REVIEW – The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd

I did not intend to finish this book so quickly. We can thank Southeastern trains and their incredible disappearing staff which led to my four hour delay and finishing this book in 24 hours.

Twenty years ago, Dennis Danson was arrested for the murder of young girl Holly Michaels, and is awaiting the death penalty for that crime. Almost adopted by the media, a documentary is released questioning some of the facts of the case, with a growing pressure group/groupies seeking to set him free and correct a perceived miscarriage of justice. This is where Sam comes in – she sees herself as a normal person interested in the ‘facts’ of the case and believing in the innocence of Dennis. Until she impulsively writes a letter to him one day that opens up the series of events ‘The Innocent Wife’ draws on.

This book lures you in with a ‘ooh look she’s in love with a serial killer’ premise, and to be honest I went into this book thinking that Dennis was probably guilty. I won’t reveal whether my opinion changed because that will probably betray the ending just in case anyone wants to read it.

Sam as a character is fairly complex but not entirely likeable. I mean you do identify with her a bit, but she is portrayed as a fairly weak willed and dependent character who completely identifies herself to the needs of Dennis. The intricacies of hers and Dennis’ relationship pinpoints how screwed up they both are, which at first you don’t want to believe of Sam. The inner romantic within you is still kind of hoping that things can be happy for them rather than grossly dysfunctional and bordering on insane.

The introduction of Lindsay added a different dimension to the pace of the story, and another central female character certainly enhanced this book rather than being all about how messed up Dennis is. Again, reluctant to betray the ending but there was a powerful insight into how past mistakes can tie people together and produce something much more sinister. I’ve found this to be quite a recurring theme within psychological and crime thrillers, there is always this sense of the past, big revelations and side stories you were expecting but at the same time grab you by surprise.

I guess that’s why I keep coming back to crime fiction, so thank you Amy Lloyd for keeping my mind occupied on what was one hellish train journey yesterday.

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REVIEW – In Sheep’s Clothing by L.D.Beyer

It was nice to jump into a relatively straightforward book after finishing The Power a few days ago. In Sheep’s Clothing was a straightforward read, but nonetheless was enjoyable.

The story begins with the suicide of the current President, with David Kendall taking over and making the decision of who will be his new Vice President. The rest of the story then follows Agent Matthew Richter of the Secret Service along with the new President and some other characters to unravel a massive conspiracy fraught with death and cover ups.

I feel like it’s not a massive spoiler to suggest that the new Vice President is a snake and the webs that he has spun and the connections that he has created are essential to the building of suspense within this novel.

The common theme throughout the book is a question of who to trust – a fairly common question in thrillers such as these with their underlying themes of conspiracy and betrayal. I loved the contemporary themes of the influence of Mexican drug cartels and how that was brought into a much broader narrative, it almost made the novel feel like it was more grounded in the real world. But the examination into how far some people will go to attain power and influence is an intriguing one to look at. Yes the big bad guy character makes some bad decisions, but I couldn’t help but think this was taking political ambition and this cut throat nature some politicians have to its extreme as almost a warning that this conclusion can seem logical.

I was a little bit disappointed by the ending I’ll have to admit, because there just wasn’t severe enough repercussions – everything just seemed to slide back to how it was before with minimal modifications. But an enjoyable read nonetheless.

REVIEW – The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Power follows an interesting premise whereby young girls develop the ability to shock and electrocute men. Discovered by accident when girls feel attacked, it then develops into a worldwide phenomena that can be passed to older women – well really any woman. Many things are blamed for the phenomenon – nerve gases, witchcraft, but the expectation is always that a cure will be found. The source of the power of these women? A stein, located at the collarbone that when working effectively gives the girls these frankly amazing abilities.

Interestingly, the book is peppered with historical ‘artefacts’ and instances to suggest that this had either happened before or represented a shift into the very distant future documenting the present as given to us in the book. It’s fairly unclear which but that developed a fairly interesting dimension.

The two central characters for me are Allie/Mother Eve and Roxy. Allie is taken in by a family and abused, where she discovers her power and a special voice that only she can hear to guide her. She then becomes ‘Mother Eve’ – a prophet of a new type of Christianity-esque religious practice – where the focus turns to the Virgin Mary and the idea of God as a SHE. Roxy becomes her second in command, with a gangster dad and a murdered mum, she is used to the darker sides of life and how far people will go. What I wasn’t expecting was the intimacy/relationship that would develop between the two.

The big question the early chapters in the book tries to address is this – should girls be encouraged to repress their powers, should girls themselves be repressed or should girls be helped to control their power? This is where the NorthStar camps come into the picture – as a facility for helping girls control their power and not to hurt anyone – accidentally at least.

And the massive theme you can find within this book is, as the title suggests – POWER. And the corrupting influence of said power. Long hailed as the gentler and weaker sex, the new matriarchal society that this book forms shows sexual violence reversing and women becoming the aggressors. It takes on a fairly sadistic angle in places and many of the characters are or do become somewhat unstable.

Overall a fairly enjoyable read of some speculative fiction and musings on the notions of gendered aggression and power.

REVIEW – The One by John Marrs

After a series of challenging reads, it felt nice to get back into a simpler read that was easy to immerse myself in.

The One has a fairly straightforward premise – a DNA test that points you to your soulmate, the one you’re genetically ‘made for’. Whilst I originally thought this might have fluffy overtones, this book was anything but. It follows a series of matched and unmatched couples as some try to fight their connection while others embrace it – with some fairly twisted side stories.

The early interesting couple for me was Amy the police officer and Christopher the serial killer – Marrs clearly has a sense of irony there. It was interesting to watch Christopher grapple with his ‘I was born a psychopath’ demeanour versus a deep set love for Amy that developed. Another interesting couple was Richard and Mandy – but that’s a whole lot of twisted with kidnappings, comas and crazy families. Needless to say that this book was not full of the mushy romance I was half expecting, but that was fine by me – twisted books seem to be my bread and butter since the days I fell in love with Val McDermid’s writing.

Some aspects of the writing were especially heartfelt, with a lot of wrought emotions. What happens if you’re not one of the 92% who instantly fall in love with their matches? What if you’re a straight guy and your match is another straight guy? What if you’re already in a relationship and they’re not your match? These questions are all addressed within the book, and it did tug at the heart strings a little but not in a mushy romantic way.

Overall, it was a fairly dark read in places, but everything was united by a common theme. Is there such a thing as knowing too much? Knowing who exactly you’re meant to be with, placing that pressure on if a match can’t be found – everyone you date you’d feel that there is that missing piece. This for me is summed up in Ellie’s character and her final words of the book – let the world start making its own mistakes again. What I think Marrs may have done here is given us a cautionary tale on the role of science in emotion and decision making, and how that might not always be a good thing. People would then expect something to be fool proof, an easy answer when relationships are far from that. But who knows, maybe I’m sensitive to science and technology advances after my recent foray into the new Dan Brown.

REVIEW – Origin by Dan Brown

So, yes I will admit – I am a bit of a Dan Brown fan. So sue me! I like my conspiracy indulgences and a little bit of intrigue for my trouble, what can I say? Deception Point was probably the highlight of my Dan Brown reading for far-fetched awesomeness. And the most recent instalment of the Robert Langdon series from Brown, ‘Origin’, definitely had some of those familiar tropes.

So Origin follows Robert Langdon and future Queen of Spain Ambra Vidal as they try and unravel futurist and fervent atheist Edmond Kirsch’s announcement that claims to be able to shake creation narratives – his big announcement cut short by his assassination. What follows is a lot of running around Spain, dodging bullets and media frenzy to discover and release Kirsch’s discoveries and share them with the world.

The final announcement becomes two fold – humanity’s creation can be explained solely with physics, no role for a divine creator. But the bigger announcement, and I’ll keep schtum on this one for anyone who wants to read it – is where humanity is going and how it is on the brink of extinction. This for me rounded off the book and brought it up in my estimations of ‘oh dear this is so familiar to everything Dan Brown related I’ve ever read’….

In a way, the storyline was vaguely predictable not in the sense of the ending but the general structure that I’ve come to expect from Dan Brown. I would describe this book as nauseatingly similar to the Da Vinci Code – themes of science vs religion, secret sects and societies and rogue assassin individuals with a mastermind pulling their strings and that oh so bitter sense of betrayal at the end. There was one key diversion from stereotypical Dan Brown and Robert Langdon – Langdon didn’t end up screwing the strong female lead! Well I guess she was the future Queen of Spain, that’s definitely a better offer than a Harvard symbology Professor with a habit of being inserted into crazy conspiracy scenarios and being shot at.

Three reviews in 24 hours, check me out! I can confirm that the next book I’m delving into is ‘The One’ by John Marrs which is a dark kind of dystopian science-y type novel. Review to follow once I’ve delved in and come to a judgement.

REVIEW – Austerlitz by W.G.Sebald

My second review in as many days – the joys of reading multiple books at once!

Austerlitz is the tale of Kindertransport child Jacques Austerlitz, who was adopted following his arrival in the UK with a name change and a whole lot of identity suppression. He starts to find out who he is when he takes his exams, where he’s asked to use his ‘real name’ so that he can attain his grades. And that is when Dafydd Elias discovers he is actually Jacques Austerlitz. The story may well be true or have emerged from a true story, but evoking this powerful search for identity and history is an interesting premise.

Where Sebald has fallen flat for me is his monotone writing style and tediously long sentences. I should have guessed this was coming given how I noticed this with Sebald’s other works, e.g. the Emigrants. Many have called it ‘part of his style’ and representing an ‘internal monologue’, but ultimately, the reader wants to be engaged and inspired – and that comes from readable sentences as free from tedium as possible. It may work for some, but I don’t think I am willing to read anything further from Sebald as it is such a challenge to bring myself to get to the end.

The most interesting part for me was the initial revelation about Austerlitz’s real name and past, with a close second his time in hospital following a breakdown of what was felt to be hysterical epilepsy. I think more could have been made of that – the damage inflicted by discovering his history and a whole new identity from that he was raised with.

Overall similar to Everything is Illuminated for me, in the sense that it is a promising storyline that did not deliver.

REVIEW – Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

First of all – I can say that I concur with Anis Shivani’s opinion expressed in the “The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers” Huffington Post article. In my opinion, this book did not deserve such acclaim.

Everything is Illuminated follows the author’s journey to finding the woman who helped his grandfather escape the Nazi’s. Almost autobiographical in its nature, Safran Foer did not even bother to change the character’s name. Even if a novel is based on an experience you had taken into the literary world and played with a bit, it is a bit of an egotistical indulgence in my opinion.

It was so difficult for me to get absorbed in this muddled structure of a book. I think it is nice when a historical novel has some grounds in earlier history, but frankly I bought the book for the story, and maybe even less than half of it was the story promised in the blurb. Whilst the development of a shtetl would have no doubt been an interesting read – it had minimal place within a novel already trying to straddle the 1940’s and the present day of Jonathan as a 20 year old visiting Ukraine. It could have been a lovely little prequel to Jonathan’s adventures looking into his family history.

The second half of the book begins to contain some sort of composure and coherent structure, with more of a focus on what we were hoping for – the 1940’s events and how they intertwine with the present day. But I’m afraid it was too little too late for Everything is Illuminated and I was already in a bad mood with it.

While I’m at it, it is also frankly unnecessary to keep evoking grandfather Safran as some sort of sexual gods gift to women, with sometimes alarming detail which detracted from the book. It would have been enough to say that he was known for being a bit of a player and a heartbreaker – not how he was a stud at 10 and detail on him screwing women in the 52 positions on a pack of Kamasutra playing cards.

Overall, so much about this book that frustrated me. The blurb gave so much promise that the story simply did not deliver.