nieces concerts, outweighs the negatives. But we are not her and Jordan helps us briefly understand the dilemma from within. A nice observation that makes you think Well done.
Thursday 18th October
Backlash by Lynda La Plante
I heard Ms La Plante talk at the Melbourne writer’s festival last year and was impressed. She is a wonderful speaker, perhaps courtesy of her actress background. She’s had a colourful life and her early experiences in acting has enabled her to grasp personality from her research and transfer it to the screen – and to her books. I have read most if not all and found them enjoyable, as well as gritty, with tight plots and excellent characters. Think Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect.
As writers get older and start churning out serials there is a tendency to rely on their established characters (not such a bad thing) and stick to formulas. The latter is less of a success and the former variable depending on how well they were set up in the first place. I’ve stopped buying James Patterson, stopped buying Ludlum’s before he died and got franchised for these problems as well as perhaps being a bit lazy. Or burnt out. It must be hard to keep feeling inspired and come up with fresh or new ideas. Also I wonder if when you become famous and guaranteed of sales you either ignore editors or they get lazy. I haven’t read JKRowlings latest but just from weight I wonder about this!
So to Lynda La Plante’s. Mmm. Some if not all of the above problems. There are two good characters well developed in previous books- Anna Travis and James Langton. Trouble is, apart from the latter being grumpy and in pain as usual (okay a knee op but just more of the same), and Anna grieving over her murdered fiancée, there is no further development in their lives or relationship. Then there’s the plot. It reads like following a police operation. A high level case maybe but otherwise business as usual. No real twists (you can barely say the end is even a surprise). Writing is competent but from someone this successful I expect more.
Thursday 11th October
Daughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope
One of the many delights of having a holiday house that people occasionally rent and relatives drop into is that they leave books. One of the first things we did when we got the house in France was to buy a bookshelf, after converting one of the three pieces of furniture bought with the house into one. Even then we’re getting short of space.
I love books in a way that E-books will never replace. The touch, feel, the rearranging in the book shelf, the search for old favourites. For reasons that completely escape me I have to get out The Rule of Four every time I am here. After I had revisted Princeton where it was set I could understand this, but why there ever after? Princeton is USA after all, our house is resoundingly French. Perhaps because one of the delights of that book (that I may review another time) is that it is about books, their mystery and their power.
But on this occasion I pulled out Joanne Trollope’s Daughter-in-Laws, left by whom knows? I know her name well, but for whatever reason, had never read her. Given I like Jodie Piccoult, I wonder why. Of the authors I read that is the one this book at least was most like.
It could also been entitled Mothers. I don’t yet have a daughter-in-law but am at that stage of life where my children’s partners are important people in our lives, so maybe this was why the book resonated. As someone who deals with women who have postnatal depression and one of the frequent issues for them is their husband’s apparent difficulties moving to be loyal to wife over mother, I may start handing the book out routinely. There are many sage observations beautifully, occasionally a little heavily handedly, that course the pages of this novel as Rachel comes to terms with growing older and letting her three boys go, her sons come to terms with being men and husbands rather than sons, and the women, mothers and daughters, realise as they become mothers, the compromises life entails.
Best of all I love the candid observation that the doctor mother of spoilt Charlotte makes:
‘You can change your situation, but it (the next situation) will be the same if you don’t change yourself.’
Change is hard, but it is what life is all about. The most to the point quote on the internet I could find about this was from, of all people, Oprah. Well she should know. You can’t be a success like her without this understanding.
Thursday 4th October
Birthday’s for the Dead by Stuart MacBride
I read a lot of crime and psychological thrillers−there are a lot out there! These days most have flawed characters, and I’m referring to the heroes not just the criminals. This is no expectation, but it is different to the others I’ve read. It took a little while for me to get into it. The hero, DC Ash Henderson is to be blunt, a brut. I do wonder at what real cops think about this sort of representation of solving problems with fist first, ask questions later (a real issue as he often beats up the wrong person. We do forgive him because the ‘wrong’ person usually deserves it). There is also a lot of cover up by the other cops too, but by the time I got about a quarter of the way in, I just accepted this world as it was.
The character that initially rubbed me the wrong way was the psychologist, Alice, who is to say the least dysfunctional. But bear with her−the interactions with Ash are priceless and probably what makes the book a real winner. That and the pace, which is fast, and the gritty underground world that is portrayed. The ending left me somewhat shattered so don’t expect a happy ever after, but its real and oddly makes sense even if its not how I wanted the world to be. There’s a serial killer (which I am so over) that isn’t really particularly believable, but the underworld psychopathic Mrs Kerrigan is much more fun, the stripper (no dancer)girlfriend, the ex-wife and daughters caught up in the web, make us keep wanting to read.
Thursday 27th September
The Fell Walker by Michael Woods
I bought this book at a Pub in Cumbria because it was set in the Fells of the Lake District where I was walking the Coast to Coast. Unlike the Camino I was having my bags carried so the extra weight was not an issue!
This is another serial killer story and I had sworn off them, but I quite enjoyed this, possibly because of the references to the walk I was doing. It did make me a little nervous as I was walking the crags in mist and gale force winds though, as the victims are thrown from the cliff. Our hero is a small town journalist who really isn’t after a big story but it comes to find him in more ways than one. The writing is competent and the story gripping enough to keep you wanting to turn the page. The villain is not quite believable but by and large this doesn’t get too much in the way of a good yarn.
There is a threat woven in to the heroes relationship which isn’t paid off as well as it could be and the demise of one character is a bit unsatisfactory in this regard, but it’s an enjoyable holiday read.
Thursday 20th September
All That I Am by Anna Funder
People far more eloquent than I have reviewed this book, and given it has already won prizes and is likely to win more, probably many more eloquent people will continue to review it. Given the range I read and write, it’s hard to give ‘numbers’ to books that are meaningful. If I was comparing this to similar books I would give it 4.5 out of 5, but that doesn’t mean I think it is less or indeed in any way comparable to ones in the romance genre I have given 5 out of 5.
I was reluctant to buy it initially when I saw it was about the Nazis. I was an avid reader and film watcher of all WWII spy thrillers and holocaust books but I have to say I am little tired of them. So I was pleasantly surprised that I was wrong about what it was about in the first instance. Yes it is about Germany and the Nazis, but in the 1920’s and 30’s – pre-war, of which I am far less familiar.
The second pleasant surprise was that it was a fictionalisation of a real story, including one character that the author had met and knew. I am an avid fan of ‘real’ stories, and like many ‘real’ stories, after googling, this one is stranger than fiction, and most certainly needed to be told.
I wasn’t surprised by the quality of writing. This is a literary book, not fast paced, page turning populist. But the characters are wonderful, the story slowly compelling and working its way under your skin, a story of love and friendship between girlfriends (not sexual), passion for a cause, people’s ability to rise above the circumstances and fight and fall, of betrayal and weakness as much as of strength.
Be uplifted, and reminded. We shouldn’t ever forget and it is wonderful that authors like Funder find new ways to keep us reading and remembering.
Thursday 13th September
Hemmingway and Gellhorn
Bigger than life characters, love, infidelity, war and tragedy. It has all the components of not just a good but a great story, one better than Hemmingway himself could have written.
Except that it isn’t. Perhaps because Hemmingway didn’t write it. It’s hard to know just where to lay the blame for what is at best a lack lustre film that would pass time while eating a pizza. Certainly the screenplay is a large part of it. I should hesitate here because Hemmingway (in the film) assaults the critic who dared to suggest he had lost it (and worse, couched it in terms of loss of masculinity, an issue which the war, booze, bullfighting and big game hunting obsessed Hemmingway certainly battled with). But the film perhaps attempted to do too much and in doing so did too little.
We see quite a bit of Spain where Martha Gellhorn first becomes a war correspondent, something she continues into old age. Kidman as an aged Gellhorn starts as the narrator (the one academy award this film should get is for the makeup. An amazing job of aging her that close up you would swear was real) and we finish with her. In between she goes to Finland, takes him to China and they live in Cuba, the boredom getting to her while Hemmingway is playing and drinking.
The camera work is good but again I wonder if they tried to do too much. It was something I was very conscious of. Lots of tricks like the reflection in the bird’s eye, the blurring into black and white so you think it is authentic war film until suddenly Kidman and Owen are there.
The war scenes should have made us feel what they did and they didn’t. Perhaps because as beautiful as Kidman is she still to me is an ice queen.
Their love, set up as Hemmingway’s greatest (which I was left wondering about), may suffer for similar reasons, but Clive Owen, an actor I find very sexy and appealing (usually) is equally to blame. I was left feeling they were both difficult people, which I’m sure they were, but liking neither, perhaps also because they weren’t very likeable people.
In essence, Hemmingway’s greatness will remain on the page. He didn’t like the movie version of his book either.
Thursday 6th September
It was a fun film I might not have seen had the film club not chosen it. Over a dozen of us turned up and the consensus I think was good to great, from 3.5 to 5 out of 5.
It’s based on a true story and I believe the screen play was co-written by the son of one of the four Indigenous singers the story is about. Resolutely Australian, complete with a few cringe worthy moments and over acting in the unfortunately probably realistic racist scene when in 1958 the girl sang in a talent contest at a local pub, it tells of four young women who gor to sing to the troops in Vietnam. After they came home they were probably unhappily unaccepted, but went on to do great things for their community.
The actresses are brilliant, all wonderful characters and the songs, singing and Jessica Mauboy’s voice- wow! It’s light, funny, uplifting and makes for a good night- I recommend it.
Thursday 30th August
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
When I read that this was coming out as a movie in a couple of months I was surprised (see preview on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9Hjrs6WQ8M). Then I thought- read it quick if you haven’t already!
This book was apparently rejected by five publishers (take note and hope fellow authors!) before being published in 2001 and getting the Booker prize in 2002. I read it in 2002 and it’s one of those incredibly powerful stories that never leaves you. It’s true to say too I guess it is a ‘twist’ and ‘gimmick’ that makes it truly powerful (though it is very well written) hence why read it before the movie, but I guess the movie experience will be very different between those who know the ending and those who don’t. I’ve only seen the trailer so I don’t know how they manage it but it’s a well known director s I’m optimistic (though surprised).
It is called a fantasy adventure I think but it wasn’t like that to me so don’t let this title put you off. There is one main character and a lot of animals (one of the reasons it didn’t seem an obvious film choice) but this may well have been played with a bit- the youtube clips have references back to India.
The book is remarkable, highly memorable and very uplifting. Hopefully the film will be also.
Thursday 23rd August
Breaking Dawn Part One
I’m referring to the movie here, not the book though I have read this.
My son (22) got this out – he’s into vampires, Buffy and alternative worlds and he had read the Twilight series though he wasn’t exactly fond of the heroine and the lack of action was disappointing (in contrast he loved The Hunger Game Series except the end).
My daughter (20) who hadn’t read the books but had seen the earlier films wanted to watch so she and her boyfriend joined us.
We wanted to fast forward through the wedding scene to stop the guys vomiting but instead watched the train wreck. Well her dress looked nice from the back.
There wasn’t much story to begin with so to divide into two didn’t help the pace, level of interest or tension. Of all the movies this was by far the weakest. I mainly watch it for Jacob though being the reminded in this how the author resolves him being unmatched didn’t enhance my enjoyment.
All three of the younger people watching (whom it was aimed for I presumed) found more so than me that Bella was completely wimpy and unlikeable. My children find her frankly unbelievable. I wonder how much this then is a Midwest/American thing, because the same style heroine has been incredibly popular in Fifty Shades. I prefer my heroines to be gutsy and heroes not to have a powder job. Jacob really looked healthier if nothing else than Edwin!
My son was time sharing with reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Someone had told him it had a story but he got bored in the sex scene which says more about the book than him and half way through the movie threw the book at the TV- a comment on both film and BD part one.
Thursday 16th August
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
I read this book a long time ago but it is one of the few books I have ever read that has stayed with me visually and viscerally. I was reminded of it again recently because another friend of mine read it around the same time and had had a long animated conversation about how great it was and my husband who had also read it couldn’t see what we saw in it. That friend died suddenly-while reading-when still far too young. I hope his teenage boys have inherited his love of books- as their mother also does I suppose they will. I hope this is one they one day enjoy.
I can see the snow melting on the court room window, I can see the lovers in the carved out tree trunk and smell the pine. I feel the anguish of the Japanese who were ostracised during world war two on this little American island somewhere off the west coast. This is a must read. A mystery, a court room drama (in a small island court) and a love story it is ll so story of tolerance and intolerance, a story for all time. If you read his other books and didn’t like them don’t be put off. This book is by far his best.
Thursday 9th August
Cold Grave by Kathryn Fox
I’ve followed the progress of this novelist and her character Anya Crichton with interest, partly because she’s another Aussie health professional and partly because she seems to have at least partly cracked into the same league as Patricia Cornwell and a number of other authors (eg Tess Gerristen) who combine medicine and crime. Cold Grave is the latest in the series, and as with the others also has an ongoing romance/social complications in the background.
For me this book had a slow start. The romance/social side of things was more compelling (sadly) when she had her ex were at each other’s throats and initially their playing happy families on board a cruise ship was hard to believe. The crime side of things was also disjointed and there really seemed to be no connection between two vastly different crimes and nothing much to make us care all that much.
Then about halfway the pace and interest picks up. The main theme−date rape on a cruise chip−was clearly inspired by a real life story that played out in the courts in Australia. In this case the offenders are American but Fox grasps the subculture well and is suitably appalled. In the second half Fox brings the victim and her family to life, probably more believably than the other half of the picture involving big business and money.
In the second half the relationship between Anya and Martin is also more believable and compelling and leaves us wondering where to from here.
In the end I enjoyed it but wished the first half was tighter.
Thursday 2nd August
Bloodline by Felix Francis
It’s an interesting notion that fiction writing can be a family business. I’m used to Smith and son plumbers of Jones and Daughter lawyers even, but fiction didn’t seem to be in the same mould. But having read every Dick Francis book (and there are lots) including the biography of a jockey (I think it was Lester Piggett but don’t hold me to that!) there was a definite formula that was kind of like returning to a familiar friend, putting on your slippers and dipping into something mostly forgettable but a bloody good ride in the moment. Despite there being some definite similarities between characters and stories- well they do all revolve around horseracing- there are actually a few of the heroes and the stories that stand out. He wasn’t going to get the Pulitzer but I enjoyed him more than many prize winners I’ve read.
So along comes his youngest son Felix, first co-writing. This is the first one on his own, and yes he has the hang of the family story structure and characters and he hasn’t at least not yet made the romance hotter. Bloodline is …well the family business continuing. I’ve never been into racing but rode and evented as a teenager (LOVE the three day event at the Olympics and the current coverage is driving me nuts. We lost Sam Griffith, who went to pony club with my sister, somewhere on the cross country, then see his horse dashing off riderless and never got to see what happened despite cameras in trees, helicopters and just about everywhere else. Not happy.). It probably helps to have some interest in horses. That said, there is a story, bad guys, tension and in this one a death (not sure one his Dad would have done and it certainly surprised me but good to be kept on my toes). Definitely light and relaxing, take it on your holiday.
Thursday 26th July
Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradley
Since my teenage years, long before I became entranced with the Lord of the Rings trilogy I was captivated by the magic of the Arthurian trilogy by Mary Stewart, an easily accessible journey in first person into the magic and times of Arthur and Merlin. When I went in person to the ruins of Tintagel, the castle where Arthur was conceived with the help of Merlin ensuring the right man was in the Queen’s chambers, I let the afternoon drift away as the sea crashed on rocks below and relived every moment as if I was there.
The lure of Camelot- either the movie or the romance between Arthur and Gwenhwfar (many spellings and versions, this is Marion Bradley’s) had never had the same pull as Merlin, the magic and evil Morgaine set to destroy Merlin in much the same way as Delilah does Samson. In the lord of the Rings it was the magic of the ring that kept me reading, not the wars and strange creatures.
So years after reading these I came across what is probably the quintessential tale of Arthurian times, The Mists of Avalon.
It’s a big book-over a thousand pages in my version. But Mary Stewart took three thick books so compared to that perhaps it isn’t so overwhelming, thought the writing is dense and more consciously literate than the easy to read Stewart.
But it is equally as captivating, a tale with a different spin that enhances the role and characters of the women Gwenhwfar, Morgaine, and Viviane, lady of the lake, who isn’t prominent in other versions. The prose is wonderfully evocative and it is easy to slip into a different time and accept the magic of the mists, and indeed be desperate for such a time to have existed.
But even without the magic, Bradley’s book would still soar. Her characters, their depths and motivations jump off the page and ensure you will turn the next. The passion and enchantment wind together to create a true epic that anyone interested in these times must surely read.
Thursday 19th July
Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George
This is the latest in George’s series following Thomas Lynley, English aristocrat and police Inspector. I’ve read them all and continue to look in the new bestseller’s section at Heathrow whenever I am there hoping to get the next early.
It is best to read them in order because her characters are wonderful and complicated and she builds on them. That said you could still pick this up and enjoy it without ever having read another. She is a master because at every level- plot, character, place and language- she weaves a spell.
Lynley is complex and troubled, never more so than after the death of his wife and unborn child and his relationship with another Inspector with an alcohol problem never looked like it would go well (she’s a long way off the dead wife but then that’s the problem. No one will ever match her). Throw into the mix at the other social end, Barbara, the cop doing it hard, they are an interesting couple of work mates.
As always we are taken to a part of England George brings alive for us. The plot set in the upper classes where Lynley is more comfortable than your average cop, means there’s less of the grimy end of crime in this book, and Debra (a long complicated relationship to Lynley including through her paraplegic husband where a drunk Lynley was driving) reappears with the ongoing fertility saga.
George writes at the border of literati and popular fiction, beautiful but accessible. I’m looking forward to the next.
Thursday 12th July
A Scandalous Proposition by Wendy Soliman
What a delicious title for an historical romance! Titillates our twenty first century minds and then firmly plants us back in 1809. Right from the first line when we meet Major Lord Adam Fitzroy (so wonderfully British, do people still have titles like this? Probably…) we are swept up by events that keep us wanting to read. It might be 77,000 words but everyone of them races along.
So the heroine? Florentina, a feisty Spanish woman involved in intrigue who is (of course) beautiful but also smart and with integrity. She tries to fool Adam who quickly sees through her pretence and seeks to both help her and win her over. These two characters, plus the conniving sister-in-law, Philippa, are well drawn and jump off the page. The romance is up front and central, and then the subplots involving Philippa’s pregnancy, a range of cads and a plot involving Spain, ensure there is never a dull moment.
For me who loves clothes, one of the great things about historical romances is the clothes and there’s plenty to enjoy here in literally bodice ripping scenes. We get to enjoy the bodices and voluminous skirts without the inconvenience of actually having to wear them! Adam strutting around in army dress uniform also paints quite a picture.
So download it, settle in a comfy chair and allow yourself to go back two hundred years. This book makes the journey effortless. You just may not want to come back to 2012.
Thursday 5th July
Film – Haywire
This week I’ve been too busy catching up on everything that had happened and been waiting while I was away for four weeks to get around to reading a book. Though I now have two fellow Siren writers books, ‘A Scandalous Proposition’ (Wendy Soliman) and ‘Trouble in Sugar Creek’ (Donna Cooper) on my IPad and have started the former. On the plane home on Monday though I watched Haywire.
Because I have been involved on a few short films in varying roles, and done a film course, I have a lot of respect for filmmakers. It takes a lot of time money and heartache. The actors get it easy – it’s the editors that have the hard task. Probably the Directors too though being a Producer in Australia and finding money is perhaps the most impossible task.
Haywire is about a woman (Gina Carano, I didn’t know her from anything) who works for a private company (boss Ewan Mc Gregor) who does dirty stuff the government (Michael Douglas with Antonio Bandera) can’t. Our heroine is channelling Elisabeth Salander (Girl with a Dragon Tattoo) but doesn’t quite make it. She kicks butt, you get the idea. But she gets double crossed and goes in search of the bad guy.
Despite good stars (heroine is the weakest but okay) and a reasonable story, there are some real weaknesses and the thing that maddened me most was the editing. Long chase scenes with limited action just to annoying music.
If you’ve got a pizza and a cheap red and nothing better to do, get it out when it’s on DVD.
Thursday 28th June
Maine by J.Courtney Sullivan
When I am away for work or holiday I read even more than normal and like wherever possible to read something from the place I am in. This is a lot more meaningful if you’re somewhere exotic or even just culturally different (eg Coetzee’s Disgrace when I was in South Africa) and doesn’t seem quite as meaningful when you’re in the USA given there are so many American authors and it’s not like they often couldn’t be British or Australian in many ways. Pat Conroy evoking South Carolina would be an obvious exception. This trip to USA I found another, from a State I have crossed the border to but little else; Maine.
This was definitely a book written by a woman. It’s quite long (509 pages) and is about Relationships. Emotions and Families. My husband’s writing class was full of mostly middle aged women doing just this and never getting published. This author is younger and writes well, not too “literarty” but closer to Literary than popular. I enjoyed it, I kept reading it, but I suspect it will disappear into the recesses of my mind to never be retrieved, without the vivid images of the State that Conroy does.
The characters are good, sympathetic and believable. Real people (primarily women) with flaws, the mother (there’s always a flawed mother because well yes that is real life no matter how hard they try sometimes and however unfashionable it may be to blame the mother) but no real surprises but we feel for them all – life is difficult and they do their best. The plot is thin or rather there isn’t one, just a family in their misery and the difficulty of trying to work it out. If you like family sagas of the literary kind, with plenty of feeling, this is for you. If you want things to Happen, then it probably isn’t.
Thursday 21st June
Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L.James : Technical Evaluation.
There are over 500 reviews of the first, Fifty Shades of Grey, at least, on Amazon. Most are good, hence the best seller list. An article I read last week said it was selling 100,000 copies a week. I “took a peek” as Amazon allows you to, weeks ago when the hype first happened and the “craps” and holy craps” drove me crazy and I had too much writing to do so I didn’t bother. Then I had plane flights Australia to Europe, Europe to USA, across USA and finally back to Australia. Amazon, one click. Well actually three because after the first which leaves you up in the air I bought the next two, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. A brilliant marketing technique from both ELJames and Amazon- you don’t have to think hard about one click. And it sold me two books I didn’t enjoy all that much.
Let’s just get the nitty gritty out of the way. Yes there is a lot of sex, but it isn’t as explicit as the “scorching” rating of mine and my Siren fellow writers. Nor is the BDSM anywhere near as interesting from an informative point of view or as beautifully written as “Bound by Accident” by Jennifer Willows. I found it quite erotic never-the-less: in the first book. By the third I was bored.
The success of the book besides whatever component of good luck and good marketing there is, is simple. It’s very accessible (read simply written), the heroine is easily identifiable with/ likeable. Being a little older than the current generation of reviewers I found it perfectly believable that she was a virgin at 21 (and I think there are still a few left- for some young girls its scary and bound up with religion/morals/fear of family disgrace and pregnancy) though I would have expected her to have fooled around more. And like it or not, the classic rich cool distant powerful (like my heroes Gabriel and Jeffrey to say nothing of Darcy) sell.
The first book kept me involved because the technical problems were trumped by the characters, the sex was interesting and she left you needing to know what happened. I was able to overlook the holy craps, the lip biting (one of the reviewers on Amazon has counted how many there are, as well as the other annoying repetitive things) and all the things a good editor would have fixed. My husband edits my books before they go to Siren (who then edit again) and he gets rid of the excessive ‘sighs’ and ‘savouring’ I have! Siren then highlights anything that is repetitive I or my husband haven’t noted.
But in the next books the technical problems dominate. The characters were no longer fresh enough to keep my attention and the lack of normal story arc and rules started to irritate me. I have only done two brief writing courses given by main stream novelists who aren’t particularly successful (not by EL James standards) but I read a LOT and my husband has done two highly regarded writing courses. What I know instinctively from reading he can put names to. On both counts the books are full of plot problems that under normal circumstances would never have got close to publication.
For non-readers who pick up these books it’s sad that they won’t get this. I am not saying people should read more literary fiction for their development or anything. I’m talking about things like the plot of who is after the hero/heroine being poorly developed and executed. About writing ‘beyond the tag’ – this is a technical term learnt from my husband. That is, I didn’t think the damn book would ever finish. Did we really need to go through both pregnancies, the Caesarian section and then get the entire first chapter from book one from the heroes point of view???
On sex and characters, first book might even get a 4/5 but on everything else, and the two subsequent books there are sooooooo much better things written by my Siren colleagues. Plot and character with romance (not sex) – try Wendy Soliman (or Amber Easton). Lovely writing with sex and vampires? Try Lydia Michaels. Plenty of action and plot with a similar hero, try my Expose or coming out soon Exclusive.
Hopefully if ELJames writes anything more (and she has talent) she will think more about plot and get a decent editorial team.
Thursday 14th June
Pat Conroy – Author of Prince of Tides, Beach Music, South of Broad, Lord’s of Discipline
Rather than talk about any one of these books I thought I would talk more generally about the style of this books and what makes them standout. Once I find a book I like I tend to make my way through the authors books and Conroy is no exception though there was a big gap between the first, Prince of Tides (which I read before I saw the movie with Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisland) and the other three which I read one after another when I was living in New York in 2010.
I found them in the book shop in Yale and thought they’d help with the two hour each way daily commute (though I was working on the train trip too). I was looking for a taste of America and we had a weekend trip to North Carolina and thought South Carolina as a setting was close enough to get me in the mood.
I was wrong about this. Loved North Carolina, particularly Asheville and the Smokies, but these places bore no resemblance to Conroy’s evocative pictures of South Carolina. It did make me want to keep driving South, but we just didn’t have the time, so it’s on the must go to list.
Conroy writes beautifully, but not so literary that you feel stifled. Rather he is like an artist, painting the picture of place and then drawing you in so that the characters become part of your life. His books are always touching and meaningful, emotions and desires that we can identify with but seem so much grander and more tragic in his hands. From Beach Music’s exploration of racism and Judaism, as well sa the tragedy of suicide, to the immense pressures of growing up as and finding out what it is to be a man in Lord’s of Discipline, he has us spellbound. Of the four I enjoyed probably South of Broad the least, but it still had great characters, and of course, his beloved South Carolina.
Thursday 6th June
Joanne Harris- Blackberry Wine
Joanne Harris is best known for Chocolat – the movie with Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, with its less well known sequel The Lollipop Shoes. But she has written a number of other books, many with a tendency to quaintness and charm, some historical and French. This doesn’t include the Rune books which I haven’t read – I think these are more children’s books and though I did all the Harry Potters and Hunger Games, I’m not rushing to them. Gentlemen and Players and Blueyed Boy I would put in a different category too, particularly the latter which is more psychological thriller.
Sitting in a farmhouse in France, Blackberry Wine is far more suitable reading. What a lovely idea- telling the story from a wine bottles point of view! It sounds like one of those ideas that when you sobered up it wouldn’t actually work, but Harris makes it work well. It’s a romance, a story of rural France, a nicely written feel good book to take on holiday. You’’ probably forget most of the details, but the idea – that wine bottle and its final demise in the way all good wine should meet its end – will stay with you.
Thursday 31st May
Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
I previously reviewed Hunger Games, the first of this trilogy (see April 19th) and had these two lined up on my ipad. I only just read them though because I was waiting for the long flight and trains of my current trip. I’m going to review them together because the trilogy really is one book broken into three…and Catching Fire leaves you very much still up in the air and desperate for the next, more so than Hunger Games that did have an ending.
If you have to pick one out though, it was the middle one, Catching Fire I probably enjoyed best. You knew the characters (who are strong, interesting and surrounded by other colourful secondary characters with wild clothes, hairstyles and names), you knew the crux of the issue (the 12 Districts versus the evil Capitol with snakelike President Snow) and you get straight into the action that never stops. In fact you are still panting at the end, take a breath and dive into the final book.
The last book is a bit like the last Harry Potter book (more so than the last of the Twilight series). A lot is at stake both at a personal and societal level. There has to really, be some fall out. Given there are two men (well, young men) and one girl(young woman), this has to be resolved, but so does the fall of the Capitol, responsible for the evil Hunger Games. There isn’t any way I think of ending it to keep everyone happy. My two young adult/teen children loved the series and warned me that the last quarter of the last book was awful. As I kept checking how far there was to go, I kept waiting for it to become execrable and it never did.
My daughter didn’t like the death of a particular character. To me the manner of the death helped resolve who she ended up with. My son didn’t like the resolution because it was too wishy washy, not the decisive Katniss who survived so many other horrors. But I think it was realistic, believable, how real life is but in a good way without sugar coating. I cried (but then I often do…) and surely if a book can make you think – and this does – and cry, to say nothing of not wanting to stop until the last page was turned (I was in Lyon train station and made my husband stand around as I sat on a railing, tears streaming down my cheeks), then my hats off to the author. She deserves the success for a great idea, well crafted, that will grab a generation of new readers.
Thursday 24th May
Promise by Tony Cavanaugh
Okay I picked this up because it was a new Australian author doing crime. I’m Australian, only published in the USA, and in a different genre. This book is closer to the genre my book in progress is, so I guess I was checking out the competition. It’s different enough that it’s not too intimidating.
Firstly it’s set in Melbourne (briefly) and Noosa. I know both places very well. He makes Noosa surrounds seem a bit like Florida which will probably work with the American audience. It should. It’s every bit as good as the mainstream American authors in this genre. Way better than anything James Patterson had turned out in years.
I have to say I really am over serial killers so this is the weak part for me. Particularly seeing the world from the perp’s perspective. Maybe there really are people this evil. I just don’t think I want to know.
So why did I like it? The characters. Darian the burnt out rogue ex-cop and Maria (not his girlfriend) the current cop turning rogue-ish really work. Casey her boyfriend and Isosceles and even Angie aren’t bad as next level characters either. They are real, gritty and interesting, complex and unpredictable. The action keeps coming with twists and turns but it is Darian and Maria that make it work. I hope they are going to return.
If you’re a crime reader, buy it.
Thursday 17th May
Alice’s Sexual Discovery in a Wonderland: An Erotic Fairytale by Liz Adams
I have to confess I always thought Alice in Wonderland was a bit stupid. It didn’t quite captivate me and I figured my imagination just wasn’t that obscure. The same however can’t be said for Liz Adam’s wonderfully creative erotic rewrite. Right from the moment Alice falls down the hole we realize this is a very different – yet similar – wonderland. It helps to have read the original because it’s just wonderful to see how Adam’s has re-imagined the characters and events. A rabbit? Sure, but it’s the name of a deliciously cute naked man. Off with their heads? Absolutely…but not the heads the original queen was after.
This is book to immerse yourself whilst belief is suspended. Get ready for a ride and enjoy the very sexy sensual wild ride where just about anything could happen and probably will. I was surprised, given the bizarreness of some of the events and my dislike of the original, how much this not only grabbed me (in more ways than one…) but how very erotic it is.
Overall? This is deliciously wicked. Have a man or a vibrator with you when you read it.
Thursday 10th May
A Class Apart by Wendy Soliman
Romance, 76,972 words www.wendysoliman.com available at www.bookstrand.com/wendy-soliman
Let’s face it. The romance novel started in England (Austin, Bronte’s) and we’re all just itching for it to get back there. The country might be stuck in the past and have its current issues, but if you’re just reading about manor houses, family feuds and horse riding, what’s not to like?
Wendy Soliman started life as British (I hope I am right here and the Isle of Wight is British. I know the Scots are a bit dark if you call them English…) and has a childhood to tap into for her writing as she does in A Class Apart. She also, as the name suggests, touches on the class issues at the upper levels, but with the eminent sense that has probably coming with her years out of the UK.
A Class Apart puts Octavia, heir to Radleigh, on a collision course with Jake Bentley (the name incidentally of the author’s dog!). She has the title and background, he has the money and they both want the house. She’s feisty (and rides a motor bike) and is still dealing with a childhood that wasn’t quite as privileged as it seems at first glance. He’s had his own tough childhood and made good and doesn’t suffer fools. Enter a cast of characters including the Interior designers that Octavia works for who have agendas they aren’t letting on about, locals who have their own plans for the area that don’t include Radleigh and a few skeletons in the closet, you have a fast paced story that never leaves you bored and is always giving more. With Soliman you are always in good hands so you can just sit back and enjoy.
The setting is of course, very English, and its lovely to just sit back and let it roll over you and be part of it, not having to worry about death duties and things that the owners are dogged by in the real world!
The romance is beautifully woven throughout, the chemistry obvious but things keep getting in the way until the last third where their compatibility becomes obvious and they join together to solve their mutual and separate problems.
May 2nd DON’T FORGET ROSES & CHOCOLATES BLOG HOP AND GIVEAWAY STARTING FRIDAY NIGHT – SEE COMPETITIONS IN MAIN MENU
Salmon Fishing in Yemen
With Ewen McGregor and Emily Blunt … and the fabulous Kristin Scott Thomas
I kind of saw this by mistake, though as the film club chose it I probably would have gone any way. But I had read some time ago about a deep and meaningful women’s film in the Middle East and thought it was that. It wasn’t.
What it was, was Feel Good, easy watching, enjoyable, entertaining and probably ultimately, completely forgettable film. The story took a stretch of the imagination but then the characters made it clear it was for them as well! If a Sheikh with more money than sense wants to have Salmon in his river in Yemen, well maybe anything is possible! The screenplay was largely well written and there were some good funny bits- the send up of the British Public service (and Scott Thomas’s sensational performance) are enough reason alone to watch the film.
The stereotyping is however laid on thick (Arabs in kilts was a nice twists though) and the inclusion of the war hero given Afghanistan’s conflict is very much alive and threatening, was the low point and ultimately in real life Emily wouldn’t have gone off with Ewen’s character, though he plays it well.
Nice scenery though I’d be rushing to holiday in Scotland before Yemen, and some nice aerial photography of Ewen “swimming against the tide” like his pressure fish when he doesn’t go into work as usual one day.
Nice Friday night movie with a date or sitting anywhere if you’re wanting a cosy feel good film.
She’s Never Coming Back by Hans Koppel
This is another book that has been gathered in the post-Steig Larsson/Lisbeth Salander sweep of Scandinavian authors “who can do no wrong and we can’t get enough of them”. Hans Koppel is Swedish and that is where the book is set but the setting really could be in any town anywhere and doesn’t bring with it any particular Swedish cultural moments or (as in both Larsson’s and Anne Holt’s 1222) times when the cold seeps through to your bones.
This doesn’t mean however that it doesn’t have merit for what it is – a crime novel with some psychological suspense. Given we know where the protagonist is being kept and there aren’t many reveals, it is surprisingly gripping and enjoyable. It isn’t however the “most terrifying crime novel I have ever read” as is quoted from Lyssnarklubben (whoever or whatever that is) on the front cover. I obviously read more, though I have to say serial killers stopped being scary in books after I watched Wolf Creek- now that is terrifying. As for keeping people in the cellar, you really can’t go past “The Collector” by John Fowles for terrifying. I was at a conference once where FBI profilers made the point that virtually every serial killer has a copy of the latter on their shelves…
The plot is essentially a kidnapping and being kept as a sex slave in retribution (for what we discover as things progress). That she is being held over the road from her husband, that he meets the kidnapper unknowingly, adds to the tension. That there were real issues between the woman kidnapped and her husband make it all the more real, as does the police response which is not exactly Prime Suspect and I think quite likely to be how it really would be.
As the husband (who had been unhappy) find happiness it becomes increasingly hard to think how the book is going to end, but the author probably picks a reasonable solution.
Overall? A much easier read than Larssen but not as complicated or as satisfying either. One for the holiday by the pool.
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Everyone else is talking about so figured I would too. Where did this come from? Out of nowhere comes three books and a movie. The power of a well thought through marketing campaign I guess (I’m envious but realistic. Somehow erotica doesn’t quite lead itself to this, even if Sinnaman does have someone to make a short film of one of my short stories to help draw attention to his screenplays and my books)!
So Hunger Games. Catching Fire and Mockingjay the sequels are lined up on the iPad already purchased and read by my children.
It’s definitely young adult fiction. More adult concepts up front than Harry Potter (though arguably this series also had deeper and darker messages) it’s just as easy reading. I started reading that and another e-book about the same time (one I decided to test out from my Twitter authors) and it’s interesting that having got to chapter three I couldn’t put Hunger Games down, whereas the other I’m still only a third through.
The difference? Collins essentially follows every rule in the book on ‘how to’. No head hopping (there is so much head hopping in the other one it’s hard to identify with anyone and I keep forgetting who is who). It’s first person and we follow Katniss’s journey and feel for her throughout. It takes a bit, but not much of a leap to accept her world of the future, and the author is consistent.
Other rules? She’s a bit different, gutsy, but saves her sister. She then has a quest. There is a love interest, played lightly but well. There are enough twists and turns, however predictable, to keep our interest enough. In the end you have to read to work out how the author ensures (SPOILER COMING UP BUT IT’S NO SURPRSIE!) that both hero and heroine survive. At first you think it’s too easy but then there’s another twist.
So it might not win a Pulitzer but she’ll be laughing all the way to the bank and good on her. My hats off to Ms Collins and her publicity team. I’m off to read Catching Fire now…
Lone Wolf by Jodie Piccoult
This is the latest from this very popular author – I’ve read them all. What’s the attraction? Well, she writes well, it’s an easy read but it’s also thought provoking . She does a lot of head hopping- this as in many (possibly all) of her books follows several characters in alternating chapters. This means that we really get inside her characters heads and understand as the book progresses their usually quite complex motives.
Piccoult tackles complex family dramas where there are emotional and moral quandaries and nothing is every as it seems. Most know her book that was made into a movie with Cameron Diaz (Her Sister’s Keeper) about a couple who engineer a second child to provide bone marrow for the older child who had leukaemia. As always the book is more complex (and with a different ending) to the film.
In Lone Wolf Piccoult tackles two children (one a minor, one older but estranged) and their decision to turn off the life support machine that is keeping their father alive. It is about grief, guilt, how no one is perfect and how one of the tasks of adolescence is to learn to accept your parents for what they are, imperfections and all. That in doing so you can also accept your own imperfections.
It also brings in a lot of information about wolves. It seems Piccoult did a lot of research and if her tribute is true, there really was a man that did what the father in this book did – lived with a wild wolf pack. Though some of the motives and thoughts she attributes to the wolves must be at least in part conjecture, I found it fascinating, and the parallels she draws between the wolf pack and the family a useful way to rethink about relationships.
The ending (and I mean beyond the epilogue to what I thought was an excerpt of her next book, but isn’t) maybe a little overdone, but I’m a soft touch and I have a son. I cried. If reading this book makes just one more person in the world be an organ donor, then she deserves every cent she makes from this book (well, she does anyway).
The Eight by Katherine Neville (www.katherineneville.com)
Along with Shantaram, reviewed previously, this is a book that spoke to me. Grabbed me and wound its magic around me, seeping into my soul. I have probably read it at least ten times and several sections more than that.
Is it literary genius? No. Is it well written and engrossing? Yes. Fast paced, can’t be put down? Yes. Is it perfect? No. The concept is so good though it had me wanting to rewrite and re-imagine parts of it, trying to think of ways of making the chess game metaphor stronger. And a great romp through history.
In brief – and it’s a longish book – the story is in two halves, woven together throughout. There is a current time section where the protagonist is a sassy 23 year old female computer whizz who from the first page I just totally became, entering into her world as though it was mine (I should add I am technologically challenged in real life). Reading about the author she has clearly borrowed a lot from her own life for this character. Including some of the less likely things the character does (like working in Algiers) which KN actually did.
The other section is historical, weaving just about everyone in history from Charlemange to Napoleon into the narrative. Farfetched? At times, but it’s too interesting to spend too much time agonising over. Part of the beauty of the book is it takes you to a different place and you really don’t want to leave.
I read years after first reading this book that Katherine Neville had written it in a tree-house on the Californian coast. She described the house – think mansion wrapped around a huge tree trunk and on a cliff with miles of ocean before you – and it made me think how important where you write can be. I know ‘Power of One’ author Bryce Courtney ties himself to a chair for hours in the evening to write, but me, put me in that tree-house and I think I could write a best seller too…
She has written, years later, a sequel, The Fire. Same voice but this time it’s the daughter of the original heroine. We get a glimpse of the mother and I longed somewhat nostalgically to see ore of her, but the pace picks up and you’re away again. Both books you need a week free with a glass of wine and a fire – or a view of the Californian coast – and it will be as if you’ve been to all the exotic places and times without having to pay for the airfare (or time travel).
Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar
Most people have heard of or seen the movie of this name directed by Ron Howard, starring Russell Crowe that got four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Screenplay.
Fewer will have bothered to read the book, which is a pity. It’s quite thick and dense which is daunting, but it’s beautifully written, engaging and real story even more fascinating than the Hollywood version. It was rightly nominated for a Pulitzer. To be fair to Howard’s interpretation I think it helped schizophrenia get on the map, be less stigmatised and reduce irrational fear. But a lot of the pain was glossed over and ignored, and it is this that makes John Nash’s biography richer and fuller and more real.
John Nash was a mathematician who got a Nobel prize using those maths skills but actually in economics. Don’t ask me what he did, it made no sense to me, but this in some ways is what helps us understand his illness better. He and his colleagues were all a bit odd (I’ve read some accounts of famous mathematicians who couldn’t get their own breakfast). But his genius, the solutions to complex problems, came as inexplicably to him as did the psychosis.
He was sadly very affected by his illness and his private life was a good deal messier and less savoury than Hollywood would have as think. Yet his wife still took him back to care for him when unmedicated he was picking out food from bins. And despite the severity of illness, ultimately he was able to use rational thinking to draw a distinction between what was real and what wasn’t.
I heard him speak at a conference reasonably recently, long after the movie and the prize. He may well be a genius still or he may be thought disordered as part of his illness because he was pretty tough to follow. But he survived and his story – the written one – is truly inspirational.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
I heard a rumour a couple of years ago that this was going to be made into a movie with Johnny Depp. Sadly there has been no more word. If it is ever made, I’ll be there on opening night and probably several subsequent ones.
Sometimes a book just grabs you and won’t let you go. I read this some years ago when it first came out but it still hasn’t let me go. Many books I read and instantly forget. This has left vivid images and feelings. It was largely responsible for me choosing India for my last birthday escape. Sinnaman I have to say didn’t feel the same (I don’t mean about India- the book). He felt that he saw through the facade of the author and what was reality based and what wasn’t. ME? The author, of whom one has to believe did put a lot of himself into the fictional hero, is undoubtedly a flawed human (well aren’t we all). He, like the character in his book is an ex-drug addict who has escaped from prison and is on the run in India and Afghanistan. A lot of the other things may well be based on things that happened to him or others. But it is meant to be fiction.
In short it’s a ripping great yarn. The pace is fast, the writing good for both character and place (the author was an English lit major before drugs sent him in a different direction) and the story and romance is sensational. It brings India alive, full of vibrancy and colour, it makes sense of how they live in poor communities and yet still smile. It makes you feel you’re there and then want to go when you get to the end. It’s a thick book and lots happens and the Afghanistan section is probably the weakest, but given the Western worlds tentative involvement in the country I think reading anything about it is helpful (though I’m not about to rush off there to visit). Take it on your next holiday. But don’t expect to do anything except sit by the pool with it.
I have to confess I am a Daniel Craig fan. If there’s a film and he’s in it, I