36 Followers
57 Following
writtengems

writtengems

Purged (Matt Hunter) - Peter Laws

Professor Matt Hunter long ago lost his faith and gave up his role as minister. Now commissioned to write a book debunking faith he also assists the police with religiously motivated crimes. Matt travels to the village of Hobbes Hill with his family, perturbed by the flurry of crosses that fill the buildings. He also comes face to face with his past when the pastor of the local church turns out to be a former theological college student. The beautiful setting seems to be hiding some darker deeds as local women go missing. Matt is soon drawn into the case, hunting a killer determined to send those worthy to heaven.

This is the debut novel by Peter Laws, himself a minister, and is a cracking start to a new crime series.

 

The book focuses on the fervent and the lapsed, the role that belief or lack of can have on a person. During the course of the investigation Matt is forced to look further into his own loss of faith and how that may have affected his life and the lives of his family.

I had guessed the killer’s identity before the reveal but this did not detract from my enjoyment. I was completely wrapped up in the story until the very end. Peter Laws has a compelling writing style, mixing the comedic with the macabre and the more I read, the more I grew attached to the characters and the story.

 

Matt Hunter is a great character, funny, acerbic and devoted to his family. He is settled into his role as professor and is enjoys working with the police, investigating religiously motivated crimes. He has a tragic past, one that led him away from his calling as a minister, and the loss of faith resulting from that. During the novel, Matt is forced to face these issues, whilst trying to find a very real and dangerous killer. His wife, Wren is also a good character, perfectly balancing Matt and I look forward to reading more about Matt’s police colleagues in further novels.

 

Don’t let the religious theme put you off. I’m not remotely religious but I found this book to be a fascinating and gripping novel with a personable and unique protagonist.

 

A welcome new addition to the crime writing scene, peppered with humour but also thought provoking, dark and traumatic. A compelling, absorbing read and I for one can’t wait for the next book in the series.

Echoes in Death - J.D. Robb

Eve Dallas and her husband Roarke are returning from an evening out when a woman falls in front of them. Naked, bloodied and battered, Daphne Strazza has suffered a terrible ordeal, one which has left her husband dead. Her attack fits in with a series of other, similar, brutal assaults. Now Eve and her team must find the culprit before he strikes again.

 

J.D. Robb also known as Nora Roberts, has an impressive turnout of books, having written over 200 romance novels and this, Echoes in Death, is the 44th Eve Dallas novel.

For fans of the series this will be a welcome return to Dallas, Roarke, Peabody and co. To those new to the books, they are crime novels that are set in New York, some 50 or so years in the future. This setting, the fact that it is the future, gives a unique slant to the books. Things are the same but different, with references to droids, off planet holiday destinations, holograms and hover boards. But greed, and lust and jealousy and rage are still the same, and murder goes on as normal.

 

The dialogue sometimes seems to hit a flat note, there is something frenetic about it that it almost appears that the author was in a rush to type it. Because the novels are set in the future the slang and some terms used are a little different and so I sometime found myself translating what was said, figuring out what was meant.

 

This book is the 44th in the Eve Dallas series. I haven’t read all of these and I did find myself at a disadvantage when references to other characters and past stories was mentioned, especially as these weren’t given any further background information, it is assumed that the reader will have read the others in the series.

 

The crimes involve a fair bit of violence which may sound obvious but is quite overt in this instance and sometimes unrelentingly so, but it is part of the storyline so doesn’t verge into gratuitous territory.

 

But despite these quibbles I did enjoy the book. Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb is a best selling author for a reason, she can write entertaining novels, books that people can find a bit of escapism in. The story is fast paced and drags the reader along, ensuring they are caught up in the action. I had figured out the culprit before the reveal, but part of the fun was seeing how Eve brought him down.

 

An entertaining instalment in the Eve Dallas series.

Rupture (Dark Iceland) - Ragnar Jónasson

Siglufjörður is closed off due to a virulent virus. Ari Thór, to pass the time, agrees to look into a mysterious death from half a century ago. In the uninhabited fjord of Hedinsfjörður a woman had died of accidental causes. There were supposed to be only 4 people and a baby living there at the time, but a photo emerges showing a fifth person. Ari Thór begins to investigate, aided by Ísrún, a news reporter in Reykjavik, who becomes wrapped up in a death and a child’s disappearance.

 

Whilst this book is part of a series it can be read as a standalone novel, as can any of the series. Indeed, the English Language versions are published out of sequential order.

The storyline lent an almost nostalgic bent to the story, given part of it was set in the distant past, with all but one of those affected long dead. Knowing the outcome for the woman who died makes it all the more tragic, as does the case of the suspicious death in the capital, and the circumstances that surround it.

 

One thing that stands out in the Dark Iceland series is that Iceland itself is a major character in the book. The sites, the geography, the weather, all effect the story, all bring another layer to the tale. Iceland is a beautiful country, with it’s own unique atmosphere and vibe and this comes across in the novels. The mountains that surround the town, together this time with the virus, make its inhabitants seemingly cut off from the rest of the world. The sense of isolation is added to by the fact that so few characters appear in the story, only a handful complete the tale, making the town seem almost deserted.

 

As with the rest of the books in the series it is easy to fly through Rupture. Short paragraphs lend themselves to the obvious ‘just one more chapter’ promise to oneself and often end on a cliff-hanger that obviously means another must be read.

 

The characterisation is solid. There were times when I didn’t particularly like Ari Thór, his grumpiness sometime verging on unnecessary rudeness and Ísrún could often be found to verge on this herself. Kirsten, Ari Thór’s on/off girlfriend appears briefly in this novel and whilst she had annoyed me in past outings, she was more agreeable in Rupture.

This outing is slightly different in that a major part of it focusses on the incidents and investigations Ísrún carries out in Reykjavik, who is looking into a suspicious death and the kidnap of a boy that has shocked the country, all the while, battling her own health and personal issues. The storyline is solid and engaging and given there are three threads, not complicated or easy to loose track off.

 

Ragnar Jónasson’s literary past includes translating Agatha Christie into Icelandic. That influence shows in that he has created strong characters, with their own idiosyncrasies and foibles, possessing of course a keen eye for detection and giving all of his novels the closed room feel of a classic crime novel.

 

A sign of a great translation is the fact that the reader forgets they are reading a translated work. That is the case with Rupture. Quentin Bates has done a fantastic job of allowing English language readers the chance to experience this book. Whilst I obviously don’t know the original Icelandic version, it feels as if Quentin Bates has been true to the original and retained the voice of Ragnar Jónasson.

 

Another great installment in the Dark Iceland series. I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

By Its Cover - Donna Leon

Commissario Guido Brunetti is called to a library in Venice. Someone has been stealing valuable books. Even worse, pages have been taken from others, leaving the remaining tomes worthless. Brunetti believes that something other than petty theft and vandalism is involved. His investigation takes him into Venice high society and leads him to a former priest who frequents the library. When he is murdered the investigation takes a deeper turn.

 

I’m a long time Donna Leon fan. Reading her latest book is like going home. I wallow in the comfort of being surrounded by familiar characters, watching them develop over the years. In fact her books for me are as much about these characters as they are about the crime being investigated.

 

As always Venice is itself an integral character in the book. I could imagine myself wandering the Calles and canals of the ancient city. I am always easily transported by Donna Leon to this beautiful part of Italy and her love for the city shines through the book as it does in all the others in the series.

 

Also a word of advice. Don’t read this book if you are hungry. The description of the meals eaten  by the Brunetti clan are enough to make your mouth water.

 

The story itself was interesting. I had worked out what had happened and who was the culprit before the reveal but this did not spoil my enjoyment. There have been other readers who have commented on the abrupt ending. However I find that Donna Leon’s books rarely have that neat finish to them that most crime novels contain. This would normally irritate me as I prefer finality in a novel, or to know that the story is to continue. With Brunetti I know I should not expect such a tying up of loose ends. Indeed there have been stories in the past where Brunetti has been unable to do as he would like due to bureaucracy or other external forces and I suppose this is more true to life.

 

I am looking forward to reading the 24th book in the Brunetti series, Falling in Love, as soon as I get my hands on a copy.

The Book of Mirrors - Eugen Ovidiu Chirovici

A literary agent receives an intriguing manuscript. Drawn in by the covering letter sent by Richard Flynn, he starts to read the submission. Soon he is enthralled by the manuscript which describes how Richard Flynn came to know Joseph Weidner who was brutally murdered 25 years ago. When the manuscript abruptly ends the agent tries to track down the story. But what is the true story? How much do memories warp over time  and what really happened all those years ago?

 

I very much enjoyed this interesting crime novel.

 

The book’s theme is that memory can become warped or altered, either immediately after a traumatic event or over a period of time. This can be the brain’s natural way of dealing with trauma or through being manipulated. The question is how much can we trust our memories?

 

The book is divided into three parts, each with a different narrator. I thought this device worked extremely well. The first third deals with the manuscript and is almost a story within a story. The reader is lured in with Richard’s tale, reading the manuscript in time with the agent. The first impression we get of the characters is through Richard’s eyes. This effects how we view the characters as they appear during the remainder of the book. For things appear to not be as Richard remembered and the reader is challenged to decide who and what to believe. The voice of each narrator is slightly different as is their own take on the case. Some were involved in the case, others not, but the reader has to decide what to believe.

 

The story draws the reader in, the use of a story within a story is a great technique of adding a layer to the narrative. Conversely, the use of narrators who are not directly involved in the incident has the effect of separating the reader from the tale, a distance that could make the story too remote, without enough layers to make the reader care about the protagonists but luckily the author manages not to cross that line. There is the constant niggle that the main players in the murder story can’t be trusted. The reader is led to question who is telling the truth, or rather whose memory is the more accurate.

The Book of Mirrors is an engaging book. I found myself nearly a third of the way through the book after initially picking it up to see if I wanted to read it. It also makes you think about whether your first memories are actual memories or images created as a result of what we think happened. I will add though that the book seemed more about who could be trusted than whether the memories mentioned in the book were true or not, that’s to say more about the manipulation of truth and different view points tag memories of events.

 

This book nearly didn’t happen in that the author had nearly give up hope of being published. A kind, and very honest publisher who loved the book but knew he couldn’t honour the advances the book deserved advised EO Chirovici to try one more time. Luckily he did as his book was snapped up by a London agent and to date has sold in 30 territories.

 

An entertaining, clever story, told in an engaging manner that fit the story. I’ll be keen to read more work by EO Chirovici in the future.

The Constant Soldier - William   Ryan

Paul Brandt is returning to his home town, horribly injured whilst fighting the Allies on the front in the East. As he returns home, passing the SS Rest Hut he sees one of the women prisoners. Shocked he realises it is the woman he fell in love with, whilst part of a political resistance movement years earlier. Already haunted by his role in her arrest, and by the guilt of his actions whilst in combat, Paul vows to find a way to help the woman prisoner.

 

We read war novels with the benefit of hindsight. Although the horrors are known, and the outcome, it adds tension to the narrative, rather than detract from it. The reader knows how the war ends, they know of the atrocities inflicted and its this knowledge that makes the story all the more moving and impacting. I rarely read war novels yet I had heard numerous reviews declaring this book a wonderful read so I had to find out for myself.

 

It was fascinating to read a novel portraying the war from the German point of view. It is obvious when thought is given that not all of those fighting for Germany would have done so willingly, or would have agreed with the Nazi propaganda. There would have been civilians who were against the war, who were unaware for a long time of the atrocities that were occurring, and that who would have felt powerless to do anything once the extent of the terrible actions that Hitler was inflicting were revealed.  This novel delves into that, exploring the feelings and actions of those living in the shadows of the concentration camps, in a land that was annexed by Germany. William Ryan sensitively and beautifully portrays a country on the brink, coming to terms with the fact that everyone will be impacted by the punishment due to be inflicted by the Allies.

 

Paul Brandt is the constant soldier in many ways. His injuries are a constant reminder of his time served on the front. His memories constantly haunt him of those he killed whilst under orders. On his return home he finds that he is still fighting, though this time the enemy is different and his fight is a hidden one.

 

William Ryan has the magical ability to make the reader feel something close to sympathy for some of those characters who deserve none. Nuemann, haunted by his actions in the war, is one such character. His actions at the SS Hut are not enough to garner sympathy, but there is something that moves the reader to hear of his actions, and regrets. There are others whom the reader will feel deserve any punishment that should come their way, disconcertingly so as it is uncomfortable to realise you are wishing for violence to be meted out on someone, albeit a fictional character.

 

Characterisation is strong throughout this novel, from the Partisans who are fleeting, to Commandants of the SS. Paul himself is a complex character. Instinctively he is likeable, driven as he is by his need to atone. His guilt haunts him, yet it is the guilt of a man who was fighting a war he didn’t believe in. It is a guilt by association. It is also what drives him, gives him hope in someway. The rescue of the women prisoners is Paul’s way to seeking forgiveness, from them and from himself.

 

I rarely read war novels yet I had heard numerous reviews declaring this book a wonderful read so I had to find out for myself. All the plaudits are well deserved. If you miss out on reading this you’ll miss an absorbing, powerful, poetic and emotive novel.

Beautifully written, emotive and moving, this is a wonderfully told story of war, love and redemption.

 

I will be seeking out the other novels by William Ryan, and soon.

A Deadly Thaw: A Mystery (Inspector Francis Sadler) - Sarah Ward

2004 and Lena Fisher is convicted of killing her husband Andrew. 2016 and a body is found in an old morgue. The trouble is the body is Andrew Fisher. So who did Lena Fisher kill 12 years ago? Where has Andrew been for all those years – and why was he murdered now?

 

Having read and enjoyed In Bitter Chill, Sarah Ward’s debut novel, I was keen to read the latest book to feature detectives Sadler and Childs. The story opens with an intriguing premise, a man supposedly murdered twelve years ago, turns up dead in a mortuary. The story grabs from the outset and pulls the reader along with it until the very end.

 

Lena Fisher isn’t particularly likeable, and this is even after events surrounding the 2004 murder arise. But her actions become clearer and more understandable as the story progresses. There is a good balance between the police involvement and the involvement of Kat, Lena’s sister, who is also trying to untangle the mess her sister appears tied up in, whilst dealing with professional and personal issues of her own. We get to learn more about Sadler, Connie and Palmer, as well as other characters. This helps round out the story,  their characters and what drives them are just as essential to the storyline as the motive for the murders is. As we read more about the detectives, the more the reader, or this reader at any rate, becomes invested in the story, and in what will hopefully become a long running series. The setting too adds a layer to the story, there is the small town feel to Bampton, one which is used to keeping secrets, and not too keen on sharing them, which adds to the tension.

 

This novel feels much more assured than In Bitter Chill, and I mean no offence when I say that. There is a confidence to the writing, and the characters and location feel more established on this, their second outing. The topics covered in the novel are emotive and thought-provoking and dealt with a skilled and sensitive way. In my opinion A Deadly Thaw firmly establishes Sarah Ward on the crime writing scene.

 

A thoroughly enjoyable novel, I’m looking forward to the next Sadler and Childs novel.

Watch Her Disappear - Eva Dolan

Corinne Sawyer sets off for a run one morning and never returns. She is found murdered, strangled and viciously beaten. What would have been a case for CID is passed to the Hate Crimes team when it emerges that Corinne was born Colin Sawyer. Is Corinne's death related to a series of violent attacks on members of the trans community? Or could the rapist who has been attacking young joggers finally progressed to murder? Zigic and Ferreira must find out before anyone else dies.

 

The novel is a commentary on how society accepts transgender people and depicts the fallout and differing responses that occur after a dramatic change occurs in a family . When a husband and a father suddenly becomes a wife and mother. The gambit of emotions are shown in the Sawyer family, from heartbreak and anger, acceptance and love, to violence and shame.

 

The mystery itself is one with enough suspects, twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. There are three different threads to the story that run along side each other, merging to create a wonderfully rounded and engaging story. I had guessed the culprit before the reveal but this did not spoil my enjoyment of this entertaining novel.

There is a brilliant dynamic between the team depicted in the story, not just between Zigic and Ferreira but also with other colleagues within Hate Crimes and in the larger force. There are touches of reality that help shape the novel, making it feel more authentic for the reader.

 

Zigic is coming to terms with the reality of having three children, the baby taking a toll on his life, aware he needs to exercise more. This could be mundane under the wrong hands but Eva Dolan uses these aspects of life to round out her character, making him more accessible and relatable, and all the more enjoyable to read about. Ferreira is more introspective in this novel, looking back at a past relationship which has shaped her to this day. The reader finds out why Mel is distant, less inclined for relationships and a new side to the detective is revealed.

 

Eva Dolan deals with emotive, and often complex, issues with gripping prose that is the perfect balance. By that I mean it is informative, entertaining, rightly judgmental in places yet far from self righteous. It allows the reader to create their own impression of the characters and motive for murder, of the ridicule and trauma the transgender and transvestite community face and therefore the level of anger and sadness that this creates will be different and particular to each reader.

 

Moving, thought-provoking and emotive, this is a gripping novel focusing on a sadly neglected area of crime, those motivated by hate. If you love crime novels then this book is for you. If you love crime novels but are looking for a book that deals with societal issues and victims who are often viewed, quite wrongly, as the outcasts of society then this book is for you.

 

Eva Dolan is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. I was late coming to her Hate Crimes series. Luckily I have her first two books to read whilst I await her next novel, which can't come soon enough.

Deep Down Dead - Steph Broadribb

Lori Anderson is desperate for a big money job. A bounty hunter in Florida, she finds herself facing large medical bills after her daughter suffers leukaemia. Worried about meeting those bills and paying the rent she agrees to fetch a bail skip from West Virginia and to deliver him back in three days time. It seems a simple job, too simple for the high bail bond set. Then she finds out the skip is her former mentor. What could JT have got mixed up in that means members of a child exploitation racket and members of a different mob are after his head. And can they make it home in time?

 

The is a fast, frenetic pace to this story, the action never seems to let up, and neither does the tension. It drags you along, making the reader speed through the chapters to keep up with Lori and JT and their hunt.

 

There have been stories about female bounty hunters before, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum is a shining example. But don’t expect madcap family members and pockets of comedy with Deep Down Dead. This is a much grittier, darker tale. Lori Anderson is tougher, more hardened and tempestuous. She is a impetuous yet tries to be considered, has a tough exterior that hides deeper emotions. This amalgam of traits makes Lori emerge as a more concrete, rounded character. She is easy to envisage and in turn she enables the reader to easily imagine the other characters in the story.

 

The main characters are Lori and JT. This isn’t to say that the other characters who appear aren’t depicted well enough or are superfluous, far from it. It just means that the story is driven by these two main characters, most of the narrative is concentrated on them. The reader spends much of the story with them and as a result becomes more invested in their story. The other characters facilitate this, broadening out the story, bring danger and threat to Lori and JT, just as the reader becomes attached to them.

I’m not going to go too much into the story for fear of spoiling it. let me just say that it is an emotive one, it can only ever be emotive when the issue involves child exploitation. It’s very nature means that the reader is invested in Lori and JT, willing them to succeed in their bid for justice, the urgency of doing so all the more pressing.

 

Steph Broadribb trained as a bounty hunter in the USA and has spent some of her working life out there. This experience shows in Deep Down Dead. The language used feels authentic and doesn’t jar, clipped sentences and phrases used means the reader can hear Lori’s accent when they read and whilst I don’t imagine that Steph found herself in the same predicament as Lori, the fact that she has experience in bounty hunting comes across in the novel.

 

Deep Down Dead takes the reader on a tumultuous, frenetic ride one where the pace never lets up and the reader is soon caught up in Lori’s race to save the people she loves.

 

Deep Down Dead is the first in the Lori Anderson series. I am impatiently awaiting the next book from Steph Broadribb.

Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay - Jill Mansell

Clemency Price is settled in St Carys, her home town. Working as an estate agent she has a lovely set of friends. She can’t, however, forget the man she met three years ago. A man she couldn’t be with. She is therefore surprised to see him in St Carys, and broken-hearted to realise he is still unavailable. Trying to hide her feelings she ropes her friend and boss Ronan in to help. But Ronan is hiding heartache of his own and soon wires become very crossed.

 

Having recently re-discovered Jill Mansell’s novels I was thrilled when a copy of her latest novel arrived. I settled down with the book and was soon caught up with life in St Carys.

 

There are a host of charming characters. Clemency is a lovely character. Loving to her friends and family, good at her job as an estate agent but with strong morals that she maintains, even when it causes her heartache. Ronan is a Jack the Lad, having a reputation in town as a cheeky but charming lothario. It is a joy to read about his transformation as he comes to terms with the fact that he may have met his romantic match. The rapport between Clemency and Ronan was a delight to read, the banter between the two bringing laughter and humour to the pages. Belle is a perhaps more in depth character. Step sister to Clemency, the sibling rivalry is apparent and a point which does divide the sisters to some extent. She is more acerbic and less easy going but as the story progresses it becomes clear that a secret she has been keeping for a long time has affected her demeanour to a degree even she isn’t aware of.

I could often be heard chuckling to myself as I read this book, dashed through as it was with humour and light-hearted banter. I found myself racing through the book but also wanting to take my time so it wouldn’t be over too soon.

 

Jill Mansell has a wonderfully comforting style of writing. Her books are extremely engaging, drawing the reader in, filled with laughter and loveable characters, and story lines that are strong throughout the novels. Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay is no different and fans won’t be disappointed.

 

This is a warm and witty novel, packed full of wonderful characters. Perfect for a lazy summer’s day or a dark winter’s night. A lovely bit of escapism for a few hours. I’m looking forward to the next book from Jill Mansell soon.

The Vanishing - Sophia Tobin

Annaleigh Calvert has to leave behind all she has ever known in London and travel to Yorkshire. There, at White Windows, nestled on the Moors, she is to be the housekeeper to the Twentymans, Marcus, the lonesome master and his widow sister Hester. But Annaleigh soon realises that the inhabitants of White Windows are not as they first seem and White Windows may not be her escape after all.

 

Sophia Tobin has created a wonderfully compelling story, one that wraps itself around you much like a moorland mist. All the characters are well drawn, each adding a layer to the story. Annaleigh is the focus, a mix of a woman willing to work hard, to be subservient but with a will that is at odds with her place in society, who’s anger and strength lies barely dormant just under the surface. She finds herself faced with challenges, conflicted between her opinions of the Twentymans. By failing to take heed of her misconceptions she changes the course of her life for ever. Marcus Twentyman is a contradictory figure. Often fleeting, his presence felt rather than seen, he is outwardly charming but has a malevolent air, one that runs throughout the novel. Then there is Thomas. He was a wonderful character, a seemingly a minor character but one who is pivotal to the story who perfectly juxtaposes Marcus.

 

As for the moors, they are as central to the story as any character. Sophia Tobin vividly portrays the landscape, so easy was it to imagine White Windows, the village of Becket Bridge and the surrounding wilds of the moorland, with it’s beauty and danger being the perfect metaphor for the story of Annaleigh.

 

Sometimes a book works it’s magic on you in the first few pages. It’s voice resonates and appeals to the reader in a way that the story envelopes you, pulling you along until the last page. This is one of those books. I often say that stories have atmospheres, a world that the reader in drawn into, that is unique to the author. The atmosphere of The Vanishing is encompassing and compelling, drawing you in and meaning the reader is soon invested in Annaleigh’s story.

 

The book is described as perfect for fans of Jane Eyre and The Miniaturist. However in The Vanishing there are no friendly staff to befriend the new servant and the madness is not contained in the attic but walks freely amongst the moors. If you aren’t a fan of either of the previously mentioned novels don’t let that put you off. The Vanishing is a highly original tale, one which takes a surprising and dark turn.

 

This is an engrossing and wonderfully gothic tale, that soon works its magic on the reader, transporting them to another time and to a gripping story. This is the first novel by Sophia Tobin I have read. I will have to read her other novels soon.

 

A tale of madness, love and revenge, this is a perfect book for a long winter evening.
A Vintage Wedding - Katie Fforde

Beth is new to town and reluctantly attends a local event in the village hall. There she meets Lindy and Rachel. The three soon make friends, bonding over plans to spruce up the dilapidated village hall. Beth feels the place would be perfect for her sister’s wedding, which has to be done on a budget. The three of them soon hatch a plan to start a vintage wedding planning business. As the women plan another wedding that will happen very soon, they make firm friends. And find love for themselves in the process.

I am a huge fan of Katie Fforde’s novels and always look forward to her latest book. In fact, hers are books I have to delay reading for as long as possible so that I know the wait for the next one won’t be very long.

 

I had so much fun reading this book. And sometimes fun is just what is needed. This is one of those books where if you have to put it down for any reason you long to get back to it. I was soon caught up in the lives of Lindy, Beth and Rachel and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen.

 

All of the characters are portrayed very well. The three women are all different but complemented each other. Rachel’s OCD tendencies are tested to the limit when she has to confront Lindy’s small, untidy house, overrun by Lindy and her two young sons. It was lovely to see her challenge herself to become more relaxed and Raff, the man who appears to turn her life upside down, was proof that opposites attract. Lindy adds another dimension. A single mother of two young sons she has differing priorities. Having always put them first she has to adjust to the fact that she may be able to have a career she loves and that there might be room for romance. As for Beth she has struggles with her own controlling mother. The fact that she can utilise her organisational skills and produce beautiful, successful, weddings, gives her the independence she needs and helps her grow closer to her mother. The rest of the characters beautifully round out the book, adding to the charm of the tale.

 

There are some things that need to be taken with a pinch of salt, instances of suspension of disbelief that allow the story to progress rapidly, for example how quickly they become friends, or Beth’s relationship with Charlie, which doesn’t seem deep enough to warrant Beth’s reaction. It may be obvious when you start to read the novel that the women will all find love. Stories such as the ones Katie Fforde writes don’t need to be ones where the reader doesn’t know if the woman gets her man, it’s all about reading as they fall in love. The joy with stories like these is not the destination but the journey.

 

There is something warm and comforting about this book, it truly is one you can curl up with and get lost in. Perfect for long autumn evenings or to while away time on the beach. I’m very much looking forward to reading Katie Fforde’s next book, hopefully soon.

The Keeper of Lost Things: A Novel - Ruth Hogan

Author Anthony Peardew has been haunted by a broken promise for forty years. Compelled to collect lost items in the hope of finding their owners his study in Padua, his home. But as he realises his life is drawing to a close, he also knows that he must pass on the task of reuniting the items with the people who lost them. The perfect person is Laura, his assistant and housekeeper, who finds herself the new owner of Padua and its contents. Eager to carry out Anthony’s wishes but overwhelmed with the task she is soon aided by Freddy, the gardener and Sunshine, a lonely girl with special gifts. Unbeknownst to her it may be that Anthony has left her the greatest gift anyone could have. And whilst she helps lost things find their lost people, she may just find herself in the process.

 

There is something slightly magical about this book. It casts its spell over the reader, drawing them into the story, so that you are soon caught up in the tale of Anthony and his lost things. This is a book that keeps calling to you to read if you have to unfortunately break off for any reason.

 

The story is populated with a wonderful array of characters, with not one out of place. Laura had arrived at Padua years earlier, looking for an escape from the tattered remains of an unhappy marriage. With Anthony and the house she finds peace and a surrogate family. As the story develops so does Laura, becoming less embittered, less selfish and more sure that she has some self worth and is deserving of happiness.

 

Freddy, the gardener, awakens feelings in Laura that she though were long gone, but also provides friendship and laughter, helping her with her task. Then there is Sunshine, who as her name suggests, brings light and warmth to the lives of her new friend Laura and Freddy. Sunshine is a special girl, with unique gifts and her ability to say, simply, what other people find difficult to vocalise helps Laura in unexpected ways. Laura and Freddy help to counteract the bullies who have marred Sunshine’s life and give her purpose.

 

There is a parallel story running throughout, that of Edie and Bomber, spanning forty years. Edie’s story is one of unrequited yet sustaining love, of her deep friendship with Bomber. Throughout her tale there are glimpses to show how her story and Anthony’s story merge together, whether that is serendipitously or coincidentally is open to question.

 

The tale weaves between the two, showing how Anthony and Edie’s lives become inextricably linked, through coincidence or cosmic design. It requires some suspension of disbelief but is done in such a charming way that you could almost be left wishing real life was a little more like this book. It is a ghost story, a story of love, and of sadness and of the impact physical things can have on a person’s life.

 

The story shows the history behind some of Anthony’s lost things, some happy, many sad, others funny. All snapshots into other people’s lives and the significance, or not, of the physical objects gathered through life. They are the muse for Anthony’s popular short stories. Perhaps life does imitate art for the author herself is a collector of lost things and inspired her novel and the cover features some of the treasures she has unearthed over the years.

 

Don’t expect a mad dash of a story for this is a gently told tale. Sometimes that is just what is needed, gentle escapism. A lovely story, perfect to curl up with on a long winter evening. I look forward to reading more from Ruth Hogan in the future.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

My thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book.

 

Having just finished a book about books and bookshops I asked the hive mind that is social media for suggestions of other books that celebrate novels, bookshops and booklovers. One of the most suggested titles was The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and when the publisher offered me a copy I of course had to say accept.

 

A.J. Fikry runs Island Books, the only book store on Alice Island. He spends his days begrudgingly selling books he doesn’t like to people he doesn’t care for, ignoring the pile of reading copies sent by publishers and spends his nights trying to drink himself to death. His life begins to change for the better when he first meets Amelia, the new rep from a publishers. After a rather rude meeting he gets drunk and finds that a very expensive book has been stolen from him. On the brink he leaves his bookshop open one day only to return to find that someone has left a little girl there. A little girl who changes his life in ways he cannot imagine.

 

I picked this book up with the intention of just gaining an idea as to whether I would like to read it. I soon found myself well engrossed in the delightful and moving story of A.J. Fikry and his friends.

 

A.J. is one of the most delightfully taciturn curmudgeonly characters I’ve read. His grumpiness is endearing rather than annoying and despite himself he makes friends, becomes a father, finds love and becomes one of the key people on the island of Alice. At the beginning of the book, he is surviving, just. He is saved from trying to drink himself to death by the theft of a book and the finding of Maya.  He is not the only character that is wonderfully portrayed. Lambaise is a great police officer, meeting A.J. at a traumatic time in his life, there again when A.J. finds Maya. He encourages A.J. to look outside his own closed off little world, to start to live again. A.J. in turn introduces Lambaise to the world of fiction, something he had shied away from after being discouraged at school, he gives Lambaise a friend and he comes to be like a member of the family. Maya is precocious and just what A.J. needs to come alive again. They give each other meaning and despite not being his biological child, are easily made for each other, drawn together by their love for the bookshop. Amelia is a wonderful counter balance to A.J. and lends comedy to the story, balancing out the grumpiness of A.J. perfectly.

 

As for Island Books, I would dearly love to take two buses and a ferry to visit the purple weather board building, to wander around, browsing the shelves before buying a newly discovered treasure.

 

There is something wonderfully surreal about this story, and I say this as someone who is not a fan of surrealism. The language used lends a magical air to the tale and it propels you through the story, meaning you find yourself at the end before you know it. I don’t want to say too much more about the story as the joy really is in finding out for yourself.

 

This is a book that celebrates the written word, the diverse nature of fiction and the joy that books can bring.

 

For all of us there is a beginning and an end, it’s just the bit in the middle that’s the fascinating part of the story. It was a pleasure to read about A.J.’s journey.

The Bird Tribunal - Rosie Hedger, Agnes Ravatn

My thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book.

 

Orenda Books have the knack of publishing challenging, diverse literature from authors dotted around the world. Their latest offering, The Bird Tribunal by Norwegian author Agnes Ravatn, is a perfect example of Orenda’s diverse portfolio.

 

Allis Hagtorn has accepted a job as housekeeper and gardener for Sigurd Bagge. Surprised to find Bagge isn’t the old man she had expected, but a taciturn man only a few years her senior. Allis spends her days tidying the garden, keeping out of Bagge’s way, and trying to forget the humiliating events that led to her self-imposed exile. But slowly things begin to change and as Allis and Bagge’s relationship alters and develops it becomes apparent that Allis may not be the only one with something to hide…

 

I have to admit I initially struggled with this novel. I couldn’t engage with Allis. She had a self-centred attitude that meant I could feel little sympathy for her situation. She tackled events in a manner that seemed to invite worry and stress, inventing problems that perhaps weren’t there. This impression continued throughout the book but I became used to her complex and unconventional persona. Bagge on the other hand was a character that was easier to understand. His initial demeanour was a rude

standoffishness that was what was probably expected from someone living alone. His actions as the book progressed didn’t appear to me as threatening or potentially violent, it was more that they began to seem that way as projected by Allis’ fears and neuroses. This perhaps was Agnes Ravatn’s aim, having an unreliable narrator such as Allis allows the reader to feel unsure as to exactly what is happening, uneasy at dismissing Allis’s fears but also on edge, just in case they are true.

 

There is a claustrophobic feel to this story, ironically perhaps given that the tale centres on two characters sharing a house surrounded by an expanse of forest and fjord. This atmosphere is lent by the fact there are so few characters, Allis and Bagge are the main protagonists, with the only other two people that Allis interacts with barely appearing on the page. The disconcerting air is also propounded by the fact that speech is not differentiated with other descriptive narrative. There are no speech marks used throughout the novel. This gives the story a surreal quality, the reader is often unsure if something is said or thought, or indeed if some of the tale is not a figment of Allis’ imagination.

 

The second half of the novel develops at a faster pace, the story that unfolds is one that I had predicted but which is told with skill, with Agnes Ravatn showing a knack for creating a tense, chilling tale with often sparse prose, reflecting the isolation of the setting and the protagonists. There is an almost Hitchcock like suspense to the tale and I could easily imagine it as a black and white film, stark to highlight the beauty of the surroundings with the tense tale that unfolds.

 

A note on the translation. As is always the case with a good translation, the words read as if they were written directly by the author and not via the translator.

 

This is a short novel, less than 200 pages but it fits a lot into its small form. This is a tale of obsession, of madness and of the way the past has of coming back to haunt us. A challenging book but one I am pleased I read.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks - Jason Arnopp

Jack Sparks is a journalist who doesn’t do things by halves. Whilst writing his book Jack Sparks on Gangs he followed gang members. In order to write Jack Sparks on Drugs, he took every illegal drug available. Now he’s writing Jack Sparks on the Supernatural, trying to debunk the afterlife. He attends an exorcism that doesn’t go as planned. Then finds a You Tube video posted to his account that he has nothing to do with. It’s said from the beginning that Jack Sparks died writing his book. But just how did he die?

This is a cleverly told tale. The book within a book format draws the reader in, giving the story a lovely flow. I soon found myself well engrossed in the book as a result. It would appear that Jason Arnopp had fun writing this novel. It is peppered with dark humour, which just adds to the entertainment.

Jack Sparks isn’t that likeable, and that is perhaps the point. He is egotistic, arrogant, self-centred and plain rude. Everything he writes is done to reflect his biased viewpoint and ridicule anyone who disagrees with him. His brother Alistair, whilst trying to be neutral, also begins to show that Jack’s character traits run in the family. Bex and Sherrilyn are great characters, giving a balance to the story but also providing some of the key scenes in the novel.

Jack is also an unreliable narrator, his story is contradicted by transcripts from other characters ‘inserted’ into his book by his brother Alistair. Alistair too comes across as not to be trusted, giving the whole story, from both sides, an edge of uncertainty and leading the reader to have to come to their own conclusions as to where the real story lies.

I’ve seen some reviews indicate that this book was scary. I didn’t personally think it was it was scary but that didn’t spoil the enjoyment of the novel. This is a thriller with a supernatural twist. It is a fresh spin on the thriller genre and cleverly executed.

This is an entertaining and darkly funny novel from Jason Arnopp. I am looking forward to reading more from him in the future.

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of the book.