Sisters Lexie and Annie haven’t seen each other in years. The path of addiction has taken Annie to some dark places, whilst her older sister Lexie has managed to strive ahead with her medical career and is looking forward to soon tying the knot with her doctor fiancé. Lexie has had her life near derailed by periodic reappearances of the drug addicted Annie over the years and has no desire to experience that kind of emotional and financial loss again. It just takes too much to control the uncontrollable.
BEFORE I LET YOU GO goes down the path of teaching, not preaching, and the colossal unfairness of addiction is empathetically portrayed here in what it is a very entertaining read. This is a book you will knock off in just a few seatings as you get caught up in wanting to see Annie through to the other side, and for both sisters to receive a happy ending that is as far away from their frightening shared childhood as possible. The back history of the two sisters is mostly narrated by journal entries of Annie, whose writing knack has never left her during the ‘lost’ years of addiction. You will feel every minute of Lexie’s righteous frustration both at the choices her sister has made, and with the obstructive nature of the process that is inevitable when a mother close to giving birth is still dangerously in the throes of a full-blown drug addiction.
The catalyst for Annie’s destructive path is buried in the past and is revealed piece by piece as Annie is walked through the process of introspective therapy. BEFORE I LET YOU GO successfully manages to relate without judgement all of the small falls and large falls from grace that lead to a young person ending up in such dire circumstances. There is some soft pedalling; much more visceral passages could have been included for sure, but perhaps they may have taken away from the focus of family ties.
The plight of being pregnant whilst addicted to hard drugs is tragic enough, and we definitely don’t hear much about what happens to the children that are conceived and delivered with so many physical and mental challenges to be faced from day one. Looking after newborns going through withdrawal would be nothing anyone would ever want to face, yet in this novel it is family bonds sources that strength. Love is virtually the only thing strong enough to slay such large dragons.
Bring Me Back, B.A. Paris
Ten years on from the disappearance of his young girlfriend Layla, Finn has well and truly taken charge of his own destiny. Engaged to be married to a wonderful woman, Finn has worked hard and built up enough cash reserves to be able to work from home, support his dog and live the quiet life in an English village. Life for Finn is extremely good. How quickly things can change.
As we’ve discovered with the two previous monster hits from this author (BEHIND CLOSED DOORS and THE BREAKDOWN ), Paris knows how to keep us in the seat and our eyes glued to the page. BRING ME BACK sets its own pace of creeping suspicion, denial, a good re-think, then circling back to rampant suspicion. Having a less than snowy white protagonist is all to the good and it works here that Finn is more everyday narky than a noble wounded survivor of tragedy. There’s more invested in BRING ME BACK than just the possibility of happy ever after for Finn. He has to work to get to that point, unravel and then re-form.
You may however be thinking as you read this book that “whoa, this man is extraordinarily dumb” and it is this colossal realization that takes away from what is otherwise a very readable work of crime fiction. It is so mind bogglingly obvious what is going on, so early on, that you start to question the sanity of the protagonist. Given, our Finn comes across as a bit vain and self-absorbed, but seriously. This is one person not coming across as that bright for someone who is supposed to be a gun financial analyst. His friends aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed either. A small cast, a small setting, few choices in suspects as to the who and why narrows your focus and this will rachet up the tension for the reader who will pile it onto every character encountered.
BRING ME BACK is a fast and enjoyable beach read that will carry you through to a change of shift with the lifeguards. Definitely a one trick pony though. Once that pony ponied up, that was all you could see and the rest of the book was reading on in hope that your insight to the obvious was not all there was going to be.
Bring on B.A. Paris, book number four!
The Woman in the Window, A.J. Finn
Dr Anna Fox is a doctor currently without a practice but there are always people, others like herself, whom she can still help even whilst confined to her New York home. Without her much loved husband and daughter, there are too many hours in the day that Anna finds she needs to fill with small human interactions, elsewise the pills and wine will step up and do that for her. There is the gorgeous downstairs lodger, the online forums where she counsels other agoraphobics, her physiotherapist, her ex business partner, the myriad of delivery people who bring her food and other supplies. It
Reserve yourself a little time and settle in as this engaging novel will be a one or two sitting read. Anna, despite all she has experienced, is immensely relatable and a warm narrator to listen to. There is no shame, there is only the present and the need for Anna to get herself through one day and then through the next. It is very easy to see only a few pages in why THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW was a monster hit straight out of the gates. Immersive, introspective and warm, this read totally wraps you up in the four walls of Anna’s townhouse as her growing concerns about the neighbours become yours.
Brace yourself for the huge jump scare at chapter’s end in the final quarter of the novel - I promise you will be leaping out of your seat! (Tip: Do not read this book on public transport).
Author A.J. Finn (was quite surprised to find this was a male author) does an excellent job in building up both tension and our worries for Anna’s welfare, an obviously intelligent character who is coping the best way she can with loss and mental illness.
BOOK REVIEW - TATTLETALE, Sarah J Naughton
Mags had been estranged from her brother Abe at the time of his accident. Their separation wasn’t due to having had a falling out; it was more that their lives had moved in very different directions. Confident Mags had followed her legal career to the U.S.
TATTLETALE is a bit of a muddy experience initially as the characters are established. As doubt begins to direct Mags in her investigations, the pace picks up and we are questioning everything that she has been told about the life of her brother. Mags is a terrific character (would love to see her again in another book) and the strength of her resolve drives TATTLETALE forward. The viewpoints of the two women are in such opposition to each other that we do not know who is presenting their true selves, and who is operating behind a mask. Secondary characters from the building all have their own memories of Abe and it is through these that Mags needs to sift in order to end this whole UK chapter and get back to her “real” life in the United States.
TATTLETALE around three quarters in takes a left turn and it is a little bewildering. It appears that the decision may have been made that the novel wasn’t long enough and so more was added to extend the work beyond what would have been its logical and natural end. The extra content and subsequent conclusion jars with the atmospheric tone carefully established in the first part of the book. Mags inserting herself in to Abe’s life with such determination versus the vague way in which Jody conducts her life is the real treat in TATTLETALE and the book is satisfyingly layered in such a way that you will want to see the resolution of every single thread the author has carefully introduced.
Review - Not a Sound, Heather Gudenkauf
Amelia Winn’s life after her traumatic accident is completely different to the life she enjoyed before. Once Amelia had an attentive husband, a much-loved step daughter, a fulfilling nursing career – and her hearing.
Hats off to the author for working so well within the constraints that would have been present when writing NOT A SOUND. The challenge would have been not only with what cues Amelia could receive herself but also in relating the expression of others ie ‘he said’ rather than ‘he drawled’ etc. The dialogue flows without any conscience effort needed by the reader to detect any further emotional nuances.
NOT A SOUND has two main highlights; the first is the unique perspective of Amelia being hearing impaired and the second is the inclusion of the dog! Stitch the service dog and his relationship with Amelia is wonderful to read of; Stitch not being the perfect dog in his service role any more than Amelia is the perfect pet owner. Every reader loves to read of pets playing serious roles in novels as that is real life – not many people live without a dog and/or cat.
Mystery wise NOT A SOUND has a small cast and setting so it does not present a huge puzzle to solve. Each step of characterization is carefully placed however and if this is to be the first book in a continuing series, NOT A SOUND is a solid start.
REVIEW - AN ISOLATED INCIDENT by Emily Maguire
Like in most small towns, Strathdee knows its residents well and the pace of life can be slow to the point of terminal boredom. No one knows this more than Chris Michaels, local queen of the bar. What has kept Chris on the good path up to now has been her younger sister Bella, all around saint and one of those people that no one has a bad word for. It was always Bella that saw the good in everybody and who propped Chris up when she was in danger of falling down after her marriage went south.
Wouldn't be too quick to classify this one as a psychological thriller as there is very little simmering tension in watching the lead character disintegrate a little day by day. The whole tone of the book is rather desultory, which fits in well with the remote country town setting where things take a while to happen. The death of Bella is a killing without purpose and the struggle that Chris feels in carrying on with normal life is both relatable and genuine. AN ISOLATED INCIDENT has an excellent sense of place and is very easy to project yourself into the setting of the small town who is increasingly being left behind. There is little mystery in this novel, but you will be concerned of how Chris will come out the other side of her grief and face each new day without her beloved sister being in the world. A slow moving novel about loss; both its enormity and of how shocking it is to the grieving that life simply must go on, regardless of what has been unexpectedly and horrifically taken from them.