Blog Tour | The Searcher, Simon Toyne

25678239A plane crashes in an Arizona desert and a man emerges unscathed. A label in his suit identifies him as Solomon Creed, and he has no memory of who he is and how he got there. All he knows is that he has the uncanny ability to know how to disarm and disable an attacker and a persistent feeling that he is meant to save a man who he learns has died the day before.

Simon Toyne piles up the questions throughout The Searchereffortlessly weaving in drug cartels, corrupt policemen, a grieving widow, and a thread of the supernatural underpinning it all. It’s an intense page turner, and as Toyne draws us ever deeper into the various mysteries within the town of Redemption, Arizona, you can’t help but wonder how exactly the author would pull it all together in the end.

Toyne’s style reminds me very much of Stephen King, with just a touch of Indiana Jones. Toyne is a fantastic world builder — you can just about imagine Redemption as a desolate landscape where dark secrets can abound and multiply over centuries. Like King, Toyne mixes up the mystical and the mundane, and while at times, I wished he’d just go full out into supernatural territory (so many intriguing hints!), I also felt that this disquiet was precisely what the author intended.

Despite the supernatural underpinnings, Toyne manages to keep most of the story grounded in reality. Drug wars form a major plot thread, not quite connected to the mystery of Solomon’s identity but impacting on his quest anyway. And while there are enough car chases and action packed scenes to keep us riveted between commercial breaks (The Searcher has been optioned for TV), it’s the relationships among the characters that ultimately stand out. Toyne doesn’t shy away from the disturbing lengths to which people go for their families. A moving conversation between a son and his father’s killer is surprisingly chilling, and an adversarial conversation between a kingpin and his son is unexpectedly poignant.

The solution to the mystery isn’t quite what I expected, but it fit in well with themes raised throughout the book. The Searcher is the first in the Solomon Creed series, and I can’t wait to find out how the rest of Creed’s story unfolds.


Intrigued by The Searcher? Add it to your To Read shelf for your 50 Book Pledge!


Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Want to read what other bloggers thought of the book? Check out the rest of the blog tour below:

Review | When the Moon is Low, Nadia Hashimi

23447506Spanning several decades and two generations, Nadia Hashimi’s When the Moon is Low is about an Afghan family forced to flee Taliban rule. Hashimi’s writing is beautiful and evocative, and gently takes us along with her characters’ journey.

When the Moon is Low almost feels like two separate novels in one. We begin with Fereida’s story — a free-spirited schoolteacher, she struggles against the constraints of her society’s codes of propriety for women. I loved reading about her romantic story arc, how what she viewed as true love turned out to be less than idea,l and how she thought an arranged marriage was settling for less, only to find true love within one. The rise of the Taliban threatens her comfortable life, and Hashimi’s depiction of life under Taliban rule is horrific in its strong but underlying current of tension and fear. In a way, I almost wish the story could have ended with Fereida finding love — that segment alone was romantic and beautiful, and spoke to the struggle of being a woman who wanted more than conservative society permitted.

Fereida’s family’s escape to London forms the rest of the book, and perhaps fittingly, feels like a completely different book altogether. The undercurrent of tension has become all too real and all too immediate, and at each step of the journey is a very tangible threat of being sent back home. It is in the second half of the book that Hashimi switches narrative gears and begins to tell the story from the point of view of Fereida’s son Saleem. In a way, I understand the rationale behind this move — Saleem’s story of trying to earn enough money to finish their journey is far more action-packed and reveals far more of their environment than Fereida’s, who has to stay home to care for her other child.

Hashimi doesn’t shy away from violence. A particularly horrific scene at a wedding reveals how suddenly one’s cocoon of safety can be stripped away. Along with other, similar incidents, it reminds us of how each moment can be filled with fear, and how Fereida, Saleem and other characters can barely afford to ever let their guard down.

Saleem’s story is interesting in many ways — he meets other undocumented refugees in Europe and a woman who is helping them find permanent homes — but I wish his narrative hadn’t come at the expense of Fereida’s. As a woman in that particular place and time, Fereida has such a rich, complex role to play, and I would have wanted to hear more of what she had to say. So it was disappointing to see her gradually disappear into the background as Saleem’s story took over.

True to the spirit of her subject matter, Hashimi doesn’t offer any easy answers. The book’s ending is ambiguous enough, but more than that, we’ve spent enough time with these characters and the people around them to know that there is no such thing as a truly safe haven. It’s a sad story, beautifully written, and it will move you.


Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | After I’m Gone, Laura Lippman

18089975I remember being very moved by Laura Lippman’s earlier work I’d Know You AnywhereAfter I’m Gone didn’t have quite the same impact on me, but it definitely kept me turning the pages way past my bedtime. Con man Felix Brewer disappears without a trace, leaving behind his wife, three daughters and a mistress. If this sounds like a story ripped from the headlines, that’s because it is: the novel is inspired by the true story of Julius Salsbury, the head of a large gambling operation in Baltimore in the 1970s.

Ten years after Felix disappears, his mistress Julie goes missing. Everyone assumes she’s gone to join Felix, but her body is discovered in a secluded park a few days later. Fast forward twenty six years and retired detective Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez is investigating the case of Julie’s death. No one seems overly concerned about who had killed Julie and why, but Sanchez is the classic dogged detective, who won’t rest until he finds justice for a victim no one cares about.

More than the hunt for Julie’s killer, the novel is about the lives of the women Felix left behind. We learn about his relationship with his wife Bambi, how they fell in love and how the relationship eventually hit its rocky patch. We meet his daughters, and how they dealt not just with their father’s disappearance, but also with his betrayal of their mother. And Julie, of course, and the mistakes that eventually cost her her life. Through it all, Felix remains a major force in their lives. He’s utterly unlikeable, and while generally good-intentioned, his insecurities and weakness for easy money end up destroying not just his life but the lives of the women around him.

After I’m Gone is an enjoyable read, with an entertaining look at family and romantic drama. The story really hits its mark near the end, where a series of revelations reveals the strength of the family ties among the remaining women. The epilogue takes us back to Felix, and ties the whole story up where it began — with the actions of one man.

What happens to someone’s loved ones when he takes the easy way out? What happens when he does get away with it, but the people around him are left to pick up the pieces. After I’m Gone is a frustrating read in some ways — even though the murderer is eventually caught, I can’t help but feel that justice has ultimately not been served — yet all too believable. One person’s choices can indeed ruin the lives of people around him, and After I’m Gone shows just how far reaching this impact can be.


Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Ghostwritten, Isabel Wolff

21416276Writing is generally viewed as a profession that reveals much about the individual. Even fiction writers are asked time and again about parallels of their fiction to their own lives. In Jenni’s case, however, her career as a writer helps her subsume her own memories of a childhood tragedy. She is a ghostwriter, and in exploring other people’s stories and in taking on their own voices, she is able, for the most part, to forget a bit of her own story.

That changes when she agrees to write the memoir of a survivor from a Japanese internment camp in Java. The subject, Klara, lives near the same beach where Jenni’s own childhood tragedy has occurred. Worse, Klara’s story holds some disquieting parallels to Jenni’s own experience, and forces Jenni to reexamine her past.

Isabel Wolff’s Ghostwritten isn’t an easy story to read. Klara’s tale in particular is filled with violence and horror. Wolff doesn’t shy away from depicting some of the more gruesome aspects of these internment camps, and the tale is an eye opener for anyone unfamiliar with the history of the Japanese occupation in Gaza. Especially difficult to read are tales of prisoners who turn on other prisoners, either to escape punishment or to receive some form of special treatment for the guards.

The moment when we learn the decision that has haunted Klara all her life is heartrending, and while Jenni’s response is the right one, it also feels much too inadequate. Klara’s grief over this act is all too real and understandable, and to be fair, no response would likely have been enough to make her fully get over it.

Paling in comparison to Klara’s story is Jenni’s. Her struggle to come to terms with her own childhood tragedy is touching enough, but the parallel to Klara’s story just feels forced. The interweaving of the stories feels orchestrated, which is especially egregious when compared to the depth of emotion in Klara’s story. Jenni does indeed have her own demons to contend with, but I found myself skimming over her sections, and being impatient with her reluctance to open up.

Klara’s story is told ostensibly as a plot device to help the protagonist fulfill her own character arc, but Klara ends up stealing the show. There are some subplots within her tale that I wish I’d learned more about — the story about the neighbourhood bully and his mother, for example, and a star crossed romance between two of Klara’s neighbours — and I wish Wolff had focused more on this part of the novel.


Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Human Remains, Elizabeth Haynes

17349279The cover of Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes holds the intriguing teaser: How well do you know your neighbours? But the crux of the book is really in the question: How well do your neighbours know you? More to the point, if you were to die when alone at home, how long would it take before someone found your body? How long would it take before anyone even noticed you were missing?

Haynes’ first book Into the Darkest Corner is still one of my favourite books of all time. I read it years ago and can still remember the intense claustrophobia, disgust and fear I felt as I read it. Her second book didn’t quite grab me as much as the first, but I was still intrigued by her characters. Her third, Human Remains, did not affect me as viscerally as Darkest Corner did, yet I believe it just may be her most powerful yet.

Haynes’ brilliance is in her uncanny insight into the human psyche, whether it’s a woman struggling to move on from an abusive relationship or a woman trying to escape her past, as in her first two books. In Human Remains, Haynes plays on our fears of loneliness, an almost ironic condition in today’s hyper connected world, yet it’s this very hyper connectivity that sets into sharp relief how alone some of us really are. The protagonist in this book, Annabel, is a police analyst who notices a trend of deaths in her hometown where the victims’ bodies weren’t discovered for several days. There is nothing to tie the deaths together — all appear to be from natural causes — and Annabel’s colleagues don’t deem it worth an investigation. But Annabel is intrigued by how all these victims had been dead for some time before anyone even noticed their absence, and while she had never really considered herself lonely, the pattern forces her to take a look at her own life and wonder who would notice if she were gone.

It’s a disquieting notion, and one that will haunt the reader as well. Haynes tells the story from multiple points of view — Annabel’s, of course, and also a creepy man named Colin. We also get chapters from some of the victims, and rather than a violent description of an attack that leads to their deaths, these chapters feel almost elegaic. There is no hint about what or who caused the deaths, but there is a glimpse at the person who lived before that moment. In a story where you know these characters will be forgotten, there is both comfort and a touch of despair in these all too brief tributes to their memory.

The drive to keep turning the page isn’t so much to find out how the people are dying. There is a great sense of mystery, with almost a locked room feel because the answer is hard to figure out. The answer, once revealed, is chilling, and not because of its inhumanity, but because it is all too human. The villain is probably even more reprehensible than the one in Into the Darkest Corner, because this one preys on the very weakest in society — and on weaknesses that likely everyone can relate to.

Human Remains isn’t the page turner Into the Darkest Corner is, nor will it be counted among my absolute favourite books ever as Darkest Corner is, but the issues Human Remains raises will stay with you long after you finish reading. Haynes taps right into our darkest fears, and lays bare our deepest vulnerabilities — that we are, in the end, truly alone, and that no one will care when we’re gone. We support Annabel’s fight for these victims, and we rage against the murderer’s predation, because ultimately, the idea behind this story hits far too close to home.


Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Review | Tampa, Alissa Nutting

9780062280541Alissa Nutting’s Tampa is a brave exploration of an uncomfortable subject, and the author’s brazen treatment will cause even the most inured reader to stop and think. Celeste Price is an eighth grade English teacher with a sexual preference for fourteen year old boys. Similar to Lolita in theme, it is starkly different in its approach. Unlike Humbert Humbert, Celeste pulls no punches in her description. She is unapologetically sexual.  The language is forthright and highly charged. As I posted on Goodreads: “Holy hell, Tampa. Powerful, intense, and I’m only 7 pages in.” And Nutting never lets up.

Female pedophiles aren’t as often discussed in popular culture as their male counterparts. Films like The Graduate for example even romanticize the adult female/teenage male sexual relationship. Nutting takes this trope head on by making her protagonist be only in her 20s — she’s young, beautiful, certainly an object of fantasy herself for many of her students. She is also hyper aware of her age, and understands that seducing these young boys may no longer be as easy when she starts getting wrinkles. Yet she is also, unmistakably, a sexual predator, unapologetic and despite the boys’ own fantasies, abusive of her power.

Nutting uses lurid sexual detail with purpose. At times, the scene reads almost like erotica, until you remember that the object of Celeste’s fantasies is a fourteen year old boy. The story is especially horrifying because of Celeste’s job as a teacher, a profession she chose precisely because it puts her in close proximity to the boys she wants. She sets her sights on one of her students in particular, selecting him because he is just shy enough to keep her secret, but bold enough to risk pursuing a sexual relationship with her. Her schemes to seduce the boy are horrific, particularly because her openness as a narrator implicates the reader in her plot. As an adult, we see how she is manipulating the boy and we want to rescue him, yet as readers, all we can do is watch.

Here, the sensual prose also implicates the reader by forcing us into Celeste’s psyche, without even the buffer of Humbert Humbert’s coyly seductive language. Either you are hyperaware the entire time about the boy being only fourteen, in which case the very act of reading feels disgusting, or worse, you forget for a time, and find yourself drawn into the eroticism of the scene, only to recoil with even more disgust when a detail (smooth skin, hairless legs) reminds you of what exactly is happening in the scene. Nutting employs a more brazen form of seductiveness than Nabokov in her prose, and in doing so creates a different type of discomfort. The book design itself plays into this approach; the jacket of the hardcover edition is made of velour, providing a velvety soft surface that invites stroking and that provides the reader with a highly tactile experience.

Celeste is too unapologetic about her proclivities to be an anti-hero, or anyone the reader can ever really cheer for. However, she is certainly a compelling, memorable character. Her utter lack of remorse, and total disregard for the need to sugarcoat her desires for the reader make her in some ways even more reprehensible than Humbert Humbert. Still, when she describes her disgust for the adult male form, you understand why sex with an adult male isn’t an option at all for her. Her horror at the thought of sex with her husband, or with any adult male, is palpable. You do not cheer her on, yet when things come crashing down, you can’t help but feel for her. It’s a difficult balancing act, yet Nutting manages it well.

Tampa is not an easy book to read, but it is powerful. Nutting uses shock value to a purpose, and creates a memorable protagonist in Celeste. The ending somewhat falters because it feels rushed, and the final page in particular feels unresolved. Still, overall a compelling book that demands attention.

Blog Tour: Review | Hidden, Catherine McKenzie


Catherine McKenzie’s Hidden is a wonderfully nuanced portrait of infidelity. When Jeff Manning is killed in a car accident, he leaves behind his grieving wife Claire and his grieving co-worker and girlfriend Tish. In such a story, it is all too easy to demonize one of the women, or to portray one as the man’s “true love.” McKenzie stays clear of that trap and in so doing, succeeds in crafting a complex, realistic tale of adult relationships, and the way people make them work.

McKenzie tells the story from all three perspectives, which makes each character come even more vividly to life. We see Jeff fall in love with Claire, and we understand the cause of his jealousy over her past relationship with his brother. We also see his first couple of encounters with Tish, and how they form an immediate connection. I love how his connection with Tish, despite the instant chemistry, was mostly more friendly than romantic, and I especially love how this connection in no way detracted from his feelings for Claire.

9781443411929Claire and Tish themselves were fully fleshed out characters. Claire is a former lawyer who now runs a daycare, and the reasons behind her switch in plans gives an idea of how important family is to her. Her son’s grief over his father’s death is deeply felt as well, and his vulnerability when reading the eulogy at the funeral is palpable.

Tish has a more unusual family situation, with a highly intelligent doctor husband and a genius-level poet daughter. Their accomplishments are in stark contrast to Tish’s own lack of ambition, and despite her natural talent at golf and poetry, she is mostly content to coast. Her connection with Jeff, and the intensity of her feelings towards him, are therefore a significant step forward, and his death forces her even further out of her comfort zone.

Complex relationships form this book, but strong characterization makes it work. We are drawn to all three characters; they feel like people we know, and even though we already know it ultimately ends in tragedy, we still want to see how it progresses. Knowledge of Jeff’s impending death add poignancy to the flashbacks of his chapters, and reading about Claire and Tish’s grief interspersed with Jeff’s story just enhances the nuance.

Hidden is a captivating read, and a compelling portrayal of three people whose lives are inextricably intertwined. A mature, richly drawn narrative that is ultimately more about relationships, and making them work.


Thank you to the author for the invitation to join the blog tour, and thank you as well for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.