Alan Bradley: I am Half-sick of Shadows Sunday, Jan 22 2012 

The delightful chemistry whiz Flavia de Luce is back in Alan Bradley’s fourth mid-20th century series mystery featuring the youngest daughter of Colonel de Luce. The series has won multiple awards, including the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award, the Barry Award, the Agatha Award, the Macavity Award, the Dilys Winn Award, and the Arthur Ellis Award.

It’s near Christmas at Buckshaw, the de Luce’s decaying English estate, and eleven-year-old Flavia is in her chemistry laboratory, whipping up a potion guaranteed to prove once and for all if Saint Nick is a reality by gluing him to Buckshaw’s roof. Her father’s desperate financial situation has led him to rent out his beloved estate to, of all things, a film company.

Flavia’s sisters are enthralled: the flirtatious Feeley and bookish Daphne’s excitement is contagious, and even Flavia becomes a bit smitten when film star Phyllis Wyvern appears, along with the cast and crew needed for the few scenes to be filmed there. When Wyvern’s leading man, Desmond Duncan, is added to the mix, even a few minor crew accidents don’t seem important. Wyvern and Duncan are quickly pressed into performing the classic balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet as a fundraiser for the village church roof.

Unfortunately, a huge blizzard arrives, snowing in most of the Bishop Lacey villagers who’ve arrived for the benefit. A long with the film crew, the heavy snowfall leaves everyone stranded and people sleeping in Buckshaw’s hall.

And then a body is found, strangled with a length of film in a staged scene that has Flavia and her dear Inspector Hewitt carrying on twin investigations into this classic “locked room” mystery.

Readers of the series will have learned by now that the mystery is almost secondary in the series to the inner thoughts and machinations of Flavia’s astute mind. This child prodigy in the realm of chemistry is still learning how to read people’s emotions and decipher her own. Bradley fields her struggle with childish feelings and growing pains against her supreme intelligence and sleuthing skills. Sherlock Holmes would be a fan of Flavia.

S J Watson: Before I Go To Sleep Sunday, Oct 23 2011 

Before this novel hit, ninety percent of its readers thought S J Watson must be a woman.

Instead, the author is a 40 yr-old audiologist with the British National Health System. Before I Go To Sleep is one of the finest psychological thrillers I’ve read in years.

The jacket blurb reads: Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? This is the rich premise that Watson mined when he was accepted in 200 into the first Faber Academy Writing a Novel course. The result is nothing short of spectacular, leaving Dennis Lehane to comment: “Exceptional . . . It left my nerves jangling for hours after I finished the last page.”

Watson’s protagonist wakes up in the morning in a strange bed, lying next to a man she doesn’t recognize. When she went to sleep she was in her twenties; the face that looks back at her in the mirror is middle-aged and unfamiliar. So begins the Christine’s journey, over and over, as each day her husband has to explain that she has suffered a terrible accident twenty years ago that has left her without the ability to form new memories. Her husband, Ben, is the soul of patience as he explains that Christine is now forty-seven, has been in and out of hospitals and institutions, and that he has to go through this with her each morning when she wakes up.

Christine is stunned, and the reader feels her struggle every day to comprehend what has happened to her. Then one day she is at home when Ben is working and she answers a call from a Dr. Nash, who claims he is a neurologist she’s been working with without Ben’s knowledge. He explains she has a hidden journal and tells her where to find it in the back of her closet. For the past few weeks, she has been recording her thoughts and actions. Christine turns the pages, reading past entries about her mornings with Ben’s patient explanation, her secret sessions with Dr. Nash, and even small flashes of memories of scenes from her former life.

The reader cannot help but be drawn into Christine’s plight. Even as the awfulness of her situation becomes apparent, it raises unsettling questions. Is it possible to love or trust without memory?

As she reads more and more of her journal, and documents the memories she is having, her questions to Ben also become unsettling. What was their life like before her accident? What happened to her plans to be a novelist?

Christine reads more and more of her journal each day and keeps documenting the memories she is having, while her  questions to Ben become unsettling. What was their life like before her accident? What happened to her plans to be a novelist? Why has her former best friend deserted her? And perhaps most disturbing: why didn’t they have a child? For inside, deep down in an irrevocable place, Christine is convinced that she’s a mother.

As Christine’s makes journal entries build, she begins to pick up inconsistencies in Ben’s story. A huge one concerns the details of the accident that robbed her of her memory. She tries to reconstruct her past as her memory flashes start to build. The tensions rises as the pieces of Christine’s past life don’t seem to hang together, and the story builds to a stunning climax.

It would be a shame to tell you any more of this intriguing plot; you’ll simply have to read it for yourself, and I promise you’ll stay up at night to have the resolution revealed.

Watson says this past year has been “the weirdest year of my life.” His debut novel has quickly risen in the charts, and been translated into several languages and published in foreign countries. Ridley Scott has optioned the movie and signed Rowan Jaffe to write the screenplay and direct. It will be interesting to see how this novel translates to the screen, and who is cast as Christine, as the entire novel is told from her point of view. Don’t miss the chance to read this original story before the movie hits the screen.

 

Started Early, Took My Dog Monday, Apr 18 2011 

Jackson Brodie is a most reluctant private investigator. His personal life is as perplexing to him as is his recent case. He is one of my favorite characters in literature these days, a man who’s professional life is in direct contrast to his complicated personal life.

Tracy Waterhouse is supplementing her pension from the police force by working as the head of mall security when she makes an impulsive purchase, setting into motion one helluva ride for Tracy, one that will have you rooting for this most unlikely heroine.

Jackson Brodie is trying to find the biological parents of an adopted woman raised in Australia. Her text messages to Brodie alone are the work of great invention by Atkinson, as we come to know this character we never see. Women confuse and perplex Brodie, including his new client.

How these two disparate stories overlap shows Atkinson at her best, in this fourth offering featuring Brodie. Dogs figure here: pursuers by, accompanied, neglected and adopted. Then throw in an elderly actress, slowly sinking into dementia. And the children: there are children here, too, some at risk, others waiting to be loved. There is also a tragedy from the past the needs to be unraveled, involving a police cover-up.

In the hands of a less skilled writer, these threads might have become confusing, but Atkinson keeps you turning pages long after you should have put the light out. She gets the varied voices and mental streams just right, as the past haunts all three of these people.  Even the changes in voice are revealed to be a deliberate device, affecting the plot.

It all works out in the end, with the important questions answered. This is a highly original novel from a writer at the top of her game.

Pamela J Castrucci

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Welcome to Leeward

Liz Loves Books

The Wonderful World of Reading

The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

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Reading is a wonderful adventure!

JoHanna Massey

"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

MiddleSisterReviews.com

(mid'-l sis'-tǝr) n. the reader's favorite sister

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

K.R. Morrison, Author

My author site--news and other stuff about books and things

The Wickeds

Wicked Good Mysteries

John Bainbridge Writer

Indie Writer and Publisher

Some Days You Do ...

Writers & Writing, my own & other people's; movies, art, music & the search for a perfect flat white - the bits & pieces of a writing life.

Gaslight Crime

Authors and reviewers of historical crime fiction

Crimezine

#1 for Crime

Mellotone70Up

John Harvey on Books & Writing - his own & other people 's - Art, Music, Movies, & the elusive search for the perfect Flat White.

A thrilling Murder-Mystery...

...now being made into a radio drama