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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Heavenfield by LJ Ross DCI Ryan #3

I guess I should start this review with a Happy New Year! It might be belated, but is no less sincere for that. I reImage result for happy new yearally hope 2018 is a cracker of a year for you. I am excited about it – not only do I have two novels coming out this year (the US version of The Locksmith’s Daughter in May with William Morrow, replete with a gorgeous new cover which I will preview soon and The Chocolate Maker’s Wife in Australia/NZ through MIRA Harlequin/Harper Collins in October – 2019 release slated for the USA,), but I also commence a new writing job as an advice columnist for a magazine. Watch this space. So I really feel writing is my living now – from fiction and history to contemporary politics, social issues and pop culture to advice. Feel ever so fortunate to be making my living with words and the ideas they inspire, imaginations they fuel, knowledge they impart and also the ability they have to console, excite, arouse, enrage, and satisfy.

I have made a promise to myself to read a lot this year – non-fiction (which I will do researching my new novel) as well as glorious fiction from all genres. Currently, I am reading the book that, before its release, caused so much controversy – Fire and Fury by Michael Woolfe. OMG.  Stay tuned for a review of that in the next few days. In the meantime, here is the first of  my reviews for 2018. So many great books, so many lovely words. Never enough time! Happy New Reading Year!

NuImage result for heavenfield LJ Rossmber Three in the Detective Chief Inspector Max Ryan series ups the ante by commencing the novel with Ryan being placed into custody under suspicion of murdering a man in a church. While it’s evident to the reader he is no more guilty of such a crime than we are, and for those following the series we understand how and why he’s been detained, it’s the one flaw in this otherwise good book that other investigators take their time releasing him so he can do what he does best: track down the real culprit.

Focusing once more on the mysterious “Circle” who have been the bane of Ryan’s life, in this book, they turn on each other and one by one, die gruesome deaths. Suspects become victims and Ryan and his team find rather than narrowing the pool of potential perpetrators, they are at a loss to know who is responsible. But time is running out as not only the death toll grows, but the murderer sets his or her sights on one of Ryan’s own.

Dark at times, but also interwoven with gentle humour and romance, this book, like the others in the series, is a light and easy read. With each book, the characters grow on you, even if the plot around the Circle is becoming thin. That said, they are well worth a read and great for holiday escapism.

Have already bought the next one.

 

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Why oh why did it take me so long to read the beautifully titled, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr? I bought it not long after it came out, started it about a year later but, for some reason (I think the genres I’d been reading or what was going on in my life meant it didn’t resonate at that moment) I put it aside, promising myself I would get to it later as it was well written and I could tell the story would drag me in. Well, later came and went, it seems. That was, until a friend tweeted me a few days ago asking me if I’d read it and reviewed it and saying how powerful he found the book…

Powerful hey? That was enough of a prompt to send me back to the novel – starting from the beginning again – and basically surrender myself to Doerr’s magnificent prose and war-torn Europe. The central characters Doerr so carefully and delicately constructs (like the miniature houses the locksmith lovingly creates) insinuate themselves from the pages and, little by little, into your heart. There’s blind, clever and sweet Marie-Laure, the ambitious, soul-crushed, orphan Werner and his strong sister, Jutta; gentle dreamer with unshakeable ethics, Frederick; Etienne, and the dangerous giant with a passion for classical music, Volkheimer – all of whom are swept up in the dark forces that tore Europe apart and forever transformed its people.

Beautifully and heart-wrenchingly told, using various communication devices – from radios and sound to art, books and music, as well as science (particularly studies of various fauna) and the works of Jules Verne – as metaphors to tell the painful story of what happens to the central characters as their families, communities, cities and countries fight for dominance and/or freedom from that. The greatest battles are the interior wars the characters fight with themselves. Blindness also functions as both a metaphor and a reality. There’s the actual physical loss of sight, as well as being blind – usually wilfully – to what is happening within and around one. How even good people can be complicit in terrible things. Innocence is both lost and found, people vanish and reappear, have their greatest strengths tested and their weaknesses exposed. Dreams are destroyed and rebuilt and hope shines its effervescent light even in the dimmest of places.

I have read a number of war narratives with mixed responses and found this to be one of the most original and haunting I have found. My friend (John) was right – it is powerful, but it’s also moving, heart-warming, dramatic and painful at the same time. Your heart is masterfully juggled as you read – thrown high in the air, before being held softly in a palm or simply dropped. Gut-wrenching doesn’t begin to describe it.

This book isn’t an easy read, but it is a transformative one that I am so glad I was eventually led back to – thank you, John. I cannot recommend it more highly.

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The Physician, by Noah Gordon

The Physician, by Noah Gordon, was recommended to me by a lovely book shop owner in Launceston when I was there one day doing a book-signing. Without telling me too much about the tale, the owner pressed the very thick book into my hands and said, “I think you will love this.” I always feel a shiver of trepidation come over me when someone I like or even whose reading tastes I share says this to me.  More than anything, I want to like, no, love the books that are recommended with such passion and I fear that if I don’t, I am somehow letting them down.

The good news is with The Physician, I did indeed love this book – so much so, I felt bereft when it ended.

Set mostly during the 10th Century, this is the story of a young Englishman, Robert J Cole who, from a very young age, learns he possesses a gift – the gift, basically, of sensing a person’s life force. The reader follows his life from the discovery of this gift around the age of nine to middle age; from the tragedy of his beginnings to the triumphs of his later years. Rob J has a varied and amazing life and how and why he becomes a physician and the journey he takes to train is, quite simply, sensational. We’re taken around England and given insight into the peripatetic life of a Barber-Surgeon (to whom Rob J apprentices himself), to France, across Europe and to war-riven Turkey and then Persia and its amazing culture and religious Otherness. Determined to train under the man he’s been told is the best physician in the world, Rob J makes incredible sacrifices: physical, emotional and, above all, spiritual. But in making these he gains more than his heart and mind’s desire.

The pace is wonderful, the characters so well drawn you feel emotionally attached to them in ways that are sometimes painful but always deep and meaningful. The settings are magnificently and realistically drawn and the different cuisines, the food and drink are mouth-wateringly described. I adored this book – the detail, the humanness of it and the way the macroscosm of the worlds and religions Rob J encounters are also microcosms of the everyday – of the humanity (or lack thereof) in us all.

Shaman is the sequel and I will read that with joy – only, for now, I want to savour the affects of this magnificent book – rightly hailed as a triumph. I cannot recommend it highly enough, so much so, I dare to say, read it, “I think you will love this…”

 

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The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Can this guy write a bad book? If The Wrong Side of Goodbye is anything to assess the others by (and it is) the answer is a categorical and resounding “NO!” Frankly, this crime series is one of the most consistently terrific I have read, and over so many instalments.  Just when you think Harry Bosch, can go no further, do no more, fail to surprise you, Connelly takes your expectations and dashes them. He takes Bosch and thus the reader to the most unexpected heights and thrilling of places – emotionally, physically (even for an ageing cop) and psychologically, but without once asking you to suspend your disbelief.

imgres-2Working in a part-time position for the San Fernando PD, Harry, who also has a Private Investigator ticket, is asked by an ageing, wealthy tycoon to find out if he has an heir from a love affair he had many years ago. With no family to leave his billions, the reclusive old man hopes to leave his estate to family as opposed to the board of directors currently in line to inherit. Harry is to work only with this man and reveal anything he discovers only to him.

Unable to refuse a cold case that may as well have come out of a freezer (and a decent pay cheque), Harry accepts, and it’s not long before he discovers a connection to the man during the VietNam war. Before he can pass on the information, the billionaire dies. When the circumstances of his death turn out to be suspicious and Harry is warned off pursuing the notion of an heir further, Harry does what he does best: refuses to be bullied or threatened.

When Harry asks his half-brother, the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller, to help him, the ante is upped and the danger grows – not just to Harry, but to those he cares about deeply.

In the meantime, the hunt for a serial rapist tightens and when a colleague’s life is put on the line, Harry stops at nothing to save her, his reputation and bring criminals to justice.

I really don’t want to say too much more about this book except Connelly is so on the money in terms of plot, character and the depth of history and, dare I say, nostalgia for a young Harry and his pre-police life (and that beckoning him from the shadows of retirement) this book evokes. It’s not simply about the cases Harry investigates, but about the relationships he forges and the bonds he forms, professionally and personally. I love the way Harry’s character is so consistent across the novels – the way he grows, or refuses to change and how he simply will not compromise his ethics.

This is a wonderful addition to the Bosch canon. I just wish they weren’t so readable so I could put them down, if just to savour the stories and make them last that bit longer.

As it is, I can’t wait for the next one.

 

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