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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The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz

I remember when I first devoured the Millennium Trilogy, simultaneously learning about the death of the author (that sounds so Barthes), I was stunned – by both the octane-pace of the writing, its depth and complexity, and by the notion Steig Larsson would not be around to write any more. Well, the man they passed the Millennium torch to, David Lagercrantz, has not only breathed life back into Larsson’s fantastic characters, but he’s maintained the extraordinary level of excitement in terms of plot and pace as well. His The Girl in the Spider’s Web (book #4) was fabulous and this, the fifth book in the Millennium series, The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, is another stellar instalment. In this novel, Lisbeth Salander returns with a vengeance (I don’t think she knows any other kind), and the reader finds her serving a brief sentence in a women’s prison for saving the life of a young boy (from the previous book). Refusing to defend herself, Lisbeth is more concerned about protecting innocents from grave injustice – both within the prison and from without. Utilising her technical skills and strength as well as her connections outside the prison, including journalist, Mikael Blomkivst, not only does Lisbeth start to uncover facts about her traumatic childhood and the role she and her twin played in a sinister experiment, but due to her determination to play fair for others, incurs the wrath of extremists. It’s only when she unites with her friend and one of the only people she trusts, Blomkivst, that Lisbeth can not only set a great wrong right, but also find her own kind of justice – an eye for an eye. A little slow to start as the novel sets up the prison system and the characters within...

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Force of Nature by Jane Harper

When I read Jane Harper’s debut, The Dry, I hadn’t been so impressed by a crime novel since I first read Katherine Howell. I really looked forward to losing myself in Harper’s next instalment in the Aaron Falk series and really hoped she could maintain this incredible standard she’d set. Well, I was not disappointed. Force of Nature is a complete cracker of a read. Whereas, The Dry took the reader into a hot, drought-stricken country community, replete with its reticence and suspicion of strangers and revenants, its haunting secrets and ghosts of Christmases past, Force of Nature explores not only the dense, formidably beautiful and haunting ranges that make up Victoria’s Grampians (they’re called the Giralang ranges in the book), but the toxic politics, suffocation and desperation of workplace and family relations. When a group of colleagues who work for a family firm are taken into the bush for a three-day hike designed to forge and build relationships outside the office, one of the bush-walkers goes missing. Is it a co-incidence that the missing person also happens to be a whistle-blower, whose evidence was set to tear the company apart and whose last telephone call was to agent Aaron Falk and whose final words were “hurt her”? Summoned to the Giralang Ranges to aid in whatever way he can, Aaron and his partner, Carmen find a traumatised group who, nonetheless, are hiding something. Like the bush into which their colleague has disappeared and they brutally emerge, the co-workers conceal and reveal aspects of their story which is told in a series of flashbacks from different points of view. Slowly, a picture of what may have happened and the whereabouts of the missing person builds, yet like the bush which has swallowed her, the stories are incomplete and it’s...

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The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

I have long been a fan of Horowitz’s work – from his screen plays in Midsomer Murders to Foyle’s War, his Sherlock Holmes books and Magpie Murders, so was very excited to read his latest, The Word is Murder. What an unusual and gripping book it is. Opening with a woman, Diana Cowper who, after planning her own funeral, is found dead hours later, this is not the most captivating element of this engrossing book. The most unusual and fascinating aspect is that Horowitz inserts himself as both narrator and a character into the story. Drawn into the investigation of Cowper’s murder when it’s used to bait him into writing a book about the lead investigator, a curmudgeonly fellow named Hawthorne, Horowitz finds himself playing reluctant second-fiddle to the irascible and narcissistic ex-copper. Thrown out of the Met some years earlier for something he refuses to discuss with Horowitz, Hawthorne is nonetheless employed on a consultancy basis to run parallel investigations – the murder of Diana Cowper being one such instance. His policing talents, he informs Horowitz, being formidable. Horowitz finds the story surrounding the murder too compelling and reluctantly agrees to write the book, shadowing the detective who, as the novel progresses, slowly reveals he is more than first impressions indicate. When another body turns up after Diana’s actual funeral, Horowitz is not only hooked, but finds himself desiring to play detective as well. Only, he’s a far better writer than he is a gum-shoe investigator, and he finds himself putting his foot in it on more than one occasion. Often self-deprecating, Horowitz’s unreliable narrator-writer-would-be-detective is also highly amusing. Not afraid to name-drop, the reader l earns of meetings with the likes of Spielberg and Peter Jackson, his agonies over Foyle’s War and his Alex Jackson series of...

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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)