Daisy Johnson – Sisters

Daisy Johnson – Sisters

Two sisters, September and July, just 10 months apart in age but sticking together like twins, even more, just as if they were only one person. In Oxford, where they first lived with their mother, an author of children’s books featuring two girls just like her own daughters, they were always in trouble and didn’t make friends with the other kids. By moving to the old family house, their mother hopes things will get easier. However, the spooky surroundings with walls who could tell decades of dark stories, triggers something between the girls which makes their unhealthy bond even more dangerous for the younger and weaker of the two sisters.

Daisy Johnson portrays a sisterly connection which goes far beyond what is known to link siblings. The fact that the girls are born within only a couple of months makes them grow up and experience everything together. They are like one person separated incidentally, also their character seems to have split in the two: September the wild and furious one, July, in contrast, obedient and more thoughtful. Since she is younger, she easily gives in to her sister’s will and thus follows without ever challenging her.

The atmosphere is gloomy in every line. Right from the start, you sense that some catastrophe is looming and just waiting to present itself. Even though at times, the sisterly bond also seems to be protective, the negative impact is obvious. Their mother is detached, she suffers from a depression which makes it impossible for her to see what is coming, she senses that the relationship her daughters have formed in detrimental, even harmful for July, but she is unable to do something about it.

An intense and vivid narrative with quite some eerie notes.

Martin Edwards – Gallows Court

Martin Edwards – Gallows Court

Mehrere ungewöhnliche Todesfälle erschüttern das London des Jahres 1930. Ein Journalist wird angefahren und tödlich verletzt, ein angesehener Banker richtet sich selbst, nachdem sein Mord an einer jungen Frau scheinbar aufgedeckt wurde. Der aufstrebende Reporter Jacob Flint von „The Clarion“ ist nach anonymen Tipps wiederholt zur richtigen Zeit am richtigen Ort und kann darüber berichtet. Bald schon entdeckt er, dass diese und weitere mysteriöse Todesfälle mit der unnahbaren Miss Rachel Savernake zusammenzuhängen scheinen, jener Frau, die jüngst einen spektakulären Fall lösen konnte, an dem die Polizei sich die Zähne ausbiss. Flint ahnt nicht, dass er nur Mittel zum Zweck ist und ebenso schnell wieder geopfert werden soll, wie er die Chance zum großen Durchbruch bekommt. Denn die Fälle sind kein Zufall, sie haben eine Verbindung, die unter allen Umständen geheim bleiben soll, denn niemand darf wissen, was im Gallows Court vor sich geht.

Martin Edwards, seit 2015 Präsident des Detetction Club, jenes illustren Zirkels von Kriminalroman-Autoren des Golden Age of Crime Fiction, schreibt in guter Tradition seines Clubs. Teil 1 der Serie um Rachel Savernake ist eine komplizierte Geschichte um einen Geheimbund, die als unzählige lose Fäden beginnt und sich langsam zu einem Netz von Intrigen und allerlei Verbrechen zusammenwebt. Die Menge an Figuren auseinanderzuhalten und bei den mannigfaltigen Beziehungen nicht den Überblick zu verlieren, ist zugegebenermaßen nicht ganz einfach, aber es lohnt sich, denn am Ende liegt eine clever konstruierte Geschichte vor einem, deren Lösung herausfordert aber gleichermaßen unterhält.

Ganz in der Tradition von Autoren wie Agatha Christie oder Georges Simenon liegen auf dem Weg der Handlung zahlreiche Hinweise und Spuren, die man als Leser fleißig einsammelt und wie Puzzlestücke versucht zusammenzusetzen. Interessanterweise greifen jedoch naheliegende Annahmen – die Herren der besseren Gesellschaft sind böse, die Damen sind die bedauernswerten Opfer – schnell zu kurz und gerade der Kontrast von Gut und Böse wird immer wieder herausgefordert, denn so klar ist keineswegs, wer auf welcher Seite steht. Am Ende werden jedoch alle Unklarheiten restlos geklärt und der Fall sauber gelöst.

Ein traditioneller Krimi mit zahlreichen Toten jedoch ohne detaillierte Grausamkeiten, der vor allem mit der Figurenzeichnung punkten kann.

Rosie Price – What Red Was

Rosie Price – What Red Was

It is their first week at university when Max and Kate realise not only that they live on the same floor but that they are soul mates. They can hardly be separated anymore, they are friends, not lovers, but closer than you could ever be. They share the love for film and any secret. Even though their backgrounds couldn’t be more different, Kate from the countryside modestly raised by her mother whereas Max’ parents are successful and quite rich. Yet, one evening changes everything when Max’ cousin Lewis, who has eyed their friendship jealously for years, thinks he can take whatever he wants: Kate. The young woman falls into a deep hole. Afterwards, there is not much left of the creative and lively art student; suffering from a severe depression and increasingly self-harming herself, she does not find a way to confide in somebody. She has always been more insecure than others but now, she has lost her footing.

Rosie Price’s book starts out like a wonderful college novel. The immediate friendship between Kate and Max is mesmerising, it is really enchanting to see how two strangers can get along so well and form mutual trust without hesitation. But then the tide turns and so does the atmosphere. What I liked about it was the fact that the author does not use any direct brutal violence to describe what happens to Kate but focuses much more on the effect this traumatic experience has on her.

“And so instead she said nothing, hoping that if she chose not to voice whatever it was that lodged in her chest, somewhere between her lungs and her heart, it would diminish; that its toxicity might find its own means of excreting itself from her body”

The protagonist does not break down immediately, she keeps on going and to a certain extent is capable of deceiving the people around her and pretending everything is fine. I guess this is the trickiest part of such an experience that you cannot see what is going on inside somebody’s head and if you are not really closely observing, the actual emotional state might go unnoticed. A positive aspect, on the other hand, is that help comes from an unexpected person and that ultimately, Kate finds a way of opening up and talking to somebody about what is going on with her. In my opinion, the representation of Kate’s state of mind is quite accurate and also how she tries to hint at what happens but is not understood.

The story might trigger destructive memories in some readers, nevertheless I would definitely recommend reading the novel since it provides insight how a woman might become a victim in a supposedly safe environment and how these assaults might go unnoticed and the perpetrators get away with it.

JP Delaney – Playing Nice

jp delaney - playing nice
JP Delaney – Playing Nice

Theo’s birth is highly dramatic, much too early, the young boy has to be taken to intensive care while his mother Maddie is still weakened by the C-section. So, it’s Pete’s task to get familiar with all the machines and to take care of his little son. Despite the turbulent start, Theo develops much better than expected and Pete turns out to be the perfect father while Maddie struggles with her new role. Quite naturally, they decide to have Pete stay at home since his job is less well paid and he totally likes taking care of the boy. When one day Miles and his wife Lucy are in front of their door, they only have faint memories of the couple whose boy was born on the same day as Theo and who was also taken to an incubator. The reason for their visit will shake their lives: the boys were swapped and Theo actually is their biological son. What starts as a friendly encounter, since they all sit in the same boat, quickly turns into the most evil fight no parent would ever like to be in. And just like in war, Miles is willing to use any weapon available to get his boy.

A novel like a roller coaster ride, emotionally challenging and breath-taking, reading it caused me almost a night without sleep since I couldn’t put it away. It is a conflict which is unsolvable, yet, the way it all turns out is unbearable to read and makes you wonder the whole time: could this happen to me, too? What incriminating material would police find if they checked on my computer and mobile phone? And at the same time: this is so absolutely unfair, this cannot be true, but how often do you hear of those stories where institutions are simply wrong and easily fooled?

At the beginning, I was wondering if Maddie’s difficulties of bonding with her son would become the major focus of the novel, quite soon, this shifted when the core problem became known. You cannot say what to do in such a case and just like the protagonists, I would never have expected it all to turn out that way. It is sheer unbelievable how everything that happens is turned against Pete and Maddie, even the most harmless incidents become major reproaches and raise questions about their parenting. It isn’t illogical at all, that is the terrible realisation, from the characters’ point of view, they hardly have any other option than interpreting the signs in this way. It hurts reading it, it really hurts, first and foremost when you look at what the situation does to Pete and Maddie. I guess, at some point, I might have given up had I been in their shoes.

To call it a wonderful read would somehow be awkward, yet, it is a brilliantly crafted novel with a very interesting conflict and, above all, authentic and lively characters who could just be you or me. Even though it is fiction and as a thriller mainly aims at making you feel a cold shiver running down your spine, it is also a novel that makes you ponder a lot.

Heidi Perks – Three Perfect Liars

heidi perks three perfect liars
Heidi Perks – Three Perfect Liars

When Laura returns to her job after six month of maternity leave, she expects Mia, who substituted her in this time, to be gone. Yet, the young woman is still there, at Laura’s desk and with Laura’s most valuable customer and: she got a permanent contract. Laura is furious and soon convinced that there is something wrong with that seemingly sympathetic colleague who makes friends with everybody easily. The more Laura digs into it, the more paranoid she gets, neglecting her husband and young son, her mind only circulating around how to dethrone the enemy. Mia actually has something to hide and yes, there was a reason why she rushed to this rural area and wanted explicitly to work in this company. Janie, Laura and Mia’s boss Harry’s wife, on the contrary, is a full time mom and at the moment totally frustrated. It is not just that she has given up a splendid career, something is nagging on her and slowly destroying her marriage. When one evening, the offices burn down, all three of them seem to have had good reasons to destroy the company. But, did they also count on killing somebody inside the building?

Heidi Perks’s mystery is a marvellous story which hooked me immediately and keep me reading on as soon as I had started. Three female protagonists are very different from each other and hard to see through at the beginning. But the more you see them interact with each other, the more suspicious you get and while I was reading, I was constantly shifting sympathies since every piece of information added to the picture and slightly changed it.

At first, I felt compassionate for Laura. Coming back after months at home now struggling with her new role as mother and having a career at the same time. Her husband’s constant criticism – even though completely justified – and having somebody younger and attractive stealing her post while her boss lacked supporting her: I could easily understand why she felt like losing all confidence in herself and increasingly getting obsessed with Mia. I didn’t really like the later at first, mainly due to the fact that she was presented through Laura’s point of view, she seemed like an intruder with evil intentions. Yet, there was also another side which she kept from the office and which told an entirely different story. I didn’t know what to do with Janie, was it just lamenting at a very high level? Having a wonderful family and lots of money, what did she have to complain about? It was herself who suggested giving up her career. She was certainly the character least tangible of the three and her motives of ending her marriage remained quite blurry until the end.

A brilliantly crafted plot with a very female and perfidious fight between the three. There was also something really tragic about the story when the motives were finally revealed which kept me pondering about the fact that how easily you put together an allegedly coherent picture of a person or a situation while you might be totally wrong.

Gilly Macmillan – Die Nanny

gilly macmillan die nanny
Gilly Macmillan – Die Nanny

Nach dem plötzlichen Unfalltod ihres Mannes kehrt Jo mit ihrer Tochter Ruby zurück nach England. Eigentlich wollte sie nie mehr einen Fuß in ihr Elternhaus Lake Hall setzen, nur schlechte Erinnerungen hat sie an die kaltherzige Mutter und den ebenso wenig empathischen Vater. Nur ihre ehemalige Nanny, die hat sie geliebt, doch Hannah verschwand eines Tages plötzlich und die Eltern sagten ihr, ihr schlechtes Benehmen sei der Grund dafür. Das Verhältnis zwischen Jo und ihrer Mutter Virginia ist angespannt, die Dame der Oberschicht scheint an allem etwas zu kritisieren zu haben und pflegt einen Lebensstil, wie man ihn nur noch auch Fernsehserien wie Downton Abbey kennt. Beim Spielen entdecken Jo und Ruby zufällig einen Schädel im Teich des Anwesens, Virginia ist entsetzt, kommt jetzt etwas ans Licht, das sie seit vielen Jahrzehnten sicher im Wasser versteckt dachte? Jo hat einen bösen Verdacht und dieser befeuert ihr Misstrauen gegenüber der eigenen Mutter noch mehr. Doch dann steht eine unerwartete Besucherin vor der Tür.

Gilly Macmillans Roman merkt man an, dass die Autorin Kunst studiert hat, denn diese spielt eine wichtige Rolle in der Geschichte auf dem herrschaftlichen Landsitz. Dieser schafft auch die passende Atmosphäre für einen Kriminalfall, der mit erstaunlichen Wendungen aufwartet. Das große alte Haus mit seinen vielen Zimmern und geheimen Gängen bietet die passende Kulisse für ein Familiendrama, in dem der äußerliche Schein wichtiger zu sein scheint, als echte Emotionen und Zuneigung, wo angemessenes Verhalten – gemessen an einer seit Jahrhunderten tradierten Etikette – über echtem Empfinden steht und somit die Figuren keine Bindung eingehen und schon gar kein Vertrauen zueinander aufbauen kann. Darin liegt der größte Reiz: keine der drei Frauen kann den anderen trauen und auch als Leser weiß man nicht, welcher Perspektive man folgen soll.

Zugegebenermaßen sind alle drei gleichermaßen unsympathisch. Virginia als grantige alte Hausdame, die auf den Pöbel herabschaut und dies auch offen zeigt; Jo, die ziemlich naiv nach dem Tod ihres Mannes hilf- und mittellos dasteht und ganz offenkundig mit eigenständiger Lebensführung und Kindererziehung maßlos überfordert ist und sich in ihrer grenzenlosen Vertrauensseligkeit wirklich jeden Bären an die Backe binden lässt; und zuletzt die Nanny Hannah, die lange in ihrer Motivation mysteriös bleibt. Unausgesprochene Vorbehalte, Erinnerungen, die mal richtig, bisweilen aber auch falsch sind, und ein grundlegendes Misstrauen befeuern den subtilen Kampf – ja, worum eigentlich? Auch das wird erst nach und nach klar und ist dann doch ganz anders als man vermutet hätte.

Ein clever konstruierter Plot, der geschickt mit Sein und Schein spielt. Ein paar Brüche in der Figurenzeichnung lassen diese für mich nicht ganz authentisch wirken, die unerwarteten Wendungen machen dies aber locker wieder wett.

Ein herzlicher Dank geht an das Bloggerportal für das Rezensionsexemplar. Mehr Informationen zu Autorin und Buch finden sich auf der Internetseite der Verlagsgruppe Random House.

Jo Walton – Among Others

jo walton among others
Jo Walton – Among Others

Nachdem ihr Großvater, bei dem sie zuletzt lebte, einen Schlaganfall hatte, wird die 15-jährige Morganna, genannt Mori, zu ihrem Vater Daniel geschickt, den sie bis dato gar nicht kannte. Er und seine drei Halbschwestern entscheiden schnell, dass das Mädchen auf das Internat geschickt werden soll, das auch schon die Schwestern besucht hatten. Dort hält sie in einem Tagebuch ihre Erlebnisse fest. Sie ist anders als die Töchter reicher Eltern, hatte sie doch bis dato im ländlichen Wales gelebt, auch ihre Liebe zu Büchern, insbesondere Science-Fiction Romanen, kann sie mit niemandem teilen. Ebenso wenig die Tatsache, dass Magie einen wichtigen Platz in ihrem Leben einnimmt, die war es nämlich, die sie vor der bösen Mutter gerettet hat und was zu dem Unfall führte, bei dem ihre Zwillingsschwester Morwenna, ebenfalls Mori genannt, ums Leben kam und sie selbst an Hüfte und Bein schwer verletzt wurde. Mori lebt in ihrer eigenen Welt und der der Bücher, die sie in die Schulbibliothek, aber auch jene des kleinen Örtchens führen und unerwartet doch noch Seelenverwandte finden lassen.

Jo Waltons Roman, deutscher Titel: „In einer anderen Welt“, gewannt 2012 den Nebula Award, den Hugo Award sowie den British Fantasy Award als bestes Buch des Jahres. Für mich persönlich eine etwas irritierende Einordnung, denn ich hätte den Roman keineswegs als Fantasyroman bezeichnet, denn die Welt, in der Mori lebt, ist das typische Großbritannien des Jahres 1979. Lediglich ihr Glaube an Magie und Feen, mit denen sie sich auch unterhält, hebt sie von den anderen Jugendlichen ab. So wie Walton dies darstellt, hätte ich das Buch eher als magischen Realismus eingeordnet, vor allem, da immer wieder die Grenze zwischen psychisch gesund und krank verschwimmt und das Mädchen gerade hochtraumatische Erlebnisse hinter sich gebracht hat und völlig aus dem bekannten Leben geworfen wurde.

There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books. When I grow up I would like to write something that someone could read sitting on a bench on a day that isn’t all that warm and they could sit reading it and totally forget where they were or what time it was so that they were more inside the book than inside their own head.

Trauer, Verlust, Ängste unterschiedlicher Art, fieses Mobbing, Umgehen mit einer sichtbaren Behinderung – Mori hat ein ordentliches Päckchen zu tragen und offenbar niemand, dem sie sich anvertrauen kann. Es bleibt ihr nur die Flucht in die Welt der Bücher, die ihr Sicherheit gibt und das reale Leben vergessen lässt.

Reading it is like being there. It’s like finding a magic spring in a desert. It has everything. (…) It is an oasis for the soul. Even now I can always retreat into Middle Earth and be happy. How can you compare anything to that?

Durch das Lesen, die Menschen, die sie in ihrem Buchclub kennenlernt und die langsame Annäherung an ihren Vater und den Großvater, findet sie zurück ins Leben. Es gibt immer noch Momente, die sie emotional überfordern und in denen sie sich von magischen Kräften bedroht fühlt – durch die eigene Mutter, die drei seltsamen Tanten – zunehmend gelingt es ihr aber auch, die Kontrolle darüber zu gewinnen.

Durchaus ein recht typischer coming-of-age Roman, der jedoch vor allem dann große Freude bereitet, wenn Mori ihre Gedanken über Bücher teilt, die sie regelrecht verschlingt. Tatsächlich hätte ich mir am Ende eine Liste mit allen Bücher, die erwähnt werden, gewünscht. Wundervoll erzählt, mit ganz viel Liebe zur Protagonistin und der Literatur, so dass man wirklich einmal abtauchen und aus der Wirklichkeit verschwinden kann.

Wendy Clarke – The Bride

wendy clarke the bride
Wendy Clarke – The Bride

There nothing in Alice’s life that didn’t go completely wrong in the last couple of weeks: her employer laid her off, her father didn’t want to see her and now, her partner leaves her because he is having a baby with another woman. After days in bed, she gets a message from an old friend. Joanna. Her former best friend with whom she has lost contact, but now, Joanna wants to meet her to get to know the man she’s going to marry. Could there be a better excuse to leave everything behind at least for a couple of days? Obviously, Joanna must be quite successful living in one of the new posh apartment blocks which must be super expensive. However, when, Alice knocks on the door, there is just Mark, Joanna’s husband to be and he knows nothing of a visitor. Joanna is not there, also the next day, she doesn’t show up. Alice feels increasingly uncomfortable until Mark tells her that Joanna has been kidnapped and that he needs her help to get her back.

Told from Alice’s point of view, you go through a horrendous mass of emotions – emotions which could hardly be more contradictory. Wendy Clarke leads the reader through a tour de force of lies, secrets and very spooky and distressing moments that, at times, give you the creeps. Just like her protagonist, you do not know whom to believe or trust, the whole situation she is caught in feels like a big ghost train rushing towards a giant obstacle without preparing for the impact.

I totally adore plots which keep you alert throughout the whole narration. It is those seemingly insignificant side notes that reveal that there’s so much you do not know, that all characters have some blind spots you don’t see and that everything might be completely different from what you expect or believe. Even though I found Alice a bit too naïve and shallow, I liked to follow her.

The further the plot gets, the higher the pace and suspense, thus a true page-turner that entertained me well.

Sarah Vaughan – Little Disasters

sarah vaughan little disasters
Sarah Vaughan – Little Disasters

Jess is the absolute role model of a mother, her friends have always admired her diligence and devotion to care for her two sons. When she unexpectedly gets pregnant with a third kid, her husband is over the moon but she does not really share his enthusiasm, she knows how demanding kids can be even for a home-stay-mom. When Betsey indeed turns out to be a rather challenging child, Jess loses her temper, the less she can control the girl, the easier she freaks out until she even gets close to wanting her dead. Her friends Liz, a paediatrist, senses that things do not go too well, but with her own kids and her job, she does not have the time to really take look into the situation. When one evening Jess turns up in the emergency room with Betsey showing obvious signs of neglect and being severely hurt, Liz is trapped between being a friend for Jess and informing the police. How well does she actually know what is going on at her friend’s home?

Sarah Vaughan masterly plays with truths, half-truths and all the things her characters consider truths. Told from different points of view, the reader over and over again gets caught in a trap by making sense of what you know and deciding on what and how the tragic incident happened. Forget it, you are completely wrong since – just as in real life – there is so much more.

Even though the main focus is on the one big question around Betsey’s injuries, the author addresses a lot of questions going far beyond the crime plot. The struggle of women who feel pressure to be the perfect wife, perfect mother, have a successful career and who easily prepare parties with exquisite food is palpable throughout the novel. The four women at the centre all struggle with complying with expectations and their very own goals and ideals. Showing weakness does not seem to be an option, just like asking for help and thus, precarious and even dangerous circumstances are silently endured. Additionally, the question of how far a friendship should or must go is tackled. Liz’ remorse is easy to understand and certainly nobody could ever wish to get into such a situation.

I totally adored the novel, after “Anatomy of a Scandal”, another thoroughly convincing plot with authentic characters and a lot of suspense.

Denise Mina – Conviction

denise mina conviction
Denise Mina – Conviction

Just like every day, Anna McDonald gets up in the morning and turns on a podcast to relax before the usual commotion of her family starts. This morning, however, will be completely different. First, she learns in a true crime podcast that her former friend Leon has been murdered on a boat off the French coast, then, her husband tells her that he’s going to run away with her best friend Estelle taking their two girls with them. When Estelle’s husband Fin Cohen, a famous musician, turns up and a photo of the two of them goes viral, her carefully built life crumbles and falls. It will not be long before someone will recognise her, before those people that she has hidden from for years will finally find her, before it all will start again. She needs to run away again, but before, together with Fin, she will find out what happened to Leon and if the person she supposes behind it all is still looking for her.

Sometimes you start a novel, expecting it to be entertaining and gripping, but then you are literally dragged into it and cannot stop reading. That’s what happened to me with “Conviction”, once I began reading, I was spellbound and fascinated and absolutely wanted to know what all this was about. Due to Denise Mina’s clever foreshadowing and the high pace of the plot, you don’t get a second to relax and breathe deeply, as the protagonist runs, you are tagged along and eagerly follow.

Denise Mina does not waste any time, the story starts like a bull at the gate and before you are even the slightest oriented, you are already in the middle of the mess that Anna is experiencing. Choosing a first person narrator was some clever decision as thus, we only get her perspective, only what she wants to share and which leaves the reader in the dark for quite some time. At first, she seems to be totally overreacting until you realise that there is much more behind it all. The good and dutiful housewife obvious is entangled in some unbelievably big conspiracy with powerful people far beyond any law enforcement.

A proper page-turner with unexpected twists and turns which also has some witty and comical bits and pieces to offer.