Book review - The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden
Winter in a remote Russian village must be diligently prepared for and stoically endured.
Being the first entry in a series, THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE needed to deliver on a number of fronts. The world of Russian folklore is relatively new territory to this reviewer but there are commonalities to the stories of other cultures i.e. that of Jack Frost, winter kings, and of domestic spirits and the sacrifices that are required to appease them. It also needed to engage and we can tick that box as TBATN pulls gently but insistently at your attention throughout with fully fleshed characters who all have their own paths to tread, descriptions of a beautiful and icy landscape and the lure of a enigmatic saviour not from the realm of man. Vasya (as Vasilisa is mostly called in this novel) is trapped by the conventions and misapprehensions of her gender in a more restrictive time. She is both incredibly naive and intuitively brave at the same time and you will need to accept her character as one that tries to do the best she can in oppressive circumstances. Vasya can be sometimes irritating but this is her story, her trials, and her onward journey.
THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE trips between two sensibilities; those of mature adult fantasy readers who are prepared to encounter darker themes and those of young adults or children who might not necessarily want to. The intended market is never quite clear in this read though so the expectations of this adult reader were not quite met. This is not necessarily a negative thought as THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE is delightful regardless; it is more that the anticipated adult entanglements and violent encounters are only thinly referenced or left out altogether.
The continuum of this book has some well prepared scope; book three of the series is now being written. THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE is a solid first entry and beautifully crafted piece of fantasy that will keep you happily immersed in a wintry world of folklore that is quite familiar and yet fresh once again in the hands of an author who obviously loves her creations, and has great respect for their land of origin.
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.
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 - Every Last Lie, Mary Kubica
Clara has hit rock bottom. Dealing with a newborn, a demanding pre-schooler, ageing parents and money struggles is hard enough and Clara is having to face all of it on her own. Clara’s husband Nick has been killed in a car accident and there doesn’t seem to be anyone other than Clara concerned about finding out exactly how it all happened. True, Nick could be impatient behind the wheel. Also that Nick had been going through some business troubles – he owned his own surgery and it had been a big financial risk for him to branch out into private practice. Clara is certain however that N
Your reviewer is new to this (incredibly popular) author so it was a reading requirement to find out (reasonably quickly) why it is that author Mary Kubica is in the ‘must read’ stable of so many crime and mystery readers. It didn’t take long.
EVERY LAST LIE is an immersive book of how far into discovery one determined mother is prepared to go in order to get to the truth and do the right thing by her family. Told by both Nick and Clara, it almost tells the story of two different couples, such is the variance in perspective from both husband and wife. Clara, as a new mother and now widow, is slogging through the worst time of her life in the present and Nick’s life is quickly unravelling in the days up to his death.
Kubica cleverly brings Clara to the brink of discovery then introduces doubt, never relenting in the sense that Clara is getting closer to real harm herself. It doesn’t take too long to be completely hooked and EVERY LAST LIE adds weight to each page as Clara struggles to come out from under what she realizes was her own ignorance – she simply did not know what had been happening in the life of her own husband.
BOOK REVIEW - A SIMPLE FAVOUR, DARCEY BELL
Stephanie, a widow and active mummy blogger, has fully immersed herself in creating her own online space where she reaches out to “the sisterhood” for validation and adoration. Stephanie adores her only child, a six-year-old son, but a life occupied by endless maternal domesticity, Stephanie freely acknowledges, is not always completely satisfying. The disappearance of Stephanie’s dear friend, fellow school mother Emily, propels the mundane arrangement of an overextended playdate into the crashing together of two volatile families, both scrabbling to find out the truth.
A SIMPLE FAVOUR is an absolute treat of a book and for a debut novel, remarkably polished. Punch after surprising punch is delivered to the reader who resultantly never quite knows who to root for. Considering that a child has been abandoned by his mother, A SIMPLE FAVOUR stays well clear of portraying maudlin maternal emotions and instead examines what happens when someone decides to put their best foot forward in their new and changed circumstances. Stephanie’s character set in a different book would be just as chilling, and the familiar environment of home and hearth is anything but comforting in this surprising and gripping novel.
Read without guilt! A SIMPLE FAVOUR scoots along at a breakneck space and is anything but predictable.
Review - The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman, Mindy Mejia
Hattie Hoffman is the brightest of the bunch. A small town girl with big dreams, Hattie is counting the days until her high school graduation is all over and done with so she can proceed with the life that she really wants to lead; that of an aspiring actress in New York. Hattie loves her parents and enjoys hanging out with her friends but the Hattie they all see is an act. The real Hattie dwells within and is nothing like the girl everybody thinks they know.
THE LAST ACT OF HATTIE HOFFMAN has a lot of balls in the air at once and does an admirable job with the interplay. As with any small town crime, the suspects are taken out of a smaller pool and you are able to examine each viewpoint for clues. Flipping between past and present it features the viewpoint of Hattie, the Sherriff tasked with investigating her murder and that of the new person in town, Peter Lund. There are only a few small irks with this read. Perhaps it’s too much of a sensitive insight but it does veer close to victim blaming. The strength of this read is in the cast of characters, all unique and drawn with economic strokes but with warmth and purpose.
Ignore all the book comparisons as it doesn’t do this clever little mystery justice; it is all about the journey here and the big reveal is not the tantalizing part of the read. THE LAST ACT OF HATTIE HOFFMAN is a very satisfying read and deservedly one of the buzz books of the summer.
Review - All Is Not Forgotten, Wendy Walker
Teenager Jenny Kramer attends a high school party where most of her town’s young people are in attendance. Friends and people she has grown up with in a small town. Children of family friends. Making the decision to leave the party early, Jenny is brutally attacked nearby by an assailant whose face she never sees.
As the teen struggles to deal with both the mental and physical trauma, Jenny’s parents make the decision to allow medics try a new drug on their daughter that will serve to delete the immediate painful memories of the attack.
Charlotte and Tom Kramer come to regret that decision as they witness Jenny’s struggle to return to her former self in the following months. In comes Dr Forrester, who currently is dealing with a volatile male client who has also has lost trauma memories. It is the belief of the psychiatrist that recovering those lost memories will greatly aid his patients on their road to recovery.
As it is with all books written in the first person narrative, we are required to spend a lot of our reading time immersed in the thoughts of one character. Dr Alan Forrester is also seeing the parents of the victim, and believes in the holistic approach of counselling the entire family. Or is that what he is really doing?
As the doctor pontificates on about his psychiatric profession as it now relates his new case, three quarters of this book become quite soporific to read. In its last quarter ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN however finds its feet and we are dragged onwards to the conclusion with ill feeling. This is not a novel about the victim of a violent crime; we don’t in fact hear much from the victim. The book is full of self-serving individuals who all have a connection to our narrator, the narcissistic psychiatrist who has an agenda of his own that is always at the forefront. It is very much a book about avoidance.
It does feel too much too late when we are introduced to the major plot twist; backstory at the end when it could have been fed through the narrative to create a greater sense of foreboding. ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN is an uneasy dark thriller that has a very, very slow burn. It does give an interesting alternate viewpoint to the ripple effect of a violent crime in a small community where each decision made and each confidence revealed can catalyst further catastrophic events.
REVIEW - TURBO TWENTY THREE, JANET EVANOVICH
When her latest skip leads her to a stolen truck with a dead frozen mansicle inside, bounty hunter Stephanie Plum isn't sure she'll ever pick up a Bogart Bar on a hot day ever again. These things tend to scar you. Fortunately her skips have never the brightest and after all a girl has a hamster to feed. Stephanie almost always gets her man.
You know you are in safe hands with Janet Evanovich. At some point you are going to snort out loud, roll your eyes, or maybe just cheer for Stephanie Plum as the sanest and most likeable person in Trenton, New Jersey. This long running series consistently performs to expectations and it's comfortable that nothing really changes in the world of Stephanie Plum. Cars will get blown up, the bad guys will be caught, Stephanie will be embarrassed royally by her family and there will always be a romantic moment or two with either of her two leading men in Morelli or Ranger.
There's something endearingly kitsch about this low tech series in that even the bad guys usually have something endearing about them. Stephanie Plum in Turbo Twenty-Three is perfectly happy to step outside her comfort zone once again, demonstrating that placid nature that allows her to follow her friends anywhere they need her to be. It never gets too dark and it always stays entertaining.
Save this one for your quiet day over the Christmas period as you KNOW you are going to love and enjoy it for what is - a fun escape from the every day and a welcome update as to what is new with your favourite friends in the 'burg'.