Amanda DuBois – The Complication

Amanda DuBois – The Complication

Seattle attorney Camille Delaney rushed to the hospital where her friend Dallas Jackson has to undergo an emergency operation with a fatal outcome. When the former nurse accidentally sees his folder, questions arise. What happened in the operation room? And why was nobody aware of the seemingly critical state her friend was in? As her company only represents hospitals and high profile doctors, thus she cannot pursue her inquiries. Instead this brings her to a point where she has to ask herself if she has given up her ideals for the money and status. As a consequence, she decides to run the risk and leaves the company to start her own firm with her first case. She soon realises that nobody wants to talk about Dr Willcox, responsible surgeon in the operation room, but her gut feeling tells her that something is totally going wrong in this hospital.

There are some similarities between the author and her protagonist. Amanda DuBois herself was a trained nurse before she became a lawyer and medical malpractice has been her area of specialisation. “The Complication” is her first novel which highly relies on her profession knowledge combining medical aspects with law. From a seemingly unfortunate operation, the case develops into a complicated conspiracy which brings the protagonist repeatedly into dangerous situations since she has to deal with reckless people who do not care about a single life.

What I liked about the novel was how the medical details were incorporated and explained along the way so that the reader with limited medical knowledge could smoothly follow the action. The characters are authentically drawn, especially Camille’s discussion with her mother about her ideals and principles raising the question what use she makes of her legal capacities while working for a law firm that puts more interest in the billing hours than helping to serve the law was interesting to follow.

Even though I would estimate that the case is realistically depicted with Camille again and again coming to dead ends and only advancing slowly, I would have preferred a higher pace since as a reader, you have a lead and soon know what scheme is behind it all.

Martin Walker – To Kill a Troubadour

Martin Walker – To Kill a Troubadour

Summer could be enjoyable and light hearted but then, the cosy Périgord region is caught in Spain’s trouble with Catalonia’s independence movement. “Les Troubadours”, a local folk group, have published a song supporting autonomy for the region that shares their cultural heritage. The song goes viral and soon not only the Spanish government but also shady groups become aware of the poet and the band. When the police find a sniper’s bullet and a stolen car in the woods, the know that the situation is much more serious than they thought and that people are in real danger as the Troubadours are about to perform a large concert.

Martin Walker continues his series around the French countryside chief of police Bruno Courrèges. Even though also the 15th Dordogne mystery offers a lot to recognise from the former novels, “To Kill a Troubadour” is much more political and takes up a current real life topic. Apart from this, you’ll get exactly what you’d expect from the series: a lot of food to indulge in, history of the region and the French countryside where everybody seems to be friends with everybody.

One would expect the life of a countryside policeman to be rather unspectacular and slow, however, this could not be farer away from Bruno’s reality. Not only do big conflicts come to his cosy province, but also a case of domestic violence demands his full attention.

What I appreciated most, like in other instalments of the series before, was how the cultural heritage was integrated into the plot and teaches about the history you along the way in a perfectly dosed manner.

Full of suspense while offering the well-known French countryside charm, a wonderful read to look forward to summer holidays in France.

Louisa Reid – The Poet

Louisa Reid – The Poet

Emma is 25 and a promising poet and PhD student at Oxford. She is researching into a long forgotten female poet named Charlotte Mew whose work she uncovered and analyses. When she, the girl from the north and a middle-class family, came to the prestigious college, she felt like not belonging, her accent revealed her background, but her professor Tom saw something in her. He didn’t tell her that he was still married with kids and she didn’t mind. Now, years later, she finds herself in a toxic relationship. The renowned professor knew how to manipulate the young woman with low self-esteem doubting herself. Despite the success with her own poems, he can exert control over her, her thinking and cleverly gaslights her. He goes even further until she reaches a point where she has to decide to either give up herself or fight.

Louisa Reid’s novel “The Poet” is the portrait of a young woman who encountered the wrong man at the wrong time. She falls for her teacher who is charming, who sparks something in her, who makes her feel special and talented. Yet, she does not realise at which point this positive energy turns into the negative and when his second face is revealed. The power he has over her, the power his position attributes him, bring her into an inferior position from which it is hard to be believed and to escape.

The arrangement of power the author chooses is well-known: male vs. female, older vs. younger, rich background vs. middle class, academic vs. working class. All factors play out for Tom and from the start put him into the position of control. Emma, young and naive, is only too eager to succumb to it since she falls for his intellect and charm. He is idolised by students as well as his colleagues, quite naturally she is flattered by his attention.

On the other hand, we have the manipulative scholars who knows exactly what makes his female students tick. He has noticed Emma’s talent and knows how to profit from it. Systematically, he makes her feel inferior, stresses her weak points – her background, her family, the lack of money – keeps her from progressing with her work. He makes himself the Ubermensch in her view and manages to keep her close as he needs her, too. Not emotionally, but in a very different way.

Wonderfully written in verse and yet, it reads like a novel. Heart-wrenching at times, analytical at others the book immediately seduces and keeps you reading on.   

Sophie Jai – Wild Fires

Sophie Jai – Wild Fires

It is the death of her cousin Chevy that brings Cassandra from London back to Toronto where her family is based after having left Trinidad. But she not only returns to the funeral but to a whole history of her family that suddenly pops up again. Stories she had forgotten but now remembers, things which have always been unsaid despite that fact that everybody knew them and secrets that now surface in the big house in Florence Street where the tension is growing day by day. The sisters and aunts find themselves in an exceptional emotional state that cracks open unhealed wounds which add to the ones that have come with the death of Chevy.

Sophie Jai was herself born in Trinidad just like her protagonist and grew up in Toronto, “Wild Fires” is her first novel and was published in 2021. It centres around a family in grief, but also a family between two countries and also between the past and the present and things that have never been addressed between the members. Having been away for some time allows Cassandra a role a bit of an outsider and she sees things of her family she has never understood.

The author wonderfully interweaves the present story of the family gathering at the Toronto home to mourn the loss and Cassandra’s childhood recollections and well-known family stories. Thus, we get to know the deceased and his role in the family web. Like Chevy’s story, also the aspects that link but also separate the generations of sisters are uncovered thus exposing long avoided conflicts.

The novel raises the questions if you can ever flee from the family bonds and how to deal with what happened in the past and has never openly be spoken out loud and discussed. Sophie Jai finds the perfect words to express the nuances in the atmosphere and paces the plot according to the characters’ increasingly conflicting mood.

I liked how the characters and their story unfolds, yet, I would have preferred a more accelerated pace and at the beginning, I struggled to understand the connection between them which was a bit confusing.

Emily Henry – Book Lovers

Emily Henry – Book Lovers

Nora Stephens, in the book industry also known as “shark”, is a successful New York agent whose life is dedicated to her job. Accordingly, relationships have not been that successful so far, but that’s ok for her. When her sister Libby asks her for a four-week stay in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, the place where one of her best-selling books is located, Nora is reluctant, she cannot stay away from work so long; yet, Libby is pregnant and Nora does not want to refuse her sister’s greatest wish, she is the only family she has. Nora knows all the stories about New Yorkers coming to small towns and falling in love, she has read them all, even published some of them, therefore, she can only ironically comment the fact that on her first day, she runs into Charlie Lastra – her biggest nemesis.

Admittedly, I am not really a fan of rom-coms, no matter if they come in form of books or movies. However, I really enjoyed Emily Henry’s “Beach Read” and as there was so much talk about “Book Lovers”, I was looking forward to reading it. Of course, the bestselling author did not disappoint, quite the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed how she does not take the genre too seriously but lets her characters comment on it mockingly again and again throughout the novel.

“We know how this ends.”

Libby squeezes my arm. “You don’t know. You can’t until you try.”

“This isn’t a movie, Libby,” I say.

You do not need to find the typical tropes, Nora will find them for you and Emily Henry does not leave out a single one: the big city girl who looks down in small town life, the sister who mysteriously vanishes during daytime and does not tell what is doing or where she is going, the incidental meeting with the one man she does not want to see far away from home, the charming bookshop, cringeworthy small town activities, another attractive man – who does not like the first, of course – you name it. Even though there are no big surprises, I totally enjoyed diving into the story and seeing all the clichés unfold.

As a book lover, it was easy to fall for this one, a lot of references and hints to the industry offer the perfect setting for the two protagonists to fight their feelings which, needless to say, they cannot admit at first. Another perfect summer read by Emily Henry.

Sara Novic – True Biz

Sara Novic – True Biz

Charlie has always been hearing impaired, her parents wanted her to be a normal girl and opted for an implant instead of catering for her special needs. As a result, the teenager is excluded from communication and learning as her implant never worked properly. It is only at the River Valley School for the Deaf that she discovers a world that she had been shut out from. She learns to sign and finds friends. Even though the school is a safe haven, this does not mean that people there are without problems and even golden boy Austin whose deaf family is something like a star in their community has to fight with mixed emotions when his baby sister is born hearing.

Sara Novic opens a world which is widely unknown. “True Biz” not only narrates the story of teenagers who – like any other – have their fights with their parents but also struggle with who they are and who they want to be. Being impaired does not make this easier. Along those lines the novel opens the discussion about how to live in a society with high superficial standards when it comes to being considered “normal” and the tricky question about what is best for a child.

Even though I was aware of some of the problems pupils face with limited hearing capacities in average schools, Charlie’s situation of being withhold proper means of communication is repelling. It would be easy to blame her parents, yet, their intentions were good, but good isn’t always the best. The same is true for the complicated case of Austin’s baby sister, decisions have to be made where there is not really a best way to go.

One scene sticks especially with my memory. When the baby is born and Austin asked if she is ok, his father answers that she is perfect. Not too strange a reply, yet, the girl is hearing whereas Austin is not. Does this distinction make him less perfect for his parents, underlining the widespread notion of only the physically not impaired are the ones to be happy about.

Characters that are loveable and sympathetic to follow make it easy to understand their reasoning and view of the world. A lot of information is integrated adding to the book’s enlightening for the reader. A great read in so many respects that I can only highly recommend it.

Lara Williams – The Odyssey

Lara Williams – The Odyssey

It’s been five years now that Ingrid has left her husband and former life to work on board the luxury cruise liner WA. She regularly has to rotate between the different departments and thus has become an expert of the ship and knows every corner. With Mia and her brother Ezra, she has befriended two colleagues with whom she passes her limited free time. When she is selected for a mentorship programme and promoted to manager, things become more complicated between them, Mia is obviously envious of her friend’s new position. Yet, Ingrid is not sure if she can fulfil the high expectations of Keith, captain and guru of the team. But she is willing to give all – and that is more than you could ever imagine.

After having finished reading “The Odyssey”, I was left wondering and confused. Lara Williams’ novel was a hilarious read until it wasn’t anymore. It is somehow a totally exaggerated caricature of the cruise ship and well-being industries and on the other hand, from the middle of the novel on, I was wondering if the plot actually takes place on a cruise ship or if much rather the staff are actually patients of a psychiatric ward for whom the “cruise ship” is a kind of simulation of real life.

The cruise liner offer all a tourist might want to ask, there is no need to leave it since you have several restaurants serving all tastes, all kinds of shops and treatments to make your stay a perfect break-out. It doesn’t matter that the staff is hardly trained, they are friendly and the guest is king. Just as the employees are pretend-professionals, all aboard is just fake and serving a superficial image of perfection. Had social media not been invented yet, this cruise liner would surely underline the need for it.

Ingrid’s past is slowly revealed throughout the novel. That she more or less fled her former life is obvious, however, the reasons remain in the dark for a long time. The non-life she leads has become the perfect escape and spending hours in her small cabin staring at the ceiling is all she wants to do. The mentorship programme forces her to get out of her cave and think about herself and her life. Keith is the ultimate travesty of a guru. His concept is quite limited but with enough cold water and matcha tea he can create a spiritual atmosphere to impress his underlings.

This might all be very funny if it wasn’t for the fact that it seemed much too real to me. Even though the cruise ship is a special setting, what happens there is not too far from our life that has become more online fake than real for many and where behind the sparkly facade, you can find highly insecure and troubled people. Reckless gurus can easily become leaders spreading their nonsense and making masses of people follow their rules not matter how senseless.

A novel you can laugh out loud while reading but which leaves you with an uneasy feeling when thinking about what you’ve just read.

Chloë Ashby – Wet Paint

Cloe Ashby – We Paint

Eve has lost her mother when she left the 5-year-old and her father and never made contact again. Even though she somehow managed to cope with this experience, losing her best friend Grace totally throws her off the track. At 26, she is waiting in a bar despite having studied art at Oxford. Yet, she does not keep that job for long, just like any other job or the flat she shares. Nothing seems to linger in her life except for the painting she visits over and over again in a London museum and Max, a teenage friend. But even for Max it becomes increasingly harder to see how Eve throws away her life and does not accept any help.

Chloë Ashby’s debut novel brilliantly captures the protagonist’s being lost in the world after the death of a beloved friend that she has never gotten over. “Wet Paint” shows a young woman in survival mode who is far from unleashing her potential as she is straying in her life without aim or goal, from time to time colliding with reality but more often lost in thought and locked away in herself.

Eve is incapable of good relationships as she is far from being at ease with herself. Connecting with other people, being honest and really caring for them is impossible for her in state she is in. The only other being she shows real affection for is the young girl she babysits, but here, too, she is too lost in her thoughts and puts herself and the girl in danger.

The only constant in her life is a painting she observes closely and which calms her. Just the thought of the museum closing for a holiday makes her get nervous and when the museum loans her beloved pieces of art to another one, she almost freaks out, losing the last straw in her life.

It is not easy to watch how a young woman, lovable despite the way she treats others, is going down the abyss, yet, you can only help those that want to be helped. That’s what some characters also experience, they really care for her but can’t do anything to as long as she refuses to acknowledge her situation and to take necessary measures to improve her situation.

Not an easy read but in my opinion an authentic representation of the protagonist’s state of emergency.

Louise Kennedy – Trespasses

Louise Kennedy – Trespasses

In the daytime, Cushla Lavery teaches seven-year-olds in a small town near Belfast, in the evening, she helps her brother in his pub. And in between, she makes sure that her alcohol addicted mother is still alive. There is not much happening in her life until, one evening, Michael Agnew shows up in the pub. He is a lot older than Cushla, but nevertheless, something sparks between them. Times are hard in Belfast when the war is raging in the streets and the news report deaths daily. Michael’s job as a barrister puts him at risk, yet, with Cushla, political tensions are far away. Until they aren’t anymore.

Louise Kennedy captures a life that is determined not by the person who lives it, but by outer circumstances. “Trespasses” oscillates between awful news and being alert all the time and intimacy which cannot exist openly. Her description of what people in the 1970s in Northern Ireland endured is full of brutality – but, I assume, absolutely accurate.

The most striking aspect of the novel was for me, how the characters organise their lives around the raging war around them. Cushla’s teaching that starts with a news session every morning which shows that even her 7-year-olds are familiar with the war vocabulary and for whom an assassination is just another death, just another family without a father, just another random note on the radio. The bluntness with which the author depicts these scenes is brutal and therefore gets close to the reader.

It is unimaginable how you can live and love in those circumstances, on the other hand, Cushla’s care for one of the boys whose family is seriously struggling underlines that in times like these, love and compassion is the only thing that’s left.

Definitely not an easy read but without a doubt one I can highly recommend.

Amanda Bestor-Siegal – The Caretakers

Amanda Bestor-Siegal – The Caretakers

When Lou comes to Paris, she has quite different ideas from those of the family she works for as an au pair. Yet, her greatest concern is to leave behind her old life. Alena, another au pair, also has left much behind, but in contrast to her outgoing and loud colleague, she hardly speaks to any of the other girls and does not make friends in their language course. Holly first and foremost feels totally alone and only wants to be the friend of any of them. Geraldine, their teacher keeps them together and gathers information about the host families, especially the mothers. Such as Charlotte, who does not work but needs an au pair to comply with the social demands she perceives. Well, she actually does not have much time for her children as her marriage is beyond the point where anything could have put them together again and she prepares its final blow. For none of the inhabitants of the posh Parisian suburb anything is easy in the winter when the city is under terrorist attacks.

Amanda Bestor-Siegal has created quite a number of complex characters who are linked randomly even though they hardly share anything. The most striking aspect they all show is a feeling of being alone, being misunderstood by the world and questioning the decisions they have made. “The Caretakers” is about people who do not really take care, who cannot take care as they are not at ease with themselves. They try to comply with expectations they can never fulfil and are always at the fringe of total despair.

I found it easy to relate to some of the characters when their background is revealed and you get to understand how they could end up where they are at that point in their life. Showing the same event from different perspectives surely added to underline the complexity of their personalities and the mixed feelings they have. However, springing from one character to the next was a bit distracting and forced you to refocus again and again.

Throughout the novel there is also a mysterious aspect about a child’s death. Even though the quest for the answer of what happened could be felt, I could have done without that element as the focus was more on the characters and less on the mystery.

I enjoyed reading the novel due to the nuances in the characters’ emotions and minute differences in the cultures that are presented.