CHRISTMAS THRILLERS – If you’re looking for brilliant thrillers to thrill you over the Christmas holidays, here are my recommendations!
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
‘Hello there.’I looked at the pale, freckled hand on the back of the empty bar seat next to me in the business class lounge of Heathrow airport, then up into the stranger’s face.’Do I know you?
Ted Severson is having a martini in Heathrow airport when he meets Lily Kintner. Over drinks and during the long flight back to the states, he tells Lily that his wife is cheating on him. He confesses that he’d like to kill her. It’s a casual, throw-away remark; the kind of thing an angry man might say after one too many gins. But Lily takes him seriously, and by the time the plane lands, the two of them have agreed to murder Ted’s beautiful, adulterous wife.
This is a wonderfully written thriller, set against the chill sweep of Maine in winter, with compelling, ice-cold characters and plot twists that will take your breath away. Continue reading
MY YEAR OF THRILLERS – The expression on his face was more confusing to Tom than if he had focused a gun on him. The face was friendly, smiling and hopeful.
The Talented My Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
I’m writing a psychological thriller at the moment and, to get to grips with a genre quite different from my own (literary, historical), I’ve spent the last two years reading thrillers.
YOU THINK IT’S ABOUT SEX … – Review of The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
I hated The Gathering. I could see why it sold a scant handful before it won the Orange Prize. But The Forgotten Waltz is something else: a wonderfully written, acerbically-witty, literary page-turner. It’s a tale of adultery set against the rise and smash of Ireland’s boom period.
The book is constructed like a thriller:
‘If it hadn’t been for the child then none of this might have happened, but the fact that a child was involved made everything that much harder to forgive…The fact that a child was affected meant we had to…follow through.’
The premise is simple, but like a rough-cut gem, it is polished and polished until the conclusion shines, multi-faceted, so sharp you might bleed. Gina Moynihan thinks she is happily married to Conor Shiels, until she meets Sean Vallely.
A MAGICAL MODERN FAIRY TALE – Review of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Snow Child is the strange and magical tale of a middle-aged couple who, in 1920, leave their gentrified lives for the wilds of Alaska. Jack and Mabel, grieving for the loss of their stillborn child and unable to bear the gossip about their childlessness, wish to begin anew – perhaps purge and punish themselves – when they settle along the shores of the Wolverine River.
They are neither practical, nor young, nor strong and they struggle. In a rare moment of levity, Mabel and Jack build a snow child in their yard, adorned with a red hat and mittens. In the morning the hat and the mittens and, indeed, the snow child, have disappeared.
THE FRIGHTENING BEAUTY OF BEING HUMAN – The Humans by Matt Haig
Professor Andrew Martin, Cambridge mathematician, is dead. An alien, in his body, returns in his place. That would normally be enough to make me switch off, turn away, put the book down – but bear with me – The Humans is utterly brilliant. Everyone should have a copy.
The alien-Andrew Martin lands, not in his office as anticipated, but on a motorway. Naked. Passersby hurl abuse and spit, leading to an unfortunate, albeit temporary idea, that this is the standard greeting on earth.
IT’S ALL GOOD – It’s All Good by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen
Graham Norton recently gently poked fun at Gwyneth Paltrow for her breakfast recipes in her latest cookery book, It’s All Good. ‘Leftover Quinoa, Two Ways. Yes, I’m the kind of person who always has leftover quinoa.’
I am the sort of person who has a three year old who goes pretend shopping for quinoa. I’ve also been trying to eat a higher protein, low carb diet and so this book (subtitle – Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great) seemed perfect. And frankly, who wouldn’t want to look like Gwyneth, gleaming with health on the front cover.
LOVE, FORGIVENESS AND A FEATHERED WOMAN – The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness
A beautiful, white crane falls, keening, to earth, with an arrow piercing its wing. A man wrestles the arrow from the bird in the freezing cold and the crane flies free. It’s a powerful, dream-like moment, but it takes place in suburban London to a bloke called George Duncan whose ex-wife describes him as 65% man.
The following day, George, who runs a print shop, meets an other-worldly woman called Kumiko, who brings in a stunning collage she’s made from feathers. George, who has been idly cutting a picture out of the pages of a second-hand book, discovers that his creation completes Kumiko’s. It is the start of a gentle relationship and a marriage of two art forms: feathers and words, which Kumiko turns into pictures that both become worth a small fortune in the art world, and which tell a story, perhaps her story.
SWEET TOOTH FAILS TO SWEETEN – Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
a novel in one act, with its solitary climax
Serena Frome, a beautiful student of maths and an avid reader, has an affair with a college don at Cambridge University and finds herself being groomed for the intelligence services. It’s 1972. Britain is in crisis, facing a three day working week, energy supplies are low and the Cold War staggers on. Serena is given a role in Sweet Tooth, MI5’s cultural attack on communism. It sounds like a dream post: she has to pretend she works for a charitable organisation that wishes to promote young writers. Her charge is Tom Haley, a short story writer who teaches at Suffolk University. Serena promises Tom a life free of financial worries, in return for a novel, which MI5 hopes will be be Orwell-esque in its satirical attack on the Eastern Block.
STEPHEN KING SAID YOU SHOULD NEVER BE WITHOUT A BOOK – I always used to carry a book with me – now I’ve started listening to audiobooks. I mainly listen when I exercise as it takes my mind off the pain and boredom!
It feels like a different experience; someone else is doing some of the work for you and using their voice to create a character that may be different from the one you would have imagined. Plus they’re usually a whole lot better at accents than I am.
I find you process the book more viscerally and your memory of it is linked to your activity at the time. Sometimes when I’m doing a particularly difficult leg lift I suddenly hear the Australian accent of Hannah Heath, the protagonist in Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book.
Recently, the dark winter mornings have been filled with brooding menace: rising at 6am before my daughter is up to work out and listen to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I was so gripped by this auditory equivalent of a page-turner that I ended up doing a lot of lying around on the sofa just so I could keep listening. Or perhaps that’s merely what happens when you’re the mother of a toddler.
The books I’ve found work best are those with a first person narrative – a distinct voice that echoes in your mind long after you’ve switched the book off. Interestingly, I’ll put up with a book I don’t like but think is ‘good’ for longer – probably because I’m multi-tasking.
Do you get a chance to listen to books? What kind do you think work best?