Thirteen-year-old Sharlah Nash knows that the first time her brother killed eight years ago, he did it to save their lives.

Now retired FBI profiler Pierce Quincy and his wife Rainie Conner have offered Sharlah a new life of safety. She desperately wants to believe this is her shot at happily ever after.

Then two people are murdered in their local convenience store and Sharlah’s brother is identified as the killer.

Telly Ray Nash is on the hunt for Sharlah and as the death count rises it becomes clear that nothing and no-one, including Pierce and Rainie, will stop him getting to her.

Now, Sharlah has one chance to take control.

She can run for her life… or turn and face the danger right behind her.

Right Behind You

Lisa Gardner

Headline

Supplied by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

A grisly murder occurs at the convenience store near the home of Pierce Quincy and Rainie Conner.  Both retired FBI agents, they offer their help to the local sheriff to track down the gunman caught on camera.  The shooter turns out to be Telly Ray Nash, the estranged brother of their foster daughter Sharlah.

Telly Ray and Sharlah ere split up by foster services after their father murderer their mother, then was killed by Telly Ray.  After his foster parents are found dead, it’s thought he snapped and went on a rampage killing spree.  When recent photos of Sharlah are found on hisx phone, Quincy and Rainie know he’s coming for their daughter next.

I thought I figured out near the beginning of the story who the shooter was.  Then came new information that changed my mind to another shooter.  Then further in the story I went back to my original theory.  Then with more information, a new theory emerged.  A huge twist emerged at the ending when the shooter is revealed and it was an awesome twist.

It served to remind me you don’t second guess genius and that’s what Lisa Gardner is  – a genius at writing psychological thrillers.

San Francisco, 2017.

In an alternate time track, Hillary Clinton won the election and Donald Trump’s political ambitions were thwarted.

London, 22nd century. Decades of cataclysmic events have killed 80 per cent of humanity. A shadowy start-up hires a young woman named Verity to test a new product: a ‘cross-platform personal avatar’ that was developed by the military as a form of artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile, characters in the distant future are using technological time travel to interfere with the election unfolding in 2017. . .

Agency

William Gibson

Viking

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

San Francisco, 2017: Clinton’s in the White House, Brexit never happened, and Verity Jones (the app whisperer) has got a new job. The pay means she could stop couch surfing at a friend’s apartment. But within seconds of opening the app, it has decided that Verity is in danger and takes steps to ensure her safety. Meanwhile, approximately 100 years in the future, Wilf Netherton has been drawn back into the orbit of London’s Police fixer Ainsley Lowbeer to assess the threat level of a new timeline stub. Will they need to shut it down? The very one initiated by Verity and her new app, Eunice.

This is a novel told in two timelines. The chapters alternate. Mercifully, the list of characters is quite small, with Verity and Will being the point of view characters. There is an intercept, and Gibson handles it well – time travel is not invoked. Verity and Eunice try to survive the attempts to wrest control of Eunice, who turns out to be a piece of repurposed military programming. Will and Ainsley, once they’ve assessed the potential of the new timeline, have a bigger question – Who benefits? London, and what survives of the United Kingdom, is run by the Klept, a shadowy group of oligarchs who stole power after a disaster.

0I enjoyed this read. I’ve been a fan of Gibson for quite a while and he has not disappointed. It is well paced, and the two strands, action thriller (sort of) and spy-fi (sort of), mix well. It is comfortably paced, with the action scenes not overly described. Gibson, despite a tendency toward hard SF, doesn’t wallow in techno-babble. My one complaint would be the length of some of the chapters. Some are barely two pages. But then again, chapters should be as long as they need to be and no longer.

Buy this book. It’s good. The stories are resolved well, and there are no glaring plot holes. I thank Penguin for the review copy.

They’re a glamorous family, the Caseys.

Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together – birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they’re a happy family. Johnny’s wife, Jessie – who has the most money – insists on it.

Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much . . .

Everything stays under control until Ed’s wife Cara, gets concussion and can’t keep her thoughts to herself. One careless remark at Johnny’s birthday party, with the entire family present, starts Cara spilling out all their secrets.

In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults finds themselves wondering if it’s time – finally – to grow up?

Grown Ups

Marian Keyes

Michael Joseph

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

The story starts with a party to mark Johnny Casey’s birthday.  His sister-in-law Cara had a head injury earlier that day and is unable to lie.  Questions get asked and secrets are about to be revealed……..

The events of six months ago are then described – the Easter trip to Kerry.    We learn about the various Casey’s and other family members and friends, and   get an idea of what is happening in their lies.  Then the events of five months ago, four months ago, three months, two months, one month, and then we come to the dinner party again.  And see things go nuclear.

Along the way we’re introduced to a Syrian refugee to Ireland and the realities of life for asylum seekers in Ireland is explained.  This is done as part of the story and feels natural, not preachy at all.    This also brings up ‘period poverty’, something that’s an issue in NZ that had been hidden as it was embarrassing to talk about.  The story highlighted this cause as an organic part of the story and not virtue signalling.

I really enjoyed getting to know the Casey’s and getting a glimpse into their lives.  My only moan about this book is it ended too soon.  I want to know how lives turned out!

Buy it; read it; you won’t regret it.

Queen Briseis has been stolen from her conquered homeland and given as a concubine to a foreign warrior. The warrior is Achilles: famed hero, loathed enemy, ruthless butcher, darkly troubled spirit. Briseis’s fate is now indivisibly entwined with his.

No one knows it yet, but there are just ten weeks to go until the Fall of Troy, the end of this long and bitter war. This is the start of The Iliad: the most famous war story ever told. The next ten weeks will be a story of male power, male ego, male violence. But what of the women? The thousands of female slaves in the soldiers’ camp – in the laundry, at the loom, laying out the dead? Briseis is one of their number – and she will be our witness to history.

The Silence of the Girls

Pat Barker

Hamish Hamilton

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

This has been touted as a great feminist novel, but I don’t think it is, not in any positive sense. It is more a polemic against a certain kind of masculinity, toxic masculinity if you like. And against war; the sheer brutality of war in ancient times. It might be supposed to be a re-telling of the Iliad from the point of view of a woman, of Briseis, the former wife of Mynes, a son of the King of Lyrnessus, who becomes the slave of Achilles. But it’s still a story about men, about strutting male egos and the consequences of their butting heads. Achilles even gets to be narrator in a third-person sort-of way some distance into the book, although his ‘voice’ always feels a bit awkward. I’m not convinced that it is even possible to write a truly feminist Iliad, because it’s essentially a story about men and the flaws of men. Could you even write an empowering story about women in that setting? Maybe, but not, I think, at the centre of Homer’s story. Which this is.

I can’t say I liked this book. I did find it oddly compelling, and I did finish it (unlike the last attempt to re-tell the Iliad from a female point of view that came my way).  The author has a fine command of language, although it often feels way too modern for the subject. But it’s a brutal work, pulling no punches in the description of violence and of the treatment of women. If you are at all sensitive to rape, violence or profanity, then this is not the book for you.

(And to add to that, I’ve just seen a flash fiction shared on Facebook that in less than a hundred words tells a better – and far more positive – story, focusing on Cassandra, Odysseus and Penelope).

The President
For President Jonathan Bennett, reaching the White House was the realization of a lifetime’s ambition. He’s leader of the free world and the most powerful man on earth. But public support for his administration is wearing thin. And if the terrible truth about his rise to the top was exposed it would bury him. He will not let that happen.

The Assassin
As a boy, Evan Smoak was taken from his foster home and inducted into a top secret Cold War programme. Code-named Orphan X, he was trained to become a lethal weapon, then dispatched around the world to do whatever was required to keep his country safe. When Evan discovered the mission was rotten to the core, he got out using his skills to hide in plain sight while helping those who can’t help themselves

The Reckoning
But Evan knows about the President’s dark past. And that’s dangerous knowledge. To save himself and his country, Evan must ask himself one simple question: how do you kill the most well-protected man on earth? And, when he knows you’re coming for him, how do you stay alive long enough to try? One thing is certain: a desperate call for help from another unfortunate in urgent need of Evan’s protection isn’t going to make it any easier . . .

Out of the Dark: Orphan X #4

Gregg Hurwitz

Michael Joseph

Borrowed from Auckland Libraries

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

After finding out why the President wants him dead, Evan knows the only way he can live is to kill the President of the United States.  A simple task. NOT.

The Nowhere Man also has the task of helping a mentally challenged man – Trevon – find safety from a drug lord.  He hideously murdered Trevon’s entire family and framed him to send a message to others not to cross him.

I liked seeing past characters – some surprisingly helpful – and I enjoyed leaning of Joey’s scorched earth plan for her school friend’s rapist.  The whole family sound sleazy and I have no doubt she’ll succeed.   I loved the character of Trevon and adored how close his family was.  I hated the drug lord and wished he’d suffered more.

More of the incredible action and breath-takingly fast paced plots that are every Orphan X story.

Impatiently waiting for Orphan X #5!

Hellbent: Orphan X #3 review here

Naomi seems to have everything. A beautiful daughter, a gorgeous house, a perfect life. Behind the scenes, though, she and her husband are drifting from one another and struggling to conceive their second child.

Then Naomi meets a parent at her daughter’s nursery. Sean understands her, or so she thinks. Looking for a connection, for a friend, she joins him at a swimming lesson with their children. That day, Naomi makes a terrible mistake.

Weeks later, when Naomi attempts to contact Sean, he has disappeared without a trace. But as she begins to piece her life back together, it becomes clear that someone else knows her secret. Someone who wants to make sure she never forgets what she did at the pool.

Happy Ever After

CC Macdonald

Harvill Seeker

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

The story started off slow and became more interesting over time.

As more detail was given the events became clearer.  I then had to keep reading to see what happened next.  I did not connect with the characters and Naomi annoyed me with her ‘baby baby baby’ focus.   Maybe it’s because I don’t have a maternal bone in my body but I didn’t ‘get’ her.

I really, really enjoyed the ending as I did not see that twist coming.   The last few pages – oh, that was so vindictive of Sean – a great way to mess with Charlie’s mind.

The story takes awhile to get interesting but keep reading, as it’s worth it.

It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is almost ten years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust #2

Philip Pullman

David Fickling Books and Penguin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Pantalaimon witnesses a murder. The father of one of Lyra’s fellow students is going bankrupt due to a lack of quality rose oil. A web of intrigue connects these two seemingly random events with a shadowy religious order. And thus, begins The Secret Commonwealth, the second volume of Pullman’s The Book of Dust series. I want to say trilogy, but authors are tricky beasts.

The events of La Belle Sauvage are about 20 years in the past. But Oakley Street is still present, keeping a watchful eye on Lyra. So too is Malcolm Polstead, now a lecturer at Oxford, though at a different college to the one Lyra attends. Lyra and Pantalaimon have a difficult relationship, in part due to her forced abandonment of him in a previous adventure and also due to her reaction to a couple of books popular for their philosophy. So Pantalaimon sets off to find Lyra’s imagination. This event, early in the story, sets Lyra on a course both dangerous and lifesaving. The web of intrigue is closing around her. In her quest to find Pantalaimon she heads for the Blue Hotel, a legendary building said to be home to separated daemons. Where the plot takes an even bigger twist.

Pullman tells a deft tale. The Secret Commonwealth is at times a whodunnit, a spy-fi, a thriller and a bit of a travelogue through his alternate world. And at almost 700 pages there is plenty of plot and character development. Villains display elaborate backstories that make their motivations and actions sensible. I liked that Pullman retained his heroes from the previous volume and trilogy, as well as his gentle nod to events that happened in reality.

This is a great read, not only for the young adult market it supposedly is aimed at. Any fan of modern fantasy should have Pullman and this series on their shelves. I thank Penguin Random House for the review copy. Nice one.