Review: Lost You by Haylen Beck

9781911215608Once again writing under the pseudonym Haylen Beck, Stuart Neville has produced a top-notch, twist-filled psychological thriller about a woman who’ll do anything for her child.

Lost You opens in a holiday resort in Naples, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. In an anxiety-inducing scene, three-year-old Ethan squirms in a woman’s arms as she climbs to the hotel’s roof. Police and hotel security surround the area; she can hear cries of alarm from guests below. One foot in front of the other she continues to move across the rooftop, towards its edge, Ethan still struggling, their fates seemingly entwined. Which they are, and have been for a long time, as readers learn when the narrative spirals backwards, revealing Ethan’s true parentage, and the desperate, ruthless actions a mother is capable of when her child is at risk.

With shades of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Michael Robotham’s The Secrets She Keeps, the less you know about Lost You the better. It delivers twist after twist, and although connoisseurs of the genre might pick some, I’m positive even the most prolific psychological thriller reader won’t anticipate every swerve in this tale. Beck’s latest is a chilling, gripping thriller you’ll put your life on hold for to finish. A consummate tale of suspense.

ISBN: 9781911215608
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 320
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 27-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

9780708899434“The boys could have been many things had they not been ruined by that place.”

Based on the true life atrocities of the state-run Dozier School for Boys, Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys tells the harrowing tale of Elwood Curtis, a law-abiding, hardworking, studious teenager, emboldened by Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, who is sentenced to the Nickel Academy in the 1960s following a tragically innocent misadventure. What he experiences there — the sadistic punishments, the abuse wreaked by the faculty upon its students — belies belief, seems inhuman. But it happened. This is fiction based on fact.

From its brutal opening, depicting a secret grave site being discovered in the present day on the grounds of the juvenile reform school, The Nickel Boys is an unsparing, necessary portrait of America’s history of racism and violence and its eternal legacy. Horrifically, the Dozier School for Boys was only closed down in 2011; so this is not a book the sins of the past, it’s about realising the violations recounted within are the sins of the present.

It’s an extraordinary book, with an ending that lands like gut punch. You simply must read it.

ISBN: 9780708899434
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 224
Imprint: Fleet
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 16-Jul-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

9781526614940Ann Patchett cemented her reputation long ago as a writer capable of examining families with ruthless intimacy. Compassionately, powerfully, understatedly and effortlessly she has stripped bare the dynamics of families, each novel quivering on the brink of being a masterpiece. Well, The Dutch House is it; her tour de force; as good a novel as you will ever read, this year or any year, about two siblings who plummet from riches to rags and form an everlasting bond as a result.

At the end of World War II, Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, by purchasing a mansion — so named the “Dutch House” because of its former owners, the VanHoebeeks — in the Elkins Park neighbourhood of Philadelphia. It’s a luxurious, fully-furnished estate, embellished with domineering portraits of the VanHoebeeks, and staffed by a servant girl named Fluffy. The perfect home to raise a family, you might think; but Elna can’t stand its decadence, and soon abandons her children — Danny, aged three, and daughter Maeve, aged ten —  to be cared for by the household staff and their gruff, inattentive father. Then a stepmother and stepsisters enter Danny and Maeve’s lives; both parties equally uncongenial, but content to live within each other’s orbits; until tragedy strikes, uncoupling the Conroy children from the Dutch House, thrusting them into a new reality wholly separate from the affluence they once knew.

Narrated by Danny, Ann Patchett unspools the lives of the Conroys with customary grace, rendering the ageing of her ensemble cast over many decades with profound authenticity.  The magic of Patchett’s work is her ability to spin ordinary lives into operas; to take the patchwork of moments that comprise our lives, the comedy and pathos, and turn it into revelatory, enthralling art.

ISBN: 9781526614957
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 24-Sep-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

9781526608130A swashbuckling adventure set in Prohibition-era New York City made even more engrossing by its emotional core and blend of characters. Fun, but without the sprinkling of magic that made The Explorer a standout.

In The Good Thieves, young Vita assembles a small team comprised of an expert pickpocket and a pair of budding circus performers to break into a derelict Hudson River castle once owned by her grandfather — cruelly purloined by a notorious conman named Victor Sorrotore — and recover a priceless hidden emerald.

Vita is an endearing protagonist, who rarely lets her bout with polio slow her down, and her fellow thieves are well-drawn and glow with personality. The action comes thick and fast, lyrically rendered, but New York never really comes alive like the jungle in The Explorer. The Good Thieves is guaranteed to entertain, but it is missing the emotional impact of its predecessor. Still, there’s no such thing as bad Katherine Rundell, and one of her middling novels is better than 95% of everything else on the shelves.

ISBN: 9781526608130
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 336
Imprint: Bloomsbury Childrens Books
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 13-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

9781925773088“Just writing a book to know who is the killer is wasting paper and time,” said Man Booker International Prize-winning author Olga Tokarczuk in an interview with The Guardian, which immediately made me circumspect about diving into her newly-translated 2009 novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Of course, I’m a little prejudiced when it comes to crime fiction; it’s my desert island genre of choice.

Although murder — a string of them in an isolated Polish village on the Czech border — drives the plot forward, this isn’t a whodunit or a mystery in the traditional sense. The denouement, when it comes, revealing the perpetrator behind the crimes, doesn’t stun, although it’s apt. It feels right, the preceding pages building towards a destination savvy readers already know, but will find satisfaction in reaching nonetheless. But Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is an accomplishment not because of its flirtations with noir, but for its meditation on environmental and ecological issues; specifically hunting, both for sport and meat.

The ageing, ailing and lonely Janina Duszejko spends her days using her Ephemerides to map the stars; translating William Blake; and looking after the homes of the city-dwellers who only show up to the village in the summer. She used to have her two beloved dogs for company, and their disappearance has left a gaping hole in her heart and soul. The death of her cantankerous neighbour upends her placid lifestyle, and propels her headfirst into the first of what will become multiple police investigations. Her theory that the local wildlife is retaliating against the local hunters who prey upon them falls on deaf years; and when not simply ignored, is laughed at. But Duszejko is adamant; the unbalance in power between nature and human is being addressed. Her absolute certainly adds an element of magical realism to proceedings.

This is a book that forces you to slow down and think. It’s a great book for any reader looking for something different from their crime reading experience; lyrical, poetic and haunting. Not necessarily an easy undertaking, but a worthy one.

ISBN: 9781925773088
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 256
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publish Date: 1-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

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: Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones.jpg“I had absolutely no interest in being someone else’s muse.
I am not a muse.
I am the somebody.
End of fucking story.”

This book — bloody hell.

There are very few books that so completely and utterly annihilate my poor excuse for a social life and devour every available moment of my day. There are books I like, and books I love. And Daisy Jones & the Six is a book I love. Like, truly adore. This is a book I could not get enough of. I am genuinely a little heartbroken it’s no longer in my life; that it exists purely in memory.

But, damn, we had some good times.

“You have these lines you won’t cross. But then you cross them… You’ve taken a big, black, bold line and you’ve made it a little bit gray. And now every time you cross it again, it gets grayer and grayer until one day you look around and you think, There was a line here once, I think.

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s book is about Daisy Jones and The Six, the iconic (but sadly fictional) 1970s rock band that topped the charts and sold out stadiums, then suddenly disbanded after their greatest performance. Readers nostalgic for the 1970s, when rock n roll was at its zenith, will really dig this. The thing is: I am not one of those readers. Sure, I like the Stones; there’re a bunch of Beatles tunes on my Spotify playlist. But my music tastes run a little more mainstream. And softer. I’m a Robbie Williams kind of guy; Bruno Mars; Take That; Dido; Coldplay.

But something about this story — more precisely the way it’s told, in an oral history format (the narrative is composed exclusively of transcribed interviews) — sunk its hooks into me. And at the moment, I feel like those hooks will be implanted forever. Not for the rock n roll, but because at its heart, this is a nuanced love story (and not a purely romantic one), and a goddamn good one, starring a trailblazing talent in Daisy Jones, who is unapologetic in her sexuality, and lives life on her own terms; whose addition to The Six catapults them to fame; but at a cost, and to the chagrin of the band’s leader, Billy Dunne; who spends the book battling his own demons as he struggles to find equilibrium between rockstar and family man.

Can we get an encore? Please?

“Some of us are chasing after our nightmares the way other people chase dreams.”

Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 368
Imprint: Hutchinson
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 5-Mar-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom