I’m back! I’m back in the land of easier internet access, so I hope I’ll be able to keep up with you all, although the holiday proved a bit busier and more challenging than I expected, and that means I have much more to do and didn’t manage to read as much as I expected. So things might be slow-going for the next few weeks, but I hope to get going at full speed soon(-ish).
I hope you are all well, and I bring you a book by one of my favourite authors, which I’m sure many of you already know. And this is quite a read!
“It was neither the best of times, nor the worst of times. It was somewhere in the middle. ”
Pádraig O’Breasail – publican, drunk and ex-Arsenal footballer – is up to his neck in debt to the Chinese gangster Mingzhu Tang. With time running out, the desperate Irishman goes for a tarot card reading at Driscoll’s Circus hoping to find a way out of his predicament.
Meanwhile, the world is descending into anarchy and his nephew Jason is considering quitting his job as a male escort.
Plus, there’s the little matter of the sheep…
So begins a modern-day epic drawing on the Greek Myths, Don Quixote, the Quest for the Holy Grail and Carl Jung’s treatise on UFOs. Packed with dark humor and eccentric characters, Adventures in Mythopoeia will take you on a madcap journey of criminality, enchantment, laugh-out-loud gags and British weather.
“Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants.”
John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.
He is the author of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ mystery series and the ‘Children of Karma’ mystery trilogy.
I have been following John Dolan since he started publishing books, and I am a devoted fan. He is one of those authors whose new publications bring joy to my heart, and I’m happy to recommend his novels to all and sundry. His name and his series always come to my mind when I think about detective novels with memorable main characters in unforgettable settings, and he is one of those gifted authors who manage to combine gripping plots with a cast of players that jump out of the page and become people we get to care about. Given all this, you won’t be surprised if I tell you that I did not hesitate in getting a copy of his newest publication, even though it promised to be something quite different from anything the author had written before.
Well, it does deliver on its promise, that’s true, although it is also true that followers of the author’s career will recognise the writing style, the wit, and sense of humour, which are also Dolan’s trademark, and will be familiar with some of the excursions the plot and the characters’ thoughts take down philosophical and moral alleys, which are totally relevant when we consider the ambition of the author’s project in this book. As he explains at the end of this long volume (it is long in pages, but it is short if we consider how many stories and characters we can find inside, what a long historical period it encompasses, and how dynamic it feels when reading it), he had initially thought of writing three volumes to cover a large variety of mythological motifs, but when he realised the stories had become extremely intertwined, and there were far too many connections to find a satisfying way to split it up without disrupting the flow, he decided to write the whole story and publish it in a single volume. And it works, because although it seems impossible at the beginning, when one starts reading the prologue and the different parts, we soon realise that everything is interconnected, that characters that might seem to only play a minimal part in the story, might reappear again later in some important role, and the protagonists move around the British Isles, experiencing a variety of events, participating in all kinds of quests, reinventing themselves, and living several lives in one.
I am not even going to try to summarise the plot or to go into a lot of detail about what happens. The description, sparse as it is it, contains enough information to entice readers who are not afraid to try something different, and who are happy to explore stories with a bit of everything: classical Greek tragedies, Old Testament-style stories, pagan myths, Arthurian legend, more than a touch of the magical and paranormal, fate and destiny gone awry, archaeology true and imagined and its share of enigmatic objects, modern politics, race rage, life in the circus, travelling on a barge, characters setting off in their peculiar quests (for adventure, independence, knowledge, or all of the above), time-warps, talking cats and other fabulous pets, UFOs, cheating husbands, murderous gangs, assorted religious beliefs, love, hatred, revenge… Oh, and not forgetting the end of the world as we know it. I have not been all-inclusive, believe me. Readers who are as knowledgeable and well-read as the author —polymath is no exaggeration— will have fun discovering all the references and the origin of the many stories and characters. I confess that although I recognised some, I missed many, and I didn’t have the in-depth knowledge to get all the nuances even for those that I spotted, but I had a whale of a time nonetheless, and I agree with the author’s assertion that it is not necessary to know all the original stories to enjoy the book or follow the plot. You only need a bit of imagination, a willingness to go on a wild ride, and a sense of fun.
Those readers who like to be in the know and check everything don’t need to worry: the author explains which stories he took as a basis for the main narratives, and who the different characters correspond to. And those who worry about getting lost, don’t. On the one hand, this is not that kind of story. There are many connections, but things do come to a clear resolution at the end (although I wouldn’t talk about a happy ending, per se. This is not that kind of story, either). The story is told in the third person, from multiple characters’ points of view, but these are clearly signposted in the text, and the titles of the different chapters are descriptive enough to pinpoint where we are and what we are going to be reading about. Other worries? Well, there is a bit of everything people might feel offended by: violence, racism, prejudice, murders, suicide, sex, even incest, although none extremely explicit, and always in keeping with the mythological theme and the original sources. Although many of the reflections and the underlying issues are far closer to reality than we’d like to admit, I doubt that anybody embarking on the adventure, and with a previous knowledge of the author, will feel outraged or upset by the story, other than, perhaps, by the fates of some of the individual characters (my alliances changed over time, although Don and Dora are strong contenders to the title of my favourites, but other than two or three of the bad apples, I would happily meet and have a drink with most if not all the characters that make an appearance in this book). People who don’t want to read anything related to viruses and/or other causes of massive and mysterious destruction of human life might be advised not to attempt this book. Anybody else, if you have doubts if the book will suit your taste, I’d advise, as usual, to check a sample of the book. As it is quite long, it should give you a good idea of how you’ll feel. And, don’t worry. As I’ve said, there are no cliffhangers.
I won’t talk about suspension of disbelief. Let’s not be ridiculous. What does belief or disbelief have to do with mythology? If you have a sense of wonder, love adventures, accept that in life there should be a balance between joy and pathos, and know that there are stories much bigger than ourselves, and we are not the centre of the universe, I am sure you’ll love this book. If you have enjoyed Dolan’s previous novels, you’ll have a ball with this one, and you’ll spot a few familiar names along the way. I can’t wait for what the author will come up next. Whatever it is, I know it will be amazing.
Thanks to the author for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading and being patient, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep safe, and keep reading!
I’m sharing a review of the latest book (to date) of an author who keeps visiting my blog. And she’ll carry on coming.
The Visitor: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery by Terry Tyler
In 2024, a mystery virus ravages the entire world. ‘Bat Fever’ is highly contagious and one hundred per cent lethal.
A cottage tucked away in an isolated Norfolk village seems like the ideal place to sit out a catastrophic pandemic, but some residents of Hincham resent the arrival of Jack, Sarah and their friends, while others want to know too much about them.
What the villagers don’t know is that beneath Sarah’s cottage is a fully-stocked, luxury survival bunker. A post-apocalyptic ‘des res’.
Hincham isolates itself from the rest of the country, but the deaths continue―and not from the virus. There’s a killer on the loose, but is it a member of the much-depleted community, or somebody from outside? Paranoia is rife, as friend suspects friend, and everybody suspects the newcomers.
Most terrifying of all is that nobody knows who’s next on the list…
The Visitor is Terry Tyler’s twenty-second Amazon publication, and is set in the same world as her Project Renova series, while being a completely separate, stand-alone novel.
Terry Tyler is the author of twenty-two books available from Amazon, the latest being ‘The Visitor’, a post-apocalyptic murder mystery set in the same world as her popular Project Renova series. She is currently at work on ‘Megacity’, the third and final book in her dystopian Operation Galton series, after which she may decide to write something a bit more cheerful. Proud to be independently published, Terry is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.
Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and has a great interest in history (particularly 12th-17th century), along with books and documentaries on sociological/cultural/anthropological subject matter. She loves South Park, the sea, and going for long walks in quiet places where there are lots of trees. She lives in the north east of England with her husband.
I received an early ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
I have read and reviewed a number of novels written by Terry Tyler, both in her Project Renova Series (I have to catch up with a volume of short stories, but otherwise, I think I’ve read all of them), and also in her Operation Galton series (I’m eagerly waiting for the next one). I am aware she writes in other genres, and I’m sure I’ll get to read some of her other works too, but, for some reason, I seem to be drawn towards her dystopian novels (perhaps these feel like particularly dystopic times, one way or another). She is a great writer and manages to combine gripping plots, a credible and varied cast of characters (very recognisable), and an immersive fictional world, which closely resembles or reminds us of our daily lives, especially for those who live or know the UK fairly well.
As the book’s description and the author’s note at the beginning explain, although the novel is set in the Project Renova world, it is a thriller/murder mystery, and it is not necessary to have read any of the books of the series to enjoy it or follow the action. That doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it if you have read the whole series or some of it, rather, you’ll hit the ground running, as you’ll have much more background information than the characters do. Not that it will help you discover who the murderer is, but… That would kill all the fun, wouldn’t it?
This being a Terry Tyler’s book I wasn’t expecting a standard crime novel, and yes, although lovers of the genre and those who are fans of mysteries will still find plenty of red herrings, assorted clues, twists and turns, and plenty of potential suspects (at least to begin with), things are a bit more complicated than usual. This is not a frantically paced story, where we hardly have time to breathe. Of course, there are hints of things to come from the very beginning, but there is a slow build-up and the early part of the book is dedicated to providing a solid background to the story, explaining how the virus started and took hold, while at the same time introducing us to the four friends who seem destined to be the main characters in the story. Of course, things don’t go according to plan, and although a group of four meets up in the village of Hincham to take advantage of the foresight of Sarah’s uncle in building a fully stocked (and secret) bunker, there are some changes.
The idea of setting the thriller in a small village isolated due to a pandemic is very clever. It turns on its head the convention (of subgenre) of a mystery set in an old house or an isolated island (or a ship, like one I read recently), because apart from the limited cast of characters and the lack of resources to investigate, in this case, there is limited to no hope that there will ever be any meaningful help coming from outside (or it is dispelled very soon). And the paranoia, accusations, and blaming of outsiders are further enhanced by the lack of information, loss of contact with the outside, and the quick loss of modern life comforts and resources (no electricity, no running water, no police, no telephone, no local services at all…). While the characters have many other things to worry about, the fact that what should be one of their strengths (being a small community where everybody knows everybody else) seems to have become a weakness and mistrust is rampant, makes the situation much harder. There’s nowhere to hide and nobody will come to the rescue.
Tyler creates a very credible and recognisable village in Hincham, and most readers will feel familiar with the setting and the characters, which are quite recognisable and realistic. As always, the author shows her strength in her development of the characters, especially the four sharing Sarah’s cottage, and although we don’t get to know that much about some of the villagers or the other strangers, there is enough there to create clear a picture in our mind. The visitor of the title is somewhat different, but I won’t go into any detail about it, as I want to avoid spoilers. For the same reason, I don’t want to talk about the characters too much, but let me say that although I didn’t like most of them (I confess I wasn’t particularly fond of Jack, who is the main narrator. There is nothing wrong with him per se; it’s probably me being me), that didn’t impact my enjoyment of the novel. I liked Finn and Avalon in particular, and I liked what I saw of a couple of the villagers, but we don’t get to know them well enough to make a full judgement of them. Oh, and yes, I’ll freely admit to really liking the baddy. (I won’t get into detail or analyse what possible pathology there might be or why the Visitor behaves that way, as this is not a psychopathology textbook and does not intend to be). So there.
The story is told from a variety of characters’ points of view and in different narrative voices. I’ve mentioned that Jack is the main narrator, and he tells his story in the first person, but he is not the only one. Several other characters tell parts of the story in the first-person from their own perspective (the Visitor as well): some are important characters, and some quite incidental, which offers readers a slightly less claustrophobic or one-sided view. (There is no head hopping or confusion possible, as each chapter is clearly labelled with the name of the character or characters whose perspective we read). There are also some chapters in the third-person, some depicting the scenes of the murders, but not all. And there is the odd comment hinting at an omniscient point of view (or perhaps something slightly different, but I’ll keep my peace). Otherwise, the story is narrated chronologically, and other than some instances of sharing/narrating past events and the mandatory reveals towards the end (secrets there are aplenty, and people who have kept information hidden also), the story flows well, with no major detours. I mentioned the build-up at the beginning, and the pace does increase as people are killed and others leave, but it never becomes frantic. There is plenty of time for readers to make conjectures and scratch their heads, pondering the clues.
There are plenty of references to pop culture, TV series, music, fashion, UK everyday life, social media, writing (Jack is a writer) that help flesh out the era and the place, and lovers of all things British will appreciate. There are some dialogue gems and some dark humour (very sharp and dry, which I really enjoyed), and the writing is, as I’ve come to expect from this author, flawless. (No, I won’t share any quotes because it’s difficult not to slip up and give something away).
The one thing I found a bit jarring was the issue of COVID-19. Because the original Project Renova series was written well before it appeared, there is no mention of it in the other books (and yes, I kept thinking about the series as the illness developed and became a pandemic). Here it is mentioned often, mostly by people who think the “bat fever” will be the same, and they talk about just isolating for a few days, make jokes about hoarding toilet paper, etc. Although at first, I liked the connection to reality, I soon found it difficult to read, and it also kept stretching my suspension of disbelief, as the characters talked and acted as if COVID-19 had only lasted a few months and had been a minor inconvenience that was over in no time at all. Perhaps that was how things looked like after the first wave, but unfortunately, that was only the beginning. The touch of realism is broken by what has happened since, and imagining that people will be so blasé about it only three or four years down the line —the story is set in 2024, and yes, I know about COVID-19 deniers, and that attitude is well reflected in the novel— didn’t quite work for me. I guess it’s difficult to know what to do when reality becomes truly stranger than fiction and catches up with our fictional stories in ways we didn’t expect, but I would much rather have assumed Project Renova took place in an alternate reality where COVID-19 hadn’t happened. I don’t know if the author intends to make changes to some of the other titles in the series, although I hope not. But it’s her story.
Did I guess who the guilty party was? It’s difficult to talk about it without giving anything away, but let’s say I had my suspicions, and I guessed some of the other secrets that are revealed at the end, although not all. I’ve already said I truly liked the baddy, and don’t worry, although there is the possibility of further stories for some of the characters, there is no big cliff-hanger. When it comes to warnings to readers… I think the main one is the fact that there are references to COVID-19, and I know I’m not the only one who still finds reading about the topic quite difficult. This is not a blood and gore story, but there is violence (even if not described in excessive detail or graphically and although it is not the most important aspect of the story), of course, so people who prefer cozy or gentle mysteries should stay away.
I recommend this book to fans of Terry Tyler’s books, to people looking for thrillers with a difference (especially those who enjoy an interesting setting and realistic characters), and to anybody who appreciates a claustrophobic backdrop with dark undertones, doesn’t mind a touch of the unexpected, and loves all things British.
Thanks to the author for her new book, for her acknowledgments (bloggers included. Yes, me too!), thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and especially keep safe, and keep smiling!
I bring you an amusing and touching read that is perfect for those of us who have ended up with no holidays.
Running Haunted: A Greek romantic comedy with a ghost set in Nafplio Greece by Effrosyni Moschoudi
Kelly ran a marathon… and wound up running a house. With a ghost in it.
Kelly Mellios is a stunning, athletic woman, who has learned–the hard way–to value herself. Having just finished her first marathon in the alluring Greek town of Nafplio, she bumps into Alex, a gorgeous widower with three underage children, who is desperately looking for a housekeeper.
The timing seems perfect, seeing that Kelly aches to start a new life, and Nafplio seems like the ideal place to settle down. She accepts the position on the spot, but little does she know that Alex’s house has an extra inhabitant that not even the family knows about…
The house is haunted by Alex’s late wife, who has unfinished business to tend to. By using the family pet, a quirky pug named Charlie, the ghost is able to communicate with Kelly and asks her for help. She claims she wants to ensure her loved ones are happy before she departs, but offers very little information about her plans.
Kelly freaks out at first, but gradually finds herself itching to help. It is evident there’s room for improvement in this family… Plus, her growing attraction towards Alex is overpowering…
Will Kelly do the ghost’s bidding? How will it affect her? And just how strange is this pug?
“I have read all of Effrosyni’s books, the characters become your friends. Running Haunted is the perfect summer read set in Greece.”
~Just Kay, Amazon UK reviewer
“Another charming book from Effrosyni. Read it, and you’ll be transported to Greece & never look a dog the same way again!”
~Just Me.Mo, Amazon UK reviewer
“A fast-paced original story with attention to detail and engaging dialog. A heartfelt emotional read, with family love, romance and a lovable ghost. I highly recommend it.”
~Sheri Wilkinson, Amazon reviewer
Effrosyni Moschoudi was born and raised in Athens, Greece. As a child, she loved to sit alone in her garden scribbling rhymes about flowers, butterflies and ants. Today, she writes stories for the romantic at heart. She lives in a quaint seaside town near Athens with her husband Andy. Her mind forever drifts to her beloved Greek island of Corfu.
Her debut novel, The Necklace of Goddess Athena, has won a silver medal in the 2017 book awards of Readers’ Favorite. The Ebb, her romance set in Moraitika, Corfu that’s inspired from her summers there in the 1980s, is an ABNA Q-Finalist.
Her novels are Amazon bestsellers, having hit #1 several times, and are available in kindle and paperback format.
What others say about Effrosyni’s books:
“Effrosyni layers her words on the page like music.”
~Jackie Weger, author of The House on Persimmon Road
“Very few writers have such a gift for realism.”
~Kelly Smith Reviews
I purchased a copy of this novel, which I also review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here).
I had read and reviewed a novella by this author before and enjoyed it (you can find my review for The Amulethere). It perfectly combined a lightness of touch, humour, a paranormal element (not in a heavy-handed manner but rather whimsically), and a lovely setting in Greece, with plenty of gorgeous locations and pretty tasty-sounding food. The ideal read for a holiday or for those occasions when we need a holiday but are not in a position to take one (and also perfect for the winter months, when we need a bit of sun, even if it is just coming from a page). I was therefore well-predisposed toward the writer’s offerings, and when I came across an interview where she explained how personal this novel had become for her, I had to buy it and add it to my list to read. I can confirm that it shares many characteristics with the novella I had read before, down to the wonderful settings, the food, the paranormal element (that becomes quite poignant here, in places), and the light and humorous touches.
The description of the book provides a good summary of the plot. There are some surprises along the way (that I won’t go into), and the book fits in well within the romance genre, down to the gorgeous protagonists (both), some difficulties and hindrances along the way (including old lovers and others), plenty of wish fulfilment, and a great ending which will make readers see things in a new light (and will leave them smiling). I have mentioned the paranormal element, and as the blurb explains, we have a ghost who becomes an important protagonist of the book, as well as quite a few unexplained things (and I’m going to avoid spoilers as usual).
All the characters are easy to like (well, almost all, but I won’t get into that). They are far from perfect, though. We have Kelly, who has transformed her life after an abusive relationship (no physical violence, but her ex-boyfriend always put her down and made her feel insecure) and has turned into a woman who won’t let anybody tell her what she can or can’t do, who will fight to become the person she wants and will help others do the same. On the other hand, she can rush into things without thinking about the consequence; she can be pushy and too direct; and the way she approaches some topics might be one-sided and simplistic (her approach to bullying and to the excess weight of one of the kids, for example), but it’s difficult not to be won over by her enthusiasm and goodwill. Alex is still grieving his wife and finds it difficult to know how best to deal with his children, but he is (as usual in romances) pretty perfect otherwise. The children all have their problems but are good kids and loveable, and what can I say about Charlie, the dog. I adored it! None of the characters are very complex, and this is even more so if we talk about their friends and other secondary characters we see little of. On the other hand, the connection between the members of the family, once the problems have been solved, feels real, and readers are likely to enjoy becoming an ersatz member of the household as much as Kelly does. I really liked Lauren, though, and she is perhaps the one aspect of the novel that feels a little less traditional, as we tend to see women mostly in domestic roles, and there are no particular challenges to the status quo. Lauren’s love for her family is inspiring, and it’s easy to understand why they have all struggled so much to cope without her. She and Kelly seem to have much in common, and I loved her resourcefulness and her wicked sense of humour.
The novel touches upon the different ways people deal with grief, and I found particularly interesting the examples of young children trying to come to terms with the death of their mother. There are very touching moments in the book, and although there is a great deal of humour, the subject is sensitively approached, and I think many people who have suffered losses will feel inspired and comforted by this story.
The writing is fluid and the story is told in the third-person, mostly from the point of view of Kelly, the main protagonist, although there are a few snippets from other characters’ viewpoints, which help readers be a step ahead sometimes but not always (the author keeps a few tricks up her sleeve). There are lovely descriptions of locations and mentions of Greek food, but those do not interfere with the action of the rhythm of the story but rather enhance the enjoyment and help readers immerse themselves in the narrative.
I have mentioned the ending before, and it is a joy. Not only will most readers be left with a smile, but I suspect a few will laugh out loud as well. Well done!
If you are looking for a book that challenges genre and gender conventions, whose characters are diverse, and/or want to avoid triggers related to fat-shaming and bullying, this is not your book. On the other hand, this is a great read for those looking for a sweet romance (no sex or erotica here), in a gorgeous setting, who love the inclusion of humour and paranormal elements. I particularly recommend it to readers who love dogs, Greece, and who can’t go on a real holiday. I enjoyed my time with Kelly and Alex’s family, and I’m sure you’ll do too.
Thanks to the author for her book, to Rosie and the members of the team for their support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and keep safe!
I bring you a review for a book that I think is a great reference book for those of us always eager to find new sources of information.
Great British Family Names and Their History: What’s in a Name? by John Moss.
For better or worse, what we are is often determined by our family; the events that occurred many years before we were born and the choices that were made by our forebears are our inheritance – we are the inexorable product of family history. So it is with nations. The history of Great Britain has been largely defined by powerful and influential families, many of whose names have come down to us from Celtic, Danish, Saxon or Norman ancestors. Their family names fill the pages of our history books; they are indelibly written into the events which we learned about at school. Iconic family names like Wellington, Nelson, Shakespeare, Cromwell, Constable, De Montfort and Montgomery… there are innumerable others. They reflect the long chequered history of Britain, and demonstrate the assimilation of the many cultures and languages which have migrated to these islands over the centuries, and which have resulted in the emergence of our language.
This book is a snapshot of several hundred such family names and delves into their beginnings and derivations, making extensive use of old sources, including translations of The Domesday Book and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, as well as tracing many through the centuries to the present day.
John Moss studied Fine Arts and English in Wolverhampton and Manchester Art Schools, before taking early retirement after teaching and lecturing in Art & Design. He founded a Graphic Design company in 1997. Retired at last, he began writing: a science fiction trilogy in 2013, and now his first foray into historical non-fiction.
Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
Let me clarify something from the very beginning: the book includes an ample biography and online resources for people interested in genealogy and doing their own research about the origins of their family (and an index to find specific information as well), but it is not a book where most British people (or people with British roots) are likely to find their direct ancestors. (Oh, by the way, because of the many historical changes and the way members of a family have moved across over the years, although the book centres on Great Britain, it does include both, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland). The author explains, in his foreword, his method, including the documents he based most of his information on (oh, taxes and taxation documents are older than we realise, The Domesday Book features prominently, and quite a few others), and also his choices. As he explains, this book is only a snapshot and tries to include names of families who’ve played pivotal roles in the history of the country. Some are already lost, but many remain familiar, be it because of history books or, in some cases, because their descendants still play important roles that help maintain them under the limelight (in some cases, quite literally).
I am not British, have no British ancestors that I know of, and my interest in the book was mostly for reference. As an avid reader and writer, I am always intrigued by the historical connections between characters and families, and also by names. I’ve often read interviews with authors where they explain their process when researching the names of their characters and how, on many occasions, they look for names whose meaning or connections can become significant to the story, even symbolic at times. Although I haven’t done that too often, I must confess to struggling with surnames sometimes, and I can imagine this will be a much bigger concern for authors who write historical fiction. This book, divided into ten chapters covering the whole of Great Britain geographically, is a great starting point. It links the family names to their seats and areas by zones, including information on the origin of the name (many came with William the Conqueror from France, or followed shortly after, but not all), how the family fared later, the houses and titles they had, where the different branches of the family ended up, and where are they now (if there are any members of the family still connected to the name). Although it does not include all the details, it does mention members of the family who moved to Australia, America, etc., so it will be of interest to people from those countries aware of family connections and also to people interested in history and the ins and outs of the connections between noble and aristocratic families in the UK.
One of the things that grabbed my attention, and I hadn’t thought about before, was the information about the mansions, palaces, and houses that had belonged, at one point or other, to the members of those families. I love to visit historical houses (and the National Trust and National Heritage in the UK have done a great job of maintaining and restoring many of those properties and opening them up to visitors), and as I read, I discovered information about the owners of many of the properties I had visited over the years, some I was familiar with, but some that was totally new to me. I knew, for instance, that the Howard family’s (of Norfolk, yes, Thomas Howard, the uncle of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, that Howard family) seat was Arundel Castle (a beautiful Grade I listed building I recommend visiting. Don’t miss the Canaletto painting), and I knew they were related to the Howards of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, one of my favourite places. (If you’ve watched the Granada Television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, Castle Howard is Brideshead in that series and in a more recent movie adaptation. If you haven’t watched it, what are you waiting for? It’s a masterpiece!). I enjoyed learning more about the family, reading about the Fiennes Family of Banbury (a very illustrious and busy family, with current members of branches of the family as well-known as William Fiennes, author; Sir Ranulph Fiennes, explorer; Ralph and Joseph Fiennes, actors; and travel writer Celia Fiennes). The Russell (Roussel or Rosel) Family of Dorset has produce over the years members of parliaments, a Prime Minister (John Russell), and Bertrand Russell, Nobel Prize for Literature, and many more.
If I had to make any recommendations to the author and the publisher, it would be to consider including some family trees. I know there are far too many names and families to be exhaustive, but the family trees of some of the most significant family names —with many branches and connections— would make for fascinating visual documents and clarify how closely-knit some of those family circles are. Photographs of some of the family seats, the wonderful mansions, castles and properties, would also enhance the appeal of the book and make it visually more exciting.
I recommend this book to authors, historians, and researchers looking for general information about the big British families and their origins, and also to people interested in learning more about an area’s history and about how the ownership of the big properties in a region have changed over time.
Thanks to Pen & Sword and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!
An author and blogger whose work I love, Christoph Fischer, made a call for bloggers (check it here) to share his newest project, the boxset DO NO HARM where 17 authors have joined forces to support a very good cause, AniCira.
I think most of you will be familiar with many of the authors, and even if you’re not, this is great opportunity to discover their work, while at the same time contributing to a great cause, close to those of us who love animals. In case you are curious, you can check this post, where I reviewed The Healer, the story Christoph Fishcher has contributed to the boxset.
DO NO HARM is an extraordinary, limited collection of medical thrillers written by USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Amazon best-selling authors. You can order it now for .99!
Do you crave reading books with nail-biting suspense, twisted plots and great characters who get caught up in whirlwinds of crime, deception and lies? Do you love sitting on the edge of your seat, wondering who will survive…and who won’t?
From the mountains of West Virginia, to acute care hospitals, the battlefields of the Middle East and the hallowed halls of our educational system, join us for these incredible stories of healthcare gone wrong.
If you like Robin Cook, David Baldacci and Patricia Cornwell, this collection is for you! Do No Harm is a binge-readers dream – 14 medical thriller books in one! And you can only get this collection of books from this group of authors here!
Grab your copy today and find a comfortable chair!
Thanks to Christoph and to the rest of talented authors for this opportunity and for their kindness, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, contribute, and always keep smiling!
I have known author JP McLean for quite a while (she was one of the authors I met through social media shortly after I started blogging and publishing my own books), and her books and news have featured on my blog a number of times. Although I’ve followed her career with interest (I confess I was fascinated by her trilogy that kept producing more and more books), I hadn’t yet managed to read any of her books, partly because I kept putting it off to make sure I’d have time to go back and start at the beginning of the series. When she contacted me to let me know that she was relaunching and rebranding the whole series, I was keen to feature her books, and she kindly offered to write a guest post enlightening both, readers and other writers, on her reasons to relaunch and rebrand her series. And the relaunch also gave me the perfect excuse (if I ever needed one!) to start reading her series. So here goes. First, the author’s guest post, where she answers a few questions that most of us would think about when an author takes such an important decision:
A Rebranding Q&A
JP McLean recently rebranded her Gift Legacy series of books. She’s here to answer a few questions about why she rebranded, and what steps were involved.
Q: Why did you decide to rebrand your books?
A: I discovered that the books weren’t attracting their intended contemporary fantasy audience. The books were gathering great reviews, and selling modest numbers, but primarily by word of mouth. What I learned was that contemporary fantasy readers were bypassing my books believing them to be religious or spiritual in nature. The reason was not only the titles of the books (Awakening, Revelation, Redemption and Penance) but the beautiful covers that reinforced that impression.
Q: What were your considerations before rebranding?
A: Readers were my first and most important consideration. I didn’t want to misdirect readers who were looking for spiritual or religious material, and I wanted to attract readers interested in contemporary fantasy.
Another consideration was the cost involved. Covers, like editors, are one of the major expenses of publishing. New covers meant new marketing materials like bookmarks, posters and banners. I would also have to invest in new book stock to have on hand. Though I’m Canadian and ISBNs are free, they aren’t free in all countries and this could be a major cost consideration depending on how many books you rebrand. You also have to consider the cost to have the interior files reformatted to incorporate the changed titles in your front and back matter.
But perhaps the most critical consideration was for the hard-earned reviews the books had garnered over the years. You can change your cover with no impact on your reviews at all. You can change publisher and ISBN and though you’ll have to ask, you can have your reviews transferred to the new publisher/ISBN. But when you change titles, some retailers view this as a new book and WILL NOT transfer your reviews.
Q: What steps are involved in rebranding?
A: Finding a cover designer who is available and within your price range.
Brainstorming new titles, new taglines and new book descriptions in a variety of lengths.
Editing the books’ interior files to replace references to the old titles, and having the files reformatted.
Obtaining new ISBNs (new titles mean new ISBNs).
Designing or hiring a designer to prepare new bookmarks, banners and other marketing material.
Making changes to your social media platforms to reflect the new branding.
Q: Do you have any advice for those considering a rebrand?
A: If you believe a rebrand is necessary, consider if a new cover alone will do the job. It will preserve your existing reviews.
If you do decide to change the title, be sure to make it clear in your copyright and wherever the book is sold that the new title is a republication of an old title. You don’t want readers re-purchasing a book they’ve already read. You’ll end up with unhappy customers who may return the book, leave a scathing review, or even complain to the retailer.
If you are rebranding more than one book, consider asking if your cover designer can work on the covers concurrently rather than consecutively to speed up the design process.
Develop a re-release schedule to keep you on track and on top of the details and deadlines required for each book.
Give yourself more time than you think you need.
JP McLean’s bio
JP (JO-ANNE) McLEAN writes contemporary fantasy thrillers that readers describe as addictive, smart and fun. Her debut novel earned honourable mention at the Whistler Independent Book Awards. JP is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, and she makes her home on Denman Island, off the coast of British Columbia. Visit her at https://jpmcleanauthor.com.
An intrepid young woman. An incredible gift. A terrible price to pay.
As a child, Emelynn Taylor accepted a stranger’s gift that changed her life forever. This gift wasn’t wrapped in pretty paper and tied with a bow, nor could it ever be returned. Now, it’s taken over her life. Striking without warning, it strips Emelynn of gravity and sends her airborne, unchecked.
Haunted by terrifying flights she can’t control, Emelynn returns to the seaside cottage of her childhood, where she vows to take command of her dangerous gift. Here, she discovers an underground society whose members share her hidden ability, and a man who sends her heart soaring.
But is this secret society using the gift for good, or for evil? Unravelling the truth will plunge Emelynn into a fight for her freedom—and her life.
The first book in The Gift Legacy series, Secret Sky is a thriller that skirts the edges of reality in a world within our own. Buckle up and escape the ordinary: take flight with Emelynn Taylor.
(Secret Sky was previously published as The Gift: Awakening)
My review: Be prepared for flights of fancy, magical experiences and wonderful locations.
I was sent an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
I had been aware of The Gift Legacy series and its author for a while, and felt curious about it, but as happens sometimes when I discover a series with several books published already, I never seemed to find the time to catch up on it, and the collection kept growing. When I heard that the series was being relaunched with new covers and titles, I grabbed the opportunity to finally start reading it. And I’m pleased I did.
It is a bit difficult to talk about this novel without revealing too much of what happens, but from the description, you can probably guess some important aspects of it. Emelynn, or Em, as she is known, is the protagonist and first-person narrator of the book. We meet her at an inflection point in her life. She’s finished her studies and has decided that it is time to tackle her “gift”. Her dreams and memories give us a good understanding of the background to her situation and how she came to be in possession of her gift, at least to the extent she understands it. After all, she was a young girl and she was never given much information about what had happened to her. We also learn about her personal life, the death of her father, the move to Toronto, her mother’s taking refuge in her work, and Em’s difficulties fitting in, partly (mostly) caused by her gift. Although she found ways to deal with the disruption to her life caused by the gift, from a practical perspective, she had never been able to have a “normal” life, and that had made her decide to go back to the cottage where her family lived when she was a child, as it was more remote, it had always felt like a refuge and a safe-place to her, and it would give her the breathing space to experiment.
Her plan works although not in the way she intended, and she gets into contact with people who can guide her and teach her to tame her gift, although this is not at first evident to her. Having grown up hiding things and never trusting anyone, she finds it difficult to trust these strangers whose agendas she does not fully understand, and who seem to keep some things under wraps. Despite her initial reluctance, Em discovers a new world, a new group of people she finally belongs to, and a level of skill and power she had never suspected. But things don’t run smoothly: there are threats, mysterious forces at work, and missions that have to be accomplished. And of course, romance and love don’t always mix well with such complications.
I know first-person-narrations are a bit like marmite for readers: some love them and others don’t. In this particular case, Em’s narration is perfect for the story. Although she has a gift (or power, although at times it feel like a curse to her), she does not understand it, and readers have the privilege of experiencing with her the thrill of discovery, the fear of the unknown, her suspicions of the motives of the new people that come into her life, and we also learn about her and what makes her tick. In contrast to many books with a paranormal aspect where characters discover a power or an ability they knew nothing about, Em doesn’t just wake up one day and is somebody completely different, proficient at her ability, and a total kick-ass hero. She has doubts, she hesitates, she does not always want to push the boundaries, she gets tired and sleeps in, she feels pain, she gets hungry, she lacks in self-confidence and doubts herself, she makes mistakes and misjudges people, she feels bad for not phoning her mother… In sum, she is a pretty normal human being, sometimes low and sometimes happy, with a good sense of humour and of observation, and it is easy to empathise with her, even if we might not have much in common with her.
She is also a young woman with zero love experience, and she seems to fall in love easily, perhaps because she had been trying so hard and for so long to block those kinds of feelings. There are sex scenes in the book, and although they are not the most explicit I’ve ever read, they are explicit and this is not a sweet and clean romance. I am not fond of sex scenes, although at least her first time is not totally unrealistic, as it often happens in romances, but yes, I won’t talk too much about that.
The book also has elements of mystery and thriller, and they are worked well into the story. We have several intriguing events going on at the same time: first, there is the attempt at trying to find information about the person who passed the gift to Em (this is far from resolved is this book, but we learn some things); there is the search for a woman who has gone missing that takes up centre stage, especially towards the end of the book, and brings in action scenes and an interesting twist (that I had suspected all along, but it’s a twist nonetheless); and there is also a mystery involving Em and her house, which is seemingly resolved in the novel but has left me wondering. As pertains to this genre of books, there are red herrings, plenty of clues thrown in, information and misinformation, although the book has so many other things going on that I am not sure it will work for people who are looking for a straightforward mystery or thriller. The pace of the book ebbs and flows, with some pretty contemplative moments and some pretty fast ones (when the action kicks in), and there are lengthy and beautiful descriptions of locations, and especially of experiences, that I particularly enjoyed, turning this book into something more than a page-turning by-the-numbers thriller.
There is a paranormal element in the book, but this is not high-fantasy where you need to read pages and pages to gain an understanding of a new world order. This is the world we all know (especially Canadians), and although the lyrical way in which some of the descriptions are written and some of the remote locations give it a timeless quality, the story takes place in contemporary times. We are familiar with the world and the social order portrayed in the book, and we get to know about groups of individuals who are seemingly “normal” but share something “extra”, the “gift” of the title, and it seems this legacy can have as many variants as individuals possess it. Although there are fantasy and paranormal aspects to the novel, I felt they were particularly well integrated into the plot and did not require an extreme grade of suspension of disbelief, and I don’t think you need to be an enthusiast of fantasy or paranormal books to enjoy this series.
This is a book I’d recommend to people who enjoy credible characters, a touch of the paranormal, mysteries that go beyond who-done-it, and who don’t mind a story that builds up slowly and takes readers on flights of fancy through magical experiences and wonderful locations. Oh, and who don’t mind a touch of sex. I’ve become very fond of Em and many of the other characters in the book (Avery is a favourite as well), and I hope to learn how her gift develops further in the future.
Lover Betrayed (The Gift Legacy Companion Book 1) by JP McLean Fathers, sons, betrayals and a gift with many shades.
A son in mourning. A disputed inheritance. A shocking betrayal.
When Jackson Delaney’s father dies unexpectedly, Jackson inherits a booming New Orleans development company with a tarnished reputation. Jackson pledges to clean up his family’s name, but his plans are thwarted by a disowned half-brother who lays claim to Jackson’s inheritance.
Then Jackson’s wife disappears. Desperate to find her, he calls in favours from his father’s nefarious colleagues and flirts with the feared Tribunal Novem—a ruthless organization of elite Fliers.
But nothing is what it seems, and from a single deception grows a suffocating web of lies. And when Jackson meets Emelynn Taylor, a mysterious young woman with no knowledge of her powerful gift of flight, he recklessly lures her into his vengeful mission.
How far will Jackson go? And how much is he prepared to sacrifice before he finds his way home?
Lover Betrayed retells Secret Sky, the first book in The Gift Legacy series, from the viewpoint of Emelynn Taylor’s lover: handsome, charming, ruthless Jackson Delaney.
(Lover Betrayed was previously published as The Gift: Betrayal)
I was sent an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
As I said in my review of Secret Sky, I had known about this series for a while but never seemed to find the time to read it as more books kept being added to it. After finally reading the first novel, I had the opportunity to read this one, that in effect covers much of the same ground as Secret Sky, but it is told from a different perspective, that of Jackson Delaney, the man who trains Em in the first book, and teaches her quite a number of things (and in case you haven’t read it, I won’t say any more). I must confess that my curiosity was two-fold. On finishing that novel, I think most readers will be left wondering the reasons for Jackson’s behaviour. Although he was never a favourite of mine (he seemed too good to be true and too secretive to be trustworthy), the things we learn about him at the end of the story would make most people reconsider what they had read and make conjectures as to why he had done what he did. As a writer, I was also intrigued about how the author would approach the challenge of telling the same story from a different perspective, or at least, including part of the same story into another story told by somebody else. It is not the same to write a book that includes different perspectives as writing two separate books giving us different accounts of the same story. By using a first-person narrative again, we get inside of the character’s head, and it makes for a very interesting experience, especially if one has read the other book very recently, as you can see the same scene, and read the same dialogue, but interpret it in a completely different way. It must have been a challenge, and I must say that although I read both books back to back and was, therefore, very familiar with the story, the nuances and the change in point of view kept it fresh and intriguing.
This novel talks about families and family relationships, particularly between fathers and sons, although the relationship of Jackson’s wife to her family is also key to the development of the story. The novel opens at the funeral for Jackson’s father, and the author sets the scene beautifully, with great descriptions of the setting, the characters, the funeral arrangements, down to the heat (this is New Orleans in August, and having visited it in September, I can only imagine how suffocating it must be). The author also manages to convey a lot of information about Jackson’s father and his somewhat “dubious” business practices, without making the reader feel there is too much telling. Being inside of Jackson’s head, we share in his perspective and, at least at first, it seems as if he is trying to leave his mark on things and do things more ethically and stand his moral ground, in contrast to his father. (Of course, having read the other book, I had my doubts as to how things would work out, but I think he makes for a very credible character if somebody reads this book first). It doesn’t take long though before it becomes evident that perhaps he is more of his father’s son than he wants to believe, and some of the lessons he learned from his father prove difficult to unlearn, like his lack of confidence and mistrust of women, and his attitude towards family, his and others.
This is another book that has paranormal elements at its heart although, at least at first sight, the novel is set in our everyday world, only with some enhancements and secrets most of us know nothing about. This novel can also be enjoyed by people who don’t often read fantasy, but here we come to realise much sooner than in Secret Sky that the gift can be manipulated and put to uses far from harmless, and we get the perspective of somebody who has grown up with the gift, rather than learning about it with the main character. Jackson moves between both worlds with ease and manages to keep them separate most of the time, but perhaps not as well as he imagines.
I enjoyed reading the same story from a different perspective, although I would not say the book has managed to endear me to Jackson, in particular. He is a solid character, his motivations are plausible, and whatever we might think of his behaviour, he is not all good or all bad. He is quick to think the worst of people; at times he seems cocky and full of confidence but some of his actions and reactions prove he is not as strong and self-confident as he’d like others to believe; he misjudges people often and holds grudges that seem unjustified; he is rather egotistical and thinks of his own interests first; he manipulates others to get what he wants, but he is ambivalent and tries to avoid causing unnecessary harm, can be generous on occasion, and is a dutiful son. His attitude towards women is problematic, but this seems to be part of his inheritance, and yes, we do get the male perspective of the sexual encounters as well (not something I particularly cared for, but like the rest of the book, I thought Jackson’s voice felt genuine and worked well). There is a clear ARC to the character and by the end he has learned a lot about himself, not all of it flattering.
I read a description of the book which mentioned Rashomon and it got me thinking. Rashomon tells the same story from the perspectives of several of the witnesses present, and in this case I wondered how other characters would have seen the events, or rather, thought about Jackson and his actions at the time. But that would be another book. (Just saying!)
The novel also contains questions for book clubs (don’t read them before you read the novel, as there are spoilers) and a glossary of terms that hints at a much more complex world than we have so far glimpsed. That and the description of the rest of the books in the series piqued my curiosity, and I suspect this would not be the last book in the series I read.
I think this book can be enjoyed on its own, and I’d be curious to hear the opinion of somebody who read it without being familiar with the series, but to fully appreciate it I’d recommend reading at least the first of the Gift Legacy series first. A book for readers who enjoy a touch of fantasy and fancy, combined with a good story of family relationships, betrayal, and mystery. And if you like boats and sailing, even better.
Here, if you’ve been intrigued by the guest post and my reviews, are the links to the whole series:
Today I bring you a book that resonated with me for many reasons. I hope it piques your interest as well.
Not Here: A Dina Ostica Novel (Dina Ostica Series Book 1) by Genevieve Nocovo. Loved the movie Chinatown? Love San Francisco and female protagonists? This is your novel!
Would you surrender your free will to save your life?
A city in turmoil. A neighbor disappears. When her concerns are written off, Dina investigates on her own — and becomes a target, at the mercy of those in control…
In San Francisco, where the poor are systematically displaced by well-off yuppies, Dina Ostica is part of the problem. The damaged, determined twenty-three-year-old scrambles to make a name for herself in the burgeoning world of podcasting, with the city as her muse. She is hell-bent on professional success, thinking it will mend her broken spirit.
But when her go-to source on local history disappears without warning, she begins to uncover an uncanny pattern that hits too close to home, getting her tied up in the city’s underbelly.
What follows is a gritty tale of exploitation, betrayal, and the strength one needs to survive the whims of those in power.
Will Dina escape or fall victim to the injustice chewing up the city?
If you love contemporary thrillers with strong female protagonists, don’t miss this read!
Genevieve Nocovo lives in San Francisco, hikes the city streets, and soaks up the fog. A real-life conflict with city development, a love of thrillers, and the yearning for a bold-yet-relatable female protagonist inspired the Dina Ostica novels.
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 published by this author, and although it might not be to everybody’s taste, I found it an intense and gripping book that deals with important topics. And I was fascinated by the portrayal of the protagonist.
I was intrigued by the description of the novel because I do like the promise of a strong protagonist (although it does not always work, I did like Dina), and because the topic promised something a bit different to the usual thriller. No serial killer, no small-town setting, but a narrative closely linked to a time, a place, and a social issue. Any reader who lives, or has lived, in a city, knows how expensive it is to secure accommodation in a safe neighbourhood, and what a cut-throat world property development can be. In this novel, set in San Francisco, that is literally so. The fact that the protagonist was trying to make a name for herself in the world of podcasting, added to the interest for me, as I’ve always interested in radio and, in my mind at least, podcasts are closely linked to the immediacy of radio, especially to the programmes broadcast by local radio stations.
The story is told in the third person from Dina’s point of view. And it is a very interesting choice, because at times it feels like a first-person narrative (there are plenty of descriptions, although brief, of things like the clothes the protagonist is wearing, and the drinks she makes… She likes tea, and I’d dare say her choice of tea at any point is a clear indication of what her mental state is like at the time); it manages to capture perfectly the tone of character’s thoughts, her fears and anxieties, gives readers a good insight into her mind and feelings, while at the same time offering an outside perspective, an observer’s point of view. I might be stretching it here, but I felt that this is the way Dina sees herself. She is a young woman who has undergone a very traumatic experience and went through a period of depression following it. Now, determined to survive and get back on her feet, but also to never be a victim again, she is always on alert, observes things and people around her, never quite trusting what they say, or her own actions and reactions, second-guessing others and her own motives, ready to flee at the slightest hint of risk, but working hard to rebuild her life. She is not going to take it lying down. She joins a gym and self-defense classes (well, an interesting combination of martial arts and fighting that introduces action scenes and another setting that proves very important to the story). She is determined to make her podcast a success and wants to pursue stories that are important for the people around her, rather than those that might bring her commercial and financial success. Although she is cautious, due to her previous experience, she puts others’ needs ahead of hers, and never hesitates to step up to help others and offer her support, even when it might be dangerous. Her reactions to what happens to her in the story (that, in a way, mirrors her abuse, at least in her head) are totally believable and they match the defence mechanisms she has put in place. I don’t usually do trigger warnings, but I feel survivors of domestic violence and abuse might find it a hard read. On the other hand, she has moments of desperation but she never gives up fighting, and she is a compelling and inspiring human being rather than a one-dimensional cut-out.
I felt the psychological side of the story, and the insights into Dina’s thoughts and reactions were very well done —there is no magical cure here, no saviour that comes along and sorts everything for our protagonist, and she does not fall for the first person coming along either, no matter how attractive he might be— and although some of the story elements stretch somewhat the imagination (and test the suspension of disbelief, but when we think about true stories we have heard or read, we soon realise that they are not as far-fetched as at first they might appear), the author manages to create a compelling and cohesive story from diverse strands: the world of podcasting, the city and property development, homelessness and crime in San Francisco, abuse and domestic violence, cage-fighting, police corruption, local government conspiracies…
This is not a light read, and there are hardly any moments when the tension loosens up. No light relief present either, and readers need to be prepared to experience a gamut of uncomfortable emotions, that succeed each other at a fast —take-no-prisoners– pace, especially towards the end of the novel. I’ve mentioned already the descriptions that might not suit all readers. The author ignores Stephen King’s warning about adverbs, and although I have never been too worried about it, I admit it might give one pause, especially when they stray away from the most neutral and commonly used. But other than that, the book is written in straightforward style, it flows well, and it shows a good knowledge of the city and the topics without going overboard and “telling” too much.
I’d recommend this book to people looking for a different kind of thriller and a strong female survivor as a protagonist. Not a superhero, but a young woman determined to make it and an inspiration for readers familiar with these feelings and experiences. I kept thinking about Chinatown as I read this novel (perhaps because of the focus on local politics and speculation) and although it is set in a different city and historical time, if you enjoyed the plot of that story, love San Francisco, and are keen on a dark urban setting, you should try it. I can see this author going from strength to strength, and as this is the first in the series, I look forward to seeing what Dina does next.
Thanks to Rosie and her group, to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and to keep smiling!
Today I bring you a book by an author that you might know through her blog.
Death in a Mudflat: A Rhe Brewster Mystery (The Rhe Brewster Mysteries) by N.A. Granger A cozy mystery with a harder edge and very engaging characters and location.
Fearless detective, ER nurse, devoted mother, and Pequod, Maine’s, answer to Kinsey Milhone, Rhe Brewster is back on the case. When an idyllic seaside wedding is suddenly interrupted by the grotesque sight of a decaying human arm poking out of the tidal mud, Rhe is thrown head first into a treacherous world of duplicity, drugs, and murder.
With her best friend Paulette and her main man Sam, the Chief of Police, Rhe seeks to solve the puzzle of the body found in the muck while also working with the FBI to identify the source of shipments of tainted heroin flooding the local campus and community. Maine’s opioid crisis has hit the town hard, with an escalating number of overdoses. More murders are uncovered, testing Rhe’s detective skills and steely resolve. While she follows the clues, Rhe encounters some sinister inhabitants of Pequod’s underbelly, including a practitioner of the Dark Arts, a hydra-headed crime gang, and an embittered, unhinged lobsterman with an axe to grind and nothing to lose. In her relentless drive to solve the crimes, Rhe narrowly escapes a watery grave, trades blows with Russian goons and unknowingly prompts Paulette to put her life on the line in an attempt to catch a murderer in the act.
Noelle A. Granger grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in a rambling, 125-year-old house with a view of the sea. Summers were spent sailing and swimming. She was also one of the first tour guides at Plimoth Plantation. Granger graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor’s degree in Zoology and from Case Western Reserve University with a Ph.D. in anatomy. Following a career of research in developmental biology and teaching human anatomy to medical students and residents, the last 28 years of which were spent at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, she decided to try her hand at writing fiction. The Rhe Brewster Mystery Series was born.
The series features Rhe Brewster, an emergency room nurse, as the protagonist. Rhe lives in the fictional coastal town of Pequod, Maine, (similar to Plymouth) and Granger uses her knowledge of such a small town, her experiences sailing along the Maine coast, and her medical background to enrich each book in the series. In the first book, Death in a Red Canvas Chair, the discovery of a wet, decaying body of a young woman, sitting in a red canvas chair at the far end of a soccer field, leads Rhe on a trail that heads to a high-end brothel and a dodgy mortuary operation.
The second novel in the Rhe Brewster Mystery Series, Death in a Dacron Sail, was released in 2015, and finds Rhe responding to a discovery by one of the local lobstermen: a finger caught in one of his traps. The third book, Death By Pumpkin, begins with the sighting of the remains of a man’s body in a car smashed by a giant pumpkin at the Pequod Pumpkin Festival. Up next? Death in a Mud Flat.
In addition to the Rhe Brewster Mystery Series, Granger has had short stories, both fiction and non-fiction, published in Deep South Magazine, Sea Level Magazine, the Bella Online Literary Review, and Coastal Style Magazine, and has been featured in Chapel Hill Magazine, The News & Observer, The Boothbay Register, and other local press. Granger lives with her husband, a cat who blogs, and a hyperactive dog in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She spends a portion of every summer in Maine.
I received a free ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
I enjoy reading mysteries, thrillers, crime novels, police procedurals… and I love watching crime movies and TV series, but my experience of cozy mysteries is a bit mixed. As a horror lover, I am not too squeamish and the fact that there is little violence (or at least not very graphically depicted) in the genre is not a big appeal for me. On the other hand, I don’t like erotica, so the lack of graphic sex is a plus. Above all, I love a good and solid story, and although I enjoy quirky and weird characters, I like the mystery to be well-plotted and detailed enough not to feel annoyed at major gaps or inconsistencies. (Yes, I know we’re talking about fiction, reading it requires a degree of suspension of disbelief and if a novel was truly factual, it would probably be terribly boring, but I can’t abide glaringly obvious mistakes or sleight of hand as a plot device to sort a complex storyline gone awry). I have read some cozy mysteries that I’ve enjoyed, but others place so much emphasis on other elements of the story and try so hard to be light and amusing, to the point where the mystery becomes an afterthought, that almost managed to convince me that the genre is not for me.
Having read N. A. Granger’s blog, knowing that she used to teach biology and anatomy and that her main character is an ER nurse, I was intrigued by her series and had put her books on my list. Her blog post about the creation of the cover for this book piqued my curiosity, and I was happy to try the book when I got the ARC copy.
This is the fourth book in the series, but the author has included a list of characters at the beginning and summarised the relationships between them, offering also a brief indication of the story so far, and that suffices to help new readers get their bearing and follow the story without difficulty, although at some points there were nuances that I was convinced would have delighted readers of the previous volumes that were lost on me. Rhe Brewster, the protagonist, is still an ER nurse, but only part-time now, and she has become an official investigator with the sheriff department (no more amateur sleuth now, although her friend Paulette takes up the role). Her brother-in-law, Sam, is the sheriff and also her beau (yes, there is a story there, for sure); she has a boy with ADHD, Jack, and she is that mix of the intuitive and clever investigator (still fresh from the amateur ranks, but getting increasingly professional, it seems) with the impulsive and rushed person who can get herself into trouble by following her intuition, always with the best intentions at heart.
We also have a wonderful setting, the imaginary small coastal-town of Pequod, in Maine, (and being a fan of Moby Dick, I love the name) where everybody knows everybody else (or almost), but large enough to have a college, a fairly big hospital, and plenty of restaurants and takeaways (if we are to judge by the number of meals and eateries mentioned in the book). Sailing, one of Rhe’s passions, is also featured, and it plays a fairly important part in this story.
The book manages to maintain the balance between the quirky atmosphere and characters, and the police-procedural-type of investigation and mystery. There are two cases, one involving three women who have been killed years apart, and a second one to do with drug overdoses at the college campus, which may, or may not, be connected. The story is narrated in the first-person from Rhe’s point of view (if you don’t always appreciate first-person narratives, I’d recommend that you check a sample of the writing first) and her personality shines through in the way the story is told. Some aspects of the story are described in plenty of detail —those that she knows well and is more interested in— like the post-mortem examinations, the steps necessary to maintain the chain of evidence, and the sailing scenes (I have read reviews praising their accuracy, but as I have no knowledge of sailing and little of its terminology, I cannot comment, and I must admit some of the finer details went over my head) and would seemingly push it towards a more straight-type of mystery. But, Rhe is not all procedure and protocol, and there are also plenty of details that emphasize the domestic and amateurish side of the plot (Rhe has two jobs and has to juggle those with her personal life as well, resulting in information not being relayed straight away, details and facts about the cases being confirmed only when there is a gap in her schedule and many discussions with her superior taking place in the comfort of their own home). There is a mix of very high-tech procedures (courtesy of the FBI intervention) with a somewhat old-fashioned feel to the book (people carry mobile phones but don’t often use them, and Rhe and Sam seem to prefer good old-style policing, knocking on doors and talking to people, and even confess to lack of technical proficiency), that is also in evidence when it comes to the personal relationships and lifestyle of the characters. Although Rhe is a woman of action and proves, more than once, that she can look after herself, Sam questions her decisions often and pulls rank on more than one occasion, and Paulette and Rhe are also concerned about the reaction of her friend’s husband to her adventures, although this seems to be played mostly for laughs.
The mix of high and low intensity also carries through when it comes to action. I have already talked about the importance of food, and how often it is the subject of conversations, but there is also plenty of action, involving Rhe getting herself into trouble and, either managing to rescue others at the last minute (with some assistance), or having to get rescued. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but let’s say that at some points the pace quickens, the stakes are high, and there is plenty more action than I have come to expect from cozies.
The writing is easy to follow and flows well, and the characters’ speech is distinctive, their quirks and personalities making the dialogue compelling. I particularly enjoyed the local words and occasional expressions that peppered the novel without overwhelming it or making it difficult to understand.
What about the mystery? Is it easy to crack? Because the story is told from Rhe’s point of view, it is difficult to get ahead of her, although the author is skilled at giving us some clues that Rhe seems not to fully register or process at the time, and those clues might help readers solve the case somewhat before the protagonist. There are red herrings and we are often lead down the wrong path, but as Rhe is now firmly on the side of the law (well, almost all of the time), the emphasis is on getting the required evidence and not only on coming up with a theory or a hunch. I felt that both cases were intriguing enough to keep readers turning the pages at a fast pace, and the place and the characters added atmosphere to the novel.
I am sure that readers who have followed the series will enjoy this novel more fully, as it is clear that the characters, and Rhe in particular, have developed and grown through the books, but I must confess that this first incursion into Rhe Brewster’s world got me attached to the characters to the point where I felt quite emotional and sorry to see them go. Ah, and the prologue of the next book promises a gripping read as well.
I recommend this story to readers of cozy novels who prefer their mysteries with a more realistic and harder edge, crossing into police-procedural terrain, and to all those who love series like Midsummer Murders and want to immerse themselves in a charming small town with a dark (or darkish) underside. (Beware if you’re on a diet, though. There’s plenty of food!)
Thank to the author for the book, to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep smiling!
I decided to take a mini-break from my reviews (not that I’ve finished reviewing all the books, but some of the books I’ve reviewed recently are not due to be published yet, so…) to bring you some news. And to share a lovely review of one of my books.
First, some of you know already, but I’m now back in Barcelona. Although I will probably visit the UK sometimes, as I have friends there, I’ve sold my house, so I won’t be spending there long periods of time. I might tell you more about the process itself at some point, but let’s say it put my patience to the test and it took longer than I expected. I have only been back a few weeks, my things took a bit of time to join me and I’m still trying to get settled here, so I’ll keep you posted. (The weather has been quite crazy, but I know that’s been the same everywhere, so I’m not too alarmed yet, worried that I might have brought the weather with me).
Second, as those who read me often know, I don’t talk about my own books often and don’t check my review unless somebody shares them with me. But Robbie Cheadle, baker, writer and blogger extraordinaire, was kind enough to review the audio of my book I Love Your Cupcakes, recently, and I had to share it with you.
Oh, and don’t forget to check Robbie’s blog and her books. If you love cakes and great stories, you should not miss her collection of books created in collaboration with her son Michael. And she has a new book just out. Check it here!
As this book has also been republished in Spanish by a small independent publishing company, I thought it was a sign I had to talk about it. Ah, and the #MeToo campaign has made me thought about it more than once. Unfortunately, sometimes fiction is not so fictional.
Here a sample, from chapter 16, where the main protagonists, Dulce and Adelfa, and the two members of another team competing in the same TV baking programme, are having a bit of a break.
The girls’ night in was exactly what the two teams needed. They had a heated discussion about what movie to watch, with Adelfa and Trisha set up on an action movie or a thriller, and Dulce and Candy keener on a comedy. Eventually, they decided to start with a romantic comedy and if they still felt like watching anything else they’d look for something less “fluffy.” They ordered from a variety of fast-food venues and more than anything, they had a great time talking about their businesses and their lives.
“It’s amazing to think that after being all day in the kitchen around food we can still eat,” Dulce noted.
“I don’t know if it’s the nerves or what, but I don’t think I’ve eaten a proper decent meal since all this started” Trisha replied. “I’ve just realized I’m starving!”
“A proper decent meal this? I thought you were into organic products” Adelfa said, stuffing a big chunk of pizza into her mouth and proceeding to munch it noisily.
“Well, OK, a good old-fashioned bad-for-you bit of food then” Candy nodded. “If one is good all the time it’s too boring. After all, if there was nothing bad in the world, and no temptations, how hard would it be to be good? There would be no merit in it!”
“I love how you think!” Dulce declared.
The romantic movie got them talking about relationships. They realized that none of them were, or had been, in a steady relationship for some time.
“I guess we’re very dedicated to our businesses and we don’t have much time to do things that encourage the birth of a relationship.” Candy said.
“I’m firmly of the opinion that women who are in a relationship with somebody have a better chance of ending up in another relationship than if they are alone,” Trisha said.
“How do you work that one out?” Adelfa asked.
“Oh, it’s my own theory, but it’s the law of the market. If you are with somebody, it signals to other men that you are relationship material, others find you desirable (and men are suckers for competition, having to prove that they are better than anybody else, can have what other men have and take it from them) and your market value is higher. If you’re alone, on the other hand, either nobody values you and thinks you’re good enough, or you’re too difficult. Your market value is lower. You’ll have to offer a discount to make a sale. It’s also easier to find a job if you’re already in one than if you are unemployed.”
“Trisha’s law of relationships,” Candy said. She’d evidently heard her friend expose her theory a few times.
“No, don’t mock her. I think she might be onto something.” Adelfa said.
“It’s also quite possible that being independent women, our own bosses, and used to doing things our own way will not make us very attractive to certain types of men either,” Dulce said. “Look at my friend Adelfa, here. Not only is she in a fairly successful partnership with me, but she’s on her way to becoming a Professor at University, she does her own research, she’s a sought-after chemist…And on top of that, she’s pretty too. You need to be fairly self-confident to try and woo her.”
Adelfa smiled and pinched Dulce’s cheek.
“We’re all pretty amazing women. Anybody for some Chinese food?”
They went to bed quite late, tired but happy and relaxed. They had a whole free day ahead of them!
Here the info about it in case you want to check:
I Love Your Cupcakes
Dulce, Adelfa, and Storm, the protagonists of I Love Your Cupcakes are business partners, friends and share some “interesting” family connections. All the men Dulce meets only want to talk about her cakes and she’s tired of it. Her friend Adelfa, although she’s a Chemistry Professor, can’t manage to find the recipe for the perfect relationship. And Storm, the third of the partners of their bakery/coffee shop/bookshop/art gallery and ex-fire station, is an artist who is not a master in the art of love. How could they imagine that at the studio of the contest “Do You Have What it Takes to Be the Next Baking Star?” they’d find sexual harassment, cheats, fights and also love? Recipes included (only for cakes, not love!)
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