As one American family enjoys their break at their Scottish holiday home, a terrible sickness is released when blood is spilt on ancient magical land. The sickness travels with the family back across the oceans and within an alarmingly short period of time, more than half of the world’s population is dead. The virus seems to be unstoppable.
Nora Roberts hands down is a fiction writing juggernaut and anything this author puts out is always going to be welcomed with great glee by her army of fans. The news that Roberts was turning her talents to the post-apocalyptic (which well when done well, is my absolute favourite of all genres) was a real boost for the genre and well received by the reading (and reviewers!) community.
What you will quickly discover as you dive in is that this dystopian novel is unexpectedly populated by fantasy characters like elves and fairies, sensitives and telekinetics etc. The novel would have worked well as a straight post virus work, or as a fantasy novel. YEAR ONE is a uncomfortable blend of both that does not quite hit the mark. Going into this read I wasn’t anticipating the fantasy elements, and it was quite disappointing to encounter them. Can’t help but feeling a little cheated by the inclusions of characters that have such handy superpowers at their disposal to deal with any challenges that come their way.
Roberts always creates characters that you will want to invest your time in, and this is the min strength we see again in YEAR ONE. They won’t all survive, and the readers will have an interest in seeing through which ones will make it with or without newly acquired abilities. It is not a dark read as the fairy elements are a bit ridiculous and lighten the mood. As a beach read it serves very well and the impetus in picking up the next novel is to see where everyone ends up – what new alliances will be formed, who will go on to lead, who will be able to adapt and survive.
Book review - Are You Sleeping, Kathleen Barber
Josie Buhrman has a terrific partner to whom she has told rather a lot of lies to. Caleb, with all his Kiwi charm, has been a solid and loving anchor for Josie, separating her from the mess of her family past which included the scandalous murder of her father, and the exit of her mother to a cult like order. Josie has travelled a long way from the mid-western town where she grew up and has set up a good life for herself away from all of the skeletons still festering in her family closet.
Crime fiction readers (and in particular, true crime or audio book enthusiasts) are generally mad podcast listeners also, so as a hook to make us pick up a novel by a new author, this absolutely worked!
Don’t be too fatigued about seeing once again that old trope of good twin/bad twin as it is put to good use in ARE YOU SLEEPING. Its likely readers will get the odd uncomfortable twinge about the twin stereotypes utilized also. One example of this is both twins having, at different times, the same romantic partner, the ability of the ‘good twin’ to forgive all ills for the sake of the blood tie etc. The reader will need to swallow those in order to move on and follow where it is all going. (Any twins out there, don’t groan too much!).
Readers will absolutely want to know the truth and also will absolutely feel empathy for Josie as she does her best to come through the mess without entirely destroying her new life with the (rather darling) Caleb. The toxicity of Josie’s twin Lanie makes her someone you wish the erstwhile Josie would run far, far away from and yet it is in this we are shown once again it is always that family ties which will continue to bind.
ARE YOU SLEEPING is a debut work for author Kathleen Barber. Insidiously adding weight to the past layer by layer, this is an enjoyable thriller with some clever dialogue that will satisfy those readers who not identify with the complexity of family dramas, but appreciate the recent wave of modern thrillers that include them.
Kudos to the book’s graphic designer for the 1970’s pulp fiction cover/s too – love it!
Book review - Did You see Melody? , Sophie Hannah
Tired and irritable from her cross continental flight from the UK, the last straw for Cara Burrows is being sent to the wrong room in the middle of the night by hotel reception. Disturbing a teenager and a man in the room, the over reaction is completely bizarre to Cara but in the light of day, it becomes just one of those things. The purpose of Cara’s trip was to regroup her thoughts and have a well-deserved break from her insufferable family so beyond that, she’d rather just enjoy what the Arizona resort has to offer. Cara has big mental fish to fry.
There’s both highs and dips with this novel. Some of the dialogue is quite fun and the main character Cara is comically harried with all that is going on in her life. We’ve all been there. Mother and teen daughter relationships based on sarcasm are very relatable, as is the faux cheeriness you often encounter from hotel staff when all you want to do is be left alone to enjoy your holiday. Author Sophie Hannah contrives to balance all of the mayhem of hotel goers joining forces for a holiday adventure with the darker depiction of a child’s murder.
As the abduction/murder plot is rather over worked, you will need to check your reality radar (and eyerolling) at the door in order to complete this read. As a beach towel novel, DID YOU SEE MELODY may have served a little better. As a crime novel, it’s a little oddball. It needs a little more darkness, or a little more lightness to slide home successfully in either category. Whether you are new to this author of an existing fan you will appreciate how Hannah has brought together a lot of diverse characters and made them interact in the unlikely environment of a high end desert resort.
Shades of “It’s a Mad, Mad World” for sure, but in the hands of Hannah DID YOU SEE MELODY has enough intrigue (satisfactorily largely in the hands of the women) to push (rather than sweep away) the reader through what is essentially a one location mystery. It’s a bit of frenetic trip in order to answer the burning question of the novel - did Cara really see Melody at the Swallowtail Resort?
Book review - Lie to Me, J.T. Ellison
The Montclairs are a young married couple who are finding their marriage difficult to negotiate after the tragic death of their baby son. Working and living in the same space is now not as cosy and collaborative as it once seemed, and the pressure is on for both writers to honour their publishing contracts and produce the goods. It is of no surprise to Sutton’s girlfriends when her husband Ethan reports that Sutton has left, leaving a note that she needed to take a break. Sutton and Ethan are two brilliant people who spark creativity and passion each other, and that definitely means that
The reader will need to be patient here as it is not until after the half way mark that LIE TO ME reveals its underbelly with its first major plot twist. Nothing is quite as it seems. LIE TO ME is almost like two novels in one; in the first half we have the classic investigation into the spouse and in the second half, other characters in play begin to reveal their true intentions. Told via both past and present perspectives of Sutton and Ethan, LIE TO ME builds up a picture of a creative marriage which slowly dissembles as more facts are revealed from the relationship’s origin and recent past.
The comparisons made to a certain other wildly popular novel are probably not helpful as LIE TO ME is only vaguely similar in nature. LIE TO ME does struggle with continuity, and the “unseen” voice of the killer addressing the reader does not add much to the suspense; if anything it’s a bit of an irritating vain play. As a beach towel thriller, LIE TO ME does the job and almost (but not quite) ties it all up in a bow by novel’s end. Sharp eyed readers though will pick up on a few unfinished threads; perhaps a sequel in the works? It would be interesting to see if Ethan Montclair can forge on with his life after going through the twin horrors of his child dying and being accused of murder.
An escapist thriller for your summer holiday, LIE TO ME will keep you guessing and wondering just who it is you are supposed to feel for – the missing, or the one that remained?
Book review - Sleeping Beauties, Stephen King & Owen King
Right on the money as he always is, Stephen King - with his co-writer son Owen King - addresses here a premise that is ridiculously and soberingly topical. What is it that could bring down society in such a dramatically short space of time? The withdrawing of the women.
Women - those who bear the ‘thought burden’, those who do the nurturing, those who are responsible for the “reining in” of erratic behaviour. Stunningly simple, the thematical concept behind SLEEPING BEAUTIES is not to visualize the horror and drama as the world is slowly broken down, but more to realize how simple and obvious making this happen might be.
As you would expect with the epic novels of this size, SLEEPING BEAUTIES has a cast of thousands and the reader will need to keep on top of all that, in particular as the siege of the women’s prison continues. Lots of guys with guns all fighting what they think is the good fight. Stephen King has obviously been here before (not necessarily geographically - though any fan of King knows that many of his towns and folk do crossover in a freakishly satisfying way) as his legacy novels like THE STAND set new benchmarks for post-apocalyptic works. Benchmarks, that just quietly, may never be vaulted over by other authors. King is King. He does these “rise above the common doom” novels extremely well.
It is easy (and quite fun!) to imagine that a savage edit might have taken place to remove the odd literary swipe at present day government and industry leaders. Messrs King masterfully duck and weave around the particulars and instead illustrate the domestic oppressions and expectations still placed on women via poignant little vignettes that strike uncomfortable and familiar chords.
The identifiable everyday and the supernatural are fully meshed in SLEEPING BEAUTIES and it’s a testament to the writers skill that soon we don’t question when the otherworldly inclusions appear. It is not a full scale good versus evil battle here in this novel but the take home will unsettle regardless. Allow a few days to switch off and take it all in.
Book review - Best Day Ever, Kaira Rouda
Determined to make the day run to schedule, Paul sets off for the drive to his river home with Mia, his lovely young wife of ten years. Their kids are being taken care of by the dubious babysitter and this weekend will be all about the two of them. Paul has planned the next few days very very carefully. There are some work arounds that are necessary and Paul does get the feeling that Mia suspects something is up. But not to worry, the course of true love never does run smoothly. Paul is used to leading a complicated life and his increasing money troubles have brought him to this point.
BEST DAY EVER has a slow burn and is very much like a one room thriller, due to the small cast and its real-time play. We’re along for the ride with Paul, our urbane and narcissistic host, and included every step in the way in his Machiavellian plans to come out on top and be in complete control of his life and marriage. We’re not meant to like him, and of course we can’t admire him, but we can marvel at the inflated super ego that has resulted in his life unraveling at a greater speed now that he is finally spending some time alone with his witness, wife Mia.
Paul’s traits are horribly recognizable and therein lies the true horror; it is not inherent misogyny that drives Paul, it is more the extreme love he has for himself. Everyone has met one of these people, and Paul has taken it to an art form with quick thinking on his feet, lying on the spin of a dime and skillfully manipulating people and events to suit his own needs.
With domestic thrillers being so huge right now, many fiction writers have lifted the lid on the most dangerous experiences women can have; that being, those lived as a result of entering into relationships with controlling men. BEST DAY EVER is an excellent reminder that you don’t need to look too far from home to find real monsters. This novel doesn’t over dramatize and it doesn’t over explain, which makes BEST DAY EVER all the more chilling to read.
Book Review - Since We Fell, Dennis Lehane
The highs of Rachel’s work in journalism brought her excitement, fulfilment and an outgoing husband to boot. She could not see how that could ever change. Until one wartime assignment took Rachel’s confidence, her career and the life of a young girl.
As you read SINCE WE FELL your expectations do fluctuate as to how the rest of the novel might shape up. The first third of the book is all solid backstory and quite satisfying; so much so that if we were to wrap this novel up as a drama read without the inclusion of the murders, it would serve very well. Dennis Lehane writes masterfully with all possible confidence as a writer and this is what we expect from his works – to be entertained, challenged and by novel’s end, satisfied.
The domestic thriller is the modern juggernaut of crime fiction. It’s fantastic for readers to see the crime giants like Lehane write works for this space and with each new release there is great anticipation to see where these writers will take the genre. Here, we have a novel that powers forward for a good two thirds. After this point, we are left wondering if we missed that left-hand turn at Albuquerque.
SINCE WE FELL is almost two books. It is certainly not a suspenseful screeching thriller that spirals towards a heart thumping conclusion; rather melancholic in flavour really as we lament the choices that Rachel has made. Not every novel needs to end with a proven hero, everybody being happy, all threads resolved etc. SINCE WE FELL is almost the alternate domestic thriller, not redemptive, not nail-bitingly tense; instead measured and thoughtful with insight into how a damaged person is able adapt dramatically in order to survive.
Review - Home, Harlan Coben
To Myron Bolitar, his college roommate Win is family. It’s been a very long time since either he or the enigmatic Win Lockwood have had to share a room but their lives have been intertwined in love and danger ever since. So when the call for help comes from Win, Myron does not hesitate. There has been a sighting in the UK of Winn’s cousin Rhys who was snatched from a playdate along with his best friend Patrick. The two boys have possibly been used in the UK sex trade the entire time they have been missing. Winn at first tries on his own to snatch one of the boys but it does not go so w
What do we expect out of a Myron Bolitar novel? Wise cracking bromance laughs, the good guys winning, the unexpected twists and the odd punch up. We have all of those in HOME only here it’s a little on mute and the lines for who we are supposed to be barracking for are getting a little blurry. What is most welcome here is that we are privy to the thoughts that are coasting around in the more pragmatic head of Win Lockwood. As always, Win’s character is strong enough to sculpt a novel alone without the softer addition of his best friend in all things, Myron Bolitar. Here in HOME, we receive the points of view of both men.
The familiar cast are getting a bit of a clean up to become more politically correct and this does soften their edges, 11 books in. Regardless, HOME is a welcome visit with old friends. HOME may be a deliberately crafted deliberate step in a long running series which could end on a high or slowly coast out due to the realistic ageing and changes in circumstances for Myron. Not entirely sure whether I want to see Win humanized with family connections, but again perhaps that’s been written in to indicate a change in direction for the series.
HOME is another entry in a series that never fails to deliver the thrills and spills with enough levity to bring it out of the dark. There are twists you won’t see coming and these are still the guys that you wish could have your back in real life.
BOOK REVIEW - FINAL GIRLS, RILEY SAGER
Life for Quincy is divided into two parts. Before Pine Cottage, and after Pine Cottage. Quincy's memory is fuzzy on the precise events that led to the death of all her friends on their mini holiday, but she has never been allowed to forget what it is that she will became in her survival; a Final Girl. The only one to stagger out of the forest that day, blood soaked and being chased by a knife wielding killer, was Quincy. The media continues to be obsessed with Quincy and two other “Final Girls”; Samantha Boyd and Lisa Milner – even though it has been years since their separate horrors.
The concept of FINAL GIRLS is a very compelling one. Perhaps its completely new one, or perhaps it’s a variation on an old theme of wondering who will survive the carnage in a horror film – there is always one. Quincy and Samantha are two people who experienced trauma, but have developed very different ways in coping what has forever changed them. The ebb and flow of tension is dictated by Quincy's navigation around those parts of herself that have been masked in order to appear “normal” and it is a cleverly crafted balance.
FINAL GIRLS is a essentially a battle of the facades between the two survivors and the tension lies in seeing who it is that will be the stronger. A little sadness is woven in there too in that Quincy has endured so much and can’t quite get her mind around what it is to move on (much like the media can’t leave it alone, and that there are always going to be people out there who are obsessed with this sort of thing). It is a nail biting read to the end as we wait to see who will come through, and whether Quincy can marry up the parts of her memories that belong in nightmares with the horrific events that actually took place at Pine Cottage.
BOOK REVIEW - THE OTHER GIRL, ERICA SPINDLER
Miranda Rader once was known as Randi the problem teen. Rejected by her family after a brush with the law, Randi’s life seemed to then be heading down all the wrong roads. Fortunately, the time spent in youth detention becomes the making of her.
THE OTHER GIRL has a noticeable lag in the first few chapters but picks up welcome pace as Miranda becomes more isolated from her colleagues. Her job, which has always been her saviour, being taken away from her, is a huge blow. There is a small cast in this novel so you don’t have many characters to cast your suspicious eyes over; this serves well to sharp focus on those close to Miranda who may be saying all the right things whilst thinking the complete opposite.
There is a small romantic sub plot that doesn’t take away from the action and as the walls close in on Miranda, the novel takes on extra threads where she reunites with her estranged family and re-discovers more of what really happened to her in the past.
THE OTHER GIRL is a fast beach or plane ride diversion that will distract and entertain those readers who don’t need too much of an investment into a complicated plot. There has been good character development work put into this book and by the novel’s end, we feel that we have come to know the characters well and understand their motivations.