Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham

I love it when a writer whose work you love never lets you down. Michael Robotham is one of those and with the first book in his new series, Good Girl, Bad Girl, featuring psychologist Cyrus Haven (who makes an appearance in one of the Joe McLoughlin books), he even ups the ante in terms of suspense, a cracking plot and flawed, marvellous characters you champion the entire way. When a very troubled young woman, whose given the name Evie Cormac, applies to court to be released from the children’s home she’s been held in for the last six years after being discovered in a secret room in a house where a brutal murder happened, Cyrus is called in to assess her. Equal parts fascinated and wary of Evie who, it appears, possesses the uncanny ability to tell when a person is lying, Cyrus also knows he has to unlock her past in order to help her secure a future. But Evie, while tolerant of Cyrus, is not ready to talk about who she is or what she endured. Resilient yet vulnerable, damaged and damaging, clever and filled with self-loathing and yet a desire to be “normal”, Evie is not like anyone Cyrus (who has his own demons and tragic past) has met before. When a case Cyrus is working on and Evie’s present collide, danger for both of them rears its head, placing both their lives on the line. Cyrus and Evie must not only rely on all their innate and learned skills to survive, but more importantly each other. Thing is, can these two wary souls let down their defences long enough? Fast-paced, enthralling and at times, very suspenseful, and always clever, this is a great read. While at first I was disappointed it didn’t feature the...

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The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

I always look forward to a new Kate Forsyth book coming out, knowing I will be transported into the past and lose myself in a mesmerising story. The Blue Rose is no exception, taking the reader back, in the first instance, to revolutionary France where a young woman named Viviane lives in a deteriorating chateau with a mean and controlling Great Aunt and a small staff of retainers, one of whom is like a brother to her. But when a Welshman, David, is hired by her distant, dissolute father (who spends most of his time in Paris) to prepare the gardens according to current fashions so he might bring his new, young heiress wife to the country, Viviane finds in David a sincere and kind friend. What starts as friendship swiftly transforms into something more, but Viviane knows that should her father learn of her growing feelings for the Welsh gardener, a man well below her in terms of social standing, any dreams she has will not only be shattered, but David’s life will be in danger.  When Viviane’s father returns unexpectedly, not even Viviane could predict his reaction, and what subsequently unfolds. Whisked away to Paris, married and forced to comply with her father and husband’s every wish, Viviane believes David and what life with him promised her is lost forever. But as rebellion against the French monarchy and the aristocracy foments and political forces rise to crush the oppressors and anyone who stands in their way, Viviane learns that her father, let alone David’s fate, are the least of her worries… Without giving too much away (unlike the blurb on Goodreads which needs to come with a major spoiler alert. I only just read what is said and it gives away the entire plot of the book!),...

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All That’s Dead by Stuart McBride

Each new addition to the Logan McRae series by Stuart McBride has become my “reward” book: that is, I set myself certain writing and research tasks and only once they’re finished do I permit myself to read the next installment in the life of Inspector Logan McRae and the motley band of loyal, hilarious, brave, foolhardy and often clever people who work with and, sometimes, against him. As a consequence, I relish the experience and then mourn when it’s over, knowing I have to wait at least a year until once more, I can be, albeit for a brief time, part of this madcap, dangerous world that is policing in Aberdeen, Scotland. In this book, Logan, Steele, Rennie and co have to pit their wits against some Alt-Right Scottish nationalists who go on a spree, committing terrible atrocities against those they believe have betrayed Scottish independence and fostered more than cordial relations with the Brits. The results are bloody and terrifying and the criminals, though identified early, hard to pin down. As a result, the media make scapegoats of the police, representing the law as buffoons who are about as much use (as one great phrase in the book puts it) as a plasticine bicycle. Against time and bad will, Logan and the team try to prevent another crime, another grisly death. But just when it seems they have all the answers, more questions surface which throw the entire investigation on its ear. Filled with fabulous, quirky characters, crackling dialogue (that has you alternately splitting your sides laughing or appreciating the emotional depths of a seemingly simple phrase) and written at a pace that will keep you reading well into the night, this is another splendid addition to one of my all-time favourite crime series. Cannot wait for the...

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Little, by Edward Carey

Little, by Edward Carey, is an unusual book in many regards. Not only is its subject matter, a fictionalized retelling of the life of the woman who would become Madame Tussaud, bleak, filled with quirky characters (not the least, the central one, Marie Grosholtz who is given the nickname, Little) and related against a backdrop of bloody unrest and civil war (the French Revolution), but the voice in which its relayed is very different as well.  Once you become accustomed to the style of the narration, it’s easy to be swept up into Little’s tale.  When young Marie, who lives in Berne, comes into the orbit of the eccentric and clever Dr Curtius, her universe is expanded and yet simultaneously contracted. Responsible for making moulds of various organs and body parts for the local hospital, the Dr finds in Marie a willing and very able assistant. Sharing his insatiable fascination for the human body, Marie slowly starts to find her place in the world. But, it seems, the world isn’t quite ready for Marie.  A move to Paris opens doors for Curtius and his peculiar talents but more or less closes them for Marie. It’s not until a twist of fate throws her in the path of royalty that her life undergoes a dramatic, but in many ways, bizarre change.  Based loosely on Madame Tussaud’s personal history, this is a story of familial relations, noble favour, longing, broken hearts, artistry and passion – the latter for humankind, but not in the way you might expect. Little is a strange protagonist that, like many who encounter her, you feel both drawn to and repelled by. She is honest, direct, humble and yet lit by an internal fire that somehow Carey manages to make burn through the pages. Told over decades,...

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The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott

Having recently finished The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle, I was really in the mood for another, fast-paced, escapist Atlantis-themed novel. Andy McDermott’s The Hunt for Atlantis, the first in what is a very long series featuring archaeologist, Nina Wilde and former British SAS soldier, Eddie Chase, appeared to fit the bill. Raised by parents obsessed with discovering the location of the lost city of Atlantis, it’s natural that after their sudden deaths in Tibet years earlier, Nina should continue with their work. Believing she’s found the location of the lost city, it’s not until her application for a university grant to test her theories is rejected and she is picked up by a philanthropic Norwegian billionaire Kristian Frost and his organisation, that Nina can begin her hunt in earnest. But there are others interested in what Nina has found and her search, so much so, Frost hires a bodyguard to keep her safe – the crude but courageous, Eddie Chase. And so the adventure really begins. From the snow-clad regions of Norway, to the heat of the Middle East, steaming jungles of Brazil, the dark depths of the Atlantic and dangerous streets of New York, the hunt to find Atlantis and the secrets the ancient civilisation has kept for millennia is on. Can Chase keep Nina and those in the Frost organisation keen to see her succeed safe from the deadly brotherhood determined to see her fail? Or will Atlantis remain hidden forever? This novel started well. The pace was break-neck, the premise (if you suspended your disbelief) fine and the characters were solid enough. The descriptions of car chases, plane crashes, shoot-outs, explosions, and so many near-death experiences were cinematic to say the least. But after a while, the whole run, shoot, run, shoot, get captured, freed,...

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The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen

Just as this book is divided into two narratives (that aren’t quite halves), so too I felt divided when I first started reading it. On the one hand, I could appreciate the quality of the writing, but on the other, I didn’t think I liked the precocious protagonist, Augusta, nor the way nothing much seemed to happen. In many ways, I wondered where the story was going to go, if anywhere. How wrong I was. For, at some point, the story grabbed me by the head and heart and I was taken on an interior journey like no other and utterly captivated. This is a tale of a twin, Augusta, and her fierce intelligence and desire to understand everything, break it down into components she can grasp and link, despite living in a small English village and despite her parents and twin’s contentment with their home and village. Fascinated by words and the world around her, at a very young age, Augusta, the bane of the parents and teachers’ lives, picks the small African country of Burundi, just because of the sound the word makes, and decides to learn everything she can about this strife-torn place. But her increasing knowledge of Burundi, other places, words, and later languages, people and cultures, just increases her desire to escape her roots and discover where and if there is somewhere else she belongs. The novel doesn’t belong to Augusta alone, sharing it is young African, Parfait, who happens to live in Burundi but, like Augusta, feels a longing to shake off his origins and explore, find out if there is somewhere else he can feel truly at home. When terrible tragedy shakes both Parfait and Augusta’s lives, they’re forced to take stock and step out of their uncomfortable existence and set off...

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The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle

Having enjoyed The Long Winter series by A.G. Riddle, I went back to his earlier works, starting with his very first book, The Atlantis Gene. What is it about the very idea of “Atlantis” that it still manages to capture our imaginations? And how is that so many creative artists have positively exploited our fascination with a lost city, drawing upon it in a range of ways that are sometimes mind-boggling? Riddle joins a plethora of other writers who have also used the idea of Atlantis, this time using it to explore the idea of human evolution. The book opens with a young geneticist, Kate Warner, working with autistic children in Indonesia. When her co-workers are killed and two of the children kidnapped, and Kate herself is placed in grave danger, she is very confused. Why is her research, let alone her young, vulnerable subjects, of such interest to a covert group? A covert group who, it seems, not only employs a beloved guardian, but has a wide, global network that stretches back in time to the Nazis and into the future as well. Concurrent with Kate’s dilemma is that facing counter-terrorism agent, David Vale. A survivor of 9/11 and member of a top-secret anti-espionage group, David is shocked to learn that the people he’s working for are not what they seem. Flung together with Kate, David must uncover not only who’s behind the terrible destruction being wreaked upon his organisation but try and stop them doing the same to the world… before it’s too late. While I enjoyed this book, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I wanted to. I found it so implausible and a bit silly at times. The “science”, while trying to be grounded, stretched even this reader’s ability to suspend her disbelief....

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The Ties That Bound by Barbara A Hanawalt

I read this book a few years ago when I was undertaking research for an earlier novel, The Brewer’s Tale and remember being so impressed with it. Returning to it again (as I am also returning to the Middle Ages with my next book – only a slightly earlier period), I was once more struck not only by the lucidity and depth and breadth of research, but by the astute observations Hanawalt makes, observations always backed by evidence. Where there is little or none, Hanawalt also points this out and alerts her reader to the fact. But what makes this book so exceptional is its accessibility and readability. It is a joy to read and lose oneself in. Instead of focussing, as so much history has, on the nobility or royalty or even religious bodies and thus power-brokers of a particular country or culture (mainly because that’s about and for whom records were kept), The Ties That Bound chooses instead, as Hanawalt puts it, to “enter the doors of the peasant’s house” and give voice to those who didn’t have one. Choosing the family and its material environment as her foundation, Hanawalt investigates how, why and when families survived in the Middle Ages (she uses the fourteenth century as a rough framework), focussing on their working patterns (and so the medieval economy as centred around family, landholdings, agriculture and industry), marriage, childbirth, childhood, adolescence, godparents, household sizes, their structures – in terms of people as well as houses and land worked – sickness, death, neigbourhoods, manorial allegiance, gilds, village life, festivals, weather, war, and conflict and examines the impact all of these had on the day to day living of the average person in England over this period.  She also addresses the dramatic changes that occurred following the Black...

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The Book of Dreams by Nina George.

This was a haunting and quite lovely book that, despite its strong focus on loss and healing, blends realism with the fantastical, creating a wonderful and poignant atmosphere that allows for sorrow but also great joy. The story starts when Henri, a middle-aged Frenchman, sets out to meet his estranged young son in London. On the way, he is involved in an accident, an accident made all the more shocking because of its context. Believing his father doesn’t care, Henri’s son, Sam, only learns the truth about his father’s failure to keep their meeting in the newspaper. Thus, his first encounter with his father occurs in a hospital where Sam is forced to share this man he doesn’t remember, with a variety of medical professionals and other people who meant something to Henri. Confused, and determined not to show how his father’s accident is impacting upon him, Sam tries to keep his hospital visits a secret from his mother and step-father, all while trying to overcome the visiting restrictions. Clever and sensitive, Sam also has a condition called synaesthesia, which means he sees emotions as colours. To call them auras is only partly right. While others believe Henri is in a deep coma and unable to communicate, Sam knows different. Before long, he finds himself unable to keep away and not just from his father. He may not be able to communicate with Henri in the usual fashion, but through his unusual insight, he is able to build a relationship with the man wandering in a dream-realm and help others to grow theirs and not only with Henri… A moving read that examines father-son relationships as well as a variety of others, including those between medical professionals and their patients. It also explores the impact injury and loss has...

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Where the Forest Meets the Stars Glendy Vanderah

It was the title that initially captivated me with this absolutely sublime novel of wonder, love, loss, grief, trust and the power of relationships to heal. I started reading it and, before I’d reached the end of the second page, I turned to a friend who was lost in her own book and declared, “I love this book already.” The love never died but, with each page, increased. This is the story of a young ornithologist, Joanna Teale who, recovering from more than her fair share of the kind of blows that life can throw, is conducting graduate research in a remote area, living alone, checking her bird nests and trying not to think too hard about her future apart from her recently neglected study. But when a young girl stumbles into the light of her campfire one night, dirty, poorly dressed and declaring she’s not of this world, Joanna is both captivated and alarmed. Calling herself Ursa, after the constellation, the girl is wondrous and clever but also clearly in need of help. Refusing to either seek aid from the authorities or “go home” until she has seen five miracles, Ursa soon becomes part of Joanna’s life in ways no-one could have foreseen, including bringing some interesting and broken people, counting the enigmatic Gabe from the property next door, into Joanna’s orbit. But as the summer draws to a close, Joanna understands she must make some difficult decisions about her future, those she’s met and, most importantly, the strange young girl for whom she’s come to care deeply.  I don’t want to say too much more except that this is such a magical, heart-swelling tale that’s written in beautiful and often aching prose. I stayed up far too late, smiling through tears and nods, clutching the book to...

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Karen Brooks's books on Goodreads
TallowTallow (Curse of The Bond Riders, #1)
reviews: 29
ratings: 489 (avg rating 3.79)

VotiveVotive (Curse of the Bond Rider #2)
reviews: 10
ratings: 154 (avg rating 4.25)

The Gaze of the GorgonThe Gaze of the Gorgon (Cassandra Klein, #2)
reviews: 1
ratings: 14 (avg rating 3.78)

The Kurs of AtlantisThe Kurs of Atlantis (Cassandra Klein, #4)
ratings: 15 (avg rating 4.12)

Rifts Through QuentarisRifts Through Quentaris
ratings: 12 (avg rating 3.56)