Even Stranger by Marilyn Messik

“I thought I’d knocked him out, but in a flash he’d turned on to all fours and was crawling swiftly, spider-like, back towards us. He still held the knife, so I set fire to the handle. The wood flamed and he hissed in pain but didn’t let go. It was all turning rather awkward.”

Having first met Stella as a child in Relatively Strange we now encounter her once again as an adult in the early 70s in Even Stranger. She is trying hard not to stand out by keeping her powers hidden as much as possible. From book one we know she can fly (though it’s more difficult when you’re bigger), move objects and use her mind to read other people’s. Following a series of unremarkable and often unsuccessful jobs, she decides to start her own service business. Whatever you need doing Stella will do it – from typing and research to picking up children and house sitting dogs (more of the latter later).

It’s been six years since her debacle with a group of people with similar abilities including the Peacock sisters, Gloria, Ed and Hamlet (a giant dog) plus Sam who they rescued from a dangerous government research facility looking into children with psi powers. Stella is aided in her new venture by her eccentric 83 year old aunt Kitty and Brenda who is employed to help them. There is also a snooty Borzoi (whom she acquired from a recently deceased client). I said there would be another dog. In this book Stella pits her wits and powers against three different foes and puts herself in danger as a result. Oh yes and there’s a new romance!! And creepy dolls.

It’s yet again a fabulous roller-coaster ride. Please don’t try to rationalise her powers – this is psi-fi and you need accept them from day one or you’ll be disappointed. I love Stella and her family and can’t wait for book three.

The Crown Agent by Stephen O’Rourke

Dr Mungo Lyon, an Edinburgh surgeon, is barred from practice following his (minor) involvement in the Burke and Hare case. However, when he is caught up in a strange adventure that takes him to Glasgow and Jamaica, his skill as a surgeon is not the only skill he will need. He will need to use his intelligence and keep his wits about him as he is chased, shot at, accused of murder and taken prisoner on a ship bound for the other side of the world. Never knowing who he can trust and who is a villain, Mungo finds himself trying to solve the case almost single-handed. There are many surprises along the way and even the possibility of a romance. Murder, smuggling and treason – they are all here in this rip-roaring tale of adventure and derring-do.

Many thanks to the Pigeonhole, the author and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

The Dilemma by BA Paris

I can’t believe I’m only giving this three stars as it’s so well written, heart-breaking and sad. It’s a tale of family love, separation, sorrow, misunderstanding and tragedy. That should make a wonderful read, shouldn’t it? But something is missing. Once we discover the two threads that form the basis of the story it just dragged and dragged till in the end I just wanted to scream ‘just tell her and get it over with’. I waited for the twist that would surely come. But no. It really went out not with a bang but a whimper.

But the other things that frustrated me. The party. I just didn’t get it. Twenty years she had waited for a birthday party that would make up for the wonderful wedding she never had. It made her look a bit bonkers to be honest. They could have renewed their vows after 10 years or so. We got married in a registry office and renewed our vows after twenty five years in church because my husband knew it meant a lot to me (no wedding dress or anything over the top). Then there was Adam’s treatment of her in the first few years. She forgave him so easily and put it down to his youth. Really? More selfishness.

Having said that I rocketed through it in two sittings but it would have been better if the whole thing had been cut by half. Then it would have been at least 4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC.

Snakes and Ladders by Victoria Selman

I really enjoyed reading this. A bit Silence of the Lambs meets Dan Brown and I particularly like the codes and clues aspect. Dr Sange is an interesting character as you don’t expect a serial killer to be so handsome and charismatic (unless it’s Keanu Reeves in The Watcher – though maybe not charismatic). I’m not sure Ziba would be my first choice of profiler -she’s a bit off the mark at times. Difficult to review this without giving anything away. Suffice to say I don’t totally agree that serial killers are made nor born. I think it’s a combination of nature and a lot of nurture. Plenty of people have terrible childhoods but they don’t turn into murderous psychopaths. A great read especially with the author and my fellow pigeons on The Pigeonhole – loved throwing ideas around. Looking forward to book #4.
Just one comment. Please either call him Jack or Wolfie not both! It’s so distracting.

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

From Spain during the Civil War to Chile, then exile in Venezuela and back to Chile, this beautiful novel covers a period of history that most of us no nothing about. It follows the lives of Victor Dalmau and his wife Roser from youth to old age. It’s a sweeping epic of a novel with a host of likeable and not so likeable fictional characters. The politicians such as Franco, Salvador Allende and Pinochet are all real, as is the poet Pablo Neruda. Having loved The House of the Spirits I looked forward to a touch of magical realism (my favourite genre), but there was none. I would have given it five stars but for two reasons. Firstly (as others have pointed out) it reads at times like a history lesson and secondly it’s a bit like a joke without a punchline. There are no surprises or twists and turns as in the books I usually read. It is linear going from point A to point B in chronological order. The writing is beautiful and the story engaging but for me it doesn’t follow the introduction, conflict, crescendo, resolution, happy-ever-after-ending of the type of stories I am used to. It kind of meanders from one place and time to another until everyone is old or dead, just with a lot of drama and bloodshed along the way. It is probably why I never read non-fiction.
However, don’t let that put you off. It’s a beautiful story and well worth reading.

The Mother I Could Have Been by Kerry Fisher

I wish to thank NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book.
This isn’t my usual genre but I thought I would give it a go. To start with I didn’t like Vicky at all. She is so hard done by and finds it easier to walk away than actually have a conversation with the people in her life she thinks are criticising her. In fact she got on my nerves so much that I put the book away for a week and started another one. Finally I came back to it and once Caro and her family were introduced I read into the night finishing it before work this morning. I cried throughout much of the second half because it was so real. Haven’t we all fallen out with family members though most of us haven’t walked away from our mothers or toddlers. Or had a row with someone to find they had died before we could put things right. That’s why I never go to sleep on an argument. At least Vicky found out that the problems were mostly to do with her self-esteem or lack of it but to say anymore would give away too much. As for India! Boy what a bitch. And her husband Andy. A snivelling, controlling little s*&t.
This was such a great read. So heart-wrenching. Loved it.

The Only Child by Mi-ae Seo

Oh boy this could have been so good. The premise of the story is an excellent one and once I managed to understand what was going on (which took a while) it became really gripping. The story that is – because the writing (and I guess it gets lost in translation) is clunky and immature. From my experience of creative writing (I studied it for my OU degree) which is all about show not tell, someone needs a bit of tuition. It’s tell tell tell and so much repetition. There are only so many times you can ask someone if they want a glass of water (no-one seems to drink anything else which I am sure is very admirable from a health point of view but not very believable) or maybe the excessive heat is supposed to add to the tension. It doesn’t. And we get that the child is pale with large eyes and puppy fat cheeks but we don’t need to be told over and over. The main character Seonkyeong is supposed to be a criminal psychologist, but her understanding of her step-daughter, who is a cross between Carrie and Damien from the Omen, is pitiable and even her time with the serial killer shows little expertise. She is, as my later Father-in-law would have said, as dim as a TOC-H lamp, whatever that is. Her husband, a doctor, is also pretty dim and unlikable with it.

But in spite of its flaws I loved it. It certainly pays homage to other books of its genre like The Silence of the Lambs. It even references it. And it would make a great film. It just needs some careful editing, preferably with a sledgehammer.

Many thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. I did enjoy it!