What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon

Recommended to me by a dear friend, this time-slip novel about a young, grieving American woman, who journey’s to Ireland with her grandfather’s ashes only to find herself transported back into his history, is hauntingly lovely.

The book starts in 2001, when Anne Gallagher, despondent and lost over the death of her beloved grandfather, Eoin, fulfils his final wishes by taking his ashes back to his home country to spread them over the lake he loved.

Heart-sore, lonely, yet enchanted by this country she’d only ever known and loved through her grandfather’s stories, Anne is both mesmerised and lost. Knowing she is named after and resembles her grandfather’s mother strongly, she seeks solace in the few mementoes she has of her grandfather’s life, including a detailed journal written by the man who was like a father to her own grandfather, a doctor named Thomas Smith. Fittingly, while absorbed in the past and drifting through the present, Anne is wrenched back in time to 1921 and the height of the troubles in Ireland, when Michael Collins and those who believed in the future he saw are fighting for Irish independence – including Eoin’s father figure, Dr Thomas Smith.

These are dangerous times and moreso because there are those who would see Anne Gallagher  – the past one and the modern one – dead. Over the next few months, as tensions increase and Ireland draws closer to war – civil and with Britain, Anne finds comfort in the new life and loves she is forging, a healing and simultaneous remembering and forgetting that is both painful and joyous. But Anne knows she is living on borrowed time. As a child of the future, does she have a right to this past or is it one she’s lived before? Or will any chance of learning the truth be taken from her?

This is an exquisite story that is so easy to lose yourself in, even at its bleakest moments. Like so much good historical fiction, you also learn while reading it. Having an Irish grandfather who fled Ireland at this time (while being fired upon) it was easy to have sympathy with the causes being espoused. The conflict was bitter, confusing and caused so much heartache and bloodshed. All of this, and the inner turmoil it created, the families and friendships it tore apart, is beautifully explored. The reader sees the “troubles” through Anne’s eyes, someone familiar with the written history but swiftly learning that living it, with all its inherent danger, immediacy and pain, is altogether very different.

The love-story woven through it – or rather, love stories – there are a few and all with Anne at the centre – are really moving and relatable. So are the countryside and its warm, stoic and superstitious people.

A fabulous read that kept me awake until the wee hours so I could finish it and then beyond that while I wept a storm. A good one.  

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The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

The second Cormac Reilly book by Dervla McTiernan, The Scholar, is a gripping read, a genuine page-turner that had me staying up into the wee hours because I simply had to finish it. 

Cormac and his scientist girlfriend, Dr Emma, have now moved to Galway where Cormac has been assigned cold cases and given the cold shoulder by his new bosses while Emma takes up a prestigious job in a pharmaceutical research company attached to the local university. When a young woman is found brutally murdered on campus grounds, and Emma is the one to discover the body, it sets in motion a chain of events that have devastating consequences, not just for the victim’s friends and family, but for Cormac and Emma as well.

McTiernan has done a marvellous job of expanding upon the primary characters she established in her debut novel, The Ruin, and introducing some new ones as well. She also uses police politics and procedures to give the reader insight into how various characters cope with not only the mundanity of the everyday, but the impact this, and the trauma of police work, can have upon families, individuals as well as the toxicity of certain personalities and their motivations in the workplace. DS Cormac Reilly is a terrific character and his relationship with Emma is still finding its feet as she deals with the fallout of the past and he has to overcome his urge to protect her. It feels real as do the various issues they have that any busy professionals with psychologically and physically demanding jobs as well as emotional baggage could face. 

Not only does McTiernan create relatable characters you invest in (or even dislike intensely even while understanding why they might behave a particular way), but the plot is also given careful treatment. It is tight, totally believable and intense. I had to know how this book resolved itself and couldn’t sleep until I did – and then it kept turning over and over in my head.

A fantastic follow-up to what’s already proving to be a sensational series. Cannot wait for the nest installment. 

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The Nowhere Child by Christian White

When Christian White appeared on ABC breakfast to discuss his debut novel, The Nowhere Child, I was immediately struck by not only his humbleness, but about how he spoke about the craft of writing. Then, of course, there was the summary he gave of his novel. I confess, I was hooked, and wasted no time downloading The Nowhere Child, anticipating with no small degree of excitement what I might discover (another great novelist and tale).

I was not disappointed.

This story about a young woman, Kim Leamy, who is approached by an American man on the streets on Melbourne, is marvellous and utterly gripping. The man tells Kim he believes she is actually Sammy Went, a girl who was kidnapped from her home, Manson, in Kentucky 28 years earlier. Refusing at first to credit such an implausible notion, as she begins to delve into the possibility, everything Kim thought she knew, about herself, her family and her past is suddenly thrown into doubt.

Left with no choice, Kim/Sammy must now go backwards in time, to the place this man believes she originated from to confront what might be her past in order to reclaim her present and her future. But the past is a dark place filled with secrets, some of which should never be disturbed…

Segueing between “then” and “now”, the USA and Australia, as well as moving between first person PoV and third person, this is a masterfully plotted, beautifully characterised novel that draws the reader into not only small-town life with its strange folk, customs and religious devotees, but also into what makes and breaks a family. Able to move the reader between places and times with ease, White paints a picture of different kinds of family life, tragedy, grief, confusion, tolerance and intolerance, loss and guilt so well.

Particularly fascinating (and repellent) were the strange religious cult (who refuse to embrace that name) that have a peculiar hold over the township – even of those who don’t approve of or believe in its practices.

Eerie at times, always plausible and with some excellent twists, this is such an accomplished book (with a simply lovely Author’s Note and Acknowledgments). I am really looking forward to what White produces next. Highly recommended.

 

 

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The Other Wife by Michael Robotham

The latest book in the Joseph O’Loughlin series, The Other Wife is a cracker of a read that I dare you to be able to put down once you start. I forced myself only so I could savour the joy of a great story with characters I’ve grown to know and love and who are embroiled in a plot both dark and, for Joe at least, deeply, personal.

The book opens with Joe relocated to London with youngest daughter Emma, contemplating life after the death of his wife, when he receives the call adult children both dread and half anticipate: his eminent surgeon father has been admitted to hospital and is on life support.

Racing to be by his father’s side, Joe reflects upon this cold, distant and judgemental man he barely knew and yet whose approval he endlessly sought. When he arrives at ICU, his father is not alone. A younger, lovely woman is sitting by his side, clutching his father’s inert hand. But it’s when she tells Joe who she is, that his world is turned upside down and inside out.

Everything Joe thought he knew is now unstable and with each new piece of information, he seems to lurch from one discovery and response to another. Not even the grounding presence and help of Vincent Ruiz, retired cop and now a corporate investigator, provides the stability Joe needs.

The more Joe delves into his own and other’s histories, the more suspicious he becomes about what really happened to his father and why, but when the truth is finally revealed, not even Joe is prepared for the consequences.

Superbly written, tight, fast-paced and emotionally fraught yet always true, this is a magnificent book that puts family and personal histories under the microscope and doesn’t hold back. It’s explores the assumptions we make – about those we think we know and those we don’t. How unfair and self-righteous these sometimes are and the terrible outcomes that can occur when we’re swift to judge.

No-one is more honest or raw in his judgements than Joe – especially about himself. I think that’s what makes his character rich, real and so appealing. Flawed, vulnerable and yet with a strength he isn’t always aware of, this book really has him centre stage, placed in an oft-cruel spotlight under which he still manages to star.

My only disappointment (as always happens with Robotham) is that I now have to bloody well wait for his next book. Please don’t leave me waiting too long. This was stunning.

 

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The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

Isn’t it funny how, when you’re hooked on a series and the characters the writer has created, you develop a love/hate relationship with each new book? That’s what happens with me. I get so excited that a fresh instalment is there to lose myself in, then I absolutely hate it when I finish and have to wait for the next one!

This is how it was with The Dark Angel, book number 10. I had been longing for it to come out and, when it did, held off reading it for as long as I could – delayed gratification LOL!

Well, gratified doesn’t begin to describe how lovely it was to lose myself in Dr Ruth Galloways’ fascinating professional life and complicated personal one again. A personal life that is closely interwoven with that of DI Harry Nelson and his family – a family that’s also in the midst of its own difficulties.

In The Dark Angel, the usual setting of east-coast Britain is exchanged for a small Italian village when Ruth is called by an old friend, Dr Angelo Morelli, to help with identifying some bones. Treating it as a working holiday, Ruth takes her daughter, Kate, while her best friend, Shona and her whiny son also accompany them.

Where Ruth goes, trouble and mystery are never far behind – trouble in the form of Harry Nelson who, when he learns an earthquake has struck the region Ruth is in hurries to assure himself of her safety. Mystery is also lurking – not only with the bones, but also through the ritualistic murder of the town’s old priest which happens when Ruth is only days into her vacation.

As Ruth well knows, the present is always contingent on the past and the bones and the dreadful killing of the priest prove this over and again. But so do the Nelsons.

Left at home while Harry runs to his former lover and daughter’s side, his pregnant wife and adult daughter have to face some demons from Harry’s past, and those from more recent times as well – with tragic consequences. I didn’t see the ending coming here, and it is both heart-wrenching and adds a whole new layer of WTF to the personal lives of the characters we’ve grown to know, forgive, and love.

Once more, it’s the characters rather than the plot that make this such an excellent read. While the plot is good, it’s Griffith’s knack for capturing the sense of someone, of conveying their good heart (or otherwise), annoying idiosyncrasies, or sinister intentions in just a few words, through a look or gesture, that add so much to these novels. That, and the slow-burning complexity of the interpersonal relationships between the main characters – most of whom are very good people making unwise or selfish choices with huge ramifications and only now being forced to deal with the consequences… some of which will only be revealed in future books.

Not happy Jan – or should that be, Elly. In this instance, I want immediate gratification! J

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