Alyssa Sheinmel – What Kind of Girl

alyssa-sheinmel-what-kind-of-girl
Alyssa Sheinmel – What Kind of Girl

He hit her. Again. But this time, she cannot hide it under her clothes, her eye is visible to everybody in school and therefore Maya goes forward to their principal and tells her what Mike Parker, everybody’s darling and sports superstar, has done. Even though it is quite obvious and Maya has no reason to lie, questions like “maybe she provoked him?” and “maybe it was just an accident?” blame her for being the victim. The school is divided and so are the friends. Yet, not only Maya goes through a hard time, her formerly best friend Juniper does so, too, apart from feeling ashamed for not having been the friend Maya would have needed, her break-up with Tess combined with her psychological struggles already keep her mind busy. But this is something that needs action and that’s what Juniper’s parents educated her for: standing up for those who are in need.

I was immediately hooked by Alyssa Sheinmel’s novel, she brilliantly captivates Maya’s thoughts which oscillate between not wanting to be the victim but speaking out for her rights and being strong on the one hand, and feeling insecure about what happened, questioning herself, her own contribution to bringing her boyfriend so far as to hit her again and again on the other. She is young and even though she knows exactly what is right and what is wrong, emotions are not that easy and rarely only black and white.

Providing different perspectives also adds to underline the complexity of a topic which seems so easy to make an opinion about. At first, however, I was a bit confused by the headlines of the chapters which introduce the respective character talking, I first assumed that wide range of girls would be presented until I realised that it is just the two of them perceiving themselves in different roles depending on their mood.

Unfortunately, after a great start, the novel lost focus a bit for my liking. Of course, it is only natural that all teenagers have their own struggles, that none of them really lives a carefree life where all is perfect. Yet, it was a bit too much here: Maya and the violence, Juniper cutting herself and suffering from OCD, drugs abuse – adding too many big topics quite naturally lead to a very shallow and superficial treatment of all of them. Not only did the author miss the chance to provide some insight in the psychological background of each, she treats them like some small bruise that can easily be overcome by just being friends again with your BFF. Simply focussing on Maya and Juniper also did not seize the extent of such an accusation and what it really does to a small community like a school.

Nevertheless, a great read that I enjoyed and which provides some food for thought.

Angie Cruz – Dominicana

angie-cruz-dominicana
Angie Cruz – Dominicana

Ana has always been an extraordinarily pretty child, so when she becomes a teenager, her parents see this as a chance to escape their poor situation. At the age of fifteen, she is married to one of the Ruiz brothers, a family making a fortune in the US which allows them to control more and more land in the Dominican Republic. Ana has to follow her new husband to New York where she lives in a poor, rundown apartment and the promises of being able to go to school are soon forgotten. She has to serve Juan and his brothers and if she doesn’t obey or dares to speak up, he shows her with brutal force who has the say in their home. She becomes more and more desperate and finally develops a plan to flee, but she underestimates her new family.

Angie Cruz’s novel is set in the 1960s, but her protagonist’s fate could be as real in 2020. Young and naive girls fall prey to seducing men or are forced by their parents to leave their home country for a supposedly better life abroad where they, with the status as an illegal immigrant, hardly have a chance to escape their domestic situation which is often marked by poverty, oppression and being exposed to violence of all kinds by their domineering husbands. Dependence due to lack of language knowledge often combined with isolation makes them sooner or later give up all opposition and succumbing to the life they are forced to live.

It is easy to sympathise with Ana; at the beginning, she is a lively girl with dreams and vivid emotions even though she has also experienced her parents’ strict and at times brutal education. She is quite clever, nevertheless, the new life in New York overburdens her and she needs some time to accommodate and develop coping strategies. However, then, she becomes the independent thinker I had hoped for, but never egoistically does she only think about herself, she also reflects what any step could mean for her family at home whose situation with the political turmoil of 1965 worsens dramatically.

A wonderful novel about emancipation and a strong-willed young woman which allows a glance behind normally closed doors.

Jo Spain – Six Wicked Reasons

jo-spain-six-wicked-reasons
Jo Spain – Six Wicked Reasons

When the long lost son returns after ten years without a word, Frazer Lattimer calls his six children for a family reunion. It is only reluctantly that they return to the family villa in Spanish Cove, all of them had a good reason for leaving. Yet, Adam‘s unexpected knock on the door when they all thought him dead makes them change their mind. However, from the very first minute, underlying suspicions and open hatred dominate the atmosphere and their anger escalates on a boat trip when one of them kills their father. None of them is innocent, but who really hated the old man that much that he or she could kill him?

Jo Spain‘s mystery is a highly suspenseful murder investigation combined with the psychological analysis of a family which is dominated by secrets and lies. Six children with six different fates, a controlling father and a mother who died from the grief over her lost son – there is a lot to discover under the surface of the successful and rich Lattimer clan.

I highly adored how Jo Spain slowly unfolds the secrets around each of the now grown up children. Starting with the murder of their old father, you are highly alert when hearing all their different stories, looking for motives that could lead them so far. The author created individuals who all have their flaws and weaknesses that they try to hide but which ultimately have to come out, so in every new chapter, you have something totally unexpected come to the light adding to the picture of this young and pitiable generation.

Suspense rises slowly the better you get to know the family members and yet, the conspiracy and murder nevertheless came as a surprise to me since it was brilliantly set up and convincingly motivated. A great read in every respect.

Anna-Lou Weatherley – The Stranger’s Wife

anna-lou-weatherley-the-strangers-wife
Anna-Lou Weatherley – The Stranger’s Wife

You should never underestimate a woman’s revenge. When her nanny and friend vanishes, Beth decides that – since it all will finally come out anyhow – she can also make the first step herself: she tells her husband Evan that she’s going to leave him for her affair Nick. Evan seems to accept this calmly, they have lived next to each other but hardly with each other for years now, calling this a marriage was embellishing the situation. But he warns his wife that she will be sorry for this step. At that moment, Beth doesn’t have a clue what he means, how powerful her husband actually is and first of all, WHO she has been married to all these years. With her decision to leave him, she has triggered a ball that will send her directly into hell. But Beth is a fighter, much more a fighter than Evan could ever imagine.

Anna-Lou Weatherley’s novel really deserves the title “page-turner”. From the first chapter when the nanny goes missing to the very end: it is a rollercoaster ride of emotional ups and downs that fascinatingly and almost addictively keeps you reading on. The author has created enemies who fight on a very high level – a wonderful read that I enjoyed throughout.

“The Stranger’s Wife” is a psychological thriller combined with some serious issues that make you ponder quite some time after having finished reading it. I totally adored the idea of a woman fighting back, not accepting fate and a bullying husband who knows all the important people and thinks that life runs according to his personal laws. Having his evil character slowly unfold was exciting and frightening at the same time since you always wonder how well you actually know the people around you and how much and what they might hide. Yet, the story also showed that marital abuse and physical as well as psychological violence happens in all social classes, the rich can be affected in the same way as the poor, money does not make a difference when it comes to aggressions.

A marvellous plot with interesting and multifaceted characters, thus I can easily pardon the fact that it needed a kind of coincidence to make everything fall into place. The novel literally absorbed me and I hardly could put it down.

Tanen Jones – The Better Liar

tanen-jones-the-better-liar
Tanen Jones – The Better Liar

When her father dies, he leaves a wish in his will that Leslie Flores hasn’t expected: she will only inherit the money if her sister Robin also signs the papers. So she sets out for Las Vegas where Robin is supposed to live. They haven’t talked for a decade and Leslie is all but looking forward to do so now. But when she finally arrives at her sister’s apartment, she finds her dead and apparently, Robin has lived there under a false name. When Leslie makes the acquaintance of young charismatic Mary who dreams of a career as an actress, an idea forms in her head: why not take the woman with her back to Albuquerque and have her play Robin’s role for a couple of days? Nobody has seen her sister for ten years and Mary has some clear resemblance to Robin, so why should anybody become suspicious? It’s is a win-win situation, Mary could take her share of the money and make her start in Hollywood and Leslie would get her part of her father’s inheritance. Mary agrees but soon she realises that the respectable wife and mother also has some secrets she hides.

Tanen Jones’s “The Better Liar” is a highly surprising psychological novel with many unexpected twists and turns. The two protagonists develop from average women into enemies who fight their war on a very high emotional and psychological level. The story is told alternately from their different points of you, thus the reader is always aware of their respective plots and ahead of each character – at least you believe you are, but at certain point you also have to recognise that there are some highly relevant pieces of information they did not reveal to you and this makes things appear in a totally different light.

The novel starts at a rather slow pace with Leslie looking out for her sister and then finding her dead and seeing her father’s money in jeopardy. You wonder why she would take a stranger to her house, especially a house with a very young kid – this seems to be too dangerous, just for the money? Why does she need it, seemingly, she and her husband lead quite a good life. This and the question if she really succeeds with presenting a stranger as her sister seem to be the mystery of the novel, yet, with Mary’s arrival in Albuquerque, the real story slowly unfolds and the plot takes up pace and becomes much more dynamic and gripping.

Tanen Jones wonderfully leads the reader into wrong directions over and over again which I liked a lot. I totally adored how the two women play with each other and was eagerly awaiting the end to see who would finally win their very special game. Yet, some twists lacked a bit plausibility, but from a psychological point of view, a great read.

Garth Greenwell – Cleanness

garth-greenwell-cleanness
Garth Greenwell – Cleanness

An American teacher comes to Sofia, Bulgaria, to teach his mother tongue to students who hope to find a better life abroad with a good knowledge of the world language. While the work is satisfying, his love life has become a lot more complicated since homosexuality is not something that is openly shown in the eastern European country. In a Portuguese exchange student, he finds his love, but things are complicated with the countries’ economies struggling and offering not much to foreigners.

The narrator finds himself in a surrounding which differs a lot from his life before, he roams the streets of Sofia discovering and re-discovering old and mysterious places, being lost physically and emotionally. The political and economic situation aren’t easy either which makes it hard for him to fully enjoy his time in this country of wild nature and rich history.

Greenwell definitely has an eye for the details, e.g. the wind playing outside or hitting the windows and smoothly running over his characters’ backs and brilliantly captures his protagonist’s emotional state. Even though the chapters are often like independent episodes, together they form a complete picture. Just like them, all the narrator experiences are pieces of a mosaic that are unique when look at closely, but you have to take a step back to get the full picture.

Some very interesting observations put in a beautiful language, yet, the mass of explicit scenes annoyed me a bit, a lot of it could have been left to the readers’ imagination.

J.T. Ellison – Good Girls Lie

jt-ellison-good-girls-lie
J.T. Ellison – Good Girls Lie

The Goode School will be the perfect place to leave her old life behind. Ash Carlisle has just lost both her parents and is now happy to flee to Marchburg, Virginia, to concentrate on school and forget what happened in Oxford. However, her fellow schoolmates do not like secrets and eye her suspiciously, it is obvious that the newcomer has some interesting things to tell them and this exclusive all-girls school has its own rules that have to be followed. When Ash is exposed and her roommate found dead, her carefully set up facade is threatened to crumble and reveal the real person she so hard tried to hide.

J.T. Ellison has chosen the perfect setting for a mysterious story where everybody has some well-hidden secrets: the old buildings of the élite private school provide the characters with tunnels and undisclosed rooms, a history of secret societies with old passed down hazings and rules that bind the girls, rumours about suspicious deaths and a headmistress with her very own agenda. It all adds up to a thrilling atmosphere where the protagonist herself offers only shady bits and pieces of her own story so that you are well alert not to trust any of them.

I really adored J.T. Ellison’s style of writing, the author brilliantly creates suspense by only hinting at what happened back in England and by insinuating that there is much more to know about Ash. It only takes a couple of pages to dive into the atmosphere of this elite school and its very own rules that seem to have a long history and make the girls bond immediately.

Admittedly, there were some aspects I found not totally convincing, e.g. 16-year-olds acting and plotting like adults, the detective providing the girls with core information about one of the deceased, another detective investigating such a delicate case even though she has been suspended or the headmistress’s behaviour which equals much more the girls’ than would be considered adequate for her position. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the read and the mystery surrounding the characters.

Nalini Singh – A Madness of Sunshine

nalini-singh-a-madness-of-sunshine
Nalini Singh – A Madness of Sunshine

After the death of her husband and a decade abroad, Anahera returns to Golden Cove, a small town on the west coast of New Zealand. Not much has changed there and vivid memories return to the young woman who was eager to escape the poor and violent home she grew up in. It is only days she is there when the beaming young Miriama does not return from running. The whole town is on their feet to search for the girl with the promising future that everybody loves. Police detective Will, an outsider to the Maori community, coordinates the search and quickly develops the greatest fears. In a town where domestic violence is a normal part of everyday life and where common secrets tend to be buried deep, it is not easy to investigate. When the inhabitants recollect a series of hikers missing over only a couple of weeks, they start to fear that a serial killer might be among them who now has started to go for women again.

Nalini Sing’s mystery thriller is a suspenseful story which lives from the atmosphere the author brilliantly creates. You arrive together with Anahera in the small town and feel like an outsider; she had been gone for so long that she is not a part of their life anymore, but the longer you stay there, the more you dive into the culture and get a feeling of the dynamics that drive a close community which is not very welcoming to people not belonging to them. Apart from the plot around the missing women, I found the description of nature, its forces and the old culture which lives in harmony with it the most interesting.

Anahera and Will first seem to be two opposing poles in the story, on the one hand, the woman who is a natural part of Golden Cove and who shares memories with everybody and knows to read and respect the nature she lives in. On the other hand, the police detective who is a double outsider due to his job people are highly suspicious of and since he is not of Maori descent. What they share are secrets they try to hide from the community and which quickly make them bond.

The case of Miriama starts with big questions marks, Nalini Sing has well dosed the information you get about the girls, but soon you see the discrepancy between the first picture of the girl and her other side which obviously was well-hidden. The more secrets are revealed the more suspense rises captivating the reader. “A Madness of Sunshine” is a slow burn that does not only rely on the mystery part but also offers a lot in psychological respects with interesting characters in a fascinating setting.

Olen Steinhauer – The Last Tourist

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Olen Steinhauer – The Last Tourist

When CIA analyst Abdul Ghali is sent to Africa due to his family background and language knowledge, he expects a lot but surely not what his trip will turn into. He quickly finds Milo Weaver who runs the so-called “Library”, an organisation with its very own agenda between governments, international conglomerates and high ideals. A number of suspicious murders of members of the “Library” have triggered questions at home and it does not take too long for Ghali to become a target himself. He can flee with Weaver who then reveals what has been going on in the last couple of months: an incredible international conspiracy.

The final part of the Milo Weaver series is a highly complex spy novel linking political and economic interests with current events. There are not many global stakeholders missing and Olen Steinhauer‘s concept will be hard to surpass since it combines fast-paced suspense and authenticity concerning international politics and economics.

For me personally, the sheer number of characters and their individual agenda was a bit too much in order to simply enjoy the novel. I had to re-read several parts and take notes not to get lost. On the one hand, I enjoy demanding plots, on the other hand, this results also in demanding a bit less enjoyable reads. It definitely is also advisable to read the other novels of the “Tourism” series. The atmosphere created is convincing even so it was at times a bit over the top. All in all, a demanding espionage novel which takes some time to digest.

Alison James – The Man She Married

alison-james-the-man-she-married
Alison James – The Man She Married

It is a pure coincidence that Alice makes the acquaintance of Dominic Gill. After her former fiancé had cancelled their wedding only days before it was supposed to take place, she didn’t really expect to meet anybody else to fall for. Dominic seems to be totally crazy asking her to marry him only weeks after they got to know each other, but why wait any longer if you feel it’s the right thing to do? Yet, there are some things they should have discussed before making the big step, e.g. do they want to have a baby, and it would have made sense to meet his mother and brother, but Alice does not worry too much about these things. Then one evening the police knock at her door and inform her about her husband’s death. When she comes to identify him, Dom’s brother is there insisting that the dead body does not belong to Dominic Gill. So who was Alice married to?

“The Man She Married” is a fast-paced thriller that shows how easily even intelligent and self-confident people may fall prey to fraudsters. As a reader, you are well aware of what is going on and at times, I got really annoyed with Alice’s mindlessness and naiveté, yet, I cannot say for sure that blinded by love I would assess Dom’s behaviour differently. With the main character’s sudden death, I wondered what else there was to come, but unexpectedly, Alison James made the hunt for Dominic’s real past as interesting as his deception of Alice.

Even though I have some doubts if it really is that easy to get fake identities or to take over somebody else’s life and to manage to keep up the facade of two lives simultaneously, I found it a gripping and spell-binding read.