Saturday, 31 August 2013

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

If it wasn't for The Berlin Wall, Cecilia Fitzpatrick may never have found the letter that changes her life forever. Her middle daughter’s obsession with The Berlin Wall sends her up into the attic looking for her own piece of the wall, which is where she finds a letter from her husband that is to be opened only in the event of his death. 

Cecilia has it all; a beautiful family, a secure marriage, a successful business and she is an integral part of the community. But curiosity gets the better of her and the secret she uncovers devastates the foundations her perfect life are built on. The secret also has repercussions for grieving school secretary Rachel and introvert Tess who is going through marital problems of her own. 

I loved how this story was written in a suspenseful way that keeps you turning pages. The letter is introduced early on but she doesn't open it straight away and it makes you want to read on to find out the dreaded secret! But Cecilia’s husband’s secret isn't the only one as more characters come into it bringing their own hidden issues and problems.

I liked how much detail was included about the main characters and their families so you really get a feel for their personalities and care more when issues both good and bad arise. Even though the storyline goes to dark places, it’s also very entertaining in parts as well. I also liked how the novel outlined all the possibilities for the characters, had certain events not occurred. 

The Husband’s Secret is a fascinating portrayal of domestic life and the dark secrets that people can hide from the ones they love. Engrossing and sentimental, you won’t want to put this down.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Flower Plantation by Nora Anne Brown

Arthur Baptiste lives on a flower plantation in Rwanda with his half-Tutsi, half-Belgian father and his English mother. He never ever talks and is not really accepted by the local children for being light skinned, so he is home-schooled and also helps out on the plantation. 

His world revolves around butterflies. His treasured possession is a book of African butterflies which he carries everywhere with him, and he also catches, collects and studies as many butterflies as he can find. His only friend is the cook’s granddaughter Beni, a young girl with a mind as curious as his own, who accepts his muteness and shares his interest in butterflies. 

However, Arthur is unaware of the political troubles that are arising in Africa, and his mostly untroubled bubble of existence on the plantation soon descends into a dangerous world of violence and crime. 

The story is wonderfully descriptive and colourful, describing the butterflies and the flowers of the plantation. We see the world through Arthur’s childish eyes as he takes in the stories his African surroundings and tries to make sense of the actions of the adults around him. 

The story flows along nicely and then quickly spirals into the chaos of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in the 1990s. It’s pretty harrowing stuff and despite some warning signs and the build up of ethnic tension in the storyline, it doesn't prepare you for the brutal imagery of the massacre that ensued. 

Tied together with Arthur’s little love story with Beni, and the events effects on his life as a whole, the story is emotionally charged, heartbreaking and yet kind of hopeful too. The Flower Plantation is a powerful story conveying both the light and the dark side of Africa, the innocence of childhood and the beauty of butterflies. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Fringe: The Burning Man by Christa Faust

The Burning Man is the second book in the Fringe prequel trilogy. In the first book, The ZodiacParadox, we are introduced to the young scientists Walter Bishop and William Bell, and their pioneering research in the 1970s that later leads to the Fringe division. The Burning Man introduces us to Olivia Dunham, including her childhood and school years before she later becomes a special agent with the Fringe division. 

As a child in the 1980s, Olivia was part of Walter Bishop’s secret experiments using a mind altering drug which unlocks abilities Olivia had no idea she had. On one such occasion she unknowingly uses her gift to protect herself and burns the arm off psycho cop Tony Orsini.

After that, Olivia faces hardships over the course of her childhood, and then her and her sister Rachel are offered unexpected scholarships to a special school. Meanwhile, Tony makes it his life’s mission to track down the “devil girl” that ruined his life, with dangerous consequences for Olivia, Rachel and even her friends at the school. 

I enjoyed this book as much as first. The storyline is gripping and so cleverly written with strong scientific prose and well researched descriptions of characters, settings and events. Olivia’s character was easy to like; she’s strong willed, clever, a definite heroine in the making. In this story there are gruesome murders, mad scientists and even a little love story that all keeps you hooked throughout. 

This is very much the telling of Olivia’s background and less about Fringe but I imagine it sets the scenes for Olivia’s future role in the Fringe division (I still haven’t watched any of the TV series!). The Burning Man is an excellent second book and I can’t wait to see what the third book holds in store. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Losing It All by Marsha Cornelius

Vietnam veteran Frank Barnes has forged a life for himself on the streets of Atlanta. It’s not easy; meals from charities, collecting cans for change and living homeless, but he has friends and routines and it beats his time spent at war. 

Chloe Roberts has just been evicted with her two young children Ethan and Katie. She is suddenly plunged into a world of shelters, employment worries and untrustworthy people around her.

The unlikely pair meet at a soup kitchen, and as fate hands one of them a break and the other more despair, each could be the answer to the other one’s problems. Straight away I liked Frank’s character. A genuine guy who despite his own difficulties is friendly, caring and pretty much an all round hero. I liked him more and more as the story went on. I didn't like Chloe so much but given the ordeals she goes through you can hardly blame her for being the way she is. 

This story was a slow burner for me, as you are introduced to the characters, their hardships and the scenes are set. Once Frank and Chloe are reunited after a brief separation, their blossoming relationship, in spite of everything that happens to them, is compelling to read about. I found myself routing for the couple to make it through. The prose is detailed and steeped in realism, with thoroughly thought out characters and a serious storyline. I also enjoyed the settings which moved from hostile streets and grim shelters, to stables and countryside.

If you like your novels to be all rainbows and sunshine and riding off into a heart-shaped sunset then this is not the book for you. If you like gritty stories fraught with ups as well as downs, and you like the gist of what you have read here then I recommend you give Losing It All a chance.  

Monday, 19 August 2013

Hostage Three by Nick Lake

You sometimes hear about Somali pirates on the news but at the back of your mind you think that it could never happen to you. Teenager Amy Fields had these dismissive thoughts when she boarded a yacht for the trip of a lifetime with her rich father and her unwanted stepmother. In her case she was wrong.

Somali pirates take over the boat and hold the occupants to ransom, and she becomes known as Hostage Three. Narrated by Amy/Hostage Three throughout, she talks us through the events leading up to the boat trip. Then, whilst being held captive on the boat she has plenty of time to reflect on her life, namely the mental health struggles and sudden loss of her mother. 

Whilst on the boat, she also develops a relationship with one of the pirates, a translator named Farouz. He tells her tales from his culture and fragments of his own difficult life that puts her own problems into perspective. I really enjoyed their interaction together and the stories within stories were a fascinating and imaginative touch to an otherwise dire situation. 

Amy’s character had a great voice; her story was told in a clear and unforgettable style. I liked that her thoughts and concerns reflected her teenage personality; not altogether childish but sometimes not completely rational or mature either. 

I found the story as a whole completely gripping and totally unpredictable. Nick Lake sets string scenes with rich descriptions of the African location, both sea and shore. Hostage Three is a striking and memorable tale for teenage and adult readers.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter

The Twenty-Year Death ties together three separate crime novels over twenty years within one Hard Case Crime volume. The first story, Malniveau Prison, set in France 1931, opens with the gruesome discovery of a corpse in the gutter. The dead man was a former inmate of the local prison and soon, more bodies from the prison begin to appear. The police inspector is led to the dead man’s beautiful daughter Clotilde and her American writer husband Shem Rosenkrantz. 

The couple are the focus of the next story, The Falling Star, set ten years later in America. Clotilde is now Chlöe Rose, an actress in Hollywood where Shem is now writing movies. Chlöe is plagued by paranoia of being followed and a private investigator is hired to keep her safe. But when a Hollywood starlet is brutally murdered, the PI finds himself embroiled in a bigger mystery. 

Finally, in Police at the Funeral, washed up writer Shem Rosenkrantz tells his story as he desperately tries to hold his life together as it falls apart around him. Even though the stories are linked, they are all individual in their own styles and tales. It starts off quite detached in the telling and becomes more personal throughout. 

I really enjoyed the portrayals of this time where men wear suits, the good guys and gangsters alike, and the women are feminine, dainty and delicate or sultry sirens. The old fashioned way the characters interact with each other, the language they use and the police procedures of the time all help to set the scene and immerse you into a gritty yet classy tale. There is plenty of murder, played out alongside betrayal and greed, but also love and desperation.

I've never really read anything like this before and for a debut novel this is an extremely well written, cleverly crafted story. Acclaimed by author giant Stephen King himself, this is an outstanding contribution to the world of crime fiction. 

Friday, 9 August 2013

My Husband Next Door by Catherine Alliott

Ella Montclair has a fairly unconventional life in the countryside. Her estranged husband lives in an out building across the way from the old farmhouse she shares with her distant teenage children, unruly dogs and gender confused chickens. 

She has somehow struck a kind of semblance of balance between her awkward family, her career as an illustrator and her dream of an affair with the local garden designer. But things become even more complicated with the breakdown of her own parents’ marriage and her hostile mother moves into the already strained commune of the farm. 

As she strives to hold everything together, with the means to an affair mounting, Ella finds herself looking more closely at her own life and where things went wrong. 

This was my first read of a Catherine Alliott novel and it’s not something I would normally go for straight away but I did quite like it in the end. Lots of time is spent getting to know the characters and their messy personal lives, and also setting the countryside scenes. Once the storyline really got going I got stuck in. Ella is a scatty heroine; full of good intentions that don’t always work out. At times she was a little to harebrained for my liking, but in the end I liked how all the situations were resolved. 

I think this is definitely a story you can relate to if you have or have had teenage children, are married and/or separated, as it covers a lot of issues prevalent in adult life. The unusual collection of animals on the farm, and the clutch of crazy characters from the village add a nice touch of humour to the tale. Overall I think this is a charming, summery read from a bestseller of women’s fiction. 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Beyond Rue Morgue edited by Paul Kane & Charles Prepolec

Further Tales of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1st Detective

Edgar Allan Poe is the author behind one of the world’s first literary detectives, Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin. Dupin is exceptionally intelligent, eccentric thinker who takes in all the evidence of a case that others might overlook, and manages to logically dismiss all the alternatives before coming to the correct conclusion. 

He was solving gruesome and complex crimes long before the likes of Sherlock Holmes came on the scene, and yet is a character of much less fame when compared to well known fictional detectives such as Holmes or Poirot. 

This book is a collection of short stories that pays tribute to Dupin. The authors include Clive Barker, Mike Carey, Simon Clark, Joe R. Lansdale, Jonathan Maberry, Elizabeth Massie, Weston Ochse & Yvonne Navarro, Lisa Tuttle and Stephen Volk. 

I think my favourite of the stories in this collection were the ones that explored the legacy of Dupin’s long lost relatives and their inheritance of his crime solving skills, more than the ones that featured Dupin himself. I personally found Dupin’s overall persona from this set of interpretations to be arrogant and dismissive, so not my favourite fictional detective ever. Although it definitely can’t be denied that he has a brilliant mind with extensive general knowledge and logical reasoning. 

For me this wasn't just the discovery of a literary detective I had yet to read, but also of many authors I hadn't read before. A very interesting book to dip in and out of, especially for fans of old fashioned crime and unconventional detectives.