Review: Vicious Circle by C.J. Box

9781784973148In the 17th Joe Pickett novel, C.J. Box wraps up a long-running plot thread involving the nefarious Cates family. While it’s not a standout entry in the long-running series starring the never-far-from trouble Wyoming game warden, it’s a finely-tuned, suspense-filled thriller that will satiate veteran readers, and certainly intrigue newcomers into catching up on the Pickett family’s (mis)adventures.

It all begins when when Dave Farkus — longtime troublemaker and unlikely partner in many of Joe Pickett’s inadvertent escapades — phones Joe from Stockman’s Bar to say he’s overheard a conversation about Joe and his family. He’s cut off before he can provide any concrete information, but the implication is clear: the Pickett clan’s a target. And when Farkus turns up dead — brutally executed by unknown assailants — Joe know something is amiss. He quickly ties it together — presumably at least — when he discovers Dallas Cates, the disgraced rodeo star who ran off with Joe’s daughter April, dumped her out of his truck, and ended up in the prison, has just been released, and is out for vengeance after the deaths of his father and two brothers. But is everything really as open-and-shut as that scenario suggests?

Vicious Circle will resonate most for those who are keenly aware of the two families’ fraught history; readers who’ve been waiting for the final showdown for a couple of books now, knowing it would be vicious and bloody. There isn’t much new here — this is the C.J. Box formula perfected — but the Joe Pickett series is one that hasn’t surpassed its use-by date, and still provides plenty of action and excitement.

ISBN: 9781784973148
Format: Paperback (228mm x 145mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 21-Mar-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Fall by Tristan Bancks

Fall Tristan Bancks.jpgThe Fall is the kind of thriller I would’ve loved as a child and absolutely adored as an adult. It’s a sharp, contemporary crime novel with classic genre elements, and nail-biting suspense that will keep readers on the edge of their seat. It’s a page-turning masterpiece for readers young and old.

As is the case with all great crime novels, the set-up is simple. In the middle of the night, Sam — son of irascible crime reporter Harry — is woken by angry voices from the apartment above. He edges to the window, to check the scene above, and sees a body fall from the sixth-floor balcony. When Sam goes to wake his father, he discovers Harry is gone. And when Sam gets downstairs, the body has vanished.  But Sam knows what he saw — and worse for him, somebody else knows what he witnessed. Someone who wants Sam silenced at any cost.

The Fall is a pulse-pounding thriller with the heart and soul so often missing from its contemporaries. The strained relationship between Sam and Harry — and indeed Sam and his mother — is truly evocative, and adds a powerful emotional layer to proceedings; but never at the expense of the plot’s raw pace, which rips along phenomenally.

Tristan Bancks has concocted a thriller that has everything you could ask for – a twisty plot, memorable characters, and plenty of action. If there’s a child in your life who has been glancing at the line of Michael Connelly novels on your shelf, or skimming through your Raymond Chandler collection, put a copy of The Fall in their hands.

ISBN: 9780143783053
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s Books
Publisher: Random House Australia
Publish Date: 29-May-2017
Country of Publication: Australia


Review: The Raqqa Diaries – Escape from Islamic State by Samer

9781786330536“I walk around the city with a broken soul, looking at all the other broken souls passing by. Each pair of eyes that passes tells a different story, a different struggle.”

Raqqa is one of the most isolated and fear ridden cities on earth. The ongoing situation in the Syrian city is both a tragedy and a travesty, and I can barely comprehend the horrors its innocent inhabitants experience every single day.  Books like this one — The Raqqa Diaries by a young man writing under the pseudonym Samar — are so important because they humanize the conflict and devastation. One anecdote, about lost love, is particular heartbreaking, and really struck a chord: “I know that if I am to keep going and stay alive, I must not dwell on the sadness in my heart… How I miss that love of mine. The woman I shared all my troubles with. Now I must deal with everything myself.” We have all suffered heartache, but nothing like this.

This heart-wrenching account of Samar’s life in Raqqa before and after it was taken over by Daesh is raw and powerful. I was left emboldened by Samar’s bravery to speak out and put his own life on the line to expose the truth, and heartbroken by the overwhelming hopelessness of his — and the whole of Raqqa’s   — situation. He reveals Syrians’ continued hopes for change, but also the fear and growing despair that whatever change eventuates might not improve their situation at all. They exist in a perpetual state of uncertainty.

Samar risked his life to break ISIS’s communication siege. His resistance group, al-Sharqiya 24, made contact with the BBC, and a version of The Raqqa Diaries was read on Radio 4’s Today program a year years ago. There is a coldness and starkness to his prose as he lays out the bleak reality faced by his people. There is no need to mask the hideousness of their situation with pretty prose. The bluntness works, and is juxtaposed with illustrations of an almost childlike quality by Scott Coello. The disparity between text and imagery is incredibly effective.

The Raqqa Diaires is in credibly eye-opening and poignant. It should be mandatory reading. It offers rare and remarkable insight, and should not be missed. It will certainly be remembered as one of the most affecting books of the year.

ISBN: 9781786330536
Format: Hardback
(205mm x 145mm x 20mm)
Pages: 108
Imprint: Hutchinson
Publisher: Random House Children’s Publishers UK
Publish Date: 9-Mar-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Goodbye Vitamin.jpgIn Goodbye, Vitamin Rachel Khong takes a scenario loaded with melancholy — a young woman’s father being diagnosed with  Alzheimer’s disease — and tackles it with uncanny sweetness, lightness and humour. Which isn’t to say the novel lacks any gravitas, or the necessary emotional gut-punch to make it resonate; it just impacts more subtly than you might expect.

Newly disentangled from her fiance and still overwhelmingly heartbroken about it, thirty-year-old Ruth Young is called home by her mother after her father’s diagnosis, who is irregularly lucid. Ruth’s mother — despite her husband’s infidelities — is determined to be his rock, but she could use a helping hand, and so Ruth throws herself into being a devoted caretaker, even going so far as to concoct pretend university lectures for her father in an effort to  assuage his flailing faculties.

Goodbye, Vitamin is masterfully structured, told in the style of a personal journal, with Ruth’s plentiful observations into humanity providing some of the novel’s comedic highlights. There’s the requisite romantic subplot, and plenty of lingering angst following the breakup of her pending nuptials, but the book thrives thanks to the complicated relationship between all members of the Young family, and Khong’s knack for digging into the roots of their issues in such a delicate, nuanced, but overwhelmingly hilarious fashion.

I can imagine nothing worse than Alzheimer’s: the betrayal of one’s own mind and memory, slowly leaving you. It is a devastating illness, and Goodbye, Vitamin portrays this in such a unique way. It’s bittersweet, absolutely — but it shows that where there is family, where there is love, there is hope.

ISBN: 9781471159480
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Scribner UK
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Jun-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Release by Patrick Ness

release-patrick-nessRelease is about that terrifying and exhilarating process of piecing together who you are during the most tumultuous period of your life, when your entire identity is in a constant state of flux. Our teenage years are spent searching for authenticity: exploring new relationships and trying new identities in order to determine who we are, or at the very least, who we want to be, and accepting it.

Over the course of a single day, seventeen-year-old Adam Thorn’s life completely unravels — revelation after revelation pummelling him, threatening to crash-land him into pieces, changing everything — but it’s one of those days that’s necessary for him to become, and accept, who he is; one of those days he’ll look back on and appreciate for its defining moments.  Release is about a revolutionary day in a young man’s life, told with Patrick Ness’s trademark warmth and good humour, and of course, a touch of the supernatural in the form of a ghost who has risen from the lake…

Adam lives in a very religious and strict small-town American home. Living in his brother’s shadow, forced to keep his boyfriend a secret from his pastor father, Adam’s singular outlet is his best friend; the only person who knows how truly messed up he is over the ending of his previous relationship, and the horribleness of his boss at the job he works part-time. Adam’s caught in a hurricane of adolescent emotion, on the precipice of making decisions that will possibly define him, and Ness details this with heart-aching, bring-tears-to-your-eyes honesty.

The supernatural element — the ghost — adds an interesting layer to the tale, but possibly one I could have done without. It neither augments, nor detracts from the book; it just doesn’t seem necessary. The strength of Release is its protagonist, who is unforgettable, and will resonate with readers for a long time.

ISBN: 9781406331172
Format: Hardback (216mm x 135mm x mm)
Imprint: Walker Books Ltd
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

exit-westMohsin Hamid’s Exit West — an imaginative tale of love, war and displacement — recounts the story of two migrants, Saeed and Nadia, who flee their unnamed country in the midst of a civil war, and travel across the globe through fantastical portals (or doorways) in an attempt to invent new lives for themselves.

The novel has two focuses: how war distorts every day life, and pedestrian rituals and routines fall to the wayside, and relationships warp into something alien; and the difficulties refugees face finding new homes. Because even when they are able to escape their own country, refuges face innumerable obstacles as they seek to establish a new existence. Hamid’s novel streamlines the migration process with the invention of these portals — people can easily get from one land to another — but that doesn’t make settlement any easier.

The relationship between Saeed and Nadia is never anything less than complicated and constantly in flux. The two have instant chemistry, but as their situation changes, and they’re forced to deal with the stresses of living in a war-torn country, then leaving it and coping with seemingly never-ending displacement, fractures form and heal. Their relationship feels genuine, and though Exit West can be described as a love story, it’s not necessarily about romantic love.

This is my first experience with Mohsin Hamid and I was blown away by his prose. He’ll juxtapose long-running, comma-heavy sentences with brusque passages that read more like a Chandler novel. I’ve immediately added The Reluctant Fundamentalist to my reading stack, and he’ll be an author I keep an eye on moving forward. Few writers are as capable of writing as thematically-heavy stories without their message becoming burdensome. Hamid is an exquisite storyteller.

It’s bittersweet and loaded with despair, but Exit West is a novel that will stick with me for a long time. It’s a novel that begs for discussion — perfect for book clubs —  and delivers some truths that stick and twist like a knife. It’s a migrant’s tale unlike any I’ve read before.

ISBN: 9780241290088
Format: Hardback (222mm x 144mm x 25mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 2-Mar-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Spook Street by Mick Herron

9781473621275Spooks retire, but their secrets never do. Twenty years retired, David Cartwright’s once-imperious intellect is now fading with old age. So when toxic secrets and clandestine enemies reemerge, he’s not in the best condition to face them. But that doesn’t mean he’s defenceless.

The brilliance of Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series is the author’s willingness to utilise and turnover a large cast. In his quartet of spy thrillers, Herron has subjected his characters — the misfits and no-hopers that the Intelligence Service assigns to Slough House to keep them out of the way — to immeasurable trauma and betrayal; he has killed some off, and has retired others. Nobody is safe, which makes every turn of the page a delight. The only ever-present is Jackson Lamb, who remains one of the most unlikable-likeable characters in fiction. A real bastard, but with an underlying sense of justice, which rarely flares to life in company.

Spook Street is a masterful spy novel, reminiscent of the best of  le Carré, with an occasional tip of the hat to 007. Few writers are as capable of the slow-build, the dramatic twist, and the brilliant payoff. I’ve now read five Mick Herron novels over a six week period, and each improves over the last. Herron’s synthesis of action, intrigue and humour is unsurpassed. He remains the espionage writer to beat.

ISBN: 9781473621275
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x 25mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: John Murray Publishers Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 9-Feb-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom