Tammy Cohen – The Wedding Party

Tammy Cohen – The Wedding Party

All her life Lucy has dreamt of the perfect wedding. It took her 18 months to plan everything to detail so that her nuptials to Jason would be the most spectacular moment. The wedding party arrives on the beautiful Greek island of Kefalonia already a couple of days prior to enjoy themselves and to prepare for the big day. Yet, from the start, things do not run as smoothly as expected. Lucy’s sister Jess appears with a stranger in tow, her parents behave strangely and her wedding planner Nina is asking repeatedly for the pay of the last bill which Lucy simply couldn’t settle as she has been overspending and is totally broke. It is only her best friend Shelly who supports her unconditionally. But this is only the beginning, with the strange woman Vivian, a doomy omen seems to have arrived at their luxurious hotel threatening not only to destroy the best day of her life but her whole family.

I have been a huge fan of Tammy Cohen for years and thus was looking forward to reading her latest novel. Again, she did not disappoint me but created a gripping plot which had me struggle to put the book down once I had started. Brilliantly crafted, suspense is high from the beginning as you know that something absolutely terrible is going to happen, yet, the big question is: what?

Lucy just wants her wedding to be perfect, not necessarily for herself, but much more for her Instagram followers and colleagues. She seems to be doing everything right except for spending money she does not have and not telling her husband-to-be about it. Her sister, on the contrary, is more on the rebel side of life not caring too much about outer appearances and following her own ideals. That she might spoil her sister’s wedding by bringing a total stranger does not really occur to her, it is just her way of having a bit of fun. Their parents, too, seem to have fallen apart, even though the girls do not have a clue why this might be. Just for the sake of the wedding, they all try at least to play their assigned role for a couple of days longer.

Even though it could be a carefree week under the sun, smaller and bigger secrets surface one after the other leading to an increasingly dense atmosphere among the party and opening up all doors for speculation about what might happen. From the police interviews interjected, you can only guess so much, but this is this theorising that makes reading the novel great fun.

Wonderfully depicted characters who all have their flaws and shortcomings mixed with a lot of drama and suspense – a perfect summer read.

Graham Moore – The Holdout

Graham Moore – The Holdout

A reunion they have never really wanted since all of them only wanted to forget what happened ten years ago. When lawyer Maya Seale is first approached by Rick, she refuses, but her boss convinces her to take part. They were the jury on the most popular case of the time: 15-year-old Jessica had vanished and was supposedly murdered by her teacher Bobby Nock with whom she obviously had had an affair. Even though the body had never been found, the whole country was convinced that the black man had killed the daughter of a rich Californian real estate mogul. However, the jurors followed Maya’s arguing in finding Bobby not guilty. It took Rick, one of the jurors, a decade of his life to investigate privately and now, he has come up with new evidence he wants his co-jurors and the whole world to see. They return to the hotel where they were kept away from the public for months, but then, Rick is found dead – in Maya’s room. All is just too obvious: the one person who is responsible for the killer of a young girl running free now wants to protect herself by keeping the evidence secret. Thus, consequently, Maya is arrested.

The reader follows Maya Seale in her quest to prove her innocence. You know from the beginning that she is not a reckless killer and that she’s got nothing to hide, but much more interestingly than this already answered question is the one about the legal system: Maya’s chances of being acquitted from murder rise tremendously if she pleads guilty of manslaughter – there does not seem to be a chance of just telling the truth and it simply being acknowledged. So the interesting question actually is: how does the truth have to be framed, or to put it more explicitly: manipulated, to get the result you want?

Graham Moore’s “The Holdout” is a real page-turner. Once you have started, you cannot simply put the novel aside. It is fascinating to see how the law works, to follow the arguing of the lawyers and their weighing the different versions of truth. I also liked how the author created a jury of very peculiar individuals who all have their small secrets they want to hide. Yet, ultimately, they all come out, some with more, others with less consequences. The big mystery looming over the whole story is who killed Jessica Silver and why. This is very cleverly solved but also challenges the reader’s moral value system. At the end of the day, life is complicated and, at times, you have to weigh different perspectives against each other and you may come to the conclusion that one version of truth might be better than another.

A gripping legal thriller full of suspense and a lot of food for thought.

Sergei Lebedev – Untraceable

Sergei Lebedev – Untraceable

For many years, Kalitin has lived alone on the hill, in the house at the end of the road, isolated from his neighbours. He kept for himself, guarded the secrets of his former life, knowing that one day, they would catch up with him. Now, with the cancer in his body, there is not much time left anyway. His enemies are already on their way, two men, the ordinary set-up, to find and kill him. Agents who turn into angels of death because Kalitin not only knows too much, but because he was the man to develop Neophyte, a highly lethal substance which leaves no trace when applied, perfect to get rid of obnoxious people who know too much or who have fled the secure boundaries of their former home country. Such a behaviour against the code of honour is something Shershnev cannot accept. He has always been hard, hard against himself, hard against his son, hard against everybody. Two men who after a long life in the service of a country which does not exist anymore, have to fight their last battle.

“Kalitin knew that his inventions did not simply create specific weapons of death poured into ampoules. He also produced fear.”

Sergei Lebedev’s novel tells the story of two men who have seen everything in life and for whom life and death have been just states which a person can be in but nothing spiritual. Now, close to the end of their lives, they not only look back but also start to question what they have seen and done. “Untraceable” also tells the story of a lethal weapon we have heard of in the news more than once in the last couple of years. The time of shooting double agents, dissidents, whistle blowers and the like are gone, the strategies and means have become much more sophisticated, but one thing has remained the same: the human factor.

“In that world, most people did not yet see the dark side of science, its evil twin.”

For Kalitin, science, the discoveries and expansion of his knowledge about how nature works have always been paramount. However, he has come to understand that the leaders of the URRS for whom he worked had a different understanding and that, first and foremost, the individual scientist wasn’t worth much. He was only an obedient soldier on duty for the state. Surely, they gave him the opportunity to work in his lab, but at the end of his life, he also sees the price this came with and he can see the bigger picture. He wasn’t interested in politics, he has always seen himself just as a scientist, but eventually, he has to acknowledge that it isn’t so simple and that he cannot put the blame only on the others.

Shershnev, too, ruminates about his life which he has fully dedicated to the long gone state. He is one of the last still on duty who have lived in the USSR and who still, after all those decades, adheres to the old values. He has to admit having made mistakes. Big mistakes which haunt him now. Yet, he follows the assigned mission stubbornly, too weak to make a courageous decision himself.

The beginning was a bit slow, I didn’t get the connection between the different characters and chapter immediately. However, as soon as the main conflict was laid out, the novel was not only suspenseful but also morally challenging since it raises the big issue of science and the responsibility of the scientists. Additionally, it is no question that the former USSR was a rogue regime, yet, no system is flawless and to what extent each civil servant, soldier or simple citizen complies with given values and rules has to be answered individually.

A thrilling political thriller which also offers a lot of food for thought.

Jane Harper – The Survivors

Jane Harper – The Survivors

It’s been twelve years since that one day which changed Kieran’s life. Now, with his wife Mia and their three-month-old daughter Audrey, they come back to Evelyn Bay to visit his parents. His father’s dementia has been deteriorating more quickly recently and thus they are moving house and sorting out stuff. Only shortly after they have arrived do they also meet their old friends: Olivia and Ash, now a couple, then also victims of that fierce storm which not only took Kieran’s brother’s life but also Olivia’s sister. And they meet Sean and his nephew Liam who lost his father and who still holds Kieran responsible for that. When the young waitress Bronte is found murdered on the beach, the memories of that unforgettable day resurface and all the emotions, too. Will twelve years after the disaster, which brought so much suffering and pain, the same happen again to that small community?

I liked Janes Harper’s novels “The Dry” and “Lost Man” since she is brilliant at catching the atmosphere and transferring this in her novels. “The Survivors”, too, has a special ambiance which defines the novel. The small circle of characters who all share the memories of that disastrous day and who all, in their own way, still can feel the pain that is connected to the storm and its outcome. Thus, the murder case at hand quickly becomes much less interesting than the question if people are hiding something, if the narrative of the events has to be re-written.

At first, I was misled by the title which I thought referred to the people who had survived the aforementioned storm, however, it is something completely different yet decisive for the plot. Even though the investigation on Bronte’s murderer seems not really to advance, the novel gets increasingly thrilling with more aspects of the storm day being evoked. Many characters act highly suspiciously which I totally adored since it made me spin one theory after another about the events. In the end, Harper provides a credible solution and no questions remains unanswered.

It is the landscape and the people formed by it who move at their own pace and who make “The Survivors” a wonderful read. It is a novel about how you can survive when others have died and especially how you can live with the guilt of being a survivor. For some however, being alive does not mean having survived, it is a daily fight against death. For me, the strongest novel by the author so far.

Claire McGowan – The Push

Claire McGowan – The Push

What do good parents do before the baby arrives? They prepare. And what could be better than a prenatal baby group? This is how six very different couples meet. Monica and Ed are already a bit older, but obviously they have everything under control and quickly take over the lead. Kelly is by far the youngest, insecure while her boyfriend and the baby’s father, Ryan, is mainly absent. Anita and Jeremy cannot have a baby but have planned an adoption, whereas Hazel and Cathy opted for a donor. Aisha and Rahul keep mainly to themselves while Jax feels judged since she is more than ten years the senior of her partner Aaron. Nina is leading the group and preparing the future parents for the upcoming events. Yet, what they a not prepared for is a fatality at their baby welcoming barbecue.

I have been a huge fan of Claire McGowan’s novels for quite some time and also her latest mystery did not disappoint me. A very diverse set of characters who all have their secrets they try to hide from the others but who, ultimately, have to give up and face reality. Narrated alternatingly between the time of the prenatal course and the eventful barbecue, we get to know the characters at two different points of time which is especially interesting because so much happens in between and, as a reader, you have to put together the single bits and pieces. Plus, it takes some time just to figure out what exactly happened during the barbecue and who the victim actually is.

What I admired most was how the characters were created and how each becomes a lively and authentic individual. Even though the number is quite high, they all get some specific traits and secrets which make them not only interesting but add to the overall suspense. There is a murder case but much more interestingly is to figure out the characters‘ little white or big fat lies.

At the same time, the author shows all the fears and insecurities which come with becoming a parent for the first time. A constant feeling of not being good enough and not caring enough accompanies the future mothers. The group pressure in the supposedly help group also plays an important role, some just seem to always be at the head of the class while others always fail. Much more than supportive, the group becomes highly competitive.

I thoroughly enjoyed the read, a perfect page-turner for me which brilliantly combines suspense with sarcastic humour and also serious moments.

Lawrence Osborne – The Glass Kingdom

Lawrence Osborne – The Glass Kingdom

What could be a good place to hide for some time? Bangkok it is Sarah resolves after she has stolen $200.000 from her former employer in New York. In the anonymous building “The Kingdom” she hopes to spend some weeks alone to have the situation cool down. Soon, she gets to know some other tenants, Mali, a half-Thai girl whom Sarah can never fully grasp. And there is the Chilean Ximena, a chef who dreams of her own restaurant whereas Natalie lives the life of a rich wife and sees Bangkok only as a short stop before moving to a better place. Even though most of the people keep to themselves, secrets move fast within the walls of the glass skyscraper and it does not take too long for Sarah to rouse her neighbours’ suspicions and interest.

I have been a huge fan of Lawrence Osborne’s novels for some years. Not only do his settings vary enormously – Morocco, Greece, Mexico, now Thailand – but he also creates highly interesting characters whom he confronts with challenging situations they, on the one hand, provoked themselves but which, on the other, unexpectedly get highly complicated without an actual good way out. Thus, he brings out the worst of human nature.

At first, Sarah seems a bit lost and you feel sympathy for her, but just until you learn which reckless behaviour brought her to the strange house. Yet, only for a short time do those negative feelings towards the protagonist linger since you soon realise that she is too naive and trusting for the world she entered. All other characters behave highly suspiciously and it is obvious that the young American will easily fall prey to them even though they are all quite diverse and aim at different things, whom their victim will be is more than obvious.

Just as the outer world is shaken by a political turmoil, also the inner world of The Kingdom seems to crumble. Decision have to be made and options have to be weighed quickly. Cleverly, Osborne builds increasing suspense and shows those sides of human character you never wanted to see. Threats appear from all corners, even the most unexpected, all heading to a highly tragic end.

Elaine Feeney – As You Were

elaine feeney as you were
Elaine Feeney – As You Were

Sinéad Hynes is in hospital, her family believes it is nothing serious, maybe the property developer just worked too much. But she knows better and has kept it a secret for quite some time: the cancer is terminal and now it is too late for a treatment.  Suffering severely, she shares the ward with Margaret Rose who welcomes all her family daily and thus creates an almost intolerable fuss. There is also Jane who is often confused, but at times, she remembers, e.g. that she had known the mother of another patient who shares the ward. Strangers become intimate, enclosed in such a tight environment and thus, they necessarily take part of the others’ fate and get to know their secrets.

Elaine Feeney’s debut is like a theatre play: a limited place with a limited number of characters who cannot escape the narrowness of the situation they are in and who are forced into an involuntary community where they have to support each other and also, reluctantly, share intimate details of their lives. At times funny, at others very melancholy, and always showing characters exposed to this small world without any protection where also no sensitive politeness is required anymore.

What troubled me most was to which extent I could identify with Sinéad and her situation. Luckily, I have never been close to such extreme circumstances but I can completely understand why she keeps her secret from her family and prefers to consult Google and tell it to a magpie instead of seeking help and compassion from her beloved ones. As readers, we follow her thoughts and only get her point of view of the events in the ward which is limited and biased, of course, but also reveals the discrepancy between what we see and understand what really goes on behind the facade of a person.

The plot also touches a very serious topic in two very different ways: double standards and honesty. Sinéad is not really frank with her husband, they do have some topics they need to talk about and which they obviously have avoided for years. Yet, for her, it is difficult to believe that somebody could just love her unconditionally and whom she can tell anything. On the other hand, the Irish catholic church’s handling with pregnant unmarried women becomes a topic – and institution which calls itself caring and welcoming everybody unconditionally played a major role in the destruction of lives.

Surely, “As You Were” is not the light-hearted summer beach read, but a through-provoking insight in a character’s thinking and struggles which touched me deeply.

Clarissa Goenawan – The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida

clarissa goenawan the perfect world of miwako sumida
Clarissa Goenawan – The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida

When his friends ask him out for a date to have equal numbers of boys and girls, Ryusei is not too keen. But then he meets Miwako and immediately falls for the peculiar girl who is not stunningly attractive and even overtly harsh. They soon find out that they actually have a lot in common, they spend more and more time together and Miwako befriends Ryusei’s older sister Fumi-nee. Even though they become inseparable, they are not a couple, there is something holding Miwako back from really getting attached to the student who adores her. The secret lies in her past but she isn’t ready to tell it. Yet, the moment of confession never comes, she commits suicide before she can explain herself and thus leaves Ryusei and her friends behind wondering what lead her to this drastic step.

“The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida” is a complex study of characters who carry secrets they never want to come out, but which have a deep impact on their personality and behaviour. The main plot centres around the question what lead Miwako to this drastic decision of ending her life. Ryusei, their common friend Chie and also Fumi-nee all have some bits and pieces of knowledge of her, but they cannot put them together to understand the girl. All their perspectives are presented only for the reader to get the whole picture of a deeply disturbed and suffering character.

It is not only Miwako who is interesting in her way of coping with grief and life’s strokes of fate. Ryusei and his sister became orphans at a young age leaving the older girl in charge of her brother and renouncing her own dreams to take care of him. However, the fact that she herself struggled with life and the question of her identity made Miwako open up to her and revealing her secret because she sensed that both their stories were none to be told easily.

Even though a lot of very dire topics are addressed and all the characters have to endure much from the world around them, it is all but a depressing read. For quite some time, they try to cope with their respective situation alone, but just by opening their eyes and having a bit of trust, they could see that there are people around them who are sensitive and emphatic.

Just as the characters, the novel also takes some time to fully unfold and display its strength.

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.

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.