Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

Recommended to me by a dear friend with whom I share a love of reading, Girl in Snow, a first-time book from Danya Kukafka, is a sublime, beautifully written murder-mystery that rather than focussing on the forensics of the investigation into the death of a young girl, Lucinda Hayes, instead chooses to explore the impact her death and her life have on the people around her.

Told from three points of view: a cop with a deep secret named Russ, the strange, interior Cameron who though he has trouble socially, not only perceives the world around him in the most fascinating and imaginative way, can produce wonderful art. Much of his work is centred on Lucinda. Preferring to lurk in the shadows, when his work and manner draw attention to him and the secrets he keeps, he becomes a likely suspect. Then there is Jade: cynical and wise beyond her years, she too harbours desires and dark resentments, observing, alienating and loathing the townsfolk. The one thing she doesn’t keep to herself is her burning hatred for Lucinda and everything she represents.

Not only are the stories of these three characters interconnected, but so too is the relationships they have with Lucinda, their families and the neighbours and school friends who think they know them.

In order to solve Lucinda’s murder and bring her killer to justice, they must all face the past and, more importantly, the parts of themselves they’ve refused to acknowledge.

The thing that strikes you most about this book, apart from the tight plotting and totally credible resolution, is the gorgeous language. The prose is exquisite, the descriptions offered for mundane objects, for feelings almost impossible to express are all there on the page like poetry. Not only did I marvel at some of the descriptions, but became lost in the moment, saying the sentences over and over in my head like a litany.

Already I am looking forward to Kukafka’s next novel, because this debut is a doozy.

 

 

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Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

Where do I even begin with this book? My. God. Having followed the Trump phenomenon since it first became a terrible reality, I thought I had a fairly good grasp of the madness and mayhem that marked not just the campaign, but his first year in office. Boy, was I wrong. Not so much about Trump himself. I think much of what we read and hear and see every day, whether we live in the US or Australia and much of it thanks to Twitter, prepares us for what’s revealed in the book – even when it exceeds our (low?) expectations. What is shocking in the book is the role and attitude of other players – the Conways, Hicks, Ivanka and Jared (known derogatorily as “Jarvanka” – a nickname bestowed by Steve Bannon who utterly despises the pair and Wolff does not hold back in painting them in a dreadful, manipulative light), the Bannons and, never mind the “Mooches” (Anthony Scaramucci) of this crazy world. Their complicity in what is said and done, their desire to promote themselves over and above curbing Trump’s more unrealistic tendencies, gain in wealth and status and shore up a future beyond the President’s tenure, and above the well-being of the nation, to pretend that everything is alright is breath-taking in its awfulness and downright self-servingness.  – No. I am wrong. What they do is actually worse than that. In order, I guess, to reassure themselves things are not as bad as others think, they not only collude but pretend that everyone else outside the White House, whether supporters of Trump or not, and who are deeply concerned about where the country and the man leading it are heading, are somehow nuts or misguided or trying to bring Trump down. As if, somehow, it is everyone else who has it wrong or are misreading the madness. It is really insulting – the chutzpah, the audacity. Yet, they’re all getting away with it. So maybe they do know what they’re doing when they try to project the lunacy within onto the rest of us without.

Notwithstanding this, there are those, according to Wolff, who do everything in their power to try and bring stability to the leadership. This is the reason he posits many people have remained and even accept positions in the first place. But it’s also why many people have either been sacked or left (and there have been so many).

I don’t want to reveal too much of the content. Bannon doesn’t come off well – in fact, few do, though Wolff is sympathetic to the likes of Sean Spicer and others who have been pushed out into the public domain to make sense of and defend the senseless and indefensible, to spin the unpalatable into something not completely outrageous, idiotic and unpresidential.

The people who come off worst are, of course, as we expect, the Trump family, headed by the patriarch whose claim to fame (apart from winning the impossible race) appears to be consistently inconsistent. Beyond them, it is the likes of Bannon and those who see in Trump not so much a figure to inspire loyalty and leadership, but the symbol of a movement, “Trumpism”, which they passionately believe will continue beyond his (inevitable) demise who Wolff makes an effort to understand, even if only ideologically.

Well written, utterly gripping and gob-smackingly awful in parts, I was laughing out loud in incredulity; gasping in disbelief and shaking my head so much, I am surprised it’s still attached to my neck. An easy read (because we know the players, know the premise of the tale), it is still mind-blowing in every bad way. I can’t help but feel one day we’ll look back on this period the way we do other surreal moments in history – when those who never should, never could, did – with terrible consequences.

For those who love politics, culture, celebrity and want to understand the journey and the rationale behind the Trump White House (not sure I can use that word  – rationale – in the a sentence about this subject and have it make sense), this is a terrific book.

 

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The Girl Who Lived by Christopher Greyson

I don’t know how many of you do this but I generally pay scant attention to the ads that appear when I boot up my Kindle – I mean, I scan them quickly, take in the title of the book, author and the shoutline, but never take any of it seriously enough to purchase. They’re a consumer distraction – a necessary one for the pleasure and convenience of my Kindle. For some reason, I made an exception with the ad for The Girl Who Lived. I don’t think it was the “girl” in the title (I am wearying of those), but something about the whole title that resonated. I downloaded it before I could change my mind and began reading. Well, I couldn’t stop – not until I finished it at some ungodly hour of the morning.

This book tells the story of Faith Winters who, in her early twenties is an alcoholic with a criminal record released from a care facility and into strict probation. She has one chance to make it in the community or she’s back in a facility for good. Picked up by her mother, Faith is taken to a small flat that’s been given to her by her parent and loathed step-father. Ungrateful, skitchy, Faith isn’t easy to like. Wanting to be left alone with her memories, it’s not long before the reader learns just how terrible and destructive those are.

Dark and horrifying doesn’t begin to describe what Faith bore witness to on the eve of her thirteenth birthday some ten years earlier. The only witness to brutal murders, murders attributed to someone she loved dearly, she’s not believed when she contests police findings. As a consequence, she starts to think maybe she was wrong and so spirals into a life of psychiatric care, drugs, and alcohol as memories of blood, fear, terror and self-doubt overwhelm her. All this is exacerbated by her mother, a therapist who, as a part of her own recovery is advised to write down her feelings on what happened. The result is not her own story, but that of her daughter’s trauma, a book called The Girl Who Lived.

The book and her memories haunt Faith and all of this is made worse on her release back into the community where she grew up. But when she believes she sees the man she thinks is the killer, and someone starts playing mind games with her, no-one believes her. Not helping her own case, she continues to drink and abuse prescription drugs, defying her probation rules and shedding self-doubt on what her heart is telling her is the truth – or is it?

Dark, utterly suspenseful, the reader is taken into a maze by an unreliable, oft-drunk and prickly narrator who, nonetheless, you end up championing. The other characters who hover around Faith are so well-crafted that, like Faith, you don’t know who you can trust. While I guessed the ending, it is still so well executed, and entirely plausible, it’s breath-taking and shocking all at once.

A sensational read that had me searching for more books by Greyson. This may have been the first of his I read, it certainly won’t be the last! I think I might pay more attention to those ads in the future as well…

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Dark Skies, DCI Ryan #& LJ Ross

This is the last instalment in the DCI Ryan series currently available (at the end we’re told to expect the next oImage result for Dark Skies L J Rossne early 2018). In this novel, DCI Ryan investigates the case of a body at the bottom of a reservoir. Found by a tourist doing a diving course, its discovery is timed with arrival of Ryan’s wife, Anna, and a mini-bus-load of her masters’ students engaged in a history study of the region. Since the body has been there at least 30 years and this appears to be a cold case, Ryan reassures Anna it’s OK to continue with her history trip. Only, when more bodies start turning up, both Ryan and Anna come to deeply regret their initial decision she remain.

To make matters worse, Ryan’s new boss who is also an old, unstable and manipulative flame, is making her presence felt, driving wedges in both friendships and professional practice. Not only does Ryan have an unhinged killer to deal with, but a woman scorned and Shakespeare warned us what they are like.

The book is tightly plotted and paced and hard to put down and I did really enjoy it. However, I am a little concerned that once again, there’s a rotten cop in the shop determined to bring Ryan and what he’s built down, and though The Hacker has gone, it’s like a carbon copy of him has been resurrected. More caricature than believable, I am very interested to see if he will be fleshed out and become the threat Ross clearly intends. Likewise, with Ryan’s boss, whose motives and actions seem so transparent, it’s ridiculous he and his friends appear to be the only ones to see it!

Still, it’s testimony to Ross’ prose and how much you come to care for the main characters that you simply have to have resolution and keep turning the pages. The repetitions could also be regarded as clever narrative devices, and I will reserve judgment to see where these two antagonists take the tale.

The descriptions of the area the crimes occur in are delightful and there’s no doubt, landscape becomes as much a character in this book. I would have liked to have more character to the villains and less reliance on repetition, but that’s just me. I like shades of grey instead of black and white, clear cut “goodies” and “baddies.” But I do enjoy this series and hope it’s not long before the next book appears.

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Cragside DCI Ryan #6 by LJ Ross

The sixth book in the DCI Ryan series, Cragside, opens with Ryan and Anna recovering from the events in the pImage result for Cragside L J Rossrevious book and the destruction – physical, psychological and emotional – The Hacker left behind. Likewise for McKenzie and Phillips. Temporarily relocated to the grounds of a manor house, Cragside, due to the fire that gutted Anna’s cottage, when Ryan and Anna are invited to a murder-mystery party, the last thing they expect is for a real body to turn up.

When more bodies start appearing, Ryan understands something sinister is afoot. Worse, a new appointment is about to be made at Northumberland Constabulary, an appointment that bodes nothing but ill for Ryan.

Once again, Ross creates a wonderful balance between intrigue, romance, personal relationships, office politics and the various suspects of the crime. Location also becomes a character in the novel, the house and the lands upon which it sits, adding atmosphere and tension (as well as beauty) to the narrative.

Managing to capture a great deal in a few words, Ross’s books are just getting better and better. It’s no wonder that as soon as I finish one, I quickly purchase and start the next. A good read indeed!

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High Force DCI Ryan #5

Thus far,Image result for High Force L J Rossthis is my favourite in the DCI Ryan series. Starting where Angel finished, it’s to news that the notorious psychopath, The Hacker, has escaped prison. There can be only one reason for this, apart from unleashing his brutality upon more brunette women, and that’s to bring Ryan, the man who put him behind bars, to his knees.

When detective Denise McKenzie is kidnapped from her own home in the opening scenes of the novel, it’s evident The Hacker is not wasting time. Nor does Ross. The pace does not stop. Knowing this will alert Ryan to his intentions, The Hacker seeks out more victims, all the while tormenting Denise, watching Ryan and his lovely brunette fiancée, Anna – the one person whose demise would destroy the man he both hates and is obsessed with.

Deploying every skill he has, utilising every last scrap of manpower he’s given, when the trail for The Hacker turns cold, Ryan soon understands that what is needed is for The Hacker to make his next move. Be careful what you wish for – after all, he has Denise in his clutches and more vulnerable woman to prey upon, never mind Anna in his twisted sights. Will Ryan able to prevent another brutal death?

Fast-paced, invested with emotional angst and fear, this is a gripping read. Finished it late one night and immediately bought and started the next in the series. Can be read as a stand-alone but, as usual with any series, there are even more reading pleasures and rewards for those who have followed the development of the characters with each book and adventure and the inter-relationships portrayed. Overall, a terrific read

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