Geraldine by John Mead – a contemporary police procedural with personal elements

 

One day a body is found drowned in the Thames. Spotted by Sergeant Hunter, It is quickly retrieved, and it is then that the questions begin. Fortunately Inspector Matthew Merry is on route and he soon has many questions about this body. Sergeant Julie Lukula, his partner, will work in parallel to discover some of the truth behind what transpires to be a complex web of relationships and identity. In the process they and other well described people will discover much about themselves and others. Expectations are confounded as Geradine is far from what she seems to be, even when identification is made and the family contacted. 

 

The world of theatrical agents and complex criminality is explored in a novel that cleverly combines the personal and procedural in the world of London policing. Matthew is seen in the context not only as an instinctive detective, following up on the less technical but more dramatic side of the investigation, but also as a man with a family facing its own terrible challenges. He follows up on a contact who in turn is receiving information that proves to be significant; he also remembers his childhood friends and manages to subtly exploit their mutual history. Julie, meanwhile, uses the data and technical information discovered on what proves to have been a shockingly brutal murder to try to ascertain if there is indeed a link with a series of hate crimes which have affected the small bars and theatres of London’s secret world. Her own relationship has reached a significant moment, and she is seeking a promotion which will change her responses to those she has worked with, especially Matthew. This well written novel with its clearly delineated characters works well on so many levels, raising questions of suspicion, prejudice and fear in a network of people who have all been shaped by difficult pasts. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent book in all its vivid and well placed action.

 

The book opens with the discovery that Geraldine is a unique character, who has been influential in unexpected ways. The questions about whether Driver has  created hatred and passion personally or whether the motive for murder is part of a pattern of hatred which comes to puzzle not only Matthew and Julie but also the higher ranks of police officers who are forced to test the limits of their power and position. As Julie and Matthew, together with their team which includes the young and enthusiastic Harry, investigate the world of security guards and small theatres, they have to look at the small pieces of information which may link crimes. While Julie involves herself with the minute pieces of information which may obtain results in line with her ambitions, Matthew suspects that bigger forces are at work. His memories of a small group of friends at school means that he secures contact with an infamous character whose lifestyle has attracted attention from other police departments. While he gets information which may prove relevant to more than one case, he pushes the rules to the edge. It is only when he falls foul of those with positions to protect that he has time to consider his wife Kathy, and discovers that she has a vital problem that has severe implications for her life.

 

This book, which brilliant revisits characters introduced in “The Fourth Victim”, is of itself a complex and clever read which deals realistically with many who are marginalised and meet with prejudice. It is well paced with moments of well handled tension. In this book there is little doubt of which character is speaking fresh dialogue and taking meaningful action. The research is careful and the plot well constructed; it hangs together well as a framework for exploring fascinating and consistently written characters. I recommend this as a good read for fans of contemporary crime and policing.        

The Museum of Lost Love by Gary Barker – a powerful book of of love, loss and memory

 

Emotional, powerful and sometimes violent, this is a book of broken relationships. The Museum of Lost Love is based in Zagreb, and forms a tragic but deeply meaningful exhibition of letters and objects recounting the tales of broken relationships. The words of the letters are powerful, and the objects relevant to the stories they tell, imparting extra power. Behind the stories are hints of survival and change, but always there is an ending. There are two stories which also flow through the book, alternating with the short testimonies, which are linked by a character. They reveal a more nuanced view of disaster and challenge, tragedy and yet a little hope, as the characters, Tyler, Katia and Goran seek to cope with their situations. Setting out an international series of the human problems that can threaten and change relationships, this book explores some of the things that can go wrong, with a hint of hope for survival, change and growth. There are the obvious problems of war, of civil danger, of the deep hurts that can affect men and women in so many places. A book of rare humanity, its undoubted honesty and determination to show the sometimes harsh realities of life and love is a deeply felt piece of flowing writing. Yet there is resilience, the theme of the human spirit, which lies beneath all the stories. It has been an eye opening experience reading and reviewing this book.

 

The book opens with a young man, Tyler, who is reluctantly telling his story of military service for the American forces in Afghanistan to his therapist Katia. This is not the story of open warfare, rather the ongoing fear of what may be lurking around each corner. He manages to convey the blindness of relationships, entering the unknown. He has to cope with the unknown on a daily basis, as he finds himself a single father to Sammy, a little boy who arrived unexpectedly. His job as a policeman who incidentally keeps an informal eye on sheltered housing for women who have suffered abuse from their partners will also mean more challenges that create painful memories of things he has seen. 

 

His therapist, Katia, has her own traumatic challenges to deal with, which develop throughout the novel. She knows she is adopted, a small baby brought from Brazil, whose adoptive parents suffered their own tragedy. She wants to find out more about where she comes from, risking much in her relationships. Her partner, Goran, is a survivor of the Yugoslav wars, in which he escaped as a teenager. Suffering from guilt by association, he discovers a momento of a young woman, also a refugee, who was left behind in a place of civil war and appalling threat. The ongoing story of his coming to terms with his questions is a part of the account woven through the book, shaping and defining his relationship with Katia.

 

This book is not an easy read, but undoubtedly powerful and enthralling. The shifts of focus between the main narratives and the short testimonies maintains the interest, with tension and suspense as what is happening. This is an important book, which says much about relationships, identity and the challenges of life. National and international issues are described well, which increases the books significance. The troubled history of Serbia, Bosnia and the disappearance of Yugoslavia is commemorated through the memories of some of the characters in this book, illuminating the harsh realities. A strong book, this is an impressive achievement and deserves a wide audience.   

Planet in Peril – warnings from Nature – an extract

Today I am part of the “Planet in Peril” Blog tour. This is a powerful book which combines verifiable facts from various organisations with pieces of creative responses to the situation. I must admit to being generally unread about the whole climate change situation, but I appreciate that the impact of change on our planet is overwhelmingly negative.

Here is one extract from this important book from Fly on the Wall Press.https://www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk/subscribe-to-my-mailing-list

Featuring an introduction from WWF and a poem from New York based poet, Rachael Ikins

Earth’s Ecosystems

Forests are essential for life on earth. Three hundred million people worldwide live in forests and 1.6 billion depend on them for their livelihoods. Forests also provide habitat for a vast array of plants and animals, many of which are still undiscovered. They protect our watersheds. They inspire wonder and provide places for recreation. They supply the oxygen we need to survive. They provide the timber for products we use every day.

Forests are so much more than a collection of trees. Forests are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. These ecosystems are complex webs of organisms that include plants, animals, fungi and bacteria. Forests take many forms, depending on their latitude, local soil, rainfall and prevailing temperatures. Coniferous forests are

dominated by cone-bearing trees, like pines and firs that can thrive in northern latitudes where these forests are often found. Many temperate forests house both coniferous and broad-leafed trees, such as oaks and elms, which can turn beautiful shades of orange, yellow and red in the fall.

The most biologically diverse and complex forests on earth are tropical rainforests, where rainfall is abundant and temperatures are always warm. Forests also play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon sink, soaking up carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that would otherwise be free in the atmosphere and contribute to ongoing changes in

climate patterns.

But forests are being destroyed and degraded at alarming rates. Deforestation comes in many forms, including fires, clear-cutting for agriculture, development and

degradation due to climate change. This impacts people’s livelihoods and threatens a wide range of plant and animal species. Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate – 18.7 million acres of forests are lost annually, equivalent to

27 soccer fields every

minute.

-WWF Facts (Find out more: https://www.worldwildlife.org/habitats/forest-habitat )

Mother Earth

Rachael Ikins

She is a big, soft woman,

a curled fetal ball.

They swarm her like ants.

Assault her; bombs, pile drivers,

endless marching footsteps.

Strew her skin with trash.

Piles of nothing alive.

dust-caked nostrils, a trickle of blood

stripes her chin.

An anonymous woman

forgotten by the entitled masses

who wrangle and tromp

all her secret places.

Digging, gouging, drilling,

pipelines to suck her blood.

Sometimes she wakes from

nightmares she wanders:

Rolls her arm – earthquake shatters a city.

Blinks a tsunami – washes away thousands.

Her heart beats – volcano

blows, slashes of lava pulse through civilizations

at mountain’s feet.

She raises waters, pulls the land back. Her fury floods,

her voice the sound of hurricanes shrieking.

Some say she is off her axis.

Some say she is crazy

with grief, heart aching for humans who steal life from beloveds;

her centipedes, honeybees, ants, her elephants, orchids,

sightless worms that hunt by hot springs in ocean depths.

Her immune responses evolved when she was nothing but

a star’s dream. She urges them to genocide, war, the moon;

sends in viruses, bacteria, her fiercest warriors the smallest –

anything to rid

the plague that consumes her,

until nothing remains,

stone bones flash past the sun?

She curls up, exhaustion takes her. Sleep.

Too soft to face their sharp

edges any more

for this day.

Earth’s Ecosystems

Forests are essential for life on earth. Three hundred million people worldwide live in forests and 1.6 billion depend on them for their livelihoods. Forests also provide habitat for a vast array of plants and animals, many of which are still undiscovered. They protect our watersheds. They inspire wonder and provide places for recreation. They supply the oxygen we need to survive. They provide the timber for products we use every day.

Forests are so much more than a collection of trees. Forests are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. These ecosystems are complex webs of organisms that include plants, animals, fungi and bacteria. Forests take many forms, depending on their latitude, local soil, rainfall and prevailing temperatures. Coniferous forests are

dominated by cone-bearing trees, like pines and firs that can thrive in northern latitudes where these forests are often found. Many temperate forests house both coniferous and broad-leafed trees, such as oaks and elms, which can turn beautiful shades of orange, yellow and red in the fall.

The most biologically diverse and complex forests on earth are tropical rainforests, where rainfall is abundant and temperatures are always warm. Forests also play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon sink, soaking up carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that would otherwise be free in the atmosphere and contribute to ongoing changes in climate patterns.

But forests are being destroyed and degraded at alarming rates. Deforestation comes in many forms, including fires, clear-cutting for agriculture, development and

degradation due to climate change. This impacts people’s livelihoods and threatens a wide range of plant and animal species. Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate – 18.7 million acres of forests are lost annually, equivalent to 27 soccer fields every

minute.

-WWF Facts (Find out more: https://www.worldwildlife.org/habitats/forest-habitat )

Mother Earth

Rachael Ikins

She is a big, soft woman,

a curled fetal ball.

They swarm her like ants.

Assault her; bombs, pile drivers,

endless marching footsteps.

Strew her skin with trash.

Piles of nothing alive.

dust-caked nostrils, a trickle of blood

stripes her chin.

An anonymous woman

forgotten by the entitled masses

who wrangle and tromp

all her secret places.

Digging, gouging, drilling,

pipelines to suck her blood.

Sometimes she wakes from

nightmares she wanders:

Rolls her arm – earthquake shatters a city.

Blinks a tsunami – washes away thousands.

Her heart beats – volcano

blows, slashes of lava pulse through civilizations

at mountain’s feet.

She raises waters, pulls the land back. Her fury floods,

her voice the sound of hurricanes shrieking.

Some say she is off her axis.

Some say she is crazy

with grief, heart aching for humans who steal life from beloveds;

her centipedes, honeybees, ants, her elephants, orchids,

sightless worms that hunt by hot springs in ocean depths.

Her immune responses evolved when she was nothing but

a star’s dream. She urges them to genocide, war, the moon;

sends in viruses, bacteria, her fiercest warriors the smallest –

anything to rid

the plague that consumes her,

until nothing remains,

stone bones flash past the sun?

She curls up, exhaustion takes her. Sleep.

Too soft to face their sharp

edges any more

for this day.

 

 

The Christmas Invitation by Trisha Ashley – a seasonal read with lovely characters and an engaging story

 

A clever and comfortable Christmas novel, which mainly features the run up to the big day, is an excellent new read from Trisha Ashley. In this book she manages to combine all the fascinating traditions of a desirable family and friends Christmas in deep countryside, with a limited number of characters. All the presumed elements of an idyllic British season are here; snow, food, presents, even a hint of mystery and a substantial amount of romance.

 

 The characters are, of course, what make this book, with an independent heroine who narrates her discovery of what an actual Christmas celebration is like, having grown up in an alternative system. The detail of those around her is touching, funny and deeply engaging. Clara is a determined older woman, controlling the experience on one level with a firm hand, alive to everyone’s feelings. Henry is the deceptively mild but equally active leader whose gentle obsessions shape the celebrations. The other members of the unorthodox yet mutually supportive group fascinate, confuse and occasionally repel, with no one being left as a two dimensional shadow. There are characters who appear at the edges, in memory or as late arrivals, who yet have an established identity from descriptions from more than one person. The house at the centre of the story adopts a personality of its own, and is lovingly described in a gradual way. The romance element is of course dominant, emerging from heartbreak, misunderstandings and past trauma, but is extremely chaste and spontaneous. It is a funny, pleasingly complex yet relaxing read, which manages to encompass the traditional themes of the season and add in a few other cultural references. This is a confident and experienced author writing a memorable yet unchallenging book, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it in good time for Christmas. 

 

The book opens with Meg recovering from a spell in hospital being cared for by her unconventional “family”. While she is going to make a full recovery, there is a hint of past loss which has made her the independent person she is as her honorary grandfather, River, seeks to organise her in her now solitary life in London. She is confronted by Clara, who demands and assumes that she will travel to her home and paint a portrait or two of herself and her husband. Meg, it emerges, is a talented and emerging portrait painter, whose skill in portraying something of the character of the sitter is becoming well known. As Meg travels to accept the invitation to the singular family home, she is intrigued to discover what the nature of a traditional Christmas will be, but is disturbed to discover that one of the residents is well known to her already, and seems to retain some of the bitterness of a former encounter. As she becomes embroiled in the small dramas and expressions of affection within a group of people, she begins to discover a new sort of belonging and identity.

 

I was surprised to be so engaged in a seasonal book in October, but this book is so strong on preparations for Christmas and the backstories of the characters that it did not seem too early. I soon found several favourite characters, who were consistently drawn and pleasingly developed. There are cliches here, but they are acknowledged and merged in with the whole, so the “rom com” element almost becomes a running joke between two of the characters. It has depth and complexity will mean that there is a definite urge to find out what happens next, so it can cost sleep. I recommend this as a deceptively involving seasonal read, full of an engaging story and well drawn characters.  

 

I have not so far been asked to review many “Christmas” themed books, which in a way is interesting, but I have acquired a few myself, so if they attract you there may be future examples to come.

Meanwhile I am recovering from finishing and passing my MA, so have a graduation to look forward to together with Northernvicar. I do not suppose many couples manage to graduate at the same ceremony in the same subject!

The Flower Arranger by J.J. Ellis – a murder mystery set in contemporary Japan

 

Murder in Japan sounds complicated, but this book caters for those with no knowledge of Japanese culture or language. J.J. Ellis manages to combine a stunning mystery with several strands of family strains. This marks the introduction of two characters who have different motivations for tracking down the killer, an experienced police Inspector and a young journalist. Tetsu Tanaka, known as Tanaka, is a family man with a keen sense of responsibility, a little hesitant in the seedier side of Tokyo life, but determined to discover the truth. Holly Blain is a young reporter from the U.K., whose assimilation into Japanese society and language is impressive to all who encounter her. Assigned to show business coverage, she is ambitious to cover crime and more exciting stories. The instincts of both lead them in unforeseen ways to follow the trail of a flower arranger, a killer whose signature seems to be the use of beautiful flowers. The discovery of a body in terrible circumstances soon becomes potentially linked with the case of a missing girl. While all these elements may be familiar to readers of crime fiction set anywhere in the world, this book has a particularly Japanese flavour in every respect. This comes from a deep knowledge of Japan from an outsider’s point of view. The delicacy of the flowers throughout is in sharp contrast to the violence of the death of the victim. While there are frequent Japanese words and phrases, the meaning of each becomes obvious from the context, and the writer is skilful in introducing new ideas and information in a completely understandable way. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.

 

The book opens by looking at the activities of three characters. The first is a mysterious man who is arranging flowers in a Japanese style, remembering his mother. Immediately we learn that in his pursuit of ikebana, the art of flower arranging, has led him to “borrow” or steal some rare orchids from a distant island. Chillingly he wants to fill the space in the arrangement. The first sight of Blain is linked with her perfect Japanese and her role at the newspaper, reporting on the schoolgirl bands much loved by both teenage girls and older men. Her knowledge of music from various cultures is of great importance, as well as her ability to size up a person and strike up conversations easily. She is ambitious to become a serious reporter in the field of crime, even if it is going to be difficult as a woman in a male dominated society. Tanaka is attempting to deal with a distraught father from France whose teenage daughter has gone missing, a situation not helped by his deliberate omission of what he had really been doing. It is only when Blain finds some leads that suggest that young women have been disappearing that Tanaka truly discovers that a relationship with this unusual reporter may be mutually beneficial. 

 

While I had my initial doubts about  following a book set in Japan, I was pleased to discover that I quickly became involved in the story. It is a very clever novel with a complex yet understandable plot, and the pace picks up as a murderer is desperately sought. References to American music and various cultures make it a colourful read, and I enjoyed the deep knowledge of Japan the author demonstrates. A very enjoyable read, it is challenging and informative throughout. I recommend it as a contemporary crime novel in an unusual setting which I found enthralling. 

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott – a significant book and the secrets of women #TheSecretsWeKept

 

This is the story of an undeclared state of war, and the female victims of the secrets and lies that were produced. It is the story of a book which changes lives even during the writing of it; it has the potential to change much more. Risk, excitement and the heady power of love are sharply contrasted with the fear and disturbance that a life of secrets can result in. This is the story of typists at the Agency in Washington, America, educated women who type the secrets that men create, discuss and sometimes act on. On the edge of news, adventure, they maintain their silence but also speculate. It is the story of a woman, Olga,  beloved of a man who is at once famous as a writer but also regarded as a threat. She is the muse but also the keeper of potentially explosive secrets. The story of Irina, vulnerable yet chosen to make a difference. Sally, the traffic stopping beauty with her own secrets. Secrets and the power of books to make a difference dominate this intense novel when various women are given a voice. Its intensity is increased by the vivid descriptions of clothes and settings which reflect the enormous research undertaken by the author. This is a book which stands alone in terms of subject matter, and the singular idea of using the novel Doctor Zhivago as a basis for much of the story. I was so glad to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

The book opens with a description of the lives of the typists, educated young women who have to seize their chances to compare notes on the men who run the department. Then viewpoint then changes to the words of Olga, seen as the “Muse”, the mistress of Boris Pasternak. She faces a time of great challenge because of her relationship, and the importance of a novel which is becoming significant in the last days of Stalin’s rule. She lives in a society of surveillance, and even when the pressure eases in some ways she knows the danger she still lives with. Meanwhile, Irina lives a difficult life with her mother, without a father who was a victim of the persecution that Olga would recognise. Her inner conflicts become more complex as she tackles a lifestyle and a job that throws her expectations completely out of kilter. As the chorus of typists analyse, wonder and reach conclusions, the tension increases and the stakes of a novel’s impact rises. 

 

This tense novel combines the nature of a thriller, a stylish plot and a literary read to great effect. The clever switches in viewpoint are so well done that an accurate picture is obtained of the secrets and motivations of many of the women. It is a complex plot well balanced and paced; the overall impression is of controlled revelation and explanation. A sophisticated read, this is a book which raises the stakes for significant historical fiction from a female point of view. The secrets that have been kept are important, and this excellent novel makes the reader appreciate the times of threat and realignment.   

 

 

 

Anna of Kleve – Queen of Secrets – Six Tudor Queens by Alison Weir on Shiny New Books!

Image result for anna of kleve Alison weir

In case you missed it yesterday, I have had a review on Shiny New Books!

Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets, is the fourth novel in the series of Six Tudor Queens by Alison Weir. Although a fictional account of the life of Henry VIII’s arguably most elusive wife, it is as always impeccably researched.My full review is at http://shinynewbooks.co.uk/anna-of-kleve-queen-of-secrets-by-alison-weir/  – It is a fantastic book!