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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The Chosen by Kristina Ohlsson

25925079Still on my Nordic Noir bend, a friend recommended this author, Kristina Ohlsson, to me and, after searching through her titles (and being impressed by the sterling reviews her work is receiving), I chose The Chosen. Just a few pages in, I was caught up in both the story and the quality of the writing. As the tale progressed, I found it more and more difficult to tear myself away, and I quickly understood that Ohlsson more than deserves those great reviews.

The Chosen opens on a freezing winter’s day, just a snowstorm wraps itself around the city of Stockholm. It’s early afternoon and children are preparing to head home when a pre-school teacher is shot and killed in front of parents and students at Jewish school. Before the police can even begin to understand the tragedy and cope with the fallout, two boys from the school go missing.

As the body count begins to mount and the clues don’t, there are nonetheless commonalities between the kidnappings and the deaths: the mysterious Paper Boy, who is both an urban myth told to frighten wayward Jewish children as well as the alter ego of a sadistic killer, and then there’s Israel.

Involving other agencies, harkening back to the past as well as to other countries and times, the lead investigators, Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht and their team have to use all available resources to uncover the truth and expose the killer before one of their own gets hurt.

Drawing on mythology and superstition and using flashbacks and prolepsis (that involve a violin – a potent signifier), the book keeps you guessing as to the outcome until the end. The interesting thing is, the reader is privy to the identity of the killer before the police, but it’s who the final victims are that keep you on the edge of your seat and feeling torn as you know catastrophe is about to unfold and there is no such thing as the lesser of two evils…

A clever, gripping book that explores families – personal and professional, communities, faith, loyalty, revenge, patriotism, choices, loss and consequences.

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While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

This sumptuous, beautifully written and conceived novel is fundamentally a retelling of the fairytale, Sleeping Beauty – only it’s so much more as well. Forget what you think you know of the Disneyfied myth of the beautiful princess who, cursed at birth is rescued from certain death by an errant (fairy) godmother only to fall asleep when her finger is pricked by a spindle on her sixteenth birthday before she’s rescued by true love’s kiss decades later. This version, told by an elite servant, Elise, in the castle in which Princess Rose (also called Beauty) is born and raised, places the kernel of this story (the lovely but tragic princess) in a much larger context.

18079665Told as a story within a story, the frame narrative introduces us to the elderly Elise, who listening to her grand-daughter recount the tale of Sleeping beauty, finds herself flung back into her own past and a story she’s kept locked away for decades. Compelled to tell her granddaughter the truth behind the legend and her role within it, Elise’s tale begins…

Commencing when Elise is a child, the reader follows the hardship, loss, dedication, hard work and some good fortune this bastard child from a poor farm experiences, all of which lead to her becoming lady-in-waiting to the queen of a small kingdom that could be anywhere in Europe around the time of the Renaissance.

The castle in which Elise works is filled with personalities and internal politics. Despite her efforts to remain remote and simply do her duty, she becomes caught up and draws positive and negative attention. From the vengeful but loving king, to the deeply sad queen whose desperation to have a child leads her to make poor choices, Elise finds herself front and centre of an unfolding personal and greater drama of desire, ambition, need, love and fear. Overseeing all of this is the king’s Aunt Millicent, a cruel, controlling woman whose greatest ambition, to rule the land, was thwarted a long time ago and which she’s never come to terms with. There’s also her sister, the love-lorn and quite fey Flora, who remains in a tower built especially for the two sisters when they were young.

Then there’s the other servants and various confidantes, knights, diplomats etc who either barely tolerate Elise or embrace her for the qualities they recognise in the fine woman she’s becoming.

Amidst war, revenge, sickness, love, lust, great joy and heartache, Elise’s story and that of the rulers of this land and the child finally born to them unfolds. Ever with an eye to detail, Blackwell constructs the castle and its surrounds, as well as the people who populate the building and lands so simply yet poetically and realistically they’re brought to life – and all through the eyes of Elise, one of the strongest and most loyal of the queen’s subjects, but who has her own secrets to bear.

A friend recommended this book to me and I do love a good fairytale retelling. This book exceeded my already high expectations by being so original in its approach and, indeed, what it does with a well-known and beloved narrative. Gone is the hocus-pocus to be replaced by an eerie sensibility, a place and time where chthonic magic, wild and untamed exists but is wielded with dangerous consequences. Replacing wands and wings with will and determination, the novel overturns not only the fairytale, but stereotypes and clichés to present a marvellous story about strong women, loving women, weak and wicked women and the men who either support or suborn them – often for their own purposes.

A wonderful novel that I found difficult to put down and which is still resonating days after I completed it.

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The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

17802724Once more, Liane Moriarty invents a premise for her novel that is quite irresistible. Imagine if, after many years of happy marriage and three children later, you happen upon a letter your husband wrote years ago that states it’s only to be opened on his death. What would you do? Respect the instruction on the front, or break faith and open it?

That is the quandary facing Cecilia Fitzpatrick, one of the most ordered and organised working mothers and wives in the neighbourhood. Respected by other parents at her daughters’ school, well-known and admired within the community, she faces a very real dilemma: what did her husband consider so important that he put it in writing but didn’t want the contents known until after he died?

While this secret is central to the novel, as is usual with Moriarty’s work, she revels in what makes ordinary people tick. What women and men reveal and conceal from each other and even themselves. Intersecting with Cecilia and her husband’s tale is that of Tess, recently moved to Sydney from Melbourne with her young son after her husband drops a bombshell on her.

Tess enrols her son at Cecilia’s children’s school and takes an instant dislike to this together Fitzpatrick woman who seems to have a finger in every pie and a degree of control over her life that Tess can now only dream about.

And then there’s sixty-odd year old Rachel, the woman most don’t know how to speak to and treat her like a china tea-cup or bad luck omen. Afraid if they mention the daughter she lost years ago she might break or if they spend too much time in her company some of the ill fortune (her husband died as well) might rub off, Rachel is both loved and pitied.

But Rachel doesn’t want pity, she wants revenge.

A compulsive read that yet again, kept me up until the wee hours as I had to know how the story was going to resolve itself. Able to make the characters rich, complex and above all real, Moriarty makes the ordinary and every day extraordinary. Wonderful stuff.

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Book Review: Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

I have to say upfront, not only do I simply adore all Juliet Marillier’s books, and her lyrical writing style, but when the opportunity came to read an ARC of her latest, Dreamer’s Pool, anDreamer's Pool (Blackthorn and Grim, #1)d review it, I quickly threw my hat in the ring, or keyboard into cyberspace, knowing I wouldn’t regret it. I was right.

Dreamer’s Pool is the first in a new series, Blackthorn and Grim, set in Ancient Ireland. While it tells the story of the terribly bitter and deeply tragic healer, Blackthorn (who is as prickly as her name), and her silent, stoic and loyal companion Grim, who due to the interference of a fey lord are released from what appears to be unjust imprisonment on terms Blackthorn at least rails against, the novel is told by three distinct voices: Blackthorn’s, Grim’s and the young Prince, Oran, who is to be wed to the woman of his dreams.

Forced to abide in a part of the country previously unknown to them and which is Prince Oran’s demesne, and hauntingly lovely, Blackthorn must heal and help any who ask. A brilliant is somewhat unwilling healer, what Blackthorn does not expect is to be called to the aid of the prince’s bride-to-be, the beautiful Flidais, when calamity strikes her party while enroute to meet the groom. Death is never a great omen for forthcoming nuptials, but when Prince Oran cannot reconcile the reality of his soon-to-be wife with the darling, sweet and learned Flidais who exchanged letters with him for months prior to her arrival, he calls upon Blackthorn and Grim to help him uncover the truth.

But Blackthorn and Grim have their own pasts and ways of dealing with those they encounter in the present and Blackthorn especially, while she always knows what to do to heal others, believes vengeance is the only panacea for what ails her. Until she recognises the truth in her purpose, and those who believe in her, she is doomed to repeat history’s mistakes and bring more disaster in her wake.

This is a simply gorgeous story with wonderful, intriguing and complex characters, some with dark, wretched pasts, who carry emotional baggage like a hair shirt and find relationships difficult. It also contains a range of naïve, wise and trusting people and those who would betray and abuse this trust. Written in exquisite and addictive prose, each voice rings emotionally true and you find yourself championing and understanding them, even when their choices don’t seem shrewd. This is a tale that will tug at your heart and, like the fable that it draws upon, linger in your head and soul for days afterwards. I cannot wait for the next instalment in this series.

Below is a fabulous sample from Chapter One of the audio book from Audible Studios – just click, listen and enjoy!

Sample of audio book Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

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