A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly

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Title: A Game of Ghosts

Author: John Connolly

Genre: Crime, Thriller

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 11th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 455

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: It is deep winter. The darkness is unending.

It is deep winter. The darkness is unending.

The private detective named Jaycob Eklund has vanished, and Charlie Parker is dispatched to track him down. Parker’s employer, Edgar Ross, an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has his own reasons for wanting Eklund found.

Eklund is no ordinary investigator. He is obsessively tracking a series of homicides and disappearances, each linked to reports of hauntings. Now Parker will be drawn into Eklund’s world, a realm in which the monstrous Mother rules a crumbling criminal empire, in which men strike bargains with angels, and in which the innocent and guilty alike are pawns in a game of ghosts . . .

~*~

The latest in the Charlie Parker series, A Game of Ghosts is full of chills and mystery. In the aftermath of a previous storyline, Charlie is grappling with the prospect he may not see daughter Sam, after a case put his family in danger. Also hinting at previous novels, Charlie’s dead wife and daughter are mentioned, the impetus that began the series, and the character. In this offering, my first outing with Charlie, a private investigator – Jaycob Eklund has gone missing – an investigator unlike any other, one who has of late, been looking into homicides and disappearances that are linked to reports of hauntings, where a paranormal, ghostly presence is constantly felt. The mystery lies in who the people behind these events are, and why.

Slowly, the novel brings to light the Brethren, the group that Eklund had been looking into, and their history, going back generations and linking them together as family, in some ways that are quite unusual and the close-knit community resembles a cult, though this word is not often used to describe them. Charlie must look into this group, find them and bring them to justice, whilst protecting his daughter and maintaining a relationship with her, and ensure that she is not harmed or hurt in any way. It is as much a story about the family dynamic as it is about the crime.

John Connolly’s narrative explores various aspects of the human psychology, from the protective instincts of a parent, to what drives someone to join a cult and kill, and beyond. With a cast of characters that appear sometimes for brief moments, Connolly’s story is chilling and compelling, something that demands to be read to the conclusion. In varying the length of the chapters, Connolly ensures a great pace, so that I was able to read up to fifteen chapters in one sitting, but not have the story drag along nor speed along – the slow chapters interrogated the psychology of the various players in the story – the victims, the killers, the investigators and those around them who weren’t involved in the case, and the fast chapters showed action and a little bit of the psychology, hinting at things to come for some characters. These fast and slow, short and long chapters work for this genre really well – the crime thriller genre, to keep the reader interested, and keep the intrigue up.

The pacing picks up in the last few chapters as events and those involved come to a head, and it feels like it is all over quickly, however, this ending works well for the novel, and doesn’t drag on for ages. It is action packed as well.

All in all, a decent crime thriller for fans of the genre and series. An enjoyable read, and one that can be devoured quickly or savoured.

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The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan

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Title: The Bombs that Brought Us Together

Author: Brian Conaghan

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st May 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: WINNER OF THE 2016 COSTA CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARD

Fourteen-year-old Charlie Law has lived in Little Town, on the border with Old Country, all his life. He knows the rules: no going out after dark; no drinking; no litter; no fighting. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of the people who run Little Town. When he meets Pavel Duda, a refugee from Old Country, the rules start to get broken. Then the bombs come, and the soldiers from Old Country, and Little Town changes for ever.

Sometimes, to keep the people you love safe, you have to do bad things. As Little Town’s rules crumble, Charlie is sucked into a dangerous game. There’s a gun, and a bad man, and his closest friend, and his dearest enemy.

Charlie Law wants to keep everyone happy, even if it kills him. And maybe it will.

~*~

Set in what could be a not so distant future, but in an indiscriminate country, divided into Little Town and Old Country, Charlie Law’s life begins to change when he meets Pavel Dude, a refugee from Old Town. Charlie soon becomes embroiled in a rebellion plot against the army of Old Country that has taken over Little Town following the devastation of a bomb attack, increasing tensions between people, with enforced rules and danger lurking everywhere. Charlie must decide between keeping his head down and not getting involved, or becoming involved in ways he had never imagined he would at the age of fourteen.

Told through the eyes of a child who has always known war and oppression, The Bombs That Brought Us Together show the realities of war and state sanctioned oppression, and the way the innocent acceptance of children who have only known this life change, and work to fight against it or simply accept the new way of life. Seeing war and the consequences of war through the eyes of a child, watching people he cares about suffer without medicine because the chemist was bombed, or go missing, without a trace for days. Charlie’s voice is clear throughout the story, and the reader experiences the events through his eyes.

I found Charlie to be a likeable character – one which had flaws but was loyal to his friends and family, who questioned people when he thought something was up and didn’t simply accept things. I felt his fear and uncertainty in his dealings with the Big Man, his absolute loyalty to Pav, the refugee who struggled with Little Town lingo, who feared Old Country, yet still didn’t feel safe from the thugs and those who hated anyone from Old Country.

Brian Conaghan has captured the voice of a child affected by war, invasion and occupation, illustrating how a dictatorship can threaten lives but at the same time, feel like everyday life to those living in it and who may never have known anything different. I think it encourages readers to understand history and how events like these fictional ones can happen, and what drives people to extreme measures, such as the deal Charlie had to make for medication for his mother.

An intriguing read, and ideal for teenagers, The Bombs That Brought Us Together shows the importance and the strength of trust of friendship in the uncertain and dangerous times in the novel.

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society

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Title: The Fifth Avenue Artists Society
Author: Joy Callaway
Genre: Fiction/Popular Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 23rd November 2016
Format: Paperback
Pages: 358
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: Devastated after being jilted by the boy next door, Ginny Loftin turns to writing in an attempt to rewrite their story with a better ending. But it is among the painters, musicians, actors and other writers she meets at a Fifth Avenue salon that she finds new purpose and a second chance at love. A richly told historical novel of family loyalties, loss and artistic desires.
‘The creative sisterhood of Little Women, the social scandal of Edith Wharton and the courtship mishaps of Jane Austen . . . The Fifth Avenue Artists Society is a delightful, and at times touching, tale of Gilded Age society and creative ambition with an inspiring heroine.’ New York Daily News

The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love.

When Charlie instead proposes to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up in her room and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her-until she attends an elite salon hosted at her brother’s friend John Hopper’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John’s increasingly romantic attentions.

But just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon’s bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren’t quite as she’d imagined them, Ginny will realise how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love.

~*~

A story that has romance within its pages, yet it is the kind that doesn’t take over everything else in the story that the characters experience and go through, and nor does it turn Ginny, the main character, into less than she is at the beginning of the novel. Virginia Loftin comes from a family of artistic ambition. Sister Bessie is a milliner, her twin brother Franklin is a painter, her younger sister Alevia is a musician, and Virginia is a writer. Only her oldest sister Mae isn’t an artist, taking to teaching orphans instead, yet supportive of the pursuits of her siblings. The years since her father’s death have been hard on Virginia’s family, all doing whatever they can with their creativity to bring in the money. Virginia’s best friend Charlie is an artist too, and together, they have grown up, sharing their love of art, painting and the written word. And an undying loyalty to each other that rarely wavers, and Virginia is sure that they will marry – until Charlie proposes to another woman.

As an aspiring writer, Virginia has faced sexism from other artists and writing groups because of her gender – because of how the society she was a part of at the time viewed the genders and what they were supposedly capable of. Virginia and her family, and Charlie, know that she is capable of anything. But Virginia still must find a way to prove herself, and it is The Fifth Avenue Artists Society that she attends where she uncovers a way to unlock her talent and to meet like-minded men and women. It all seems too good to be true, and perhaps it is: because nothing ever happens so easily.

Escaping as most writers do into her words, Virginia joins a society of artists – The Fifth Avenue Artists Society in New York, where she meets several characters who will change her life and the course of the lives of her family over the course of the novel. A courtship with fellow society member, John Hopper, encourages Virginia to share her writing, and to aim for publication of her work that is inspired by her feelings and the people around her. As she works on her novel, a shadow of mystery about Franklin’s new job begins to emerge, and it is not long before a series of tragic events unravel and reveal secrets that threaten to bring shame upon the family and alienate them from the upper class society that they are a part of.

A story that is based on the family history of the author, which gives the characters a depth and authenticity that makes one feel as though they are in late nineteenth century New York less than thirty years after the end of the American Civil War, where the war is briefly mentioned a few times to set the scene and the background to the families, The Fifth Avenue Artists Society celebrates the value of art to the individual, and society. It explores what society expected of men and women at the time, and what was accepted, but also shows a woman who, though she sees the value in the conventional, does not always ascribe to the roles society deems right. She is an intriguing character who ends up following her heart for love and for her goals of publication. An intriguing read that brings society life to light and shows how attitudes have changed in many ways.