Megan Collins – The Winter Sister

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Megan Collins – The Winter Sister

It’s been sixteen years since her sister Persephone was murdered. Sylvie has created herself a new life, far away from home, but now she has to return to her hometown and confront her seriously ill mother. It doesn’t take long until all that happened that winter night comes back to her, especially when she meets Ben, her sister’s boyfriend, her sister’s murderer. Yet, Ben insists in his innocence. But can she trust him? And what about her mother who always refused to tell the girls who their respective fathers are and who also refused to talk about that night. Is it time now to open Pandora’s box and let the truth out?

Megan Collins’ debut is at the first glance a typical murder case: an 18-year-old girl is strangled and the murderer has been running free for sixteen years. However, at the second glance, it is much more a story about family relationships, about secrets and about love and trust. The small family of three females lived on secrets and lies, had they ever been open and honest with each other, the death of one daughter could have been prevented. Yet, that’s how human beings are, sometimes they lack the necessary courage to do what is right and thus risk to lose all they love.

The novel is well-created, even though at a certain point it is quite obvious how all the dots are linked, I found it full of suspense. Telling the story through Sylvie’s eyes gives you a certain bias at the beginning, but the missing pieces and gaps add to the thrill and the big questions marks Sylvie herself feels can also be experienced by the reader. Collins’ biggest strength is certainly the creation of the characters who all act convincingly and appear quite authentic. I am looking forward to read more from the author.

Donna Leon – Unto Us a Son Is Given

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Donna Leon – Unto Us a Son Is Given

Guido Brunetti is surprised when is father-in-law Count Falier asks him to meet him privately. The Count’s best friend is going to make a big mistake and he hopes that Guido could do something about it: the Spaniard Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada wants to adopt a much younger man. Even though nobody really is upset about his openly shown homosexuality, this seems to go too far for the upper society and is considered something absolutely inappropriate. But apart from that, Gonzalo’s friends fear that the chosen man, Attilio Circetti, Marchese di Torrebardo, is more interested in Gonzalo’s wealth than in the old man. When Gonzalo suddenly dies, the case isn’t abandoned but turns out to be much more complicated than expected.

Donna Leon’s 28th case for Commissario Guido Brunetti starts in a quite unique way since this time, no murder has been committed and Brunetti is not running after some evil criminal. It is a very personal story that reveals a lot about Venice’s society, especially the rich and noble and their very special views on the world. The actual murder case only appears after about two thirds of the novel which surprisingly does not reduce any suspense in it.

As the other novels before, the Guido Brunetti series lives on the special atmosphere of the Italian water city. Again, we get a glance behind the doors of the nobilità and how they resolve their cases. Brunetti’s has to do a lot of actually illegal work this time which does not seem to bother anybody too much. On the other hand, this is a very emotional and human story, it is the characters’ weaknesses, their longing for finding love and being loved that drives the story. It is much less about solving a crime than about revealing human nature and the core things of life. For me, definitely so far the strongest of Donna Leon’s novels since it goes far beyond just solving a murder case.

Fiona Barton – The Suspect

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Fiona Barton – The Suspect

It was supposed to be the best time of their life: Alex and Rosie fly to Thailand after their A-levels to travel and party. But then, things go completely wrong and now the two girls are dead. What happened in the burnt-down-guesthouse? And where is that English boy who might have seen them last and is obviously closely linked to the fire? The parents fly to Bangkok and reporter Kate Waters comes with them to cover the story. But what they find out isn’t what they had expected: Kate’s son Jake is the wanted English boy who is now on the run and prime suspect in the murder of Alex and Rosie.

Again, Fiona Barton could well entertain me with a plot with many twists and turns and a story full of suspense. The narrative does not follow chronology and is told from alternating perspectives which I found great since it provides a lot more depth for the characters on the one hand and keeps suspense high on the other. In the end, the case is solved without leaving any questions open.

What I liked most were actually the very different characters who seemed all quite authentic to me: first of all the two young women who could hardly be more different. Quiet Alex who wants to see the country and learn about the culture and Rosie just expecting to have a good time partying. That this combination wouldn’t work out too long is pretty obvious. The girls behave like typical teenagers do on their first trip alone far away from the parents, they are careless and easily fall prey to all kind of wrong-doers. Also their mothers are portrayed in convincing ways, especially Jenny who is very bitter after her husband left her alone with the daughter.

Most interesting of course is Kate whose role changes massively throughout the story: from the nosy reporter she herself becomes the target of the press and has to endure what is written about her boy without being able of doing anything against it.

Altogether, a perfectly pitched thriller that keeps you reading on and on and on to find out the truth about what happened in Thailand.

Oyinkan Braithwaite – My Sister, the Serial Killer

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Oyinkan Braithwaite  – My Sister, the Serial Killer

Korede and her sister Ayoola live in Lagos together with their mother since their father dies. Korede, who works at a hospital as a nurse, is a decent, but rather plain young woman whereas Ayoola always has all the looks on her. Even though the sisters couldn’t hardly be more different, they are sister after all so when Ayoola calls her, it is without any question that Korede shows up with some bleach to wipe away the mess of another murder. They have done it before and will also succeed this time. Why does she have to kill all her boyfriends? Korede wonders but since none of the was really important to her, she remains secret and the sister she is supposed to be. But when Ayoola starts dating to one man Korede really likes, things become a bit more complicated.

Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel is a hilarious read full of absurd situations and fantastic characters. The author, who graduated in Creative Writing and was a 2016 finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, surely knows how to create outstanding characters and how to combine humour with an actually very serious topic. What I appreciated most is how she, on the surface, wrote a funny story that, beneath, offers so much crucial and grave issues. What it all comes down to after all is the well-known fact that blood is thicker than water and that without any question, you know which side you have to be on.

Ayoola is a serial killer – absurd as it may sound, the title is absolutely clear about it and after the opening scene, you know all about her killings. Yet, this is one of the least interesting aspects, much more remarkable is the sisters’ relationship: jealousy, love, anger, hatred, support – the full spectrum of emotions. Of course, it is Korede that the reader commiserates, she is obviously the good girls that nobody notices, neither their parents nor the men. I wondered if Ayoola suffered from some kind of mental illness, she somehow does not really seem to realise what she does, but she definitely is rather egocentric and not very considerate when it comes to other people’s feelings.

“My sister, the Serial Killer” is a black comedy that should not be taken too seriously I guess. It is a great read that I utterly enjoyed. I am absolutely looking forward to reading more from the author.

Mick Herron – The Drop

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Mick Herron – The Drop

Solomon Dortmund knows his business; he’s been doing this for so many decades that nothing can surprise him anymore. But observing a classic drop in a café is something that rarely ever happens these days. He is sure about what he has seen and reports it back to Regent’s Park. There, this is not a total surprise since the woman involved is a double agent whom the Germans believe to be their mole with the British. But Hannah Weiss has her own agenda and she knows whom she is working for. When service analyst Lech Wicinski is doing a favour for an old acquaintance, he sets in motion a chain of events that will make himself one of the tragic victims.

Mick Herron’s The Slough House series has won several awards and was shortlisted for many more, among them the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, the British Book Award and the Gold Dagger. “The Drop” – a rather short novella only slightly liked to the series – is the latest instalment of it. Yet, it is much more a classic spy novel than the rest of the series since it has in my humble view a much more traditional setting with double and triple agents and members of the service operating in the field.

There is not much to say about the plot, it is quite straight forwards without any side lines or too much detail about the characters. As a reader, you dispose of information from both sides, i.e. the English as well as the Germans, and thus can observe both services operating. It is common in those kinds of operations that innocent bystanders become necessary victims and thus, also in “The Drop” we see people fall without having made the slightest mistake. The novella mainly serves as a backstory for the latest member of the Slough House team and I liked the quick read a lot for its atmosphere of old-times spy novels.

Caroline Kepnes – Providence

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Caroline Kepnes – Providence

13-year-old Jon Bronson only has one friend: Chloe. She is the only one he confides in and shares his dreams with. The other kids torture him that’s why he takes the long way to school. Until one morning when he is kidnapped in the woods. With Jon gone, the world seems to stop for Chloe. She knows that one day he will return. Four years later, Jon wakes up in a mall. He doesn’t remember what happened in the time he was gone, only that his former teacher Roger Blair was to one to kidnap him. But something has changed, even though Jon cannot really say what it is. In his presence, strange things start to happen: spontaneous nose bleeds and people passing out. Since he has become a serious threat to others, Jon withdraws from to world to figure out what this evil teacher did to him in those ominous four years of absence.

“Providence” is labelled a thriller, unfortunately, I didn’t really find any thrill in it. For me, it was first and foremost a kind of love story and some supernatural or sci-fi added that did not really make sense to me.

I really liked the beginning of the novel. Jon is a bit strange, but a likeable, intelligent boy. The fact that he is bullied by his classmates just raises more compassion for him. When he is abducted and we only get Chloe’s grief for the loss, the novel even becomes quite gloomy and admittedly, I really despised the adults who were absolutely ignorant about the girl’s loss. Jon’s return is a real mystery, there is an inexplicable aura surrounding him which is hard to grab and explain. Then, unfortunately, the novel becomes quite lengthy. It’s a kind of hunt for the kidnapper without real progress. Added to Jon and Chloe is an elderly detective with a “gut-feeling” who is chasing ghosts, too. In the end, there was some kind of solution that I couldn’t really believe.

Samuel Park – The Caregiver

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Samuel Park – The Caregiver

In the 1990s, Mara Alcenar is living in California and working as a caregiver for a woman who suffers from cancer. She has been in the US for many years, illegally like so many others and always struggling to survive and hoping not to be caught. Yet, going back to Brazil is not an option; it is just her thoughts that frequently return to her native country. She remembers the time when she was six and living with her mother Ana who worked in the film industry and dubbed foreign productions. She was also a great actor which lead her to a fatal decision: being offered a “role” by leftist rebels, Ana Alcenar couldn’t refuse. She needed the money for herself and Mara. But then, something went completely wrong at the Police Chief’s office. Years later, Mara is a teenager and gets the chance to revenge her mother – but is the episode as she remembers is actually the truth?

Samuel Park’s novel “The caregiver” focuses on two completely different aspects: on the one hand, he addresses political questions such as the military rulers of South America in the 20th century and the precarious situation of immigrants from these countries in the US. On the other hand, he has a very personal topic that the novel makes you think about: what do loving and caring mean and how far would you go for the ones you love?

For me, the parts of the novel that are set in Rio de Janeiro were the most impressive. The author really gives you a good idea of how life was like under those political circumstances and how important your personal bonds were to survive. The neighbour becomes crucial for survival, you find yourself quickly caught between the lines and even if you want to keep away from politics, this isn’t always possible. And there is not just black and white, but many shades of grey.

The question of what loving somebody means is also crucial in the novel. Not the love between lovers, but much more the compassion you feel towards family members and those close to you, how much you are willing to endure and even more importantly: how much you are willing to forgive and to forget.

A novel full of food for thought and at the same time wonderfully written.

Daniel Torday – Boomer1

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Daniel Torday – Boomer1

It’s music that makes Cassie Black and Mark Brumfeld fall in love in New York. Together they play in a band and also share their lives, but somehow it doesn’t really fit. It is especially their professional situation that creates a lot of tension, Mark dreams of writing a novel or at least getting a lecturing position at university. When he proposes to Cassie, this is the necessary point of no return for her and they split up. Cassie is offered a job in a somehow strange start-up media company where she fact checks articles but is always unsure of what she really does. After some more failures, Mark returns to his parents’ home in Baltimore. One day, Cassie comes across a video online: her ex published a series of statements against the Baby Boomers who occupy all the good jobs and make life hard for his generation. What was initially meant as a rant due to his personal situation, ends in a violent revolution.

Daniel Torday narrates the novel “Boomer1” through the three perspectives of Cassie, Mark and Julia, Mark’s mother. This gives him the possibility to show the same scenes from different angels which sometimes also spins the way we as a reader perceive it. Even though there are many humorous and highly comical scenes, there are some underlying truths in the story which give it a lot more depth than it might seem to have on the surface.

First of all, I could highly sympathise with Cassie’s job at the media company RazorWire. She always wonders what she is doing – and actually many of her colleagues spend their working time playing computer games and watching YouTube videos. It may seem a common prejudice but reality has shown that many of those start-ups have disappeared more quickly than they were founded since they didn’t create anything at all.

I can also understand Mark’s deception and despair. Being highly qualified but having the impression of being of no use on the labour market because all positions are taken by some old people who could easily retire is just frustrating. Waiting for the life to begin is hard to endure.

Also their struggle with relationships is something that is well-known in the generation of millennials. Heterosexual as well as homosexual experiences, splitting up getting back together – they dream of their childhood when life was easy and families followed traditional patterns. They know that this is not something they will not get as easily as their parents got it. Somehow their whole life is fragile and nothing is sure anymore. What else could be the logical consequence other than a revolution? Starting it online is simply logical for them.

I really liked the novel, it is entertaining and well-written and has a noteworthy message, too.

Dirk Kurbjuweit – Fear

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Dirk Kurbjuweit – Fear

Randolph Tiefenthaler is a successful Berlin based architect. With his wife Rebecca and their two kids, they just moved into the stylish old houses of the German capital where they have find the seemingly perfect home. Yet, it doesn’t take too long until the neighbour from the basement, Dieter Tiberius, becomes more and more awkward and strange. He writes love letters to Rebecca, which is just annoying, but then he accuses her of child abuse and repeatedly calls the police to check on them. Randolph gets a lawyer, he contacts the youth welfare service, but there is nothing he can do to protect his family from the crazy man in the basement. The fear that he might attack his wife or hurt the children grows and with it the marriage become increasingly fragile. There nerves are on the edge until the day they cannot support it anymore and they need to help themselves to protect the family.

Dirk Kurbjuweit plays with the family idyll which is threatened in the core: the home. The loving father who has built the perfect life for himself and his wife, becomes suddenly incapable of action. He cannot protect his beloved, there is a danger close at hand that he cannot control and sees himself exposed defencelessly. The pressure which is on Randolph and Rebecca is palpable and you as a reader also feel the growing impression of being helpless, powerless and most of all vulnerable.

Even though from the start it is clear what the outcome of all will be, the thriller is full of suspense and the development of the plot gives you the creeps. Kurbjuweit has a very lively style of writing and making Randolph the narrator underlines the feeling of being a part of the story and makes it easy to sympathise with him and to commiserate with him.

Adib Khorram – Darius the Great is not Okay

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Adib Khorram – Darius the Great is not Okay

Darius Kellner has never really fit in into Chapel Hill High-School, not just because he is half-Persian but also because of his depression which makes it hard for him to make friends. When is grandfather gets seriously ill, his whole family is flying to Yazd for the first time: his father, whom he considers an “Übermensch” because he is perfect in every respect, his beloved mother and his 8-year-old sister Laleh. Even though Iran is much less different from his home than expected, Darius, or Darioush as he is called there, makes masses of new experiences. He finds a good friend in Sohrab, plays football successfully and with fun, he tries out great Persian food and the family relationships somehow shift and allow him another look at how things are between himself and the rest of his family. When he returns, he is not the Darius he was before anymore, a bit of Darioush the Great has come with him to the US and he accepts that at times it is ok just not to be okay.

Adib Khoram’s novel presents a very different perspective on many things we know from novels. First of all, it is not an immigrant who comes to the US and has to adjust, but vice versa, an American boy, who even though he has a Persian mother is not speaking any Farsi, who discovers a country and its people of the Middle East. Khoram doesn’t play on clichés here, luckily, Darius does not come with too many ideas about his mother’s native country and enters it rather open-mindedly. Additionally, Darius is at the age where he could have his first girl-friend, but it is not a girl he meets and falls for, but a boy with whom he makes friends. And thirdly, the novel does not present a happy-end where everything is cured and everyone is fine. Darius still suffers from depression and has to fight for every little step in his life. Just travelling to Iran and back does not change everything.

I really enjoyed reading to book. Most of all because it gave a lot of interesting insight in the life in Iran, but also because it doesn’t pretend that life is easy and that everything can be fixed. None of the characters is perfect, they all make mistakes and they all feel awkward at times. In this respect, it is very authentic and convincing. I think it is great for teenagers who struggle with fitting in since the main message for me was that we all at times feel like outsiders and it is absolutely ok, not to fit in and to feel sad at times.