I’ve been a Charlaine Harris fan for a good long while now, and I’ve read all of her series’ to date with just the short story collections to go. I stI’ve been a Charlaine Harris fan for a good long while now, and I’ve read all of her series’ to date with just the short story collections to go. I started with the Southern Vampire Mysteries back when I was in University - Dead Until Dark got a chapter to itself in my dissertation! – and I loved them so much that I branched out from there, reading the Lily Bard (Shakespeare) series, Aurora Teagarden and finally Harper Connelly. I read Midnight Crossroad as soon as it came out, and enjoyed the way it took a minor character from the Harper Connelly series - Manfred Bernardo – and cast him into a fairly reclusive town dominated by the supernatural. As a psychic, of course, Manfred fits right in. A variety of things happen over the course of the trilogy – some supernatural, but most not. The fact that the events aren’t supernatural doesn’t stop the inhabitants of the town using their powers to give them an advantage, though, and that’s a large part of the interest – as are the comings and goings in what is a tiny community. So far, so good.
Except this is where I fell out a little bit with Night Shift, the final book in the trilogy. I don’t feel the ground was prepared particularly well for the events that take place, although it saddens me to say that. I wondered on more than one occasion whether the conclusion here is where the series was always heading, or whether it was a late change in direction. There’s just something that doesn’t quite ring true. It ties up a lot of loose ends, and that’s a good thing – we finally learn why Madonna and Teacher Reed are in Midnight, and how their business survives with so few customers, we solve the mystery of Olivia Charity, and discover the reason for the establishment of the new hotel.
There’s a lot that satisfies here, in terms of ending a series. The final cataclysm, though, left me feeling more than a little uncomfortable. It finally resolves the will-they-won’t-they situation with regard to Fiji and Bobo, but in the most unsatisfactory way, and in all honesty it feels more than a little contrived. I’m not sure what, as an ending, it’s supposed to say for the series. They get to carry on? They’re all incredibly public spirited? It didn’t sit well with me, and it’s cringey at best. Having thought more about it, it’s actually the only supernaturally inflicted crisis in the series. Midnight Crossroad had a murder, Day Shift a kidnapping, Night Shift a vengeful demon requiring public sex to satiate it? It’s an odd change of pace, and it really, really didn’t feel true to the characters.
There are things I liked about Night Shift. We learn more about Fiji and her family, with the introduction of her sister, Kiki, and we find out more about Manfred’s heritage, which is an interesting story in its own right. We also see the return of Quinn from the Sookieverse, always a welcome visitor, and there’s finally some settled domesticity for him. Mostly, we’re left with the sense that this town – Midnight – will continue much in the way it always has, its population enduring and mostly unchanging. It’s all good, except for the super-awkward little event that fits badly with the rest. A demon, okay, maybe – there’s every other form of supe. A ritual, I could see – there’s so much magic in the town it only makes sense. Fiji and Bobo together, yes. All three birds with one stone? No.
It’s hard to sum up accurately how I feel about this one. Conflicted, for sure. If you’ve read the series this far, it’s definitely worth finishing, and taken as a whole it’s still an interesting premise. I think I just feel wrong-footed by the ending, and that’s marred how I feel about the book as a whole. Out of all the possible resolutions to this particular problem, to my mind this wasn’t the right one. Not everything can end as you’d like it to, and sometimes that’s the joy of reading, but I don’t feel Night Shift could have taken a path more wholly unexpected, or more at odds with the spirit of the series.
My second encounter with the Rebus series was as enjoyable as my first – maybe more so thanks to the added assurance of the writing now that the initiMy second encounter with the Rebus series was as enjoyable as my first – maybe more so thanks to the added assurance of the writing now that the initial character and world building are complete. Here are five great reasons to continue reading the series:
Rebus is still developing as a character Even though the initial “this is who Rebus is” background and scene setting were a large part of the first book, Knots and Crosses, Rebus isn’t a character who remains static. He’s gained a promotion off the back of the last case, and is now a Detective Inspector, but it’s interesting to see whether his improvement in rank has settled his feelings of inadequacy as much as he says it has. We also learn more about Rebus’ personal moral code in this one, adding yet more layers of complexity to an already complex character.
Literary references aplenty I’m all for a bit of intertextuality, and it’s here in spades. There are numerous references to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. The multiple meanings of “hide” (or “hyde” as the case may be) are an extra bit of cleverness.
Police corruption Two books in, and Rankin clearly isn’t afraid to address gritty or even contentious topics. The rot goes right to the top, and has Rebus questioning his own relationships as well as those of the people around him. The conclusion of Hide and Seek draws everything together, including the smallest, seemingly insignificant plotlines. It’s a clever, clever thing.
Red herrings There are so many potential options here, it’s difficult to know which ones are genuine. The fact that the majority of the characters have their own agendas just makes things more complicated. It’s classic crime writing, but subtly done. The red herrings here aren’t plastic and brightly coloured – they blend in.
Callum McCallum There’s some satisfaction in this, particularly if you’re Rebus. And, really, who isn’t wanting his relationship with Gill to develop at this point? Serially unlucky in just about everything, he deserves a break. Whether this will be it remains to be seen.
I feel like I’m a bit late to the party with this one, but I’d heard some good things about it and finally decided to give it a go this month. I loveI feel like I’m a bit late to the party with this one, but I’d heard some good things about it and finally decided to give it a go this month. I love thrillers – I enjoyed Gone Girl last year, and I’ve been seeking out things similarly twisty and unexpected ever since. Black Eyed Susans doesn’t disappoint.
To outline briefly, Black Eyed Susans is narrated in the first person by Tessa – the victim of a serial killer who was dumped in a grave and left for dead with the corpse of another recent victim and the bones of two other girls. The victims are known as the “Black Eyed Susans” because the field they were discovered in was covered in these flowers. When she’s found, Tessa doesn’t remember anything about what happened during the time she was missing, or just before. The “present day” narrative of strong, resilient Tessa is interspersed with flashback narratives from “Tessie”, Tessa’s traumatised younger self, in 1995. They relate her time in therapy and the details of the court case which results in an innocent man being placed on death row. Since the time of the case, new forensic evidence has come to light which could free Terrell, whose execution is fast approaching. His defence team need Tessa’s cooperation – and more than that, her memory – to succeed.
I enjoyed this one, not least for the narrative structure. It’s interesting to be able to compare Tessa and Tessie, to see how far she’s come, and the flashback narratives avoid clunky exposition. The characters are strongly drawn – both Tessa and her childhood friend Lydia are vividly imagined, as are all of the supporting characters. Tessie’s relationship with Lydia is particularly fascinating, not least because they’re both self-confessed liars and thus particularly unreliable narrators. Even at the last, I wasn’t able to tell whether the version of events presented was entirely true and accurate. There’s just too much room for doubt between the present reality (I’m thinking particularly of the results of the lake dredging, and the flowers/tissue scraps between Tessa and Effie’s homes) and the flights of fancy Lydia and Tessie are clearly capable of. It was a book that left me feeling uncertain, and that lived in my mind for several days afterwards. I liked that about it – to me it’s the mark of successful fiction.
As it’s a first-person narrative, we never do find out exactly what happened to Tessie while she was missing. It spares the reader gratuitous violence, but it does rob the tale of some of its immediacy. It starts strongly, with a clear image of Tessie in the grave, but there isn’t much in the way of follow-up from that point on. It’s very much a tale of the aftermath, rather than the event itself. To my mind, it’s also a study in manipulation. Lydia, almost as damaged as Tessie, is extremely influential in her life, as is the psychiatrist she spends her childhood divulging information to. The trial transcripts show another kind of manipulation, that of the defence and prosecution attorneys, and it’s little wonder that Tessa later starts to wonder how an innocent man was sent to prison on her testimony when she can remember nothing of what transpired. I also felt that Bill, the lawyer working on Terrell’s appeal, manipulates Tessa to a certain extent. It’s clear when he seduces her that Tessa wonders the same thing, and I ended up feeling that the romance/love triangle was a little contrived and unconvincing.
My feeling about the conclusion is mixed. It was mostly a surprise – I had thought of the possibility at one point, but discounted it, which was perhaps the author’s intention. I did wonder how feasible it would be for such an individual to manipulate choices and circumstances in order to end up in such a privileged position, but that’s by the by really. It’s fiction, after all. What I’m most struck by is how some of the smaller, unexplained details have preyed on my mind – most of them involving Lydia. It’s thought-provoking, to say the least.
If you’re looking for an immersive, intriguing thriller, you should take a look at Black Eyed Susans. It’s more domestic that your typical serial killer fare, but it has its fair share of twists and turns, and uncertainty by the bucket load. It might not be the twistiest or the most unexpected thriller I’ve read this year, but it’s certainly the one that’ll stay with me the longest.
Blood Wedding is a viciously twisty thriller, a real rollercoaster of a read. It begins with a third person narrative concerning Sophie Duget – a nannBlood Wedding is a viciously twisty thriller, a real rollercoaster of a read. It begins with a third person narrative concerning Sophie Duget – a nanny who appears to have murdered the child in her charge. There’s no evidence to suggest anything else, and Sophie clearly believes (or at least fears) that she is the perpetrator. That she can’t remember having carried out the murder is seemingly neither here nor there, and we soon learn that she is mentally fragile and suffers frequent blackouts. It’s against this backdrop that she goes on the run, demonstrating considerable guile as she outwits the police at every turn.
The second part introduces a new character, Franz, and turns everything we have come to suspect about Sophie on its head. It puts her character in a completely different light – that of a victim. The final part turns the tables yet again, as Sophie realises what has been going on. The hunter becomes the hunted.
Here are four reasons to put Blood Wedding at the top of your to-read list:
It keeps the tension wound tight – Even though there are significant revelations at key points, the full significance isn’t clear until the final piece falls into place. It keeps you guessing, and on the edge of your seat, until the very final page. Amazing characterisation – Sophie and Franz are both deliciously clever characters, pretty much equally matched in terms of deviousness. Both seem like the underdog at times, and both have the upper hand at various points. It’s a finely balanced power struggle, with predictably explosive results. Clever structure – The three distinct parts mark the three phases of the story, and things get twistier and more complex as the conclusion nears. The changing points of view – from third person to first and back again – means that the reader gets some privileged information but not all of it. It really keeps you guessing. And second guessing. Why? – This is the question you’ll be asking pretty much all the way through, and it’s not answered until the final stages. There’s madness and obsession in spades, but there’s also a psychological aspect that ties everything together in the most beautifully crafted way.
I’d not encountered Pierre Lemaitre before I read Blood Wedding, but now I’m pretty keen to see what else he’s written. A good thriller can be a thing of perfection, and Blood Wedding comes pretty close to that in my estimation. The main characters are well drawn and suitably gritty – even at the close I don’t think we truly know what either of them would really be capable of. It’s a gripping, memorable thriller, and it breathes new life into what can be a weary genre.
The premise of this thriller is deceptively simple - Anne and Marco Conti return from a neighbour’s party to find that their baby daughter has been snThe premise of this thriller is deceptively simple - Anne and Marco Conti return from a neighbour’s party to find that their baby daughter has been snatched from her crib. They took a baby monitor with them and checked her every half-hour. If they thought there was any risk, they’d never have left her home alone. They just don’t understand how it could have happened. So it is, and so it goes.
Except all is not as it seems. The Couple Next Door is a twisty, fast-paced psychological thriller reminiscent of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. It becomes clear pretty quickly that no-one is what they claim to be or entirely what they seem. Unusually for such a genre, it’s narrated in the third person. While this gives the reader an amazingly privileged omniscient viewpoint, it never removes any of the uncertainty – it’s a cleverly managed perspective, brilliantly done.
The first half of the book focuses mostly on Anne and Marco – as the parents, and in light of the lack of any evidence to the contrary, they quickly become the prime suspects, but the cast gradually widens to include the neighbours, the babysitter, and Anne’s parents. The identity of the kidnapper is revealed at the half-way point, but surprisingly this doesn’t result in any reduction of tension or uncertainty. It’s just not as simple as that.
It’s in the second half of the book that the pieces begin to come together, albeit slowly. While the identity of the kidnapper is pretty obvious quite early on, it’s almost impossible to guess the way things will go from that revelation onwards. It shouldn’t be possible to keep tension high with only a relatively small cast of characters, but Lapena manages to pull it off. She builds up to the conclusion well, such that it feels natural rather than contrived and is supported by what we’ve learned about each character as the story progressed.
You’d be wrong if you thought the conclusion was the end, though. There’s one final twist in the closing chapter that in some ways I’d anticipated more than the actual resolution. I was never sure whether Cora would be returned alive or dead, but Anne’s capabilities were never in doubt.
The Couple Next Door is a real page-turner of a thriller, and a very quick read. It’s the kind of story that quickly sucks you in, and the relentless pace ensures that you’re captivated until the very last. I would have no hesitation in recommending this to anyone that likes crime fiction or psychological thrillers – it’s a fabulously twisted treat.
Autumn Rose is the second book in Abigail Gibbs’ The Dark Heroine series. I read the first book – The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire – last year,Autumn Rose is the second book in Abigail Gibbs’ The Dark Heroine series. I read the first book – The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire – last year, and enjoyed it for the most part, so I was interested to see how the series progressed. Initially, it defied my expectations. I was expecting it to pick up more or less where the previous book left off, given that we met Autumn Rose at the end, but it doesn’t. Instead, it moves back in time to the moment of Violet Lee’s kidnapping, and relates Autumn Rose’s story from this point.
Given that we’ve already met Autumn, some aspects of her story don’t come as a surprise. We know she’s the first heroine, Sagean and a seer, but it was interesting to see the development of events we’re already familiar with from her perspective. It’s not completely devoid of revelations, though. We learn a lot more about the Extermino and the relationship between them, the Pierre clan of slayers, and Violet’s father. We also discover that Autumn’s own life isn’t as charmed as it might first appear – her school days are troubled, her relationship with her parents strained and somewhat cold, she suffers from depression and is borderline suicidal. Against this backdrop, the arrival of Prince Fallon and her developing relationship with him, and the ultimate revelation of her purpose in the Prophecy of the Heroines, stand out as bright sparks in the darkness. Autumn at the end of this book isn’t the Autumn we meet at the beginning, and I enjoyed seeing how she became the character we meet at the end of The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire. We see Violet Lee’s progression from human to heroine up close and personal, and now we experience the same thing with Autumn. By the end of Autumn Rose, we’re up to date with both Autumn and Violet, and ready for the third heroine.
Another thing I particularly enjoyed was that Autumn Rose takes events to a place just beyond the conclusion of The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire. We reunite with Violet soon after she has become a vampire, and it appears that things aren’t going too well – seemingly uncomfortable in her new life, she is refusing to drink blood. Kaspar also seems to have reverted to a personality akin to that he possessed before he fell in love, which seems at odds with where we left him.
My biggest problem with this book is the grammar, and I hate being a pedant so it truly pains me to say that. It’s actually testament to how much of an issue it becomes that I’ve brought it up at all. At one point, we find Eaglen “sat at” a table in the library, rather than sitting, and that grated on me. Abigail Gibbs is, or was at the time, a student of English at the University of Oxford, so you’d think she might be able to do a better job. People spin a lot, too, or rather “span”. I span, he span, it span, we span. I think maybe “spun” would be more elegant, not to mention grammatically correct. Or “turned” even. It’s used so often that it becomes intensely irritating – almost as irritating as “cummerband” from The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire (it was actually hard to type that, because Word wanted to auto-correct to “cummerbund” more times than I care to count). I can only assume, based on what I’ve read, that everyone’s spinning pretty much all of the time, and that’s a visual I could have done without. There are other words, Abigail! Most distracting of all, though, is the emphasis on how exactly people are sitting. It actually gets to the point where it takes away from the plot, because your brain’s trying to work out the latest bit of contortionism (not all of them make sense, in terms of elbow, hand, knee and thigh positions), which Gibbs has taken the trouble to describe at length and in far more detail than is really necessary. It’s odd to contrast the often clumsy writing with the decent story hiding underneath it. I do wonder how it ever got to publication in its current state – and I’m reading the finished version, not an ARC.
There’s a good series in the making here, if you can overlook the clunky grammar and distractingly detailed posture descriptions. Autumn and Violet are well drawn and mostly convincing, and the world-building is strong. According to Abigail Gibbs’ website, the third in the series was supposed to appear in 2015. It hasn’t, as far as I’m aware, so perhaps it’s stalled for the moment. I’ll give the third book a try, if and when it appears, because it seems like it’s at an interesting point now. I hope, if it does, that Gibbs gets back to the point of the series because I’ve actually more or less forgotten what that was supposed to be – the significance of the Prophecy of the Heroines plays much less a part in Autumn Rose than it did in The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire. Something about an interdimensional war? It’d be nice to tie that back in, because without it the whole thing becomes pretty pointless. I hope, as well, that the writing might have become more assured. I’m intrigued to see what the future holds for this series.
Asking for It is an important book. At times, it’s also an intensely uncomfortable one to read. It’s subject matter is rape – and the culture of deniaAsking for It is an important book. At times, it’s also an intensely uncomfortable one to read. It’s subject matter is rape – and the culture of denial, dismissal, and victim-blaming that can go along with it. It’s focus is consent, fault, and the significance of social media in distorting and disseminating a certain kind of culture. As a book for young adults, it’s extremely powerful.
Emma, the main character, is pretty much a normal teenager until she is gang-raped at a party. She had been drinking heavily and had taken drugs beforehand, and has no memory of the evening when she wakes the next morning. For this reason, Emma herself is uncertain whether she is “to blame”. She can’t remember having given consent, but she can’t remember refusing either. Although she has no recollection of what happened to her, pictures posted to a vicious facebook page the next day show her exactly what went on – and exactly who was involved. It’s at this point that Emma’s life begins to spiral – she is ostracised by her friends, her family and by her community in general, experiences at first denial, followed by shame, and ultimately extreme self-doubt. She tries to pretend it didn’t happen, attempts suicide when she finally accepts that it did, and eventually succumbs to a reclusive half-life of therapy and sleeping tablets.
There’s no doubt that this is a painful book. It illustrates out clearly the effect rape can have on the lives of the victim, the perpetrators, the community in which they live, and even the nation more broadly. It demonstrates how easily sides can be taken, futures ruined, and events of incomparable significance to one person thrown into a “national conversation” which ultimately achieves little but undeniably adds fuel to the local fire.
It’s hard to sum up the impact this book could have. We do need to talk more openly about rape as a society, and to move towards a future where women are not automatically blamed for their situation. The adage that boys will be boys and girls should be more careful needs to be questioned. Such a double-standard should not exist in the 21st century, in a society which is modern and forward-thinking in so many other ways, but positively medieval when it comes to sexual assault.
The ending of Asking for It is as heartbreaking as it is ambiguous, and it’s a book that will stay with me for a very, very long time. Everyone should read it – male and female, young and old. Few books are so powerful. Few are so important.