Burial – Neil Cross

I am a little ashamed to say that this is the first Neil Cross book that I have read. I am a massive fan of Luther and was really pleased to discover that the series also had a series of three tie-in novels.

Why this book?

Neil Cross has written nine books in total and for most, it would make sense either to start at the beginning or with one of the Luther novels. I, however, chose to read one of his stand-alone novels to get a better idea of his writing style.

I love it when books are combined with other media. If you’ve checked out my Instagram you’ll see that I do love a good multimedia tie-in. From Terry Pratchett, via Harry Potter all the way to The Rivers of London series, if there are different media versions or tie-ins in different media’s then I’m there. Give me a good film adaptation, a tv series or an audiobook and I’m there, combine it with a game, graphic novel and display models of characters and I am in love.

This way of supplementing the storylines of Luther with additional tie-in novels is really appealing. So why not choose one of those as my first Neil Cross reading experience? If I’m honest, I didn’t’ want to taint the experience with my love of Luther the TV series. I often find that if you love a character or a series of characters then you can ignore bad writing.

Take J K Rowling as an example, she has done amazingly well and has written a brilliant story which appeals to both adults and children alike, but I genuinely do not feel that the Harry Potter series would have been commissioned on book one and two alone. If she had not submitted the overall story arc for the series, I don’t think book three would have been picked up. I find the writing style in the first book to be pretty basic and actually quite terrible. It was only at book three that I really began to enjoy the reading experience. Book one and two are necessary for setting out the storyline and introducing the characters, but for anyone (over the age of about 14) who enjoys reading, I think these are a necessary chore.

And for that reason, I chose a stand-alone.

The Story

Burial has a very simple storyline

Can your guiltiest secret ever be buried?

Nathan has never been able to forget the worst night of his life: the party that led to the sudden, shocking death of a young woman. Only he and Bob, an untrustworthy old acquaintance, know what really happened and they have resolved to keep it that way. But one rainy night, years later, Bob appears at Nathan’s door with terrifying news, and old wounds are suddenly reopened, threatening to tear Nathan’s whole world apart. Because Nathan has his own secrets now. Secrets that could destroy everything he has fought to build. And maybe Bob doesn’t realise just how far Nathan will go to protect them…

[Synopsis is taken from the back cover of the book]

The story for Burial is a simple one, girl dies and secrets are kept. It spans a period of about ten years I think and although some of these years are covered with the cursory, years later, you can forgive Neil this as the main events are covered in great detail and within a matter of pages, he is able to paint a realistic picture of the relationships which develop in the years not documented. True to life, it is the mundane which shows the passing of time and the extraordinary events which shape the actions and relationships of the main characters.

Neil manages to make you feel the pain of loss which is felt by the death of this girl as well as the regret and fear of the lead characters.

Note from the author

I wanted to tell a story where things just keep getting worse and worse for the main character. I wanted to write about guilt and ghosts and murder. But mostly, I wanted to entertain people, and frighten them. I wanted to keep them awake until the early hours.

In this respect at least, it turns out that that Burial was pretty successful. My new editor Francesca and I kept a nightmare tally.

[Taken from Neil-cross.com]

Did I find this book scary? At times it was a little spine-chilling yes. I think for me though, reading takes away some of the fear factor, I am in control and I know I can put the book down at any time.

I did, in fact, have one nightmare, but perhaps because I read this book in several sittings over a series of weeks, I was not continuously immersed in the world and the characters lives to the extent that I would have been if I read it all in one or two sittings.

Overall review

I really enjoyed this book and found that putting it down was quite hard. Unlike some though, it was easy to pick up again without having to re-read pages to discover where I had gotten up to. Like many of his other books, I feel this story would translate really well into a TV production. The fact that Neil Cross writes for TV shows in his writing style. The more I read and discover about authors, the more I realise that you can tell those authors whose job revolves around writing and those who do it as a side project or hobby.

The Girl Who takes an Eye for an Eye

Stieg Larsson and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was one of those books which was recommended by everyone. So many of my friends said that they had read it and enjoyed it, that it was “my kind of book”.

Eventually, I gave in and picked up a copy at my local charity shop. This is my usual strategy for dealing with books and/or authors who, I feel, are too popular. I refused to buy any of Dan Brown’s books brand new, and don’t even get me started on James Patterson. I’m a little bit less self righteous now a days.

The first two chapters (from what I can remember – it was a few years ago now) were a bit of a hard slog, Larsson was most certainly one for detail and he clearly did an awful lot of research for each of his novels. I did actually learn from these two chapters, but the subject was mainly the financial market of Sweden and how technology companies made their money, so really a bit dry.

Once I got past these chapters though, the story began to unfold and grabbed me, I began to read it ferociously, even taking it in the bath with me (not something I’m keen to do with hardbacks – after so many years and so many ‘destroyed’ books and dust jackets). I fell in love with the characters and willed them to find their happy ending, or perhaps just some closure and peace after so many years of mystery and loss.

This trilogy is not for the faint-hearted. There are several very graphic scenes depicted within its pages. I have to admit, when I found out it was going to be made into a film, I was pleased, but also a little apprehensive over how the director would deal with this level of graphic physical and sexual violence whilst still keeping the integrity of the story. I was, thankfully, pleasantly surprised.

After book one, I wasn’t sure how the story would progress as there did seem to be a rather neat round-up at the end,  but I was keen to find out and purchased each of the other two books in the trilogy brand new as they were released. It was a relief to see that Larsson really was a master storyteller and was able to push his characters into new plots and new conspiracies with ease.

One of the things which makes his stories so believable is the vast cast of characters who appear. Often in novels, the author will only write about and focus on characters with whom the main protagonist will come into contact. Larsson, however, knows that there are more than just the main characters in play in each of the scenarios and predicaments his characters get themselves into, he sees the far-reaching effects of the, often rash behaviour of his main characters, and he shows it to us. His ensemble cast is massive. For any of you who have read or even seen Game of Thrones, well he could easily have rivalled George R R Martin if he focussed on more than one the lands of Westeros and their ruling families.

When I first started reading this series of books, I got a little annoyed at his jumping between, seemingly unimportant, characters. but as time went on, and I learned of their importance to the story, I forgave him. It is this aspect which makes his often far-fetched stories come to life, seeing the scenarios from different characters, including the villains, makes each event a lot more tangible and real.

David Lagercrantz

Steig Larsson died prior to the publication of the Millenium series and it with this knowledge that I read them, knowing that the third book would be the last. So in 2015, when I saw that there was a fourth book, I was a little surprised, to say the least.

The publishers and Larsson’s estate (controlled by his brother and father) decided that a fourth book was a good idea in order to continue the ‘adventures’ of Lisbeth, such a foreboding (all be it tiny in stature) female character, one who showed strength and a strong moral compass (you really do have to read more than just a few chapters to see what is meant by this).

The Girl who took an Eye for an Eye

I was rather keen to read this book, to learn more about Lisbeth’s history but I was still worried about what a new author would do with the characters. It was well recorded that Lagaercrantz had a bit of an issue with the way in which women would throw themselves at Bloomkvist without a seconds thought. He, therefore, tries to make Bloomkvist work a bit more for female attention. Other than that though, he has kept quite closely to Larsson’s style.

Parts of Lisbeth’s story was, of course, explored and explained, in the three books written by Larsson; Lagaercratz goes on to explore some of the incidents in more depth, adding more psychology to the character of Lisbeth.

It is a well-written story which doesn’t take away from the Millenium series. Instead, adding to the depth and personal history of several of the characters, filling them out to make them more than merely two-dimensional characters on the periphery of Millenium and the authorities investigations, and instead making them fully fledged characters in their own right.

There are some interesting themes explored in this book; religion, honour and family play a pivotal role in the story and its twists and turns. Lisbeth and her moral beliefs and complexities get her into all sorts of trouble, whilst dealing with her own demons, both real and imagined.

Synopsis of the previous books

**** BEWARE – if you have not read any of the “trilogy” then please note that these synopses may contain spoilers. ***

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson

The first book in the Millennium series featuring Lisbeth Salander – the global publishing phenomenon.

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family.

He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history.

But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.

The Girl Who Played With Fire – Steig Larsson

The second book in the Millennium series featuring Lisbeth Salander – the global publishing phenomenon

Lisbeth Salander is a wanted woman. Two Millennium journalists about to expose the truth about sex trafficking in Sweden are murdered, and Salander’s prints are on the weapon. Her history of unpredictable and vengeful behaviour makes her an official danger to society – but no-one can find her.

Mikael Blomkvist, Millennium magazine’s legendary star reporter, does not believe the police. Using all his magazine staff and resources to prove Salander’s innocence, Blomkvist also uncovers her terrible past, spent in criminally corrupt institutions. Yet Salander is more avenging angel than helpless victim. She may be an expert at staying out of sight – but she has ways of tracking down her most elusive enemies.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest – Steig Larsson

The third book in the Millennium series featuring Lisbeth Salander – the global publishing phenomenon

Salander is plotting her revenge – against the man who tried to kill her, and against the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. But it is not going to be a straightforward campaign. After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in Intensive Care, and is set to face trial for three murders and one attempted murder on her eventual release.

With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must not only prove her innocence, but identify and denounce the corrupt politicians that have allowed the vulnerable to become victims of abuse and violence. Once a victim herself, Salander is now ready to fight back.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web – David Lagercrantz

The sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series has been shrouded in such secrecy that the novel was written on computers with no internet connection to avoid any leaks. Based on a plot outline Stieg Larsson wrote before his death, the novel was completed by David Lagercrantz and is finally here.

The uncompromising anti-hero Lisbeth Salander is again the chief protagonist, along with campaigning journalist Mikael Blomkvist, a lone wolf and champion of the truth. When a superhacker has gained access to top secret U.S. intelligence, Lisbeth is accused of acting without reason, but Blomkvist knows there must be something deeper at the heart of this – unveiling a tangled web of truth that someone is prepared to kill to protect.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO IS BACK WITH A UK NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time. Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son’s well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story – and it is a terrifying one. More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder’s world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker. It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters – and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye – David Lagercrantz

From the author of the #1 international best seller The Girl in the Spider’s Web comes the fifth book in the Millennium series, which began with Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – the global publishing phenomenon that has sold more than 90 million copies worldwide.

Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, the brilliant hacker, the obstinate outsider, the volatile seeker of justice for herself and others—even she has never been able to uncover the most telling facts of her traumatic childhood, the secrets that might finally, fully explain her to herself.

Now, when she sees a chance to uncover them once and for all, she enlists the help of Mikael Blomkvist, the editor of the muckraking, investigative journal Millennium. And she will let nothing stop her—not the Islamists she enrages by rescuing a young woman from their brutality; not the prison gang leader who passes a death sentence on her; not the deadly reach of her long-lost twin sister, Camilla; and not the people who will do anything to keep buried knowledge of a sinister pseudoscientific experiment known only as The Registry.

Once again, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, together, are the fierce heart of a thrilling full-tilt novel that takes on some of the most insidious problems facing the world at this very moment.

Into The Water – Paula Hawkins

The Author

Paula Hawkins is most famously known for her debut novel ‘The Girl on the Train’, which is not only a bestselling novel but now a very successful film starring Emily Blunt.

I loved this book, I also quite enjoyed the film. There was something not quite right about the main character and everything that happened to her. You willed her to be more than she appeared. You felt sorry for her, but at the same time, you could definitely see yourself making the same mistakes. Rachel is a flawed individual, an alcoholic, at times a horrible person, but someone who you are rooting for. Hawkins manages to make her all of those things within the first couple of chapters and untangles her twisted tale throughout the rest of the book. It truly was a page-turner.

The Book

I have on occasion been known to use the cliched saying “This book was a joy to read”, I cannot, however, say that about this book. It is well written and the story is intriguing, but it is harrowing and I’d compare it to the feeling you get when watching a true life crime programme.  You know the feeling when you question how humanity can be so cruel and evil? That is how I feel about this book.

Into the Water front cover

The way I talk about this book is the way I hear people talking about ’13 Reasons Why’, it is at times painful to read and it reminds you of the horrendous acts which people can inflict upon each other.

However, Hawkin’s way of storytelling is really keeping me hooked, I really do want to know what happens.

Who killed Nel? Did she jump? Was she pushed? Who or what is this mysterious power who rids the town of ‘troublesome women’?

Synopsis

‘I need you to call me back. It’s important’

Just days before her sister plunged to her death, Jules ignored her call.

Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules must return to her sister’s house to care for her daughter, and to face the mystery of Nel’s death.

But Jules is afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of this small town that is drowining in secrecy…

And of knowing that Nel would never have jumped.

Relationships

The book focusses on the relationships between several central characters. It is perhaps the relationship between Jules and her sister Nel which makes me most uncomfortable, but this is, in fact, a positive reflection of Hawkin’s writing.

The realism of the relationships in her writing makes me question my own sibling relationship and wonder if I, the older sister are seen in such a negative light as Jules clearly see’s Nel. This relationship is tragic really, the sisters could have helped each other through so much, instead, they were at each other’s throats.

I have an almost morbid fascination with stories which focus on dysfunctional family relationships, I think that they make me feel better about my own. It can be cathartic, whilst also being incredibly uncomfortable, to relate to these characters so deeply.

Another main theme appears to be the relationship between parent and child. Each character’s relationship with either their parent or child is explored and the flaws in these relationships laid bare. Be it the distrust which Josh Whittaker has for his mother, the painful shared loss which prevents Sean from interacting properly with his father or perhaps Nel’s dysfunctional relationship with her daughter Lena.

At the heart of this book is not the river, as first believed, but the interactions and often disastrous encounters which the characters have with one another. the love and the hatred felt by each of them is visceral

Mystery and intrigue

The mystery surrounding ‘The Drowning Pool’ is what pulls the story on, but it is the character relationships which make up the bulk of the narrative, these interactions make up the daily lives of the characters whose lives seem rather mundane and normal on the surface. Once you look below the ordinary exterior of the people in Beckford you discover the dark secrets and turmoil hiding just below the surface

Setting

Into the Water is set in a small town called Beckford. It is supposedly about an hour’s drive from Craster and Howick. In spite of Hawkins very clear description of the town, it’s geography and it’s layout, it does not actually exist.

In researching this town, I have discovered a website called ‘The Book Trail‘ which discusses the locations discussed in various books. It is basically a blog which focusses on the settings of books. There is even a section in which authors will discuss their works in relation to the settings.

“As much fun travelling via fiction is, sometimes all you need is to sit back and take the time to enjoy a drink, a piece of cake and chat with the people on the journey with you”

Overall opinion

Although this book is not the most upbeat book I’ve read recently, it was certainly one which kept me hooked and wanting to know more every time I had to put it down. The twists and turns were not predictable and although you felt like some of the character’s actions were vindicated, I still felt myself questioning their motives or arguing with them in my head.

This is a very well written book and a story that keeps you hooked from beginning to end. Well worth a read, but only if you are in the right emotional state.

The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

Book and Skull

Anthony Horowitz

I found this book on offer at my local supermarket. Having never read an Alex Rider novel, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the idea of Horowitz moving from Young Adult stories into Adult stories intrigued me.

When I picked up the book, I was unaware of Horowitz’s other career achievements in TV and film.

To me he had always been a YA author.

Story device

This book struck me as a bit strange and unusual within ten pages. Anthony Horowitz has broken the fourth wall of writing. This in itself is not unusual. It has been done in many novels over the years. What is unusual is that he had made himself a character. And the information he provides about himself is pretty accurate. It makes me wonder how much of the rest of the story is based on real people and real events. 

Lemony Snicket, of course, used this method in his ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, so it is not a new device, I think I was just a little surprised to see it used in such a way. This is, after all, a murder mystery. It is not as if he is using his voice as a character, he himself is the character, with a real life and a real family and his achievements are real and accurate, his career is real, even his script for Tintin being scrapped is real (although, who knows if it went down the way the describes in the book).

As I read through the book, I realised that there is a lot of factual information about who Horowitz has worked with and what he has worked on. So much so that at times I feel his main characters in the murder mystery are in fact real people. Although, after a few more paragraphs, you realise that he has likely taken the trajectory of one actor’s career, an actor he has worked quite closely with over the years, and lent it to his character. Changing perhaps only the spelling of his name and his, of course, his surname. In a way, this use of real people reminds me of ‘Being John Malkovich’ or James Van Der Beak’s character in ‘The B**** in apartment 23’.

Thoughts and opinions

Having now finished the book, I am more and more inclined to believe that this murder actually happened. Both Hawthorne and Anthony are of course real people, the places they visit are most certainly real, and it leads me to believe that many of the events are also. I am still unsure if Horowitz would have been allowed to play as big a part as he leads us to believe, but when you break the fourth wall, you’ve got to be at the heart of the action. 

The title of the novel appears on page 25, during a conversation between Horowitz and Hawthorne, he then also makes reference to this at the end of the book. I found this running commentary to the story to be very useful but at times a little off-putting. It is a good story, told well, but I think I found it hard to get over the main device.

Horowitz’s career

The other main character, Hawthorne, reminded me, in a lot of ways, of Sherlock Holmes. Which makes total sense as in 2011, Horowitz released ‘The House of Silk’ the first Sherlock Holmes novel written as a new story with the estates blessing. However, I believe that he is also a real person, but whether he’s as insightful or reserved as his character in the book, is anyone’s guess.

The more I read about Horowitz and his career both on and off the screen, the more I realise that he was an ideal choice for such an endeavour.

He has since written a second Sherlock Holmes novel, Moriarty and in 2014, the Ian Flemming estate commisioned him to write ‘Trigger Mortis’, a new James Bond novel. His Alex Rider novels, of course, made him an obvious choice for this franchise as they are often referred to as ‘Teenage James Bond’.

His second James Bond novel “Forever and a Day” has just been released in hardback.

“007 is back. After authentically recreating the golden age of James Bond in his high-speed thriller, Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz is back in Ian Fleming‘s shoes once more.  In Forever and a Day he brings readers an official prequel to Casino Royale, telling the story of the origins of the world’s most famous secret agent.” – Waterstones

The Word is Murder

The story itself is a pretty good one, a murder mystery at heart and one which compels you to read on and learn more. Not just about the murder but about  Horowitz, (or Anthony, as he likes to be called) and Hawthorne themselves. 

“A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral.  A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own. A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control. What do they have in common?

Unexpected death, an unsolved mystery and a trail of bloody clues lie at the heart of Anthony Horowitz’s page-turning new thriller.

Spread the word, The Word is Murder!” (sic) – Waterstones

I have to admit, even if this novel weren’t written by a world-famous author like Horowitz, I’d have picked it up, the blurb alone is intriguing. Although, it now gives me pause on the idea of pre-arranged funerals. The story actually turns out to be quite emotional with plot twists galore, most of which I, the reader, did not see coming.

I also found the writing to be easy to follow and fast paced, perhaps this is down to his career in young adult fiction. I did actually find myself steaming through the pages of this book. A great read to take away on holiday or on a long train/plane journey. Reading this book was actually quite pleasurable if at times a little off-putting when Horowitz himself interjects his thoughts and feelings. Definitely worth a read though.

Black Widow – Chris Brookmyre

Black Widow – 7th Jack Parlabane novel

By Chris Brookmyre

I picked up Black Widow a few months ago. It looked like my kind of book; crime thriller, critically acclaimed, award-winning (Don’t worry, I’m not always swayed by that aspect, it just helps to narrow down when waiting in a train station or looking for something to read on holiday when I don’t want to take a risk on an unknown quantity of quality). And half price to boot (loss-leading marketing by such stores as Waterstones and W H Smith, really does work on me when it comes to books, my reading habit is expensive so any discount I can get is truly a winner for me).

I had heard of Chris Brookmyre before I picked up the book, but to my surprise, I’d never actually read anything he’d written.
It’s been sat in my bookcase for months now, even moving with me, and yet still I’d not picked it up to read. Last weekend I was looking for a paperback to read in the bath, my most consumptive reading occurs in the bath, it’s time I feel as though I can completely relax and do what I want, immerse myself in the story with no interruptions. Reading in the bath is the ultimate me time.
On the off chance, I picked up Black Widow. I’m not sure why I’d been putting it off for so long. I am really glad I picked it up that day though.

Chapters and writing

This book is brilliant! It took me a chapter or two to get into it, but the chapter length meant that this was a mere few minutes and the writing style appealed to me instantly. The chapters are reasonably short, although not Patterson short, ranging from 3-10 pages in length, and they jump around between different characters, allowing you to experience the story through their eyes and their words.

The chapter length I find was perfect for getting you gripped and keeping you entertained throughout the whole book. You don’t tend to find your mind wandering half way through a chunky chapter, wishing that you could go back to the Jack or the Jager perspective of the story, instead, when you get to the end of each chapter you are keen to keep reading regarding of whose story arc is next.

I also found this length to be conducive to me being able to read at work and on the train, I rarely found I had to stop reading halfway through a chapter thus interrupting my flow, unlike with some books. This was the main factor in me getting through the book so fast.

Instead of numbers, the chapters are all named, giving you an idea of what you will experience or learn in this chapter. If I midway through a session, I wouldn’t necessarily read the chapter titles before reading the chapters themselves, but I found them to be very useful upon my return to the book after a few hours. You can flip back and remind yourself of the previous chapters contents without having to re-read.

Story and characters

Chris Brookmyre is great at giving you a full view of the characters thoughts and feelings without giving away anything too revealing to the plot. He keeps you on your toes whilst also explaining enough of what is going on that you are never lost in the storyline. His use of non-linear storyline is very naturalistic, and being that Black Widow is his 21st novel, he has had plenty of practice at getting this type of narrative right, and he does, in fact, manage it well.

“There is no perfect Marriage. There is no perfect Murder.”

This is the kind of novel which turns your beliefs about each character upside down with each new piece of information that you learn. One minute you are rooting for the Jager to be found guilty and the next you are questioning what you would do if you were in her shoes. Is Jack truly the ‘catch’ he first appeared? Putting this book down was difficult at times, Chris really does know how to keep you interested, each chapter holds a new twist to be dissected and analysed.

I’m not going to give anything away, but I can tell you that I experienced a strong sense of satisfaction at the outcome of this story. I felt vindicated in my feelings towards characters whose moral compasses had been ambiguous from the start. I also found that Black Widow made me reflect upon my own relationships and how they had formed and panned out over the years.

There is a healthy dose of suspicious and anxiety injected into the narrative of this story. Chris certainly does know a lot about the human psyche. For anyone who has read and enjoyed ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins, you will know exactly what I mean by this.

Blurb

And now for a bit more about the story…

Diana Jager is clever, strong and successful, a skilled surgeon and fierce campaigner via her blog about sexism. Yet it takes only hours for he life to crumble when her personal details are released on the internet as revenge for her writing.

Then she meets Peter. He’s kind, generous and knows nothing about her past: the second chance she’s been waiting for. Within six months, they are married. Within six more, Peter is dead in a road accident, a nightmare end to their fairytale romance.

But Peter’s sister Lucy doesn’t believe in fairytales, and tasks maverick reporter Jack Parlabane with discovering the dark truth behind the woman the media are calling Black Widow.

[Taken from the book Jacket]

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a thrilling read. I have lent this book to at least two other people who have both massively enjoyed reading it. It is the ideal book for long journeys or if you are looking for a good read for a staycation. The question of whether Jager is truly the Black Widow she is portrayed as or something else entirely will keep you interested throughout.

Then She Was Gone – A novel by Lisa Jewell

The first book I read of Lisa’s was Ralph’s party, followed by Thirty nothing. And surprisingly, at the ripe old age of 17 these books really spoke to me.
I remember really identifying with the characters, in spite the obvious age difference.

As an author, I had not been following Lisa’s Work and then then a few weeks ago, whilst moving, I found those books and decided it might be an idea (now I’m actually in my 30’s) to re-read. I haven’t actually got that far yet, because I’m the mean time, I discovered her new book.

Then She Was Gone

Just as her early books, I found this book a delight to read. Easy to pick up and hard to put down, just what I like in my fiction.

The plot is a good one, mystery and intrigue all wrapped up in everyday life. In spite the unlikeliness of the mystery, it is completely believable because of the way in which Lisa writes her characters. Not once do you disbelieve how Laurel (arguably, the main character) acts or reacts, each of her behaviours and actions is discussed and you really feel as though you are going along this journey with her.

About a third of the way through, I got the feeling that I knew where the story was going, but how she would achieve this goal was intriguing. Knowing what was coming did not in any way distract from my enjoyment of reading this book, I found that I genuinely wanted to know what happened to the characters and how they got to what I believed would be the end point. In fact even though I thought I had a fair idea of what was coming, Lisa still managed to throw in a couple of twists that I had not predicted.

Lisa guides Lauren through the emotional roller coaster of re-living the disappearance of her daughter all those years ago. You feel her pain, you see the shell of a woman that she had become so clearly. And then you follow her as she begins to learn to accept and move on.

The Story

The story jumps from ‘Now’ to ‘Then’. This allows you to experience what happened to Ellie and what she was going through at the same as seeing the effect this has on Lauren and her family. The use of shifting time works really well and progresses the storyline whilst all the while keeping you emotionally attached to the characters.

I’ve mentioned this tool before in my review of ‘The Girls by Emma Cline’. I feel that Emma lost her way a little using this. Lisa however, seems to have a very good grasp of how to sign post for the reader whose story and when we are in the timeline, which makes this story a lot easier to read than Emma’s novel which uses a similar technique. This could be due to Lisa’s writing experience. With a back catalogue of no less than 15 books prior to ‘Then She Was Gone’, I feel she has had a lot of practice in honing her skill and finessing the readability of her work.

Ellie is not just a Macguffin in the story, she is a fully formed character who has he own thoughts and feelings, who experiences fear and pain. Lisa allows you to follow her on her journey and experience these emotions with her. This allows you to be emotionally attached to the character of Ellie and deepens the emotional investment you have.

The story for this book does seem a little far fetched on the face of it and I can only imagine the raised eyebrows that Lisa would have received on presenting the synopsis to her publisher. Lisa’s writing style brings a whole level of believability to it. So much so that you don’t once question it’s strangeness.
In the acknowledgements Lisa thanks her editors for making sense of the story. I am realising more and more that editors can sometimes make it break a story with subtle suggestions and in some cases I have read books which are screaming out for an editors guidance.

That is not to take away from Lisa’s ability and talent to create believable and loveable characters. A nudge on the story line from an editor still needs to be backed up by the ability of the author to sculpt these changes around the already developed and written story.

My Review

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, couldn’t put it down and ended up finishing it in record time. I would certainly recommend it to others. A book that you can completely immerse yourself in. This one is definitely staying on the bookshelf for a second read.

Blurb

(Taken from back cover)

She was fifteen, her mother’s golden girl.
She had her whole life ahead of her.
And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.

Ten years on, Laurel has never given up hope of finding Ellie. And then she meets a charming and charismatic stranger who sweeps her off her feet.

But what really takes her breath away is when she meets his nine-year-old daughter.

Because his daughter is the image of Ellie.

Now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.

What really happened to Ellie? And who still has secrets to hide?

 

The Girls – Emma Cline. Debut novel.

 

The Girls
The Girls – Emma Cline, Front cover artwork

I first found out about this book when the author, Emma Cline was being interviewed on the Radio. She came across as very down to earth and relatable. Once I discovered that the book was loosely based on the true life events surrounding the Manson family, I knew I had to read ‘The Girls’. I have, like many others, had a morbid fascination with this subject for many years and find the psychology behind such heinous acts of violence to be intriguing. For a debut novel, it is a rather brave choice of subject matter, one which undoubtedly has a lot of back ground research readily available but which has been covered by so many fiction and non-fiction authors in the past, I’d be daunted by the task of competing. This, however, is where Emma Cline comes into her own, she does not compete, she goes for an altogether different approach.

Overview

The book as a whole and the story it tells is certainly a good one, a different perspective to any I’ve read or seen in the past, a complete view of the goings on but from the peripheral, from the perspective of a young girl drawn into the cult by the seduction of change and the attentions of a beautiful older girl.

This book is described as “A coming-of-age tale like no other…” by Grazia magazine and I have to admit, they’ve got something there. If I were to describe this book, that is exactly what I would say, but it is so much more than this, a coming-of-age and an acceptance-of-age is more accurate.  When we meet Evie she is well into adulthood, we don’t get told her exact age but as the book is supposed to be set in modern day California that would make Evie about 44 when she is telling the story. She is alone in a house and coming to terms with what has become of her life, what she has done, what she has achieved, what she has missed out on.

Emma Cline was born in the late 1980’s but this does not prevent her from painting a very believable picture of the summer of 1969. Perhaps the device of looking back is what makes it so easy to believe the setting of this book. The detailed descriptions in this book are limited to people and places, things that would still exist today or are a complete figment of Cline’s imagination. It allows for her to reference these places in a dream-like manner, memories being looked back upon rather than being experienced in real time. It is a great device for ensuring that the reader finds the plot and settings to be believable, and it certainly works here. Not once do I question how Cline knows what this place and time is like in spite of her young years.

My comments

At first, I struggled with some of the language, there were a couple of phrases early on which really threw me and tripped me up; this did rather surprise me as I am an avid reader with a very good grasp of the English language. After googling them (don’t judge me, we all turn to google sooner or later) I discovered that I was not the only person who struggled with a couple of the phases, perhaps these were local colloquialisms which are lost on anyone, not from North California.

Later on in the book, I found it hard to follow a couple of the passages, the switching between the present, in the moment and the past is blurred in some areas. I am usually a fan of this type of device in story telling but I did find there were some rather obvious mixings and muddling of the two timelines which made the story hard to follow. I feel like one of the first rules of story telling is not to confuse the reader, although perhaps I am being a little harsh as really all it did was to alienate me a little further at a point in the story where teenage angst and drama are going to be alienating to anyone not currently a teenager. We’ve all been through it but looking back on it is hard and painful for most of us, not something comfortable to do.

I really did find that a lot of the feelings and emotions which Cline focuses on in this book are familiar to me and I’m sure will be for many other readers. The idea of being attracted to someone of the same sex and struggling to overcome your own anxieties too, not only become friends but to increase your friendship with that person is a strong feeling felt by most of us at one time or another. Cline depicts these feelings in a very descriptive manner which really allows you to relate to the character of Evie.

Regardless of the fact that Evie is the center piece in this story, you can’t help but dislike her. At times she comes across a whiny and spoiled, she acts as if she is the injured party when really she makes her own luck and struggles to deal with the consequences of her decisions. Suzanne, another centerpiece is the ultimate anti hero; you find yourself drawn to her by the power of the images portrayed by Evie and yet you are aware from the beginning that there is something not quite right. She is sexual and sensual in ways that Evie has only dreamed of, but there is something deeper and darker. Cline writes her incredibly well, you find yourself missing her when Evie misses her and hating her when Evie does.

The Manson-like character is well written and it is through Evie’s descriptions that you see his flaws and humanity where others only see him as a deity to worship. It is Evie who sees through him and ensures that you, the reader, also see’s him as he really is.

If asked if I’d recommend this book, it would most definitely depend on who was asking. It is a brilliant book, well written with a great story, characters who are flawed and real but it’s really not a book for everyone. I believe that some people would struggle, not only with the subject matter but also with the intensity of the emotion experienced by the characters.

About the Author

Emma Cline is from California. Her fiction has appeared in Tin House and the Paris Review. She was the recipient of the 2014 Paris Review Plimpton Prize for fiction and is a Granta Best Young American Novelist.

Book Description – Amazon

The bestselling debut that took 2016 by storm – a brilliant coming-of-age story with a dark heart: ‘This book will break your heart and blow your mind’ Lena Dunham

From the Inside page

California. The summer of 1969. In the dying days of a floundering counter-culture a young girl is unwittingly caught up in unthinkable violence, and a decision made at this moment, on the cusp of adulthood, will shape her life…”This book will break your heart and blow your mind.” (Lena Dunham). Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat. Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls. And at the center, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways. Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever? –This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

 

Reviews on Amazon

“A coming-of-age tale like no other … the book of the summer” (Grazia) – too true

“Stunning…thrilling… A spectacular achievement” (The Times)

“This book will break your heart and blow your mind” (Lena Dunham) – I’d agree with breaking your heart, it is an emotional, thought-provoking book which is highly relatable.

“The read of the summer” (India Knight Sunday Times)

“A tense and claustrophobic read” (Stylist) – most definitely. If you are not prepared for it then it can seriously take you by surprise, but I found the claustrophobic nature of this book to be part of its charm.

“Taut, beautiful and savage, Cline’s novel demands your attention” (Guardian) – agreed

“An exhilarating read” (Emma Healey, author of Elizabeth is Missing) – perhaps because of the stuttering way in which I read this book, I’m not sure that exhilarating is quite how I’d describe it

“Darker than anything Gone Girl had to offer” (Shortlist) – now this I do not agree with. Gone Girl is a brilliant book with many twists and turns. Both books are dark in their nature but the subject matter differs drastically and the darkness of ’The Girls’ seems to reside in the knowledge that this is not pure fiction but is based on actual events which occurred.

“A seductive and arresting coming-of-age story…spellbinding” (New York Times Book Review) – seductive it most certainly is.

“An intensely atmospheric story that perfectly captures the aching loneliness and longing of a teenage girl.” (Sarra Manning Red) – so much so. It left me dismally reminiscing about my adolescence and the angst and sadness which goes hand in hand with growing up.

“One of the best novels I’ve read about female adolescence… And as with so many novels about cults, The Girls is set to inspire a cultish devotion all of its own” (Evening Standard) – by far one of the best I’ve read.

“A joy to read… Intense, clever, beautiful” (Sunday Times)

“Brimming with intelligence and ideas… Buy it for the Mansonesque plot but savour it for its insights” (Irish Times) – many a true word. This is exactly how I came across it and exactly how it became one of my favourite reads in a year or so.

“I don’t know which is more amazing, Emma Cline’s understanding of human beings or her mastery of language.” (Mark Haddon) – her understanding of human beings is incredible. Her depiction of the emotions and subtleties is sublime.

Overall score

4/5

Would certainly recommend. In fact, it is already being lent out and I have several friends waiting to read it. Somewhat slow-paced but perfect for a summers afternoon reading in the garden with a nice cup of tea and a digestive or two.

Night School – 21st Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child Review

Night School – Lee Child

Night School – Jack Reacher, Lee Child

This book has been hailed as the ‘best Jack Reacher yet’ which is a very high accolade indeed. Night School is the 21st novel in the Jack Reacher series; all be it a prequel set in 1996 when Reacher is just 35 years of age.

I’m not going to lie to you; it is a good one. A book I enjoyed immensely. Easy to pick up and read anywhere, anytime.

Lee Child is a master at working in time limits to his work, and this book is no different, in fact, Child sets the timer running at the beginning of the novel. Admittedly we, the reader do not know the time limit but then neither do Reacher or the team he is working with, and this adds immensely to the drama and allows for a fast paced, action packed novel, all be it one with intricate levels of detail.

Outline

Reacher, fresh from a medal winning mission, is sent back to school. But in true Jack Reacher style this is no ordinary school, set in 1996, Night school harks back to the pre 9/11 days when intelligence agencies in the US were suspicious of each other and cooperation was at an all time low. Add to that their deep rooted suspicion of every other country and their intelligence agencies.  There was none of this inter-agency coordination or cooperation, and Reacher has to cross these lines and force cooperation both inter-organisationally and internationally in order to deal with the threat of weapons falling into the wrong hands in a foreign country.

My comments

By novel 21, you would expect Child to have a greater understanding of the inner workings of his character, and this book does not disappoint, I’m almost jealous of the relationship that Child has with Reacher, it’s as though Reacher writes himself. Not once do you question the authenticity of a response or a reaction, nor do you question his motive. You believe that Reacher is a real man whom Child knows and who has recounted his story to be laid bare on the page, in a way it’s as if Reacher guides Child through the story and not the other way around.

I find that all good Reacher stories are just a ‘day in the life’ kind of view of his life. Night School is no different; although the events which unfold are the workings of a great Thriller or Action movie, not once do you question why and how these things are happening to him. Child’s natural way with language and the familiarity with the character make this story completely believable, in spite of the sometimes crazy situations which the character gets himself into, and makes this book a delight to read.

And don’t worry if you haven’t read any of Lee Child’s previous work; each Jack Reacher book can be read alone. Sure it helps to know Reacher’s motivation in certain scenarios, but Child keeps the back story references to a minimum and fully explains to the reader any elements that may be relevant and necessary to know, as and when they occur. I myself have only read 3 of the 21 in this series, but would not shy away from picking up any of those 21 books and reading them out of order. It is a testament to Child’s talent that he can not only produce a massively successful series of books, of which two have been made into successful blockbusters; also that he does not isolate his audience by assuming pre-knowledge of the character.

Reacher 2012

Reacher – Never go back 

Blurb

It’s just a voice plucked from the air: ‘The American wants a hundred million dollars.’

For what? Who from? It’s 1996, and the Soviets are long gone. But now there’s a new enemy. In an apartment in Hamburg, a group of smartly dressed young Saudis are planning something big.

Jack Reacher is fresh off a secret mission. The army pats him on the back and gives him a medal. And then they send him back to school. A school with only three students: Reacher, an FBI agent, and a CIA analyst. Their assignment? To find that American. And what he’s selling.

Night School takes Reacher back to his army days, but this time he’s not in uniform. With trusted sergeant Frances Neagley at his side, he must carry the fate of the world on his shoulders, in a wired, fiendishly clever new adventure that will make the cold sweat trickle down your spine.

Of course, it is Reacher who excels at school and makes headway in uncovering the plot and bringing down the bad guy. While the others get bogged down in bureaucracy, it is Reacher’s forward planning and ‘thinking outside the box’ which saves the day, with of course a little help from his friends and fellow class mates.  Come on you knew it was going to end well, no spoilers there.

My version of the book also included the first three chapters of ‘The Midnight Line’ due out November 2017, and I have to say, I’m hooked already. It is already on my pre-order list, just in time for Christmas.

As well as a short essay by Child himself, which I have to say I found very sobering after the excitement of the last few chapters of the book. A poignant message about story telling and fiction through the ages.

Other reviews

Although I quite liked this book and would recommend as an easy read for anyone looking for a bit of action in their literature, since finishing the book, I have read several scathing reviews, many from uber-fans of Child’s work. Perhaps where it appealed to me, it ostracised some of his avid fans. There was one particular comment which I did want to point out though:

“I have the feeling that this book was written with American(USA) readers in mind as there are many instances of American rubbing in Germany’s defeat in WW and belittling them. I am neither from Germany nor USA, but I still feel it wasn’t on [the] comfortable side of nationalism.”

[Source]

I’m not going to lie; the guy does have a point here. Being British and so not really overtly represented in the cast list for this book, and also perhaps because I read an awful lot of American authors and so don’t find this level of patriotism to be unfamiliar; I wasn’t really affected by this over patriotism to the USA. However, after reading this review and looking back, I can certainly see what he means. The Germans are portrayed in a rather sinister light at points with their ‘smarts’ being undermined at every turn (well almost every turn). Strange though that this level of patriotism to the USA be so vivid as Lee Child himself in actually British, all be it now living in America, perhaps Reacher’s voice was a little too loud for Child to ignore on this point.

My verdict

Overall score: 3.5/5

I would recommend as a good read. Pick up and put down anywhere anytime. It was my ‘read in the bath’ novel of the month. No scary house ‘breaking and entering’ scenes so safe to read alone. Fast paced so easy to glide from chapter to chapter and lose yourself for a few hours of self-indulgence. Not a great work of art but a well-orchestrated story and character development. A good plot which seemed to be quite water tight. A little over patriotic to the USA but hey it’s a book about US military, there was bound to be a bit of peacocking going on.