Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund

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The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund
Publisher: Random House UK Vintage Publishing (14 April 2016)
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: Scandi-crime, Adult, Thriller
Pages: 768

Rating:

The International Sensation
It starts with just one body – tortured, mummified and then discarded.
Its discovery reveals a nightmare world of hidden lives. Of lost identities, secret rituals and brutal exploitation, where nobody can be trusted.
This is the darkest, most complex case the police have ever seen.
This is the world of the Crow Girl.

My Thoughts:
Now for a crime story which, unlike Fiona Barton's 'The Widow', definitely is not so simply told, or lacking in nasty scenes. This one contains a multitude of extremely violent scenes of torture, child abuse, child trafficking and murder so definitely NOT for everyone.

At over 750 pages this is a huge tome which I devoured in just a few days. Written in short easy to digest chapters I had no problem keeping track of who was who; who did what to who; etc., etc,. Not since reading Stieg Larsson's 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' have I been so enthusiastic about reading or recommending a Scandi/Nordic crime novel.

The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund is a very dark, violent and intensely disturbing read with in-depth descriptions of suffering, abuse and rape, and a plethora of shocking scenes. This most certainly won't be a book for everyone, and definitely not for those upset by such scenes.

I am not going to say anymore about this one except that if you are not one of the above then 'just read it'.

Shamelessly twisted and at times sensationally over the top, The Crow Girl was for me a hugely enjoyable, addictive read.  Perfect for fans of, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo, and David Lagercrantz.

Disclaimer: A complementary proof copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

About the author:
Erik Axl Sund is the pseudonym for 2 authors who have been friends and collaborators for years: Jerker Erikson and Håkan Axlander Sundquist.
Håkan was a sound engineer, musician and artist, while Jerker was a music producer and worked as a librarian in a prison. Both live in Sweden where they are now full-time writers, and also run an art gallery together.
Originally written as a trilogy before being re-worked for the English language markets The Crow Girl is their first book. The complete trilogy received the 'Special Award' from the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers in 2012, with the academy highlighting the trilogy's "hypnotically captivating psychoanalysis in crime fiction form."

The Widow by Fiona Barton

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The Widow by Fiona Barton
Genre: Crime Thriller, Mystery & Suspense, General Fiction, Adult

Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Publishers/Bantam Press (Jan, 2016)
Source: Publisher/NetGalley
Pages: 320

Rating:
Synopsis:
THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER. "The ultimate psychological thriller". (Lisa Gardner). We've all seen him: the man - the monster - staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime. But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs - the wife who stands by him? Jean Taylor's life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she'd ever wanted: her Prince Charming. Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil. But now Glen is dead and she's alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms. Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows. Du Maurier's REBECCA meets WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN and GONE GIRL in this intimate tale of a terrible crime. "My book of the year so far". (C. L. Taylor, author of THE LIE).

My Thoughts:
The Widow the debut offering from Fiona Barton is an 'easy-read' crime suspense thriller about the abduction of a little girl from her own front garden. Set in Hampshire, (United Kingdom) it also visits other locations such as Southampton, Portsmouth, Fareham and Gosport during the course of the book. Originating from the Portsmouth area myself, I found it intriguing to read a novel set in and around places I know pretty well.

The sole narrative written in the first person is that of the widow, which sets her apart from the other characters giving her focus and a sense of alienation from everyone else.  The rest of the narratives are all in the third person and include that of, the detective, the reporter, the mother and the husband. They have their own space in the form of short individual chapters so there's no confusion of who's speaking or losing your place.

Told through these narratives in a shifting of time, back and forwards The Widow commences with the death of 'the husband' and during the course of the book the truth tantalisingly seeps out, but not without several nice twists and turns along the way. The tension held throughout and I didn't feel cheated by a 'meh' ending which I feared it might have, and even when the fate of the little girl is divulged I eagerly continued turning the pages as fast as I could to get the conclusion.

I am not sure if I was supposed to find any of the characters likeable or feel sympathetic toward them, but for me only 'the detective' had any real sense of humanity or likeable traits, but what I did do was find myself questioning the whole media and police detection processes and how the general public view victims and suspects and apportioning blame and guilt. The Widow certainly made me feel a little uncomfortable about certain areas of our lives, especially our relationships via social media.

I had only intended to do a quick skim of the pages for recommendation purposes at our bookstore but I couldn't stop reading it.  A pleasant surprise after hearing that it would be 'another', 'the next' 'The Girl on the Train' or 'Gone Girl', which it isn't. It's different apart from its simplicity of its narrative style. However it may well be the next 'The Girl on The Train' in terms of success, I have no doubt.

It is important to mention, due to the subject matter, that there are no graphic scenes of violence or abuse and safe for readers who are uncomfortable with such descriptions. The Widow is an entertaining thought provoking, compelling read which I highly recommended.



Disclaimer: A complementary copy of The Widow by Fiona Barton was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest unbiased review.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

In life I was a scientist called Fanning.
Then, in a jungle in Bolivia, I died.
I died, and then I was brought back to life... 
Prompted by a voice that lives in her blood, the fearsome warrior known as Alicia of Blades is drawn towards to one of the great cities of The Time Before. The ruined city of New York. Ruined but not empty. For this is the final refuge of Zero, the first and last of The Twelve. The one who must be destroyed if mankind is to have a future.
What she finds is not what she's expecting.
A journey into the past.
To find out how it all began.
And an opponent at once deadlier and more human than she could ever have imagined.
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Well this beauty came in today and I was determined to 'bagsy it' to be the first to read it, however, I was not the only one.  There are several of us that coveted this sole copy. I couldn't do it...deprive my co-workers of the chance to read a few lines during lunch breaks. So there it sits on the table in the staff room for us to take turns reading it...howl...

Justin Cronin's The City of Mirrors has to be the stores most anticipated book of the year.
Maybe another copy, or two, may find a way to us...we can only hope.

Thank you to Orion publishers for sending this much coveted proof copy to our store.

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
Orion Publishing Group (16 June 2016)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Fellside by M.R. Carey

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Fellside by M. R. Carey (Read Jan 2016)
Source: Publisher - Little Brown Book Group (proof copy)

Genre: Horror, Thriller, Supernatural
Pages 550

Rating:
Warning: Possible Spoiler Alert

A haunting and heart-breaking new thriller from the author of the word-of-mouth bestseller The Girl With All the Gifts Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. It's not the kind of place you'd want to end up. But it's where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life. It's a place where even the walls whisper. And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess. Will she listen?

Discover M. R. Carey's powerful new novel - a chillingly atmospheric tale filled with tension, action and emotion that's set to take the world by storm.

Praise for M. R. Carey:
'Original, thrilling and powerful' - Guardian
'Haunting, heartbreaking' - Vogue
'A great read that takes hold of you and doesn't let go' - John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of Let the Right One In
'Scary, tense and fast-paced...but with a heartwarming tenderness' - Marie Claire
'A dark, intriguing read' - Martina Cole
'As brilliant as it is dark and devious' Jonathan Maberry
Source: Waterstones website
What I Thought:
Jess Moulson has been severely disfigured as a result of a fire and she is also suffering from amnesia. She has been sentenced for the manslaughter of a child and finds herself at Fellside a maximum security prison in the middle of nowhere.  During her incarceration Jess has visits which she believes are from the child she killed, and he tells her that he doesn't remember much about who he was or how he came to be at Fellside. All he can recall is that a lady hurt him very badly.  Jess, feeling guilty and wanting forgiveness, promises to help him try to remember who the lady was and what happened to him.

Running parallel to the main storyline are several sub plots, one of which is of the inmates and the frightening often brutal world of manipulative and coercive relationships between the prisoners themselves and staff, and of the hierarchical system in which they find themselves.

When I received my proof copy of Fellside by M.R. Carey, I couldn't contain my excitement and delved right into the book the moment it was unwrapped.

The pace is sharp, intelligent, fast and exceedingly well written.  I was hooked immediately and tore through the first 400 pages in next to no time, however a niggle or two had started to creep into my consciousness and the last third of the story just became a stretch too far. I skimmed the last third of the book leading to the final court appeal drama which included a couple of twists (both of which I saw coming), and in my opinion an unforgivable plot hole involving a mobile phone. Fellside is an Interesting premise but it didn't fully convince me with the mounting ethereal dream sequences and real world implausibilities. So when the otherworldly happenings increased in a 'way too weird' way and because of the plot hole reveal, Fellside lost all credibility for me and I was unable to suspend my belief any further.

The setting too felt off. Fellside is a fictional private prison situated on the edge of the Yorkshire moors but the writing style, depictions of the prison environment and general atmosphere had an American feel which didn't feel authentic to me.

So after a great start and right through to the last third of the book I'd definitely have given a 4 star rating, but finally settled on 3.5. A little disappointed, I was, but maybe expectations were high after the success of The Girl With All The Gifts ... or maybe if I had been aware of Carey's background in writing graphic novels I may have been more likely to have 'got it' and known that a pretty high level of 'belief suspension' would be needed to fully appreciate it.

Had I known too that Carey had spoken to former inmates of private prison institutions  in the UK, I would also have found some scenarios a little more believable. However these assumptions are all with the benefit of hindsight, and even though it makes me feel bad about my views, I can only say what I actually thought whilst reading. You can read an interesting review with M.R. Carey here at, Liz Loves Books blog

It's hard to have missed all the, by all accounts justified, 'hype' over Carey's debut novel, The Girl With All The Gifts, and despite my view of Fellside I am still looking forward to reading it.

Disclaimer: A complimentary proof copy of Fellside by M.R. Carey was provided by the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Fall Of Man In Wilmslow by David Lagerkrantz

Fall of Man in Wilmslow: The Death and Life of Alan Turing
by David Lagercrantz

Publisher: Quercus Books (7 May 2015)
Source: Publisher via NetGalley (digital ARC)
Pages:368
RATING:
Synopsis:
June 8, 1954. Alan Turing, the visionary mathematician, is found dead at his home in sleepy Wilmslow, dispatched by a poisoned apple.

Taking the case, Detective Constable Leonard Corell quickly learns Turing is a convicted homosexual. Confident it's a suicide, he is nonetheless confounded by official secrecy over Turing's war record. What is more, Turing's sexuality appears to be causing alarm among the intelligence services - could he have been blackmailed by Soviet spies?

Stumbling across evidence of Turing's genius, and sensing an escape from a narrow life, Corell soon becomes captivated by Turing's brilliant and revolutionary work, and begins to dig deeper.
But in the paranoid, febrile atmosphere of the Cold War, loose cannons cannot be tolerated. As his innocent curiosity fast takes him far out of his depth, Corell realises he has much to learn about the dangers of forbidden knowledge.

What I Thought:
The pace of David Lagercrantz's novel 'Fall of Man in Wilmslow' feels frustratingly slow, so slow in fact that In the beginning I didn't think I could continue if the action didn't ratchet up a notch or two.  After my initial uncertainty and perseverance, I adjusted and appreciated the languid pace, taking in every detail. It was from that point onwards that I loved the book and characters, especially that of Allan Turing as imagined by Lagerkrantz.

As I said before, the pace in this novel is painfully slow and not going to hold the attention or interest of everyone, especially those wanting an action packed, edge of the seat thriller. Fall of Man in Wilmslow sure won't rock their boat. However, I found it to be a deeply rewarding historical, educational, suspenseful, read.  The substantial character development, and Lagerkrantz's astounding ability to simplify complex mathematical concepts and philosophical conversation for the layperson more than compensates for the lack of pace to my mind.  In particular I found the conversation on the 'liars paradox' totally fascinating. I believe I even understood it, at the time of reading !

Fall of Man in Wilmslow is on the surface a detective mystery novel set during the 1940's and 1950's when paranoia, and conspiracy theories were rife. You just couldn't trust those scheming communists, or far worse those immoral homosexuals... always ripe for the Russians to coerce into an uncompromising position and blackmail into divulging our national secrets.

DC Leonard Corell is assigned to the 'open and shut' case of an apparent suicide. That of an 'Alan Turing'.  Corell becomes obsessed and fully immerses himself in his investigation to find out who Alan Turing was and what he did during the war. His fascination with Turing leads him to some unsavoury characters and into dangerous waters, but also along the way he discovers more about himself and his family, and ultimately begins to question his own prejudiced beliefs.

The atmosphere of tension of suspicion, is palpable and I got a real sense of the overpowering hatred and sexual bigotry of the times towards the homosexual community.

On a deeper level it is a fascinating character supposition analysis of an immensely talented genius and how he was treated appallingly even by those who knew what he had achieved during the war. Not only did no one help him, they actively encouraged the accusations, then left him to be destroyed mentally after his treatment of chemical castration for the most heinous crime of being a homosexual.

I found Fall of Man in Wilmslow to be a deeply affecting novel and couldn't help but think what a waste of an exceptionally gifted mind. What advancements may we have delayed in the computing and artificial intelligence fields.  It is beautifully and sensitively written - to my mind it is an absolute must read for anyone wanting an intelligent, thought provoking mystery thriller.

One of my favourites this year.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of Fall of Man in Wilmslow was provided by Quercus Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest unbiased review.

LATE REVIEWS - I have an excuse...really this time !

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My excuse for not getting my reviews done on time !

Tess our new addition to the family is a Patterdale X Parsons terrier and at 11 weeks is demanding rather a lot of our attention.

I will endeavour to get my latest (late) review of Man Falls in Wilmslow by David Lagercrantz done as soon as possible.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

In The Land of Armadillos by Helen Maryles Shankman

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In The Land of Armadillos by Helen Maryles Shankman
Pages: 304 (Hardback)

Genre: Magical Realism, Folklore, Holocaust, Short Stories
Publisher: Scribner
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Recommended for fans of:
David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Sun-Mi Hwang's The Hen who Dreamed She Could Fly

RATING:
Synopsis:
A radiant debut collection of linked stories from a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, set in a German-occupied town in Poland, where tales of myth and folklore meet the real-life monsters of the Nazi invasion.

1942. With the Nazi Party at the height of its power, the occupying army empties Poland’s towns and cities of their Jewish populations. As neighbor turns on neighbor and survival often demands unthinkable choices, Poland has become a moral quagmire—a place of shifting truths and blinding ambiguities.

Blending folklore and fact, Helen Maryles Shankman shows us the people of Wlodawa, a remote Polish town: we meet a cold-blooded SS officer dedicated to rescuing the creator of his son’s favorite picture book, even as he helps exterminate the artist’s friends and family; a Messiah who appears in a little boy’s bedroom to announce that he is quitting; a young Jewish girl who is hidden by the town’s most outspoken anti-Semite—and his talking dog. And walking among these tales are two unforgettable figures: the enigmatic and silver-tongued Willy Reinhart, Commandant of the forced labor camp who has grand schemes to protect “his” Jews, and Soroka, the Jewish saddlemaker and his family, struggling to survive.

Channeling the mythic magic of classic storytellers like Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer and the psychological acuity of modern-day masters like Nicole Krauss and Nathan Englander, In the Land of Armadillos is a testament to the persistence of humanity in the most inhuman conditions.

What I Thought:
These intertwined short stories take place in Wlodawa, a small village in Poland during WWII during the nazi occupation and include:

1 In the Land of the Armadillos, narrated by a nazi officer;
2 The Partizans;
3 The Messiah;
4 They Were LIke Family to Me;
5 The Jew Hater, the second story narrated by a nazi officer.

I adored everything about this book from the cover artwork (the author's own) depicting two of the 'fictional' characters from the titular story of the book, to the exquisite prose and narrative of each of the interconnected short stories.

Holocaust written as magical realism fiction ! ... Surely that cannot do justice to the horrific mass murder of so many during this evil period in history.  However, Helen Maryles Shankman has written a beautiful rendition full of mysticism and religious folklore about her characters and married the horrific reality with magical realism perfectly. In an interview with review blogger, Jeffrey Keen, she says; "...Magic is the only way I can approach the horror of what happened across Europe in 1945. Without it, all that is left is grim, inexplicable reality..."

Source: Review and interview: http://jeffreykeeten.booklikes.com/post/1291928/in-the-land-of-armadillos-by-helen-maryles-shankman).

The stories in this book so affected me that they tore a hole in my soul and I literally cried as the emotive scenes played out, but ultimately I also felt a spark of hope and faith in the eventual power of good triumphing over evil. I held my kindle to my chest on numerous occasions after reading such powerful passages.

In The Land of Armadillos is a book that sucked me in, halted me in my tracks and made me think and evaluate, even reevaluate the actions of certain individuals ... simply stunning, moving, and uplifting ... I want everyone who has a heart to experience this masterpiece. An awe inspiring book that will stay with me for a very long time.

You can read more about In The Land of Armadillos and Helen Maryles Shankman here: http://helenmarylesshankman.com

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of In The Land of Armadillos was provided by Scribner via Netgalley in exchange for an honest unbiased review.