From our reviewers: General fiction
By Dean Koontz (HarperCollins, $34.99)
Reviewed by Maree Field
Oh, Dean Koontz. What went wrong?
I was very excited to see a new Odd Thomas novel, very quickly after the last one, Odd Apocalypse.
In that one, Odd defeated the latest Big Bad and rode off into the sunset with serenely pregnant Annamaria, a small child, and two dogs, one of which is a ghost.
Odd feels like a very ordinary young man, except for a few key things: he sees dead people, trouble is drawn to him like a magnet, and sometimes he sees visions of terrible things happening.
In his previous adventure at the mysterious Roseland estate, Odd managed to rescue a child from the vagaries of time and an evil monster, and it was as entertaining as previous Odd novels.
This time, however, it feels like something has gone wrong.
There's another Big Bad in the offing, and Odd has a vision about it, and there are dead people banging about, but something is . . . off.
Full disclosure, I couldn't finish Deeply Odd. I got a little bit into it, and felt like I'd hit some kind of wall. And yes, the Odd novels do follow a formula, but that's been sort of comforting before. Plus, Odd Thomas has long been one of my favourite characters.
But with Deeply Odd, I started to get . . . annoyed.
There's an awful lot of foreshadowing, which tends to make me impatient anyway, but in this case it proved to be the stumbling block that led me to setting the book aside.
I'm sorry, Mr Koontz. I just can't take the journey this time.
Life After Life
By Kate Atkinson (Random House, RRP $37)
Reviewed by Nadine Hancock
Life After Life is the sweeping new novel by bestselling novelist Kate Atkinson (Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Case Histories). After a short and intriguing prologue, this story starts off on a snowy day in 1910 with the birth of Ursula Todd.
Moments later she dies but is born again in the next chapter then dies shortly after. As the novel progresses Ursula dies many times over, living that little bit longer.
As you would expect, over time Ursula begins to get a sense of deja vu, which helps her to change the courses of her many lives. The raft of characters is impressive. It is interesting to read how each changes depending on the events in Ursula's lives.
The events leading up to and following World War II feature prominently in this story and play a major role in the decisions that Ursula makes along the way.
This astonishing novel had the potential to be utterly confusing, but the complex threads were instead a pleasure to read thanks to Atkinson's fantastic narrative and structure. I completely loved Life After Life and quickly became obsessed, almost swallowing this book whole in a day. The ending was satisfying even though it left me wanting to know more, but its ambiguity made me love it even more.
Life After Life is highly recommended and I wouldn't be surprised if it featured in a best reads of 2013 list.
Pentimento, A Novel
By Rosemary Wildblood (Wily Publications, RRP $30)
Reviewed by Naida Mulligan
Rosemary Wildblood is a critically acclaimed Wellington author of mainly poetry and short fiction. This is her second novel, the first being Joybird (David Ling, 2004).
The title refers to an artistic technique dealing with layers of paint on a canvas and reflects the theme of looking beyond simply the surface of things.
Cliff and Doyle are art students in Christchurch where they meet Serena when she is called in at short notice to pose for their life art class. She turns their lives topsy- turvy and exits as dramatically as she entered.
Our second female protagonist is Rachel, who meets Cliff several years later, Doyle some years after that, and continues to cross paths with the two men. She's a thoroughly likeable character who drew my interest into the story and made the book worth reading.
It's got the universal themes of love, loss and redemption. It looks at bipolar disorder and has characters face up to their pasts.
It's a lovely New Zealand novel. Recommended.