Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

9780241410912.jpgMary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes is a wrenching American generational saga about the heavy burdens of family and guilt, and the redemptive power of love.

Narrated from multiple perspectives, whisking readers from the early 1970s until today, it probes the depths of human trauma — physical and emotional — and our capacity for forgiveness, as it highlights the defining moments in people’s lives.

At times Keane’s third novel reminded me of my favourite experiences with Anne Tyler and Ann Patchett; deeply involving, emotionally rich, a book to settle into fully, even as it breaks your heart and opens it up. There’s nothing pretentious about it; just a good story, with characters you love, alongside strong themes, perfectly crafted. A must-read cocktail.

ISBN: 9780241410912
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 28-May-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham

9780733638053Michael Robotham has never been better than with this deliciously compulsive series opener starring forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven and the enigmatic Evie Cormac.

Good Girl, Bad Girl opens in Langford Hall, a high security children’s home in Nottingham. Haven is there to assess one of the residents; a girl without a past, memorialised by the press as “Angel Face” when she was discovered in a secret room in house in north London, at the age of eleven or twelve, hiding only a few feet away from where the police discovered the decomposing body of a man who had been tortured to death. Given a new name by the authorities ⁠— Evie Cormac ⁠— she ended up at Langford Hall after a series of failed attempts to assimilate into foster homes.

Six years after being found, Evie is determined to be declared an adult, and earn her freedom; Cyrus is tasked with evaluating her for possible release. But it’s immediately clear something about Evie is amiss. Not just her general unruliness and propensity for violence; she is a possible “truth wizard,” aka a human lie detector, which is subject Haven wrote a thesis on. Evie intrigues Haven, and he can’t help but empathise with her, having lived through a tragedy of his own. Which leads to an impulsive decision by him to temporarily foster her ⁠— just as he becomes involved in a murder investigation: the suspicious death and possible rape of Jodie Sheehan, a 15-year-old figure skating star-in-the-making.

Frankly, crime fiction doesn’t get more enjoyable than Robotham’s latest. Since Life or Death he has maintained an unbelievable level of consistency; and each time you think he might’ve peaked, he surprises you again. Robotham’s ability to deliver twist after heart-stopping twist is unrivalled, but his greatest gift, and the element that shines through with every book is the humanity of his characters. The crackling, page-turning tension is derived not from trickery, but thanks to protagonists you care for, and root for.In Cyrus Haven and Evie Cormac, he has created a duo readers will want to meet again and soon.  With its clever action and characters who breathe, Good Girl, Bad Girl is one of the unmissable crime novels of 2019.

ISBN: 9780733638053
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 26-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

 

 

Review: Frankisstein by Jeanette Winterson

FrankIn Frankisstein Jeanette Winterson explores the repercussions of artificial intelligence and cybernetics in relation to transsexuality and transhumanism. Victor Stein, the charismatic and lauded professor, envisions a bodyless utopia in which gender, race and sexuality are meaningless. He points to Ry Shelley — a young transgender doctor, and his lover — as an example of what the future holds: “You aligned your physical reality with your mental impression of yourself,” Stein says. “Wouldn’t it be good if we could all do that?” This novel is Winterson’s evocative meditation on that question.

Frankisstein is entertaining and thought-provoking, full of moments of absurdity, hilarity and profundity. But these moments never quite gelled into a seamless narrative that totally hooked me. The book dances between a present day fictional cast and historical figures of yore, Mary Shelley most prominent of all, although Lord Byron, Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace also feature, reminding readers that ideas of the past continue to impact the present and future. Winterson’s depiction of Mary Shelley’s life, pockmarked with tragedy and loss, is touchingly evoked, and stands in great contrast to the flamboyancy of  the present day cast; particularly Ron Lord, a Welsh sex-bot salesman, who provides some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments.

Winterson’s reimagining of Frankenstein is a clever hybrid of historical and speculative fiction. It’s made me want to re-read Mary Shelley’s book —and indeed read more about her life — and return to Frankisstein with this knowledge in the forefront of my mind. The sheer scope of it, and the ideas for the future it presents, make it worth a second read. I think your enjoyment of it might depend on your familiarity with the text if pays homage to. But even then, for me, it wasn’t quite as dazzling as the sum of its parts.

ISBN: 9781787331419
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 9-May-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

LoveFavel Parrett’s exquisitely rendered third novel is a beautiful, heart-wrenching encapsulation of the European immigrant story that portrays the plight of familial separation; the guilt and forlornness of those who have departed,  the struggle of those left behind, and the love, however distant, that forever binds them.

If that description sounds overly sentimental, rest assured: There Was Still Love possesses the same hypnagogic subtly as its predecessors, and Parrett’s lyrical economy, coupled with her story’s understated poignancy, eviscerates any threat of sappiness. Her latest reads like a dream, and through the eyes of its young narrators, and a narrative that shifts in time and location, we are presented with an unforgettable tale about dislocation and distance.

Engaging and carefully constructed, upon finishing (which you will, quickly), readers might be tempted to start again, not wanting to let it go, and to truly savour Parrett’s prose. There Was Still Love is a true reading highlight of the year.

ISBN: 9780733630682
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 224
Available: 24th September 2019

Review: Cari Mora by Thomas Harris

9781785152191.jpgIn a year of brilliant thrillers — think McKinty’s The Chain or Crouch’s Recursion — readers don’t need to settle for anything but the absolute best when it comes to turbocharged literary entertainment. Which is unfortunate for Thomas Harris, and the first book he’s published in thirteen years, because it is devastatingly archaic by comparison. It’s not even a fun throwback to a bygone era; Cari Mora is completely lacking in thrills, chills and even the shadow of a memorable character; and despite its lean page count, it is a slog to get through. The Silence of the Lambs this ain’t.

The plot involves a booby-trapped stash of Pablo Escobar’s gold, hidden in the basement of a luxurious mansion on Miami Beach, and a whole bunch of very bad dudes out to claim the treasure for themselves. Which actually doesn’t sound so bad I bet Donald Westlake, writing under his Richard Stark pen name, could’ve done something amazing with that set up but its unfolding chafingly uninventive and peopled with a two-dimensional, ridiculously villainous cast (there’s the guy who walks in for one scene to eat a human kidney — just ’cause; and the hairless albino whose favourite method of torture is a liquid cremation machine.

There’s the titular heroine, Cari Mora, a gorgeous former-FARC guerrilla, who works in the mansion as a housekeeper, whose backstory is sketched haphazardly, but at least provides the story with a glimmer of heart and humanity. But she’s not enough to sustain interest. The narrative lurches from one point of view to the next at one point we even get to witness the inner thoughts of a crocodile but it’s done without any panache. Uninspired and unsatisfying; for Harris completists only, and only if you must.

ISBN: 9781785152191
Format: Paperback / softback (234mm x 153mm x 24mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: William Heinemann Ltd
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 16-May-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: You Don’t Know Me by Sara Foster

 

6A4565C9-7894-4C90-AC0A-E31E256C45B0A gripping, dark-hued domestic thriller that asks whether in our darkest moments love truly conquers all, Sara Foster’s You Don’t Know Me is a twist-filled saga of a family undone by a brutal betrayal.

The disappearance of eighteen-year-old Lizzie Burdett was the monumental moment of Noah Carruso’s life. Not only was she his first crush — his first taste of unrequited love — Noah was one of the last people to see her alive, when she fled from his home after an argument with his brother, Tom; her boyfriend.

Amid growing speculation as to his involvement in Amber’s disappearance — which has sparked much conjecture, and more recently a podcast — Tom Carusso fled, leaving Noah and his parents to pick up the pieces of their broken lives. Ten years have passed since the two brothers last spoke, but that’s all about to change when a fresh inquest into Lizzie’s death is announced, forcing Noah back from his vacation in Thailand, where he met the drop-dead-gorgeous Alice Pryce, and instigated a relationship he feels certain is destined for more than a casual fling. But their burgeoning romance is threatened not just by the Carruso’s dark history, but by Alice’s own secrets. And soon it’s not just their love that’s imperilled — it’s their lives. 

Part murder mystery, part family drama, altogether riveting; You Don’t Know Me is an emotionally-charged, fast-moving thriller, packed with familial secrets and lies. Foster keeps the plot simmering until unleashing a twist late in the proceedings that will stun readers as much as it does its protagonists.

ISBN: 9781925685367
ISBN-10: 1925685365
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 384
Available: 1st November 2019

Review: Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates

JCO Carthage.jpgIt was only a matter of time before I read Joyce Carol Oates. Statistically the chances were always high; she’s one of the most prolific authors writing today. But when I started working beside a JCO aficionado, the odds improved dramatically. And so, here we are, one JCO book down, only, like, another hundred to go. Game on.

Carthage is my first for no other reason than I spotted it second hand, I had the five bucks in my pocket, and the words from the Financial Times review emblazoned on its cover were encouraging. “A suspense-filled thriller,” it reads; and you know me, I live for suspense, and I love a good thriller. Paid for, walking out, book in hand, I turned it over. The Guardian‘s review slapped the FT’s down: “Not just the suspense thriller it had seemed at first sight,” it reads. Imagine a dramatic piano key change as my thoughts screamed, “Oh no, but I live for suspense, and I love a good thriller! What have I done?!”

What I’d done, it turns out, was select a gem of novel that harbours the foundations of a straightforward missing persons mystery, but rather than focus on the mechanics of the investigation — in fact, it’s barely touched upon — it thrusts the members of the missing teenager’s family, and the Iraq veteran accused of her murder, into the spotlight, exposing their lives before, during and after the disappearance, the narrative twisting through time like the double helix of a DNA strand.

Carthage tackles some very heavy themes; the horror of war and its long-lasting impact; the legitimacy of incarceration and the morality of the death penalty, and life on death row. It explores grief, faith, the audacity of hope. It is a grand novel about family anguish. It is unflinching, tender and heartbreaking, and Oates’ prose reads like a dream. At long last, I am on the JCO bandwagon, desperate to read more, and decide where Carthage sits amongst her substantial body of work.

ISBN: 9780007485758 
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Fourth Estate Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 20-Oct-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom