- Non Fiction
Reviews by Anne
'We were all more or less thieves at Lant Street. But we were that kind of thief that rather eased the dodgy deed along, than did it . We could pass anything, anything at all, at speeds which would astonish you. There was only one thing, in fact, that had come and got stuck - one thing that had somehow withstood the tremendous pull of that passage - one thing that never had a price put to it. I mean of course, Me.' Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth, is born among petty thieves - fingersmiths - in London's Borough. From the moment she draws breath, her fate is linked to another orphan, growing up in a gloomy mansion not too many miles away ...A modern day Dickens, Sarah Waters is one of Britain's rising stars.
A complex and clever novel
This is a complex and surprising historical novel which kept me engaged all the way through.
The story starts with Sue who is a thief and an orphan with a mysterious past who lives with a "family" of similar characters in a Victorian slum. Her mentor/mother figure Mrs Sucksby "farms" babies and other members of the group do a variety of dubious things to bring in money. Sue is curiously innocent in some respects, lacks experience and is drawn into a con on a young woman called Maud which is headed up by a thief she calls Gentleman. Sue acts as Maud's maid and slowly, as events unfold and we begin to get Maud's story, things don't work out exactly how Sue expects.
This is a complex book because the story is quite twisted in places and you have to be alert for the author's clues that things may not be what they seem. It summons up well the atmosphere of the time and especially the vulnerability of those in society with less power (women, the poor, children, those without a male protector, those with mental illness, etc.). None of the characters are very nice and both Sue and Maud do some things that are nasty and unfair but you do understand why they behave they way that they do and you are hoping against hope that all will work out well in the end. A lot of the story is very tense and I was crying for some of the scenes at the end when secrets from the past are revealed and we begin to understand some motivations.
I particularly enjoyed this story because I really didn't know at any given time what was going to happen next - there are a couple of excellent twists. I enjoyed the atmosphere which was created and some of the smaller details which we pick up almost in passing and which enriched it such as the dog skins, the gloves, and what is given to the babies. I thought that the tension was well done and that the author put her characters in legitimate peril which arose from the plot and which seemed realistic. I loved the way her characterisations made you identify first with one person and then with another and even to feel sympathy with those who are doing horrible things to others.
Definitely a good read.
A body is discovered in an empty Atlanta warehouse. It's the body of an ex-cop, and from the moment Special Agent Will Trent walks in he knows this could be the most devastating case of his career. Bloody footprints leading away from the scene reveal that another victim - a woman - has left the scene and vanished into thin air. And, worst of all, the warehouse belongs to the city's biggest, most politically-connected, most high-profile athlete - a local hero protected by the world's most expensive lawyers. A local hero Will has spent the last six months investigating on a brutal rape charge. But for Will - and also for Dr Sara Linton, the GBI's newest medical examiner - the case is about to get even worse. Because an unexpected discovery at the scene reveals a personal link to Will's troubled past. The consequences will wreak havoc on his life and the lives of those he loves, those he works with, and those he pursues. But Sara's scene-of-the-crime diagnosis is that they only have a few hours to find the missing woman before she bleeds out . . .
A gripping read - especially if you already know the characters
You really mustn't start here if you are new to Karin Slaughter's novels because this book assumes a lot of prior knowledge so that you can follow the relationships between characters. In this novel the author has joined together her series featuring Sara Linton ( a doctor) and Will Trent (an Atlanta Detective) by moving Sara to Atlanta, having her start a relationship with Will, and by giving her a new role attached to the police service. Both Sara and Will bring extensive baggage with them which has been examined, and often created, during the course of previous novels. The author has also added Will's partner Faith, his boss Amanda and his ex-wife Angie all of whom have previously explored back stories as well.
Assuming that you have read some or all of the preceding volumes I think you will really enjoy this latest novel. I found it absolutely gripping from the prologue which starts with a devastating set of events and the the story of what led up to them and the investigation and what it discovers. Angie has centre stage here and a lot of the book is from her point of view outlining her abusive past and her current self-destructive behaviour (she has a lot in common with Lena from the earlier books set in Grant County). You have to get over the improbability of so many seriously damaged people having functioning roles in law enforcement and the fact that people with so many outside connections have been allowed to serve together but when you leap that hurdle the rest of the book is well plotted, full of action and remorselessly hard-hitting. The author has few illusions about human nature and people are by no means nice or well meaning in this novel.
I enjoyed this novel a lot. I liked the way in which the author looked at privilege and what a sense of entitlement can do to people. I enjoyed watching Sara and Will develop their relationship and I winced every time Angie's actions seemed to harm them. A great read
In Charlemont, Kentucky, the Bradford family is the crème de la crème of high society - just like their exclusive brand of bourbon. And their complicated lives and vast estate are run by a discrete staff who inevitably become embroiled in their affairs. This is especially true now, when the apparent suicide of the family patriarch is starting to look more and more like murder... No one is above suspicion - especially the eldest Bradford son, Edward. The bad blood between him and his father is known far and wide, and he is aware that he could be named a suspect. As the investigation into the death intensifies, he keeps himself busy at the bottom of a bottle - as well as with his former horse trainer's daughter. Meanwhile, the family's financial future lies in the perfectly manicured hands of a business rival, a woman who wants Edward all to herself. Everything has consequences; everybody has secrets. And few can be trusted. Then, at the very brink of the family's demise, someone thought lost to them forever returns to the fold. Maxwell Bradford has come home. But is he a saviour...or the worst of all the sinners?
A saga of a dysfunctional and self-destructive family
This is very much the second instalment in a family saga and you are best served to have read "The Bourbon Kings" before tackling this one. It is also worth noting that this novel moves the overall story arc onwards but leaves a lot of stuff unresolved at the end - it is a serial rather than a series. This means that we now have to wait for the next book to be published to find out what happens. I know that this frustrates some readers and if you are one of those then you may want to wait until the end of the series before you start reading (although I have no idea when that will be or how many books there will be by then).
The story is set in a rich but gloriously dysfunctional American family whose dynasty is based on the production of alcohol. There are a lot of sub-plots and story lines but the main thrust of the narrative is that the head of the family is dead and that he has almost certainly been murdered. The playboy heir (Lane) has returned from self-imposed exile and found his long lost love (Lizzie) - he is also investigating missing monies from the business and trying to keep it afloat without anyone knowing that they have financial problems. The other siblings are barely functioning and although this book concentrates on another son, Edward, and presents him with a love triangle, Lane is still at the centre of the action. The author piles challenge after challenge on to the family and just when you think you can take a breath someone does something amazingly self-destructive or you find out a hidden secret which has damaging consequences.
I am not a huge fan of family sagas set in rich households but I am very much enjoying this series. I like the writing which is tight and ironic in places. I am enjoying the fact that I have absolutely no idea where the author is going to take the story next. I love the different characters and am absorbed in watching how they get into bigger and bigger holes and musing on how the author is going to extricate them, if she is. I can take or leave the bourbon and horse racing backgrounds and I do have some issues with the stereotypical housekeeper/substitute mother figure. Despite a couple of quibbles I am committed to this series and very much looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Giverny. During the day, tourists flock to the former home of the famous artist Claude Monet and the gardens where he painted his Water Lilies. But when silence returns, there is a darker side to the peaceful French village. This is the story of thirteen days that begin with one murder and end with another. Jérôme Morval, a man whose passion for art was matched only by his passion for women, has been found dead in the stream that runs through the gardens. In his pocket is a postcard of Monet's Water Lilies with the words: Eleven years old. Happy Birthday. Entangled in the mystery are three women: a young painting prodigy, the seductive village schoolteacher and an old widow who watches over the village from a mill by the stream. All three of them share a secret. But what do they know about the discovery of Jérôme Morval's corpse? And what is the connection to the mysterious, rumoured painting of Black Water Lilies?
A clever piece of storytelling
This is a mystery based in the small town of Giverny which is famous for being the home of Monet and where his house and the famous pond which he painted so often are situated. We are told from the beginning that this is the story of three women, all of whom are residents of the town, a girl, a middle-aged wife and an elderly widow. The story is told from the points of view of these women and also features the criminal investigation into the death of a man in the town.
This is a cleverly constructed story where the author plays games with the reader. I had worked out quite soon in the novel what he was doing but it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book at all. I don't want to provide any spoilers so it is difficult to discuss the way that the book is written but I thought that it was engaging and interesting. The characters were excellently written and the writing style was accessible and clear. You really don't have to know anything about Monet to enjoy the story other than his obsession with painting water lilies. I thought that the revelation of what was happening and the ending were both very satisfying and well done.
I don't think that this book is quite as good as "After the Crash" and the reason for this is that the clever construction does make a few aspects of the book a little unlikely but I do recommend that you read this because it is very rewarding.
Lee Fiora is a shy fourteen-year-old when she leaves small-town Indiana for a scholarship at Ault, an exclusive boarding school in Massachusetts. Her head is filled with images from the school brochure of handsome boys in sweaters leaning against old brick buildings, girls running with lacrosse sticks across pristine athletics fields, everyone singing hymns in chapel. But as she soon learns, Ault is a minefield of unstated rules and incomprehensible social rituals, and Lee must work hard to find - and maintain - her place in the pecking order.
The American class system examined in depth
Lee Fiora comes from a small town but obtains a scholarship to an exclusive private school - confusingly for British readers called a prep school when she is actually a teenager. Lee has shone in her home environment but she is out of place at Ault in every way and she finds as she progresses through school that she is an outsider at school and increasingly at home as well. The story is told from the point of view of Lee as an adult so she is distanced from the experience by time as well and she can insert some analysis about what were the important events and why they happened.
Lee is an amazing creation. You really understand what it feels like to be an outsider and to have different experiences and aspirations than your peers. You understand that she lives in fear of being rejected and why she herself rejects others who are in a similar situation - you understand but at times it is difficult to excuse Lee's cowardice. It brings to mind all those times that you have gone along with the crowd when you knew it was wrong. That is the beauty of the writing in this book in that you can identify with Lee even while you have absolutely nothing in common with her circumstances.
The book is actually rather depressing and at times a scathing indictment of privilege and a sense of entitlement. It is surprisingly gripping although it is quite a long book but this is definitely an adult's book -it is not a school story as read by teenagers. The school is a reflection of our society - those with money and breeding are at the top and there is no way in for the rest of us. This is a book that shows that when we aspire to rise there is no place anywhere for us.
Elizabeth Glendinning QC has lost faith in the legal system. In an attempt to restore it, she has secretly devised a scheme to bring back to court a guilty man - Graham Riley - whom she had successfully defended some ten years before. As part of an elaborate contingency plan, Elizabeth leaves the unsuspecting Father Anselm with a key to a safety deposit box, to be opened in the event of her death. Three weeks later she is found dead in the East End of London and, once the box has been opened, a chain of events is triggered as if from beyond the grave, leading Anselm to fulfil what Elizabeth has begun.
Plot completely unbelievable
When Elizabeth dies she leaves a puzzle to be solved and the person she has chosen to do this is Father Anslem who before he became a monk was once a practising barrister. Elizabeth has been obsessed with the case of a man who she had successfully defended who she later discovered was guilty and she wants to fix this. She has hidden her clues and it is Anslem's role to follow the trail.
This is well written and the author is excellent at creating atmosphere and a sense of place. He presents moral issues and explores them in his plot. The book is not filled with action but the characters and what does happen seems very realistic if you accept the major flaw of the book.
The problem with the book is the plot. Firstly, it seems very unlikely that a successful barrister would have the attack of conscience that Elizabeth has here. It is not, and never has been, the job of the advocate to make any form of judgement about the guilt of an individual. It is their role to present the case for the defence and to test the case for the prosecution - if the case isn't good enough then the person who has been charged is decreed not guilty. It appears that Anselm is also complicit in that he asked a question in court that caused the prosecution's case to fail - I accept that he feels unhappy about the grief that this caused but it was his job and he appears to have done it well. This all seems very unlikely.
Equally unlikely is the whole puzzle and the hidden clues. Why on earth didn't Elizabeth just tell Anselm what he needed to know rather than engineer such a performance ? Entrusting an important piece of the puzzle to a man with no short term memory wasn't exactly a work of genius either.
The plot was unbelievable, the motivations unlikely but the writing and plotting, after you have accepted the preposterous, clever.
Once Jenny Casey was somebody s daughter. Once she was somebody s enemy. Now the former Canadian special forces warrior lives on the hellish streets of Hartford, Connecticut, in the year 2062. Racked with pain, hiding from the government she served, running with a crime lord so she can save a life or two, Jenny is a month shy of fifty, and her artificially reconstructed body has started to unravel. But she is far from forgotten. A government scientist needs the perfect subject for a high-stakes project and has Jenny in his sights. Suddenly Jenny Casey is a pawn in a furious battle, waged in the corridors of the Internet, on the streets of battered cities, and in the complex wirings of her half-man-made nervous system. And she needs to gain control of the game before a brave new future spins completely out of control.
Full of ideas with an excellent heroine
The author has chosen for her heroine a fifty year old woman who has had major surgery in the past but who now lives in permanent pain and who lives a life haunted by things which happened when she was in the military and after she was injured. Jenny isn't the obvious heroine as she lives a life in secrecy among the remnants of civilisation in the latter part of this century but she is a woman who grabs you immediately as you watch her desperate not to become reinvolved with people from her past but unable to resist the temptation to have her implants upgraded - but Jenny's adaptations to her implants and the way in which her body has adjusted are unique and that makes her valuable to others. The author has not just created a great main character in the embittered and secretive Jenny but she has also created a disturbing crumbling world where most of America has been wiped out and life in what remains of the urban landscape is tough.
I enjoyed reading this book and I thought that it was full of excellent ideas but it is the first in a series and not everything is explained in this volume. That meant that there were times that I didn't understand what was going on because the author had not yet given me the information I needed. I usually find this way of writing unhelpful and often boycott the rest of the series in a type of protest but I did find that there was enough here to keep me engaged and to make me want more.
You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of Angela and Tommy. You shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest's lantern trees, hunting woollybuck and harvesting tree candy. Beyond the forest lie the treeless mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it. The Oldest among you recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross between worlds. One day, the Oldest say, they will come back for you. You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of two marooned explorers. You huddle, slowly starving, beneath the light and warmth of geothermal trees, confined to one barely habitable valley of a startlingly alien, sunless world. After 163 years and six generations of incestuous inbreeding, the Family is riddled with deformity and feeblemindedness. Your culture is a infantile stew of half-remembered fact and devolved ritual that stifles innovation and punishes independent thought. You are John Redlantern. You will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history.You will be the first to abandon hope, the first to abandon the old ways, the first to kill another, the first to venture in to the Dark, and the first to discover the truth about Eden.
An interesting society
Living on Eden is a group of descendants from a crashed space ship. Generations of inbreeding from the two individuals who are the common ancestor of them all have left many of them with physical and mental deformities. Living on a world without light except that which is generated by the vegetation has made for a simple, hunter gatherer society. Memories of their beginning has left them with a mythology based on a rapidly disappearing historical memory and a rigid society. The community is obviously close to an end whilst it hangs on awaiting the return of those who left.
This is a book full of clever ideas. The society that has been created seems believable based on the history and the way that communities work. Eventually, however, someone is going to challenge the norms and mythology and in this story John Redlantern raises together a group of young people who are prepared to travel away from the existing habitation and look to do something new. In doing so, they challenge many ideas of what is acceptable and other factions arise and challenge them.
I thought that the set up was good and I accepted that this is a possible society that could have grown up in the circumstances. I thought that the challenges to the community and what happened made sense. I didn't, however, really like John Redlantern or his ethos. I didn't admire his reasoning or some of the ways that he went about things. I did, whoever, like Tina Spikehair whose story is also part of the plot and I sympathised more with her. The fact that I didn't really like John or the way he worked spoiled my total enjoyment of this story but I will be interested to see where the author takes it next.
Take an ordinary, well-off family like the Prices. Watch what happens when one Sunday seventeen-year-old Hannah disappears without a trace. See how the family rallies when a ransom note demands half a million pounds for Hannah's safe return. But it's when Hannah comes home that the story really begins. Now observe what happens to a family when they lose their house, their status, all their wealth. Note how they disintegrate under the pressures of guilt and poverty and are forced to confront their true selves. And, finally, wait to hear about Hannah, who has the most shocking surprise in store of all.
Too much was unrealistic for me
Hannah is a young woman who is kidnapped by a pair of amateur criminals. Her parents raise and deliver a ransom which cripples them financially. Hannah returns undamaged, at least physically. Everything has been kept secret. Surely life can return to normal now ?
This is a clever idea which is not as well executed as I thought that it could have been. The story revolves around the results to the family unit and the individuals of this traumatic event and includes the lives of the kidnappers as well as the family. It really makes you think what you would do in similar circumstances and the author is very clear that the consequences of this type of event can be as dramatic as the event itself. I thought that the character of Hannah was well written and I understood her best of the people involved. I had more trouble with the actions of her father and especially with that of the criminals which I found unlikely although their essential situation seemed realistic.
Some of the aspects of the book didn't really work for me. I just didn't believe that anyone could gather that much cash together considering how difficult it is to get money out of your own bank account these days ! I really didn't buy into the fact that they wouldn't go to the police and that the family would tackle this on their own, it didn't ring true to me.
In the end, this book didn't really work for me although I did think that the idea was clever. Some of the writing and plot worked but, sadly, not enough.
Despite their differences, Erika and Clementine have been best friends since they were children. So when Erika needs help, Clementine should be the obvious person to turn to. Or so you'd think. For Clementine, as a mother of a two desperately trying to practise for the audition of a lifetime, the last thing she needs is Erika asking for something, again. But the barbecue should be the perfect way to forget their problems for a while. Especially when their hosts, Vid and Tiffany, are only too happy to distract them. Which is how it all spirals out of control...
So, what exactly happened at this barbecue ?
What the author does in this book is take a lot of characters who are all putting on some sort of a front or at a vulnerable time in their lives and then introducing a dramatic event which shakes them up and makes them rethink what is important. The event happens at a barbecue which involves three couples and their children but we don't actually find out what happens until near the end of the book. Although this is an effective way of handling the story I couldn't help but think that the author left the revelation slightly too late and I was quite frustrated by the time I found out what had happened. I can see why she had to write it this way because of the structure of the story but I can see many readers just giving up because they needed to know - of course, the skill of the writer is such that the story is really not about the barbecue at all but about the characters and their lives but it doesn't always feel like that when you are reading it !
The Book is told in a disjointed timeline and from the point of view of different characters. Each section is timed as so long before the barbecue, the day of the barbecue or so long after the barbecue. The book actually starts with one character making her way to a talk by another character quite some time after the barbeque and it then moves to and fro building up the story of the three couples, their relationships and their connections with one another, and the effects of the events of the barbecue. I didn't have any problems with this way of writing. I thought it was very effective as the reader builds up a picture of what life was like before and after the big event. We slowly realise that the events of the day have changed everything for these people and we see how each of them now lives slightly differently because of what happened.
I enjoyed this book a lot (despite the frustration of not knowing what happened). I liked the way that we built a picture slowly and the author was always releasing more information or showing us things from a slightly different point of view. It made me realise that we often put on a different persona to other people, even those that we are close to, and that sometimes it needs something drastic to get us to face up to things and sort out our priorities. Please don't think that this novel is one with a preachy message, it is actually a wryly observed and very witty look at the lives of middle class people.