Patrick Hoffman – Clean Hands

patrick hoffman clean hands
Patrick Hoffman – Clean Hands

Elizabeth is used to a high working load and stress, but this situation might bring her down. One of her young lawyer’s phones has been pickpocketed and he had neither security nor lock on it – but highly sensitive data on their current case. The best woman to take care of such a mess is Valencia Walker, former CIA officer and fixer of unsolvable cases. Indeed, she and her team can track the phone down immediately, but nevertheless, some blackmailing takes place. While Valencia sets everything in motion to stop any more harm from occurring, Elizabeth wonders why she is doing all this and if she shouldn’t just give all up, not knowing what else there is to come.

Patrick Hoffman’s mystery novel seems to be quite obvious from the start: a young and inexperienced lawyer who is threatened and therefore sells his boss. Then, some young and rather stupid men who are simply lucky and can seize a chance when it presents itself in front of them. Quite naturally, things become a bit complicated and tricky for Valencia and her team and then – you realise that this isn’t the point of it at all.

The story advances at quite some high pace with some parentheses every now and then which provide some more depth and insight and which slow the plot down a bit so that you can take a breath before it regains speed. The number of characters makes it a bit hard at times not to lose the thread, but overall, I can only conclude that the plot is brilliantly crafted and none of what happens could be foreseen from the beginning.

Even though it is clearly fiction and I don’t tend to be prone to believing any conspiracy theories about governments or any agencies carrying out secret missions in the homeland, there are some aspects of the story which at least made me ponder about the probability. That’s what I totally appreciate in a good novel: being hooked from the start and having something lingering in my mind after the last page.

Julie Clark – The Flight

julie clark the flight
Julie Clark – The Flight

Everything had been planned meticulously for months. Taking the trip to Detroit and then vanishing somewhere in Canada. But when Claire Cook wakes up on the morning which will free her finally from her abusive husband, she learns that he has altered their plans, she is to go to Puerto Rico. All the strategy, fake passport, preparations were in vain. Eva, another woman, as desperate as Claire, runs into her at the airport and makes an offer: trade tickets. Both of then need a new start and have powerful people on their heels. None of them has anything to lose anymore and so they decide to step in each other’s shoes. When Claire lands in California, she finds out that the plane she was supposed to be on crashed which makes her a free woman with a new identity. But the new life she has hoped for for months, does not feel right somehow and one questions lingers at the back of her mind: what did Eva run from?

“The Flight” belongs to those books that you open and cannot put down anymore. It the brilliantly told story of two women who are desperate to an extent where they feel that there is nothing to left to lose anymore and who would take any risk since they know this could be their only and last chance to get their own life back. While we follow Claire’s first days in her new life, Eva’s last months before the meeting at the airport is narrated providing insight in her tragic story.

Full of suspense you simply keep on reading to find out if the women could escape. Yet, apart from this aspect, there is also some quite serious undertone since, on the one hand, we have Claire stuck in a marriage marked by psychological and physical abuse and a controlling and mighty husband who considers himself above the law. On the other hand, Eva’s life has totally derailed because of her background where there were no rich parents who could afford expensive lawyers or knew the right people and therefore she was paying for something her boyfriend actually was responsible for. This surely raises the questions to what extent women still much likelier become a victim of false accusations and endure years of assault because they do not find a way out of their lamentable situation. Additionally, can it be true that with money and power you can put yourself above the law and get away with it?

A great read that I totally enjoyed and which certainly will make me ponder a bit more after the last page.

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.

Kiley Reid – Such a Fun Age

kiley-reid-such-a-fun-age
Kiley Reid – Such a Fun Age

Even though she is already 25, Emira Tucker still does not really know which career to follow. Her degree does not really lead to anything and that’s why she is currently doing two jobs: transcribing records and babysitting Briar Chamberlain. Briar’s parents are new to Philadelphia and happy to find somebody to take care of their small daughter. When one Friday evening their house is hit by eggs, Briar’s mother Alix can rely on Emira to leave a friend’s birthday party to come immediately to their home to secure little Briar. When Emira is accused of having kidnapped the girl in the middle of the night, a bystander films how the black babysitter is assaulted. After all is sorted out, Emira only wants to forget about this episode, but it will become a decisive moment in her life.

Sometimes you start a novel and get totally immersed in it and practically read it straight from the beginning to the end. Kiley Reid’s “Such a Fun Age” belongs to this type of story. I got hooked from the first page as she quite casually addresses so many topics worth pondering on while creating suspense and offering also much to laugh about. I am still not sure which perspective the novel should be read under, the feminist or the race or if little Briar with her very special way of making sense of the world is the aspect most worth looking at in depth.

What I liked most was actually to see the vulnerability and lack of confidence that both protagonists share. This is wonderfully transported by the author since she uncovers the gap between the outer image and the feelings from inside. Alix is a highly successful woman who appears to be sure of herself and knowing exactly what she wants and what she is doing. When we enter her thoughts, the picture we get of her is totally different, there is hardly any aspect of her life she doesn’t struggle with. Emira also seems to be content with her jobs, but secretly she envies her friends for their ‘real adult’ jobs and feels like the only one who never actually grew-up. Briar is too young to express true self-awareness, yet, she seems to be aware of the fact that she is different somehow and does not easily bond with others. I really adored her sensuous and intense way of approaching the world surrounding her.

I thoroughly enjoyed the read, especially since it highlights the fact that you can never be too sure that what you see is really how the other person feels.

Emma Rous – The Au Pair

emma-rpus-the-aupair
Emma Rous – The Au Pair

After her beloved father has died, Seraphine Mayes digs into her family’s history. When she finds a photograph of her mother, her older brother Edwin and one baby, she is astonished: it must have been taken on the day of her birth, but which one is the baby? Seraphine or her twin brother Danny? And why does the mother look so happy, only hours before she committed suicide? The photo must have been taken by the au pair who was then looking for Edwin, a certain Laura. When the young woman starts her search for the former babysitter, memories of rumours surrounding her family home Summerbourne also come back to her mind: why did everybody in the small village always say that twins do not survive in that house? When Seraphine tracks down Laura and tries to contact her, she inadvertently sets in motion a series of events.

Emma Rous’ mystery starts as a simply family story and then develops into a suspenseful crime novel. The story is told alternatingly between Seraphine’s search for Laura and the latter’s experiences as an au pair 25 years before. Two young women full of distress who cannot foresee what they run into. The plot is carefully crafted and to sort out the complex connections takes some time thanks to unexpected twists and turns.

“The Au Pair” clearly lives on the two protagonists. I liked both of them dearly, Seraphine’s stubbornness is quite convincing, she does not give up even when being threatened, actually this only spurs her curiosity and fervour to uncover the events surrounding her birth. On the other hand, Laura had to flee from her evil stepfather and tries to regain control over her life. Both women are created multifacetedly, especially their relationships are complicated which makes them authentic and believable. Apart from the characters, I especially liked the atmosphere of the novel and the spooky tales that circle around the two family homes which give you the impression of old gothic homes which have some secrets buried that are never meant to come to the light.

Annabel Rivkin/Emilie McMeekan – I’m Absolutely Fine! A Manual for Imperfect Women

annabel-rivkin-emelie-mcmeekan-im-absolutely-fine
Annabel Rivkin/Emilie McMeekan – I’m Absolutely Fine! A Manual for Imperfect Women

The founders of the webpage “themidult.com“, journalists and friends, have decided to spread their word also in print. Their look at women in the middle of their adulthood – thanks to experience now a lot more realistic than in their twenties, but also at a point where everyday stress and responsibilities often keep them from doing what they really want to do – is often funny, highly entertaining and most of all simply true. There is no need anymore to embellish anything, life is what it is when you have celebrated your fortieth birthday, yet, things aren’t too bad either.

I was quite astonished when reading the book by the sheer range of topics they address. From the job situation to motherhood, aches here and there and the question of finding the perfect – or at least a fitting partner – at that age, or simply not wanting to find one. All the memories and experiences you gathered, the mistakes you made, those you regret and other you are grateful for, dieting and getting finally rid of society’s dictation of how you have to look. Masses of lists not to be taken too seriously and more than once the realisation that they are talking about you.

It’s not a manual about how to live and what to do. It is much more a kind of inventory control of where women at that age are in life and the message is obvious (since it is already clearly visible in the subtitle): we are imperfect, but that’s ok. Written in a very light-hearted and joyful tone, a book that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Bina Shah – Before She Sleeps

bina-shah-before-she-sleeps
Bina Shah – Before She Sleeps

A virus has seriously affected human population. Even though men and women get infected equally, it is only deadly for the later with the consequence that the number of female citizens has drastically been diminished. Thus, in Green City, women are assigned several husbands and closely monitored to keep the number of children born as high as possible. This is the single task for them and there is no alternative to functioning as a kind of human breeder. But some women just don’t want to comply with the assigned role and a kind of secret underground community has been formed known as the Panah. To keep their group alive, the women offer a service which is not provided by the wives anymore: non-sexual companionship. Sabine is one of the women living underground, but when she collapses on the street after visiting a client, the whole community is threatened to be revealed.

Bina Shah, a Pakistani writer, columnist and blogger who has published several novels and short story collections has created quite an interesting feminist dystopian novel with “Before She Sleeps”. Since Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been talked about a lot in the last couple of months, it is quite natural to compare the two pieces of work since they belong to the same genre. In my opinion, Shah does not have to hide from the great Mrs Atwood.

What I found the strongest in the novel was the picture of the society highly affected by a drastically decreased number of women. On the one hand, they are worshipped since they are the only ones who can cater for an increase in population, on the other, they easily become the victims of rape and male outrage due to the non-fulfilled sexual needs. They are regarded not as equal human beings but in terms of their functionality and thus severely reduced in their significance as humans. Both, men and women, have no say when it comes to the choice of a partner. From a political point of view, this makes sense, but it is obvious that it doesn’t actually support social rest and satisfaction or content. What the new society lacks most seems to be compassion and emotion, this is only visible in the women living underground.

I also liked the protagonist Sabine. Her motivation for fleeing for her duty as a woman is well motivated and her family story comprehensibly portrayed. Also her state of mind and how she is betrayed by a man whom she trusted to a certain extent and the effect the abuse has on her psychologically seemed to me quite authentic and believable.

All in all, an important contribution to the ongoing discussion about women’s rights and the way they are treated by men.

Jo Piazza – Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win

jo-piazza-charlotte-walsh-likes-to-win
Jo Piazza – Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win

She is one of the most successful women in the Silicon Valley, but now she wants more: Charlotte Walsh is running for Senate in her home state Pennsylvania. She has got a great team, her campaign manager Josh has won several times before and is an experienced spin doctor and her assistant Laila has been with her in San Francisco before. But the most important are her husband Max and their three young daughters. So, the family leaves the bay area and moves in the house in the small town Charlotte grew up and that thirty years before she had sworn never to come back to again. Once the campaign starts, Max and Charlotte have to realise that they had no idea what these eighteen months would mean and the brittle marriage is getting closer to breaking. And their well-kept secrets suddenly threaten to come out when the fight for the win becomes ugly.

I really adored the character of Charlotte from the start. On the one hand, she is the successful businesswoman who made her way from a poor background to the top and is not afraid of taking hard decisions. On the other hand, we get her thoughts and years of success and a place at the top cannot prevent her from self-doubt and insecurity. She never really could get rid of the small town girl coming from a non-academic family.

Also the fact that she is constantly torn between having a career and being a mother seems to be quite authentic. Max takes a sabbatical to support her, but he is considered a wonderful and extraordinary husband – yet, he only does what thousands of women have done for their husbands and he still expects her to take over household duties. Even though they have quite an equal partnership, some traditional roles just cannot be abdicated that easily and more than once Charlotte wonders why this is the case and why she is treated differently from any male candidate.

Apart from those serious topics, the novel is first and foremost hilarious to read. There are so many comical situations that I several times wanted to laugh out loud, like e.g. when Charlotte picks a random pair of shoes for her first big speech since she is late and her baby daughter had “eaten” the one she wanted to wear and the media make a hype out of the question why she refuses to wear high heels and consider this an important statement – what she actually said was of only minor interest.

“Charlotte Walsh wants to win” is the perfect summer read, it gives insight in a political campaign which is fought with all means, also the very hideous ones, and adds to the discussion of gender roles and the question if women actually can achieve everything that men can.

B.A. Paris – Bring Me Back

BA_paris-bring-me-back
B.A. Paris – Bring Me Back

Twelve years ago, a stop on a highway changes the life of Finn and Layla. While he is going to the toilet, she disappears. They had been in love, he had asked her to marry him during their holidays in France, now he is desperate to find her. That’s what he tells the police, but it is only part of the story. After some time of mourning, Finn gets closer to Layla’s sister Ellen, strange at first, but it feels right, even though he could never love her in the same way he loved Layla. Shortly after Finn asks Ellen to marry him, strange things start to happen. Ellen believes to have seen Layla, Finn is receiving e-mails seemingly coming from her and they find Russian dolls – something only Ellen and Layla know the significance of. It is impossible that somebody else is playing tricks on them. It must be Layla. But what does she want and is Ellen or Finn actually in danger?

Since I enjoyed “Behind Closed Doors” from B.A. Paris a lot, I was eager to read her latest thriller and again, she did not disappoint me. “Bring me back” is a classic thriller, right from the start you know that you cannot fully trust the characters, they have lied to others before and so they might not tell you the truth either. It keeps you alert, and since you don’t know where the discernible danger is actually coming from, the suspense is slowly rising.

What I liked especially was the construction of the novel. On the one hand, you have the story in the present told by Finn. On the other hand, you have something like secret diary entries which shed a slightly different light on the story told. After some time, Finn is replaced by Layla which gives you another perspective and adds to the suspense. The author deliberately leads to clues which turn out wrong, provides different explanations which cannot stand the tests they are put at, so you wonder throughout the novel what all this is about. It is not easy to find a good solution out of the plot, but for me, it absolutely worked and all was explained in a convincing way.

Caroline O’Donoghue – Promising Young Women

caroline-odonogue - promising-young-women
Caroline O’Donoghue – Promising Young Women

Jane Peters is a 16-year-old women working in marketing. She mainly does secretarial tasks, nothing too demanding and far from the fancy marketing stuff she had expected. It is her private website where she provides advice as agony aunt “Jolly Politely” that keeps her mood up since she spilt with her boyfriend. When she attracts the attention of her boss Clem, an unexpected chance opens up and she can win a new and important customer for her company. Yet, Clem is not only interested in her professionally and thus an uncontrollable spiral of dependence is set in motion.

Caroline O’Donoghue’s debut novel promised a new side of the old man-woman, power-dependence topic with a witty and strong minded female protagonist who is capable of breaking through old walls and securing herself a place in a man’s world. However, this isn’t what I found in the novel and admittedly I am a bit disappointed.

First if all, the characters are full of clichés and quite foreseeable. Jane as well as her colleagues are rather naive and slightly stupid when it comes to relationships and interpersonal dynamics. Why don’t they see the obvious thing in front of them and why are they eagerly abused? That you are not full of self-confidence when you are young and new in the job and quickly impressed by male conduct is understandable, but running into the trap in front of you isn’t necessary either. Likewise, the male characters are also rather one-dimensional and predictable in their behaviour.

Thus, the whole story becomes a bit stereotypical and lacks individuality and originality. What I could expect from a really important and ground-breaking novel would also be a completely different ending, this was a quite disappointing, the message cannot actually be to look out for a more female adequate job where you don’t meet those bullying men.

The style of writing, however, is something I really liked, it is funny and often amusing and full of puns. Caroline O’Donoghue is witty and creative and the light-heartedness with which Jane comments on the postings on her website are not just funny but also very clever and true. Sadly, she herself does not act accordingly. All in all, there was more in the story from a feminist point of view, as it is, it is somehow nice, but without the impact it might have had.