Ayesha Ryder returns in this third instalmentof the Ryder series called Bird of Prey. And with Bird of Prey this series has most definitely entered alAyesha Ryder returns in this third instalment of the Ryder series called Bird of Prey. And with Bird of Prey this series has most definitely entered alternate history territory, even if at times referencing real-world developments directly, mentioning Richard III’s body being found in Leicester and some of the intricacies of EU economic and political problems. While I greatly enjoyed parts of the narrative and I really liked the book overall, Bird of Prey was my least favourite book of the series so far.
With this third book you can see the Ryder formula emerging: historical detective work ala Indiana Jones – a connection I hadn’t yet made, but which one of the characters made for me by referring to her Indy hat – combined with political conspiracy, one part romance – of the not-so prim and proper variety – all wrapped around the character development of Ayesha Ryder and her history. And like in the previous two books Ayesha has new sidekicks to help her in her investigation, but hopefully the ones she found in this book will stick around for more adventures, they certainly seemed positioned for it.
Ayesha’s development in this novel is wonderful. Pengelley reveals more of her past through flashbacks and more cracks in the walls she’s built around her heart. The things revealed about her past and especially her family are heart-breaking, even more so with later revelations in the book taken into account. It makes the cracks in Ayesha’s walls particularly interesting. At one point she is thinking about Niobe, one of the characters she meets, and the predicament they are in and she wonders whether she’s found another friend, because she’d like one. This to me is the best example of how Ayesha is changing and allowing herself to feel.
The new friends Ayesha makes in Bird of Prey, her sidekicks, were great and I really hope that both of them return in future books. Ayesha’s first new friend and sidekick is Joram Tate, the librarian of The Walshingham Institute, is fabulous, though I might be biased, because I love kick-ass librarian characters. I loved this suave and competent character, who reminded me a lot of a more action-oriented Rupert Giles, he of Buffy fame. Their powerful attraction added some interesting spice to the narrative, though at times Ayesha was a little distracted at inappropriate times, like in the middle of a gunfight. The second sidekick, Niobe Bagot, is just as cool, an archaeologist with an interest in the era of King Harold and the Battle of Hastings, she joins in Ayesha’s and Joram’s quest to find his grave. I really liked her and the big, fat nod to Indiana Jones she implies. And as in the previous books, the recurring characters – Susannah Armstrong, Dame Imogen and her husband, Lady Madrigal and Tatiana – are always a joy, so I’m hoping Tate and Niobe will be part of them from now on. Of the villains the only one to stand out was Bebe Daniells, the rest were somewhat vanilla due to their vagueness.This vagueness was understandable for plot purposes, but it also made them hard to connect to on more than a superficial level.
The plot is as action-packed as the previous books and a great mix of political intrigue and historical mystery. I really liked the Maltese Falcon angle, which beyond the book title and the Bogart film I didn’t know anything about, but that made it all the more interesting. In fact, the historical bits are my favourite thing about this series. Pengelley manages to drop lots of interesting tidbits into the narrative, which had me reaching for Wikipedia more than once to learn more about it. And that is a thing that always makes me happy. Add to that a secret warehouse of old books, a connection to a famous order of knights, and a fantastic siege scene and the history in this book completely won me over.
The one thing I actually disliked about the book was the way Pengelley dismissed Milton Hoenig, Ryder’s partner from the previous book. I really liked them together and I was rather sad that he was gone without any explanation at all. The other thing that bugged me was the role of the Dom/Sub relationship in the plot. This felt off to me from how I’ve seen it discussed in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey. As far as I’m aware any BDSM relationship has to be based on consent and trust, which didn’t seem the case here. That seems to be the point Pengelley was working towards given the twist created around Bebe Daniels and her past, but it didn’t come together as seamlessly as it could have, if only because the dom/sub relationship as depicted in the book read more like an abusive situation than an actual consensual partnership without anyone actually calling it that.
Still, despite all of this, I had a fun time with Bird of Prey and I can’t wait for the next one, which looks to be just as fun with added T.E. Lawrence to boot if the hook at the end of the story is any indication. If you’re looking for an exciting read for a rainy afternoon inside or even a sunny one outside, this one will definitely do the trick.
Margi Preus’ latest novel Enchantment Lake is a departure from her previously published books as it is a YA mystery novel and not historical fiction.Margi Preus’ latest novel Enchantment Lake is a departure from her previously published books as it is a YA mystery novel and not historical fiction. I’d read and loved her Shadow on the Mountain, a WWII novel set in Norway, so I was interested to see her take on the mystery narrative. And I wasn’t disappointed; Enchantment Lake is a fun, adventurous romp of a story, which very much evoked the atmosphere of classic YA detective novels such as The Famous Five and Nancy Drew, but updated to our own time.
The detective on roster for this story is Francie, short for Francesca. In fact, Francie isn’t actually a detective, she only played one on TV, but everyone in Enchantment Lake, Minnesota – with a little encouragement of her aunts – believes she is an actual detective and treats her accordingly. I loved this conceit, as Preus exploits it to the utmost and Francie’s eventual resignation to the situation and her giving up on trying to explain that actually no she isn’t a detective, she’s an actress was very funny. I also liked how later on in the book she utilises her ‘fake’ experience to figure out what to do next; it’s a creative twist on life imitates art that I enjoyed.
Francie is an interesting character. An orphan for all intents and purposes – her father drowned in an accident when she was in her early teens and she never knew who her mother was and whether she is still alive – she’s being raised by her grandfather, but lives on her own in New York pursuing her career as an actress. Even while trying to figure out who is behind these suspicious deaths around the lake, Francie never forgets her dream of making it as an actress, pursuing every opportunity to get an in with industry professionals. I liked her tenacity in this regard. It is a tenacity that is reflected in her investigation into the weird events in Enchantment Lake. The other thing that stood out about Francie’s character were her unresolved feelings about her parents, her grief over losing her father and the nagging conviction that his death somehow wasn’t accidental and the huge question mark that is her mother. I actually hope there will be more answers about these two mysteries in the next book, because while Francie solves the mystery behind the murders, these don’t get answered.
The murders that draw Francie back to Enchantment Lake are only one of the clues to the mystery of Enchantment Lake. Francie, drawing upon her reputation as a detective, even if unearned, quickly dives into the investigation aided by some unexpected characters. I especially loved Nels, the summer intern at the local lawyer’s office, who is not just dashingly handsome, he’s also a dab hand in a tight spot. The chemistry between Francie and Nels was lovely, though never overstated. And Francie’s great-aunts and grandfather were amazing. I loved these eccentric parental figures to Francie and the genuine love and affection between all of them was wonderful to read.
Enchantment Lake was a lovely read, with a fun heroine who has a strong, humorous voice. Preus packs a lot into this actually slim book and its pages just flew by. I really hope we’ll see more of Francie’s adventures in the future and learn more about her parents. If you like old school YA detectives then this book should be right up your alley.
Urban Legends is the final instalment in Helen Grant’s Forbidden Spaces trilogy. When I started reading the series I was wondering how her writing wouUrban Legends is the final instalment in Helen Grant’s Forbidden Spaces trilogy. When I started reading the series I was wondering how her writing would translate to a longer series instead of the standalone stories she’d written so far. It worked quite well, with separate mysteries in each book, but a central story arc that is wrapped up in Urban Legends. Due to the nature of the series and this being the final book, spoilers for the previous books are unavoidable, so you have been warned.
In Urban Legends Veerle is back in her home town after a year in Ghent, determined to get her life back on track and retake her final year of secondary school at her old school. Veerle is changed. She’s no longer the teenager we met in Silent Saturday, she’s grown into a young woman who is no longer convinced of her own immortality and while not completely cured of her adventurous streak, she’s grown to be far more cautious. This caution doesn’t just stretch to the risks she takes physically, it also means she’s more protective of her heart. While officially still together with Bram, she knows her feelings for him aren’t as strong as his are for her and she is not sure whether she can be his girlfriend, especially since she can’t get Kris off her mind after the events of Demons of Ghent. However, she doesn’t make any split decisions, instead going back and forth on what and who she wants. Yet, when she makes her mind up early in the novel, she does so with conviction, even when things get complicated by circumstance.
In many ways Grant brings the series full-circle with Urban Legends; we’re back in the place we started, even revisiting some familiar haunts, and the murder that is hunting Veerle and Kris is eerily familiar. The Hunter seems to have returned from the dead to finish what he started in Silent Saturday, with Veerle’s adventures in Ghent in the second book being more of a side-step than a straight-on sequel to the previous book. One could even argue that Urban Legends is far more closely linked to Silent Saturday than Demons of Ghent. You can certainly read Urban Legends without having read Demons of Ghent, but not without having read Silent Saturday. Not only do we get the true answer to who killed the Koekoeken in the first book, we also learn what exactly happened all those years ago on that faithful Silent Saturday when Veerle first met Kris and they saw a murderer from the bell tower. The way Grant resolves these was ingenious and very well conceived. Veerle and Kris’ investigation was exciting and I loved the people they visit in its course, especially Mrs Willems.
The story’s circular frame is echoed in how the narrative is structured. Veerle’s point of view is interspersed with chapters showing the gatherings of these urban explorers who tell each other urban legends in the locations they explore. We start and end with urban legends and in most of them we recognise someone or something from previous books. I loved the way Grant used the concept of the urban legend and the need people have for a boogeyman. The Burnt Guy boogeyman of many of the legends told clearly connects to the Hunter and Veerle. It also mirrors how Joren Sterckx has become Veerle’s personal boogeyman and the way most people think her believing he’s out there is her reaction to trauma instead of actually true. The question of whether Veerle’s beliefs about the Hunter are delusional or whether they will be vindicated, however impossible they may seem, is at the heart of the narrative and Grant exploits it well.
Grant’s pacing in Urban Legends is impeccable; the build-up of narrative tension is gradual, but relentless, with several big spikes that left me with my heart hammering and turning on some extra lights. I loved the final scenes in Brussels’ sewer system, which were nail-bitingly scary and just a perfect ending to the series. I’m sad to have to say goodbye to Veerle and Kris, but I like the place we leave them in. If you enjoy thrillers with a touch of the supernatural and bit of a scare factor, I can’t recommend Urban Legends and its predecessors highly enough.
Last October I reviewed the first Ayesha Ryder novel, appropriately called Ryder. I really enjoyed this Dan Brown-esque tale with a strong political fLast October I reviewed the first Ayesha Ryder novel, appropriately called Ryder. I really enjoyed this Dan Brown-esque tale with a strong political flavour. So I was really pleased to be able to review the second book as well. Ryder: American Treasure is set six months after the first book and is very much a tale in the same vein as the first, a thrilling treasure hunt, following clues left behind by some of the great figures of history. Yet there were also some very big differences to the first novel.
First of all, there is Ayesha herself. While still the erudite scholar and researcher she was in the previous book and very much as capable as ever, she’s also gained a new vulnerability and seems somewhat more troubled than she was before, mostly due to the fact that the walls she’s built around her past self and the memories that belong with that life have started crumbling. Her memories are rearing their ugly heads, but they are not just awakening old grief and guilt in Ayesha, they are also rousing a side to her that has lain dormant for years; the cold-blooded, unflinching, and ruthless Fedayeen, who kills without thought on training and instinct. It made her less-polished and darker than she was previously.
Secondly, Ryder: American Treasure is far more R-rated than the previous book; there are some hot and heavy scenes in there. A liaison between two unexpected, political figures, but also between Ayesha and her sidekick for this book journalist Milton Hoenig, the latter pairing having a very fun dynamic, that hopefully we will see again. The scenes are not necessarily problematic, but they were somewhat unexpected in comparison to the previous book, which didn’t contain any racy stuff. Lastly, instead of one quarry, Ayesha has two treasures to find: the Ark and the American Treasure. I liked how Pengelley interweaves the trails of both hunts and creates some unexpected connections in their stories.
The political focus of the narrative is still on the Middle East and how much events there have influenced politics and history and still do. For the record, after last book’s events, the world Ryder is set in is more of an alternative history than a contemporary thriller. Pengelley manages to insert some very pointed commentary in his narrative though, showing how influential US politics are on the world and how much the outcome of American presidential elections affect the rest of the world. He also injects some levity in the novel. At one point he has one of his characters reading the latest Dan Brown, which I found hilarious. And there are several instances where Ayesha decides on what to do next and Hoenig starts groaning in protest before she’s even opened her mouth, which was funny as well, especially since it is essentially a role reversal from the usual action thriller, with Ayesha being the competent action hero and Hoenig being her sidekick.
Unexpectedly, T.E. Lawrence still looms large in the story. He is the backbone of the historical elements of the story, connected to all of them either directly or at a remove. I love how Pengelley manages to find holes in history to fit in his plot and hide clues and events. His love of history, the Interbellum period in particular, is clear on the page. He also manages to make me want to read up on the history of the era, something that to me hallmarks a successful historical element to a story, even if this isn’t necessarily a historical thriller.
Pengelley ends the book on a satisfying note and with a nice hook for the next novel. I look forward to discovering how Pengelley will develop Ayesha’s character and how her emerging memories affect her in the next book. And I look forward to learning whether her sidekick shows up again and whether we see more of the brilliant Lady Madrigal. If you like no-holds-barred, pulse-pounding thrillers with a historical slant then the Ryder series is one you won’t want to miss. I’ll be here for the next one.
Before The Door That Led to Where, the only book I'd read by Sally Gardner was The Double Shadow. I completely fell in love with that book, which noBefore The Door That Led to Where, the only book I'd read by Sally Gardner was The Double Shadow. I completely fell in love with that book, which not only offered an intriguing story and wonderful characters, but also had me put my English Lit degree to good use. Thus I was pleased to receive a review copy of The Door That Led To Where, not least because it was a fantasy book set in my favourite of all places, London and it had time-travelling to boot. The idea of a secret door to a different time or place is an old one, who hasn’t wished they had a magic wardrobe at least once as a child or to be able to cross to Platform 9 3/4? In Gardner's capable hands this premise led to a wonderful story that is not just about solving a murder, but about friendship, love, and the ties that bind.
What set the book apart from the get go is its voice. The story is narrated by AJ, our protagonist, and his voice is super clear and fun. He's very much a modern teenager with the associated slang included. Yet Gardner shows that teens these days aren't just all about the slang and the street, they are definitely able to shift register and quickly too, as we discover when AJ gets a job as a baby clerk at a prestigious law firm called Baldwin Groat. I really enjoyed this aspect of the story, the way AJ's best friends help him get ready to start his job and the scenes at the office and at court.
If mystery is at the centre of the narrative, then friendship is its heart. AJ’s most important relationship is with his best friends Slim and Leon. The three of them form a very close-knit support group that helps its trio of members through heartbreak, grief, misfortune and good times. I loved the bond between these three, even if it sometimes felt as if AJ felt that he was responsible for the other two’s well-being. With his father long since disappeared and his mother more interested in pleasing her new partner than caring for her children, AJ is somewhat lacking in adults that care for him. He does have someone looking out for him in the form of his downstairs neighbour Auntie Elsie. She was a wonderful presence in the book and I loved how she fit into the narrative. My one reservation was AJ’s troubled relationship with his mother and the way this is resolved at the end of the novel. It felt a little too much all's well that ends well, though that might just be my cold, cynical, black heart speaking.
One of the big draws of this story was the element of time travel to 1830s London. I loved both of Gardner’s versions of London. I found the differences between them not only well-drawn, but also an interesting juxtaposition between AJ’s always connected life in the ‘Electronic Jungle of Despair’ as Slim calls present-day London and the equally confounding though far more etiquette-regulated world of 1830. AJ’s ease with swapping between the two worlds was unexpected, but never truly unconvincing and I absolutely loved the way both Slim and Leon took to living in nineteenth century London. They took to the life as a duck to water and were truly children out of time.
The puzzle pieces of the mystery were fantastic and I really loved the story. The Door That Led to Where is very different from The Double Shadow, but just as entrancing. I got fully sucked in by the story and Gardner’s writing. She ends the book in a great way with a neat bow on top, but I was loathe to leave the book and was sad there wasn’t more to look forward to, because AJ was just such an entertaining protagonist. The Door That Led to Where is just a wonderful YA novel and has reminded me that I should really get on reading Gardner’s backlist.
em>City of Liars and Thieves, Eve Karlin's debut, is a historical novel based on the first recorded murder trial in New York. Just for this fact alem>City of Liars and Thieves, Eve Karlin's debut, is a historical novel based on the first recorded murder trial in New York. Just for this fact alone it would have been fascinating, but it is also a snap shot of the run up to one of the most hotly contended Presidential elections in US history, which makes it even more interesting. To be fair, I didn't know much about either Hamilton or Burr, but I did know about the continual issue with water supply in Manhattan and I was interested to see how they tied into this.
In the prologue to the narrative, which is told from her point of view, Caty says that this is as much her story as it is Elma’s, but in my opinion it is more her story than Elma’s, as Elma remains curiously nebulous. She’s present in the narrative, but even then she is marked by her reticence and emotional distance. I never really got a feel for her and certainly not to the extent that I found myself caring about Caty. She feels displaced by her family's move to New York and only slowly adjusts to city life. Her struggles with adjusting and keeping hold of her faith – she's a Quaker – make for an interesting backdrop to how she perceives events. Caty certainly is an interesting narrator, though her bias clearly colours the narrative. Her instant distrust of Levi makes for a somewhat telescopic focus on him as Elma's possible killer, so much so that it is easy to miss certain other clues and alternate interpretations of events.
The novel only really comes vividly alive once Elma disappears; Caty’s rage, guilt, and grief singe of the page. What I found interesting about the days between her disappearance and when Elma's body is found, is the extant to which the search for Elma is a community effort. While there is some official sheriff's involvement, it only comes after Elma has been gone for days and the search has been ongoing for a while. There is a true sense of community in the Ring's neighbourhood, very different from what you might expect from what was even then a relatively large city. Once Elma is found the narrative moves to the court – there wasn't much of a police investigation – and I really enjoyed this look at how court cases worked at the time. Surprisingly, not much seems to have changed in over two hundred years; then, as now, there were the judge, the prosecutor, the defence attorney, and twelve jurors, and that was all that was needed to pronounce justice. What has changed is the standards these people are held to, there are conflicts of interests, heavily biased jury instructions, and other elements that these days would have been cause for an immediate mistrial.
What also features more openly in the second half of the book, but is present throughout, are the political shenanigans of that era. It truly is a fascinating look at the political situation. Karlin shows how convoluted, partisan and corrupt politics were at the time. Politics, business, private interests, they all run together and one is used to further the other. Arguably, this is still the case, as evidenced by the multiple corruption case, insider trading and other stories in the news, yet these days the behaviour tends to be less blatant and far more frowned upon—then it was just a fact of life. I liked how Karlin tied the murder to the conspiracy around the Manhattan Water Company as this was a problem then, but still is now. Even if the water supply is well-established these days, it still remains a vulnerable point in Manhattan’s infrastructure. It’s one of the island’s weakest points and in times of increased threat to US national security New York City’s water system is always one of the municipal organisations to be given extra protection.
City of Liars and Thieves is an enjoyable mystery and provides a fascinating look at early New York society. It’s an intriguing case, but one that unfortunately doesn’t have a clear resolution historically speaking. Karlin has chosen to give the reader a sense of closure through the theory she posits, but for the true Elma Sands there was no such justice. Karlin’s debut is a sound, well-structured narrative with a clear sense of style. My only niggles would be that not all the characterisations were equally strong and the pace tended to be a bit slow in the first part of the novel. But those certainly shouldn’t stop you from picking up City of Liars and Thieves, especially if you are interested in the history of New York City.
Confession time: I’ve had a review copy of Colette McBeth’s Precious Thing sitting in my to read pile for over a year. And every time I picked it up aConfession time: I’ve had a review copy of Colette McBeth’s Precious Thing sitting in my to read pile for over a year. And every time I picked it up and put it down because there were all of these SFF and historical fiction titles I wanted/needed to review first. However, when I visited Headline in October, they basically told me I had to read The Life I Left Behind, as it was just that good. And since I’d resolved to read more crime books this year – as I loved the ones I read last year so much, I thought McBeth’s second might be a good title to start 2015 with. It was, because The Life I Left Behind was an enthralling read, one I just couldn’t put down and which kept me awake long after I turned off the lights.
The book tells the story of two crimes, an attack that left its victim in a coma for days and changed forever after and a murder. Two crimes that seem only connected through their perpetrator, but turn out to be far more closely linked than first assumed. Since it’s revealed in the first chapter, it’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that Eve is the dead woman from the blurb on the back of the book. I loved her voice; she’s brutally honest, tenacious, idealistic, and kind. She’s a vibrant presence in the narrative. Eve’s voice is omniscient, she’s the one who gives us all the viewpoints other than that of Melody and the DI in charge of the investigation into Eve’s murder. She’s also done much of the leg work towards solving her own murder for DI Rutter.
In some ways The Life I Left Behind reminded me so much of Serial, the podcast phenomenon that obsessed so many people in the last months of 2014. Eve’s investigation of Melody’s attack was very much in the vein of what Sarah Koenig did in the case of the murder of Hae Min Lee. At times it was uncanny. Then again it shows how well-written and researched the book is, because Eve follows all the steps a good investigative journalist would follow and asks all the right questions. Following Eve’s steps was a fascinating process, especially in the way McBeth reveals the things Eve discovers; partly through Eve’s recounting them when the investigation into her murder reaches the same point and partly through others reading her research into Melody’s case.
Melody’s storyline isn’t primarily about finally finding out who really attacked her all those years ago. To me, it’s far more about her reclaiming her life and her self confidence. I liked the arc McBeth plots for Melody, who when we meet her, is living a shadow life cloistered in her isolated house in the country, haunted by the person she used to be, and desperately keeping up appearances for the sake of those around her. When Eve is found murdered, ostensibly by the same man who attacked Melody six years before, everyone expects her to shatter and collapse, yet the opposite happens. I loved the way McBeth lets Melody rediscover her inner steel and take back her life.
The third viewpoint character is DI Victoria Rutter, who is our official eyes within the investigation. I liked her; she’s your typical hard-working police officer, torn between the demands of her job and those of her family. Her guilt over the times the job wins out over her children is palpable, yet she never apologises for wanting to do her job well. There are four other important characters in the book: Melody’s fiancé Sam, her best friend Patrick, Eve’s best friend Nat, and David, the man convicted of Melody’s attack. Due to his being Melody’s fiancé, Sam is one of the more important secondary characters and I just hated his guts. He’s such a pompous douche and just so, so wrong. While we don’t see that much of Patrick and David they are key characters in the book since David is who sets the whole plot in motion and Patrick always has Melody’s back. My favourite of these four, however, was Nat. Eve’s best friend and confidant, he’s just lovely and the way he and Melody connect and form a friendship is essential in her getting back control over her life.
The Life I Left Behind was a riveting read, with an ending that knocked the breath out of me and had me turning pages frantically to find out how it all resolved. McBeth creates vivid characters enmeshed in a complex web of mystery and lies, which she unravels with skill and an expert sense of pacing. If you enjoy intricate psychological thrillers or were as obsessed with Serial as I was, then I can’t recommend The Life I Left Behind highly enough. In the mean time I’ll be moving her previous novel Precious Thing up the review pile, because even if it is half as good as this one, it’ll be a great read.
One of the two inaugural authors for Strange Chemistry back in the day and one of my favourites from their list is Gwenda Bond. I've read and enjoyedOne of the two inaugural authors for Strange Chemistry back in the day and one of my favourites from their list is Gwenda Bond. I've read and enjoyed both her previous novels, Blackwood and The Woken Gods, and thought her newest offering, Girl on a Wire sounded very intriguing. Thus, when the author approached me about reviewing it, I didn't hesitate to say yes. And it has to be said, that with Girl on a Wire Bond remains on form. It was a delightful story with some very dark twists and genuine heartbreak.
In essence, Girl on a Wire is a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in the modern-day circus. Yet it’s not solely focused on the love affair between Jules and Remy, but also on the reason their families are feuding in the first place. Consequently, there are several mysteries in the book. The first and most pressing one is the identity of the person who is trying to sabotage the Maroni’s, the second one is the cause of the long-standing feud that’s fuelling the sabotage. These two questions are closely intertwined and I enjoyed the various sleights of hand Bond displays in revealing the answers, she wrong-footed me a few times.
The circus is a place that has always had a sense of magic and mystique about it and probably always will. The circus has always been a place where people, often outsiders, ran away too and circus folk are often portrayed as a close knit community and not always of the most respected kind. In Girl on a Wire the community is indeed close knit, but as the book is told from within the circus, there is no sense of the exotic about the magic and mystique of the circus; there is the love and passion for their art and craft, but none of the romanticism—Jules and her family and the other members of the circus work very, very hard at what they do and this is clearly shown. I loved the details Bond added in on wire work and the references she included. In fact when Nik Wallenda was in the news for his latest daredevil act I immediately had to think of Jules and Girl in a Wire. In fact, I even tweeted the author about how Jules did it first.
Jules is a fabulous main character. She’s head strong, ambitious, snarky when she needs to be, and she is Maroni to the core. Family is what is most important to Jules, almost as integral to her life as is the wire. Her relationship with her dad was one of my favourite things about this story. Jules and Emil are very close and Emil is Jules’ biggest idol. While she’s obviously close to both her parents, it’s clear that her dad is her hero. The other Maroni’s, Jules’ grandmother Nan and her cousin Sam, are wonderful too and the four of them form a close family group. I love position Nan has as Mater Familias and the way they all look to her for sage advice and approval. Jules’ inevitable Romeo is Remy Garcia, son of the Garcia family who drove Nan and Emil out of the main circus circuit years ago. I liked Remy, he isn’t afraid to speak his mind, whether he’s dealing with his family or with Jules’, even if he isn’t ready to openly defy them over Jules. However, my favourite Garcia had to be Remy’s little sister Dita. Dita has a tremendous sense of self, even if she’s still figuring out her identity. She’s genderqueer and as such is looked at a bit askance by her mother and eldest brother, but she’s very close to Remy and I loved how her own love story developed. The reader mostly glimpses it from afar, but she and her paramour are so lovely and sweet together, that the way their story played out completely broke my heart.
In fact, Girl on a Wire was a heartbreaking story overall. The events described and their roots in the past encompass so much love, hurt and grief. Yet despite the heartbreak, there is also a lot of laughter and I really enjoyed the lighter scenes between Jules and Remy and Jules and Sam. Our Jules has witty repartee aplenty. The book ends on hope and a new beginning and left me with a smile. I loved Girl on a Wire and with her third novel Gwenda Bond has firmly landed on my must-read author list. If you enjoy fast-paced, fun YA with a dash of mystery and romance then do pick up Girl on a Wire, as it offers this in spades. And that’s not even mentioning its gorgeous cover.
Andrea Hannah’s Of Scars and Stardust was a compelling read, but also one that is hard to review. Saying too much might spoil Hannah’s careful build-uAndrea Hannah’s Of Scars and Stardust was a compelling read, but also one that is hard to review. Saying too much might spoil Hannah’s careful build-up of the narrative and the story’s suspense, but at the same time it’s hard to talk about it without touching upon anything that might give hints about how the story ends. So, be warned, I’ll try to review the story without spoilers, but there might be some.
The narrator of the story and its heart is Claire. I loved her voice, but she is a completely unreliable narrator. Yet Hannah had me fooled for the entire story. She posited several options for the riddle of the wolves: that they were real, that they were a metaphor for the truth Claire didn’t want to acknowledge, or that they were figments of her imagination, and I hadn’t guessed the correct option until quite late in the story, even if I doubted all three options at some point. This uncertainty is enhanced by, and perhaps even the cause of, the paranoia, mistrust, and fear that suffuse the novel’s atmosphere.
The setting of Amble, Ohio, with its small town mentality only reinforces this feeling of being watched as everyone knows everyone and everything. It also makes anything out of the ordinary taboo and Claire with her history and her mental health issues, which we learn about early on in the novel, is very much a ‘persona non grata’ to the townsfolk of Amble. The only person to move past this is Grant, Claire’s former best friend’s little brother and childhood infatuation. When Claire returns a chance encounter sparks fly between them rekindling all the attraction they felt in the past. Grant was easy to like and his calm and caring demeanour not just for Claire, but for his sister Rae as well, was lovely. His unconditional support for Claire was wonderful, yet also one of the things that made me doubt everything that the evidence pointed to the truth.
I did have one big problem with Of Scars and Stardust. What bugged me to no end, was the way that the adults kept the truth from Claire. The truth of what happened to Ella, of why she’s in New York and why exactly she needs to visit Dr Barges every week. While I can understand not wanting a traumatised teen to receive further shocks, one would also expect that knowing the truth would be a large part of her treatment. But more importantly, I don’t understand why Claire’s parents would never visit her in New York. How can you not see your child for two years? Regardless of having to care for Ella in her recovery and money and time considerations, how can they just not visit at all? And not explain to Claire why? I just couldn’t wrap my head around that.
Despite that bugbear, I enjoyed the time I spent with Of Scars and Stardust. Tense, chilling, and scary, its mystery made me keep reading, because I really wanted to discover what had actually happened with Claire, Ella, and Grant. While the mystery is resolved and we discover what happened that night two years ago, the ending is rather ambiguous and quite fitting for the story.
Ryder by Nick Pengelley is a compelling read, but it is one that may not please everyone, both due to its format and due to its content. To start withRyder by Nick Pengelley is a compelling read, but it is one that may not please everyone, both due to its format and due to its content. To start with the content, Ryder is very much a story in the vein of The Da Vinci Code and The Rule of Four; academic thrillers that work as a sort of treasure hunt following the clues to solve the mystery. It’s the aspect I enjoyed most about Brown’s Langdon books, so I enjoyed it here, but if that is not your thing, then this might not be the book for you.
To move on to the content and the biggest elephant in the room: this is a politically charged novel. Whichever side of the dispute you’re on, whatever your thoughts, the Israeli-Palestine conflict is bound to draw a big reaction. There is just so much history, emotion, pain, and complex politics bound into that situation, that a neutral stance on it is almost impossible to find. That means that the book will either agree with your views or it won’t, depending on your stance. While on the whole Pengelley’s narrative seems to come down on the side of the Palestinian case, he doesn’t in any way paint all Israeli’s as bad guys, not at all even in my opinion. In fact, some of the book’s most important secondary characters, most notably Sir Evelyn and Judah Ben David, the book’s Israeli prime minister, are Jewish and Israeli people who support the Palestinian cause and are working for a peaceful solution. Still, I think that this element might be a deal-breaker for some people.
As mentioned before the mystery is somewhat Da Vinci Code in flavour, yet (almost) all set in London and dropping in fascinating historical facts about the city, ones I hadn’t learned of before. The mystery centres on T.E. Lawrence and the events just prior to his death. Being largely unfamiliar with the famed Lawrence of Arabia – I’ve never even seen the film – this aspect was fascinating to me and I loved the historical facts woven into the book. Pengelley plots his mystery tightly, with several very unexpected twists, some of which were real heartbreakers. He paces the narrative very well, keeping up a high pace, but letting the tension slack just enough from time to time to give the reader some time to breathe.
Ryder features a sympathetic cast. Our protagonist the eponymous Dr Ayesha Ryder is interesting, complex, and also somewhat mysterious. There are secrets in her past the reader only learns during the course of the narrative, The one thing about Ayesha that somewhat bugged me is that there seemed to be somewhat of a disconnect between Dr Ayesha Ryder and the sixteen-year-old Fedayeen she was in the past. Not so much in an internal sense – Ayesha knows who and what she is – but to the outside world at least. Most people are unaware of her past and her extra-curricular skills. It’s also never completely clear how she came to live in London after her time as a Fedayeen.
Ayesha is drawn into the murder investigation by DI Holden and DS Bryan due to her expertise on the Middle East which she shared with Sir Evelyn. I liked how these two police officers are built up. Holden is depicted as brash, impatient, and perhaps not as well-educated as those around them, while his inferior, Bryan, is polite, calm, and clearly very smart, a fact that seems to annoy Holden to no end, especially once he notices that his knowledge impresses Ayesha. My favourite secondary characters however were Dame Imogen, the Director-General of MI5 and Lady Carey, a former government agent. These two ladies are made of well-tempered iron and I loved that they are both older, Imogen being middle-aged and Lady Carey being an octogenarian, but both of them are still sharp as blades.
I very much enjoyed this high-octane, academic adventure, not in the least due to the history lessons thrown in there. If the political aspects of the novel don’t rub you the wrong way, this is a very diverting read. A second Ryder novel will be released in January and I for one am looking forward to discovering Ayesha’s next adventure.
Billed as Sherlock meets Dr Who and provided with a gorgeous cover, Jackaby first caught my eye when I saw it on one of the Book Smugglers Radar postsBilled as Sherlock meets Dr Who and provided with a gorgeous cover, Jackaby first caught my eye when I saw it on one of the Book Smugglers Radar posts. And despite having watched neither show, only being aware of them through my twitter timeline, I was intrigued. With good reason as it turns out, because William Ritter’s debut is a delightful read.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Abigail Rook. She’s a girl in her late teens who has run away from home to have adventures, rebelling against her parents who think girl children can have all the learning they want – even go to university – as long as when the time comes, they don’t get any ideas to use their brains and wiles for anything else than netting themselves a husband. Abigail was having none of that and took her tuition money and ran ending up in New Fiddleham. I really enjoyed Abigail’s character. There is a down-to-earth practicality to her that I found oddly compelling. Fiercely independent, she’s also remarkably unflappable, though somewhat queasy at the sight of blood.
While Abigail is our narrator and the heart of the story, the star is the titular Jackaby. Eccentric, but brilliant, it is in Jackaby that the nods to Holmes and Dr Who are strongest, right down to the long scarf and tasting the evidence. Despite his oddities, or perhaps because of them, Jackaby remains less aloof from his assistant than would normally be proper, especially in the late nineteenth century. He’s a brilliant detective, who is regarded more as a bane than a help by the local constabulary as they don’t truck with his supernatural explanations. But Jackaby’s matter-of-factness about the existence of supernatural creatures and phenomena, make Abigail’s blithe acceptance of them more convincing.
Of course this easy acceptance is helped along by the fact that Jackaby’s house cum offices somewhat resemble a Tardis House, with impossible rooms and too-large spaces in it. Not to mention the other inhabitants, the house’s previous owner Jenny, now deceased yet still around, and Jackaby’s former assistant Douglas the mallard. Lastly, there is Charlie; a young police man at the start of his career, he instantly takes a shine to Abigail and she to him. Yet in the midst of the murder investigation they land in and with some other complicating factors, this remains a case of longing looks and polite exchanges, culminating in a daring rescue. I loved how Ritter built up Abigail’s relationship with all of these characters. My favourite supporting character had to be the ghostly Jenny,
In New Fiddleham Ritter has created a great setting. The town itself felt picturesque and lovely, without being overly described that way or coming on twee. The lore and mythology at the base of this alternate world is familiar, but with a twist. While the presence of out and out magic is never confirmed, there certainly are occult and supernatural beings and phenomena, although they aren’t the ones you’d expect. New Fiddleham felt like a real place, one that you could just step into and explore, yet it is a fictional town. At least, according to Google maps it doesn’t exist. It says a lot for Ritter’s ability to convey a sense of place through his narrative that New Fiddleham felt so convincingly real.
The murder mystery, which serves as the foundation of the plot, is fascinating and more complex than I initially thought, though I cottoned onto the culprit a little before the big reveal. The clues are all there, seeded throughout the narrative and Ritter cleverly places so they are just mis-aligning unless you are looking at them in the exactly correct way. I do think that those well-versed in British folklore and faery lore will figure out the truth about some of the characters faster than I did.
The book’s greatest draw, may also be its greatest flaw; I expect many reader will be drawn to the Sherlock/Dr Who billing, but as someone who is only aware of them as cultural phenomena and not a fan at times the references felt like window dressing and also made me wonder about the hints and nods I missed due to unfamiliarity with the shows.
Still, even if I felt a little left out of the in-jokes at times, I had a fantastic time with Jackaby. I found the narrative compelling and Abigail a fabulous main character, one I hope to meet again in the future. I think that any mystery lover, Holmes, or Dr Who fan will very much enjoy this book and will get a kick out of the quirky character that is R. F. Jackaby. William Ritter has delivered a wonderfully atmospheric and fun debut novel with Jackaby and I hope it the first of many novels from this promising new author.
Sherlock Holmes. He's the ubiquitous detective; the first of his kind and a continual inspiration for modern creators.While I’ve read many of the shorSherlock Holmes. He's the ubiquitous detective; the first of his kind and a continual inspiration for modern creators. While I’ve read many of the short stories, both for pleasure and for classes, my favourite incarnations are the more recent ones — Robert Downey Junior in the recent Guy Ritchie films and Johnny Lee Miller in the TV show Elementary. They are more gritty, less refined versions of this Victorian detective, unlike the more gentlemanly versions of Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett. A collection of stories centred on reinterpretations of this iconic character and his companions will always be defined by the area of tension between retaining the classic Holmesian characteristics enough to keep it recognisably a Holmes tale and by giving it a unique spin and an author's own flair and flavour. In my opinion, Moore and his contributors have reached a wonderful balance between these elements in the stories contained in Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, though perhaps a true Sherlock Holmes aficionado, who is more invested in the character, might disagree.
If one looks at the line up Moore has put together, it's interesting to see that of the fourteen tales, nine have been penned by women; this female majority perhaps says something about Moore's editorial choices, but it could also be considered a reflection of the huge fandom that surrounds Sherlock Holmes, a fandom that is seemingly overwhelmingly female if one goes by the fandom encountered on Tumblr. The line up also runs across the genres sheltered underneath the speculative fiction umbrella: fantasy, SF, and horror. And these influences return in all of the stories, mixed with the requisite mystery to solve of course. It makes for an interesting mix and shows that genre mash-ups should be embraced, not feared.
The classic Holmesian tropes and elements suffuse the stories and there are certainly iconic elements and lines that keep popping up, such as the non-canonical, but oft-quoted "Elementary, my dear Watson." The recurring core set of characters has some surprising appearances, with Mrs Hudson showing up far more often than Irene Adler or Moriarity. This surprised me at first, but of course Mrs Hudson is far less defined and detailed than Moriarity and Adler. I also liked how the authors shifted some of the details to the time their story was set in. For example, Watson is always a veteran, but in these stories his service ranges from the Great War to Afghanistan. Of course some stories stuck with me more than others. The stories discussed below were my favourites.
Kaaron Warren - The Lantern Men Set in Warren’s homeland Australia, The Lantern Men is a haunting ghost story, featuring Holmes and Watson as an architect and a builder, professions that are both unexpected and work unexpectedly well in this tale. I really liked the concept and the horror of the Lantern Men; the fact that their true origins remain nebulous only make them creepier. Warren’s Sherlock, while still peculiar, is far more socially capable than his original predecessor, a fact I enjoyed especially since he is also the narrator for the story.
Emma Newman - A Woman’s Place I expected to enjoy Newman’s tale as she’s one of my favourite authors, both long and short form, yet A Woman’s Place managed to surprise me and I absolutely loved this story and its close focus on Mrs Hudson and the dynamics between her and Holmes and Watson. Set in a future where we are all constantly connected via a neural implant, Holmes’ eccentric nature has given him an aversion of the technology and he is one of the rare non-connected people around. He is a classic Holmes, though his Watson is a woman, yet she does inhabit Watson’s classic template. Newman creates a complex and devious plot in her story, using all of her words to further this wonderful story.
Guy Adams - A Study in Scarborough I only recently discovered Guy Adams’ writing through his Clown Service series, which I’m really enjoying so far. So finding a story by him in this anthology, and one of the longer ones at that, was a pleasant surprise. I really liked this rather meta-like tale, where Holmes and Watson the crime fighters where figments of the imagination, the subjects of a radio show written and performed by the actors Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I liked this conceit and the tale Adams has his narrator, Arthur Doyle, uncover was both scurrilous and tragic.
Glen Mehn - Half There/All There While I’m familiar with some of Andy Warhol’s iconic art, the scene that surrounded him was unknown to me. With his Half There/All There Glen Mehn has shown me a bit of what it was like. His versions of Holmes and Watson are wonderfully imagined and fit the setting and epoch well. Watson’s having turned into a pill-pusher after injuring his shoulder in Vietnam has stopped him practising as a physician was an inventive twist on both Watson’s past as a soldier and the wounds he suffered there and his medical background. There is also an underlying sadness and wistfulness to the connection between Holmes and Watson that I found compelling and very touching.
Gini Koch - All the Single Ladies Anyone who read that title and didn’t immediately have Beyonce running through their head has been hiding under a rock for the past few years. And it’s exactly that sort of playful referencing of today’s pop culture that made this story such fun. Set in the midst of a reality show on the campus of a women’s college, featuring a female Holmes and a less-than-enthusiastic Watson, Koch's All the Single Ladies is pure entertainment. While Koch’s Sherlock is just as observant and incisive, not to mention sharply witty, she isn’t as cutting or acerbic as many other Holmes’ are — she seems warmer, and frankly more fun to be around. This tale had me smiling from start to finish.
With Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets David Thomas Moore has delivered a great anthology filled with entertaining takes on Holmes and Watson. In his introduction to the book Moore quips that sadly there aren’t really two hundred and twenty-one stories in the book, but I have to confess, I’d gladly have read another fourteen stories if they were as entertaining as the ones contained in this volume. As mentioned above, Holmes purists might have a hard-time with these numerous different takes on the Great Detective and his closest friend, but for anyone with an appreciation for Holmes that isn’t so strict, this is one collection of tales that shows how broad and versatile the field of speculative fiction can be.
Sarah Jamila Stevenson's The Truth Against the World is a modern-day Welsh ghost story that proves that ghosts can be from any era and bound to earthSarah Jamila Stevenson's The Truth Against the World is a modern-day Welsh ghost story that proves that ghosts can be from any era and bound to earth for any reason. It's about the secrets people keep and how a coincidental discovery of a tombstone out at a deserted ruin at the seaside can unravel those secrets decades on. While the story Wyn and Gareth discover is tragic, their story itself is lovely and astonishingly free of insta-love and relationship drama. Instead the focus is squarely on Olwen and helping her find peace.
Wyn and Gareth were interesting characters. While I connected more strongly to Wyn, I really liked Gareth and his gentle ways. Wyn is a regular girl, neither popular nor ostracised at school, though with her best friend busy with the student council her life there has become somewhat lonely. Add to that the fact that her grandmother Gee Gee has to move in with her family due to terminal ill health and things are getting increasingly hard and she's becoming more isolated. Gareth, on the other hand, only starts feeling isolated once he encounters little Olwen in a cromlech and she starts haunting him, appearing on his phone in pictures, calling him and changing his ring tone to an old Welsh tune. When Gareth finds Wyn while searching for information on Olwen, they immediately feel a connection, but it isn't a romantic one. Instead it is kinship and their mutual link to Olwen that draws them together and even if there is a growing attraction and the possibility of more, that is all in the future and not really relevant to this story.
I loved Wyn's bookishness and her strong desire to learn more about her Welsh heritage and learning the language. Her bond with Gee Gee was lovely and I completely understood her need to know more about her great-grandmother's youth in Wales. This book made me wish I'd asked my grandparents more about their youth and their experiences during the war. Gareth made me laugh, especially his bickering with his little brother, which was very recognisable having two of those myself. The only characters beyond Wyn and Gareth that I really felt were fully fleshed-out were Gee Gee and Wyn's parents. The other characters felt somewhat distant, except Hugh and Annie, but even they are only known as the cabbie and his wife, who help Wyn practice her Welsh. I guess this emphasises how isolated Wyn and Gareth feel. This isolation is echoed in Gee Gee's story and in the atmosphere of this small Welsh town, where nothing happens and time has seemingly stood still.
The Truth Against the World is a combination of a mystery and a story about dealing with love and loss. Gee Gee's passing and the months leading up to that are poignant and not just sad, but beautiful too. As for the mystery, the clues and links between them are seeded throughout the book and are there for the finding. A reasonably perceptive reader will be able to piece the clues together on their own before Stevenson reveals the solution. The eventual resolution of the story was clever and I really liked how it was all linked together. All the lead characters in this tale are left with some sort of peace, even if the grief and pain haven't miraculously disappeared.
Stevenson's love of Wales, its countryside and vistas, and its language clearly shine through in the narrative. Stevenson also writes their internal dialogue quite well, but there were some elements of the narrative that didn't work for me as well. For one, the pacing felt somewhat uneven. Sometimes large amounts of time flew by with hardly a mention and then we spent entire chapters on just one event. And the tale felt a bit meandering in places, which made the story feel a bit padded. But my biggest peeve with the book – and one that is wholly personal and probably a librarian quirk – was the fact that Gareth's computer skills often were demonstrated by his finding things online. This in itself isn't that bad, but the fact that it's painted several times as nothing else but plugging a couple of search terms into Google made me grumpy. Yes, the fact that he narrows his search terms cleverly is great, but quite often finding information goes far beyond Google-fu and finding the right search terms. But, again, that might just be my professional prejudice showing.
On the whole, I had a lovely time with The Truth Against the World. Gareth and Wyn are great protagonists and their tale of a ghostly girl looking for peace is haunting and compelling. If you like modern-day ghost stories and one set in a different from usual locale that Sarah Jamila Stevenson's The Truth Against the World is certainly a book that should fit your tastes. I really enjoyed Stevenson's writing style and I'd love to read more of her work in the future.
This is going to be a shorter than usual review for me since the book is a short one and there are a number of things that I can't discuss without givThis is going to be a shorter than usual review for me since the book is a short one and there are a number of things that I can't discuss without giving spoilers for the book's big reveal. P.B. Kane, a pen name for Paul Kane, moves into the YA market for the first time with The Rainbow Man. And it's an interesting story to make an entrance there, as it's a slow-building story as mentioned in the introduction by Rachel Caine, in a way I haven't seen it done very often in YA fiction.
The Rainbow Man's main character is Daniel, who I found a very sympathetic character. He is very much a YA protagonist, dealing not just with a tough situation at home, but also a shift in the relationships between him and his best friends. It was interesting to see a love triangle where the protagonist isn't the deciding factor; instead he's the one on the outside. Daniel's best friends are Jill and Greg. Jill and Daniel have been friends all their lives and Greg joined their band when his family moved to the island. Both of his friends have home lives that remind Daniel of what he's lost and serve as a sort of surrogate family. But with the three of them growing up, relationships have shifted and Jill and Greg seem to be pairing off, while Daniel realises he wants to be the one Jill chooses. This creates tension between the friends and I loved how they have to fight past this to get back to their friendship.
Daniel's home life isn't pretty with a mom who's looking for a solution to end her grief at losing her husband at the bottom of a wine bottle every night, Daniel having to deal with his own grief at his father's death and a younger brother who looks to him for love and safety. I love how Daniel both resents having to take care of Mikey and resents John when Mikey looks to him instead of Daniel. Not because it was a pleasant situation, but it was a recognisable one to me. John is quite creepy; he seems harmless but he's insidious and Kane portrays Daniel's growing isolation – he's the only one who sees John for the pernicious figure he is, which sets him apart from the rest of the island's inhabitants – quite well. In the end friendship, not romantic love conquers all and I liked that. The island setting creates a creepy atmosphere due to its enclosed nature and especially since they are cut off from the outside, which is a well-worn horror trope, but Kane plays it out well.
The eventual resolution of The Rainbow Man was cool, though unexpected. The clues to John's true identity only start to appear relatively late in the narrative. The ending felt a little redundant and was rather strange as the book seemed set in current day, not in the past, and the last few pages weren't cast as a prediction of the future, it was cast as fact and already happened, which just felt odd. Still, I really enjoyed this relatively quick read and for horror-loving mystery fans, whether they're in their teens or beyond, this should be an enjoyable read.
I first encountered Christopher Gortner's writing last year when I reviewed The Queen's Vow, about Queen Isabella of Castile. I loved the book and II first encountered Christopher Gortner's writing last year when I reviewed The Queen's Vow, about Queen Isabella of Castile. I loved the book and I was intrigued with this next book, written under a slightly different name – his biographical fiction is published as CW Gortner – and with a different approach to historical fiction. I have a weak spot for historical crime fiction and this historical mystery is close enough kin to that as makes no difference. Not having read the first book in the series, an oversight I'll have to rectify in the future, I was worried that I might have missed too much back story, but luckily this book stands alone pretty well and the important bits get re-introduced quite organically in the narrative.
The Tudor Conspiracy contains a nice mix of historical and fictional characters. The book's main character Brendan Prescott is fictional and a great protagonist. He's a very sympathetic character, even when he does some pretty stupid things. While some of his actions could be ascribed to grief, his interactions with Sybilla, one of Mary's maids of honour, killed me; I couldn't believe he'd do that. I loved his squire Peregrine, who is your typical scampy side-kick and Brendan's fiancée Kate. They formed a wonderful adoptive family and their chemistry was wonderful. Gortner's portrayal of Elizabeth and Mary is interesting too. Gortner shows Mary's softer side; he doesn't just show her as the religious zealot responsible for so many deaths that she was nicknamed Bloody Mary. Instead he shows her compassion for others and the way her loyalty to her mother guide her religious beliefs. The more I read about her, the more I pity her. Elizabeth is a mix of a calculated survivor and a lonely girl desperate to have the love of her sister. Gortner's portrayal of the Dudleys surprised me at first, but when I started to think about it I realised that Dudley is often portrayed as a venal and ambitious man, when not shown from Elizabeth's point of view and at least in this book she seems not to be as smitten with him as she's usually shown to be.
The plot is based on a true historical event, the Wyatt conspiracy, is quite interesting – it was also one I wasn't familiar with – and the powers that Gortner positions behind it are somewhat unexpected. In addition to the internal politics, there are also influences from outside who impact English politics—Ambassador Renard and the Spaniards. While seemingly a straightforward marriage proposal from Charles V to bring England back into the Catholic fold through a union between his cousin and his son, Philip had grander plans and played for future stakes as it were. Gortner managed to slip some surprises into the narrative that were very skilful sleight-of-hand and which made the story even more complex and exciting.
The Tudor Conspiracy is a fantastic read, with well-written characters and a captivating plot. Gortner's Tudor Court is a far less glamorous and far more dangerous place than we've seen it portrayed as on both the large and the small screen, but for all that it is far more compelling. I'm planning to check out the previous book, The Tudor Secret, and I'll definitely be along for Brendan's next adventure, The Tudor Vendetta, next year.
One of my biggest fears is losing my sight. The thought of losing my vision and the ability to read and to watch my girls freaks me out even to contemOne of my biggest fears is losing my sight. The thought of losing my vision and the ability to read and to watch my girls freaks me out even to contemplate. So when I read the above cover copy for Rebecca Mascull's debut novel The Visitors, I was immediately captured by the visual of this little girl completely cut off from sight and sound and I wondered how Mascull would portray her and let her tell her story, as from glancing at the first few pages I'd seen the book was told in Liza's first-person perspective. The answer to that question is beautifully. I found Liza's story haunting and evocative and if it hadn't been for the pesky need for sleep and the fact that I have two toddlers running around, I would have finished this book in one sitting.
Adeliza, the book's narrator, is a fascinating character. I loved the way that Mascull managed to convey her world even though she was deafblind and could only experience it through touch and smell. Adeliza is born with bad eye sight which slowly fades as her cataracts worsen. She isn't born deaf, but contracts scarlet fever when she is two and becomes deaf from complications of the disease. Mascull's description of the slow retreat of Liza's senses and her growing isolation happens within the first page and a half, but is vivid and gripping, leaving me in no doubt as to her writing chops. The need to communicate is paramount in all humans and it is a relief when Liza gets the opportunity, as her growing frustration and the helplessness of not just Liza but those around her as well is almost painful. When Lottie grabs her hand and manages to connect, it forms a crack in her closed shell of a world, one that is opened further by having her undergo an, at the time, dangerous procedure which allows Liza to regain her sight. Throughout all of this we follow Liza and her voice is compelling, especially once she starts exploring the world with her new abilities. It's an almost magical experience and Liza's joy and wonder radiate of the page.
Liza's almost constant companion and her window on the world is Lottie. A young woman from an oystering family, who do seasonal work at Liza's father's hop farm, she is a wonderful character, loving and clever. The book is as much about the love and friendship between her and Liza as about anything else. Without Lottie, Liza would have no voice, no way to have broken from her dark shell and their mutual devotion is touching. The older Liza gets the more of a well-rounded person Lottie seems to become, more of an individual with her own needs and desires, mirroring Liza's ability to see people separate from their meaning to her.
Lottie's twin brother Caleb is both alluring and mysterious, somewhat of the strong, silent and broody type. Given Liza's strong attachment to Lottie it's not surprising she'd love Caleb as much as she does, though at the same time it shows how much of a little girl she still is. Father is loving and protective and I loved that he learned all the ways to communicate with Liza. He was far from the stereotypical Victorian father figure, who is only seen at a distance and is a stern presence in his children's lives. Instead he's a warm and comforting presence in Liza's existence and their bond is genuine and deep. Mother is a far more distant figure, though given her fragile (mental) health that isn't surprising. Nevertheless, she does truly love Liza, like her father and they try to do their best by her. The Visitors, the ghostly presences only Liza can see, are fascinating. Especially at the beginning I wasn't sure whether they were real or just signs of Liza's underused optical nerves firing at random, but I love how they are brought along and how Liza's understanding of them develops. In the end, they are a solid part of the plot and I thought they were a wonderful creation.
Some of the most powerful scenes in the book are those set in South Africa during the Boer War. While I knew it was a war between the Dutch and British immigrants, the particulars of that war were unknown to me and as such The Visitors proved educational. The visual descriptions are evocative and sometimes even disturbing. Caleb's voice in his letters is distinct and the situations he relates, especially of his experiences at the refugee camp that Lottie and Liza later encounter, are harrowing and the latter feels rather current if one considers the pictures we see of modern refugee camps in Syria, Chad, the Sudan, or Kenya.
Rebecca Mascull's The Visitors might seem a slim, little book at 256 pages, but it certainly packs a punch. It is a stunning story, told in beautiful prose and clear visuals. Mascull's debut combines many elements – history, friendship, romance, ghost stories, adventure – and melds them into a distinctive and unique blend. The Visitors tells a story that will haunt the reader beyond its pages and I for one am glad to have been haunted by it.
Since the publication of Chris F. Holm's first Collector novel, Dead Harvest, I've been a fan of the series. I absolutely adored books one and two aSince the publication of Chris F. Holm's first Collector novel, Dead Harvest, I've been a fan of the series. I absolutely adored books one and two and book three lived up to my expectations and more and had me once again guffawing out loud at Sam's dry wit. For those familiar with Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, the title gives some clue of what to expect from the novel as it's a word play off of Chandler's book, but there are some twists Chandler himself wouldn't have thought of. Like the previous book, The Big Reap retains the gritty, noir flavour in its story-telling, but in some places it’s actually a little darker in tone than anything that went before.
The plot seems rather linear with Sam charged to go and take out the Brethren, a group of rebel Collectors. But it turns out to be far twistier than that. I liked the notion of the Brethren being the people even Hell can't handle and the various members of this exclusive group we meet are suitably unpleasant. He gets to play a game of follow-the-bread-crumbs with these Brethren, being put on the trail of the next one by Lilith once he defeats his current target. The Brethren are a corrupted and twisted lot, but at the same time they're also tragic figures, driven mad by immortality. In many ways what remained of them was less than human and it seems as if killing them was more a mercy than a punishment.
As with the previous books we learn more about Sam's past in The Big Reap. In this story we witness his own Collection, subsequent awakening as a Collector and his first reap, which is an epic one. We also learn more about Lilith and their complicated friendship. I love that we learn more about Sam and his relationship with Lilith. She was one of the most intriguing characters in the series to me and it was great to learn more about what makes her tick and why she was set to be Sam's handler. Through Lilith we also learn more about the way Heaven and Hell are ordered and why Collectors have to be doomed souls instead of just the Devil's demonic minions. Holm manages to squeeze in more world-building and still give us the sense that there is yet more to be discovered.
At its heart the story told in The Big Reap is about love and what tragic lengths people will go to save the ones they love. It's a tragic story and a timeless one. Through the events of the book the reader discovers that Sam's isn't the only tragic story among the Collectors and it made me curious to learn more about other Collectors. What drove them to make their deal and did they get what they wanted or did it turn out to be as much a pot of fool's gold as Sam's deal was? But there was also a lot of hope in the book especially in the ending, where Sam reclaims some of his humanity, which he's been steadily feeling slip away throughout the narrative.
Of course there are characters beyond Sam and Lilith in the book, but most of them are rather secondary to the novel, except for the Brethren and some old friends who make cameo appearances from the previous books. I loved seeing where Kate had ended up and I positively cheered when Theresa and Gio made their entrance. It was great to see old friends, but I also liked how Holm worked them into the story without making it a 'getting the band back together'-device. They come in, do their thing, and then don't hang around to be Sam's Scooby Gang. They have their own things to deal with, which I thought was clever, as it affords us the pleasure of seeing some great characters return, without that return infringing on the core of the narrative.
With The Big Reap Holm continues his Collector series in style. While the narrative ends at a full stop, I whole-heartedly hope this wasn't the last we've seen of Sam Thornton and friends as I just enjoy his character and the tone of the series so damn much. While The Big Reap can be appreciated on its own, if you haven't read any of the books before, I strongly suggest you start at the beginning with Dead Harvest as not only will you get far more from The Big Reap, you'll also be in for two fantastic reads. Whatever Chris Holm writes next, I'll be there to read it, but I sincerely hope his robotic overlords decide to get him to write more Collector books. And I'm willing to bet once you meet Sam and company, so will you.
My top debut last year was Byrne's first novel, Heart-Shaped Bruise. I'd actually planned to read it after the holidays, but Wiebe read it and adoreMy top debut last year was Byrne's first novel, Heart-Shaped Bruise. I'd actually planned to read it after the holidays, but Wiebe read it and adored it and kept nagging me to read it so we could discuss the book. And wow... I loved it. So I was inordinately excited to receive an ARC for Byrne's second book, Follow Me Down. And then I got Book Fear... Anyone who has ever discovered an author that just completely swept them away and is an automatic read from that point forward, has likely encountered this phenomenon. Book fear is what happens when after loving the first book you read by an author, you actually have doubts about reading the second, because what if it isn't as fantastic as the first one? What if they don't live up to the promise that first book made? What if the author is a one-hit-wonder? Book fear set in hard with Follow Me Down and didn't just strike me, it struck Wiebe as well, and so I hiked up my skirts, took a deep breath and took the plunge. And then I didn't come back up for air until I'd followed the book down all the way to the end. I followed it to the realisation that my fears had been silly and that Byrne truly was the awesome writer Heart-Shaped Bruise promised she was. Because Follow Me Down? Awesome! It was just as dark, tricky and compellingly clever as its predecessor.
The book is narrated in first person from Adamma's point of view and told in two timelines, the one immediately after Scarlett's disappearance and the other from the moment the two girls meet when Adamma starts attending Crofton High. The plotting of the story is once again super tight and the underlying secrets of both girls are both complex and explosive. Byrne manages to keep the reader hopping to keep up with all the swerves and twists the story takes. There were several times I was convinced that this time I'd figured it all out, only to start doubting my conclusions three pages later. It's hard to talk about the plot in more depth as that would wreck the reading experience, but Byrne balances all possibilities masterfully.
At the heart of the book is the friendship between Scarlett and Adamma. It's the kind of friendship everyone experiences in their adolescence to some degree or another. It's the unhealthy, obsessive kind of friendship, where you hate the other person as much as you love them and in the end it always ends in tears. While I adored Adamma and her cool, collected demeanour and her outsider's view – owing both to the fact that she's the daughter of a Nigerian diplomat and that she's spent the last few years of her life living in New York – I didn't really like Scarlett. And this isn't just due to how Adamma sees her, though obviously that plays a part, as we only see Scarlett through her eyes, but also due to Scarlett's antics. On occasion I did see a damaged and needy girl somewhere in there, but most of the time she came across as self-indulgent and self-centred.
In addition to these two girls there are a few important secondary characters, Orla, Dominic, Bones, and Mr Lucas, who all are fascinating in their own right. I loved Orla and her quiet strength. Adamma's desire to help her is completely natural, Byrne shows not just Orla's trauma and difficulties to deal with her being raped, but also Adamma's trying to figure out how to best help and support Orla on this journey and messing up badly a few times. This both provides teens that are faced with similar situations in their own life mirrors to their own experience, but also ensures that the reader doesn't see Adamma as a flawless protagonist. Adamma is flawed, she messes up and gets herself into situations that had she thought about them more clearly, she'd have known where too complicated for her to handle. The interactions she has with Bones, or to give him his proper name DS Bone, regarding Orla's situation are wonderful and I loved that he takes her seriously. Dominic is both lovely and confusing, the perfect bad boy love interest. Mr Lucas seems to be a great teacher and one who genuinely seems to care for the welfare of his students. Beyond these characters there are all Adamma's class mates, teachers, and of course her parents, Byrne has created a full cast of characters who all play a significant part. Yet there are a lot of people, including Adamma and Scarlett, who aren't what they seem to be and figuring out people's true stories and intentions is a large part of what makes this book so compelling.
Follow Me Down is a fascinating and engrossing page turner of a story. One that gave me all the feels and kept me glued to the page for just one more chapter because I couldn't let go of the story. With Follow Me Down Tanya Byrne has firmly established herself as one of the strongest teen mystery/thriller writers currently publishing in the UK. If you hadn't discovered her with Heart-Shaped Bruise, then don't waste time and read Follow Me Down as soon as you can, it's too good to miss. All that book fear I had before starting the book was completely unnecessary.
Harbor was an intriguing novel. When I started it, I was a little apprehensive, as I was afraid I would be too scared – remember, I'm a wimp when it cHarbor was an intriguing novel. When I started it, I was a little apprehensive, as I was afraid I would be too scared – remember, I'm a wimp when it comes to reading horror – but while thrilling and frightening, it didn't give me nightmares. Instead its horror started with a creeping feeling of unease, of something off and, slowly, the true threat only becomes fully clear towards the end. I found myself eager to return to its pages each night and read until I had to turn off the light due to my eyes falling closed.
One of my favourite elements of this novel were the narrative structure and Lindqvist's prose. The book is set up in a double narration with switching points of view between Anders and his grandfather Simon, with interspersed breaking of the fourth wall by an unknown narrator and short pieces from the point of view of other Domarö inhabitants. I love these kinds of twined narratives, as they provide not just a way for the author to give us more information about what's going – as the saying goes: two heads always know more than one – but they also provide opportunities for miscommunication or non-communication between characters, where the reader knows more than the protagonists. Coincidentally, it can also lead to a frustrated outcry of "Why don't they just talk to each other?", but Lindqvist never falls in that trap. Yes, there is non-communication, but he allows Simon to decisively put an end to that. Lindqvist's prose, through the translation of Marlaine Delargy, is clean and clear; no purple prose here, though his descriptions of the stark and isolated landscapes and the small island community are lovely, if at times chilling.
I loved the character of Anders and I found the way Lindqvist describes his dealing with the loss of his daughter fascinating. The idea of losing one of my children – I'm already counting B2 as such, even if she isn't born yet – or my husband is my biggest nightmare and I thought Lindqvist dealt with both the madness of grief and the reshaping of memories beautifully. Anyone can picture what grief can drive someone too, whether drinking, like Anders, drugs, depression or self-harm. But I found Anders' reshaping his memories of Maja far more poignant, especially his inability to realise that he's done so until he's confronted about it by his grandparents. I think it's also something a lot of people don't realise—both that this is a natural reaction and that they've probably done the same with some of their own memories. All of this combined makes it hard to figure out whether what Anders thinks he's experiencing is true or whether they are delusions he's suffering due to too much alcohol consumption or grief.
The other main narrator is Anders' sort of grandfather. He's been together with Anders' grandmother Anna-Greta for fifty years, though they never got married and is as much a grandfather as Anders has ever known. Despite having lived on Domarö for over half a century and being partnered with the unofficial leader of the island, Simon is still an outsider in many ways, as he finds out when he discovers the island's secret. But Simon is also more than just an old, retired stage magician, he has real magic, though what kind and how he came by it, is something best left for the reader to discover themselves. I really liked Simon, he is kind, strong and tenacious and I loved his relationship with Anna-Greta.
Domarö and the sea are characters in and of themselves and are maybe the most frightening things in the book. Water can be the most destructive force on earth. It is everywhere and can penetrate everywhere. Water is patient and we humans cannot live without it. The Dutch have learnt to live with the fear of the encroaching water, to literally dam it out and in some ways to harness its amazing power, but we also know that water cannot be tamed and must always be respected. The inhabitants of Domarö respect and fear the sea in the same way, but in their need to placate the sea, they takes desperate and gruesome measures.
Harbor is a stunning story, which made for compelling reading. If you are looking for an intelligent, spooky and mostly non-gory horror tale, this third offering by Lindqvist is just the ticket. I know this first taste of his writing has left me curious for more. I have already read Niall's review of Lindqvist's latest book Little Star and that sounds as good or even better as Harbor and I look forward to checking that out in the future.
At the beginning of this year one of my bookolutions was to keep exploring SF, YA and horror as I'd really enjoyed the first steps I'd set within thesAt the beginning of this year one of my bookolutions was to keep exploring SF, YA and horror as I'd really enjoyed the first steps I'd set within these genres in 2010. So when author Darren J Guest contacted me to review Dark Heart I jumped at the chance based on the flap text above. The book sounded really cool and right up my alley, so when it also turned out to be a horror novel I was doubly pleased. And after reading the book I was even more pleased as I really enjoyed this further foray into horror.
Leo is a very interesting protagonist. Dark Heart is his story and while there is plenty of action and skulking about, the main meat of the plot is psychological. As stated in the blurb, Leo is fractured when he is sixteen and this is reflected in his behaviour; on the one hand he is an adult, but at the same time he is a scared teen. In Dark Heart we see him, literally and figuratively, face his demons. Leo has to look his past and his memories in the eye and deal with them, in the process healing himself and fully growing up. Guest handles this expertly and I thought his choice of hallucination for Leo was awesome; Connery's Bond is perfect for the wry, mocking manifestation of Leo's wiser, grown-up half. Together with Bond, Leo manages to face his memories, which allows him to make the necessary connections to solve the mystery of Reuben and Michael. Despite all of this, Leo doesn't come across as an unreliable narrator. The reader is put on the wrong foot a couple of times in the novel, but Leo is there right along with her and doesn't seem to be hiding anything.
The concept of Dark Hearts is quite interesting, though one would expect that more people – if not most – would be Dark Hearts, as almost no one is either purely good or purely evil. I also liked the idea of Heaven and Hell but Purgatory being reincarnation. I found this very cool, almost a hybrid of Christianity and Hinduism, which seems oddly fitting. It did make me wonder about other Dark Hearts however, do they get to choose, like Leo, or are they just shoved back into a new body waiting to be born?
The narrative is driven by two triangles: Leo-John-Sadie and Leo-Michael-Reuben. The first triangle is your classic love triangle and one wonders what Sadie would have made of the whole situation, as she's never made aware that the two boys are competing for her. Both Sadie and John, while very important to the story, are placed somewhat outside the narrative; we don't really get to know them, other than through other people, Sadie through Leo and John's memories and John through Leo and Mick, Leo's surrogate father. Michael and Reuben are equally enigmatic, though they take a far more active role in the book. In both triangles Leo is the linchpin and as such he is the one that is completely fleshed out. On the whole, the fact that the secondary characters aren't so much underdeveloped as they are just a bit thin – they could have had more meat on their bones – isn't a huge problem at all. It allows us to stay with Leo, who is the heart and soul of the book.
The way Leo returns to life and the twist at the end had me completely surprised. The ending is superb, with Leo facing his version of Purgatory head on and leaving the reader hope for his salvation. Dark Heart is an awesome debut. The book was very enjoyable and a compelling page turner. If you are looking for a scary book with limited gore or horror of a psychological thriller bent, then Dark Heart is the book for you. It will be interesting to see where Guest goes from here, but if Dark Heart is anything to go by, it will be good.
The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is Helen Grant's debut novel, which, ironically, I read last after The Glass Demon and Wish Me Dead. So for me iThe Vanishing of Katharina Linden is Helen Grant's debut novel, which, ironically, I read last after The Glass Demon and Wish Me Dead. So for me it was a return to Bad Münstereifel and some characters I'd met before, such as Frau Kessel and Frau Nett and familiar locations. Reading the book also once more underlined how much I enjoy Grant's writing. It only took me about twenty-one pages to fall in love with this book's protagonist, Pia.
Pia is a lovely narrator, cleverly set up to narrate the story several years after what happened in the book. This gives the author the possibility to combine the ten-year-old perspective on the happenings in the village with the added observations of the older Pia. I found this approach a refreshing one, as it shows the complete innocence and fearlessness ten-year-olds possess and at the same time give a good reason for Pia to be able to narrate her story in a grown-up manner.
I loved the combination of Pia and Stefan, or StinkStefan as Pia sometimes refers to him. While I can understand Pia's resentment of being stuck with the most unpopular boy in her class, at the same time I wanted to shake her and tell her to be grateful to have found such a steadfast friend in Stefan. He never even asks her about her Oma Kristel's accident, which is commendable. Oma Kristel's fatal accident is both tragic and hilarious and it's easy to see why it holds such fascination for both the children and the adults of the town. But Stefan never mentions it, he just accepts Pia for who she is. At the same time, I really felt for Stefan, who doesn't seem to have a very happy home life and seems to be able to do as he pleases, even once the girls start disappearing. This is contrasted by Pia's mum's reaction to the situation, which is the desire to move back home to Britain immediately. I can completely understand Pia's English mum wanting to go back to Britain to keep her daughter safe, but at the same time I understand her dad's reluctance to leave his home town.
The frantic atmosphere the girls' disappearance causes in this small town is palpable and well-drawn. While Pia is more fascinated by what happened to Katharina and the others, we feel the adults' anxiety in the way they keep the children at home, need them to check in whenever they are out and by the excessive security measures during large town events, such as St. Martin. In addition to the large scale drama of the disappearances there is the more domestic drama of Pia's parents' marriage breaking up. While this might not be totally due to the disappearances and the consequent tensions, as mum seems to not have been that happy in the small town of Bad Münstereifel, it does reinforce the impact of such events on a small community.
What was fun, was spotting little details that return in Wish Me Dead. When Frau Kessel appeared I groaned; she's a totally despicable old biddy who thrives on gossip and is super malicious in spreading rumours. One such rumour mentioned concerns Magdalena Nett, which connected directly to Wish Me Dead's narrator, Steffi Nett. She also has opinions on who exactly is the culprit in this book and isn't afraid to tell anyone who'll listen. This in turn leads to somewhat of a lynch mob mentality in the townspeople, who besiege the home of the person she accuses. This re-enforces the dangers of gossip, especially in small towns, a point that is also made in Wish me Dead.
The mystery in The Vanishing of Katharina Linden was well done – at some point I had my suspicions as to the true culprit but didn't want to believe it – but at the same time was almost secondary in the narrative to the emotional consequences of the events of the book. The book is a strong debut, but having read Grant's following novels you can see how she's grown in her confidence as writer. Still this is a wonderful story, which makes turning pages for far longer than you planned very, very easy. If you like mystery and YA, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is a lovely book to read. Meanwhile, I'm impatiently looking forward to Grant's next book, Silent Saturday, which will be released next year....more
Wish Me Dead is Helen Grant's third novel and once again, she brings us another thrilling mystery with perhaps a supernatural twist. In it she returnsWish Me Dead is Helen Grant's third novel and once again, she brings us another thrilling mystery with perhaps a supernatural twist. In it she returns to the location of her first novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden: Bad Münstereifel. As I haven't read said title yet – it's on the TBR-pile – I can't say for sure whether there are any connections between the two books, though there is talk of a spate of murders in the past. The atmosphere of Bad Münstereiffel is perfect. Like the perfect little towns you see on TV during the Tour de France and other European cycling races, Bad Münstereiffel looks completely quaint and picturesque, but is just as small to live in as such towns look. And while such close-knit communities are often a good thing, they can be insidious, because everyone knows each other and they are often rife with small-mindedness and gossip. This latter side is what is showcased in Wish Me Dead to good effect, with devastating consequences, not just in the book's present, but also in its past.
The novel is peopled by an interesting set of characters. Not all of them are as well-developed as our central characters, but they are there for a reason and none of them feel like caricatures, except perhaps Frau Kessel, the town busybody. She reminded me of nothing as much as Mrs Crumplebottom from The Sims 2. She was this pruny old lady, who hung around town snooping and giving anyone who was getting too amorous a slap with her purse! Though Frau Kessel did much worse than just slap some people, she is the ultimate malign gossip. Steffi is part of a strange circle of friends. One of them sort of steals her boyfriend – not that she really minded as the relationship was slowly dying anyway – and two of the boys, Max and Jochen, mostly bully the others into doing what they want. I found it hard to care for any of them and it made Steffi seem isolated and an outsider.
Our main character Steffi is well summed up by her surname Nett, which means nice in German. She is very shy and afraid to stand up for herself, leading her to be easily steam rolled into things she'd rather not do by her friends and family. For example, visiting Rote Gertrude's cottage or staying in Bad Münstereiffel to take over her father's bakery. However, during the course of the book Steffi learns to stand up for herself and to speak her mind. She tries to fight for what she wants, sadly not always very successfully, but she does try. By the end of the novel, she is able to speak her mind and to make her own decisions, without putting other people's desires and emotions first. Thankfully, this is not due to a boy who rescues her and makes everything better, as is so often the case; no, Steffi does it all on her own, with some help of her friends (one of whom is a boy, yes), but mostly through learning some really hard life lessons and finding out the truth about her family's past. Which doesn't mean that by the end of the novel she flounces off perfect and completely confident, but she has learned that she is in control over her own life, as long as she holds onto that control and doesn't let others take it away.
The idea of the witch's house is very cool. Every old town has some sort of old abandoned building and it isn't hard to imagine such a myth as that of Rote Gertrude to spring up in such a place. It is scary, fascinating and it feels as if the witch could appear at any moment. On the one hand it is hard to understand why Steffi keeps going back, on the other hand, the place is compelling and in the case of three of her curses, I do understand why she made them. And it must be strangely empowering for a girl such as Steffi, who often feels tongue-tied and weak, to have all her wishes come true. Wish Me Dead is not just the mystery of who is granting Steffi's wishes, it's also a look at what happens if your wishes come true, however horrible they are. Who hasn't ever thought I wish so and so would just disappear; it would be so much easier? Now imagine how scary it would be if that actually came true? Would you be guilty of murder, because you wished someone dead? Would you feel eaten by guilt and remorse? Or would you fly high as a kite, drunk on the feeling of power? In Steffi's case, it's all of that and more and it's interesting to see how these events help her grow into a stronger, more self-assured individual.
My only real problem with the story was the return of the prodigal sister. Magdalena's short visit seemed a little pointless. So she comes back, shows her face and let's everyone know she is now happy and settled up North. But it didn't seem to actually tie into anything else. It felt rather superfluous, even though the reason she returned was a valid one. I would have liked to have seen more interaction between the sisters, some sort of rapprochement between them.
In the end, while I wasn't taken completely unaware as to whom was the killer, I hadn't seen it coming too far in advance, and I really enjoyed the twist to the ending. I loved Wish Me Dead. Ms Grant seems to be getting better with each book. And I love her particular brand of mystery. While mostly marketed to a YA audience, this is definitely very suited to adult readers as well. If you're in the mood for some creepy mystery, Wish Me Dead is the book you want to read!...more
Rosebush is a lovely book written from a great premise; it's a murder mystery in which its intended victim is the investigator. But it's hard investigRosebush is a lovely book written from a great premise; it's a murder mystery in which its intended victim is the investigator. But it's hard investigating something if you can't even recall what happened. Still, Jane knows she has to try and try she does. I loved the set-up of this book moving in a circle as it does. It starts off with a prologue, a scene that we'll later return to in the book and then move beyond to the eventual conclusion. In between these scenes, Jane tries to regain her memories and to puzzle out what happens to her, and along the way we not only get flashbacks of the night of the accident, but also of Jane's earlier life. These give an insight to how she got where she was the night of the accident and create several layers to the narrative.
Jane is a great protagonist, though at times I wanted to shake her! Her need for validation, her need to belong and her people-pleaser ways are probably recognisable to anyone who remembers their teenage years to a greater or lesser degree (spoiler: in my case greater), which at once creates a point of connection, but for a more adult reader also of frustration, as - hopefully - an adult will have moved past that painful stage of needing to be liked or otherwise you'll just die. We know, or are at least supposed to know, that it isn't important what THEY think, it's important what you want and what makes you happy. And this is exactly one of the main themes running through the book, Jane's realisation that she has to think for herself and follow her own dreams, instead of trying to please everyone around her. The main catalyst for this is her relationship with David. He's a dreamboat, handsome, popular and a musician of the 'tortured poet'-variety and Jane still can't believe he's hers. This blinds her to the fact that David is incredibly controlling and definitely not a good guy and she acquiesces to his every wish. Their interactions made me wince every time and I just wanted Jane to wake up and smell the coffee and realise that this was not okay!
The story also dealt with the fact that often the worst scars are those that are hidden, especially the ones we hide from ourselves. This is one of the deeper layers of the narrative, dealing not so much with the accident, as with Jane's coping with the loss of her father, moving to Jersey, and losing her best friend in Illinois, Bonnie. I loved this aspect of the novel, the way that all that had gone before influenced current events and negated Jane's rather naive idea articulated early in the book to Bonnie: that when they move to a new school for freshman year, they can start over and be who they want to be. I think everyone thinks that at some point, when they go to secondary school, to university or move to a new town. I know I certainly did when I moved out to go to university. But as most of us discover, the book shows that you can leave behind a situation and change your looks and behaviour, but you can't leave yourself behind. Who you are and who you were, move with you and unless you are at peace with your past, you can't move on from that.
There is enough of the unlikeable about Jane to keep the reader's mind open to the fact that it might just all be in her head. Which causes her to seem an unreliable narrator for much of the book. Especially as she starts to doubt herself and seems ready to accept that some of the things that happen to her are just really bad pranks. And I have to say, being a teen is a cutthroat business in this book, at least it is if you want to be in the in-crowd. While I never really believed Jane was hallucinating everything, there were a couple of times I was doubting right along with her, especially as her nurse and her doctors kept assuring her it was all due to to her pain medication.
The surrounding cast is amazing. I Loved Pete, the hot, flirty orderly and Jane's little sister Annie. I loved the latter's 'wise beyond her years'-outlook on life and the way she interpreted between Jane and her mum. But most of all, I loved the three Mustkateers, Jane, Langley and Kate. I loved their bond and their friendship, it's the kind of friendship you look upon from the outside wishing you had a similar one. I so felt for Jane's distress at the thought that this bond wasn't real, that she'd lose one of the pillars she built her security on, the one she thought would keep her from being alone. But this was not the only relationship that teeters, as Jane examines her memory flashes and tries to puzzle out what happens, she starts to doubt every relationship she has, from her mum, to her friends, to her boyfriend, they are all suspect. And when it all comes crashing down, what is left standing is pretty amazing. The big reveal caught me completely off-guard as I totally hadn't seen it coming.
Rosebush is a great book. I couldn't put it down. Apart from the well-plotted story, the writing is lovely, with beautiful, cinematic descriptions and some very funny, snarky dialogues. If you like a good mystery and YA book, Rosebush is is definitely worth a read and one I'll reread just to figure out how Ms Jaffe did it, what clues I missed the first time round....more
I have a new must buy author and I'm blaming the lovely Liz from My Favourite Books. She sent me The Glass Demon to read and now I want to read The VaI have a new must buy author and I'm blaming the lovely Liz from My Favourite Books. She sent me The Glass Demon to read and now I want to read The Vanishing of Katarina Linden asap and I can't wait for Helen Grant's third book Wish Me Dead, which is due for publication on June 2nd. So why did I love The Glass Demon so much? Let me tell you.
Lin is the seventeen-year-old narrator and she's a wonderful protagonist. She's smart and brave, but at the same time slightly self-centered and self-absorbed. Which, let's be honest, every seventeen-year-old girl is, however sweet and caring she maybe. It causes her to miss the fact that not everything is right with her sister Polly, in fact things are very much wrong, that Michel is developing feelings for her and the fact that he's a wonderful friend gets overlooked. To be fair, Lin acknowledges this herself, admitting that she should have done better by Polly and that she might be taking advantage of Michel's feelings for her, even if she isn't yet sure of what she feels for him. And I love that. I love that she did and I love that she realises that it's probably not entirely ethical to do so, but does it anyway. Because that is what happens in life and it's what people do. In the end, Michel and Lin's relationship was sweet. It wasn't instant love, but grew slowly with stumbles along the way. There are two scenes in Michel's beat up little car, which I particularly loved in this context. In both cases Lin initiates a kiss, but the motivations and outcomes couldn't have been more different. I loved the mirroring in them and Michel's reactions to them.
Lin's parents are just awful, especially Tuesday. She leaves the care for the girls' baby brother completely to Lin's sister. Tuesday is a diva to her finger tips and the prototype of a high-maintenance female. I kept wondering what had happened to Polly and Lin's real mum. When the answer to that came it was completely unexpected but rather cool!
The other star of the novel was the Allerheiligen glass. Its lure and history are woven throughout the book and the way Lin goes from shrugging off the legend and scoffing at local superstitions, to slowly believing Bonschariant is real was convincingly done. The use of the stories the glass depicts was very inventive too. I was actually pretty proud of myself when I made the connection just a page or two before Lin did, though the actual unveiling of 'Bonschariant' caught me by surprise. I really hadn't expected the culprit to be who they are.
The only niggle I had was the time line. While immersed in the narrative this wasn't a problem at all, but when thinking about the book later on, I realised that I had no idea in what kind of time frame the story played out. The time line was hard to grasp in retrospect, and while this may be my faulty memory, there isn't much mention of time passing, even though it clearly does. And while for the main story this isn't a particular problem, when considering Polly's weight loss for example, it did raise questions for me. But in the end, this was only a minor detail and didn't take away from my enjoyment of the story one jot.
The Glass Demon was a fabulous read, it was spooky, funny, sad and gripping. I kept turning pages, even when I should have put the book away and turned my light off. Even if you do not normally read YA, if you enjoy a good mystery, I highly recommend you pick up Lin's story. Personally, I can't wait to read more of Helen Grant's work....more