Sunday, 17 November 2019

Killing It by Asia MacKay

What a line to open a book with: 'I pull my pistol out of my striped Cath Kidston nappy bag.' I was intrigued, at the same time hoping this was not going to be a rather clichéd, cheesy attempt at portraying a kick-arse heroine. It only took another couple of paragraphs to realise that, on the contrary, it was going to turn out to be rather engaging. 

Going back to work after maternity leave isn't unusual. Thousands, millions even, of women do it. But, Alexis Tyler is mum to rosy-cheeked, squiggy-cheeked, all-round scrummy little Gigi…in one life. In her other, secret, unbeknownst-to-husband-Will life, she's a highly trained secret agent, risking her life for queen and country, killing whoever needs to be eliminated in the interests of national security. And day one back on job means being thrown right back in at the deep end with a dangerous assignment. That's absolutely fine as long as she can get home to say nighty night to her most treasured possession. 

Despite the element of domesticity this was a thriller and a half: fast-paced, gripping, compelling. At the heart of it, is Alexis: dedicated to her job, the best at what she does, fiercely protective of those she loves and vehemently dismissive of the words 'can't' and 'no'. 

I really should knock off a star for the rather slack editing, but I really enjoyed the book. It was very evident that the author is a mother and infused the necessary credibility to the work-family tug-of-war Alexis faced. The ending is cheekily tantalising, which means I'll certainly be reading the next Alexis Tyler book.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Dakota Burn by DV Berkom

Here she is again: Leine Basso, taking you on a roller-coaster ride, making your heart stop, taking your breath away and giving you the odd tummy-wobble...without leaving the comfort of your best reading spot: sofa/bed/sun lounger! 

Number eight in the series, there's no letting up in thrills, spills, action, shoot-outs and despicable, evil criminals: child sex-traffickers this time and Leine pairs up with old colleague, Derek, to take down this dangerous ring of unscrupulous, amoral, disgusting men.

Unsavoury and unpalatable though the subject is, in the hands of this brilliant author, the atrocity of the crime and its perpetrators is moulded into a story that stages her writing skills at their very best. Leine may be our girl with bomb-proof armour, but we love her because of her heart and passion for obliterating scum. 

As always, gripping, fast-paced with edge-of-your-seat action. Berkom has only one standard: excellence.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Gangster Walk by Melissa Bowersock

In this, their fourteenth case, Sam and Lacey get the opportunity to experience how the other half live when a multi-millionaire whisks them off to his luxury home, where his gardener is terrified of an unfriendly ghost in one of the extensive property's outbuildings. Lacey's research unearths the mysterious disappearance of a gangster many years previously and discovers that 'honour amongst thieves' doesn't always hold true. 

Bowersock is always true to her style…and to her readers. You never have to wonder if the next Sam and Lacey mystery is going to live up to the one before, before: it always does. Their business is always about releasing a ghost from its painful ties, of course, but each case is different, new and fresh.

Keep 'em coming, Ms B!

See also:

Revenge Walk by Melissa Bowersock

Back with my friends, Sam and Lacey for their thirteenth case. We have a two-pronged story line in this one. They take on the case of a haunting, in which two young children are being bothered by a ghost. At the same time, they're preparing to open Sam's new ceramic art studio. The former seems to be straightforward, but Lacey is a little niggled by its straightforwardness. And the preparations for what they hope will be a successful grand opening of the studio are worryingly hampered by cruel vandalisation, which, they realise, points to one of their former cases, whose outcome seriously disgruntled some people linked to it.

The story is told with Bowersock's usual efficiency, conciseness and flow. It takes no time to settle into her comfortable and familiar style, and always manages to leave you wanting more.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Valley of Secrets by Morgan Knight

Well now, this was a pleasant surprise. A tapestry of genres: paranormal, fantasy, romance, erotica, thriller, crime, suspense. The first four are my least favourite…not on my never-read list, just not my go-tos. But I'm weak and succumbed to the temptation of the latter three. My submission was well rewarded. 

When very young, Emilia was adopted by her parents' good friends when they were tragically killed in a car accident. Years later, as a college student, an attorney traces her to tell her that there is a family estate in a small village in Europe and that she needs to travel there promptly. A holiday in Europe with her much loved adopted sister, Amanda, is too good an opportunity to miss. And it might help distract her from some rather sensual dreams she's having, which feature an irresistibly attractive man, Massimino. Emilia and Amanda's jaunt turns out to be quite something. Little did they expect that Emilia would uncover some unsettling truths about her family, the village and that Massimino is a ruthless sorcerer. 

Good quality writing and a well-formulated plot made this very compelling, along with a striking contrast of well-portrayed good and bad (some evil, in fact) characters and an unguessable ending. Despite having to suspend my disbelief, I was transfixed till the end, which, although complete with no loose ends, left a door ajar for a sequel. I'll certainly be all over that.

Monday, 30 September 2019

The Liar's Room by Simon Lelic

Oh, and another present-tense narrative. Sigh. And my opinion hasn't changed. It still does not work. One star knocked off. 

This is one of those thrillers where the two main protagonists know what's going on, but the reader doesn't. Which is tedious and tries your patience. That said, it is compelling. 

Susanna Fenton is a counsellor and single parent to teenager Emily. She has spent fourteen years with a new identity, but when Adam goes to see her for an 'appointment', it's a consultation like no other. He seems to know an awful lot about her, her past and worse…Emily. 

It's quite addictive at first because what does Adam want from Susanna, how does he know her, of her and what is his interest in Emily? But then it gets very overplayed. The reasons for Susanna's dramatic change of life and the reasons for Adam's taunting are underwhelming, if I'm honest. Neither is guilty of anything very much other than being victims of tragedy. I suppose it's a testament to the quality of writing that you are nonetheless enthralled by the unfurling of the past, what Adam wants from Susanna and if Emily is in any danger. 

The strangulating present-tense narrative means the past, in order for the present-day events to make any sense, has to be revealed via Susanna's memories and Emily's diary, which is all a bit contrived and clumsy.

Notwithstanding the clunkiness, ghastly present tense, few characters that are actually likeable and the painfully slow reveal, you do find yourself unwittingly caught up in the tension and suspense.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

The Dead Ex by Jane Corry

Ach! This was written in the stifling, suffocating, claustrophobic present tense, which I hate. My heart sank when I started it. Actually, that's not quite true: the story is written from two POVs, Vicki's and Scarlet's, and it is the latter's whose narrative is in the past tense. However, seventy percent is present tense and it just doesn't work. 

In spite of that, this is a gripping thriller…thank goodness, as it helped to mollify my present-tense disappointment. 

Vicki Goudman is an aromatherapist whose ex-husband goes missing. His current wife sends the police to her home studio, but Vicki doesn't manage to convince them she has nothing to do with his disappearance. As time goes on, the odds are stacking up against her. Trouble is, she's finding it hard to convince herself she's innocent because of her memory lapses. 

Scarlet is only eight years old, daughter of single parent, Zelda, who thoughtlessly uses her as her drug mule. Inevitably, Zelda ends up in prison, and Scarlet is swallowed up into the foster-care system, long-term because Zelda keeps tripping up in prison. 

Vicki's mission is to get to the bottom of her ex's disappearance. Tanya, Scarlet, Zelda and she are all connected. The 'how' is well handled, and the 'who' keeps you guessing right to the very end. It's absorbing, twisty, the characters lives skilfully interwoven, but neatly wrapped up: present tense is forgiven, this time.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist

My rule of thumb with books is 'I've started, so I'll finish'. It's been a struggle sometimes. Here, I very nearly didn't get past the second sentence, which started 'It was laying on its back….'. Gah! How can an editor/proofreader not notice this? I did wonder if I could pretend I never started this; one howling grammatical error only a few lines in wasn't exactly promising. 

Well, I did carry on. And there were a few more howlers. Unfortunately, I can't say that the novel was so good it didn't matter. It was mediocre, at best. 

Recently widowed Zoe…and I mean recently, as in three weeks (how on earth can you organise a funeral then a trip abroad all in three weeks?) decides to take herself and her grief to the Camino de Santiago, a network of pilgrims' ways, between France and Spain, deciding at the same time to become a vegan (probably not the best decision when she needed a lot of walking energy). Martin, an engineer, recently divorced (and embittered by his wife's infidelity), also decides it's a good idea, at the same time prototyping a wheeled backpack, which he hopes will stand up to 2000 kilometres of pushing and pulling. Inevitably, the two are destined to pair up at some point, as in, intimately. But…oh, so, slowly. This dragged on rather and the absence of any interesting details of the Camino meant the whole thing never really warmed up. 

The authors tried to provide interest with colourful/annoying/philosophical/young/old/multinational/transgender characters, but they didn't elevate this book beyond mildly pleasant. 

Having stuck with Zoe and Martin for over 2000 km, I do feel there's possibly a sequel in them, as the ending wasn't neat and tidy and all wrapped up, but without the Camino backdrop and its walkers, these two rather ordinary, rather boring characters would find it hard to provide a decent backbone to a second book.