Joelle's Bibliofile

An Anonymous Girl - Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen

An Anonymous Girl a collaborative effort by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, is due for release in early 2019.  It is an interesting and nicely-paced thriller with some unfortunate credibility issues.  The story is told in alternating points of view, beginning with protagonist Jessica Ferris, a young woman barely getting by as a contract make-up artist in New York City.  In first-person narration, Jess describes her turning away from friends and a potential career in the theater after experiencing debasing sexual harassment.  She needs more income to support herself, and she also is secretly subsidizing expensive treatments for her sister with special needs.  During an appointment with two NYU students, Jess overhears them discussing a highly-lucrative university study that one of them is planning to skip out on the next day.  Jess decides to seize this opportunity for some quick cash by showing up for the appointment and impersonating the student.  It turns out that the study involves questions of morality and ethics and is being conducted by Dr. Shields-a well-respected psychology professor and therapist.  Dr. Shields provides the other voice in the novel, her chapters are presented from the second-person point-of-view.  After Jess and Dr. Shields meet in person, what began as a straightforward computerized questionnaire evolves into an expanded, in vivo sequence of experiments with greater personal risk and payment for Jess. Jess increasingly becomes dependent on the money and Dr. Shields but is unaware of the objectives of the research and its underlying motives.  The reader comes to understand that Jess is being manipulated, and she is not the first to be drawn into a potentially deadly scheme.  Hendricks and Pekkanen require the reader to believe that Dr. Shields has an almost supernatural ability to read people, collect details about them, and persuade them to act. While Jess is a sympathetic character, she makes many dubious decisions and her gullibility is often implausible. The stakes for Jess are so high, the reader might wonder why she allows herself to continue on such an obviously dangerous path.  A side romantic plotline is also cursorily brought into the story but it is thin and remains underdeveloped. An Anonymous Girl remains an entertaining novel, with some genuine thrills and originality for those who can suspend disbelief and overlook these minor flaws.

Ruth Ware Continues to Impress

The Death of Mrs. Westaway - Ruth Ware

The fourth book by the extremely popular Ruth Ware is a twist on a classic mystery trope involving an inheritance/rags-to-riches fantasy. Harriet Westaway, the heroine of The Death of Mrs. Westaway, is isolated and adrift after losing her mother in a tragic accident.  She never learned her father’s identity-Harriet and her mother eked out a living by reading fortunes for tourists.  She retains their small boardwalk booth after her mother’s death, despite her disbelief in the practice. She feels like she is merely playing a role, appeasing her conscience by detaching herself from her clients’ gullibility.  On the brink of financial ruin and deeply in debt to some very dangerous characters, Harriet serendipitously receives a mysterious letter in the mail.  It appears that an error has been made, and she has been named an inheritor in a significant estate. She decides to see if she can use her honed perception skills to claim what she hopes will be enough to save her from her collectors. She travels to the funeral of the deceased and upon being embraced by her kind “relatives,” Harriet feels torn between her desperation and guilt. It turns out that the inheritance is far more complicated than she imagined, and she is drawn into some old conflicts and family secrets.  Harriet begins to question how long she can sustain her charade, and if the prize is worth the constant vigilance and paranoia of discovery.  Harriet is not the only person hiding something at Trepassen, and questions start emerging about her own possible connection to these other Westaways.  Fans of both classic mystery and literary fiction would enjoy this book, especially those looking to avoid explicit violence and gore. The novel is very atmospheric and wonderfully paced, with three-dimensional characters written with complexity and nuance.  The resolution is unpredictable but believable, twisting in a truly satisfying way.  The Death of Mrs. Westaway continues the high-quality work that readers have come to expect from Ware’s books, and is further evidence that her popularity is well-deserved.

Not For Everyone

Baby Teeth - Zoje Stage

Zoje Stage’s debut novel, Baby Teeth, has received very polarized reviews from both readers and critics.  The novel tells the story of a young family struggling to parent a child who seems to be extremely disturbed, if not downright evil.  As the book opens, 9-year-old Hanna is receiving an MRI, a last-ditch attempt by her parents to see if her mutism has a physiological basis.  The news is received with both relief and dismay by her mother, Suzette, who was hoping that her daughter would be able to receive a clear diagnosis and mode of treatment. When it appears that Hanna’s complete lack of verbal or written communication is selective, it is up to Suzette to examine her own contribution to her child’s condition.  The chapters alternate between the perspectives of Suzette and Hanna, and the reader is privy to the fact that Hanna harbors some violent designs against her mother. Suzette is desperate to provide her daughter with everything she was deprived of as a child and remains obsessed with appearances, even as her fears and resentments grow. As Hanna’s attacks on Suzette escalate, Suzette attempts to convince her husband that something is seriously wrong with the girl.  She even starts to retaliate against Hanna, increasingly treating her like an adult nemesis. Alex (the stereotypical clueless father) is reluctant to believe that Hanna is anything but the sweet little girl that he has witnessed. As he coddles and spoils her, her mother sneers and taunts her.  Hanna begins to plot a way to “remove” Suzette from their family so she can be alone with Alex.  Since the book has a small cast of characters, Stage creates a claustrophobic feeling that adds to the foreboding tone. Is Hanna’s behavior a result of a congenital psychological disorder, or caused by her parent’s failed efforts at raising her?  Do we erroneously assume that love is deserved unconditionally between parents and children and vice versa? There really is no sympathetic character for the reader to side with in the book, and the result can be discomforting. Much of the controversy about Baby Teeth involves the perceived sexualization of a child, presented in an excessive and overt manner.  Stage was obviously very inspired by the Freudian concept of the Oedipal Complex when composing this novel. Those readers put off by the descriptions of this element should know that Hanna’s drive is presented as more of a bid for her father’s absolute attention rather than a literal desire for consummation.  This book is not for everyone, and most readers will know pretty quickly if Baby Teeth is a selection they can tolerate or would choose to add to their DNF pile.

French Takes on Teens

The Secret Place - Tana French

The Secret Place is Tana French’s fifth entry in her fantastic Dublin Murder Squad series.  Like in the previous novels, French selects one member of the squad to build a story around.  This time, French concentrates the action on Stephen Moran, a new officer first introduced in her third book, Faithful Place.  Moran played a pivitol role in that novel, and it provides background information about his methods and character.  The earlier work also establishes his initial encounter with Frank Mackey, an MS detective who also appears here in The Secret Place. Holly, Mackey’s daughter brings an important clue to Moran who is starting out in the Cold Cases department.  It involves an unsolved murder that took place a year ago at her posh private school.  A boy from the school next door was found dead in the woods, but the perpetrator and a possible motive was never discovered.  Moran is ambitious and leaps at the opportunity to bring the new evidence to a Murder Squad member who might vouch for him and advance his career.  Unfortunately, the detective assigned to the case when it was active was Antionette Conway.  She is an outcast in the Murder Squad, and her prickly demeanor and easily offended sensibilities will make working with her a challenge.  Moran and Conway reopen the case and head up to St. Kilda’s school to follow up. Their investigation brings them in contact with two opposing groups of tight-knit girls who definitely know more than they admitted last year.  French juxtaposes the two cliques, exploring teen friendships-some based on dominance/intimidation, and others on blind loyalty and co-dependence. It is a pretty negative and stereotypical portrayal of adolescent girls, and Conway is also not presented as the best example of a well-adjusted female.  There is a different tone to The Secret Place, which is often considered to be the weakest entry in French’s otherwise successful series.  Some elements stretch credulity and the character development is not as extensive as in the others.  Fans accustomed to her gritty realism and deeper psychological themes may find it a bit disappointing, but French’s writing and storytelling are still more impressive than most.  Her next Dublin Murder Squad book, The Trespasser, is French at her best again and not to be missed. Each Murder Squad mystery can stand alone, but the sequential reader benefits from a richer understanding of the characters, their history, and their interactions with other members of the squad. A new stand-alone work, The Witch Elm is due to be released in October 2018.

More Personal Than Authoritative

The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time - David L. Ulin

This version of The Lost Art of Reading by David L. Ulin is a revised edition previously published in 2010.  It contains a new Introduction and Afterword reflecting important cultural and technological changes that have occurred over the past eight years.  Ulin uses these updated sections to describe and bemoan current trends in the US in terms of freedom of speech, privacy concerns, censorship controversies, and race relations.  He does not hesitate to excoriate the election results of 2016, making his political opinions pretty clear from the start when he describes: “…the racist rhetoric that runs, like excrement, from the President’s mouth.”   It seems that Ulin could have written a separate book on that subject, especially given the fact that these parts of the book take up almost 25% of the total.  The rest of The Lost Art of Reading contains some very personal anecdotes and broad assumptions based on seemingly only on his own experience.  The author digresses into history and sports analogies, explaining that everything can be considered a “story” and is thus relevant to his discussion.  Ulin relates his own dismay at discovering an uncharacteristic inability to maintain sustained attention and interest in his reading.  He uses the frame of helping his son with a school assignment to demonstrate the younger generation’s lack of interest in traditional modes of reading. He notes that the Internet, with its sheer saturation effect and many distractions, has impeded people’s ability to concentrate on text as is required.  He also seems skeptical of the value of e-readers and cites their limitations, although his observations are based on outdated technology from 2010. This new release of The Lost Art of Reading would have benefitted from a complete update throughout so advances in this area could have been considered.  Ulin’s book is most interesting if approached more like an extended essay or personal memoir than a definitive text.  Those seeking a research-based or global approach to current trends in reading would be better served by searching elsewhere.

Creative Apocalypse Tale

Severance  - Ling Ma

“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”  “The Hollow Men” -T.S. Eliot

Severance by Ling Ma is an unusual but elegant combination of immigration story and post-apocalyptic drama.  Thematically, it addresses the human desire for belonging that is derailed by mistrust and urban alienation. It also makes a statement about our modern tendency to adhere compulsively to conformity despite conflicting ideals of individuality and personal freedom.  Ling Ma’s protagonist, Candace Chen, is a new transplant to New York City after having lost both of her parents.  The rest of her family lives in China, so she has no real connections upon her arrival.  At first, she aimlessly wanders the city taking photographs that even she admits are unoriginal.  Eventually, she falls into a job working in an international book printing office. Candace finds herself caught in an endless loop of routine-with mostly superficial friendships and little hope for change or advancement.  She even clings to her daily rituals as the world succumbs slowly to an epidemic that culminates in the breakdown of civilization.  The sickness, called Shen Fever, causes the infected (“the Fevered”) to act like robotic zombies, engaging in rote motions until they inevitably die from neglect of their basic needs.  The plague spreads insidiously, creeping over the globe with no discernable reason as to why some people fall ill while others remain immune.  Candace reluctantly leaves the city only when pressured by the lack of services and a secret she can no longer contain.  She is welcomed into a group of survivors in search of a place to settle and begin a new life.  Their dogmatic leader enforces order with evangelical zeal and may have ulterior motives. The novel alternates between Candace’s experience as a child new to America, her life in NY, and her experience dealing with the aftermath of the catastrophe.  Severance is a quick but addictive read- unique and thought-provoking.  What does it take to wake us up out of our comfort zones and propel us into taking action when these zones are no longer inhabitable? Is the security of being accepted and cared for worth the cost of independence? Ling Ma’s debut novel is funny but disturbing, refreshing but uncomfortably familiar. Definitely a new author worth recommending and watching for her future efforts.

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale - Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen has been a prolific writer of books and short story collections for all ages since 1969.  She has tackled both fiction and nonfiction, and is well regarded as an authority on literary traditions and archetypal themes.  Her latest collection, How to Fracture a Fairy Tale, contains twenty-eight stories that reimagine classic tales culled from fairy tales, legends, mythology, and folklore from a variety of cultures.  In her introduction, Yolen describes her method of “fracturing” as a creative experiment in reexamining the stories through a modern prism.  Some of Yolen’s reworkings contain subtle changes, while others contain major overhauls in terms of their point-of-view, setting, mood and moral underpinnings.  A couple of her versions also combine tales to create something entirely new.  Yolen includes an appendix to the book with information about the origins of the stories, descriptions of her recreation methodology, and sources of inspiration for the revisions.  These notes are as fascinating to read as the stories themselves, providing a unique view into Yolen’s process and demonstrating her extensive knowledge on the subject.  Some of the tales in the collection are easily recognizable while others are more obscure, but all are delightful and entertaining.  Typical collections of short stories with wide-ranging styles usually have some variation in terms of quality, but it would be difficult in this case to identify any weak entries.  How to Fracture a Fairy Tale honors the stories and their cultural importance while refreshing them and widening their potential audience.  Modern adult readers will enjoy seeing their childhood favorites polished and renewed by Yolen’s skillful hand.

Dark and Disturbing

You: A Novel - Caroline Kepnes

The novel YOU by Caroline Kepnes will soon be adapted as a new tv series this Fall on Lifetime.  It will be interesting to see how these characters are portrayed, especially since much of the setting takes place inside the narrator’s depraved mind.  Joe Goldberg works in a bookstore, and is a relatively attractive and intelligent young man who bristles a bit about his lack of a formal university education.  He is looking to meet a nice girl with similar tastes in reading, music and worldview.  He also is a truly sadistic sociopath who obsessively stalks potential soulmates with ruthless cunning and determination.  When Guinevere Beck (Beck) comes into Joe’s shop, she engages with him in playful, flirtatious way.  Joe is immediately smitten and uses social media to discover many personal details about Beck that he then uses to insinuate himself into her life.  He appears just as Beck is trying to sort out her own complicated love life, recently recognizing her tendency to be drawn to egotistical people who seek only to take advantage of her.  Joe acts the part of the refreshingly sweet and understanding man with whom she has so much in common.  Actually, he is just privy to an expanding amount of information about her and is contorting himself into her ideal companion. As he draws closer, Joe jealously eliminates any potential competition for her affection.  His desperation soon escalates into violence, and there are subtle hints that Beck may not be the first paramour to be trapped in his laser sights. Beck is portrayed as smart but clueless, and her naivete can become exasperating.  The novel slowly builds up unbearable tension as the reader begins to predict and dread where things are headed.  YOU is a bit long, with some unnecessary repetition and overuse of gratuitous vulgarity.  It is a very disturbing and uncomfortable experience to be trapped inside the perspective of such a truly odious character.  Still, it is a bit like a watching a horror movie that you want to look away from but need to know how it ends.

Delusions or Flashbacks?

Under My Skin - Lisa Unger

Some people go on Internet dates to meet that special someone or to just make some sort of connection to combat loneliness.  Poppy, the main character in Lisa Unger’s Under My Skin, goes on these dates to satisfy her need for physical affection without wanting to ever talk the person again.  It can be a risky undertaking, and she has been flirting with recklessness ever since losing her husband the year before.  Poppy and Jack were just getting started with a new photography agency, an upgrade in their living arrangements, and attempts to have a baby together when Jack was killed. He was attacked while out for a run one morning, and Poppy is filled with guilt because she did not accompany that day as usual.  Right after his death, Poppy had a breakdown, disappearing for days with no memory of where she was or what she was doing during that time.  Her best friend from childhood and coworkers keep a close eye on her as she struggles to keep up with the business and maintain her sanity.  Poppy can’t bring herself to unpack the boxes in the new apartment, and she has been turning increasingly to overly self-medicating.  When she thinks she is being followed, she contacts the detective who is still investigating Jack’s death.  He tells her that some new evidence has come to light that might indicate that Jack’s death was not a random attack.  Poppy experiences flashes of former events, but are they just dreams or real memories?  Could she be losing her tenuous grip on reality or is her subconscious trying to send her a message?  Seeking answers, Poppy searches the city for the places and people she has envisioned.  Meanwhile, she also is torn by some unexpected feelings for one of her Internet dates whose persistence both comforts and unnerves her.  Poppy increasingly takes chances and chases after danger as she gets closer to discovering the truth about her missing days.  Her discoveries cause her to question her assumptions about her marriage and wonder about the secrets that may have been simmering beneath its happy facade. Unger’s novel is a solid page-turner with some good twists and well-developed characters.  Under My Skin should be well-received by Unger’s current followers, and would also appeal to fans of A.J. Finn, Ruth Ware and Paula Hawkins.

Short but Suspenseful

Tiny Crimes - Lincoln Michel

Tiny Crimes, edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto, is a unique anthology of very short stories written by famous authors from around the world.  As a nice touch, the editors include versions of the stories in their original languages as well.  The forty stories in the collection all address the expression of humanity’s potential for darkness in a variety of styles and subject matter.  Some of the stories are political in tone with a futuristic/dystopic view, others are more deeply psychological.  The accessibility of each entry varies, depending on how experimental its form and the amount of cultural references. A few are a bit pretentious and overly wrought, but the majority are straightforward powerful punches. All have artistic merit and take only a few minutes to read, so Tiny Crimes would be good for those looking for something “interruptible” but still entertaining and thought-provoking.

The Danger of Memories

Final Girls - Riley Sager

Final Girls, written under the pseudonym Riley Sager, is another entry into the popular: “Unreliable female narrator has no memory after a tragic event, and tries to figure out what occurred while battling substance abuse, only to discover that her trust in others has been betrayed” premise that so many mysteries are employing these days.  Sager adds to this familiar plot the titular concept of the “Final Girls,” a nickname given by the press to three survivors of horrific past mass murder sprees.  Quincy Carpenter, one of those three former victims, does not remember most of the events from that terrifying night. Ten years later, she seems to be doing quite well- she has a popular baking website, a loving boyfriend and plenty of lawsuit money to live comfortably.  She has remained friends with the policeman who came to her rescue, and he is the one who informs her that another one of the “Final Girls” has recently committed suicide.  Quincy and Lisa had never met in person, but as fellow survivors they supported each other.  The third member of the group, Samantha, went into hiding and had not been seen in a long while. When Sam unexpectedly shows up at Quinn’s apartment to meet her for the first time, she wants to discuss Lisa’s death and Quinn ends up taking her in.  Sam has apparently been living a rough existence, homeless and still haunted by her own experience with a killer.  Sam soon takes it upon herself to try to shake up Quinn’s peaceful existence by helping her remember what she had endured.  Fueled by too much prescription medication and alcohol, Quinn starts receiving flashbacks that reveal some truths that she would have preferred to keep buried in the recesses of her mind. Through Quincy and Sam’s characters, Sager explores what it means to “survive,” and if repression can really be sustained as a protective measure over the long term.  The author questions if a person can undergo such a traumatic experience and still go on to live a “normal” life.  Final Girls is a fast-paced and exciting read, one that will appeal to fans of Gone Girl, Girl on a Train and The Woman in the Window.

Witty and Warm

Look Alive Out There: Essays - Sloane Crosley

Sloane Crosley’s latest collection of essays, Look Alive Out There, combines comical anecdotes with some more heartfelt and personal stories.  Crosley uses her sharp wit in describing her adventures as a typical New Yorker dealing with neighbor issues, a journalist stretched beyond her comfort zone in exotic locales, a guest on a popular television show, and a woman reckoning with fertility concerns. Some of the essays are funnier than others, but all might strike a chord of familiarity in those who use humor to cope with insecurity and life’s uncertainties.

Amazing Writing and Characterization

Broken Harbor - Tana French

Broken Harbor is the fourth installment in Tana French’s fantastic Dublin Murder Squad series.  Each of her the novels feature a different member of the squad, usually a character introduced in a previous work. French expertly pairs each fully-formed character with a complementary storyline and appropriate tone.  Broken Harbor highlights Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, who was introduced as a minor character and antagonist of sorts in the previous book: A Faithful Place.  Kennedy has an excellent track record with the squad and is known for his diligence and strict adherence to procedure.  When a triple murder gets called in, his superior offers him a chance to head up the high-profile investigation.  During their conversation it is intimated that there was a prior case that was uncharacteristically problematic for Scorcher. He needs to redeem himself by quickly resolving this one to retain his reputation. He also is obliged to act as a mentor to his rookie partner, Richie.  Richie is rough around the edges, but eager to prove himself.  Meanwhile, Kennedy’s mentally-ill younger sister returns and caring for her is a potential distraction and a conflict of duty. The triple homicide brings Scorcher back to a familiar location that has some strong emotional attachment for him and his family.  Kennedy’s own complicated backstory is carefully unfolded as he investigates the murder of the young family.  He and his new partner seem well suited to each other, and he begins to feel a guarded respect for the younger officer.  Scorcher’s past has alienated and hardened him, but he begrudgingly suspects that he might eventually accept Richie as a permanent partner or friend.  Broken Harbor, like all of French’s novels, is exquisitely paced and well-written.  It is a thrilling mystery with many unexpected turns that also manages to address some deeper themes as well.  The need for keeping up appearances, the power of shame and the nebulous boundaries between right/wrong weave into the narrative.  As a staunch believer in the rules, Kennedy prefers clear-cut answers when “the world’s vast hissing tangle of shadows burns away, all its treacherous grays are honed to the stark purity of a bare blade, two-edged: cause and effect, good and evil.”  Unfortunately, he discovers that circumstances are often far more complicated and may not be so easily defined.  This case will challenge Scorcher’s core beliefs and cause him to question all the rules he has come to rely on.  Broken Harbor can be read as a stand-alone novel, but mystery fans would benefit from starting the series from the beginning.

Targeting Best Friends?

The Next To Die - Sophie Hannah

The Next to Die, prolific author Sophie Hannah’s latest novel, is due for release in February 2019.  Known for her Spilling CID series and Agatha Christie- inspired mysteries, Hannah is known for skillfully playing with narrative style and characterization.  The new stand-alone novel features two main protagonists whose plotlines intersect during the investigation of an apparent serial killer. The crimes have a unique signature and the murderer seems to be targeting pairs of best friends.  First-person narrator Kim is an acerbic comedian who uses humor to disarm and maintain distance from others.  She realizes that she might be a target of the murderer after watching a news report.  Before their deaths, each victim received a small white book with half of a quote inside.  Kim remembers having been given a similar object at one of her shows but is baffled by the fact that she does not fit the prior pattern- she has no best friend like the others and has (thus far) been spared their fate.  Kim’s story is told at some points in the novel in the form of a book manuscript she is submitting for publication.  The other main character, Simon Waterhouse, is a DC assigned as part of the team investigating the homicides.  He has a prickly personality with an immersive approach to his job that results in an excellent solve rate.  His wife, Charlie, is assisting on the case, but she is distracted by a mystery of her own involving her sister.  The killer has been dubbed “Billy Dead Mates” due to the apparent motive.  A local columnist insists that the true underlying motive is misogyny (even though one of the victims was male).  She asserts that the police are ignoring this pivotal undercurrent and her provocative pieces attract the interest of the killer.  Sophie Hannah incorporates a variety of narrative modes and points-of-view: Kim’s manuscript, letters, emails, short stories, lists and conventional third-person accounts.  The result is an admirable, if overly ambitious approach, experimenting with traditional whodunnit methods of storytelling.  The core mystery is interesting, but The Next to Die suffers from too many characters and divergent sub-plots.  It becomes confusing to follow all the threads, and some of the characters are portrayed like overworked caricatures and stereotypes.  Few, if any, of the characters are likeable and some of the plot devices are unrealistic and implausible.  Readers who are new to Hannah’s work should select another one of her many books to get a more accurate idea of her talents.

A Deeper I.Q.

Righteous (An IQ Novel) - Joe Ide

Readers first met Isaiah Quintabe in Joe Ide’s 2016 novel, I.Q. (as Isaiah is known around LA due to his cleverness).  That book introduced this unconventional modern-day Sherlock Holmes and his Watson stand-in, Dodson.  Partners in both committing and combatting crime, the duo used their connections and street smarts to solve cases that required more creative methods and flexible payment plans.  Isaiah has never really recovered from the death of his beloved brother Marcus. The hit-and-run occurred right before his eyes when he was seventeen, and he has spent the last eight years replaying the scene over in his mind.  When he is not sleuthing for his neighbors, Isaiah spends his time trying to discover the identity of the driver who took Marcus’ life.  Righteous is the second in the series, and this time IQ uncovers evidence that indicates that his brother’s death was no accident.  While searching for his brother’s killer, he also is hired to help his brother’s former girlfriend, Sarita.  Her sister is in serious trouble with a Chinese crime syndicate in Las Vegas due to mounting gambling debts.  IQ enlists Dodson’s aid again, dragging him away from his new legitimate business and extremely pregnant girlfriend. The case sprawls back to LA and creates some conflict with another gang, the Locos, who are not big fans of the amateur detective.  Righteous alternates back and forth between the two storylines, with exciting action culminating in a satisfying conclusion.  The IQ books are vey well written, capturing the attitude, patois and character of cultures that aren’t typically represented in classic crime fiction.  Those new to Ide’s work should start with the first book to fully appreciate the evolution of IQ’s character. The first novel sets the scene and provides important background, whereas the second novel delves deeper into IQ’s psychology-addressing his sense of isolation and obsessive need for revenge.  The door remains left open for future installments and it will be interesting to see where Ide takes his characters next. Fans won’t have long to wait: the third novel in the series, Wrecked, is due to be released in October 2018.

Obsession and Distortion

Our Kind of Cruelty: A Novel - Araminta Hall

Araminta Hall takes the concept of an unreliable narrator to a whole new level in her latest novel, Our Kind of Cruelty.  Mike Hayes is, by all appearances, a successful man.  He has overcome a dismal childhood that forced him into the foster care system, and now is a wealthy and cosmopolitan man.  He narrates this story of his one true love and describes their connection as predestined. Mike is convinced that their marriage would be the inevitable culmination of a perfect life. The object of his undying affection is “V,” a woman he met in college who shares his affinity for a seduction game they call “the Crave.”  A business opportunity across the Atlantic has separated them for two years, followed by a falling out that led to their recent estrangement.  Mike returns from New York, determined to win V back with a new house and an opportunity for a fresh start.  Shortly after his arrival, he is shocked to receive an invitation to the wedding of his beloved and another man.  Still, he is convinced that V is just introducing another iteration of their game of “Crave.”  As the novel continues, Mike’s motivations, true character and disturbing past are revealed. The reader begins to question his level of delusion about his relationship with V, and wonders at what lengths he would go to maintain it.  Hall constructs a novel that teeters on the edge of violence, with a seeping feeling of dread. There were parts of the book that seemed a bit repetitive and overly graphic, and readers with a heightened sensitivity to sexual violence might find Our Kind of Cruelty a challenge. As a character study and experiment with perspective, it is a nice example of how unchecked desire can corrupt the truth.