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Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Reviewed by Krista McKeeth

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

As this story is told from the child’s perspective, you do not get the emotional distress and physical pain of the original victim, Ma. Jack is intelligent for his age, he reads and can interpret emotions in others pretty well. However, his education relies on what his high-school-educated mother and television teaches him and his understanding of the outside world in relation to himself is non existent.

Ma doesn’t begin expressing herself to him until he reaches the age of five when she feels like he can begin to process the ideas and understand, even if he doesn’t want to.The story focuses on what Jack is capable of remembering – his time alone with his mother, in The Room, then the eventual escape and birth into the world outside The Room.

The things that will haunt you are the emotional distress that the situation has on Jack and (through him), his mother’s experience. The visual and physical descriptions that Jack witnesses and tries to process are daunting and will stick with you long after the book has ended. Talk about having to grow up fast! Jack seems to do it better than any of the new adults he meets in the real world, leaving you to wonder how the rest of his life will turn out.

Book Review: Ice Queen by Nele Neuhaus

Reviewed by Joelene Pynonnen

After having survived the atrocities of the Holocaust, ninety-two-year-old Jossi Goldman is found murdered in his home. The execution style killing along with a number scrawled in blood on the mirror are baffling enough. When an old tattoo on the victim’s arm suggests that he may have had ties to the SS and the victim’s son shuts down any chance of further investigation, Bodenstein’s curiosity is truly roused.

A second murder, uncannily similar to the first, raises suspicion that a vigilante might be taking down men with hidden Nazi pasts or sympathies. The fact that both victims were connected to the powerful Vera Kaltensee makes the situation much more delicate. But Bodenstein has never let a case get away from him before, and he’s not going to let politics get in his way now.

Ice Queen is the third novel in the Kirchhoff and Bodenstein series but it reads perfectly well as a stand-alone. There might be one or two instances where a past case is touched upon, but never in enough detail to give previous plots away. It’s also obvious from this book that the relationship between the main detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein has progressed but again shouldn’t spoil anything.

There are a lot of fascinating characters in Ice Queen. Each of them is well drawn with emotional complexity and agency all of their own. Many of them have secrets. Vera may seem a wealthy philanthropist but she is also shrewd and accustomed to protecting her interests. Her family is also a mixed bag. One son would do anything for her, the other has been distant lately, and her daughter is ambitious enough to do anything to protect herself and her career. Then there’s Vera’s late husband’s illegitimate son, Robert. A man who often finds himself on the wrong side of the law and is always looking for easy money. Or her granddaughter who, unbeknownst to Vera, is in a relationship with a man who loathes the Kaltensee family. Secrets, motives and grievances abound just inside the Kaltensee family – then there are all of those that the Kaltensee’s have crossed through the years.

A mix of solid police work, baffling clues, political red tape and a smatter of red herrings combine to make Ice Queen a riveting read. While it keeps suspense and mystery high throughout, it also highlights how close we still are to the hostile and devastating past. And how easy it is for that past to catch up.




Ice Queen – Nele Neuhaus

St Martin’s Press (January 13, 2015)

ISBN: 9781447266860

Review: One Kick by Chelsea Cain

Reviewed by Krista McKeeth

Kick (Beth at the time) is a celebrity. After being kidnapped she falls victim to a huge child porn ring and her “videos” became the most known in those darker circles. Once she’s rescued, her mother latches onto the high profile life of being a spokesperson for kidnapped children groups. Her relationship with Kit aka Kick is nothing more than being a source of money. Kick finds solace in practising her battle techniques with her dog Monster and her “brother” James.

James and Kick keep an eye out on new reports of missing children and try to help the police. When a mystery man calling himself Bishop appears in Kick’s home and offers her an actual role in helping him find a missing child named Adam, she joins the search and finds herself having to face her past and everything she’s been fighting to control within herself.

Kick’s character is an interesting one. She is very vulnerable because of her past, yet she has to be strong every day. The author did a great job in portraying how it is an every day battle to keep pushing forward. When Bishop comes into her life, she has to confront a lot of emotions head on. This leads to some very interesting dynamics between Bishop, who is all business, and Kick who is all emotion. No matter how much Kick tries to look at something from an outsiders point of view, she mentally gets pulled right back to her days of the abduction. Another interesting aspect to the story is the emotional ties that Kick has for her “dad”, the man that took care of her and taught her almost everything she knows.

I listened to the audiobook and at times the narrator makes Kick sound a little more introverted than I would have translated if I had read the book. The tone of voice is very soft and at times timid when I would have imagined her more powerful and in-your-face. I did enjoy listening to the audio, but I wonder if I would have gotten a different energy from Kick if I had read the book.  Bishop is an curious character and at several times throughout the story I wondered why he was really there. The mystery of who he is, and what exactly his job is, really pushes the story forward and leads into the ongoing plot of the series.

There is some violence, at times graphic, and also animal related.  What I enjoyed most about the story was the way the author was able to show me the internal struggle Kick was having with herself. The author kept putting her in situations where she wanted help, but struggled to work through it alone, sometimes failing at that challenge. I found that I enjoyed the book after having time to process it, and think about everything the author set up. It looks like it will be a really great series, and definitely one I plan on continuing.


Book Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

Reviewed by Joelene Pynonnen

Some crimes are so brutal they catch the country by surprise. Even years after the event the public waits for snippets of information, answers that may never come. There are always people at the centre of these cases. Faces splashed in the news so often that they are familiar to the whole country. The main suspects, the victims – or their families.

Closer to the sidelines there are others. Jean Taylor is one of these others. Her world fell apart when her husband, Glen, was accused of taking two-year-old Bella. That he was cleared of the crime, doesn’t matter to a lot of people. He has been condemned in the court of public opinion and, by proxy, so has she.

But he’s dead now. And all of that nonsense should die with him. Would die with him if it weren’t for the fact that now the world sees their last chance to find little Bella.

The Widow is a gripping read. Instead of overlooking the steadfast wife in favour of the remorseless child killer, it centres on her. It delves into the life of an ordinary woman who has been thrown into extraordinary circumstances through no fault of her own, and yet who is condemned for the situation she finds herself in.

As always characters are the first thing I notice, and in The Widow, they are as riveting as the story’s premise. Told from several viewpoints, each voice is distinct and clear. It’s evident from the writing alone that the characters all have different levels of education, confidence, analytical abilities and life experiences. The eponymous character has low confidence and is swayed easily by others. Bob Sparks, the detective, is determined to find Bella no matter the cost to his career or personal life. Kate, the journalist is practical, clever and perceptive. These characteristics come out vividly in their viewpoint chapters.

While solving the crime isn’t a major aspect of the novel – the killer is dead after all – there is still a lot of mystery at play. The great question that casts a shadow over the entire novel is, why would a woman stand by a man when the world has condemned him as a child murderer? And why would she do so without pushing for answers that she has to suspect that he can provide? The missing child hangs over the story as well. When so many characters’ lives revolve around finding Bella, it’s difficult for it not to.

Despite the fact that the type of closure exists in other crime novels isn’t applicable in this one, the conclusion is surprisingly satisfying. There’s the sense of a story coming full circle, loose ends closing off, both physical and emotional. It’s bittersweet, but resonates none-the-less.

The Widow is a terrific read. Barton’s people watching skills are unparalleled. She’s capable of showing a wide range of characters and handling all of them with care and sensitivity. I’ll be watching out for other books by this author.


The Widow – Fiona Barton

Berkley (January 4, 2016)

ISBN: 978110199026

Review: Heist by Robert Schofield

Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen

Gareth Ford has never been perfect. His wife has left him because he can’t make an emotional commitment. Despite a high-paying job his main vices, horses and alcohol, keep him perpetually in debt. And the job is as close as he can get to self-exile. Even so, he would never betray the remote gold mine that he works for. Unfortunately for him, the gang robbing the mine don’t need him to betray it; they just need to make it look as though he has.

Abandoned in the harsh Australian desert, Ford has one goal – get back to his daughter. The one person that he would never abandon. When neither she nor his wife are contactable, Ford realises he has to find people he can trust to get him back to Perth before the gang carry out their threat to harm his family.

Kavanagh, a rogue cop who believes Ford is the fall-guy, and members of a bikie gang being targeted for the robbery, are the only allies he has – even if they’re all involved for their own reasons. With his family on the line, Ford has to take that gamble.

The premise to Heist is solid. The opening scenes are heavy with atmosphere. The isolation of the mine combined with the violent professionalism of the robbery make for a tense beginning and immediate high stakes. The pace is brisk, not getting itself bogged down in backstory, but really immersing readers in the initial pages. While backstory is introduced later, the pace of the novel never really lets up.

The pace, plot and characterisation all draw together to create a compelling novel, but in some ways it’s obvious that Heist is a debut. Everything is a little too much. Ford gets shot, kicked, punched and burned at regular intervals. For recovery he chases a cocktail of drugs down with alcohol – also regularly – and is good to get back in the fray. The stand-offs between Kavanagh and the bikies happen a little too often. The pace is too good for any of these things to be deal-breakers but, in a second or third novel, these aspects would probably be handled with more subtlety.

Characterisation is done well, not just on an individual basis. The mix of personalities forced to work together in the novel makes for some terse moments. If Kavanagh wasn’t on the opposite side of the law to Doc and Banjo, they would probably get along famously. But the nuances between their individuality and their affiliations are at constant odds with each other.

There’s a lot of promise in this series. Some aspects could be honed further, but for a debut novel, it’s immensely readable. Fast-paced, action-packed, with a few sharp twists; Schofield is definitely an author to keep an eye out for.

Heist – Robert Schofield

Allen & Unwin (June 26, 2013)

ISBN: 9781743315200