Sara, a successful antiques finisher in Vancouver Island, lives with her young daughter, Ally and easy going fiance, Evan, the owner and guide at a wi...moreSara, a successful antiques finisher in Vancouver Island, lives with her young daughter, Ally and easy going fiance, Evan, the owner and guide at a wilderness lodge on the coast. She has always know she was adopted but since the birth of her daughter and with her impending marriage plans, Sara decides to seek out her birth mother. What she discovers of her biological parentage is a nightmare that threatens everything she loves.
Told in the first person using a series of sessions with her psychiatrist as chapter delineations, Sara Gallagher is the protagonist of Never Knowing. Prone to anxiety and anger management issues, Sara is not the most likeable of characters. Her impulsive and obsessive behaviour manifests in disordered and self centered thinking as evidenced by her continual pursuit of her biological mother. She is a sympathetic character though, scapegoated by her adoptive father in favour of her two sisters, the father of her child killed in a car accident before her daughter is born, a history of poor relationships and rejected by her biological mother have had implications for her mental health. Discovering the horror of the circumstances of her birth would have been overwhelming for anyone and while Sara's responses to the events she faces are not entirely rational, they are suited to her complex and unpredictable character. Easily manipulated, Sara is the ideal victim for the police desperate to stop a serial killer, an envious sister and a sociopathic father.
While I didn't particularly like Sara, it is actually the frantic, breathless anxiety that she feels that had me turning pages compulsively. My skin fairly crawled with a sense of urgency and stupidly I began reading this at 1am, reluctantly having to put it down at 3am before finishing the last hundred pages the moment I awakened.
Never Knowing is a psychological thriller with surprising twists, intriguing characterisations and a relentless pace. The heroine might be a sticking point for some readers but it's worth taking the chance.
*While this book was released mid 2011 in the US it has just been releases here and I read an uncorrected proof of the Australian publications and though I doubt there would be any significant differences between the two copies, it is possible.* (less)
The Underside of Joy is a touching story of happiness and sorrow, motherhood and family. After fleeing her broken marriage, Ella stumbles upon her sou...moreThe Underside of Joy is a touching story of happiness and sorrow, motherhood and family. After fleeing her broken marriage, Ella stumbles upon her soul mate in the tiny town of Elbow, California. Dazzled by Joe's good looks and the gorgeous children in his arms, Ella can hardly believe her luck and after a whirlwind courtship she is happily ensconced in family life. Then one morning, just three years later, Joe doesn't come home and Ella's perfect world comes crashing down. At his funeral Joe's ex wife appears demanding access to the children she abandoned and Ella begins to unravel the secrets her husband had kept from her. Terrified of losing everything, Ella has to make some hard decisions and can only hope they are the right ones for the children she calls her own.
I was drawn to The Underside of Joy by the intriguing premise and the promise of an interesting conflict between two women who both consider themselves mothers of the same children. Halverson touches upon some important issues in this novel including postnatal depression, infertility, child custody and the role of step mothers. In a broader sense the themes ask the reader to consider if honesty is always best, what are the limits of love and asks how we define a family. These are highly emotive issues and The Underside of Joy treats them sensitively. I connected with this book and it's characters, on an emotional level, I was caught up in the drama and was prompted to wonder what I would consider to be best for the children. I do have a few small complaints, though they didn't really occur to me until after I had finished the novel. The children are just a little too precocious for their age, the characters are weighted towards stereotypes (the Italian mama, the reclusive artist, the trailer park crazy and the gay foodie) and the plot is a tad predictable. Still, it is to Halverson's credit that it made absolutely no difference to me while I was reading because I was so emotionally invested in the story. Unexpectedly there is also a subplot in the Underside of Joy that speaks to the little known internment of Italian Americans along with Japanese Americans during WW2 which is fascinating and fits surprisingly well into the themes of the plot.
The story of The Underside of Joy contrasts two women who both want the same thing, three year old Zach and six year old Annie. Ella has nurtured them for three years and considers them her children. Paige gave birth to them and though once she thought it best to remove herself from their lives, she wants them back. Ella's pain at the loss of her husband is raw with the sadness, anger and confusion you would expect from a grieving wife, which is magnified when she discovers her husbands secrets. I liked Ella a lot, even when I was tempted to judge her for what can be construed as willful ignorance, as she never really wanted details about the children's mother or Joe's business. I feel Halverson created a well developed protagonist in Ella, she is flawed and contradictory but that is what makes her real. She makes mistakes but ultimately tries to do what's right, and takes steps to recover her fragile sense of self - seeing a lawyer, re-imagining the business. Naturally Ella is immediately sympathetic as she loves Zach and Annie so deeply. I was ready to feel outraged at Paige's demands for her children after she had left them, just a tiny baby and a three year old, with barely a backward glance but as Halverson slowly reveals the circumstances of her desertion I became more sympathetic. Paige isn't as substantial in character as Ella but because this is really Ella's story it doesn't matter too much. It's enough that we get her truth so that we are able to consider an alternative side of the story. Both Ella and Paige are very much affected by their respective pasts, both touched by tragedy they are swayed by childhood patterns of thinking and behaviour. For both women, Joe's death is the catalyst for them to make peace with their legacy. The supporting characters also have their own stories, including David, Joe's brother, who was overlooked to inherit the family store, and Liz who snubs Ella in allegiance to her past friendship with Paige. I also loved the setting, being a sucker for small towns with a real sense of community, which Halverson captures with evocative imagery.
The Underside of Joy is an emotionally compelling story and an impressive debut by Sere Prince Halverson. Poignant and thought provoking it captures the trials of motherhood, the intimate bonds of family and the indeed, the underside of joy.(less)
In the Secret Keeper, Morton grabs the reader's attention with the first chapter as sixteen year old Laurel witnesses a tragic altercation between her mother and a stranger. Nearly fifty years later Laurel's latent curiosity prompts her to investigate Dorothy's past, inspired by an inscription in a copy of a Peter Pan, a photo of Dolly linking arms with a friend, Vivian, and the vague whispers of her dying mother, slowly piecing together an extraordinary story.
As the narrative shifts between Laurel's search into her mother's past in present-day England to London during the Blitz, the reader is witness to Dorothy's life. A headstrong and vivacious teenager, Dolly flees her staid family to make a life for herself in London, certain she is destined to become something special. She imagines having a life of luxury, social standing and wealth, like that enjoyed by Vivian Jenkins, which seems possible when she becomes the companion of the rich, eccentric and elderly, Lady Gwendolyn but when Dolly's dreams sour, she is devastated. Despite the adoration of her boyfriend, Jimmy, Dolly concocts a plan to claim what she believes is her destiny, triggering a cascade of events that lead to tragedy.
In a vividly drawn setting, Morton creates a cast of intriguing, believable characters who are motivated by wistful dreams and dark secrets. As their relationships unraveled and the plot grew more intricate I was drawn into the twists and turns of the story, that leads to a stunning conclusion that will take most readers by surprise.
Finely crafted, The Secret Keeper is both an engrossing mystery and a sweeping historical saga. A compelling tale of love, loss and betrayal this is a wonderful read from a gifted storyteller.(less)
I've been following Any Sue Nathan's blog, Women’s Fiction Writers for a while, appreciating it's focus on an often maligned genre that I enjoy. When...more I've been following Any Sue Nathan's blog, Women’s Fiction Writers for a while, appreciating it's focus on an often maligned genre that I enjoy. When I discovered her debut novel, The Glass Wives, available for review on Netgalley I jumped at the chance to read it.
In the Glass Wives, the unexpected demise of Richard Glass threatens to shatter Evie's hard won, post-divorce equilibrium. While supporting her eleven year old twins, Sophie and Sam, as they mourn the loss of their father, Evie is forced to confront not only her changing circumstance but also Richard's legacy, his widow (once mistress), Nicole, and her infant son, Luca. Prompted by financial complications, her children's affection for their half sibling and the young widow's neediness, Eve reluctantly invites Nicole and Luca to live with her in a temporary but mutually beneficial arrangement.
Within the framework of this unusual set up, Nathan explores the idea of family and it's changing definition in modern day society. While Evie initially thinks Richard's death frees her from ongoing contact with Nicole, she hadn't considered the bond between her children and their half sibling. It creates an interesting connection between the widow and the ex wife which Nathan dissects with compassion and keen insight into the situation's unique challenges. Friendship, trust, forgiveness and moving on are other themes explored in The Glass Wives. Evie is forced to reconcile her relationships and her hopes for the future with the baggage of her personal experience.
The characters of The Glass Wives are well drawn and easy to relate to. I greatly admired Evie and her decision to deal with a difficult situation as gracefully as possible. I doubt I could be so generous to my ex husband's mistress, even under such desperate circumstances. I found it hard to develop much sympathy for Nicole, even when her tragic history was revealed. I do think her motivations were a little confusing at times and I never really developed a sense of who she was. Laney and Beth, Evie's best friends, provided much needed levity and warmth through out the book whilst still playing devil's advocate Evie's decisions and opinions.
Well written, The Glass Wives is a thought provoking, enjoyable debut novel exploring the challenges of defining family and love in a time of social change. (less)
It's been 5 years since the last Gemma Lincoln novel, I can only assume Gabrielle Lord has been too busy with her Conspiracy 365 series in the interim...moreIt's been 5 years since the last Gemma Lincoln novel, I can only assume Gabrielle Lord has been too busy with her Conspiracy 365 series in the interim.
In terms of this series it has been about 18 months or so since the end of Shattered and Gemma is supposed to be easing back into her work as a private investigator after the birth of Raphael (Rafi). But Gemma's first client confesses she is terrified of her husband and believes he is planning to kill her, her best friend, Detective Sergeant Angie McDonald asks Gemma to speak with a woman who was drugged and attacked by a man pretending to be a vampire and she receives an excited call from a acquaintance, a journalist named Janet Chancy, who is on her way to Gemma's with big news but never shows up. Lord weaves a handful of seemingly unrelated cases into a narrative that centers around Sapphire Springs, an exclusive day spa, that has developed a cutting edge cosmetic surgery procedure. To be honest the links between each case are fairly transparent early on in the novel though it takes a lot longer for Gemma to put the pieces together. Thankfully, there are elements of the plot that are unexpected which partially redeems the lack of subtlety and too convenient conspiracy. The concept of the story is interesting and the pace is good, though nearly 400 pages, it was a quick read for me.
While Gemma has a history of being feisty and impulsive, her behaviour in Death By Beauty is almost reckless and there were facets of Gemma's investigation that I did not see as credible. Her investigations are a little sloppy, such as when she connects with Tolmacheff by answering his online dating ad but does little to protect her real identity, as well as breaking into the cabin at Sapphire Springs without considering camera surveillance. Gemma also fails to take serious precautions even when she suspects someone has been watching her home and makes herself a target when she confronts her bitter enemy, Lorraine Litchfield.
Part of her careless behaviour can perhaps be blamed on her current state of emotional turmoil. Mike, Gemma's partner, is unhappy about her becoming caught up in so many investigations, especially when one of those cases links to Steve, her ex-lover and Rafi's biological father. Gemma can't let go of her connection to Steve which threatens not only her relationship with Mike, but also her life, and the life of her son. As Gemma assesses her feelings for Steve, she ignores Mike's proposal and his attempts to discuss their living arrangements. On top of which, Hugo turns up needing a place to stay placing further strain on Mike and Gemma's relationship.
I am glad that Gabrielle Lord has revisited Gemma Lincoln with Death By Beauty and the conclusion suggests that she still hasn't quite finished with the series and with the reprint of the entire series this month, I suggest those new to it start with the first book Feeding The Demons. Though not without flaws, Death By Beauty is a page turner and sure to be enjoyed by fans.(less)
The 18th novel by best selling women's fiction author Patricia Scanlan, With All My Love is a moving story of betrayal and forgiveness as three genera...more The 18th novel by best selling women's fiction author Patricia Scanlan, With All My Love is a moving story of betrayal and forgiveness as three generations of women attempt to repair their shattered bonds.
Though the memories are hazy, Briony recalls the loving care and attention her grandmother, Tessa Egan, lavished upon her as a small child and how desperately hurt she was when her mother, Valerie, told four year old Briony that Gramma didn't want to see her anymore. Thirty years later, while helping her mother to settle in Spain, Briony is devastated to learn that Valerie lied and deliberately excluded her deceased father's family from her life.
For Briony, discovering the letter from her Gramma is a painful reminder of her childhood grief and she is furious with her mother's deception. Confronted with her daughter's anger, Valerie is forced to reexamine the circumstances that led to her decision to cut Tessa and her family out of their lives. As the novel unfolds, Scanlan delves into the complicated bond between Valerie and Tessa with stunning insight into the fraught tensions of such a relationship.
Scanlan masterfully reveals the conflict between Valerie and Tessa, exposing their hidden jealousies and insecurities, creating believable characters that garner both scorn and sympathy. Valerie and Tessa are complex characters with motives that are simultaneously sound and irrational. Tessa believes she is protecting Jeff when she opposes his marriage to Valerie and Valerie believes she needs to protect Briony from Tessa's controlling nature when she forbids contact after Jeff's sudden death. It is much easier to empathise with Valerie whose difficult home life leaves her vulnerable and who is genuinely heartbroken by Jeff's refusal to marry her. Tessa is difficult to like as she is often demanding, self centered and refuses to accept any responsibility for the rift. Yet Scanlan is careful to show how both women contributed to the consequences for Briony.
A compelling, poignant examination of relationships, motherhood, secrets, betrayal and the unbreakable bond of family, All My Love is brought to an eminently satisfying conclusion as the women seek forgiveness. This is a wonderful novel sure to hit the bestseller list.
I accepted Held For Ransom for review largely based on the author's twenty five year career as a FBI Special Agent. Atkinson claims to have specialize...more I accepted Held For Ransom for review largely based on the author's twenty five year career as a FBI Special Agent. Atkinson claims to have specialized in high-technology crimes in Silicon Valley, and Held for Ransom is based on a real life kidnapping case he worked on.
FBI Special Agent Cliff Knowles is the first to respond when the kidnapping of a wealthy software company president is reported. His wife claims to have received a ransom call demanding $650,000 for his safe return but her odd behaviour means that initially the Bureau fails to take the case seriously. Despite his superiors concerns, Knowles is almost certain that the woman is telling the truth, no one has seen or heard from the victim for more than six hours and his car has been discovered abandoned in the company parking lot. As Knowles tries to kick start an investigation the victim waits, bound and blindfolded, praying for rescue.
Held For Ransom is a detailed police procedural that follows the kidnapping case from first report through to its resolution. The reader is witness to the grind of bureaucracy as the FBI consider and disregard theories, gather information, follow clues, interview witnesses and tries to make sense of the crime. Atkinson reveals the achievements and the challenges of the investigation as they hunt for the perpetrators in a time before the ubiquity of cell phones and personal computers. Slowly suspects are identified and rescue plans are made, but not everything goes to plan.
I think Held For Ransom is well written, there are a few minor issues but overall the tone and style is consistent. I did find the way in which real life investigation deviates from the simplified version presented in film and blockbuster fiction interesting but it does tend to slow the pace and I found my attention drifting more than once.
The characters are sketches highlighting the varied personalities of the FBI team and how they impact on the investigation. There is the the ego driven boss and his sycophantic assistant, uncooperative secretaries and agents of mixed ability and motivation. Knowles integrity and dedication makes him a stand out in a workplace beset by his colleagues ego's, career ambitions and petty politics. I have to admit I am a little disheartened by the cynical portrayal of the FBI, I don't doubt it's accuracy but it is a little worrying.
Overall I enjoyed Held For Ransom, it is an interesting, insiders perspective of of the FBI and their investigative methods in the mid - late 1980's. I think this book would particularly appeal to fans of the police procedural and true crime genres. (less)
Veering from wildly funny to desperately sad, Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman is an entertaining dark comedy caper.
Maggie Lee survives the...moreVeering from wildly funny to desperately sad, Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman is an entertaining dark comedy caper.
Maggie Lee survives the car accident that kills her sister and brother in law, leaving her niece, Katie, comatose. Maggie's parents are no help, her father is doing time for murder and her mother is in a psychiatric hospital. Maggie hasn't seen her sister in years and her three aunts are their own special type of crazy. A chance encounter with a hitman in the hospital brings Maggie to the attention of a mob boss who makes an unusual proposition. With a little help from God (not THE God), a killer cop and a psychic colleague Maggie just might be able to pay Katie's hospital bills, if she can become a killer.
As bitter and cynical Maggie is, her quick wit and devotion to her niece renders her likeable. Her background is messy and rife with tragedy so it's no wonder Maggie is able to embrace the unconventional. The leap from call center agent to hitwoman is a big one but somehow the author convinces us that her motivation is plausible. Maggie's mentor, Patrick, is a mysterious figure whose reasons for helping Maggie are murky. I'm not sure I really like him but he is an intriguing character. The most irresistible character is Godzilla, aka God, Katie's pet lizard now in Maggie's care. Maggie isn't sure if she is going as crazy as her mother or not as the lizard starts talking to her. Smart mouthed, opinionated and endearing, God makes for a hilarious sidekick.
The plot is cohesive even though it requires the reader to suspend belief. Between talking lizards, stoned aunts, hot police officers and a blackmailing hitman the story teeters on the edge of absurdity but is tempered by the darker elements of the story. Combining crazy characters and screwball comedy with a cynical edge, Confessions of a Neurotic Hitwoman is an enjoyable romp and a great start to a new series.(less)
I can't quite give Fire four stars because I was slower to become involved in this story, part of that was because I was expecting something more obvi...moreI can't quite give Fire four stars because I was slower to become involved in this story, part of that was because I was expecting something more obviously linked to Katsa and Po's story and partly because the prologue changed those expectations again - though I appreciated it later as it tied into Fire's story and how it fit with Graceling. However I was quickly drawn into Fire's story, again some intriguing and original concepts and Fire tackles a lot of non standard themes for a YA novel. It's a shame that the trilogy has been labeled as such I think because much of the review negativity seems to stem from the opinions that some of the content is not appropriate for a YA audience. The characters are complex, Fire grapples with the power of her feminity and the power of her ability in a world that for her is dominated by men. Her conflicted feelings about her father were well handled, as were her feelings for Archer. Again, Cashore successfully created a male counterpart who is as well developed as the female. Brigan is himself conflicted by the expectations for males in his world - he does not seek more power for power's sake and while he does his duty well, he finds little joy in being the victor. He, like Fire, struggles with his father's legacy. The relationship between Fire and Brigan is built very subtley. What I did like was that both characters has to come to some sort of self acceptance before they could come together, instead of the more traditional "relationship makes everything better." Leck, who appears only sporadically, is truly creepy, but I do think that it is the inclusion of his story that means Fire is truly a companion novel to Graceling because it's inclusion makes little sense without knowing where it came from. Still, while Fire didn't quite live up to the spectacular debut of Graceling it is wonderfully original and an enjoyable read.(less)
If you can overlook some of the more unlikely scenarios in this novel, it's a sweet romance with an unusual premise. Pia's closest friend has passed a...moreIf you can overlook some of the more unlikely scenarios in this novel, it's a sweet romance with an unusual premise. Pia's closest friend has passed away after a battle with cancer, and Pia has not inherited her cat as expected, but instead Crystal's three frozen and fertilised embryo's. Pia's agonising over the decision she now faces has some authenticity, though really it is never in doubt what she will choose to do. New to the town, Raoul by amazing coincidence, met Crystal's late husband in Afghanistan, and feeling partially responsible for his death, offers to support Pia through her pregnancy. Though unrealistic, it's a unique start to their burgeoning romance. Pia is sufficiently complex to be interesting and likeable. I liked Raoul too, yet his characterisation is awkward. I can see that Mallery tries to justify Raoul's contradictions between his emotions and his actions, but it didn't quite resolve for me. What I don't think was handled well were the realities of IVF. Too many women have had some sort of relationship to the process to be fobbed off with this more romantic view. Mallery has tried to justify the events with optimistic possibilities, but it doesn't work because the reality for most is so different, except in terms of the storyline. What I did appreciate is that Mallery writes with warmth and heart about her characters and the town. I did enjoy the story and would happily read more by the author. Finding Perfect is a thoroughly contemporary romance novel, with an unusual premise for the romantic at heart.(less)
I like how Arthur blends the human world with that of the supernatural set in a futuristic time so well, and that the details unfold naturally rather...moreI like how Arthur blends the human world with that of the supernatural set in a futuristic time so well, and that the details unfold naturally rather than being offloaded in a heap. There is plenty of action and suspense and its fairly reasonable to assume that this series springboarded the later Riley Jensen series, with it's focus on genetic enhancement and clones. Sam is interesting and smart and there is nice tension as Gabriel and she are forced together. The subtle attraction is alot different from the overt sexual interaction in the Jensen series. A strong book that is a good read - left me eager to get my hands on the 2nd and 3rd(less)
My oldest daughter is fifteen and while I remember my teenage years with (cringing) clarity a lot has changed in the past 20+ years. I've read several...moreMy oldest daughter is fifteen and while I remember my teenage years with (cringing) clarity a lot has changed in the past 20+ years. I've read several parenting manuals recently, more for reassurance than anything else as I attempt to guide my daughter through this particularly delicate phase of development. Teens happened appealed to me because it is written by a teen and purports to offer insights that other similar books on the subject don't. While Teens Happen is helpful, there are no surprises in this book that covers the usual subjects with fairly standard advice and information. Its succinct if not exactly comprehensive and clearly identifies and discusses the main points of contention between parents and teens like curfew, driving, sex and drugs. What I do like is the emphasis on building positive relationships between parent and teen and that Rouda emphasises that respect works both ways. I do think Teens Happen could have been more well rounded had Rouda included comments and or case study like examples from his peers or at least a few more from his own experiences. I think that what Teens Happen does offer as a point of difference is that this is a book that teens can also read. Rouda's writing voice is accessible and friendly and teens won't find it as patronising as similar books can be. (Show your daughter his author picture and you might find they will become even more interested in reading it) Shea Rouda is obviously a fine young man whose parents should be proud of him. I hope that I am as successful in navigating my children's teen years.(less)