The Last Days of Summer by Vanessa Ronan

She can forgive. They can’t forget.

After ten years in the Huntsville State Penitentiary, Jasper Curtis returns home to live with his sister and her two daughters. Lizzie does not know who she’s letting into her home: the brother she grew up loving or the monster he became.

Teenage Katie distrusts this strange man in their home but eleven-year-old Joanne is just intrigued by her new uncle.

Jasper says he’s all done with trouble, but in a forgotten prairie town that knows no forgiveness, it does not take long for trouble to arrive at their door.

I am not 100% sure what I expected when I picked up my copy of The Last Days of Summer because it’s setting isn’t one that I normally go for but the story appealed and I wanted to take a bit of a step outside of my comfort zone.  What I ended up with was a beautifully written story that had me caring about the central characters, including Jasper, a man I shouldn’t have liked at all given his past.Read More »

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Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

30426898Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

One of the things I love about Jodi Picoult is that she doesn’t shy away from potentially controversial or difficult subjects and Small Great Things is no exception, looking at race – and race relations – in modern day America.  Not only is it potentially controversial but, with what has happened recently with the rise of populism and anti-immigrant stances in America and Europe and movements like black lives matter, it seems very timely.

It is a book I was looking forward to reading and expected to be challenging, which it was, holding up a mirror that it wasn’t always comfortable to look in.  To do this, tough, I did feel that Picoult moved away slightly from one of the other reasons I enjoy reading her books, her lack of judgement of her characters.  Here, I felt they were definitely being judged.  I think I would have preferred it if I was left to make some of the leaps in thinking myself; instead I did feel a little beaten over the head with them.  I didn’t feel this straight away but, as the book went on, I felt that I was being led down on particular path.

The story that led me there, though, was a good one and kept me reading (especially because I am always fascinated by US court room drama).  It is told in three parts and by three people, all of whom see things very differently almost right till the end.  First, there is the time just after the birth of the little boy when Ruth is told she cannot care for him because she is African American through to and immediately after his death.  Then the time leading up to the trial, with Ruth in shock over what is happening and her life quickly falls apart.  Then there is the trial itself, where secrets are revealed and things are turned on their heads.

The storytellers are Ruth, Turk (the father) and Kennedy (the lawyer).  Both Turk and Kennedy are white, though they have very different views on race – or do they?  Picoult attempts to show that everyone is biased through the relationship with Kennedy and Ruth, it just isn’t always so obvious.  There is a point in the book Picoult makes about equality and equity and how the latter is just as, if not more, important and she does a good job of showing this in the burgeoning relationship, which is a minefield of misunderstandings that are sometimes painful to read.

I did feel for all the characters as they wrestled with their thoughts and feelings, even Turk, who is not as straightforward as he first appeared.  They were detailed and complex and willing to change, no matter how hard that was.  It is the characters that saved this book for me and stopped me feeling too lectured at.  That said, I am not sure how you approach this subject without some  level of lecturing in order to get the message across and in less skilled hands than Picoult I think it would have been even harder still.  I just think for me, it meant the difference between loving the book and liking it a lot.

Enjoy!

Emma

Note: I received a copy of this book from netgalley in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

The Highway by C. J. Box

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It was Danielle and Gracie’s secret. A teenage adventure. A 1,000 mile drive along the spine of the Rocky Mountains to visit Danielle’s boyfriend in Montana. Their parents were never to know.

But now the girls have simply vanished.

The only person who knows they’re missing is Danielle’s boyfriend. He persuades his father – a disgraced, suspended cop – to search for them.

But he too simply disappears.

Now it’s up to rookie cop, war widow and single mother Cassie Dewell to find them. Her investigation will introduce her to FBI’s Highway Serial Killer Task Force, compel her to confront a spate of roadside sexual mutilations and murders, and lure her towards a darkness greater than anything she could ever have imagined.

I love discovering a new author – or at least new to me (C. J. Box has been around a while and has quite a back catalogue) – and new characters that I immediately like and want to get to know more.  There is a feeling of real satisfaction when you do either but both is a real win in my book and it’s how I felt reading The Highway which I really enjoyed.

The story itself is pretty simple – two girls go missing and a serial killer is on the loose.  He is convinced he has a fool proof plan, picking up women in truck stops.  He just doesn’t count on a renegade cop with nothing to lose picking up his trail.  Make that two renegade cops as Cassie is almost as willing to go rogue as her mentor Cody Hoyt.  Both are like dogs with bones, willing to stop at nothing and suspicious of everyone – rightly so it turns out.

I loved Cassie’s doggedness and her need to do the right thing, even if that wasn’t always in line with the law of the land.  At the same time, she isn’t rock-hard, invulnerable.  Often in these books the female detectives don’t have a family or boyfriend and so nothing to connect them to real life.  This can make them hard and unlikeable.  Not so the case with Cassie – she has a life in the form of a little boy.  It meant Cassie was connected to the world and so it made her more human.

I also loved the setting for the story – Montana, a place I’ve always wanted to go and where the rugged and harsh landscape added to the sense of tension and dread as Cassie and Cody searched for the girls.  It also added to a sense of danger, not just for the girls but for the detectives.  It is a place, as described, where people are loners and don’t welcome outside interest, especially not from law enforcement.

It all made for a really cracking piece of crime writing, well-paced and well written and, as said at the beginning, I really enjoyed reading it. I will definitely be reading the follow-up, which I have read is even better, and am definitely recommending this book.  Liked it a lot!

Emma

 

 

Tuesday Intro: 20th October, 2015

Once again this week I’m linking up with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. I really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

imageMy book this week is Drive by James Sallis, an author I love, though I’m a little nervous as Drive is also one of my favourite films. It’ll be interested to see how the two compare.

Set mostly in Arizona and L.A., the story is, according to Sallis, “…about a guy who does stunt driving for movies by day and drives for criminals at night. In classic noir fashion, he is double-crossed and, though before he has never participated in the violence (‘I drive. That’s all.’), he goes after the ones who doublecrossed and tried to kill him.”

And here’s how it starts…

Much later, as he sat with his back against an inside wall of a Motel 6 just north of Pheonix, watching the pool of blood lap toward him, Driver would wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake. Later still, of course, there’d be no doubt. But for now Driver is, as they say, in the moment. And the moment includes this blood lapping towards him, the pressure of dawn’s late light at windows and door, traffic sounds from the interstate nearby, the sound of someone weeping in the next room

What do you think – would you keep reading?

Emma

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart 

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I remember when We Were Liars came out hearing a lot of good things about and always planned on reading it. Now that I have, I can’t believe it took so long (or that it took it being free on iBooks) to get round to because I loved it; the story, the style, and the ending – which I kind of saw coming but prayed wasn’t the case.

Cadence (Cady) is fifteen and a Sinclair, a wealthy New England family (can you say Kennedy?) with square jaws and blonde hair. Every summer the family head to their own private island, including Cady’s cousins Johnny and Mirren – who are the same age – along with Gat, the nephew of Cady’s aunt. Collectively they are known as the Liars (I seem to have missed why).

Over the course of each summer, the Liars are inseparable. Their lives sound idyllic, lounging by the beach, going out on the boats. But of course they aren’t. Beneath the surface their lives are those of typical teenagers with all the confusions about love and life in general. Add to this the fact that the recent death of their grandmother is slowly imploding their family and what they call Summer Fifteen isn’t all it as perfect as it seems. Eventually it all comes to a head and Cady ends up being dragged from the ocean half-drowned.

How this drama plays out is told from Cady’s point of view in snatches as she recovers from her accident, which caused amensia, and slowly remembers what happened. The truth is more complicated than it first seems and this helps keep you guessing as a reader and draws you in, as does the way the book is written. The sentences are short and, at times, broken across lines. It’s a style I’ve come across before but not often and it was a nice change from what I’ve been reading recently, as was the book (I rarely read young adult, though this didn’t feel like that). Which brings me full circle to my recommendation – which is definitely worth a read. Loved it!

Emma

Tuesday Intro: 14th July, 2015

This week, I am linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. I really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

This week (yesterday actually) I started We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

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A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

I only got this last week but after positive comments on a previous post and accidentally opening it on iBooks, I couldn’t resist.  The whole first chapter is below because, well, pulling out the first paragraph would have made this a short post but also because it didn’t feel right to break it up at any point.  It reads so differently and the layout is great.  It definitely changed the way I read it.

WELCOME TO THE beautiful Sinclair Family.

               No one is a criminal.

               No one is an addict.

               No one is a failure.

               The Sinclairs are athletci, tall, and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins are square, and our tennis servce aggressive.

               It doesn’t matter if divorce shreds the muscles of our hearts so that they will hardly beat without a struggle. It doesn’t matter if trust-fund money is running out; if credit card bills go unpaid on the kitchen counter. It doesn’t matter if there’s a cluster of pill bottles on the beside table.

               It doesn’t matter if one of us is desperately, desperately in love.

               So much

               in love

               that equally desperate measures must be taken.

               We are Sinclairs.

               No one is needy.

               No one is wrong.

               We live, at least in the summertime, on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts.

               Perhaps that is all you need to know.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Emma

Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman

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When a young reporter knocks on Georgia’s door she knows what his visit is about before he even speaks. Ten years ago, whilst studying at Harvard, a fellow student, Julie Patel, was murdered. The anniversary of her death has sparked renewed interest in the case because the killer was never found. There was, though, a prime suspect, a professor named Storrow. He also happened to be having an affair with Georgia, linking her to Julie in the eyes of the press, despite their barely knowing each other.

After opening with the memory of the murder and few other facts, Bradstreet Gate goes back in time to when Georgia was a student and how her affair with Storrow started, and ended, before moving on to life after college and then the present of the anniversary. It does the same with Georgia’s best friends Charlie and Alice, who are also linked to Storrow and whose own lives, it appears, have been just as affected by Julie’s murder as his and Georgia’s.

These affects though aren’t always that simple. They are to do with the loss of innocence and trust and the impact of one, single, event on the rest of their lives. Told in three parts with chapters focused on the story from each separate character’s point of view (though not told in the first person), this isn’t really the story of a murder but of love, lies and friendships. It isn’t what I expected – I was thinking more straightforward crime fiction when I picked it up – but I really enjoyed it regardless.

I liked the way the story was structured, slowly revealing just who each character was, warts and all, and the secrets they are hiding. Kirman does a good job of giving Georgia, Charlie and Alice their own personalities and voices and, although I can’t say I liked them, I did sympathise with them and understood how they ended up as who they were. Each felt real to me and so the final reveal made perfect sense. I haven’t felt that way about a few books lately, so I have a renewed appreciation for a good ending. I was left a happy bunny and will be recommending this book – liked it a lot!

Emma

No text: I received this book from Blogging for Books in return for a fair and honest review.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

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One night, Mia Dennett enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend, but when he doesn’t show up, she leaves with an enigmatic stranger. At first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand, but following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life.

The reason it turns out to be the worst mistake of her life is that Colin has been paid to kidnap Mia.  He has a rather unusual way of doing it though.  He charms her, gets her drunk and then keeps her in his flat for a couple of hours before bundling her in his car to hand her over.

Fortunately for Mia (to a degree), those few hours give Colin time to think and he starts to worry just what his bosses will do to Mia when they get her – other than use her as ransom because her father is a very powerful and very wealthy judge.  So, on the way to the rendezvous point, he decides to disappear – taking Mia with him.

The first her family hears, Mia hasn’t turned up for work.  Her friends and colleagues are worried, it isn’t like her at all.  Not that her family would know because they rarely hear from their daughter; their relationship is fractious at best.  Her father is convinced it’s typical Mia.  Her mother not so sure.  They decide to call the police anyway, and are assigned Gabe, an experienced, dogged and slightly grumpy detective.

The Good Girl is told through the eyes of Gabe, Mia’s mom Eve, and Colin.  Their stories alternate and include before and after the kidnapping.  Slowly, what happened to Mia unfolds with the then and now format giving glimpses into what might have taken place but not laying everything out until the very end.

I liked this approach and found it drew me in and kept me interested.  It also helped me get to know and understand the characters.  Surprisingly, I came to like Colin and almost feel sorry for him.  Mia, I must admit, I didn’t care for as much, especially following a twist at the end.

The twist was actually the one thing about the book I didn’t care for.  I didn’t think it was necessary, though I can see why it was there.  It did give me a different take on what I’d read but I had been quite happy up until that point anyway – I didn’t think I was missing out on anything – the pace was good, the characters well written, the story interesting.  The book felt complete without the final chapter.  This wouldn’t stop me recommending it though.  Definitely worth a read.

Emma

The Moth by James Sallis

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Lew Griffin was an alcoholic and private investigator.  Now, he is a writer of crime fiction (mostly based on his own life) and college lecturer.  It’s hard to say if he’s happy but he isn’t getting so drunk he blacks out anymore and he isn’t at risk of getting beaten up every time he leaves the house so it isn’t all bad.  He has an on-off relationship that he can’t commit to and a home in New Orleans he can retreat into, hiding from the world and a lot of not so great memories, including an unhappy childhood and a missing son.

Then, he gets a knock on the door.  The husband of his ex-lover and best friend, who died recently, is asking for help.  The lover, it seems, had a daughter – Alouette – by her first husband, a powerful man who had stopped her seeing her child once they divorced.  Thinking it was for the best, she went along with his plans…until she found out she was dying.  At this point, having turned her life around, she decided to try to find Alouette.  Only it was too late.  The girl was missing.  No one knew where she had gone but, it soon became clear, she hadn’t been doing so well before she ran away.

Feeling that he had let his lover down, he sets out to find Alouette.  Along the way he finds not only the girl but something about himself as well – plus a whole lot of trouble.  This is the second Lew Griffin book I’ve read (and the second in a series of books with him as the central character) and the trouble isn’t surprising.  He has a way of not only finding someone willing to beat him up but of not being able to walk away when he does.  I’m not sure Griffin has a death wish but he doesn’t prize his life that highly.  Which is a shame because I kind of like him.

There is something very straight about him, very honest.  Sallis does a great job of presenting a complex character without over complicating him (if that makes sense) and making him very human.  What he does, why he does it, you can see why as you find out about his childhood and the choices he’s made as a result.  You can also see how this has made him a man that doesn’t hold people to too high a standard and can help the seemingly helpless as a result.

Alouette is one of those.  Most other people would have given up on her.  And I think it’s fair to say, most other authors wouldn’t have made her a central figure in the book.  I like that about Sallis – he doesn’t pick ordinary heros and heroines (if you can call them that).  The damaged and defective are the people he writes about and makes you care for.

The way he writes (which I’m a big fan of as I’ve said before) draws you into their lives, making what happens to them much more important than the mystery. The stories become about people not a murder, or a kidnapping, or a runaway girl. The style is simple but delivers a real punch, pulling you in and leaving you feeling like you have been through the same wars as Lew Griffin by the end.  Loved it!

Emma

Other James Sallis reviews:

Cypress Grove

The Long Legged Fly (Lew Griffin 1)

Others of My Kind

Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran

17847024When Claire DeWitt gets a call from the local police to tell her her old boyfriend, Paul, has been murdered she knows – whether anyone asks her or not – she needs to find out who killed him and why. How she goes about figuring it all out had me hooked from pretty much the first page and, along the way, I fell a little bit in love with Claire.

In a way, this book reminded me of James Sallis, who I’m also reading this week.  The crime is there to solve, along with others like The Case of the Missing Miniature Horses (yes, you read that right).  But this isn’t so much about the murder as it is about Claire, who is just a little dysfunctional (she has quite a liking for drink, drugs, random sex, with a bit of random theft thrown in for good measure).

Paul’s death sends her into a destructive spiral, bringing back memories of her best friend Tracy, who went missing as a teenager, how she became a detective and a million other things in her life that aren’t quite right.  All these present in a complex character, one who works on instinct rather than a systematic search for clues and has a slightly new-age philosophy.  Threaded throughout is a strange and wonderfully off-the-wall cast of characters – most of whom are also often high, drunk and tattooed.

This all gives the book a great pace and a lot of humour (albeit dark).  It is well written and very clever.  There was so much in it I haven’t read before, so many characters that stuck in my mind, especially Claire.  I can’t wait to read more.  Loved it (if you haven’t already guessed).

Emma