Review of Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC of this book.

Anne Tyler is probably my absolute favourite author. I look forward to reading each new novel she writes. It’s hard to put my finger on why I love her writing, because very little happens in her books, there is rarely an exciting plot or much action. Instead, her books are full of beautiful observations of everyday family life and she writes characters really well. It is simply really pleasant to read Tyler’s writing, even though her books are not unpredictable or thrilling.

Nobody writes lonely, emotionally stunted men as well as Tyler, and her latest book features a classic example. Micah Mortimer is a finicky iT technician in his 40s who is ambling through life never committing to anything. The arrival of the teenage son of one of his ex-girlfriends on his doorstep causes him to contemplate what is important in his life. You might expect the boy to be his unknown son, but Tyler is never that melodramatic, instead he is the catalyst for Micah to address what he actually wants from his life.

This is a short, beautifully written novel, with a very predictable ending and is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. There is nothing groundbreaking about this book but the joy of Tyler is in her lovely prose and her ability to observe human life so accurately.

Review of ‘Rules For Perfect Murders’ by Peter Swanson

Thanks to NetGalley and Faber and Faber for the ARC of this book.

I think Peter Swanson must be one of the best crime/thriller writers currently writing. I have thoroughly enjoyed all three of his books that I have read.

This book is the story of man who owns a bookshop which specialises in crime books. He is visited by the FBI when it seems a murderer is killing people based on a blog list he wrote about the best murders in crime fiction. It is fun and twisty with a classic unreliable narrator. I also really enjoyed the celebration of books within the book.

I sped through this book and found it compelling and unpredictable. I highly recommend it and ‘The Kind Worth Killing’ and ‘The Girl with a Clock for her Heart’ if you haven’t read them.

Review of ‘The Last’ by Hanna Jameson

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Books for the ARC of this book.

I absolutely loved the premise of this book, essentially a closed-house murder mystery set during a nuclear apocalypse. It’s a really exciting combination of genres. It is absolutely compelling right from the start and I didn’t want to put it down. It is written as first person past tense chronological diary entries which I find the most readable form of fiction and means the style does not get in the way of the story.

It follows Jon Keller, an American professor, who is staying at a Swiss hotel when nuclear war breaks out across the world. He and about 20 survivors remain at the hotel and he begins to investigate the death of a young girl who is found murdered at the hotel. His diary entries describe his investigations and the struggles of the survivors to continue their lives at the hotel.

The first three quarters of this book are utterly brilliant. I was enjoying it so much I knew the ending could never live up to the rest of the book. It’s rare that a mystery book this interesting has a satisfying ending and that was true of this book too; the resolution just didn’t pack the same punch as the rest of the book. In spite of that, it’s easily the most exciting and compelling book I have read in a long time.

I thought I would be looking for comforting feel-good books at this time of global pandemic but I have really enjoyed this and ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ in the past week. Maybe apocalyptic fiction makes our current situation seem less scary and strange.

Review of ‘The Boy From the Woods’ by Harlan Coben

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC of this book.

Book cover

I was really excited by the opening to this book because it seemed to be a departure for Coben. It starts with the discovery of a boy living in the woods and no one knows who he is or what he is doing there. I thought the book would unravel this mystery. However, it fast forwards to when this character, Wilde, is grown up and has him investigate the disappearance of two teenagers in a very standard Cobenesque story.

In fact, the mystery of the boy from the woods is not actually resolved in this book, which is very unusual for Coben who usually ties up all his story threads in a neat bow at the end of each book. This made me wonder if this is the start of a new series following this character, or maybe I missed a clue I should have picked up on.

My favourite part of this book was that it has lawyer Hester Crimstein as one of the main characters. She often pops up in Coben’s other books, particularly his Myron Bolitar series, and it was nice to spend some time with this character and find out more about her. I also particularly enjoyed one scene where presidential candidate Rusty Eggers spins some bad news and coordinates his team’s Twitter ‘bot’ reaction, which I thought was a good insight into the current ‘fake news’ era when politicians seem to be able to get away with anything.

I’m a big fan of Coben and enjoyed this book, but I have read so many of his books now that I don’t find much original or surprising in his new books. Instead, they are like settling into a nice comfy pair of slippers and are comforting in their familiarity. Coben is a really reliable author, all of his books are well-crafted and readable and sometimes something expected, unchallenging and familiar is exactly what you want to read, especially at a time when there is so much uncertainty in the world. I look forward to Coben’s new book every year.