Tuesday 31 October 2017

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

review by Maryom

Jane Harper's first crime thriller, The Dry, transported the reader to the hot, dusty, drought-ridden spaces of rural Australia. This time, we're again far from the safety of the cities, but in the misty, rain-soaked bush country of the Giralang Ranges. In this remote spot, Executive Adventures run corporate team-building retreats, encouraging stressed office workers to get outdoors and bond while trekking through the bush. The latest group of ten co-workers from finance company BaileyTennant is expected back any minute. The five men show up, a little early, but of the women's group there's no sign. Search parties are sent out, with no success. As darkness is dropping, the women's group eventually stumbles back to base ... but one of them, Alice Russell, is missing ...

I'm not sure from their reputation that any of these team-building, bonding exercises work, even in real life, but in fiction they lead to the opposite - irritation and fractious bickering leading gradually to the group falling out and heading for disaster in one shape or another - and this story is no exception. Immediately you latch onto the fact that the five woman may work together but are not friends at all; they're all outside their comfort zone; Jill is isolated by her position as one of the company's owners; twins Bree and Beth would sooner be anywhere rather than together, especially out in the Bush, Alice and Lauren may have been at school together but now they now seem locked in a battle of one-up-man-ship over jobs, houses and the achievements of their children; add in the fact that Alice has been providing the police with inside information about possible illegal deals taking place, and you've got a recipe for trouble. Oh, and the Giralang area was once the base of a serial killer...

Federal agent Aaron Falk, from The Dry, is back as Alice's police contact, and he and his partner, Carmen Cooper, are immediately alarmed by news of her disappearance, suspecting it could be related to their investigation, and so are dragged in to the search for her. While more experienced men take on the physical task of scouring the bush, Falk and Cooper talk to her colleagues and family, and try to build a picture of Alice's circumstances and state of mind. At the same time, a different thread of story goes back a couple of days, and follows the BaileyTennant staff as they head off into the bush.

The Dry was a wonderful example of a claustrophobic small town whodunnit and, in this totally different setting, Harper has created a thriller, possibly a murder mystery, that will grab you immediately, and keep you hooked till the end. The countryside and weather are again used to great effect to create atmosphere and highlight mood, with rain and mist adding to the growing menace, and clouding the investigation as much as they do the landscape. I raced through the book, eager to know what happened to Alice, and whether she'd be found alive or not. Although Force of Nature again features Aaron Falk it is a complete standalone story, so there's no need to have read The Dry beforehand. 

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - 
Little, Brown
Genre -adult, crime, Australia

Wednesday 25 October 2017

The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins

review by Maryom

Olivia Sweetman seems to have it all. She's a respected professor of history, now becoming known to the wider public through a popular TV series and guest appearances on other programmes, happily married with three children, and now she's about to break into the publishing world with her first book, Annabel, about a Victorian feminist, one of the first female surgeons, and perhaps a murderer, it's sure to be a best-seller.
Behind this public facade, though, things are not so rosy. Her husband's actions have disturbed their marital harmony, her eldest son is behaving like the stroppiest teenager ever, and Vivian Tester, the woman who helped with so much of the research for Annabel, is refusing to accept that their partnership is over, and she holds a secret that could break Olivia.

In brief outline, this doesn't seem an unfamiliar plot - well known, glamorous media personage is stalked by the 'little guy' they've trampled over to reach their position, but as the story unfolds, seeing events from first one woman's point of view then the other's, it becomes apparent that the relationship between the two women isn't that simple. Each has behaved badly and in some way wronged the other, they both have secrets to hide, and I found it difficult, with my sympathies swapping from one to the other, to decide who was the most injured party. Although some of the 'extras' are fairly sketchy, Olivia and Vivian are particularly well-drawn and fleshed out; not the common two-dimensional characters of many thrillers, but real people you can empathise with, which makes for a more compelling read. 
As you'd expect there are twists and turns, and a bombshell or two, as the story unfolds, and maybe the only downside to it is that it won't have the same impact on a second read.

Maryom's review - 4 stars 
Publisher -
Genre - adult psychological thriller

Monday 23 October 2017

Tattletale by Sarah J Naughton

Review by The Mole

Abe Mackenzie is lying with severe head injuries at the foot of the stairs. Jody, his fiancée, is with him and calling for the emergency services. It seems he has committed suicide although no-one saw it happen and the police record his death as such.

Mags, his sister who hasn't had contact with him since she ran away from home at the age of 15, is contacted at her office in the USA to come and take the role of next of kin. Mags is now a successful lawyer and sees suspicion and doubt in anything she doesn't immediately understand. And she doesn't understand why he jumped.

Mags clearly learnt her investigative skills at the Morse school of detection and blunders from one accusation to the next with the reader at least one step ahead all the time but this really works to keep the reader engaged. Each accusation leads to one more thread of lies in the story unpicked taking us ever closer to understanding what really happened that night - which should come as no surprise to most readers before the end. But will justice be served? Can justice be served?

At times thrilling, at times very emotional as damaged characters unload some of their burden on the reader and at other times a condemnation of the way the justice system can completely fail the damaged and vulnerable.

A truly excellent read that will keep you turning the pages until the very end - but the real very end you may have to fill in for yourself.

Publisher - Trapeze (Orion)
Genre - Adult Thriller

Thursday 19 October 2017

The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased) by Marie Gameson

review by Maryom

Following a moment of revelation on a mountain top in Taiwan, Winifred Rigby believes she's attained a state of enlightenment, discarding all thoughts of  'self' along with her memories. Now forced by her family to return to London, she tries her best to live a life of Buddhist detachment and mindfulness, concentrating on the present, and forgetting the past, but is puzzled and frustrated by the almost obsessive care shown by her mother and sister, and, despite her intentions, the past seems unwilling to let go of Winnie. First she's approached by one of her former teachers who believes he is being haunted by his father, Mr Gadd, and that the answer to how to appease this ghost is to be found in an old school essay's of Winnie's - The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased). This leads to other random encounters  - with her best friend from her teenage years, and a former boyfriend - and more deliberate journeys into the past through her school essays. Maybe Winnie needs to re-connect with her past to find a future?

The story (apart from a short 'epilogue' is narrated by Winnie herself, and at first I took her words as 'true'. She believes that her family have tricked her in various ways - pretending her sister was ill to make Winnie come home from Taiwan, clearing a large amount of money from her back account, acting as if her father were dead when Winnie herself has seen him selling Big Issue at the tube station. I loved the tone of Winnie's voice, but it's obvious from the first page that Winnie and her family aren't quite communicating on the same wavelength and gradually I began to get the feeling that Winnie wasn't exactly the most reliable of narrators. Soon a number of mysteries emerge - why does her sister Ursula keep such a close eye on Winnie? what really happened to bring Winnie home from Taiwan? has Winnie chosen to forget the past or has she lost her memory in some way?  - and, of course, I needed to know why/what/ how, and was hooked.
Thought-provoking is a tag often used when reviewing books, but here, without stressing or labouring over them, the author introduces a variety of themes to mull over or discuss with bookclub friends - how do you care for or continue to love a person who has undergone a radical personality change? isn't change of some sort necessary to personal growth? is it good or bad to cut oneself loose from the past? is the detachment that Winnie seeks necessarily a good thing or can it make us careless of other people's emotions? It's a book I feel I could return to time and again, and always find something new hidden there.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult fiction

Thursday 12 October 2017

The Strategist by Gerrard Cowan

Review by The Mole
(The Machinery Trilogy, Book 2)

(Book 1 - The Machinery)

"Ruin is coming.

For ten millennia, the Machinery Selected the greatest leaders of humanity, bringing glory to the Overland. But the Machinery came with a Prophecy: in the 10,000th year, it will break, and Ruin will come.

Now, the Prophecy is being fulfilled. The Machinery has Selected a terrible being to rule the Overland, an immortal who cares little for the humans she governs. Some call her the Strategist. Others call her the One. Everyone knows her as Mother.

Mother will do anything to find the Machinery and finally bring Ruin. But only one creature knows where the Machinery is – the Dust Queen, an ancient being of three bodies and endless power.

And if Mother wants the Dust Queen’s help, she must ready herself for a game. A game from older times. A game of memory. A game in which mortals are nothing more than pawns."

Book 1 left us on a cliff hanger ending and, as with all such books, it's difficult to précis the next without including spoilers. It would be simple to say that the immortals are going to play a game where some of our mortals from The Machinery are pawns and this book sets the game up - but that sounds dull and boring while the action is anything but.

It appears that no-one is who they seem and this comes as a shock to them while we also meet a whole raft of new characters in engaging action that has you not wanting to put the book down. Once again the author leaves us on not one cliff hanger, but several as each character moves closer to the game. It's very much a story of 'pick your hero', particularly amongst the mortals.

I really loved this book and had forgotten how much I enjoyed the first one. Bring on book 3 (The Memory) please and let's see if the game starts and who actually gets to play.

This is classified as science fiction/fantasy but still carries a strong steampunk feel.

I read The Machinery 2 years ago and the paperback of The Strategist is only out in January 2018 (although the Kindle version has been available quite a while) but I found that picking the cliffhanger up after so long a little difficult - as well as remembering each of the characters etc. But the good news is that The Memory comes out in Kindle form in June 2018 so picking this up (or starting the trilogy again) now would be a good time to do it.

An excellent read for SF/Fantasy/Steampunk fans of all ages.

Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre - Fantasy 

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Darien by CF Iggulden

review by Maryom
Conn Iggulden is well known as a writer of historical fiction, but here he's taking the first steps into the world of fantasy, under the slightly different name of CF Iggulden - and although Darien is only the first book of a trilogy, it certainly bodes well for the stories still to come. 
To be honest, apart from the addition of a sprinkling of magic, there's often little difference between fantasy and historical fiction set, as Iggulden's novels are, in the ancient world - the story will generally be set at a time of upheaval, armies will march across the land, battles be fought over thrones, and sometimes there's one special character with a special skill - whether magical or merely the charisma to influence others - around whom the plot turns. Basically it's the stuff of legends, whether set in our own world, or one of the author's imaginings. In outline, I'd say Darien falls pretty much under that synopsis.

Darien itself is a huge city-state, nominally ruled by a king but the real power is held by twelve families, with their own armies to back them if necessary. The King's most experienced and feared general, though, holds the belief that he would be the fittest person to rule - and is about to act on that, with a plan to assassinate the king and seize power in the chaos that follows; caught up in his schemes are Elias Post, a hunter with special Neo/Matrix-like sword-dodging skills, and Vic Deeds, a master of the new martial art of gun-fighting. As the general's forces advance on the city, life is continuing as always - elderly ex-swordsman,Tellius, sends his gang of young pickpockets out into the streets and takes a new one under his wing, while Daw Threefold, always looking out for ways to get rich, finds Nancy, a girl with a special gift which might make him a fortune.
It's a really enjoyable read - not too violent considering the amount of bloodshed of a civil war, and with great array of characters, each with their faults and foibles to make them rounded and more human than some rather 2D fantasy hero. It's especially nice to see among them, in Nancy and Lady Sallet, strong female characters with interests beyond clothes, jewels and men. They're not all necessarily likeable (after all that would be stretching the imagination too far), and you're bound to have favourites among them, those you hope will win through and live happily ever after (though this is book one of three, so don't be too relieved even if your favourite made it to the end of this story). I, for one, will be eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - 
Michael Joseph
Genre - Adult fantasy fiction