Monday, December 12, 2016

The Gift by Louise Jensen

What a brilliant thriller: intense suspense, more twists than a country lane, and a clever, original plot that is engrossing and enthralling from beginning to end.  Jenna, the main character, has received a heart transplant but discovers that this amazing gift of a second chance at life comes with a cost.  She starts to experience dreams and recollections that are not her own.  Is she being possessed by her donor?  Her life becomes more traumatic and out of control as she tries to make sense of it all, and danger is lurking.  It's an amazing story that is utterly gripping, a terrific read.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Miss Wrong and Mr Right by Robert Bryndza

Robert Bryndza has conjured up a fascinating and believable world peopled by engaging and sympathetic characters in this delightful story.  Natalie was going to marry her childhood sweetheart until it occurred to her that there might be more to life than becoming a teenaged bride.  Her fiance, Jamie, was not prepared to wait while she found herself, so they parted ways.  Natalie works hard to overcome her poor academic performance and manages to forge a brilliant career in the world of theatre.  We find her having cast  an American heart-throb TV actor in a production of "The Scottish Play", hoping to have a financially successful run at her theatre, and with a boyfriend who is a yoga teacher, when her eccentric Hungarian grandmother turns up in London - and things start to go wrong.  What is going on in the building over the road to her theatre?  And Jamie comes back into her life - as a business rival.  This is a romance, but with added humour and wit, an absolute joy to read.  I loved it.

What Remains of Me by A. L. Gaylin

An exciting, suspenseful thriller which kept me engrossed, enthralled and guessing right to the end.  There is a web of tangled secrets to be unravelled when death continues to follow Kelly Lund.   Convicted of murder at the age of seventeen when the body of a Hollywood director is discovered, she serves her time and picks up the pieces of her life.  When her father-in-law is found fatally shot, suspicion falls on her again.  But what has really happened, and has there been a gross misjustice?   Who is innocent and who is guilty?  This book really deserves to be described as a thriller.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Girl Unknown, by Karen Perry.

The makings of a great thriller.  First year student Zoe turns up in the office of university lecturer David Connolly and reveals to him that he is her father and she the product of a long ago fling before he married Caroline and had two lovely children with her.  Is Zoe who she says she is?  What are her intentions?  And why is this secret only revealed now?  So far, so good.  However, I was infuriated by David's reactions and unconvinced by his reasoning in not telling his wife and talking it through with her, and how he was prepared to jeopardise the security and well-being of his family for the sake of someone who is a virtual stranger.  He treats, I thought, Caroline, particularly badly and so he lost my sympathy altogether.  Unfortunately, neither Caroline or any of the other characters really found it and so I was frustrated by the story.  Maybe it was just me, because this book has had wonderful reviews elsewhere, but I was disappointed and so relieved when it came to an end,

The Food of Love, by Amanda Prowse

This is a very engaging, engrossing but harrowing and heartbreaking story about how a previously happy family copes with their daughter's mental health problem and the repercussions that this has on their relationships and lives.  As a mother, it was very easy to identify with Freya Braithwaite and the account of her marriage and the problems that unexpectedly beset their family.  She is  a food writer and food enthusiast, and there is an extreme poignancy in what happens to her daughter.  The story reads like a psychological thriller in many ways, and I found it a compulsive page-turner while dreading what would happen next.  It's a powerful piece of writing.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas

A thrilling tale set in an atmospherically and realistically described out-of-season seaside town, when Sophie's historic disappearance and presumed death is brought into the present with the discovery of a foot in a trainer matching that  she had been wearing when last seen.  Her school friend, Francesca, is asked back to the town by Sophie's brother Daniel, to try to find out just what happened.  Secrets are uncovered and it is hard to know who can be trusted.  The results are surprising and shocking and make a very enjoyable, chilling story.

Oldcliffe-on-Sea is a fictional town on the Somerset coast, but to anyone living in the area, it will be immediately identifiable and that added to my pleasure, but this book does not rely on local knowledge to work well.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen aged 83 and a quarter years old by Hendrik Groen

This is a delightful book, and Hendrik Groen is a delightful if occasionally curmudgeonly diarist: a lovely book to dip into over a series of days, as his account of his year in his care home is told.  He gives his account with charm and humour, which he needs to survive the stultifying routine and company there.  However, you cannot keep a good man down for long, and Hendrik and his small band of friends find new ways to make life bearable.  There is plenty to make the reader smile, and food for thought in the issues it raises about the practice and politics of the care for the elderly, in any country, as well as the practice of making the most of what you've got whe you've got it .  The book is a tragicomic treat and I would love to hear more from the wonderful Hendrik Groen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant

Such an unusual thriller, set in London where the past catches up with has-been author, Paul, and an Ionian island, where he joins a group of old friends for a reunion holiday in the sun.  Paul is something of a fantasist and freeloader, who has spent a dissolute youth and whose drink-drenched memories of ever more youthful conquests are somewhat sketchy.  He has been basking in precocious literary success for a long time, and nothing written since has found favour with his publisher.  But will the exploiter be exploited?  Or can he turn the tables once again?  And has he at last found love?  Sabine Durrant manages to create a character in Paul who is much more engaging than he should be, and has written him into a compelling, suspenseful and dramatic tale in well described settings.  A jolly good read.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

This book is such a killer chiller thriller.  Every parent's nightmare is the disappearance of their baby, so when this happens to Anne and Marco while they are visiting their next door neighbours with the baby alarm as  their babysitter suddenly has to let them down, it is all too easy to identify with their distress, panic and pain when, on one of their half-hourly checks, little Cora has gone from her cot.  At six months old, she cannot have removed herself, so what has happened?  Clearly someone has taken her, but who, and why?  So the waiting game begins,  and so does the guilt, and so does the uncovering of secrets.  Anne is forced to consider just who would take her baby and why, and who she can trust.  The police are involved - will they solve the mystery and return the baby home?  
This tale is gripping and compulsive reading, with so many twists and turns that it keeps the reader guessing most enjoyably, right to the shocking end.  An excellent grip lit read.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Monday, August 01, 2016

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent,

A monster lurks within these pages, nesting in buried secrets, watching and waiting.  Who it is and what monstrous actions they will cause is cleverly woven into this tale of two Irish families and how their lives become connected across the class divide  Tense and unsettling, a story of Laurence's childhood evolves into a powerful psychological thriller as the monster claims its victims.  Grip lit at its best!

The Beauty of the End, by Debbie Howells

A moving and powerful story of Noah's relationship with Grace, from adolescence, when he, an unpopular and bullied outsider, is smitten and besotted by the goddess he perceives her to be, to an excavation of secrets in a search for the truth as a desperate situation unfolds.  What has Grace been hiding and what has been haunting her?  What is his old school friend,  Matt's, role in this?  This is a taut and intelligently crafted story, a psychological thriller to keep the reader guessing, and a compelling read.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Nina Is Not OK" by Shappi Khorsandi

An amazingly insightful book with a main character, Nina, who tore at my heartstrings.  Everything has gone wrong for poor Nina: her father died of alcoholic pancreatitis when she was little, her Mum has a new life with a new partner, and her beloved boyfriend Jamie has decided to take a gap year in Hong Kong before university, then dumps her long-distance when he meets someone else.  Like many young people, Nina likes a drink - or many, and it is starting to leave black holes in her memory and mess up her life.  This story depicts an avalanche of ill fortune and bad judgement but told in such a deft way that our sympathies are kept very much on Nina's side, as we learn how very badly people can behave.  Will Nina be the ultimate victim?  Or will she learn to live with herself and others, and take a different path?  I thought this story was brilliant and that it should be read by everyone.  It shows how damaging low self esteem can be and how it is possible to take a new direction in life.  With cyber-bullying and revenge porn such contemporary issues, it is highly relevant to growing up today and it is one I would want to share with my teenaged children,  It is a gem of a book.  Shappi Khorsandi has a magic muse.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

A somewhat difficult book to read and to review, without giving too much away.  The book is set in small town America and opens with the story of a teenager going to her first house party, invited by her crush.  Things do not work out as anyone would have hoped, and there is an account of a harrowing, brutal rape which I found hard to read and almost gave up.  However, I persevered.  The victim, Jenny is given a drug treatment to erase the memories of this horrible attack, even though it will hinder police investigation of the crime, but it does not work well and memories begin to bubble up, causing much distress.

The next section is written like a case history, as a psychiatrist/psychotherapist gives his account of his treatment of Jenny and her family, and others who have suffered various trauma.  Having  worked in psychiatric and therapeutic settings, I felt very much at home with this, until events made me begin to question the professionalism and ethics of the psychiatrist.

The book throws up all sorts of questions and, as others have mentioned, would be rich pickings for a book club discussion: power in relationships, professional boundaries, the morality of removing troublesome memories of trauma as opposed to seeking to help trauma victims come to terms with what has happened to them and deal with triggers for PTSD are just some of them.  Also,  how far would you go to protect your child?

"Physician, heal thyself" seems pertinent, as does the famous Hippocratic oath, "First,  do no harm."  It is a thought provoking and good if (at times) difficult read.  My final summation was Macchiavelli meets Lolita.  It is a good psychological thriller that will keep the reader guessing.  It is powerful stuff.  You can buy yours in any good book store, or via this link.

 Wendy Walker has worked as an attorney specialising in family law. She lives in Connecticut where she is at work on her next novel.

Want to see what other reviewers have thought?  Here are the other stops on the blog tour:-

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Crime on the Fens, by Joy Ellis

Crime on the Fens is an atmospheric book: fenland is described to great effect in this suspense-filled, enjoyable story.   If fiction is to be believed, to be maverick is a person specification for the post of Detective Inspector in the UK., and Nikki Galena certainly fits the (B)ill.   Life and work may have left her a damaged, brittle person, and her approach to work means she is on her last chance with the powers that be in Lincolnshire Police Force., but she has to investigate the case of a missing person with the help of her "dysfunctional" team and a new Detective Sergeant from another station.  Nikki has a personal history with the local underworld, and this may prove a help or a hindrance.  And, like us all, she has secrets.

Events unfold into a complex situation as it seems that someone may be fomenting war between local gangs, while someone else disappears...

 The main characters are developed into well-rounded, likeable people and I sincerely hope that this is just the beginning of our acquaintance with the CID at Woodborough Police Station.  A satisfying page-turner.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Blog Tour - The Killing Files by Nikki Owen

Displaying The Killing Files - cover.jpg
Displaying The Killing Files - cover.jpg

Displaying The Killing Files - cover.jpg

The Killing Files is an incredibly tense yet engaging thriller.  Maria Martinez is no ordinary protagonist: she is a highly trained plastic surgeon who has been convicted of and imprisoned for the murder of a priest, who has been described as paranoid and also has Aspergers Syndrome which  causes difficulties in dealing with emotions, anxiety and social situations.  She does not sound very likeable when described in this way,  and yet Nikki Owen has succeeded in writing her as a vulnerable and engaging character - I really felt for her throughout this book.

Having successfully appealed her murder conviction, she takes refuge in her native Spain until evidence strongly suggests that she is in danger.  She is concerned for the safety of her beloved family and the few friends she has found it so difficult to make.  Is she paranoid?  Is she being stalked?  And just what is The Project?  The construction of the plot is so clever, because the tension and suspense are maintained to the point that it is hard to stop reading and put the book down, and I found myself holding my breath and fearing for my blood pressure.  Maria's resourcefulness and longing for friendship are strong themes in this story and I am missing her now the story has concluded - but at least I can read the first volume of the trilogy, Subject 375, while waiting for the third part to become available.

As they say, "Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you."  The Killing Files makes for great reading, especially for those who enjoy psychological thrillers.  I really enjoyed it.

For more information, the Amazon link is here.

Nikki Owen is an award-winning freelance writer and columnist currently based in Gloucestershire.
Previously, Nikki was a marketing consultant and University teaching fellow before turning to writing full time. As part of her degree, she studied at the acclaimed University of Salamanca – the same city where her protagonist of the Project trilogy, Dr Maria Martinez, hails from.

Find more reactions to The Killing Files by following its Blog Tour at the above stops, until 11th June 2016.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Burnt Paper Sky by Gilly MacMillan, Piatkus, 2015.

I've just reviewed Burnt Paper Sky over here.  It's a really good read, which was published last year and I borrowed from the library.

I'm enjoying the warmer weather and the sunshine, although the accompanying tree-pollen related hay fever is tedious.  The washing is blowing on the line and I will have to get it in shortly because it is, I suspect, barbecue time.

It is hard to believe that a week ago we were just back from a very chilly, snowy Lake District, where I had spent a few lovely days in Grasmere with some very special creative friends.  We are all determined to keep the creative vibe going on, but returning to the world of daily life and domestic routine makes that challenging.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

New Blog for Books

I've got a new blog - Reading in the Magic Armchair - in which to write about my book adventures and travels.

 Hopefully I'll be returning to blogging on life in general here from time to time - books haven't altogether taken over my life (though some might argue with that!)  I hope to see you there as well as here.

The Bones of Grace by Tahmina Anam

An unusual, glorious tale of love, tragedy and adventure: a search for identity and meaning, and a rite of passage.  I loved the lyrical writing and the complex plot, set in the contrasting worlds of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Bangladesh.  Zubaida is an engaging heroine, seeking fulfilment through career (as a paleontologist) and relationships, and also seeking her roots, her place in the world, peace and grace,  This story also had me searching on the internet for the Glass Flowers of Harvard museum - well worth investigating and I would now love to see them.  This book, as exquisitely crafted as the flowers,  swept me up and delighted me.  Where we come from may shape us, but in the end we must take responsibility for our own destiny.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

Such an unusual novel: it reads rather like a single case study in social psychology or a fly on the wall television documentary, which sees a couple through stages in their relationship with a running commentary to consider what is going on at deeper levels.  It is wry, wise, funny and tender but also oddly objective and interpretative.  It is easy to forget that it is a novel.  It makes for interesting and entertaining reading.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Missing Hours by Emma Kavanagh

The Missing Hours by Emma Kavanagh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is just brilliant, beautifully written with intricate plot and very real characters. I am in awe of Emma Kavanagh's skill. The detectives are fully fleshed human beings, the conflicts between the job and their home lives being understandably and sympathetically described. The investigation of a missing mother turns into a complex case which turns as often as a mountain road and defies all guessing. A deliciously compelling read.

Hitman Anders and the meaning of it all by Jonas Jonasson

iHitman Anders and the Meaning of It All

A thoroughly charming, engaging, and genre-bending novel which mixes crime thriller with romance, comedy and a bit of light-hearted philosophy to result in a jolly good read.  The main characters are the recidivist Hitman Anders, a priest and a receptionist, and a cast of hoodlums and ne'er do wells.  Serving the masses and survival are the aims, as well as seeking the meaning of it all.  A mirthful Scandi noir and a truly enjoyable book.

If you liked Jonas Jonasson's previous books (The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden) you will be reassured to know that this story is as bonkers as those - all part of the charm. It made me think about morality, and it made me laugh out loud. 

Thursday, April 07, 2016

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

A truly charming tale of Arthur Pepper, who is numbed and shocked after the death of Miriam, his wife and the love of his life. A strict routine gives him the structure to go on, but it is a joyless existence.  A surprising find sets him on a journey which will allow him to make further discoveries and discover that his life is not over, that there is life after loss.  The plot is clever and this story is well told: a delight to read.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

From Here to Home by Marie Bostwick

This story makes for satisfying reading.  The main characters are  strong and resourceful women and some unusual menfolk, and it is set mainly in the little town of Too Much, Texas, where there are lessons to be learned about the importance of doing what you love.  Horses and making patchwork quilts are central to this tale, as are family and romance.  It's  a really enjoyable book.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza

The Girl In The Ice by Robert Bryndza

Such a thrilling thriller: tautly plotted, peopled by well-drawn and convincing characters, with suspense and suprises aplenty.  DCI Erica Foster may be on her first outing with Robert Bryndza, but she comes with a strong and tragic back story as well as a fine investigative instinct and good leadership skills.  Newly arrived in London, she hits the ground running when required to head up a politically sensitive murder enquiry.  The situation escalates and she faces incredible challenges from outside influences and interference, as well as personal danger.  As the cover says, it's a serial killer thriller, blessed with pace and fine writing.  I am so glad there is not long to wait before Erica is back in the incident room on a new case, she's a great character.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air

An extraordinary piece of writing, this book.: intensely moving, deeply thoughtful, intelligent and personal.  Paul Kalanithi was clearly a brilliant human and had a stupendous career ahead of him as a neuroscientist and surgeon. Iit is tragic that his family and the world were robbed of him so prematurely due to his diagnosis of late stage lung cancer.  He had to jump the fence from being a medic to being a patient, and to adjust his goals and ambitions accordingly. He explores what makes life living, and we can all learn so much from his journey.  His wife, Lucy, was his brave companion through his last journey and worked to complete hus book.  It is a masterpiece and a fine tribute to him..  Everyone should read it.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

Scribe UK have kindly offered me the opportunity to read an advance copy of "Girl Waits With Gun," by Amy Stewart, and to participate in the Official Blog Tour which celebrates its publication. 

Based on real characters and events, the story is a really exciting read.  Constance Kopp, together with her sisters Norma and Fleurette, struggle to eke a living on a farmstead outside the silk manufacturing town of Paterson in New Jersey, USA.  They ride their buggy, powered by Dolley the horse, into town to buy mustard powder and a replacement claw hammer, when their vehicle is mown down and virtually demolished by a new-fangled black automobile, driven by one Henry Kaufman, son of one of the silk company families.  As this buggy is the family's sole means of transport, Constance feels well within her rights to seek recompense to make good the damage.  Little does she realise the chain of events which will be unleashed when she visits Kaufman's Silk Dyeing Works, with an invoice for £50 in respect of repairs to the buggy.

Want a taste of it?  Here's an authorised extract, which describes what she finds:-

"Behind an enormous oak desk sat Henry Kaufman in yet another elegant suit, his hair slicked back the way men wore it if they were going out for the evening. But with that round, soft face, he looked more like a child trying to dress like his father. He couldn’t have been much younger than me — thirty, perhaps—but he had the pampered manner of a boy who had been too long at boarding school. He would’ve seemed entirely harmless if there hadn’t been a cold distance in his eyes and an angry set to his mouth. Here in this factory, he seemed like a man who didn’t want what he had, but also didn’t have exactly what he wanted.

And in leather chairs all around the room were his friends, his unsavory, no-good friends. There was the droopy-eyed man with the wooden leg, slumped over in a brown suit that was two sizes too big for him, and a beefy character with arms like stovepipes and the broadest set of chins I’d ever seen. The rest were lean and angular types who each seemed to have lost something in a fight: one lacked a third finger on his left hand, one was missing a patch of hair above his ear, and another wore a milky glass eye. They all held cards in their hands, and a bottle of whiskey sat on the table between them.

I wanted out of that room.

“Oh, you’re the one,” Henry Kaufman said. “She came in here talking about a girl wanting money and I told her it could have been half of New Jersey.”

The other men snickered and drew on their cigarettes.

I stood a little straighter and looked down at him with what I hoped was a calm and dignified air. “Then you remember me. I am Constance Kopp, and —”

“And these are your sisters,” he sneered. “Or haven’t you brought them along? Who is the youngest one? Fleurette?”

I felt a little sick when he said her name.

“We haven’t had a reply to our letters,” I said, “so I’ve brought you another one. You owe us fifty dollars for the damages to our buggy, and I will take payment now.”  "

Constance is an unusual woman, being nearly six feet in height, and of an independant disposition.  She is feisty and has a strong sense of what is right.  In some respects, she reminds me of Philip Pullman's wonderful heroine, Sally Lockhart (Ruby in the Smoke, The Shadow in the North and so on), a strong woman living when women were supposed to be weak and dependent on men, a very modern woman who would be much more comfortable living in the world of today.  As it is, she is more than ready to accept the social changes slowly developing in her lifetime, a woman who wants to work rather than to disappear into domesticity.  She and her sisters are beautifully drawn characters and in the course of the pages of this novel, I grew very fond of them: women of character, resourcefulness and humour, stubborn and steadfast in their refusal to give way to bullying and threats to their safety.  

Luckily, the law (and its agent) is on their side, and Sheriff (Bob) Robert N. Heath does his best to protect the Kopp girls despite constant constraints to his budget (also so very contemporary).  I believe he would be Constance's love interest, were there no impediment, but he is certainly a reliably good friend to them.

Amy Stewart is a wonderful writer who can bring history to life and thrill the reader with suspense and danger, tell a mighty fine story and create characters who really come alive on the pages and in our minds.

Amy Stewart photographed by Terrence McNally
A visit to her website reveals that Girl Waits With Gun is the first in a series of novels, which is a great relief:  I am not ready to say goodbye to her lovely girls yet.

Do give yourself a treat and read this extremely entertaining work, which is published on 10th March 2016.

The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon

A most enjoyable sojourn exploring the convolutions of Venetian calles, bureaucracy and crime in the company of the  cultured, well-connected and clever detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti and his colleagues.

The first mystery presents itself indirectly and historically, in that it happened fifteen years previously with tragic conseqences.  I don't wish to give any spoilers away, so I will just say that, once again a lot of brilliant and patient untangling goes on, and there is potentially a happy ending.  This book is almost as good as a trip to La Serenissima herself, a joy to read and a most agreeable return to Donna Leon's Venice.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Ninth Life by Clea Simon

A most unusual novel featuring a new partnership of private investigators: Care the girl and Blackie the cat.  The book is written from the cat's eye view and it is a fascinating and remarkably successful device, as girl and cat pit their wits and their senses to solve a taxing murder mystery.  It is a delight to read and a pleasure to experience the developing relationship between the two main characters.  I'll be hoping to cross patch with them again.

When Bunnies Go Bad by Clea Simon

Remember Professor Dolittle, who could talk to the animals? Make an entertaining visit to the extraordinary world of the curious Pru Marlowe, animal-sensitive and animal trainer,  whose informal sideline in investigation brings her close to danger and crime.  Pru's unique selling point is, not being able to talk to the animals, but her ability to tune in to communications with all manner of non-human animals so that she can acquire intelligence of a most unusual nature.  Set in small town America, this is a good thriller in the Pet Noir genre, and will keep you guessing. It's a fun read.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Girl You Lost by Kathryn Croft

A compulsive read and a really thrilling thriller, full of suspense and excitiement. It is well written with engaging, sympathetic characters and an excellent, original plot. Well worth reading.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mend the Living, by Maylis de Keringal

An extraordinary, exceptional and enthralling story covering 24 hours and the people who are touched by Simon's heart.  The writing is beautifully poetic and the translation superb (by a French Canadian so not an absolutely perfect fit with English English, but nearly so).  It is a story of a tragedy and of a triumph, a series of moments exquisitely observed and described.  I was immensely moved by this work, and will be adding it to my own library when it is published in book form later in the year: it is currently being made available on Kindle.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths

I've been missing Elly Griffith's heroine, archeologist Ruth Galloway, for a while, so was thrilled to have the opportunity to read this new tale in the series.  Time surely flies, as her little Kate is now old enough to go to school and they are blessed with a very flexible childminder so that Ruth can pursue her academic career as well as getting involved in helping to solve murder cases in close co-operation with Kate's father, Harry Nelson and their druid pal, Cathbad,  There is more suspense than archeology in this adventure, except that Ruth comes up with a pivotal piece of evidence in the course of her investigations.  The book is atmospheric and well written, and the developing background story of the character's relationships develops in counterpoint to a threatening series of crimes that kept me guessing.

Viral by Helen Fitzgerald

Stupendous, topical novel: beautifully if strongly written, heart-rending and thought provoking.  I  believe this book would make an excellent book club choice because it raises so many important, discussion-worthy issues and questions as well as being a jolly good read.   A twenty-first century nightmare that feels so close to home, a conundrum of who is a victim and what is a crime, an exploration of nature versus nurture, a coming of age story - Viral encompasses all of this and more.  Brilliant.

The Promise by Alison Bruce

I have been missing Gary Goodhew, Alison Bruce's unusual, maverick police detective and his Cambridge-based crime solving. The Promise has been a while coming but this story is a cracker: a pacey thriller which makes compulsive and rewarding reading. There is a complex mystery to be solved as a murder is discovered, and meanwhile the characters we have come to know in this excellent series of novels develop in new and interesting directions. I couldn't put it down.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Exposure by Helen Dunmore

Exposure is an engrossing and evocative thriller, brilliantly conjuring London during the post-war Cold War.  Helen Dunmore writes so well and creates a web of conspiracy, self-interest and corruption which entangles and endangers Simon and Lily's family in Muswell Hill, threatening their relationship as the power games are enacted.  It is a jolly good read.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The American, by Nadia Dalbuono: Blog Tour

When I was offered the opportunity to read this book for review and to participate in the official blog tour to celebrate its publication, I was thrilled.  You see, the book cover claims that if you don't love it as much as Donna Leon, you can have your money back.

The American: a Leone Scamarcio thriller

Now, I adore Venice: it is one of my soul places.  Following our wonderful week on Dorsoduro in October 2007, it calls me back and I long to return.  One of my dear blog-friends, Britt-Arnhild, suggested I might enjoy the books of Donna Leon and I have done so, ever since.  I feel that, in her books, Venice is as much a character as the wonderful Commissario Guido Brunetti, so that it is like visiting the place all over again.

So, I imagined reliving our 2011 week in Rome when reading The American, with my map and maybe guide book to hand, as well as revisiting my holiday snaps to illustrate this blog post.

I remember feeling overwhelmed by the concentration of so much antiquity in Rome.  It is very beautiful and full of interest, so much to see and fat more than one can really see and absorb in a week.

I believe this to be the bridge where the first event in the story is discovered.

We took an open bus tour from beside the Terminale on our first day, to orientate ourselves to the city, so we saw a lot of places and sights.  Most of our sightseeing was by bus and on foot, a struggle for me as I walk with two sticks and have balance problems in crowded places, but I pushed my limits and enjoyed seeing this beautiful city (and the Vatican City, of course: separate yet very much woven into the fabric of Rome itself).

Here are the very busy Spanish Steps, which are mentioned in passing when Detective Leone Scamarcio visits a cafe nearby for refreshment.

 Also mentioned in passing is the Trevi Fountain, where it is hard to get a fountain for all the people around it.

Otherwise, my extensive photograph album is of little relevance to the story, and I think perhaps it is a disservice to compare Nadia Dalbuono's books to those of Donna Leon.  Yes, both are about detectives working to solve crime in their own Italian cities, but otherwise they are quite, quite different in style, atmosphere and scope. Whereas Brunetti has a comfortable and happy family home life to sustain him, Scamarcio is much more of a loner.  Both a pleasure to read, but divergent experiences.

The American reveals a maze of issues, from corruption in high places to caring for one's loved ones.  Lovers of conspiracy theories (maybe fans of Dan Brown, for instance, but don't let that put you off if it threatens to do so) will find plenty to enjoy in this excellent book.  The hard thing in reviewing a novel is not to spoil the surprises in the unfolding of the twists and turns of the plot, so I'll leave the tale for you to discover.  I found this story shocking, haunting and highly credible, beautifully written with good character development and excellent pacing.  There were subtle insights into contemporary Roman living, and of course one does not see one's home as visitors see it.  We take for granted what is around us all the time.  It did, however, make me feel I want to return and spend time in Trastevere, which we missed out on last time.

Do read The American, and watch out for more of Nadia Dalbuono's intelligent, engaging, entertaining and thrilling writing - I am now planning to read its prequel, The Few.  The American is a cracking book.