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#TuesdayBookBlog THE HUNTED: AN RJ ROX THRILLER (The RJ Rox Thrillers Book 1) by Jo McCready (@jo_mccready) A solid first-novel and a thoroughly enjoyable read #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a novel by an author totally new mean, another one of the novels I’ve discovered thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team.

The Hunted. An RJ Rox Thriller by Jo McCready

The Hunted: An RJ Rox Thriller (The RJ Rox Thrillers Book 1) by Jo McCready

On the vast Buchanan Estate in the wilds of Scotland, tech billionaire James Sullivan dies a suspicious death. Rookie agent RJ Rox is drawn back to a homeland to which she’d sworn she’d never return. She soon realizes the present is far more threatening than her past as she hunts the killers and the powers that unleashed them.

The close-knit community surrounding the estate is the perfect place to hide secrets and lies. RJ finds herself searching for the weakest link that will allow her access into Buchanan’s sinister world.

Thrown together with a partner who clearly hates her makes RJ even more determined to prove herself to the elusive Kingfisher organization.

Remote, desolate, and beautiful, the hills hide a killer lying in wait. Can RJ close the case before anyone else is subject to the same fate as Sullivan? Before she is hunted herself?

https://www.amazon.com/Hunted-Rox-Thriller-Thrillers-Book-ebook/dp/B08GD43SBG/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hunted-Rox-Thriller-Thrillers-Book-ebook/dp/B08GD43SBG/

https://www.amazon.es/Hunted-Rox-Thriller-Thrillers-Book-ebook/dp/B08GD43SBG/

Author Jo McCready

About the author:

Jo McCready grew up on the rain soaked streets of small town Scotland before moving to the sunnier climes of Auckland, New Zealand in 2010. She has a background in psychology and a lifetime love of mystery and murder. She is a founding member of the Auckland Crime Writers group.

https://www.amazon.com/Jo-McCready/e/B08GF5N97F

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

I had never read anything by this author before, but I was intrigued by the description of the book, the setting (I love Scotland), and when I used the ‘look inside’ feature to check the beginning of the book, I knew I had to keep reading.

The above description gives enough details of the plot, and it is difficult to talk about it without revealing any spoilers.  I am not a big reader of spy novels and equivalents (the protagonists might not be spies per se, but there are big organisations running the show and sending their operatives to investigate people, places, or events, using fake identities, all over the world. Yes, you know what I’m talking about), but I am familiar with the formula and the tropes, and here we have a few: we have a rookie (RJ is only on her second mission), paired up with a much more experienced partner (Stuart Black, although we don’t get to know his real identity); there is a boss who keeps tracks of them; his secretary who is the one who really knows what’s going on; a fairly high-profile case that has not been officially investigated; international travel; risky situations and some twists and turns to keep the readers guessing. What I particularly enjoyed and found refreshing though, was the fact that although we might think we know where things are going (we’ve watched the movie or read the book before), the author manages to subvert our expectations without stepping out from the genre completely. Yes, RJ, the main character, has a background story that weighs on her, but she doesn’t allow it to stop her or even slow her down too much. She doesn’t spend an inordinate time reflecting upon it either. There are no big speeches or moments when the two main characters bear their souls, become “close friends”, and talk about their past or their lives. They don’t even get to share their real names. Stuart offers practical advice when required, but does not spend half of the book speechifying about his experience and previous cases. Although they both learn from each other in the process, this is not a book where RJ is inexperienced, shy, and doubts herself all the time, always deferring to Stuart. She is determined to prove she deserves to be there, and she is aware of what she does and does not know. She is prepared to take risks but can take a step back when needed and ask for help.

They are also neither superheroes nor superhuman. They have skills and are highly-trained, but they get hurt, make mistakes, trip, and get things wrong. And although the organisation can supply them with plenty of stuff and information, they don’t have incredible gadgets that can do impossible things. So, although this is a work of fiction and, as such, it requires a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, it is not in the realm of fantasy and wishful thinking. There are bumps in the road, and people don’t magically heal from wounds. The action is kept at a reasonable human-size, and I was grateful for it, as this is one of the aspects that tend to put me off these kinds of books.

There are secrets and lies, but not everybody is in the thick of it, and although most readers would suspect a big cover-up from the beginning, things are not as straightforward as they might appear. Let’s say, without revealing too much, that there are plenty of red herrings to keep people guessing, and although there is a baddie in the story we’ll all love to hate, many other characters are neither totally black nor white, and have more redeeming features and are more interesting than they might at first appear.

I have mentioned some of the themes before, and I can’t really talk about the real motivation behind the events they investigate without revealing too much, but let’s say I hadn’t read any stories set in that world before although it is all too real (as I said, I’m not a big reader of this genre, so there might be many books that have touched on that aspect before, but I haven’t heard of them). I found it fascinating and horrifying at the same time, and I am sure I won’t be the only one.

I liked RJ. The author gives us glimpses of her losses and the impact they have had but does not go into it in detail. There isn’t much time for navel-gazing or pondering. She hesitates at times, but she is a determined young woman, intelligent, knows her own mind and she has very clear priorities. She might work for a big organisation but will not blindly follow orders. We get to know little about Stuart, and he does not take charge of everything, while at times he demonstrates interesting and unexpected skills. We don’t get to know too much about the organisation (as it should be), but I liked both the boss and his secretary, and I imagine they will get to play important parts in the series as it develops. The author has a talent for creating recognisable local characters without going into so much detail that it distracts from the story. They are realistic enough and I particularly liked the owner of the pub/B&B, her little girl and her two young sons. Oh, and their cat! And Wullie Carstairs (and no, you’ll need to read the book if you want to know who he is).

The story is told in the third person, mostly from RJ’s point of view, but sometimes we get an insight into the organisation and its workings, and there is also another character whose point of view we share. And yes, the author is very clever in her use of point of view, as I must confess I was caught by surprise and didn’t see the main twist coming. I don’t know if the way the story is told will be to everybody’s taste, but I can reassure readers that despite the different points of view there is no head-hopping and no risk of getting confused. We know at all times where we are and through whose eyes we’re following the action.

The writing is sparse, and it manages to achieve a good sense of place and location without going into long detailed descriptions that would interrupt the flow of the story and the action. McCready’s writing has something cinematographic about it, as at times she will zoom into a small detail in a scene —a moth, the chewing of the inside of somebody’s cheek, a scab…— which makes it all more vivid and visual. The language is not complex or convoluted, and although some of the events investigated are violent, those are told rather than shown, and I don’t think squeamish readers or those who prefer no explicit violence in their books would have an issue with it. That doesn’t mean there are no dangers or risky situations, though, and although there are some quiet moments, the story moves at good pace and it keeps us turning the pages.

The ending is satisfying, although I found it slightly rushed in execution (perhaps because there had been quite a build-up). I liked the fact that the trial is included, and the epilogue is a nice touch, for sure.

In summary, this is a solid start to a new series that will appeal to those who enjoy investigations and adventures ran by a big secret organisation. The central character is capable and likeable, and there is plenty we don’t know about her yet, so there is more to explore in the future. I think this would also appeal to young adult readers and to learners of the language as it is not too convoluted and the action keeps it interesting and engaging. It might not be sufficiently detailed for readers who love to get into all the details of the investigation (I wouldn’t recommend it to people who like hard police procedurals), but it is a fast-moving novel, in a great setting, and it explores a criminal world not usually the subject of these kinds of stories. A solid first-novel and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Thanks to the author for her novel, thanks to Rosie and her team for all their support, and special thanks to all of you for reading, sharing, liking, and commenting. Remember to keep smiling, reviewing, and make sure to stay safe. 

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#TuesdayBookBlog WINTER FLOWER by Charles Sheehan-Miles #RBRT A highly recommended tough and inspiring read

Hi all:

I bring you another review of one of the books in Rosie’s team. Another great find.

Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles
Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles

Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles

This book is all about love, family, survival, acceptance and forgiveness… one big giant emotional rollercoaster ride

  • Book Freak

From the bestselling author of Just Remember to Breathe and The Last Hour, a shocking and poignant story of a family on the brink of destruction and the transformational events that could bring them back together–or tear them apart.

Every day, Cole Roberts reminds himself that life wasn’t always this bleak. He was once passionately in love with Erin. Sam used to be an artistic and lively kid. They hadn’t always lived in a shabby two-room house in rural Alabama, where he runs a mediocre restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

That was before Brenna disappeared. It was before Cole lost his job and they lost their home.

Every day it gets worse. Erin drinks wine out of the bottle and spends her days with a tormented expression, searching the web for signs of their daughter. Sam hides in his room and rarely speaks. And Cole works himself to a stupor for a paycheck a fraction of the size of his old salary.

Until one day a phone call changes everything.

Winter Flower is at once a tragic tale of the disappearance of a child; struggling with gender identity; of the dark world of sex-trafficking and the transformation and healing of a family. Sheehan-Miles’s longest novel delves into the depths of family life–and how, sometimes, we can heal and find restoration.

https://www.amazon.com/winter-flower-Charles-Sheehan-Miles-ebook/dp/B07R91MG6Q/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/winter-flower-Charles-Sheehan-Miles-ebook/dp/B07R91MG6Q/

https://www.amazon.es/winter-flower-Charles-Sheehan-Miles-ebook/dp/B07R91MG6Q/

Author Charles Seehan-Miles
Author Charles Seehan-Miles

About the author:

Charles Sheehan-Miles has been a soldier, computer programmer, short-order cook and non-profit executive, and is the author of several fiction and non-fiction books, including the indie bestsellers Just Remember to Breathe and Republic: A Novel of America’s Future. Charles and his partner Andrea Randall live and write together in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Charles’ books include:

The Thompson Sisters & Rachel’s Peril
A Song for Julia
Falling Stars
Just Remember
to Breathe
The Last Hour

Girl of Lies
Girl of Rage
Girl of Vengeance

America’s Future
Republic
Insurgent

Other Books:
Prayer at Rumayla
Saving the World on $30 A Day

Find out more at http://www.sheehanmiles.com

You’re also invited to join the Remember to Breathe Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/rer

https://www.amazon.com/Charles-Sheehan-Miles/e/B002BM0T7E/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

This is the first novel I read by Charles Sheehan-Miles, who is a brand new author to me, although he has published a large number of books, and from the comments, I guess he has a legion of fans that were surprised by this book, as it is not a romance. I cannot compare it to his previous work, but I agree with the warning. If readers from his previous books approach this novel as a romance, they will be shocked, because it is far from it.

This is a long book (over 600 pages long), divided up into four parts, with a prologue set two years before the main action of the book, although there are flashbacks (memories) narrated in the first-person by the four main characters —all members of the same family— that offer readers a good understanding of the background to the current situation and help them get to grips with their circumstances, their pasts, and who they are. This is the story of a family, a married couple and their two children, on the brink of collapse due to a terrible tragedy that took place two years before the action we follow chronologically. Or so it seems. (The truth is a bit more complicated than that). Sam and Brenna, the children (adolescents by the time we met them) are close, and Brenna has always willingly played the role of big sister to Sam, there to protect and guide. Until she disappears. Carrying on without her puts a big strain on a family we soon learn was going through difficulties already (some more out in the open than others), and whose communication had ground almost to a halt. The parents, Cole and Erin, are living example of the “opposites attract” edict, at least from a political perspective (Cole, the father, who as a young man decided formal education wasn’t for him and moved up the corporate ladder at lightning speed, is conservative as can be, while Erin, the mother, a college  graduate, is a convinced liberal who sacrificed her career to look after her children), and although the story opens up with Sam’s narration, we soon get to read their own perspective on the matter and the kind of traps they find themselves in.

This is a story that deals in many important subjects, and it could have been told in a variety of ways, but I am impressed not only by the subjects (adultery and its toll on family relationships, sex trafficking, rape, prostitution, bullying, harassment and violence against the LGBT community, missing youths, the isolation of the trans-gender experience for young people, prejudice and harassment at work…) and the sensitive and enlightening way they are handled, but also by the way the story is told. The author allows each character to tell his/her own story, and that makes us walk a mile in their shoes, no matter how uncomfortable they might feel. I am sure many readers will think, as they read, that they would have never reacted in a certain way, or allowed their circumstances to deteriorate to such an extent, but, do we truly know? Although, as the author reminds us in the final note, the events in the book are far from unique (yes, it is a work of fiction, but many individuals and families, unfortunately, will go through similar experiences to those depicted in the book), many of us will never have been in close contact with somebody in such dire circumstances, much less be directly affected by it, so, how do we know what we would do? The characters are not necessarily the most likeable when we meet them (drinking heavily, harassed, afraid for their lives, paralysed and frozen, unable to make decisions and move on), and they are all closed off from each other, trapped, physically or mentally, sometimes by others and their preconceptions, sometimes by their own fears and inability to grief and forgive. The author also makes a conscious decision to introduce the rest of the family —the parents and Sam— first, so we get to see the effect her loss has had on the family before we meet Brenna, the missing girl. Her situation is heart-wrenching, and the most extreme and difficult to read about, although none of the characters have an easy ride.

Thankfully, the author manages to achieve a difficult balance between telling the story, not pulling any punches, making sure people can understand and empathise with what the characters are going through, while avoiding extremely graphic scenes (both of sex and violence), and gratuitous iterations and repetitions of the abuse, which would risk further exploitation rather than facilitating understanding and empathy. Don’t get me wrong; this is a hard read, and readers with triggers around topics such as child abuse, rape, bullying, violence against women and the LGTB community, and racism need to be aware of it. Even people who don’t have such triggers will find it a tough read, but, on the other hand, this is a book with a big heart, and the individual journey of each character, and of the family as a whole, make for an inspiring and hopeful read.

I have already talked about how impressed I am by the story and the way it is told. I grew fond of all the members of the family by the end of the book (it’s impossible for our hearts not to go out to Sam and Brenna, but we get to appreciate their parents as well), and I particularly enjoyed the journey of enlightenment Cole’s father goes through. The author includes most of the reactions we can imagine to these subjects, from the sublime to the ridiculous, (not everybody changes and accepts either. Bigotry remains alive and well, as we all know), and they all felt true. I was particularly fond of Jeremiah and his wife — almost too good to be true— who are an ideal we should all aspire to. I also liked the fact that the story does not stop when most readers would expect it to, and even Sam makes comments on that. There is no magical happy ending here that just makes everything right again. All the members of the family will have to keep working at their relationship and supporting each other, but that is as it should be.

There were no negative reviews of the book at the time I wrote this, and the only objections (apart from the warning that it is not a romance) some people had referred to were Sam’s virtual game playing (that a reader didn’t feel added anything to the novel. Personally, I think it helps readers understand what life is like for the character and experience the kind of coping strategies adolescents in similar circumstances might use), and some others felt the book could have been shorter and still managed to tell the same story. That might be true, but I suspect some of the nuances would have been lost.

This is an excellent book that manages to combine complex and credible characters with a plot that deals with several difficult subjects, without becoming preachy or too graphic. It is horrifying, touching, and insightful all at the same time, and it makes readers witness the highs and lows of the human condition. I recommended it to readers interested in the subjects, but I advise those who might worry about possible triggers to proceed with caution. The author adds some resources (links to websites) for people who need more information about some of the issues raised in the book, and I thought the final conversation of the book, between Brenna and her grandfather in the garden —when the grandfather talks about the snapdragon, and how it grows back after getting rid of the dead stuff, stronger and more beautiful— stands as a great metaphor for the story, and explains the title. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Rosie, her team, and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and remember to always keep smiling.

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#TuesdayBookBlog SEAGULLS OVER WESTMINSTER by Richard Wade (@wadecomply). An amusing and fun read about UK local politics. #RBRT

Hi all.

I bring you a review I’ve completed for Rosie’s Book Review Team. I am back in one piece (I think) from my break, and it was fascinating although quite tiring as well. I hope to catch up on some of the reviews in the next couple of weeks, and I have something else planned once I’m organised.

Seagulls over Westminster by Richard Wade
Seagulls over Westminster by Richard Wade

Seagulls Over Westminster by Richard Wade.

A political thriller for our time, but with a strand of gentle humour woven through it, making this intriguing story into an entertaining page turner.

Its 2024. Popular TV chat show host, and former MP, Bradley Deakin is the man wanted by the Opposition Party of the day to lead them back to power, breaking the chain of endless hung parliaments and uninspiring political leaders. They just need to get him elected first.

Meanwhile, in Brighton, retired bank manager Harvey Britten is enjoying life with the three things he loves most – his family, the city of his birth and his beloved football team, Brighton and Hove Albion, (known locally as The Seagulls). His support for the team has led to a regular spot on the local radio breakfast show, which has turned him into something of a minor celebrity.

It proves very difficult to find Bradley a suitable by-election until one unexpectedly occurs in Brighton. But Harvey strongly objects to a big shot candidate like Deakin being parachuted into his city and is reluctantly persuaded by his family and radio listeners to stand against him as a protest candidate. But only in the knowledge that he won’t actually win!

The race is otherwise between Bradley and the Government party candidate, Alistair Buckland, a local Councillor with a big secret. But as the campaign is gradually engulfed in scandal and conspiracy theories, it throws the whole contest wide open. Can a high class call girl with a plan for revenge change the outcome? Just how far did Bradley and his team go to cause the by-election in the first place? Will Harvey’s worst nightmare come true, in that he might actually win? And how bad does it have to get for a candidate before their loyal party supporters will refuse to vote for them?

As each candidate increasingly has to defend themselves against more and more serious accusations, both they and the people they love soon realise that there’s far more at stake for them all than just who will end up winning the election.

Review of ‘SEAGULLS OVER WESTMINSTER by Dr Peter Critten

“At a time of political uncertainty, when politicians of all parties seem to have lost the public’s respect, the publication of this novel is very opportune and welcome. It revolves around the intricate relationships amongst diverse characters matched against each other as candidates in a local By Election in Brighton (which may give you a clue as to the title).

Richard Wade deftly gives us byte sized insights into each one and plays one against another on a stage of which he is in total control. One of the delights of this book is how he enables the reader to get inside the head of each character and admire or dislike each one. He has a knack of building up tension right up till the end, the night of the election. He is able to keep us guessing as to what happens next all the way through.

Nothing can take away the fact that Richard Wade is a born storyteller whose attention to detail makes the fast moving plot all the more credible.”

https://www.amazon.com/Seagulls-Over-Westminster-English-Richard-ebook/dp/B07NRQH883/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Seagulls-Over-Westminster-English-Richard-ebook/dp/B07NRQH883/

https://www.amazon.es/Seagulls-Over-Westminster-English-Richard-ebook/dp/B07NRQH883/

Author Richard Wade
Author Richard Wade

About the author:

Richard Wade grew up in Yeovil, Somerset, but has lived in London since he was 21. He retired in 2018 at the age of 60 and, having always wanted to write a book, started “Seagulls over Westminster” straight away and published it in February 2019. He now has the writing bug and is working on his next novel.
He lives in Ealing West London with his wife Trish.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Richard-Wade/e/B07NTYGGH8/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

This is a novel set in the near future (2024-5) in the UK, focusing on politics, although I’d say that it is the equivalent of what a cozy mystery represents for the mystery genre. It has a light and humorous undercurrent; it does not go to extremes or deals in the most serious aspects of the topic; it is unlikely to offend most readers, and it does not touch on any of the burning and most controversial UK political issues (Brexit, for example). The author explains his reasons for his choice, and you can make of them what you wish.

There is a mix of characters, some more likeable than others, involved in the political race. In my opinion, Harry is the most likeable of them all, probably because he is honest and sincere, he gets reluctantly involved in politics, and as a retired man, fond of his family and with no evident major character flaws, and it is easy to root for him. Alistair has good and bad points, but I think most readers are bound to feel bad for him, and he does not have the necessary traits to ever become a political success. Bradley is the least likeable, although at some points during the book one might wonder if he is not as bad as he seems (and he is far from some of the totally ruthless individuals we are used to reading about in hard political thrillers). There are some secondary characters that are not on stage long enough for us to get to know them well, but they give more variety to the novel and include some intriguing and even menacing elements. I don’t think an expertise on the UK political situation or institutions is necessary to read this book, although I suspect that the novel will be more enjoyable to people familiar and interested in UK politics.

This is a book of the time, and social media and media in general play a big part in the political process, seriously affecting the public’s perception, with revelations about the candidates being leaked as a way of trying to manipulate the results, secrets being revealed left, right, and centre (politically as well). But, as I said, this is a gentle book and even the revelations and the corruption that is unearthed is pretty mild compared to some recent scandals, and it is unlikely to truly shock or repel people (it is no hard-core political invective or exposé). Although some pretty dark goings-on are hinted at, it is never clear who was truly behind them and if any of the political candidates was truly involved, leaving this element of the story open to readers’ interpretations.

The book feels somewhat old-fashioned, even though it is set in the future, and although there are quite a number of female characters, most of them don’t play a central part in the story (and the one who does, and perhaps the most interesting of the characters, has doubtful motivations that stem from her relationships with a particular man), and either disappear early in the book or are part and parcel of a man’s campaign. Saying that, they come up quite well compared to most of the male protagonists, and they are often the ones pulling the strings from behind the curtains.

The story is entertaining, and having lived in Brighton and being familiar with the area, I particularly liked the local touch and the detailed background into local UK politics. I also liked the emphasis on the role of social media and media in general, Harry and his background in local radio (I love local radio and I also volunteer at a local radio station), and some of the most outrageous suggestions of future changes to politics (like the fact that rather than having names, the parties would become either the GOP or the OP, the Government Party or the Opposition Party, regardless of alliances or ideology, to ensure neutrality). It is also difficult not to read this book and think of possible candidates that would fit right into the roles, and worry that, no matter how humorous, what happens might be uncomfortably close to the truth.

The writing flows easily, creating a good sense of who the characters are, and in some cases making us feel touched and close to their experiences (I did feel pretty sorry for Alistair). The author has a light touch and is skilled at managing a fairly large cast of characters without causing confusion or overwhelming the reader.

An entertaining and gentle book that pokes fun at UK politics, unlikely to offend anybody with a sense of humour. An amusing and fun read for a day when we don’t want to take politics too seriously.

Thanks to Rosie and her team, thanks to the author for his novel, and above all, thanks to all of you for reading, commenting, liking, sharing, and please, remember to keep reading, reviewing and always smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog CALL DROPS by John F Leonard (@john_f_leonard) #RBRT A dark and creepy read with a twisted sense of humour

Hi all.

Today I bring you a short read that packs a punch.

Call Drops by John F Leonard
Call Drops by John F Leonard

Call Drops: A Horror Story by John F Leonard

Vincent likes nothing more than rootling round second-hand shops in search of the interesting and unusual. Items that are lost and forgotten.
Why not? He needs the diversion. Time on his hands and money to burn. His life is affluent and empty. Little on the horizon and memories tinged bittersweet.
That’s all about to change. He’s about to find something that is perhaps better left unfound.

CALL DROPS is a darkly swirling mix of horror and mystery that will stay with you long after the reading is done. It’ll maybe make you think twice about impulse buying, those moments when you simply must have something, even though you don’t need it.
It might cause you to look again at the apparently mundane and every day…and possibly, just possibly, wonder at what twisted marvels lurk within your mobile phone.

Call Drops is a short (ish) horror story, the first in a series of sinister tales from the Dead Boxes Archive.
Some objects are scary things. Dead Boxes definitely fall into that category.
They can be easily overlooked. They’re ordinary on the surface. At first glance anyway.
If you look a little closer, you’ll see something unique.
You could have one and not know it.
Be careful.
They hold miracle and mystery. Horror and salvation.
None are the same. Except in one regard.
You don’t need one.
You might think you do, but you really don’t.
Believe me.

A Short Horror Story
From the Dead Boxes Archive.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Call-Drops-Horror-John-Leonard-ebook/dp/B077T35TQC/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Call-Drops-Horror-John-Leonard-ebook/dp/B077T35TQC/

Author John F Leonard
Author John F Leonard

About the author:

John was born in England and grew up in the industrial Midlands, where he learned to love the sound of scrapyard dogs and the rattle and clank of passing trains.

He studied English, Art and History and has, at different times, been a sculptor, odd-job man and office worker. He enjoys horror and comedy (not necessarily together).

He has published six books. A Plague of Pages, Bad Pennies, Doggem, Call Drops, Collapse and 4 Hours, and is currently working on a number of projects which include more tales from the Dead Boxes Archive and the Scaeth Mythos, and new stories set in the ever evolving, post-apocalyptic world of Collapse.

https://www.amazon.com/John-F-Leonard/e/B01BHUE6Z6/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novella.

I won’t keep you guessing, I loved this story. After reading several longish novels in a similar genre, I fancied a break. And what better break from reading than reading something completely different?

I had read some great reviews of another one of Leonard’s novellas (also from the Dead Boxes Archive series) from members of the review team and knew I was in for a treat.

The story starts innocuously enough. An old man of means, Vincent Preece, (he used to have a business, one of the early businesses in mobile phones, and he sold it making a big profit) who likes to go to second-hand shops and car-boot sales finds something rather unusual and impossible to resist for him. It looks like an old mobile phone, but he does not recognise the model and cannot find any indication of how it works. Still, he has to have it.

If, like me, you loved the old Friday the 13th TV series with its creepy objects, or other similar stories (including some of the films in the Conjuring series), you will have guessed by now that things are going to take a turn for the interesting. And they do.

I don’t want to spoil the read, but let’s say the phone does not keep silent for long, and the atmosphere gets creepier and darker as it progresses. The story, told in the third person but almost totally from Vincent’s point of view, gets deeper and deeper into the protagonist’s psyche. When we meet him, he is a lonely man, somewhat embittered and opinionated (although he keeps those opinions to himself), who has suffered losses in his life, from his business and his cat, to his wife and daughter, but he seems settled and has learned to enjoy the little things in life. He is a keen and witty observer, has a quick mind, and a sharp sense of humour. I am not sure I would say he is the most sympathetic character I’ve read about, but he comes across as a grumpy but amusing old man, and his wit and the plot are more than enough to keep us engaged and turning the pages. If you’re a reader of the genre, you’ve probably guessed that things are not as clear-cut as they seem, but I won’t give you any specific details. You’ll have to read it yourselves.

Is it a horror story? It is not a scary story that will make you jump (or at least I don’t think so), but there are some horrifying scenes in it, graphically so (although no people are involved), and they’ve put some pictures in my mind that will probably remain there for a long time, but it is more in the range of the darker The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents type of stories than something that will have you screaming out loud. If you read the description of the series, you’ll get a good sense of it, and the epilogue and the closing warning to the reader are very well done and reminded me of both these TV programmes.

The writing style is crisp and to the point, and the author manages to create a credible character with recognisable personality traits despite the briefness of the story. There are also moments when the writing reaches beyond functional storytelling, as if the character had dropped his self-protective shell and his stiff attitude and was talking from the heart.

Here, talking about his wife and daughter:

Their departure had left Vincent mystified and empty. As if the marrow had been sucked out of him. Hard to stand with hollow bones.

But also:

However liberal you tried to be, some folk were simply a waste of good organs. There was no denying it.

I won’t talk about the ending in detail. There is a twist, and although some readers might have their suspicions, I think it works well, and I enjoyed it.

I recommend this book to people who like dark and creepy reads, have a twisted sense of humour, and don’t mind some horrifying scenes. If you love The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents and are looking for a short and quick-paced read, give it a try. Perhaps we don’t need Dead Boxes’ objects in our lives, but we definitely need more of their stories.

Thanks to Rosie (and all the members of the group) thanks to the author, thanks to you all for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and keep smiling!

 

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#TuesdayBookBlog IN WOLVES’ CLOTHING by Greg Levin (@greg_levin) A sharp novel, both in action and in style, with fabulous dialogue and a flawed hero you’ll love #RBRT

Hi all:

Today I bring you the review of a novel that once again I’ve discovered thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I must say I will be watching this author very closely in the future.

In Wolves' Clothing by Greg Levin
In Wolves’ Clothing by Greg Levin

In Wolves’ Clothing by Greg Levin

On his best days, Zero Slade is the worst man you can imagine. He has to be. It’s the only way to save the Lost Girls.

During his seven years on a team fighting child sex trafficking, Zero’s become quite good at schmoozing with pimps, getting handcuffed by cops and pretending not to care about the children he liberates. But the dangerous sting operations are starting to take their toll on his marriage and sanity. His affinity for prescription painkillers isn’t exactly helping matters.

When the youngest girl the team has ever rescued gets abducted from a safe house in Cambodia, Zero decides to risk everything to find her. His only shot is to go rogue, and sink deeper into the bowels of the trafficking world than he’s ever sunk.

It’s the biggest mission of his life. Trouble is, it’s almost certain death.

https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Clothing-Greg-Levin-ebook/dp/B075WSMPBT/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wolves-Clothing-Greg-Levin-ebook/dp/B075WSMPBT/

Author Greg Levin
Author Greg Levin

About the author:

Biography

Greg Levin is an award-winning author of psychological thrillers with a dark comedic tinge. He’s gone from being read merely by immediate family and friends to being read also by extended family and Facebook acquaintances.

Greg’s novel The Exit Man was optioned by HBO and later by Showtime for development into a TV series, and won a 2015 Independent Publisher Book Award (a.k.a., an “IPPY”). Greg earned a second IPPY with his next novel, Sick to Death, which Craig Clevenger (The Contortionist’s Handbook) called “a tour de force dark comedy.” Greg’s latest book, In Wolves’ Clothing, is his most dangerous. He wrote much of it during a ten-week-long workshop led by the great Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club and lots of other books Greg sleeps with at night).

Greg resides with his wife, daughter and two cats in Austin, Texas. He is currently wanted by local authorities for refusing to say “y’all” or do the two-step.

Website: http://www.greglevin.com

Facebook: @greglevintheauthor
Twitter: @greg_levin
Instagram: @greglevinauthor

Join Greg’s email list to receive a free ebook and a 3-chapter sample of In Wolves’ Clothing, as well as his bi-weekly(ish) blog posts and occasional news/special offers related to his books. You can join the list at greglevin.com.

https://www.amazon.com/Greg-Levin/e/B0051AYWFI/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Amber from Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, check here if you would like your books reviewed) and to the author for providing me with a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

Zero Slade is the narrator of this story that packs plenty of action, violence, and darkness in under three hundred pages. He is a flawed hero or even an anti-hero. He drinks too much, he takes prescription painkillers (of course, no longer prescribed, although there’s little doubt that he is in pain); he loves his wife but lies to her and cannot share his feelings; he is good at his job but is falling into a downward spiral where he makes mistakes, often makes the wrong decisions and gets himself and others into trouble. He is a master of witty retorts (although these seem to take the form of a mental commentary rather than things he tells people, as he pretends, both for professional and for personal reasons to be calm, collected, and not easily fazed), and dark-humour and a cynical point-of-view are second-nature to him. His style of internal dialogue reminded me of noir-novels and of the voice-over narrations used by film-noir detectives of the thirties and forties. He is big, strong, and, in appearance at least, tough. And he needs to be, to do the job he does.

The book’s subject is horrific, and although the novel does not go into a lot of detail about sex trafficking, it does highlight the reality of it, the terrible statistics, and the experiences of the young girls and of those who try to help them, often with little long-term success. Doing such a job requires special qualities and takes a toll on all those involved. Zero reflects on the motley crew he works with early on in the novel and when we meet the new recruit he is supposed to train, Caleb, we wonder what he has in common with the rest and how he came to be there. He seems too together. A Buddhist who always sees the positive side of every situation. Of course, things are not always what they seem, and Zero is not the only one keeping secrets.

Coping with such extreme experiences is not easy. Zero’s first-person narration allows the reader to get inside his head and share his techniques to try and avoid getting emotionally involved and overwhelmed by what he sees. His drinking, his drug abuse, and his defence mechanisms and strategies all point to the fact that rather than being hard, tough, and unfeeling, he is trying to protect himself because otherwise, he’d crack.

We don’t get to know all of the secondary characters well (the book is short, but we do get a good sense of what Zero thinks about them, even if he is not always the best judge of character and he gets more than one surprise) but especially those on the good side are varied, interesting, sympathetic, and morally complex. We don’t know every single detail of Zero’s life either (and he spends a fair amount of time under the influence of drink, drugs, both, or in pain) but he shares enough of his memories and experiences for us to root for him. We know how he met his wife, we learn about his brother’s passing, and even about some bad things that he might or might not have done. Many unreliable narrators sometimes try to paint themselves in a positive light, but although Zero is in denial about his addictions, he is a master of understatement and skilled at putting himself down.

I have once again highlighted a lot of the book, but just a few samples of a novel that’s eminently quotable:

Whenever people say, “It could always be worse,” they’re right … unless they’re talking about what the Lost Girls have been through. That’s where worse ends.

Talking about a superheroes blockbuster movie: It’s about Lycra overcoming evil.

I hate that playing a pedophile comes more naturally to me than being myself.

The trouble is, the camera always takes five pounds off the truth.

The flight attendant returns with my refill. Saved by the bourbon.

One of the nurses helping him move tells him: “Okay, this is always the hard part.” The perfect title for my autobiography.

This is a fast novel, sharp both in action and in style, with fabulous dialogue and a quick-fire and pared-down writing that is dynamic and vibrant. It also has a big heart, deals with a very serious subject, and manages to convey the depth of feeling of a character that goes to big lengths to hide that he is a big softy. Ah, and the ending is great too.

If you don’t mind a fair amount of violence (never gratuitous, but still…), the subject matter, and like heroes down on their luck with plenty of verbal style, you are in for a treat with this novel. An author to follow closely and an important subject.

Thanks to Rosie Amber and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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#TuesdayBookBlog SILHOUETTES by E. L. Tenenbaum (@ELTenenbaum) A Young Adult novel for all ages about family, friends, and life with a positive and inspiring message. #RBRT #YA

Hi all:

Today I bring you another review I’ve written for Rosie’s Book Review Team. This is a very special book and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

Silhouettes by E. L. Tenenbaum
Silhouettes by E. L. Tenenbaum

Silhouettes by E. L. Tenenbaum  

Brooke was just killed in an accident, but a part of her is still here. Seeking answers, she sets out to retrace her life and soon meets others like her, among them, Tyler. Tyler remembers Brooke from before, and so she hesitantly gives him the one thing she never bothered to when they were alive; a chance. Together, they visit the people and places in their small beach town that once held meaning to them, developing a mutual, grudging respect as they learn to view life in different and unexpected ways.

Tyler soon decides that they must let go of their pasts if anything is to change, but Brooke can’t bring herself to say goodbye just yet. As she watches the impact of her death on her loved ones, Brooke questions her desperate need to hold onto a life that’s no longer hers. But can she move on from a life she’s barely begun to live?

A bittersweet story about family, friendship and the impact one life can have on others, no matter how young it is.

https://www.amazon.com/Silhouettes-L-Tenenbaum-ebook/dp/B075RPZTT8/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Silhouettes-L-Tenenbaum-ebook/dp/B075RPZTT8/

About the author:

Hi! I am writer who thinks a bookstore (real or online) is the happiest place on earth!
I’m also partial to other things, like baking (cookies), musicals (though I can’t really sing) and superhero graphic novels (though I can’t really fly).
Above those, I love to write in different mediums, especially novels.
Read, share, talk about them.
Enjoy.

https://www.amazon.com/E.-L.-Tenenbaum/e/B01EXPUFWK/

http://www.eltenenbaum.com/

My review:

I write this review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie Amber from Rosie’s Book Review Team (if you are an author and want your book reviewed, check here) and to the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Brooke is an 18 year-old-girl who is popular (although not as popular as cheerleaders are), the captain of the dance group, a volunteer at her local hospital (in the children’s ward), a good student, a beloved daughter and sister (to her 14 year-old brother, Aaron), who has very clear plans for the future and a lot of life ahead of her, until she is killed in a car crash. She discovers then that although she is now dead, she is still hanging around, and can follow her friends and family, visit the familiar places where she used to spend her time, but she cannot interact with anybody or make herself known to the living. She meets other silhouettes (as they look like somewhat less solid and more transparent versions of themselves), but they don’t seem to have much in common with her until she meets a young boy her age, Tyler, who used to go to the same school but didn’t cross paths with her. While he knew who she was, she had never noticed him. As there is little to do other than wander around, and neither has any idea of why they are still there, they spend time together and discover things about each other, and also about themselves.

The story is narrated in the first-person from Brooke’s point of view. Although she is angry and devastated, to begin with, she is also very concerned about her family and friends and tries to help but does not know how. Her memories of those around her are heart-warming and feel real. What she remembers are the little moments, not the big occasions, and she talks about her friends and family in a loving way. Although she is shocked by some of the things she discovers about others, she also gains an understanding of what is really important. She realises that she was living in a bubble and there were aspects of the town and of its people’s lives she’d never noticed. The language is beautiful and lyrical at times, without being overly complex. Tyler played the guitar and composed songs with his friend Dylan, and the lyrics of these songs are like poems, that give us a moment of pause and sometimes encapsulate and sometimes enhance the rest of the text. Although the interaction between the two characters feels true, and they remain psychologically consistent, they are both fully aware that what they are experiencing is not the same as they did when they were alive, and there is a new sense of detachment and perspective that they have been granted by their situation. Being granted time and distance to think without the pressure of trying to conform to other’s expectations is illuminating.

The relationship between Brooke and Tyler develops slowly and it is clear that they are there to help each other, even if the details are only revealed at the end. Like with some of the other secrets we discover throughout the book, I was not surprised by the revelation, but what is really important is the characters’ reaction to the revelation and that is both understandable and perfect. Although it might seem strange to talk about happy endings in a novel that centres on dead characters, I think most readers enjoy the ending and feel inspired by it.

I highlighted many sentences and paragraphs, as the novel manages to capture many of the questions we all wonder about and provides insights and inspiration without ever becoming preachy or adhering to a particular faith or religion. But here come a few to give you an idea:

Diamonds hide in a lump of coal.

Here Brooke is talking to Tyler, trying to convince him they should go to school.

“What else are you gonna do?” I asked. “No one will see you anyway. You’re safe. They’ll walk right through you.”

“Great. Just like when I was alive.”

Brooke observes: Words like that should never have reason to be said at all.

“You don’t need to do some momentous thing that changes the world or say things that everyone puts on wooden signs to have made a difference. It’s doing things in your way, the way you laughed, and cried, and hung out, and lived, and just were, that’s what your mark is, even if you can only find it in ten people instead of ten thousand.”

A YA novel that can be read by people of any age (there is no use of swear words, violence or sex), that makes us think (yes, and tear up too) about family, friendship, memories, and life. A positive and inspiring read I’d recommend everybody. I know many readers are wary of reading books about children’s deaths, especially those who have been touched personally by it. Although I cannot offer my personal perspective on the matter, I’d suggest trying a sample of the book before making a decision. The novel put me in mind of The Lovely Bones and I would recommend it to readers who loved Sebold’s novel but were perturbed by the most gruesome aspects of the plot. (Here you can check my post for Rosie’s Twin Books features where I talk about both books). E. L. Tenenbaum is an author I didn’t know but I’ll be watching closely from now on.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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#TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT PAINTED BY Kirsten McKenzie (@Kiwimrsmac). Gothic psychological horror, with haunted house and ghosts for art and lovers of antiques. #Bookreview

Hi all:

Today I bring you a novel in one of my favourite genres. Thanks to Rosie Amber for her great review group where I keep discovering great books.

Painted by Kirsten McEnzie
Painted by Kirsten McKenzie

PAINTED: A Horror Novel by Kirsten McKenzie

If art can capture a soul, what happens when one of those souls escapes?

When art appraiser Anita Cassatt is sent to catalogue the extensive collection of reclusive artist Leo Kubin, it isn’t the chilly atmosphere of the secluded house making her shiver, it’s the silent audience of portraits clustered on every wall watching her.

Kubin’s lawyer didn’t share the detailed instructions regarding the handling of the art, and Anita and her team start work in ignorance of the very instructions designed to keep them safe. Safe from the art.

In the dark, a portrait stirs as the subject eases themselves out of the portrait and stretches, free at last from the confines of a canvas which they have no intention of ever returning to. They have a painting to finish and the people in the house will only be in the way…

Buy Painted now and you’ll never look at the art on your walls the same way again.

Perfect for lovers of early Stephen King and Rachel Caine

What readers are saying about PAINTED:

“Refreshing to encounter this subtle, delicate narrative where horror peeps slyly out…”
“Painted is an effective haunted house book, favoring tension and subtlety over outright violence and kills.”
“McKenzie does an incredible job in the characterization of the people in her novel. With each and every one, I came away with the feeling that I knew them–down to even the secrets they kept hidden from each other.”
“This novel literally took my breath away in places.”
“The plot is sensationally addictive and the creepy factor kept me alert page after page.”
“No gore or cheap scares here, this is a subtle and delicate chiller written in the spirit of a Shirley Jackson novel.”

Links:

Amazon.co.ukhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/PAINTED-Horror-Novel-Kirsten-McKenzie-ebook/dp/B072TT8QXJ

Amazon.comhttps://www.amazon.com/PAINTED-Horror-Novel-Kirsten-McKenzie-ebook/dp/B072TT8QXJ

Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35170823-painted

Author Kirsten McKenzie
Author Kirsten McKenzie

About the author:

For many years Kirsten McKenzie worked in her family’s antique store, where she went from being allowed to sell the 50c postcards in the corner of Antique Alley as a child, to selling $5,000 Worcester vases and seventeenth century silverware, providing a unique insight into the world of antiques which touches every aspect of her writing.

Her historical fiction novels ‘Fifteen Postcards’ and its sequel ‘The Last Letter’ have been described as ‘Time Travellers Wife meets Far Pavilions’, and ‘Antiques Roadshow gone viral’.

Her first horror novel, ‘Painted’, was released in June 2017.

She lives in New Zealand with her husband, daughters, and her SPCA rescue cat, and can be found procrastinating on Twitter under the handle @Kiwimrsmac.

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Amber (from Rosie’s Book Review Team, check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, that I freely chose to review.

When I read the description of Painted I knew I had to read it, as it was a horror novel (and despite how much I like the genre, I don’t seem to read many of them), and it had to do with art. When I read that the author had worked in the antiques family business; that sealed the deal for me.  I had not read any work by this author before (and I understand this is the first time she writes horror) but I am pleased to have discovered her.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but let’s say we have a dead painter who left very specific instructions in his will as to how to deal with the artwork he left behind. Unfortunately, there had been changes at his lawyer’s and his instructions were ignored. And we all know what happens when we ignore warnings, don’t we?

There are authors who are better at building characters than at creating a plot, and there are also authors who excel at describing places and objects but are not so good at providing psychological insights. McKenzie manages to create a great gothic atmosphere (some reviewers have said that the novel is more gothic than pure horror, but both things do not exclude each other), with a fantastically eerie and creepy house, full of even creepier portraits, and a variety of objects, furniture, and even plants that all combine to create a fabulous setting for the novel. In fact, the house becomes another character, one that hides many secrets, and of course, many ghosts.

But the author also creates fully-fledged characters, with their passions, foibles, secrets (some darker than others), and stories. Even when we do not get to share much time with them, we get flashes of their personality (be it because of their fastidiousness about their personal appearance, or because of the way they hang on to mementos from the past, or the way they present a false and harmless persona to the world when they are anything but). She manages to do this by using a variety of techniques, especially by her particular use of point of view. The story is written in the third person, but it shares the points of views of different characters. There is a certain degree of head-hopping, although I did not find it confusing and it is very smoothly done. We do see things from the perspective of all the characters. We mostly follow Anita, the young woman sent by the auctioneer’s to catalogue the paintings, because she is the first one to arrive and she spends the most time at the house, but we even get an insight into the thoughts of the lawyer’s secretary and of the farmer’s dog. And of course, the baddies (although it is not easy to decide who is good and bad in the story). There are also moments when we are told something that none of the characters could know (a great way of creating suspense and forecasting future events), like references to shadows, sounds nobody has heard yet, and things that happen behind characters’ backs or when they are asleep.

The character easiest to empathise and later sympathise with is Anita. It is clear from the beginning that she is battling with something that happened to her in the past and is bravely trying to get on with her life (despite still experiencing symptoms of PTSD). Her story is terrible in its own right, and it makes her reactions to what happens more justified. Some characters are nasty and difficult to like (like the lawyer), but most of them are given interesting backgrounds and scenes that make them memorable, and some are much more twisted than we realise.

I loved the details of the process of cataloguing the house contents (as I love antiques and TV programmes about antiques. Yes, I could watch The Antiques Roadshow forever and never get bored), the descriptions of the painting process, and the pace of the novel. The atmosphere is created slowly and we follow the characters’ commonsensical approach to the events to begin with and share with them their descent into paranoia and utter horror. The step-by-step reveal, the twists and turns, and the ghosts (it reminded me of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James) are also masterly rendered. And the ending… No, I did not see it coming, and as a fan of unhappy endings in horror books, this manages to satisfy, to surprise and to leave us wondering.

This is psychological horror, with ghosts and haunted house, at its best, and it does not contain gore or extreme violence (there is more menace and imagining than there is anything explicit), so I would recommend it to lovers of the genre, and to those who love atmospheric readings and don’t mind a scare or two. I cannot comment on the author’s previous writing, but she definitely has a talent for this genre, and based on the quality of her writing, I’m sure we’ll hear more from her.

Thanks again to the author and to Rosie for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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#Tuesdaybookblog #Bookreview The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery (Adventures of Zelda Richardson Book 2) by Jennifer S. Alderson (@JSAauthor) A well-paced mystery that takes us back to a fascinating and tragic historical era

Hi all:

I have another review I’ve written on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team. I think you’ll love this one!

The Lover's Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson
The Lover’s Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson

The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery (Adventures of Zelda Richardson Book 2) by Jennifer S. Alderson

When a homosexual Dutch art dealer hides the stock from his gallery – rather than turn it over to his Nazi blackmailer – he pays with his life, leaving a treasure trove of modern masterpieces buried somewhere in Amsterdam, presumably lost forever. That is, until American art history student Zelda Richardson sticks her nose in.

After studying for a year in the Netherlands, Zelda scores an internship at the prestigious Amsterdam Museum, where she works on an exhibition of paintings and sculptures once stolen by the Nazis, lying unclaimed in Dutch museum depots almost seventy years later. When two women claim the same portrait of a young girl entitled Irises, Zelda is tasked with investigating the painting’s history and soon finds evidence that one of the two women must be lying about her past. Before she can figure out which one it is and why, Zelda learns about the Dutch art dealer’s concealed collection. And that Irises is the key to finding it all.

Her discoveries make her a target of someone willing to steal – and even kill – to find the missing paintings. As the list of suspects grows, Zelda realizes she has to track down the lost collection and unmask a killer if she wants to survive.

** One of The Displaced Nation’s Top 36 Expat Fiction Picks of 2016 **

“Gripping mystery…the suspense is intensely magnetic and the characters equally captivating “ – BookLife Prize for Fiction 2016, No. 14 in Mystery category

“Well worth reading for what the main character discovers—not just about the portrait mentioned in the title, but also the sobering dangers of Amsterdam during World War II.” – IndieReader

“Jennifer S. Alderson delivers a mystery novel not quite like most. It’s not about stolen paintings, but about lives that were stolen… The Lover’s Portrait is a well-written mystery with engaging characters and a lot of heart. The perfect novel for those who love art and mysteries!“ – Reader’s Favorite, 5 star medal

“If you love history, a detailed mystery, and a lovely, yet not run of the mill heroine, then you will love The Lover’s Portrait.” – Author and blogger Vicki Turner Goodwin

“I highly recommend The Lover’s Portrait for artists, art lovers, history buffs, historical novel fans, and anyone else looking for a well-written, enjoyable read.” – Author Pamela Allegretto

This amateur sleuth mystery describes the plight of homosexuals and Jewish artists in Europe during World War II, as well as the complexities inherent to the restitution of artwork stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery draws on the author’s experiences gained while studying art history in the Netherlands and working for several Dutch museums.

Related subjects include: women sleuths, historical mysteries, amateur sleuth books, murder mysteries, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), travel fiction, suspense, art crime, art theft, World War Two, art history.

https://www.amazon.com/Lovers-Portrait-Mystery-Adventures-Richardson-ebook/dp/B01EVVS0RI/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lovers-Portrait-Mystery-Adventures-Richardson-ebook/dp/B01EVVS0RI/

Author Jennifer S. Alderson

About the author:

Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. There she earned degrees in art history and museum studies. Home is now Amsterdam, where she lives with her Dutch husband and young son.

Jennifer’s travels and experiences color and inform her internationally-oriented fiction. Her first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking, is a travel fiction adventure through Nepal and Thailand. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, her second book, is a suspenseful ‘whodunit?’ which transports readers to wartime and present day Amsterdam. Both are part of an on-going stand-alone series following the adventures of traveler and culture lover, Zelda Richardson.

Review and discuss her books on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/JenniferSAldersonAuthor), Twitter (@JSAauthor) or Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/JennifeSAlderson).

For more information about the author and her upcoming novels, please visit: http://www.JenniferSAlderson.com

My review:

Thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily chose to review. (If you are a writer and are interested in getting first-class reviews do check here).

I love art but cannot claim to be a connoisseur and I’ve never been to Amsterdam (well, I stopped at the airport to change planes once but that was that) but I can reassure you neither of those things prevented me from enjoying this solid mystery set within the world of big art museums and exhibitions, with a background story that would comfortably fit into the genre of historical fiction.

The story is written in the third person but from several characters’ point of view, although it is easy to follow and there is no head-hopping as each chapter, some longer and some shorter, is told from only one character’s point of view. There are two time frames. Some chapters are set in 1942 and tell the story of an art dealer from Amsterdam who is being blackmailed by one of the Nazi occupiers due to his homosexuality. In 2015, Zelda, the intrepid protagonist, is trying very hard to get into a Master’s Programme that will qualify her to work in museums and agrees to help with some very basic editing tasks for an exhibition of art objects confiscated by the Nazis that has been organised in an attempt at locating the rightful owners of the paintings. Readers get also a good insight into the thoughts and motivations of other characters (the evil nephew of the original Nazi blackmailer, Rita, the owner of one of the portraits in the exhibition, Huub, the curator of the exhibition…), although we mostly follow Zelda and her adventures. Although this is book 2 in the series, I have not read the first one and had no problem getting into the story. Zelda at times reflects upon how she got here and we learn that she moved from working with computers to a stay in Nepal teaching English and finally Amsterdam. In effect, I felt the novel was better at offering factual information about her than developing her character psychologically. I was not sure of her age but at times she seemed very naïve for somebody who has travelled extensively and has held important jobs, not only with the mystery side of things but also with her personal life, but she has the heart in the right place, and I appreciated the lack of romance in the story.

The different points of view and time changes help keep the suspense going, as we have access to more information than Zelda, but this can sometimes make matters more confusing (as we are not privy to everybody’s thoughts and there are a few red herrings thrown in for good measure). The author is also good at keeping us guessing and suspecting all kinds of double-crossings (perhaps I have been reading too many mystery books and thrillers but I didn’t trust anyone and was on the lookout for more twists than there were).

The setting of Amsterdam, both in the present and in the 1940s is very well depicted and, at least for me, the wish to go there increased as I read. I really enjoyed the description of the process of documentation and how to search for the provenance of artworks (the author explains her own background and its relevance to the subject [very] in an endnote that also offers ample bibliography)  that is sufficiently detailed without getting boring, and the background theme of the fate of art and the persecution of Jews, homosexuals and other minorities in occupied Europe is brought to life in the memories described by several of the characters and also the fictionalised entries of the art merchant. It is not difficult to see how a book about the research of actual works of art could be gripping too, and the fictionalisation and the mystery elements make it attractive to even more readers.

This is a gentle mystery, with no excessive or graphic violence, with an amateur sleuth who sometimes is far too daring and impulsive (although otherwise there would not be much of a story), with a great background and sufficient red herrings and clues to keep the suspense going. I suspect most readers will guess some aspects of the solution, but perhaps not the full details, and even if they do, the rest of the elements of the story make the reading worthwhile.

A good and solid book, an interesting intrigue that combines present and past, set in a wonderful Amsterdam and the art world, with likeable and intriguing characters,  but not heavy on the psychological aspects or too demanding.

Thanks so much to Rosie and the wonderful members of her team (don’t miss their reviews), thanks to the author, and thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!

 

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Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review

#TuesdayBookBlog DEVIL IN THE COUNTRYSIDE by Cory Barclay (@CoryBarclay) A bizarre true story brought to life in a novel that moves across genres.

Hi all:

Sometimes it’s difficult to know why a book doesn’t seem to work for us. This is one of those cases and most people who’ve read it have enjoyed it a lot more than me, so I suspect it’s me rather than the book, but here is my review. Thanks to Rosie Amber for creating Rosie’s Book Review Team (don’t forget to check here if you’re an author and would like to have your book reviewed).

Devil in the Countryside by Cory Barclay

Devil in the Countryside by Cory Barclay

Devil in the Countryside is a story about the most famous werewolf investigation in history, brimming with intrigue and war, love and betrayal, and long-kept vendettas.

It’s 1588, the height of the Reformation, and a killer is terrorizing the German countryside. There are reports that the legendary Werewolf of Bedburg has returned to a once-peaceful land. Heinrich Franz, a cold and calculating investigator, is tasked with finding whomever — or whatever — the killer might be. He’ll need all the help he can get, including that of a strange hunter who’s recently stumbled into town. Though they’re after the same thing, their reasons are worlds apart. And through it all, a priest tries to keep the peace among his frightened townsfolk, while a young woman threatens his most basic beliefs.

In a time when life is cheap and secrets run rampant, these four divergent souls find themselves entwined in a treacherous mystery, navigating the volatile political and religious landscape of 16th century Germany, fighting to keep their sanity — and their lives.

https://www.amazon.com/Devil-Countryside-Cory-Barclay-ebook/dp/B01MSEI8EM/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Devil-Countryside-Cory-Barclay-ebook/dp/B01MSEI8EM/

Author Cory Barclay

About the author:

As far back as he can remember, Cory Barclay has always loved the “big picture” questions. How much knowledge did humanity lose when the Library of Alexandria was burned down? Why has the concept of Heaven remained intact, in one form or another, throughout most of human history and how has it impacted life on Earth?

And even before that, when he first began writing stories in grade school, he’s been fascinated with histories and mysteries. Whether Norse mythology, the Dark Ages, or the conquests of great leaders, Cory’s been that kid who wants to know what’s shaped our world and write about it. Especially the great unsolved mysteries.

So Devil in the Countryside was a natural for him.

Born and raised in San Diego, he graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz, where he studied Creative Writing and Modern Literary Studies. He’s also a songwriter and guitarist, and – no surprise – many of his songs explore the same topics he writes about – the great mysteries of our crazy world.

Devil in the Countryside is his second novel and he’s hard at work on its sequel.

https://www.amazon.com/Cory-Barclay/e/B01MR4MXFX/

My review:

I write this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie Amber and to the author for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is a book based on a real case (although so many years later and with the few documents and written clues available it is difficult to know what might have been ‘real’ and ‘true’ at the time) that has all the elements to be a fabulous novel, or a TV investigative documentary, or a movie. You can check the Werewolf of Bedburg and you’ll find a lot of information (or rather, a bit of information elaborated upon and repeated everywhere, but not many different sources). It’s easy to understand why the author would become fascinated with the subject and I also see how a writer would feel that the bare bones of the case that can be found through research would make a great starting point to write a fully-fledged and fleshed-out story. And that is what the author decided to do. In such a case, decisions have to be made as to how close to keep to the facts (such as they are) and how many fictional elements should be introduced. With this particular story, there were also many possibilities with regards to genre. Should it be a historical novel, researching the place and times and fitting in the specifics of the story around the findings? Should it be a mystery/thriller, chasing and investigating an early example of a serial killer? Should it be a horror novel? Personally, I’m not sure what I would have done, but as a reader, this novel was not what I expected. This has probably more to do with me than with the book itself but, in my opinion, it tries to be too many things.

The novel has elements of historical fiction. The author explains, in an end note, who were the real characters, and who the ones he created, and also briefly exposes some of the liberties he took. The historical background and facts are fairly accurate (although if you research the story, it seems that the fate of the daughter was very different to the one in the book, that seems an attempt at introducing a romance and a happy ending of sorts, that, in my opinion, does not befit the subject), and one of the things that the author does very well is to reflect the conflict between Catholics and Protestants at the time, the atmosphere of deep suspicion and hostility, and the paranoia that permeated all levels of society, whereby nobody was safe and anybody could be betrayed and accused of being a follower of the wrong faith. The author uses modern language, a perfectly good choice to ensure more readers access the text, but there are anachronisms and expressions that felt out of place (and perhaps using a more neutral, rather than a very casual language would have been less jarring, as some expressions sounded particularly weird in such setting. We have references to teenager, an expression only in use in the XXc. , characters drink coffee whilst it was never introduced to Germany until the late part of the XVII century…). I also wondered about some of the characters’ actions. Sybil, a young girl who lost her mother and looks after her father and younger brother, challenges her father’s authority with no consequences, goes out by herself and does things I would have thought would be out of character (but I will try and not offer too many spoilers). Dieter is a young and pious priest that seems to change his faith and his mind practically overnight (no matter what he thought about the bishop, the religion he’d dedicated years to, one would expect it would mean more to him than that) as a result of falling in love at first sight (as there is nothing in common between him and the girl) and in general I felt most of the characters were not psychologically consistent. I am not an authority on that historical period, although I have read other books about that era that created a clearer picture in my mind, about the historical period and also about the society of the time.

Whilst the novel opens as if it was going to be a straight investigation into bizarre murders, with a suggestion of the paranormal, there are some elements of investigation (following people, plenty of intrigues, researching paperwork), but a lot of the novel is taken up by telling (more than showing) us about the religious situation, the machinations of the powerful of the time (particularly Bishop Solomon, not a real character who is truly despicable and has no redeeming features at all) and it stirs the book towards the territory of the intrigue/conspiracy-theory novel  (it appears likely that those aspects played a big part during the trial of the man who was found guilty of being the werewolf).

Although at the beginning there is the suggestion that there might be elements of horror in the novel that is not the case. Or rather, the real horror is the way the truth is sacrificed to political and religious interests and how no side is above using any means to win (the Catholics come out of it slightly worse off, but nobody is truly blameless).  There is action, violence (some for comic relief, but some extreme and graphic, including torture scenes and gross deaths), and war, so this is not a gentle novel for people intent on learning a bit about the historical era, but it is not scary in sense horror lovers would expect.

The story is told in the third person from the point of view of different characters, and each chapter starts with the name of the character whose point of view we share, although at times we get reflections and comments from an omniscient point of view (comments about character’s feelings or motivations that do not seem to come from them). Heinrich, the investigator, is an enigmatic character we never get to know well, as although we see things from his point of view, we aren’t privy to his full motivations (and that is aided by the third person narration). He is at times presented as weak and ineffective (a bit like Johnny Depp’s depiction of Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow) and at others, he is clever and manipulative (and the ending is quite eerie, but no, I won’t say anything else). He seems determined to carry on with his investigation and get to the truth one minute, and then he settles for what he knows is a lie, behaving as a corrupt cog-in-the-machine.

I suspect it was partly because of the point of view changes but I found it difficult to connect with the characters (my favourite was Georg, a conflicted character whose motivations are easier to understand and who was, despite his flaws, a good man.  I felt sorry for Sybil but her character didn’t quite gel for me) although it is impossible not to be horrified at what went on and I didn’t manage to get the timing of the events straight in my mind.

Some of the comments expressed unhappiness with the ending, but for me, that is well resolved (perhaps apart from the happy ending part of it, but then that is a matter of genre) and I did not find its openness a problem but rather a plus.

Most of my difficulties with the book stem from my own expectations about what the story was going to be about and how it was going to be told. I’ve read many positive reviews about the book, and as I said, it does create a sense of dread, paranoia, and suspicion that can help us imagine what living in that historical period, so uncertain, must have been like.  And it has a chilling and eerie ending. So, if you are intrigued by the history behind it, don’t take my word for it and check a sample of the book. And do a bit of research. It will prove, once more, that reality can be stranger than fiction.

Thanks very much to Rosie Amber and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK and of course, to leave reviews for the books you read!

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Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview THE REVENGERS (The Revengers Series, Vol. 1) by David Valdes Greenwood (@dvgtweets) For lovers of YA stories, revenge, paranormal subjects and mythology. And kick-ass female protagonists.

Hi all:

It is Tuesday and I have another great offering from Rosie Amber’s review group, Rosie’s Book Review Team (if you are looking for reviews, you might want to check here). When the author mentioned his interest in diverse characters, his writing credits and I read the description… Well, just check the review.

Revengers by David Valdes Greenwood
Revengers by David Valdes Greenwood

Revengers (The Revengers Series) (Volume 1) David Valdes Greenwood.

How far would you go to make things right? Ama, Mark, and Justin are about to find out. All three have each witnessed a murder that went unpunished, and they’ve lived broken lives ever since. In recent months, their dreams have been haunted by someone who understands their pain: a Fury who survived the witch hunts of Old Salem. Three days before Halloween, she enters their dreams and summons them to be Revengers, just as she has done for a new trio of teens every year for centuries. If they abide by her seemingly simple set of rules, she promises supernatural protection while they avenge their losses. One catch: exacting revenge means becoming killers themselves. And they don’t have much time to wrestle with the moral dilemma, as the Fury’s protection will end on the Day of the Dead. When they agree—setting in motion three bloody acts of vengeance—things begin to spiral out of control and they come to understand they are pawns in an ancient game. As the Fury toys with them, they race against the clock, hoping to live more than just a few more days…

https://www.amazon.com/Revengers-David-Valdes-Greenwood-ebook/dp/B06XFBMMKH/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Revengers-David-Valdes-Greenwood-ebook/dp/B06XFBMMKH/

Author David Valdes Greenwood

About the author:

David Valdes Greenwood is the author of Revengers, The Rhinestone Sisterhood, Homo Domesticus and A Little Fruitcake. As an award-winning playwright, his work has been staged coast to coast and in the UK. A former freelance journalist, Valdes Greenwood is best known for his Boston Globe columns. Currently, he details life as a parent as a Huffington Post blogger and may be followed at https://www.facebook.com/davidvaldesgreenwoodauthor and on Twitter @dvgtweets.

https://www.amazon.com/David-Valdes-Greenwood/e/B001IXQ3MW/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Amber (from Rosie’s Book Review Team) and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

Revengers is the first in the YA Revengers Series, and it is the first work by the author, David Valdes Greenwood, better known for his non-fiction books and his plays, I have read. This is a revenge story with a supernatural twist. If that is not unusual (we all know revenge stories orchestrated by evil or sometimes simply very angry spirits), both the details and the characters are.

Those who love mythology, in particular, Greek (and Roman) mythology, will probably appreciate the thematic link to the Furies, ancient vengeful deities whose roles and interpretation changed over time. Because, the book tells the story of three adolescents who’ve experienced terrible losses at different ages (Marc, a Harvard dropout, only a year ago, whilst Justin and Ama were much younger) and who, for different reasons, have had to grieve alone. They’ve been experiencing terrifying nightmares since the events, that they witnessed, and suddenly, these nightmares become more real than before. A strange and scary female figure tells them to go to Salem and leaves them a journal. They feel compelled to obey Rebecca, the fury/spirit behind their nightmares whose story we learn later (and who had good reasons to seek revenge).

The story is told in the third person, mostly alternating the points of view of the three main characters (although also briefly from the victims and other characters with small parts in the story, including Rebecca herself), who, although don’t know each other at the beginning, end up becoming an ersatz family. They are as diverse as they could be (ethnically: African-American and Dominican blood, Chinese, old Massachusetts stock, sexually: Marc is gay and Ama and Justin haven’t had much time to think about such things so far; they also have different interests, studies and their economic and family circumstances are miles apart) but have to form a team to be able to fulfil the rules and get rid of their nightmares forever. Although killing somebody is not an easy task, they don’t realise how complicated things can get until later, when secrets and half-told truths come to light. The rules they are given, that seem to be clear-cut and not leave any room for ambiguity, aren’t so clear when one scratches beyond the surface, and there is no such a thing as getting off scotch-free.

The Salem of the story (I cannot comment on how much it resembles the real location, although for me it is more of a paranormal backdrop to the story than a real place, and it reminded me a bit of Demon Road where an alternative order and lifestyle existed side by side with normal life, without anybody other than those involved being aware of it) is full of secrets, tragedy, lessons not learned and people trying to maintain the status quo while pretending everything is fine. Although it might appear like business as usual to Halloween Tourists, to those in the know, witches are the least of their problems.

The three main characters have distinctive personalities and are realistically portrayed (Ama is quite suspicious, Justin can be quick to act, Marc is a bit of a softy) and they are all flawed, and not all that likeable at the beginning of the story but make a good team and learn to appreciate and accept their differences and skills. For me, one of the most appealing aspects of the book (apart from the suspense and the mystery) is the strong bond that develops between the three adolescents who at that point didn’t have a close connection or intimate friends who knew their secrets, shared their concerns and cared for them. I particularly liked Ama, who although is tough and determined, is also the character who often hesitates and questions the morality of their actions and who will go to any extent to try and keep everybody safe. And that is why in the end… (Don’t worry, no spoilers).

The book is compellingly written, with enough imagery and description to feel the changes in weather and scenery (that are all in tune with their experiences and the action providing visual and sensory emphasis to the events), without becoming cumbersome. The interactions between the adolescents and with other characters ring true and help build their characters more convincingly. There is plenty of action, it has many scary moments and the suspense builds up from the start (as we have a time-frame and the clock is ticking continuously, with the tension increasing towards the end of the story).  The inclusion of the point of view of some of the victims makes the story more morally ambiguous and complex. This is not just a revenge story with a few paranormal scary touches. It will make readers (and who hasn’t thought about getting revenge on somebody at some point) think twice about justice and revenge. Although the ending (no, no spoilers) opens up the series to the next book, do not worry about unfinished businesses or annoying cliff-hangers. This is not a story divided into several books where you never get any resolution. So you won’t feel disappointed because of a lack of ending (you might have preferred a different ending, but that’s a completely different matter).

I recommend this novel to readers of YA stories who love suspense, paranormal subjects, mythology and strong and diverse protagonists. Especially those looking for a new series with a kick-ass female protagonist. The author has promised to keep me informed when he publishes the next books in the series, so I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks so much to Rosie and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and, if you read any books, remember to leave a review!

 

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