The Good People by Hannah Kent

After reading and being so impressed with Hannah Kent’s debut novel, Burial Rites, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into her next one, The Good People. Like its predecessor, it is impeccably researched, this time immersing the reader in late 1800s Ireland within a small community that, when an orphaned child with serious incapacities is given to his grandparents to raise, finds itself beset with misfortune and death. Focusing on three primary female characters and taking a true story for inspiration, Kent does a marvellous job of recreating the superstitions of a community clinging to pagan beliefs while trying to embrace modernity and the rule of the Catholic Church. For three women, the grieving grandmother, Nora, the young maid she hires to help her look after her grandson, Mary, and the “handy woman” and local healer, “Nance” the collision between old worlds and new, between faith in one set of beliefs and another, and the drive to nurture and protect is very real and painful. Evoking the terrible poverty, lack of literacy and struggles of the small village in which these women dwell, the intimacy it creates – which is both blessing and curse – and the stark reality of their daily lives as they try to eke out an existence, Kent also manages to expose the beauty in their almost wilful ignorance; the way they embrace the magic of nature and the intrusion of culture (all while negotiating the villainy or good intentions of others), attributing that which they don’t or won’t understand to the “good people” or fairy folk. Convenient scapegoats as well as explanations for the inconceivable and painful, the “good people” are as much a part of their lives as their neighbours and the landscape from which they attempt to draw a living and...

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The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

Goodness… where do I begin? The debut novel, The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan is beyond delightful. It is a ray of sunlight, filled words you want to savour, rainbows, sweet memories, glistening tears, all perfuming the room/glade with the scent of caramel and freshly baked bread. It is magical in every sense and then some. So, what is this lexical treasure about? Anthony Peardew, is a writer who, for his entire life, has collected an assortment of things people have left behind or lost in order to compensate for something precious he once misplaced. When he dies and leaves his enormous legacy to his personal assistant, the lovely but slightly lost herself, Laura, the purpose of the objects (and his bequest) becomes apparent. Populated with charming, whimsical and at least one outright nasty character, as well as such endearing animals, I deliberately slowed my reading down to savour this story, putting it aside when I really didn’t want to because I just didn’t want it to end. The style in which the book is written is a joy. I read that some reviewers on Goodreads found it confusing; others, like me, relished the way the main third person narrative switches to tell a short story about a particular object. I found this added such richness and depth to the tale and made Anthony’s obsession with collecting even more meaningful as we learn what a particular thing meant, the context in which it functioned and why it was lost in the first place. I also read that one reviewer said the treatment of Down’s Syndrome and Alzheimer’s in the novel was insensitive. Having members of my family with both, I completely disagree. I found it not only sensitively handled, but with erudition and insight into the emotional...

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Last Rituals by Ysra Sigurdardottir

Continuing my love affair with Nordic Noir, I picked up this book, Last Rituals, by an author I hadn’t yet read, Ysra Sigurdardottir. Commencing with a suitably grisly discovery, when a young German student’s body is found on a university campus, sans eyes and with eerie markings inscribed on his body, the reader is introduced to Thora Gudmundsdottir, a lawyer who is hired by the family of the young man to investigate his death. While a suspect has been placed in custody, the family don’t believe he’s the culprit. Teaming up with a man sent from Germany to support her investigation, the blunt and seemingly humourless, Matthew Reich, Thora and her new partner uncover not only fascinating aspects of Iceland’s history, but the victim’s enthrallment with the occult. From ancient caves and supernatural and other traditions, burial rights, superstitions and precious documents worth a fortune and which could change history, Thora and Matthew become immersed in a deadly game of hide and seek, power, lies and deception, all tinged with witchcraft and dark magic. Can they break the spell hanging over this case or will they too fall victim to the forces arraigned against them? What I really enjoy about Nordic Noir is the emphasis on character as much as plot and this book is no exception. As the investigation continues and clues and dead-ends are explored, the reader is invited to get to know single-mother, Thora, and her children and familial life better as well as the professional and slow-burning personal relationship she builds with Max. History and the wild and majestic Icelandic landscape become as much characters in this book as the murder investigation, adding richness and depth to the sometimes staccato scene changes and otherwise excellent dialogue. Slow but rewarding, I look forward to more in...

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The Last Hours by Minette Walters

Having loved Minette Walters other books, I was so looking forward to reading The Last Hours, her first foray into historical fiction. Set in England in 1348, it tells the story of how one resilient and clever community, Develish in Dorseteshire, survived during the deadly outbreak of the Black Plague, a plague that wiped out nearly half the population. Centred around two primary characters, Lady Anne Develish and a serf whom she has nurtured over many years, the maligned bastard, Thaddeus Thurkell, it also explores the complex network of familial and other relationships that make up the immediate village and manor house – from the simply villainous and narcissistic Lord of the manor, Sir Richard to his equally vile daughter, Eleanor, to the various bondmen and their families as well as the alcoholic priest. How they all respond to not only news of the spread of plague, but the various threats that are set to unravel the lives they’ve built, makes compelling reading. The novel starts slowly, introducing the reader to these various players in what’s about to become a fight for survival against overwhelming odds – and not just the sickness kind. As the plague takes its toll and the folk of Develish retreat behind the walls and moat, it swiftly becomes clear that healthy humans, and those forced into close confinement can often pose a much greater hazard than a ravaging illness. When a murder happens among the cloistered community, only quick and drastic action prevents a greater travesty occurring. Left with no choice but to seek both news and vitals beyond Develish’s boundaries, and led by Thaddeus, an exiled group join the brutal, devastated wider world that’s been ravaged by the plague. In the meantime, those they’ve left behind who look to Lady Anne for leadership...

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The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridasson

This was a wonderful, slow-burner of a book that segues between war-time Reykjavik in 1944 and the present. In 1944, a policeman named Flovent, an Icelandic expatriate named Thorson who is seconded to the military police, try to solve the brutal murder of a beautiful young Icelandic woman outside the national theatre. Initially suspecting the influx of US soldiers and the way they captivate the local girls who take unseemly risks to be responsible, they soon find they need to look closer to home. Back in the present a retired detective, Konrad is asked to investigate the death of an elderly man who is found dead in his apartment. When a post-mortem reveals his death is, in fact, murder, Konrad cannot fathom who would want to kill this inoffensive, quiet man. It’s not until Konrad starts delving into his past and discovers he was not only a military policeman, but part of an inquiry into the terrible murder of a young woman during the war,  that Konrad understands the two cases, even though they’re separated by decades, might be connected. While back in 1944 a perpetrator was taken into custody, tragic events followed his arrest. Evidently, these continued to haunt the now dead old man and thus, they haunt Konrad as well. Moreso when he discovers his own tenuous connection to the case. It’s now up to Konrad to pick up where the old man left off and see if he can finally lay the ghosts that disturbed him to rest. Atmospheric, very character driven, the intertwining of past and present works so well, weaving threads into a tight-knit solution. There are some outstanding Scandi-noir writers and stories out there, and I am delighted to have found another to add to my reading...

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TWO KINDS OF TRUTH BY MICHAEL CONNELLY

I don’t know how it’s possible, but this series just keeps getting better and better, so much so, I need more than five stars to rate it. The only downside of this latest adventure with former LAPD detective and now cold case worker, Harry Bosch is, because I virtually inhale the book the moment I start it, it’s over far too soon. In Two Kinds of Truth, Bosch is faced with present and past dilemmas. He might be working on cold cases, but when one of his from 30 years earlier is resurrected, one which not only put a psychopath on death row, but which, if the killer’s appeal to have his sentence overturned and massive compensation paid succeeds, throws every case Harry has ever worked on, every criminal he ever helped convict, into doubt. Claiming Harry framed him and he has the evidence to prove it, the killer’s case appears tight, so much so, Harry’s former partner is persuaded to help those assigned to investigate the matter. Things look grim for Harry, particularly since he left LAPD under less than salubrious circumstances. Determined to clear his name, he commences his own investigation. In the meantime, he’s asked to help in a brutal double-murder. Keen to be back on the streets and working “hot”, Harry and his team uncover the corruption and cruelty of big pharma, those who benefit from its nefarious dealings, and the toll this takes on the most vulnerable in society. Older, most definitely wiser, with the cunning of a fox and instincts of a seasoned hunter, and yet willingness to share his knowledge and experiences, if there’s one thing Harry will not stand for, it’s having his honour – as an officer of the law and man – questioned. Nor will he tolerate the motives...

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Nevermoor: The Trails of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

It’s funny how readers are often contrary people. When a book is really hyped by various marketing forces and reviewers, we so often resist reading it. I sometimes wonder, why? Is because we don’t want to be told what we should enjoy and rave about? Or is that a small part of us fears we’ll be duped and have our high expectations dashed, resent the time and money spent, and bear witness to the poor author being made a bit of a commercial scapegoat? Maybe it’s a bit of both. I think a little bit of me felt that way with this book, Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend, yet another part of me longed to read it and celebrate in this young woman’s success as her work is likened to Harry Potter and picked up by a major film company. But another part of me thought, what if they’re wrong? I don’t want to be one of those thinking, “yep, I shouldn’t have listened and trusted my cynical instincts…” Well, now I’ve read it, I understand both the comparisons to Harry Potter (and other children’s classics) and the hype. This is a simply delightful tale that will capture both children’s and adults’ imaginations and succour those who’ve been clamouring for something creatively nourishing in a new Potter story’s absence (despite there being so many magnificent children’s works out there!). Nevermoor tells the tale of eleven-year-old (and yes, savvy readers will point out the many similarities between the tropes and characters in Townsend’s book and other writers (Pullman, Rowling, Dahl; etc etc.) I have no problem with familiar metaphors and devices being used – after all, they’re staples of kids’ literature and have thrilled generations. It’s how they’re used that’s important and Townsend doesn’t disappoint) Morrigan Crow who, as a “cursed...

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The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

What an absolute joy it was to return to the magical and terrible world (at least one of them) that Philip Pullman created in his Dark Materials Trilogy. With La Belle Sauvage, Volume One of The Book of Dust, Pullman has written a gripping and utterly bewitching prequel to his earlier works. Set 10 years before the events in The Northern Lights, it nonetheless includes characters and tropes familiar to readers, which makes starting this novel all the more joyous, exciting and comforting… only, as readers of Pullman would know, the latter feeling is always temporary. In this book, we’re introduced to the delightful Malcolm Polstead, the eleven-year-old son of publicans who own an Oxford ale-house called The Trout. Malcolm is kind, inquisitive and clever, and thoroughly enjoys his life which includes school, helping his parents and the sisters at the local priory, and listening to the many varied and interesting conversations that visitors and regulars to The Trout engage in. It’s at this time Malcolm learns not only of the prospect of a terrible flood, but of the existence of a baby named Lyra Belacqua and finds he’s not only compelled to meet her but that when he does, all his protective instincts are aroused. When, over a few nights, groups of visitors appear who both discuss and directly question Malcolm about certain events, the baby and other people, his curiosity and desire to render aid is piqued. That their appearance also heralds some dark changes in the familiar patterns of the everyday and sinister intruders with nefarious intentions appear, suggests to Malcolm, and others around him, that dark forces are stirring. When Malcolm and a young, contrary assistant at the pub are called upon to show courage and tenacity in the face of both natural disaster and...

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Mayan Mendacity by L.J.M. Owen

Having really enjoyed the first book in the Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth series, Olmec Obiturary, I was looking forward to seeing where the second instalment, Mayan Mendacity took the reader. I was not disappointed. In this book, Dr Elizabeth Pimms, now a librarian, is once more asked to help catalogue bones from an ancient site – this time, from the Mayan civilisation. As her fiancé was present at the dig, the invitation to be involved holds a special place in Elizabeth’s heart, a heart that’s about to be tested in all manner of ways as her emotions, her beloved family, and so much more are soon threatened. Segueing between the present and Elizabeth’s (sabotaged) attempts to find the answers the head of the research team requests and the Mayan period, the novel is fast-paced and filled with fascinating facts – about the Mayans as well as the steps undertaken to record and discover the secrets the bones contain. The more answers Elizabeth discovers, it seems the more questions she needs to ask – and not only about her professional life, but her increasingly complicated personal one as well. What I really enjoy about these books is the light touch of the writer. Despite dealing with some heavy themes, the novel is not weighed down by them, but cruises along at a good pace, keeping you turning the pages. Exposition is well-balanced with more descriptive prose and character and plot building. There is, however, one story-line exception (which was frankly, a weakly executed and featured two characters that were more caricatures than fleshed out – but I can forgive it because the rest is very well done). Mostly, the storyline is tight and the people populating the story utterly endearing. I particularly like the Pimms family. In this book, Owen...

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The Break by Marian Keyes

Never having read a Marian Keyes book before I was uncertain what to expect. However, a glowing review about The Break from a friend (who’s also a huge fan of Keye’s work) made me keen to start. Well, what a glorious, heart-wrenching, warm, funny and fundamentally human novel this is. I found it so hard to tear myself away from and then felt bereft when I’d finished. Ostensibly the story of the happily married Amy and Hugh who experience a relationship crisis when Hugh decides that though he loves Amy, he wants a “break”, it’s also a great deal more than that. Striding into middle age and all its cosy familiarity, for some people, this stage of life can also breed contempt – mostly for the self. Wondering if we’ve reached our potential or if this is indeed “it” for whatever more time we’re granted, it’s easy to understand why middle age can sometimes be the autumn of so many people’s discontent. Thus it is with Hugh. A decent, good man (and Amy’s second husband), he nonetheless feels the need to take a hiatus from what he’s become and may yet be becoming. Shocked, horrified and in disbelief by what Hugh intends and unable to prevent him (even if she really wanted to), Amy struggles with the cliché her marriage is turning into. Trying to understand Hugh while feeling a mixture of grief, anger, loathing and every other emotion there is, as well as trying to balance her professional life with the wreck of her personal and the unwelcome return of her narcissistic her ex-husband and his claims, Amy undergoes her own sort of crisis. Juggling her wonderfully messy family and their demands, catastrophes and triumphs, and the chaos that ensues in Hugh’s departure’s wake, Amy’s enforced break almost...

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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)