Haunting, touching psychological drama

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The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star review

Nine-year-old Samuel misses his mother.  She’s left him alone with the housekeeper Ruth.  Ruth as told Samuel that his mother had to go to America to try to save the family business.  She didn’t even say goodbye and left in the middle of the night while he was sleeping.  But she’s been gone months and he begins to suspect that something has happened to her.  He begins to believe that Ruth has murdered his mother.

The comparisons of this book to the work of Shirley Jackson and Daphne Du Maurier convinced me that it was a must read.  I believe the book is closer to the work of Jackson than Du Maurier.  The author has created a very tense, suspenseful atmosphere.  At points in the book, you think you know where it’s headed but then the author turns it around, again and again, until you’re really not sure what to expect.  My heart was touched by the anguished plight of young Samuel.  It’s quite a sad story, either way the author decided to go.  I had a hard time putting it down and found it to be a very satisfying read.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

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Powerful, emotional read with a shaky start

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School of Velocity by Eric Beck Rubin

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Jan and Dirk are teenage boys when they meet in the Netherlands.  Jan is studying the piano and dreams of a musical career.  Dirk has already had a career as a child actor.  Jan is a quiet boy, while Dirk is flamboyant and outgoing.  Jan soon is obsessed with Dirk and follows him everywhere.  To his surprise, Dirk seems to want to be with him and they soon become fast friends, with sleepovers where they watch porn.  They lose touch when Dirk goes to America to find his way to stardom and Jan stays in the Netherlands to go to music school.  They don’t see each other again until Jan becomes ill and reaches out to Dirk.

OK, I have to admit that I was turned off by the beginning of this book.  Dirk’s language and topics of conversation were sometimes a bit offensive and while young boys may think of only one thing – sex – it isn’t my preferred reading material.  Dirk’s character seemed to go quite a bit over board with his rebellious spirit although the adults unbelievably took it all in stride.  But I’m very glad I stuck with this book.  It really turned around after they each went off to pursue their adult lives and I became engrossed in the book.  It’s a beautifully written story about male friendship and quite sad.  I also enjoyed the author’s description of a musician’s life and the total absorption in the music.  The book leaves open quite a few questions and that’s fine with me.  I didn’t need this type of book wrapped up nicely.  It’s a powerful, emotional read and I don’t even want to start another book yet as I want to give this one some more thought for a while.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

An engrossing political fairy tale

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The Melody by Jim Crace

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Alfred Busi is better known in his town as Mister Al, the singer/pianist.  But his venues aren’t as large as they once were and he’s in mourning for his much beloved wife.  He’s not keeping up his home very well and it’s getting a bit worn down.  He’s often awakened in the night by animals raiding the garbage cans in his courtyard.  One night upon hearing the noises in the courtyard, he ventures down to set things right.  He’s suddenly attacked – scratched and bitten – and he’s sure it wasn’t an animal but had the sense that it was a naked wild boy.  The report of the attack sets off a series of rumors of what’s living in the nearby woods and ignites fear and discord throughout the town.

This is a beautifully written tale of love and age and grief and reputation.  It’s slow moving but very compelling and unusual and poetic in nature.  It’s almost like a fairy tale or a dream that just carried me along in its flow.  For all its poetry, it’s also political and makes a strong statement against the prejudices that many of those who are more fortunate have against the homeless and poor.  The author is a past winner of the Man Booker Prize and I had read that he had retired from writing but then came out with this book.  I’m glad he did and am looking forward to reading more of his work.  This one will long remain in my memory due to its distinctiveness.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Interesting premise

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The Real Michael Swann by Bryan Reardon

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Michael Swann, who is in New York City, is talking to his wife Julia on his cell phone.  The phone call goes dead and Julia learns that a bomb has gone off.  Julia rushes out to the car and tries desperately to get into the city to find Michael but is stopped by police barricades.  She keeps trying to text and call Robert but there’s no response.  Then developments are revealed by the news media that prove devastating to Julia.

I thought this was a particularly interesting premise.  As always, I don’t like to give away too much of the plot and leave it to the author to tell his story so I can’t explain why the premise is an unusual one since the publisher isn’t mentioning it in their blurb about the book.   Leave it to say there is more involved than a wife trying to find her husband during a possible terrorist attack.  While I did figure out quite early what was happening, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book at all.  At the heart of the book is the love story of Michael and Julia.  As Julia tries to find Michael or at least get some news about him, she relives their life together.  It’s a beautifully and realistically told story.  There’s a point more than half way into the book where it becomes very suspenseful.  I wouldn’t consider this one a thriller overall but more of a character study.  I liked the author’s book, “Finding Jake”, and his newest effort didn’t disappoint.  The story pulled me in and I became invested in the characters’ plight.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Falls short

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Panorama by Steve Kistulentz

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

This book tells the story of the lives of those involved in an airplane crash in Dallas and their families and friends, both before, during and after.  It’s New Year Eve, 2000.  There’s quite a large cast of characters, including Richard MacMurray, who is a cable news talking head, and his sister Mary Beth and her young son, Gabriel.  Richard has just broken up with his girlfriend, Cadence, and is at a bit of a loss without her.   Mary Beth has decided to take a short vacation with her boss/lover Mike in the hopes that they can discuss their future together, if any.  She leaves her 6-year-old son Gabriel in the care of Sarah, one of Mike’s assistants, at Mike’s home.

The author lets it be known right at the start that there’s to be a crash.  My hope in the book was that I would be caught up in the lives of these characters with the dread of the upcoming incident hanging over each chapter.  But I never did get very involved in the characters’ lives and actually had a hard time concentrating on the book.  There’s quite a bit about Richard’s work and the stories he talked about on TV, but again I really didn’t find much interest in them.  I found some of the language and sexual scenes useless and tasteless.  The characters I cared the most about were Mary Beth and her son Gabriel.  I think the best part of the book was contained in the last thirty or so pages when Richard grapples with the decision of taking on the care of his nephew Gabriel.

I think this author has promise but his debut falls short.

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and am under no obligation to give a review.

 

Extraordinary character study

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The Waters & the Wild by DeSales Harrison

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

One of Daniel Abend’s therapy patients commits suicide.  She was an addict and was depressed so he thought he understood what had happened.  But when he starts to receive mysterious packages and letters, he starts to think there may have more to her death than he first thought.  The letters and packages take a more sinister turn when they lead him to believe that his teenage daughter is in danger.  Whomever is sending Daniel these notes seems to know a lot about his past, which causes Daniel to visit his past mistakes in life.

Writing the above blurb outlining the basic plot of this book makes it sound like an ordinary thriller.  Yes, there’s plenty of suspense, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s an extraordinary, multi-layered look at the life of a man whose sorrows and regrets run deep.  The writing is so luscious, I couldn’t get enough of it.  The author chose to tell the story through a confession written to a priest, which added another layer of intrigue.  It’s a dark, tragic tale and one I’ll never forget.  This is an intense literary work of art and completely took my breath away.  Kudos to the author on his debut novel.  If it doesn’t receive many awards, I’ll be very surprised.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Complex, clever thriller

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The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

All is not what it seems in this complex and clever thriller.  Nellie, a New York preschool teacher, is happy with her work and her lifestyle.  When she meets Richard, she’s swept off her feet into quite a different world of affluence.  There are hints galore about “something” that happened to Nellie in her past that has made her a very “nervous Nellie”.  Her telling of the story fluctuates with the telling of the story by Vanessa, Richard’s ex-wife.  She now lives with her Aunt Charlotte and drinks too much like her mother did before her.

The unreliable narrator has become a very popular form of literature these days.  This is one that I felt was quite well plotted and hard to crack before the author “tells”.  There’s a twist halfway through the book that had me sit up thinking “Whaaaat??” and had me questioning everything I had just read.  When you think all the twists have been revealed, there’s still one more that I never saw coming.

Quite an enjoyable read and kept me on my toes.  Recommended.  This book is being published on January 9, 2018 and can be pre-ordered through the publisher:

https://us.macmillan.com/static/smp/wife-between-us/

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

This is literature at its best

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One Station Away by Olaf Olafsson

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Magnus is a New York City neurologist.  He’s had three women in his life who have had a profound effect on him – his mother, Margaret, who is a pianist who has finally found fame; his fiancé whose time with him is far too short and one of his patients who is comatose.  The author expertly weaves the stories of these three women into a compelling and masterful book.

The gorgeously told love story between Magnus and Malena touched my heart and then broke it.  Their relationship is brought so vividly to life.  The author’s delving into the relationship between Magnus and his parents is told meticulously and expertly and I could feel his confusion and longings so clearly.  I found the medical studies concerning Magnus’ patient to be fascinating and suspenseful.  In each area of Magnus’ world, the author brings us his powerful and insightful interpretation.

I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.  Mr. Olafsson is the Vice President of Time Warner and is best known for his introduction of PlayStation while working at Sony.   I wish he’d devote all of his time to writing but there are a few past books of his already published that I’ll be getting soon.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

The fierce bond of family

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Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

“I had always believed my father capable of a massacre. Whenever I heard on the news that there had been a killing spree, I would hold my breath, unable to relax until it was clear that it couldn’t have been him.”  (Wording may not appear the same in final published edition).

Randolph Tiefenthaler grew up with a father who had an extensive gun collection. Not only were the guns loaded but Randolph’s father had a bit of a temper.  Randolph always had a fear that one night his father would come upstairs and kill him and/or his brother.  Randolph is an adult now with a wife and children when his father is arrested for murder.  It all started when Randolph moved his family to a new building where Dieter Tiberius is living in the basement apartment.  Dieter is an odd character who turns into a menacing one when he starts to stalk Randolph and his family and accuses the parents of sexually abusing their children.

This is an excellent psychological thriller with deep insight into family bonds and the fears implanted in us as children that we continue to live with throughout our adult life. I’ve seen other reviews saying the author lectures about issues but I thought the whole book was fascinating.  I hung on every word and loved the buildup of suspense.  No one seemed to be able to help this family – not their lawyer, not the police and not children’s services.    At times I thought, just move away, but they hadn’t done anything wrong to lose their home, but since it involved children, I would have been out of there.  Regardless, I was quite impressed by this author.  Apparently, the book is loosely based on the author’s own experience with a stalker so he had firsthand knowledge of what this type of situation can do to a person.

The author is from Germany and he has written 8 novels, many of which, including this book, have been adapted for film, television and radio in Germany. “Fear” is the first to be translated into English.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for any others that will be translated in the future for sure.

I don’t usually give thrillers 5 star reviews as I reserve 5 stars for books that really have a profound impact on me. But in a way I think the book did have a profound impact on me as I’m still thinking about it though I’m writing this review weeks after reading the book.  This story showing how quickly our immediate world can become one that’s horribly distressful fills my thoughts throughout the days.  If you’re looking for a thriller with psychological insight, I highly recommend this one.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Dragged for me

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The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Cora goes to the lakeside to enjoy the sun and water with her husband and young son. There she inexplicitly stabs a man to death.  There are witnesses and Cora’s own confession but the police commissioner does his own investigation into Cora’s past, uncovering secrets even Cora has trouble remembering.

I, like many others, was pulled in by the trailer for the USA mini-series starring Jessica Biel. I figured the book had to be good to have been made into a TV series.  But it really dragged for me and I can’t count the times that I thought of putting the book down for good.  But something kept making me pick it up.

This is yet another unreliable narrator book. Sometimes Cora admits to the reader that she’s lying but sometimes she’s not even sure if she’s lying.  So it’s a bit hard to follow what’s happening.  Events are gone over again and again, each time a little bit differently.  The book has its merits as the story is quite unique and I didn’t see the reveal coming.  I’ve recorded the TV series and will probably watch it even though I now know what’s going to happen.  I’m not sorry I read it but I really didn’t find it as gripping as described.