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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Our Trespasses: A Paranormal Thriller by Michael Cordell (@TCKPublishing) Mystery, paranormal, horror, twins and cinematic writing #horror #paranormal

Hi all:

I bring you a hybrid book that combines two genres I am a fan of. I enjoyed it!

Our Trespasses by Michael Cordell

Our Trespasses: A Paranormal Thriller by Michael Cordell

Deliver us from evil…

Drowning in a meaningless existence flipping burgers, Matthew Davis suddenly collapses from a powerful psychic connection he shares with his twin brother, Jake. The pain is violent and immediate, and Matt knows exactly what it means… hundreds of miles away, Jake has been viciously killed. But instead of severing their connection, the murder intensifies it and Matt begins to suffer the agony of Jake’s afterlife.

Hell bent on solving Jake’s murder in order to break the connection, Matt travels to his troubled hometown of Hatchett, Nebraska, where an old lover and savage new enemies expose the festering wounds that Jake left behind.

Matt tries atoning for Jake’s sins, but when a demon infests the connection between the two brothers, Matt must find a way to sever their bond before his world, and ours, become engulfed in the flames of hell.

Fans of Stephen King’s The Outsider, Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians, and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist will find this new paranormal thriller impossible to put down.

https://www.amazon.com/Our-Trespasses-Paranormal-Michael-Cordell-ebook/dp/B09GPXRWJT/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Our-Trespasses-Paranormal-Michael-Cordell-ebook/dp/B09GPXRWJT/

https://www.amazon.es/Our-Trespasses-Paranormal-Thriller-English-ebook/dp/B09GPXRWJT/

Here is the link to the publishers website:

https://www.tckpublishing.com/

Author Michael Cordell

About the author:

Michael Cordell is a novelist, playwright and produced screenwriter. His first novel, “Contempt”, is an Amazon Best Seller and Amazon Top 10 Legal Thriller. He has sold three screenplays to Hollywood, including “Beeper”, an action-thriller starring Harvey Keitel and Joey Lauren Adams.

Michael currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

You can reach Michael at michaeljcordell@gmail.com

 https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Cordell/e/B001KECNKU/

 My review:

I thank TCK Publishing (Maria Inot in particular) for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I had never read any novels by Michael Cordell, but once I started to read this one, I was hooked. His experience working as a screenwriter (and a screenwriting teacher) comes through, as there are some scenes in this book so vividly rendered that it is impossible not to see them playing inside your head while you read it. And, they aren’t always comfortable viewing either! (I’m not sure I’ll look at a clothes closet the same way again, but I will not go into it to avoid spoilers).

This novel offers an interesting combination of genres. Although it is not the first time I come across a mystery/thriller with paranormal/horror elements (I’ve enjoyed Hyde by Craig Russell and The Coven Murders by Brian O’Hare, for example), this one has some interesting elements that might appeal to people who don’t normally read in either of those genres. The main character, Matthew (Matt) Davis, is not a detective or a policeman, but a pretty normal guy whose brother has been killed. We are aware, from the very beginning of the story, that he had a special connection with his twin brother Jake, but we soon learn what this truly means in the current circumstances. Although he ends up investigating his brother’s death, this is not out of revenge or even to try to get his brother’s murderer to justice, but for a pretty different reason. The paranormal element, which starts pretty low-key, moves onto full-blown horror towards the end of the novel, and I am not revealing anything unduly when I say that hell and demons play a big part in the story (and there are crows. Those of you who loved Hitchcock’s The Birds will nod in recognition at several scenes in the book).

I think these two genres mix quite well in this particular novel, as long as readers are willing to suspend their disbelief and not stick to the specifics of either genre (the mystery-thriller especially). In fact, I think the combination of the two genres works to keep us guessing and makes it more difficult for us to focus on solving either aspect of the story (because there are several mysteries and a lot of secrets hiding in this narrative). Although the pace of the novel is more contemplative than many thrillers are, the tension builds up slowly but ramps up towards the end, and its particular rhythm allows us to get to know the main character (whose point of view we follow —although narrated in the third person— the whole story) and to get a good picture of the little Nebraskan town where the story takes place. Of course, the author does not reveal everything about the character, and although we might have some suspicion about what really happened in the past, the ending brings some interesting twists to the story.

Apart from the novels mentioned in the above description, the story also had elements that made me think of The Dry by Jane Harper. The grown-up man coming back to his hometown after many years away to attend a funeral (in that case that of a friend, rather than his brother), and the descriptions of the weather, the place, and the secrets brought it to my mind, although there are no paranormal elements there. And I also thought about A Nightmare on Elm Street more than once (although no Freddy here).

I liked Matt well enough, even though his life seemed to be very unfocused and low-key to begin with, stuck and unable to move on for no clear reason. Things become clearer as we read on, and we get to understand his actions and empathise with him by the end. I also appreciated Matt’s sharp and dry wit, and his somewhat dark sense of humour, especially evident at the beginning of the novel (seeing the funny side of things gets difficult as the days pass). Jake… We get different versions of Jake, and although he is not a sympathetic character, he is an intriguing one, and not as one-sided as he appears at the beginning. I liked Claire. Although we don’t get to know her very well, she has done the best of a bad situation, and she is supportive, tries hard to do the right thing, and is a friend to her friends. I loved Andy. He is a fantastic character, and I would happily read a whole book about him. He also provides some light relief to the story (but he has some eerie moments as well)! The twin’s mother is a character I would have liked to learn more about, and I would also have liked to know more about the family dynamics, but that would have slowed the story down and turned it into something else.

The book abounds on reflections about guilt, duty, family ties and relationships, loyalty, small-town politics, faith and religious belief, the need to forgive and move on… The protagonist is faced with some impossibly tough decisions, and although not in the same circumstances, many readers will empathise with the feeling of being trapped and having no good way out.

I have mentioned the vividness of the writing, and the skill and craft of the writer come through. The story flows well, and although the rhythm is not frantic or typical of a thriller, it keeps you turning the pages (or sweeping them) to learn what is going to happen next. There are beautifully descriptive passages and quite a few hair-raising action scenes that make it into a satisfying reading experience. Remember that you can always check a sample of the book in your e-book store if you want to make sure the writing style fits your taste.

A couple of snippets of the book here:

 That was one of the things you could count on in Nebraska: most everyone was nice and more than happy to help. It was already starting to put him on edge.

 Skiz had told him a story that sounded as reasonable as talking monkeys riding unicorns, and yet he’d latched onto it as if it were a scientific fact. (If you wondered about the suspension of disbelief, the protagonist has some misgivings as well).

 The ending will satisfy most readers, I think. I have mentioned the twists (you might or might not see them coming, but I wouldn’t say they are evident), and because of my particular taste in endings, I would probably have preferred something a bit more nuanced and less final, but that is me. It makes perfect sense in light of the genre combination, but horror for me… must leave us feeling uneasy rather than reassured.

As to recommendations, this is a good and fun read, and people looking for books that combine genres, happy to suspend their disbelief, and not scared of paranormal and horror elements, (and not easily offended by somewhat unorthodox religious references and bad language) will have a great time with this story. I would also recommend it to those who enjoy movies in those genres, as it is very cinematic.

Thanks to the publisher and the author, for this novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, optimistic (as far as you can), and to keep reading, smiling, and enjoying life to the maximum. 

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE BURNING GIRLS by C. J. Tudor (@cjtudor) (@PenguinUKBooks) A priest turned detective, a small town with a dark past, and plenty of secrets

Hi all:

I bring you the third book by an author I’ve been following from the first novel she published, and I’m not surprised she’s become very popular (and there is talk of TV adaptations as well).

The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor

The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor  

The darkly compelling new novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Chalk ManThe Taking of Annie Thorne and The Other People, soon to be a major TV series

‘Hypnotic and horrifying . . . Without doubt her best yet,’

The Burning Girls left me sleeping with the lights on’ CHRIS WHITAKER, bestselling author of Waterstones Thriller of the Month We Begin at the End

‘A gothic, spine-tingling roller-coaster of a story . . . CJ Tudor is a master of horror’ C.J. COOKE, author of The Nesting
______

500 years ago: eight martyrs were burnt to death
30 years ago: two teenagers vanished without trace
Two months ago: the vicar committed suicide

Welcome to Chapel Croft.

For Rev Jack Brooks and teenage daughter Flo it’s supposed to be a fresh start. New job, new home. But, as Jack knows, the past isn’t easily forgotten.

And in a close-knit community where the residents seem as proud as they are haunted by Chapel Croft’s history, Jack must tread carefully. Ancient superstitions as well as a mistrust of outsiders will be hard to overcome.

Yet right away Jack has more frightening concerns.

Why is Flo plagued by visions of burning girls?
Who’s sending them sinister, threatening messages?
And why did no one mention that the last vicar killed himself?

Chapel Croft’s secrets lie deep and dark as the tomb. Jack wouldn’t touch them if not for Flo – anything to protect Flo.

But the past is catching up with Chapel Croft – and with Jack. For old ghosts with scores to settle will never rest . . .

______

‘Tudor operates on the border between credulity and disbelief, creating an atmosphere of menace’ Sunday Times

‘A mesmerising and atmospheric page-turner, with plenty of shocks and a surprise twist for a finale. Her best novel yet’ Sunday Express

‘The best book yet from C. J. Tudor’ Best

Praise for C. J. Tudor:

‘C. J. Tudor is terrific. I can’t wait to see what she does next’ Harlan Coben

‘Britain’s female Stephen King’ Daily Mail

‘A mesmerizingly chilling and atmospheric page-turner’ J.P. Delaney

Her books have the ability to simultaneously make you unable to stop reading while wishing you could bury the book somewhere deep underground where it can’t be found. Compelling and haunting’ Sunday Express

‘Some writers have it, and some don’t. C. J. Tudor has it big time’ Lee Child

‘A dark star is born’ A. J. Finn 

https://www.amazon.com/Burning-Girls-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B0882PLRBF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Burning-Girls-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B0882PLRBF/

https://www.amazon.es/Burning-Girls-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B0882PLRBF/

Author C.J. Tudor
Author C.J. Tudor

About the author:

C. J. Tudor lives with her partner and young daughter. Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.

Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, dog walker, voiceover artist, television presenter, copywriter and, now, author.

Her first novel, The Chalk Man, was a Sunday Times bestseller and sold in thirty-nine territories.

https://www.amazon.com/C-J-Tudor/e/B074WBT1GL/

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Penguin Michael Joseph UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I discovered C. J. Tudor with her first novel, The Chalk Man, a pretty impressive debut, and have read the two novels she has published since, The Taking of Annie Thorne and The Other People. As you can guess from that, I enjoy her writing and her penchant for creating stories that are never boring, with characters that keep us guessing until the end (or near enough). It is true, as well, that the topics she covers and her plots are not unique —if such a thing even exists—, especially for people who read plenty of thrillers, horror novels, mysteries, and watch films and TV series in those genres. But she knows how to pick up some elements that might feel familiar at first (after all, that is one of the reasons why many readers enjoy reading certain genres, because they know what to expect) and create something that manages to meet the expectations while keeping readers on their toes. And sometimes, scaring them a fair bit in the process.

That is true as well for this novel, which for me had a few things that made it particularly attractive. One would be the setting. The novel is set in the UK, in Sussex, an area where I lived for a few years and that I know fairly well. Although the village where the novel is set doesn’t exist, and neither does the actual tradition that gives it its name (and I won’t elaborate on that to avoid spoiling the story, although there is a fake Wikipedia entry at the very beginning that explains it all), I’ve read in an interview that the author felt inspired by the area and by the town of Lewes and its history, and I am not surprised that is the case. It is a very atmospheric place. I’ve read comments calling it “Gothic”, and it isn’t a bad name, but there is something more ancient and primordial at play as well (The Wicker Man comes to mind).

Another thing I found interesting is how self-referential the novel feels. The author has been compared to Stephen King (and she acknowledges how much she loves his books) on many occasions, as you can see reflected by the editorial comments, and his novels appear repeatedly in the book, as do references to popular movies and TV (The Lost Boys, The Usual Suspects, Heathers…) that might (or might not) be connected to the story and the plot. By openly acknowledging those in her pages, the author seems to be giving us clues and adding layers of meaning, although perhaps it is a fairly tongue-in chick ploy, and it is all part of the misdirection, twists and turns, and red herrings that are spread around the novel. Because another thing (and author) I kept thinking about when reading this novel was Agatha Christie and her works, in particular her Miss Marple novels, with their small villages with dark goings-on, where everybody is hiding something and outsiders have a hard time trying to find somebody trustworthy and to discover the truth. And there is also an elderly lady, Joan, who would fit perfectly into one of Christie’s novels, (and she is one of my favourite characters as well).

As I said, I won’t be discussing the plot in detail, to avoid spoilers, but I’ll mention some of the things readers can find in this novel: exorcisms gone wrong, crypts hiding dark secrets, ghoulish ghosts, disappeared girls, religious martyrs, child abuse and death, bullying and manipulation, abandoned creepy houses, unrequited love and jealousy, hidden motives and fake identities… This is not a mild or cozy novel, and there are some pretty gruesome and violent episodes, so I wouldn’t recommend it to readers looking for a light-hearted read.

That doesn’t mean the novel is all doom and gloom, as there are several characters with quite a sense of humour, and the protagonist, Jack, and Jack’s daughter, Flo, are both pretty witty and often funny. The protagonist narrates a lot of the story in the first person: Jack’s self-comments and observations appear sharp, clever, and they made me chuckle many times. Some also made me nod in agreement, and although I won’t say I agree with everything Jack does in the novel, I definitely understand the protagonist’s reasons. Apart from Jack’s first-person narration, there are fragments narrated in the third person, some from Flo’s point of view, and others from the perspective of a different character who we soon realise is trying to find Jack. Who he is and why he is after them… well, you’ll need to read the book to learn that. There are also brief fragments in italics that help create a fuller picture in our minds of what might have happened, even if we don’t know exactly whose memories we are accessing when we read them (but we are likely to have our suspicions). Does that mean the story is confusing? I didn’t find it so, and although this might depend on how familiar readers are with the genre, the different personalities of the characters come through in the writing, so I don’t think most people will have many problems telling whose points of view they are reading. Nonetheless, I recommend readers to be attentive and keep a close eye on everything, because, as is the case with more traditional mysteries, all the details are important, and the clues are there for a reason. If you blink, you might miss a piece of the puzzle that becomes important later on.

As is to be expected from these kinds of books, there is a false ending and a big twist. The author drops hints and clues along the way, and I am sure most people will suspect at least some of the information that is revealed, although perhaps not everything. Because, let me tell you that if you love unreliable narrators, you shouldn’t miss this one. Some reviewers felt disappointed by the ending, because… Well, I can’t tell you, of course. But, as I’ve said, there are hints dropped, and there is a bit of a soliloquy (not a soliloquy, but I could imagine it would become one if this were a play) where we get an explanation/justification of some important plot points. I’m not sure it was necessary, to be honest, but I can see why the author did that. Oh, and I did enjoy the ending, by the way.

Other reviewers also took issue with some depictions of characters and events that they feel reinforce negative stereotypes and prejudicial media representations of certain groups. Although this could be argued in one or two instances, and it is always a matter of interpretation, much of that view might result from a partial or perhaps too literal reading of the book with might have missed some of the nuances of the story.

This is a novel that, beyond the gripping plot and the mysteries it contains, deals in identity, in how we can reinvent ourselves and get a second chance, and also in what important role prejudices and labels can play in the way we are seen and perceived by others. While some people struggle to fight against assigned roles and expectations, others can use them to hide behind them and protect their true selves, or even manipulate them to their advantage. It also revisits the debate about evil. Do we believe some people are born evil or are we all born innocent and other people and our circumstances can turn us into monsters? Can there be some valid justifications, no matter how subjective they might be, for actions that would be considered evil by most people? Or there is no grey area when it comes to good and evil, and a person’s point of view doesn’t come into it? We might or might not agree with how things work out in the story, but I am sure we will all have formed an opinion by the end of the novel, perhaps even one that surprises us.

I recommend this book to fans of mysteries with some supernatural and horror elements, also to readers looking for a page-turner with plenty of atmosphere and a gripping storyline. I am sure most followers of C. J. Tudor won’t be disappointed, and, personally, I am looking forward to her next novel already.

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview 337 by M Jonathan Lee (@MJonathanLee) A ‘total’ reading experience #literaryfiction

Hi all:

I bring you a pretty surprising (albeit enjoyable) reading experience.

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

337 by M Jonathan Lee

337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens.

It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note. While their father pays the price of his mother s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

https://www.amazon.es/337-M-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492352/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/337-M-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492352/

https://www.amazon.com/337-M-Jonathan-Lee-ebook/dp/B08HQYXLKP/

Author M. Jonathan Lee

 About the author:

M Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author and mental health campaigner.

His first novel The Radio was shortlisted in the Novel Prize 2012. Since that time he has gone on to publish five further novels. 337 is his sixth novel.

He is obsessed with stories with twists where nothing is exactly how it first appears. He was born in Yorkshire where he still lives to this day with his twins, James and Annabel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M_Jonathan_Lee

Here you can find an interview with the author:

https://www.hideawayfall.com/meet-our-authors/

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

My review:

I had never met M. Jonathan Lee before but when I was approached by his publishing company and read a bit more about the new story and its background, I had to give it a go. I thank them for providing me an ARC hardback copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.

I was intrigued because they were insistent on sending me a hardback copy, but once I had it on my hands, I knew why. This is a pretty special book, not only because of the way it is written and the story it contains, but also because of the format. At first sight, the book appears to be double-ended. The images on both sides are the same (or almost): the door of a house with several transparent glass panels and a stained glass geometrical design on top and on one side, wood flooring (flooded by light) and a side door (on that door the glass panels on the cover are glossy rather than matte like the rest of the cover) —although perhaps it is a reflection rather than a real door— and the number 337 written (inside a box in a lighter colour) at the bottom on the right hand corner (oh, and the number is also glossy). The palette of colours includes different tonalities of yellows and browns, with a touch of green in the stained window. The other side is the same, but the palette of colours goes from violet to blue, as if this was a nocturnal version of the previous cover. It seems that the name of the author is only written on the spine, but if we pay attention to the title and the typography we soon realise that the 337 of the title, upside down, reads “LEE”.  Whichever end of the book you open, it seems to be the start of the book, with the information about the edition, some quotes about the author’s previous books, a poem, and then chapter one. As I am a bit contrary, I started reading by what I later discovered was the back cover (I guess), the night version of the door, and when I reached page 16 I was greeted by this message ‘Nothing is as it seems…’ and in the next page I was told to turn the book and keep reading from page 16. Several empty pages and pages with geometrical motives followed, so I turned the book, and after checking to make sure I hadn’t missed a different beginning, I kept reading. Yes, not your standard novel, and it got me thinking. However, in case you’re already intrigued and rushing to order the book, please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only. Don’t worry, though, the rest of the book is pretty special as well.

This is a work of literary fiction, even if a quick reading of the description might induce some people to think they are going to read a standard murder mystery book. Although there is an investigation or a process of research going on, there is nothing standard about it, and the book’s description hints at that. The book delves into memories, looks at how we remember our childhood and past events, examines the stories we tell ourselves (both about ourselves and about those around us), the way we protect ourselves from events and feelings, what happens when we are confronted with reality, and also reflects upon the many alternative ways different people deal with trauma in their lives. Some refuse to let it go; some bury it; some chose to try and forget (sometimes aided by drugs and alcohol); some reinvent themselves…

This is a book with very few characters, and in some ways, it reminded me of a play with a very small cast. It also brought to my mind a very well-known (and excellent) Spanish novel by Miguel Delibes called Cinco horas con Mario (Five hours with Mario) where the recently widowed wife of Mario reflects upon her life with him while she seats next to his coffin at the wake. Here, the main character and narrator of the story, Sam (Samuel) tells the story, in the first-person and in the present tense. He is a man leading a life that appears rather meaningless. He still lives in his parents’ house; he has an online job where he just seems to clock hours for doing as little as possible; he is in the process of divorcing his wife (she initiated divorce proceedings); and he seems to live stuck in the past, still trying to understand what happened to his family following his mother’s disappearance and his father’s imprisonment for her murder. The book opens with a dream/memory from the past, a time when his family and his grandparents —on his father’s side— had gone for a picnic to the park, a family annual tradition. There are several dreams/flashbacks throughout the book, and they are so beautifully and carefully described that we get quite a clear sense of what the family life might have been like (in full technicolour detail). Of course, as the book reminds us, things are not always as they seem, and although for much of the book we only have Sam’s own point of view, events, comments, and even memories that intrude into the action make us start wondering how reliable a narrator he is as we keep reading. We also hear about his wife, Sarah, his brother, Tom, his father, his mother (the one whose disappearance is at the centre of the book), his grandfather, and especially his grandmother, who is dying in a nursing home and whom, after much hesitation, he ends up visiting. Despite his initial reluctance, he ends up spending a lot of time with his grandmother, and that makes him reconsider things. We also meet a few members of the staff at his grandmother’s nursing home. And not even there things are as they seem to be.

The writing style is fascinating. I’ve mentioned the beauty of the descriptions, and there are some fabulous similes and metaphors as well. The writing is lyrical and at times reminded me of poetry, both in written and visual form (we might get a white space where there is a meaningful silence in a conversation, or very short sentences written as if they were a prose poem), mixed with some very insightful comments and reflections. We also have access to the conversations Sam shares with others, mostly his grandmother, but also Tom and the other characters that have much to contribute to our understanding, although not perhaps in the way we think at first. The book flows well and there is something very compelling about it, although it is not a page-turner in the usual sense, because nothing much happens for those who love action, while at the same time there is a lot going on.

A few examples of the writing, so you can see for yourselves what I mean (although remember this is an ARC copy):

Random thoughts are now jumping like kernels of corn over heat. They pop and explode inside my head like fireworks in New Year’s Eve.

When you experience some kind of serious trauma at a young age, it stays with you. It’s like a ghost which follows a few feet behind every footstep — a quiet whispered sound that reminds you of your past.

It has always confused me why people who have not got the slightest clue of what somebody is experiencing still believe that it is their right to state their opinion on the subject. I’ve given this a lot of thought. I believe it comes down to guilt.

And here, Sam is ranting (mentally) about the effects of mobile phones on conversations:

We could be locked in some deep conversation, maybe about to open up about some desperate fear or seemingly unsurmountable problem, and instead a screen is thrust in front of us and we have to smile politely at a picture of a surprised-looking cat near a cucumber. It is unbelievable. The number of truly worthwhile moments that have been spoiled by the interruption of mobile phones is limitless.

The ending… I am going to keep my peace and only tell you that I loved the way it is written and I liked the ending itself, although it wasn’t a surprise for me.

This is not a book for people who are looking for a plot-driven book and an intricate story. It has elements of mystery but it is, first and foremost, a subjective reading experience. If you enjoy literary fiction and like to savour writing in the same way you might enjoy a delicate meal or a beautiful piece of music, I recommend this novel to you. It is a ‘total’ reading experience.

Thanks to the publisher and to the author for this very special novel, thanks to all of you for reading, remember to keep safe, and if you feel like it, like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling. We’ll get there.

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Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE HUNTED: AN RJ ROX THRILLER (The RJ Rox Thrillers Book 1) by Jo McCready (@jo_mccready) A solid first-novel and a thoroughly enjoyable read #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a novel by an author totally new mean, another one of the novels I’ve discovered thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team.

The Hunted. An RJ Rox Thriller by Jo McCready

The Hunted: An RJ Rox Thriller (The RJ Rox Thrillers Book 1) by Jo McCready

On the vast Buchanan Estate in the wilds of Scotland, tech billionaire James Sullivan dies a suspicious death. Rookie agent RJ Rox is drawn back to a homeland to which she’d sworn she’d never return. She soon realizes the present is far more threatening than her past as she hunts the killers and the powers that unleashed them.

The close-knit community surrounding the estate is the perfect place to hide secrets and lies. RJ finds herself searching for the weakest link that will allow her access into Buchanan’s sinister world.

Thrown together with a partner who clearly hates her makes RJ even more determined to prove herself to the elusive Kingfisher organization.

Remote, desolate, and beautiful, the hills hide a killer lying in wait. Can RJ close the case before anyone else is subject to the same fate as Sullivan? Before she is hunted herself?

https://www.amazon.com/Hunted-Rox-Thriller-Thrillers-Book-ebook/dp/B08GD43SBG/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hunted-Rox-Thriller-Thrillers-Book-ebook/dp/B08GD43SBG/

https://www.amazon.es/Hunted-Rox-Thriller-Thrillers-Book-ebook/dp/B08GD43SBG/

Author Jo McCready

About the author:

Jo McCready grew up on the rain soaked streets of small town Scotland before moving to the sunnier climes of Auckland, New Zealand in 2010. She has a background in psychology and a lifetime love of mystery and murder. She is a founding member of the Auckland Crime Writers group.

https://www.amazon.com/Jo-McCready/e/B08GF5N97F

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

I had never read anything by this author before, but I was intrigued by the description of the book, the setting (I love Scotland), and when I used the ‘look inside’ feature to check the beginning of the book, I knew I had to keep reading.

The above description gives enough details of the plot, and it is difficult to talk about it without revealing any spoilers.  I am not a big reader of spy novels and equivalents (the protagonists might not be spies per se, but there are big organisations running the show and sending their operatives to investigate people, places, or events, using fake identities, all over the world. Yes, you know what I’m talking about), but I am familiar with the formula and the tropes, and here we have a few: we have a rookie (RJ is only on her second mission), paired up with a much more experienced partner (Stuart Black, although we don’t get to know his real identity); there is a boss who keeps tracks of them; his secretary who is the one who really knows what’s going on; a fairly high-profile case that has not been officially investigated; international travel; risky situations and some twists and turns to keep the readers guessing. What I particularly enjoyed and found refreshing though, was the fact that although we might think we know where things are going (we’ve watched the movie or read the book before), the author manages to subvert our expectations without stepping out from the genre completely. Yes, RJ, the main character, has a background story that weighs on her, but she doesn’t allow it to stop her or even slow her down too much. She doesn’t spend an inordinate time reflecting upon it either. There are no big speeches or moments when the two main characters bear their souls, become “close friends”, and talk about their past or their lives. They don’t even get to share their real names. Stuart offers practical advice when required, but does not spend half of the book speechifying about his experience and previous cases. Although they both learn from each other in the process, this is not a book where RJ is inexperienced, shy, and doubts herself all the time, always deferring to Stuart. She is determined to prove she deserves to be there, and she is aware of what she does and does not know. She is prepared to take risks but can take a step back when needed and ask for help.

They are also neither superheroes nor superhuman. They have skills and are highly-trained, but they get hurt, make mistakes, trip, and get things wrong. And although the organisation can supply them with plenty of stuff and information, they don’t have incredible gadgets that can do impossible things. So, although this is a work of fiction and, as such, it requires a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, it is not in the realm of fantasy and wishful thinking. There are bumps in the road, and people don’t magically heal from wounds. The action is kept at a reasonable human-size, and I was grateful for it, as this is one of the aspects that tend to put me off these kinds of books.

There are secrets and lies, but not everybody is in the thick of it, and although most readers would suspect a big cover-up from the beginning, things are not as straightforward as they might appear. Let’s say, without revealing too much, that there are plenty of red herrings to keep people guessing, and although there is a baddie in the story we’ll all love to hate, many other characters are neither totally black nor white, and have more redeeming features and are more interesting than they might at first appear.

I have mentioned some of the themes before, and I can’t really talk about the real motivation behind the events they investigate without revealing too much, but let’s say I hadn’t read any stories set in that world before although it is all too real (as I said, I’m not a big reader of this genre, so there might be many books that have touched on that aspect before, but I haven’t heard of them). I found it fascinating and horrifying at the same time, and I am sure I won’t be the only one.

I liked RJ. The author gives us glimpses of her losses and the impact they have had but does not go into it in detail. There isn’t much time for navel-gazing or pondering. She hesitates at times, but she is a determined young woman, intelligent, knows her own mind and she has very clear priorities. She might work for a big organisation but will not blindly follow orders. We get to know little about Stuart, and he does not take charge of everything, while at times he demonstrates interesting and unexpected skills. We don’t get to know too much about the organisation (as it should be), but I liked both the boss and his secretary, and I imagine they will get to play important parts in the series as it develops. The author has a talent for creating recognisable local characters without going into so much detail that it distracts from the story. They are realistic enough and I particularly liked the owner of the pub/B&B, her little girl and her two young sons. Oh, and their cat! And Wullie Carstairs (and no, you’ll need to read the book if you want to know who he is).

The story is told in the third person, mostly from RJ’s point of view, but sometimes we get an insight into the organisation and its workings, and there is also another character whose point of view we share. And yes, the author is very clever in her use of point of view, as I must confess I was caught by surprise and didn’t see the main twist coming. I don’t know if the way the story is told will be to everybody’s taste, but I can reassure readers that despite the different points of view there is no head-hopping and no risk of getting confused. We know at all times where we are and through whose eyes we’re following the action.

The writing is sparse, and it manages to achieve a good sense of place and location without going into long detailed descriptions that would interrupt the flow of the story and the action. McCready’s writing has something cinematographic about it, as at times she will zoom into a small detail in a scene —a moth, the chewing of the inside of somebody’s cheek, a scab…— which makes it all more vivid and visual. The language is not complex or convoluted, and although some of the events investigated are violent, those are told rather than shown, and I don’t think squeamish readers or those who prefer no explicit violence in their books would have an issue with it. That doesn’t mean there are no dangers or risky situations, though, and although there are some quiet moments, the story moves at good pace and it keeps us turning the pages.

The ending is satisfying, although I found it slightly rushed in execution (perhaps because there had been quite a build-up). I liked the fact that the trial is included, and the epilogue is a nice touch, for sure.

In summary, this is a solid start to a new series that will appeal to those who enjoy investigations and adventures ran by a big secret organisation. The central character is capable and likeable, and there is plenty we don’t know about her yet, so there is more to explore in the future. I think this would also appeal to young adult readers and to learners of the language as it is not too convoluted and the action keeps it interesting and engaging. It might not be sufficiently detailed for readers who love to get into all the details of the investigation (I wouldn’t recommend it to people who like hard police procedurals), but it is a fast-moving novel, in a great setting, and it explores a criminal world not usually the subject of these kinds of stories. A solid first-novel and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Thanks to the author for her novel, thanks to Rosie and her team for all their support, and special thanks to all of you for reading, sharing, liking, and commenting. Remember to keep smiling, reviewing, and make sure to stay safe. 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Fun with Dick by John Dolan (@JohnDolanAuthor) The darkest of humours and the most unforgettable character

Hi all:

I bring you a big by one of my favourite writers, who’s been having some fun…

Fun with Dick by John Dolan

Fun with Dick by John Dolan

Twenty-five-year-old Richard Blackheart – geek, wage slave and Superman wannabe – seems destined for a life of dull obscurity.
Then one day he hits upon an idea for the ultimate non-self-help book, ‘How to Die Alone, Smelly and Unloved’, and things start to change …

‘Fun with Dick’ is a heart-wrenching, hilarious and harrowing tale of one man’s struggle against gravity and cats. It is not recommended for people who are easily triggered. If you do read it, keep your shrink’s phone number handy.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083RW93CV/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B083RW93CV/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B083RW93CV/

Author John Dolan

About the author:

“Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants.”

John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.

He is the author of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ mystery series and the ‘Children of Karma’ mystery trilogy.

https://www.amazon.com/John-Dolan/e/B008IIERF0

My review:

I have read and reviewed all the books John Dolan has published so far (you can check my most recent review here), and you’d be forgiven for thinking that, after seven (well, eight, as he also co-authored one) books, he wouldn’t be able to surprise me any longer. Well, wrong! I kept reading the book and wondering what I was missing. Things couldn’t be quite as simple as they appeared. Of course, they couldn’t.

This is a novel that would be perfect for a book club because there are tonnes of things to discuss, but the book club would need to be pretty special. Some of the topics that are mentioned in the book, even if not described in detail or explicitly, would put off (or even trigger) some readers; and the novel is a nightmare for those who are sticklers for political correctness, because, humour or not, it is extremely dark, and it takes no prisoners. The cast of characters seems recruited from a variety of books in different genres: a Jewish psychiatrist, a bullying and unkind sister; an extremely overweight and lazy friend; the mother of said friend, who is a bit of a cougar (or a lot, as the protagonist knows only too well); a dismissive boss and a bunch of peculiar work colleagues working for the games’ industry; a girlfriend who is more interested in her ex than in the protagonist; and a central character called Dick Blackheart, who dreams of being a superhero with special powers but appears to be a looser. A passing conversation convinces him that he should write a pretty special non-self-help book (‘How to Die Alone, Smelly and Unloved’, and the title is quite indicative of the content, although perhaps not of how truly extreme the advice is), and somehow that seems to help him focus. Shortly after, things take a turn for him, seemingly a downward trend, and he makes a decision. He is going to travel to Thailand with his friend Nigel, who will serve as his experimental subject for the book, and finish it. And perhaps…

I won’t try to go into every single detail of the book, because readers should go into it without clear expectations and see what they make of it. I’ve mentioned the issue of the sensitive topics (the list is too long to include, but I’d suggest that if you can think of a taboo topic, it is quite probably there, or close to it), and the novel is narrated in the first person, so that might not suit everybody’s taste. Dick’s dead-pan style is very peculiar, and in a way, it makes his adventures, and his efforts at keeping up his mood and looking on the bright side, all the more affecting. Yes, there are very funny moments, although many of them are cringe-worthy as well. You are both laughing and horrified at your own laughter at the same time. You feel sorry for Dick and appalled by some of the things he says and writes. Is he joking or is he in earnest? There are subjects and topics most of us wouldn’t dare to joke about, but that does not seem to be the case for Dick. Why? He seems a pretty mild individual when we meet him, harmless, and unlucky when it comes to the things that make life shine. But be warned. You read on at your own peril.

I liked the way the protagonist drags us in, and we can’t help but watch as things unravel. We might feel appalled, dismayed, and disgusted, but somehow we need to accompany Dick in his trip of self-discovery (or self-revealing) until the very end. The extracts from his book are a must-read, and Nigel’s mother is quite a character, and not the only one. I also enjoyed the cameo appearance of David Braddock, the main character in the author’s other series. He wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for the world. The book seems to move from a pretty light beginning into darker and darker depths, and it takes a very skilled writer to pull the trick off and not lose the readers in the process. It also takes a pretty daring one. Oh, and I love the ending as well.

I don’t have any dislikes, other than the fact that the book is quite short, but that might work in its favour as it increases its impact, and I am not sure that most readers would have wanted things to get even darker (especially not at a moment like the one we’re living).

I recommend this book to Dolan’s fans, although with the warning that it is darker than most of his other work (or perhaps it appears so because it’s all packed in a very short length because, despite the sharp humour, the other novels are not easy reads either). Many sensitive subjects appear in its pages (trauma, parental loss, bullying, child abuse, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, and more…), so it needs to be approached with caution. It is a fantastic read, and I recommend those who might harbour doubts about it, to check a sample, and see how they feel. It is not an ordinary novel, and I’m sure I won’t forget it any time soon. If ever.

Thanks to John for another fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and take care!

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview THE MURDER THAT DEFEATED WHITECHAPEL’S SHERLOCK HOLMES: AT MRS RIDGLEY’S CORNER by Paul Stickler (@paul_stickler) (@penswordbooks) #Truecrime

Hi all:

I bring you another non-fiction book that brings to life what a real murder investigation was like in Britain in the early XX century.

The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel's Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler
The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler

The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler. A fascinating true police-procedural account from the early XXc

In 1919, when a shopkeeper and her dog were found dead in Hitchin, Hertfordshire with brutal head injuries, there followed an extraordinary catalogue of events and a local police investigation which concluded that both had died as a result of a tragic accident. A second investigation by Scotland Yard led to the arrest of an Irish war veteran, but the outcome was far from conclusive.

Written from the perspective of the main characters involved and drawing on original and newly-discovered material, this book exposes the frailties of county policing just after the First World War and how it led to fundamental changes in methods of murder investigations.

Offering a unique balance of story-telling and analysis, the book raises a number of unanswered questions. These are dealt with in the final chapter by the author’s commentary drawing upon his expertise.

https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes/dp/1526733854/

https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes-ebook/dp/B07FD46C55/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes-ebook/dp/B07FD46C55/

Author Paul Stickler
Author Paul Stickler

About the author:

Paul Stickler joined Hampshire Constabulary in 1978 and spent the majority of his time in CID. He spent many years involved in murder investigations and was seconded to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia to study international perspectives of crime investigation. Since his retirement in 2008 he has combined his professional knowledge with his passion for history, researching murders in the first half of the twentieth century. He spends his days delivering lectures to a wide range of audiences. More can be found out about him on his website: www.historicalmurders.com

Although the above is the official information included in the book, I could not resist but copy the profile from his website.

A retired detective, Paul Stickler has turned criminologist and crime historian and explores the detail behind some of the most fascinating cases in criminal history. His experience in murder investigations coupled with his passion for history make his presentations absorbing, challenging, entertaining and informative. He has recently published his first book about a bizarre murder investigation in Hertfordshire just after the First World War. He is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

Paul has featured in a number of television and radio programmes about his career and his research into early twentieth-century murders.

He studied history with the Open University obtaining a Bachelor’s degree (1997), graduated from the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia with a post-graduate diploma in Law Enforcement (1997) and read criminology at Solent University for his Master’s degree (2013) specialising in the research of historical crime. He is a Visiting Fellow of Solent University and his hobbies include gliding, high altitude walking and playing guitar (badly) and piano (even worse).

http://www.historicalmurders.com/profile/

Oh, and the website is fascinating, to people interested in true crime and also those authors or scholars researching the topic. I recommend it.

My review:

Thanks to Alex, Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I was fascinated by this book and by the way it is told. The case itself cannot compare to some of the sophisticated cases we read about in mysteries and thrillers, complex and full of twist and turns. A shopkeeper, widowed, that lived with her dog, and sold a bit of everything, appeared murdered on a Monday morning, next to the body of her dog. There was blood everywhere, she’d evidently been hit on the head, possibly with a weight that was found close to the body, and there was money missing. People had been at her shop on Saturday evening and one of her neighbours had heard some strange noises in the early hours of Sunday, but that was it. This was 1919, and, of course, forensics were not as advanced as they are now, but there was an investigation of sorts, although, surprisingly, in the first instance the local police decided it had been an accident. When the new police chief revised the case, he was not so convinced, and called on Scotland Yard for assistance. They sent Detective Chief P. S. Wensley, who had been involved (although only marginally) in the investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders and would become pretty well-known for the Houndsditch murders and the siege of Sidney Street. Unfortunately, two weeks had passed since the original crime he was sent to investigate, the body had been buried, and the evidence had not been well-looked after, but still… He and his team investigated and put together a case against an Irish immigrant who’d fought the war. And, well, the rest is history (and you’ll have to read it yourselves).

Despite, or perhaps because, of the somewhat ‘simple’ murder, the book is a fascinating read. The author —evidently familiar with current crime investigation techniques— explains his reasons for choosing to tell this story, to recover the case of a fairly anonymous woman, and to do it in this particular way, pointing out that he did not intend to set off on a ‘cold-case’ type of investigation.  In his own words:

That is the beautiful thing about history; trying to show exactly what happened using original material and putting it in a contemporary social setting so that the reader can better understand and make sense of it all. I hope that the narrative has not only thrown light on policing in the early part of the century but portrayed it as a piece of history and not as retrospective critique. (Stickler,  2018, p. 145)

In my opinion, he succeeds. Stickler’s method, which consists in looking over the shoulder of the people who were investigating the murder and those who participated in the court case, showing us what they would have seen, and guessing at what they might have thought, while at the same time providing us historical background, so we are able to understand how the police force worked, and what the atmosphere was like in the country shortly after WWI, works very well. As we read the book we can’t help but think about what we would have done, worry about their mistakes, and wonder about the missing details and the conflicting witness statements and evidence. We learn about the social make-up of the town, the relationships between the different communities, the way the police force worked at the time, and we gain a good understanding of the legal issues as well, without having to read long and dry historical treatises. The writer has done a great deal of research and his skill as a writer is evidenced in the way he seamlessly creates an involving narrative that never calls undue attention to it. For the sake of completion, the author includes a commentary at the end, where he provides a postscript, as it were, with information about what happened to the protagonists, and also with his own speculations (that he had kept to himself until then) as to why things happened as they did.

I recommend this book to people who are interested in true crime, especially in Britain, Criminology and Criminal Justice System students, readers who enjoy historical police procedural novels, and also writers of the genre interested in researching the topic (the bibliography and the author notes will be of great help, and there are also pictures from the time provide a fuller understanding of the story). And, as I said, I also recommend checking the author’s blog to anybody interested in the topic.

A great book and a fabulous resource.

Stickler, P. (2018). The murder that defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s corner. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword.

Thanks to Alex and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling.

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE ENGLISH WIFE: A NOVEL by Lauren Willig (@laurenwillig) (@StMartinsPress) Recommended to fans of Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and Jane Austen’s novels. #bookreview #historicalfiction

Hi all:

I am sure today’s book won’t be to everybody’s taste, but I loved it. See what you think.

The English Wife by Lauren Willig
The English Wife by Lauren Willig

The English Wife: A Novel by Lauren Willig

From New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous novel set in the Gilded Age, full of family secrets, affairs, and even murder.

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

https://www.amazon.com/English-Wife-Novel-Lauren-Willig-ebook/dp/B072TY6MS6/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/English-Wife-Novel-Lauren-Willig-ebook/dp/B072TY6MS6/

Author Lauren Willig
Author Lauren Willig

About the author:

Lauren Willig is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Pink Carnation series and several stand alone works of historical fiction, including “The Ashford Affair”, “That Summer”, “The Other Daughter”, and “The Forgotten Room” (co-written with Karen White and Beatriz Williams). Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. After graduating from Yale University, she embarked on a PhD in English History at Harvard before leaving academia to acquire a JD at Harvard Law while authoring her “Pink Carnation” series of Napoleonic-set novels. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

https://www.amazon.com/Lauren-Willig/e/B001IGQV62/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

In case you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to read the whole review (you know I can go on and on), I love this novel. I recommend it to anybody who enjoys historical fiction with a mystery at its heart, especially if you enjoy gothic novels. If you love Rebecca and Jane Eyre, I would advise you to check it out. And, for the insights it offers on the society of the time (both sides of the Atlantic), I think fans of Jane Austen who are interested in novels beyond the Regency period will also enjoy it.

This historical novel, set at the end of the XIX century, starts with a murder and the mystery surrounding it. On the day when Annabelle and Bay, a couple of the best of New York society (Annabelle, the aristocratic English wife of the heir of the Van Duyvil dynasty) have organised a ball to celebrate the completion of their new mansion, he is found dead with a knife (a dagger from his costume) in his chest, and his wife is presumed drowned under the icy waters of the river. Janie, Bay’s sister, alarmed at the different versions of the story that circulate (either her brother killed his adulterous wife and then committed suicide, or his wife killed him intending to run away with her lover, although her brother is also accused of adultery with their cousin Anne…) and how they will affect her little niece and nephew, decides to try to find the truth. She chooses an unlikely ally (more unlikely than she realises at the time), a reporter (her mother values privacy, appearances, and reputation above all, and she appears to be the perfect obedient daughter), and the novel tells the story of their investigation, that we get to follow chronologically from the moment the body is discovered, in January 1899, for several weeks. We also get to read about events that took place several years earlier (from 1894 onward), when Annabelle (also known as Georgie) first met Bay, in London. She was working as an actress and they become friends. These two strands of the story, told in the third person, but each one from the point of view of one of the main characters, Janie and Georgie, run in parallel until towards the very end, and that offers us different perspectives and insight while at the same time helping keep the mystery going. The more we know about the ins and outs of the characters, their relationships, their families, and their secrets (and there are many. Other than Janie, who only starts keeping secrets after her brother’s death, all the rest of the characters carry heavy loads, sometimes theirs, sometimes those of others), the more we feel invested in the story, and the more suspects and red herrings that keep appearing. I have read some reviewers that complained about the story not being a mystery or a thriller. Well, a thriller it is not, for sure (although I found the reading experience thrilling for other reasons). It has some of the elements of a classic mystery of the era, with the added beauty of the detailed setting, the appreciation of the subtle social nuances of the time, the strong portrayal of the characters, and the beautiful language. You might guess who the guilty party is (I must confess I kept wavering between several possible explanations), and also some of the other secrets (some are more evident than others), but I thought it worked well, although not, perhaps, for a reader who is looking, exclusively, for a mystery and wants to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible. This is not a book written following the rules of the genre we are so familiar with (nothing extraneous that does not move the story forward, kill you darlings, keep descriptions to a minimum) and, in my opinion, is all he better for it.

This book is full of great characters. We are limited to two points of view only, which might be biased due to personal reasons, and some characters, like Cousin Anne, generates strong emotions from all those involved (she never conforms, she steals the man her cousin Janie was going to marry, later divorces, and her attitude towards Annabelle is not supportive), but she has some of the best lines, and we get to understand her quite well by the end of the story. Janie, who has always been dismissed by her mother and ignored by the rest of the family, is an articulate, intelligent, cultured, and determined woman. Burke, the reporter, is a complex character with stronger morals than anybody would give him credit for, and Mrs. Van Duyvil, the mother, is a larger-than-life woman, whose influence is felt by those who come into contact with her, and she is far from likeable, and there are other characters that appear in a negative light. Even the “good” characters (Bay and Janie) have complex motives for their actions, and nothing is a black or white as we might think at the beginning.

As I mentioned above, the author (whose work I’d never read before but I’ll make sure to check) captures well the nuances of the time, the dress, the setting, the social mores (yes, a little like Jane Austen, although in a very different historical period), writes beautifully, and her choice of female characters as narrators allows us a good insight into what life was like at the time for women, whose power always had to be channelled through men. Times were changing already, and people keep referring to the Vanderbilts’ divorce, but this was not generally accepted yet, and certain things had to be kept hidden. The dialogue is full of wit and sparks at times, and although there is drama, sadness, and grief, there is also merriment, fun, romance, and very insightful comments on the society of the time (and yes, our society as well).

The book is full of literary references, historical-era appropriate, and most readers fond of the genre will enjoy the comments about books (and plays) of the time. I did. The narrative takes its time to explore the situations and the characters in detail, but I felt it moved at the right pace, giving us a chance to reflect upon the serious questions behind the story. Who decides who we truly are? How important are appearances and social conventions? What role should other people’s opinions play in our lives and actions? I don’t want to give any spoilers away (I enjoyed the ending, by the way, but that’s all I’ll say about it), but I thought I’d share some snippets from the book.

The juries of the world were made of men. A man could hold his honor dear in masculine matters such as gambling debts and never mind that he left a trail of ruined women behind him. Men diced with coin; women diced with their lives.

Georgie took a sip of her own tea. It was too weak. It was always too weak. She blamed it on the Revolution. Since the Boston Tea Party, the Americans had apparently been conserving their tea leaves.

“So you came rushing through the ice?” Janie didn’t know whether to be touched or shake him for being so foolish. “Slaying a dragon would have been easier. And warmer.”

Viola lifted her head. “I don’t want a lullaby. I want a story.” “Even better. I have a wonderful one about a prince who turned into a toad. You’ll adore it. It’s very educational.” (This is Anne. She has many wonderful retorts).

And this one must be one of my favourite sentences of the year so far:

Janie felt like a prism: fragile, but with the chance of rainbows.

In sum, a beautifully written historical fiction novel, with a mystery (several) at its heart, memorable characters, fantastic dialogue, and a gothic touch. Unmissable.

 

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!

[amazon_link asins=’1250027861,125005642X,125002787X,045121742X,0451232054,B000OIZV3O,0451474635,0451473027′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’53fff0d6-123c-11e8-8d93-2145a195db9e’]

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE DRY: The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year 2017 by Jean Harper (@LittleBrownUK) (@janeharperautho)Tense, atmospheric, and reflective Australian #crimenovel.

Hi all:

This is the second part (although it should be the first) of the post I published last week. Oh well, this is me we’re talking about, after all.

The Dry by Jane Harper
The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry: The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year 2017 by Jane Harper

‘One of the most stunning debuts I’ve ever read…Read it!’ David Baldacci

WINNER OF THE CWA GOLD DAGGER AWARD 2017
AMAZON.COM’S #1 PICK FOR BEST MYSTERY & THRILLER OF THE YEAR 2017
The Gold Australian Book Industry Award for Book of the Year
Australian Book Industry Award for Fiction Book of the Year

WATERSTONES THRILLER OF THE MONTH
THE SIMON MAYO RADIO 2 BOOK CLUB CHOICE
SUNDAY TIMES CRIME THRILLER OF THE MONTH

 

‘Packed with sneaky moves and teasing possibilities that keep the reader guessing…The Dry is a breathless page-turner’ Janet Maslin, New York Times

WHO REALLY KILLED THE HADLER FAMILY?

I just can’t understand how someone like him could do something like that.

Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.

And if you loved The Dry, don’t miss Jane Harper’s second novel Force of Nature, now available

Editorial reviews:

Review

It is hard to believe that this accomplished piece of writing, which returns again and again to the savage beauty of the landscape, is Harper’s first novel – Sunday Times, Crime Book of the Month January 2017

Wonderfully atmospheric, The Dry is both a riveting murder mystery and a beautifully wrought picture of a rural community under extreme pressure – Mail on Sunday Thriller of the Week, January 2017

The writing is fantastic, and the plot – where many mystery/thrillers fall short these days – was completely unpredictable in the best ways possible… Aaron Falk, returns to his hometown in Australia to mourn, and inevitably investigate, his best friend’s apparent suicide. What comes next is a series of twists and turns that will keep you guessing all the way until the end. I repeatedly found myself shocked and pulled in by Harper’s fast paced and engrossing writing. Truly a fantastic read and hopefully the first of many to come from Ms. Harper – An Amazon Best Book of January 2017, Amazon.com

One of the most assured crime debuts I’ve encountered in many years . . . It grips like a vice from first paragraph to last, atmospherically evoking the small town of Kiewarra . . . Told with heart-breaking precision and emotional power . . . If you read only one crime novel this year make it this one – Daily Mail

Solid storytelling that, despite a plethora of flashbacks, never loses momentum, strong characterization and a sense of place so vivid that you can almost feel the blistering heat add up to a remarkably assured debut – Laura Wilson, Guardian

A sad, beautifully told tale of lives regretted – The Times

‘Jane Harper’s fleet novel about a triple killing is packed with sneaky moves and teasing possibilities that keep the reader guessing…hard to believe this is her first novel… The Dry is a breathless page-turner…The dryness that gives the book its eerie title looms large in the novel’s finale, when certain kinds of weapons become even more terrible than those used to butcher the Hadlers. And a book with a secret on every page now has threats blooming everywhere, too. The Dry has caught the attention of Reese Witherspoon, who has a solid track record for spotting novels with strong movie potential. (Want some evidence? Gone Girl.) But Ms Hadler has made her own major mark long before any film version comes along – Janet Maslin, New York Times

Like True Detective set in the Australian outback…Amid the worst drought in a century, the tension and stifling heat running through the small town of Kiewarra crackle off the pages – Stylist magazine, this month’s most exciting new novels

Set in a small Australian town during a blistering drought, this creepy and tightly woven tale about a detective investigating a brutal triple-murder is getting huge global attention for all the right reasons – it’s brilliant! – Heat magazine

Pulse-thumping suspense… Building from the first page, rammed with atmosphere, suspicions, lies and tension, this is a first-class crime debut’ – Fanny Blake’s Great Reads, Woman & Home

Settle in a comfy chair and read . . . The Dry by Jane Harper. This gripping novel charts a policeman’s unwilling participation in the investigation of a terrible murder in the town of his youth, and is set to be the biggest crime release of 2017 – GQ magazine

Tipped to be one of the biggest novels of the year . . . a gripping read – Hello magazine

Jane Harper creates an atmosphere of simmering tension right from the off. Her version of High Noon in the Outback flickers between past and present to slowly reveal what actually happened between characters who are far more engaging than the cogs usually found in clockwork thrillers . . . A more than promising debut – Evening Standard

One of the most stunning debuts I’ve ever read. I could feel the searing heat of the Australia setting. Every word is near perfect. The story builds like a wave seeking the purchase of earth before it crashes down and wipes out everything you might have thought about this enthralling tale. Read it! – David Baldacci

One of the best crime debuts of 2017 – literary Broadchurch meets Top of the Lake – Joseph Knox, author of Sirens

There is something about isolated communities and secrets and lies that just really intrigues me and this is one heck of a thriller with all of those things and more . . . [this thriller] slowly bubbles like a pan on a stove and you think you can guess the moment when the pan lid is just going to explode. But it’s only been a little while since the water started to bubble, it’ll be ages yet…..then BOOM. I had my eye on that pan lid from the start and I didn’t guess what would happen. My heart is still beating like mad days after finishing the book – The Book Trail (via NetGalley)

You can almost feel the searing heat of the Australian drought in this intense, gripping, atmospheric tale. A compulsive read. – Kate Hamer, bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat

Put up your tray table, buckle your seatbelt, and sit back: you’ve found the right book for this flight. Set in the flash-ready tinder of a town going under, The Dry is a cracking good read that will have you hoping the pilot decides to circle the airport before landing. A hit by land or air. – Laura McBride, author of We Are Called to Rise

You will feel the heat, taste the dust and blink into the glare. The Dry is a wonderful crime novel that shines a light into the darkest corner of a sunburnt country – Michael Robotham, CWA Gold Dagger Winner, bestselling author of Life or Death

Every so often a debut novel arrives that is so tightly woven and compelling it seems the work of a novelist in her prime. That’s what Jane Harper has given us with The Dry, a story so true to setting and tone it seemed I fell asleep in Virginia only to wake in Australian heat. It’s rare, that sense of transportation, and I loved every minute of it – John Hart, New York Times bestselling author of Redemption Road

Terrific characters, unique and evocative setting, knockout plot construction. This book has it all – John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of The Fall

Every now and then an Australian crime novel comes along to stop your breath and haunt your dreams…There is about The Dry something mythic and valiant. This a story about heroism, the sins of the past, and the struggle to atone – Sydney Morning Herald

[A] devastating debut…From the ominous opening paragraphs, all the more chilling for their matter-of-factness, Harper …spins a suspenseful tale of sound and fury as riveting as it is horrific – Publishers Weekly, starred review

A mystery that starts with a sad homecoming quickly turns into a nail-biting thriller about family, friends, and forensic accounting. Debut author Harper plots this novel with laser precision, keeping suspects in play while dropping in flashbacks that offer readers a full understanding of what really happened. The setting adds layers of meaning. Kiewarra is suffering an epic drought, and Luke’s suicide could easily be explained by the failure of his farm. The risk of wildfire, especially in a broken community rife with poverty and alcoholism, keeps nerves strung taut… A chilling story set under a blistering sun, this fine debut will keep readers on edge and awake long past bedtime – Kirkus, starred review

A stunner…It’s a small-town, big-secrets page-turner with a shocker of an ending. .. – Booklist, starred review

The Dry is one of the most talked-about debuts of the new year….Harper’s story is tightly plotted and moves briskly, the tension as brittle and incendiary as the dried-out crops on the Kiewarra farms. But it is the beautifully evoked landscape and the portrayal of a gloomy outpost on the edge of a desert that are the stars of the show – BookPage

A firecracker debut . . . Journalist Jane Harper proves literary is often mysterious, with her thriller The Dry capturing readers’ attention both for its final twist and its depiction of a hostile small Australian town beset by drought – West Australian

It’s extremely rare and exciting to read a debut that enthralls from the very first page and then absolutely sticks the landing. Told with heart and guts and an authentic sense of place that simply cannot be faked, The Dry is the debut of the year – C.J. Box, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Off The Grid

A razor-sharp crime yarn dripping in the sights, sounds and smells of the Australian bush…The storytelling is accomplished, with a bald sparseness to the writing that draws you in and characterization that rings resoundingly true…as the action twists and turns, the pace build[s] to a fantastic finale that will leave you breathless – Australian Women’s Weekly

A tightly plotted page-turner that kept me reading well into the night…Harper shines a light on the highs and lows of rural life – the loyalty born of collective endurance in adversity, as well as the loneliness and isolation, and the havoc wrought by small-town gossip. She also explores the nature of guilt and regret, and the impact of the past on the present. In this cracker of a book Harper maintains the suspense, with the momentum picking up as it draws to its nerve-wracking conclusion – Australian Financial Review

In this exhilarating debut (which won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript), Falk goes back to a town ravaged by feelings of resentment and distrust that are exacerbated by drought . . . A community psychologically and socially damaged, Kiewarra resembles Henry Lawson’s bush. Australian novelists such as Harper, in a small and select company, are exploring disquieting, imaginative territories, far from the littoral or metropolis – Weekend Australian

In Jane Harper’s debut The Dry, long-held grudges are thrown in the mix to make for an absolute tinderbox – and a cracking read. Harper has delivered a tense, evocative thriller that paints a stark picture of what desperate times can do to a community. She slowly reveals the deep-worn tensions between characters in the small town, and it’s this that makes The Dry such a good read . . . tension crackles . . . It’s not surprising that Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Pacific Standard, has already snapped up film rights for The Dry. It has some decidedly Australian aspects but Harper’s basic point – about the desperate things people will do in desperate times – is universal – Adeleide Advertiser

Atmospheric and riveting, this remarkable debut announces a significant new talent – Morning Star

 Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dry-Sunday-Times-Crime-Book-ebook/dp/B01C37W582/

https://www.amazon.com/Dry-Sunday-Times-Crime-Book-ebook/dp/B01C37W582/

Author Jane Harper
Author Jane Harper

About the author:

Jane Harper is the author of The Dry, winner of various awards including the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, the 2017 Indie Award Book of the Year, the 2017 Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year Award and the CWA Gold Dagger Award for the best crime novel of 2017. Rights have been sold in 27 territories worldwide, and film rights optioned to Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea. Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK and lives in Melbourne.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Harper/e/B001KI8MCE/

My review:

This is a bit of a peculiar situation. After reading great things about this novel and requesting the author’s second novel Force of Nature (you can check my review here) from NetGalley, I had to read it quickly to take part on a blog tour. When I looked at other reviews, there were so many comparisons to the first novel (although it can be read as a standalone) that I felt I should read the first novel to make my own mind up. That means I will be comparing the first novel to the second, rather than the other way around. Sorry. Why do things the easy way when one can complicate matters?

There is no doubt that Harper knows how to set a story and how to take full advantage of the landscape, atmosphere, and characteristics of the place and the people. She sets the story during a terrible drought in Australia, specifically in Kiewarra, and has the main protagonist (who is also the main character in Force, Aaron Falk, a police detective specializing on fraud and financial crimes) return to his place of birth, twenty years after having left in unfortunate circumstances. The story is also told in the third person, mostly from Falk’s point of view, although we also have fragments, that are differentiated from the rest of the story by being written in italics, that go back to the events that happened many years back (the events that made Falk and his father leave town when he was an adolescent), and also to the more recent deaths. These fragments, also written in the third person, are told from a variety of points of views, although it is not difficult to know which character’s point of view we are sharing. (Some readers enjoy the style and others don’t, so I’d recommend checking a sample of the book before making a decision).

In this story, Falk is called to attend the funeral of his childhood friend, Luke, who has seemingly killed his wife and young son, and then committed suicide, only leaving his baby daughter (13 months old) alive. Luke’s parents are convinced that their son has not killed his family and himself, and ask for Falk’s help. The current killings bring back memories of the death of a young girl who was Falk and Luke’s friend and with it the suspicions of his possible involvement.

The mystery has some elements of the police procedural (as Falk joins forces with the new police Sergeant, Raco), also of the domestic noir (there are many secrets, mostly family secrets buried deep, and relationships that are not what they seem to be at first sight), and there are plenty of suspects, clues, red herrings, to keep us guessing. But the book does not follow a straight linear narrative, as I mentioned;  it does go into plenty of detail about things that do not seem to be always relevant to the murders, and its pace is not what we are used to in more formulaic thrillers. It is slow and contemplative at times, and the past weighs heavily on the investigation (especially on those who have matters pending). Although most of the violence takes place outside the page, and this is by no means the most explicitly violent novel I’ve read (I’m difficult to shock, though), there is violence and it deals in pretty dark subjects, so be warned. Whilst in some crime novels, even very dark ones, there are light and humorous moments that help release tension; there is hardly any of that here. What we have are insightful and contemplative moments, which go beyond the usual snarky comments by the cynical detective.

As an example, a particularly touching comment by Barb, Luke’s mother, talking about the aftermath of her son’s death:

‘No-one tells you this is how it’s going to be, do they? Oh yes, they’re all so sorry for your loss, all so keen to pop round and get the gossip when it happens, but no-one mentions having to go through your dead son’s drawers and return their library books, do they? No one tells you how to cope with that.’

I thought the small town was  realistically portrayed. The envies, the resentment, the discomfort of knowing that everybody is aware of everybody else’s business, and the prejudices and the tensions in a place where nobody can hide, and where you are never given the benefit of the doubt, felt true to life. Although I’ve never visited Australia, the dynamics of the place and its inhabitants, subject to major tensions due to the uncertainty the drought had brought to the local economy, create an atmosphere that is tense and oppressive, even if the story is not fast-paced.

The characters, in my opinion, are somewhat more clearly divided down morality lines in this novel than in the second, although it is not so evident in the beginning. Whilst in Force none of the characters come out of the book unscathed, and most of them are morally suspect, here there are good characters (although they might not appear to be) and some truly bad ones. Most of the characters (at least the good ones) carry a burden of guilt (in most cases for things they are not truly responsible for), whilst the bad characters seem unable/unwilling to take responsibility for their actions, no matter how cruel. As is the case for many investigators, Falk is also investigating his own past, and that is why he finds it so difficult to resolve the case. This process of rediscovery and personal digging will continue in the next novel. I would not say Falk is an immediately likeable character. I found him more consistent and easy to understand in the second book (of course, by then he had survived to the events of this novel, which would have had an impact on him), although he seems to come alive in some of his interactions with others (particularly Luke’s mother, a great character).

Overall, I felt the mystery part of the story is more intriguing and well-resolved here (even though the past case keeps interfering with the present; there are not as many loose ends and red-herrings here), although I did not mind that aspect of the second novel (that I found more morally complex). For me, this one is more of a novel for mystery lovers, especially for those who prefer to take their time and enjoy a different setting to the usual urban thriller. The second novel in the series pays more attention to how the story is told and to the characters themselves. But there is no doubt that Harper is a great writer and I’m sure we’ll keep reading her and about her in the future.

Ah, don’t miss this post with a recommendation of a book that people who have enjoyed The Dry might like (and I could not agree more. I love The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat. You can read my own review, here).

Thanks to the author, to Cathy for her recommendation, to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT THE UNRAVELING OF BRENDAN MEEKS by Brian Cohn (@briancohnMD) A good psychological portrayal of a young man suffering from schizophrenia and a mystery that is not all in his mind. #Bookreview

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book that is released TODAY and I had a chance to read before its publication thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team. I had read another book by the author recently and was very curious….

The Unraveling of Brendan Meeks by Brian Cohn
The Unraveling of Brendan Meeks by Brian Cohn

The Unraveling of Brendan Meeks by Brian Cohn

THE UNRAVELING OF BRENDAN MEEKS is a first-person glimpse into the mind of a young man with schizophrenia as he deals with tragic loss. The result is a unique and unforgettable mystery clouded with hallucinations and fraught by paranoia.

Meeks is a young man born with a silver spoon jammed down his throat, a fact his domineering mother has never let him forget. Although he has nearly everything he could ever want—friends, money, a good education—Brendan’s life falls apart during graduate school when he begins to show signs of schizophrenia. Forced to drop out of school, he watches most of his friends disappear and his parents distance themselves further and further.

The only constant left in Brendan’s life is his loving sister, Wendy. When she turns up dead, he must ignore the insults and threats from the voices in his head to begin his own investigation. With the help of an odd assemblage of his few friends—a drug dealer, a meth addict, and a war veteran with a bad case of agoraphobia—he begins to uncover a conspiracy that may, or may not, be a byproduct of his own delusional mind.

Mystery, crime, murder, suspense, detective, schizophrenia, mental health, mental illness, substance abuse, drug abuse, heroin abuse, overdose, depression, suicide.

https://www.amazon.com/Unraveling-Brendan-Meeks-Brian-Cohn-ebook/dp/B074KPSD6B/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unraveling-Brendan-Meeks-Brian-Cohn-ebook/dp/B074KPSD6B/

Author Brian Cohn

About the author:

Brian is an ER doctor practicing in St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives with his beautiful wife and their two rambunctious children. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama where he grew up loving to read. His passion for books continued through his college career at the UNC-Chapel Hill, and traveled with him back to Alabama where he attended the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He moved to St. Louis for residency training, met his wife, and fell in love with both her and the city itself. He has been practicing emergency medicine for over a decade and loves helping people every day, but turned to writing as a creative outlet.

A self-professed nerd, Brian has long enjoyed everything science fiction, from books to TV and movies. He is also a huge fan of great mysteries and thrillers, and is a sucker for a surprising plot twist. He writes the kind of books that he would want to read, reflecting a deep-seated curiosity about what motivates people to do the things they do.

When he’s not busy writing and taking care of patients, Brian loves to run, play with his children, and spend quiet time watching TV with his wife. If he can only figure out how to do all three things at once, he’ll finally have it made.

https://www.amazon.com/Brian-Cohn/e/B01MYVF8I0/

My review:

I’m writing this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. If you are an author and are looking for reviews, I recommend you check here, as she manages a great group of reviewers and if they like your book, you’ve made it!

Having read and enjoyed Brian Cohn’s previous novel The Last Detective  (you can check my review here), I was very intrigued by his new novel. Although it also promised a mystery/thriller of sorts, this one was set firmly in the present, well, as firmly as anything can be when told by a character suffering from paranoid schizophrenia who rarely takes his medication. As I am a psychiatrist, and I read many thrillers, the book had a double interest for me.

As the description says, the story is narrated, in the first person, by the main character, the Brendan Meeks of the title. Although he is from a good family and had an affluent (if not the happiest) childhood, his mental illness disrupted his education (he was studying a Masters in Computer Sciences at the time), and his life. He now lives in a rundown apartment in St. Louis, surrounded by other marginal characters (a war veteran suffering from PTSD who never leaves the house, a drug-addict girl whose dealer has become something more personal, an understanding Bosnian landlord…). His main support is his sister Wendy. When she dies, he decides to investigate her death, and things get even more complicated, as his brain starts making connections and seeing coincidences that might or might not be really there.

Brendan is the perfect example of an unreliable narrator. His mental illness makes him misinterpret things, give ominous meanings to random events, and believe that everything that happens relates to him and “the code”. Brendan hears voices, abusive voices, mostly in the second person, that give him orders, insult him, tell him to harm himself and others… He has a complex system of paranoid delusions, all related to a “code” he believes was implanted in his brain, and he is convinced that there is a conspiracy of various agencies (mostly men dressed in dark suits driving black SUVs) that will stop at nothing to try and recover that information. Thanks to his parents’ money (as this is the USA, his access to care would be limited otherwise) he sees a psychiatrist once a week, but he rarely takes medication, as he is convinced that if he does, he won’t be able to escape these agents that are after him. Yes, the medication helps with the voices, but it does not seem to touch his delusions (if it is all a delusion). There are several points in the novel when Brendan ends up in hospital and is given medication, and then he seems to hold it together for a while, enough to go after some clues and make some enquiries, but the longer he goes without medication, the more we doubt anything we read and wonder if any of the connections his brain makes are real or just a part of his illness.

I thought the depiction of Brendan’s mental illness and symptoms was very well done. It brought to my mind conversations with many of my patients, including his use of loud music or the radio to drown the voices, his feelings about the medication, his self-doubt, the attitude of others towards him (most of the characters are very understanding and friendly towards Brendan, although he faces doubt and disbelief a few times, not surprisingly, especially in his dealings with the police and the authorities), and his thought processes. He is a likeable and relatable character, faced with an incredibly difficult situation, but determined to keep going no matter what. His sister’s death motivates him to focus and concentrate on something other than himself and his own worries, and that, ultimately, is what helps him move on and accept the possibility of a more positive future. He also shows at times, flashes of the humour that was in evidence in the author’s previous novel, although here less dark and less often (as it again fluctuates according to the character’s experiences).

The narration is fluid and fast, the pace changing in keeping with the point of view and the mental state of the protagonist. There are clues to the later discoveries from early on (and I did guess a few of the plot points) although the narrator’s mental state creates a good deal of confusion and doubt. The rest of the characters are less well-drawn than Brendan, although that also fits in with the narration style (we only learn as much as he tell us or thinks about them at the time, including his doubts and suspicions when he is not well), and the same goes for his altered perceptions of places and events (sometimes offering plenty of detail about unimportant things, and others paying hardly any attention at all).

Where the book did not work that well for me was when it came to the mystery/thriller part of it. There are inconsistencies and plot holes that I don’t think can be put down to the mental state or the altered perception of the character. There is an important plot point that did not fit in for me and tested my suspension of disbelief (in fact made me wonder if the level of unreliability extended beyond what the novel seemed to suggest up to that point and I became even more suspicious of everything), and I suspect readers who love police procedural stories will also wonder about a few of the things that happen and how they all fit together, but, otherwise, there are plenty of twists, and as I said, the build-up of the character and the depiction of his world and perspective is well achieved. Although the subject matter includes drugs, overdoses, corruption, child neglect, difficult family situations, abuse, adultery, and murder, there is no excessive or graphic use of violence or gore, and everything is filtered through Brendan’s point of view, and he is (despite whatever the voices might say) kind and warm-hearted.

I recommend it to readers interested in unreliable narrators, who love mysteries (but perhaps not sticklers for details or looking for realistic and detailed investigations), and are keen on sympathetic psychological portrayals of the everyday life of a young man suffering from schizophrenia.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview GIRL ON POINT by Cheryl Guerriero (@uncle_cher) A great novel about grief, revenge, and discovering that we are all more alike than we realise #YAnovel

Hi all:

Don’t worry. I haven’t accumulated tonnes and tonnes of book reviews while my friend and her family were visiting, but I don’t want to get behind, so I bring you another one today. This would definitely make a great movie. And the author is going places too.

Girl on Point by Cheryl Guerriero

Girl on Point by Cheryl Guerriero

“One of the most dramatic and emotional books I have read this year, Girl On Point is extremely well-written, showing the aftermath of a horrific crime which changes the lives of all involved. Cheryl Guerriero’s story of a girl struggling with the death of her younger sister, and with the overwhelming guilt that her sister had been in the wrong place at the wrong time at her request, is incredibly powerful on so many levels.” Readers’ Favorite

Alexandra Campbell’s life comes to a crashing halt the night her younger sister is killed during a convenience store robbery. Shattered by guilt, Alex distances herself from her friends and family. Months later, with the police investigation stalled, she fears justice may never be served.

Determined to avenge her sister’s murder, Alex disguises herself and joins the gang responsible for the shooting. To identify the one who pulled the trigger, she must put her own life at risk in a world of dangerous criminals. But the longer she plays her new game, the more the lines blur between loyalty and betrayal.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Point-Cheryl-Guerriero-ebook/dp/B071R9DYPS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Point-Cheryl-Guerriero-ebook/dp/B071R9DYPS/

Author Cheryl Guerriero

About the author:

Cheryl Guerriero was born and raised in New Jersey and currently lives in Los Angeles. Cheryl, an athlete since the age of 7, went on to college where she became a National Lacrosse Champion. Upon graduating, her mother insisted she get a job at Prudential Insurance company which was a five-minute drive from their home and get married. Guerriero promptly moved to New York City and became a writer.

After Cheryl received her first check for writing, her parents got off her back about getting a real job. She began her career as a screenwriter and has won numerous awards, but her proudest moment to date was when she was sitting in a Chicago movie theater watching her first produced film, National Lampoon’s Pledge This!, when one fine moviegoer yelled out, “This movie sucks!” Making it even more special was the fact that Cheryl, voted “funniest” in high school, had written the screenplay with a best friend who had been voted “most likely to succeed.” The movie was neither funny, nor successful.

Cheryl continued on her way with writing and saw her next original screenplay Hunting Season, a mystery thriller, make it from the page to the screen. Hunting Season has aired on HBO/Cinemax, Lifetime and numerous TV channels around the globe.

In addition to writing, Cheryl also directed and produced the documentary short My Best Kept Secret and was invited onto the Oprah Winfrey show as a guest to discuss the documentary.

Girl on Point is Cheryl’s debut suspense novel and she hopes you enjoy reading it as much as she enjoyed writing it!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cheryl-Guerriero/e/B06ZZVH8JM/

Author Cheryl Guerriero with Oprah talking about her documentary

My review:

I thank the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This is a Young Adult novel for all ages, as is the case with the best in the genre. It is the story of a girl, Alex, a great basketball player and fairly popular, whose younger sister, Jenny, gets killed during an armed robbery at a convenience store. The girls were playing basketball with school in a bad neighbourhood, and she had sent her sister to get her a drink from the store while she finished getting dressed. Her sister seemed to get caught in the crossfire of the robbers, who also killed the owner of the store, and died in Alex’s arm. She had carried her guilt and her grief with her, and despite therapy and medication, she could not go back to her old life. The police suspected that a gang of young girls were responsible for the robbery and the murders, but were unable to prove it. Feeling depressed, suicidal, and not caring about the consequences, Alex decides to go undercover and to try and infiltrate the gang to discover the truth and to obtain evidence to convict the killers (or perhaps get her own revenge). As you can imagine, things are far from straightforward, and Alex discovers a truth or two more than she had bargained for.

The story is told in the first person from Alex’s point of view. The author is good at reflecting the girl’s emotions, her grief, her rage, her hate, her desperation, and her fear and paranoia. Although I know some readers shy away from first person narrators, Alex is so focused on her plans and on getting justice (or revenge) for her sister’s death that she hardly ever strays too far from her feelings towards her sister and family, the situation at hand, and her plans. She does not spend pages talking about her looks, or about those of others. She is not self-obsessed. She is obsessed with her sister’s death and by the killers. She has fears, regrets, and at times is worried that she will not be able to accomplish what she set to do. She gets sick, she makes the wrong decisions, she hesitates, she lies, pretends, abuses the trust of those who love her, but she is easy to empathise with, due to the rawness of her emotions and the depth of her grief. We might not like what she does, and we might not know enough of her before this to truly get a sense of how the experience has changed her, but there are enough glimpses of her previous life to know that she was never perfect (she confesses to stealing things from shops when she was younger) but she loved her family and adored her sister.

The story show us the contrast between Alex’s normal life (she lives in a nice house, has her own car, can go to basketball camp and college without worrying about money, and she comes from a good upper middle-class family. It is true that her mother has not coped well with her grief and blames her for her sister’s death and is drinking too much, but her father continues to support her, and her seemed to be a happy family before the tragedy struck), and the lives of the girls of the Black Diamond gang. We get to know them individually, especially Natice, the girl she works with at the pizza place, and we discover that even the most violent and aggressive of them are human beings, who have grown up in difficult situations, without access to any of the privileges Alex grew-up with, and some have had to endure terrible abuse. If at first, she is somebody who had no empathy or understanding for the experiences of the people who live on the other side of the tracks, she gets many of her prejudices challenged and she learns to see the person behind the label.

Alex’s task, though, is not a sociological experiment. She ‘goes native’ with all the risks it entails. Like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, she risks losing herself in the process. To be convincing enough to be let into their secrets, she has to become one of the girls, and that means doing morally questionable things and committing crimes. Although she might not like what she does, and at times is horrified by her behaviour and that of the other girls, she is honest enough to herself to admit that she enjoys some aspects of the process. She becomes really close to some of the girls but the circumstances conspire to remind her of why she is really there.

This is a novel that explores many types of grief and shows us that not everybody reacts the same way to the loss of a loved one. It also shows us that revenge and justice are not always as simple, pure, and blind as we might think. After all, we are not heroes in a comic, and playing vigilante is far from easy or glamorous. Very few things in life are black or white, and it is easier to hate something or somebody unknown than an individual we have come to care about.

I particularly liked the realistic psychological portrayals of the characters and the way all the girls are shown as both good and bad. Yes, Alex manages to get away with many things that seem very difficult at her age, especially when she had led a reasonably sheltered life, but this is a standard trope of the genre and she is shown as a resourceful young woman who takes all difficulties in her stride.

The book is well-written, with enough descriptions to make us feel as if we were there, but without excessive details. There is action, and the pace is quick. As we share the main character’s point of view, we suffer with her, worry for her safety, and are swept by the maelstrom and chaos of the gang life. The ending is realistic and I think most readers will find it satisfying. (And no, I won’t say anything else).

In sum, this is a novel of psychological depth and good emotional insight that looks closely at family relationships, friendships, grief, revenge, and gang culture. It does not shy from the ugliness and violence of that world and it constructs believable characters, some that we like and some that we dislike. It is not an easy book to read (as mentioned, there is violence, drug taking, and criminal behaviour) but it is one that grabs the reader at an emotional level and does not let go. It combines good action with strong characters and I recommend it to lovers of the genre and, in general, to those who enjoy well-written novels, dealing with complex matters and populated by diverse characters.

Thanks very much to the author for her novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and of course, REVIEW!

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