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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE BURNING GIRLS by C. J. Tudor (@cjtudor) (@PenguinUKBooks) A priest turned detective, a small town with a dark past, and plenty of secrets

Hi all:

I bring you the third book by an author I’ve been following from the first novel she published, and I’m not surprised she’s become very popular (and there is talk of TV adaptations as well).

The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor

The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor  

The darkly compelling new novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Chalk ManThe Taking of Annie Thorne and The Other People, soon to be a major TV series

‘Hypnotic and horrifying . . . Without doubt her best yet,’

The Burning Girls left me sleeping with the lights on’ CHRIS WHITAKER, bestselling author of Waterstones Thriller of the Month We Begin at the End

‘A gothic, spine-tingling roller-coaster of a story . . . CJ Tudor is a master of horror’ C.J. COOKE, author of The Nesting
______

500 years ago: eight martyrs were burnt to death
30 years ago: two teenagers vanished without trace
Two months ago: the vicar committed suicide

Welcome to Chapel Croft.

For Rev Jack Brooks and teenage daughter Flo it’s supposed to be a fresh start. New job, new home. But, as Jack knows, the past isn’t easily forgotten.

And in a close-knit community where the residents seem as proud as they are haunted by Chapel Croft’s history, Jack must tread carefully. Ancient superstitions as well as a mistrust of outsiders will be hard to overcome.

Yet right away Jack has more frightening concerns.

Why is Flo plagued by visions of burning girls?
Who’s sending them sinister, threatening messages?
And why did no one mention that the last vicar killed himself?

Chapel Croft’s secrets lie deep and dark as the tomb. Jack wouldn’t touch them if not for Flo – anything to protect Flo.

But the past is catching up with Chapel Croft – and with Jack. For old ghosts with scores to settle will never rest . . .

______

‘Tudor operates on the border between credulity and disbelief, creating an atmosphere of menace’ Sunday Times

‘A mesmerising and atmospheric page-turner, with plenty of shocks and a surprise twist for a finale. Her best novel yet’ Sunday Express

‘The best book yet from C. J. Tudor’ Best

Praise for C. J. Tudor:

‘C. J. Tudor is terrific. I can’t wait to see what she does next’ Harlan Coben

‘Britain’s female Stephen King’ Daily Mail

‘A mesmerizingly chilling and atmospheric page-turner’ J.P. Delaney

Her books have the ability to simultaneously make you unable to stop reading while wishing you could bury the book somewhere deep underground where it can’t be found. Compelling and haunting’ Sunday Express

‘Some writers have it, and some don’t. C. J. Tudor has it big time’ Lee Child

‘A dark star is born’ A. J. Finn 

https://www.amazon.com/Burning-Girls-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B0882PLRBF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Burning-Girls-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B0882PLRBF/

https://www.amazon.es/Burning-Girls-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B0882PLRBF/

Author C.J. Tudor
Author C.J. Tudor

About the author:

C. J. Tudor lives with her partner and young daughter. Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.

Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, dog walker, voiceover artist, television presenter, copywriter and, now, author.

Her first novel, The Chalk Man, was a Sunday Times bestseller and sold in thirty-nine territories.

https://www.amazon.com/C-J-Tudor/e/B074WBT1GL/

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Penguin Michael Joseph UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I discovered C. J. Tudor with her first novel, The Chalk Man, a pretty impressive debut, and have read the two novels she has published since, The Taking of Annie Thorne and The Other People. As you can guess from that, I enjoy her writing and her penchant for creating stories that are never boring, with characters that keep us guessing until the end (or near enough). It is true, as well, that the topics she covers and her plots are not unique —if such a thing even exists—, especially for people who read plenty of thrillers, horror novels, mysteries, and watch films and TV series in those genres. But she knows how to pick up some elements that might feel familiar at first (after all, that is one of the reasons why many readers enjoy reading certain genres, because they know what to expect) and create something that manages to meet the expectations while keeping readers on their toes. And sometimes, scaring them a fair bit in the process.

That is true as well for this novel, which for me had a few things that made it particularly attractive. One would be the setting. The novel is set in the UK, in Sussex, an area where I lived for a few years and that I know fairly well. Although the village where the novel is set doesn’t exist, and neither does the actual tradition that gives it its name (and I won’t elaborate on that to avoid spoiling the story, although there is a fake Wikipedia entry at the very beginning that explains it all), I’ve read in an interview that the author felt inspired by the area and by the town of Lewes and its history, and I am not surprised that is the case. It is a very atmospheric place. I’ve read comments calling it “Gothic”, and it isn’t a bad name, but there is something more ancient and primordial at play as well (The Wicker Man comes to mind).

Another thing I found interesting is how self-referential the novel feels. The author has been compared to Stephen King (and she acknowledges how much she loves his books) on many occasions, as you can see reflected by the editorial comments, and his novels appear repeatedly in the book, as do references to popular movies and TV (The Lost Boys, The Usual Suspects, Heathers…) that might (or might not) be connected to the story and the plot. By openly acknowledging those in her pages, the author seems to be giving us clues and adding layers of meaning, although perhaps it is a fairly tongue-in chick ploy, and it is all part of the misdirection, twists and turns, and red herrings that are spread around the novel. Because another thing (and author) I kept thinking about when reading this novel was Agatha Christie and her works, in particular her Miss Marple novels, with their small villages with dark goings-on, where everybody is hiding something and outsiders have a hard time trying to find somebody trustworthy and to discover the truth. And there is also an elderly lady, Joan, who would fit perfectly into one of Christie’s novels, (and she is one of my favourite characters as well).

As I said, I won’t be discussing the plot in detail, to avoid spoilers, but I’ll mention some of the things readers can find in this novel: exorcisms gone wrong, crypts hiding dark secrets, ghoulish ghosts, disappeared girls, religious martyrs, child abuse and death, bullying and manipulation, abandoned creepy houses, unrequited love and jealousy, hidden motives and fake identities… This is not a mild or cozy novel, and there are some pretty gruesome and violent episodes, so I wouldn’t recommend it to readers looking for a light-hearted read.

That doesn’t mean the novel is all doom and gloom, as there are several characters with quite a sense of humour, and the protagonist, Jack, and Jack’s daughter, Flo, are both pretty witty and often funny. The protagonist narrates a lot of the story in the first person: Jack’s self-comments and observations appear sharp, clever, and they made me chuckle many times. Some also made me nod in agreement, and although I won’t say I agree with everything Jack does in the novel, I definitely understand the protagonist’s reasons. Apart from Jack’s first-person narration, there are fragments narrated in the third person, some from Flo’s point of view, and others from the perspective of a different character who we soon realise is trying to find Jack. Who he is and why he is after them… well, you’ll need to read the book to learn that. There are also brief fragments in italics that help create a fuller picture in our minds of what might have happened, even if we don’t know exactly whose memories we are accessing when we read them (but we are likely to have our suspicions). Does that mean the story is confusing? I didn’t find it so, and although this might depend on how familiar readers are with the genre, the different personalities of the characters come through in the writing, so I don’t think most people will have many problems telling whose points of view they are reading. Nonetheless, I recommend readers to be attentive and keep a close eye on everything, because, as is the case with more traditional mysteries, all the details are important, and the clues are there for a reason. If you blink, you might miss a piece of the puzzle that becomes important later on.

As is to be expected from these kinds of books, there is a false ending and a big twist. The author drops hints and clues along the way, and I am sure most people will suspect at least some of the information that is revealed, although perhaps not everything. Because, let me tell you that if you love unreliable narrators, you shouldn’t miss this one. Some reviewers felt disappointed by the ending, because… Well, I can’t tell you, of course. But, as I’ve said, there are hints dropped, and there is a bit of a soliloquy (not a soliloquy, but I could imagine it would become one if this were a play) where we get an explanation/justification of some important plot points. I’m not sure it was necessary, to be honest, but I can see why the author did that. Oh, and I did enjoy the ending, by the way.

Other reviewers also took issue with some depictions of characters and events that they feel reinforce negative stereotypes and prejudicial media representations of certain groups. Although this could be argued in one or two instances, and it is always a matter of interpretation, much of that view might result from a partial or perhaps too literal reading of the book with might have missed some of the nuances of the story.

This is a novel that, beyond the gripping plot and the mysteries it contains, deals in identity, in how we can reinvent ourselves and get a second chance, and also in what important role prejudices and labels can play in the way we are seen and perceived by others. While some people struggle to fight against assigned roles and expectations, others can use them to hide behind them and protect their true selves, or even manipulate them to their advantage. It also revisits the debate about evil. Do we believe some people are born evil or are we all born innocent and other people and our circumstances can turn us into monsters? Can there be some valid justifications, no matter how subjective they might be, for actions that would be considered evil by most people? Or there is no grey area when it comes to good and evil, and a person’s point of view doesn’t come into it? We might or might not agree with how things work out in the story, but I am sure we will all have formed an opinion by the end of the novel, perhaps even one that surprises us.

I recommend this book to fans of mysteries with some supernatural and horror elements, also to readers looking for a page-turner with plenty of atmosphere and a gripping storyline. I am sure most followers of C. J. Tudor won’t be disappointed, and, personally, I am looking forward to her next novel already.

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Odd Numbers by JJ Marsh (@JJMarsh1) A spider web that traps readers and doesn’t let go #RBRT

Hi, all.

I bring you a great book that will be released on the 1st of May, and I want to recommend. Another great find by Rosie Amber and her team.

Odd Numbers by JJ Marsh

Odd Numbers by JJ Marsh

The Guilty Party meets The Secret History

Can you forgive a friend?

Strange things bring people together. Like a tragic death.

Over two decades, five friends reunite every other New Year. They celebrate, grieve and heal. Memories grow dusty and the nightmare starts to fade.

On the 20th anniversary, in a remote snowy chalet, old doubts surface.
Wounds reopen and morality comes into question.

Is friendship a safety net or a tie that hobbles to the past?

They thought they knew each other’s secrets.
Did they miss the biggest one of all?

When history is rewritten, they must act to preserve the future.
A fatal decision means this reunion will be their last.

A psychological drama with beautifully portrayed characters and an intricately woven plot. The suspense emerges between the lines, grabs you softly but never lets go.

“Twist follows twist in a riveting mystery as sharp as the shards of glass from a shattered champagne bottle.” Abbie Frost, author of ‘The Guesthouse’

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0874LDH6N/

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0874LDH6N/

https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B0874LDH6N/

Author JJ Marsh

About the author:

JJ Marsh is the author of The Beatrice Stubbs series, featured in The Guardian Readers’ Recommend and The Bookseller’s Editor’s Choice

Jill is:
* A founder member of Triskele Books, an award-winning author collective founded in 2011
* Swiss Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors
* Co-editor of The Woolf, Zürich’s literary ezine and writers’ workshop
* Reviewer for Bookmuse, the readers’ site with a difference

She lives in Switzerland with her husband and three pugs, and in an attic overlooking a cemetery, she writes.

Join Jill’s Newsletter to get:
* Exclusive prequel to the Beatrice Stubbs series – FREE
* New releases
* Cover reveals and sneak peeks
* Giveaways
* Background information & research trip reports

To sign up, copy and paste this into your browser’s address bar: http://jjmarshauthor.com

Other places to connect with Jill:

Facebook: facebook.com/jjmarshauthor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/JJ-Marsh/e/B007WIHQ5U/

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.

JJ Marsh is an author I’ve read great reviews about and has been on my list for a while, so I took the chance when I saw an ARC for her next book had become available. I can’t compare it to the rest of her works, but based on this novel, which is a new genre for her, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending her books, and I look forward to catching up on some of her previous novels.

I think the description above provides plenty of hints as to the plot, and this is one of those novels where the way the story is told and the fine details are fundamental, so I’ll try to avoid over explaining things or giving too many hints (I want to avoid spoilers at all cost). This is a story built around six friends (three women and three men) who meet at university, while they are studying to become international translators, and grow to be quite close. They come from different countries (mostly Europe, although one comes from the US, and one is from Indian origin), have very different personalities and backgrounds, and it’s likely that their friendship would have fizzled and died if not for a tragic event that takes place while they are away celebrating New Year (and the new millennium) in December 1999. After that, they meet every two years, and the event that binds them together weighs heavily on them all, having a very different impact in each one of them. Things come to a head on the 20th anniversary of that fateful New Year’s celebration and readers are privileged witnesses of another night to remember. This novel reminded me of a book I read and reviewed recently, The Hunting Party, but also of films like The Celebration (Festen), where there is a build-up of tension, strained relationships, plenty of secrets and lies, and a surprise or two. Although I think many readers will smell a rat from early on in the novel, even if they get it right (and let’s say things are left open to interpretation), the beauty of this novel is in the way it is built, the variety of points of view, and the psychological insights it offers into a catalogue of characters that are not miles away from people most of us know. Considering this is the author’s first incursion into the psychological drama genre, I take my hat off to her.

There are a variety of themes that come up in the novel, some more important to the action than others, for instance the nature of friendship, the way different people experience grief, the guilt of the survivor, how we change and evolve over time and how our relationships change with us, love, death, careers, priorities, family, charity missions, and, of course, lies.

As for the characters, I won’t go into too much detail about them, because the author does a great job of building them up through the novel, and readers should discover them as they read. Marsh chooses one of the female characters, Gael, as the main narrator, and she starts the story ‘now’ (in 2020). The whole novel is written in the first person, but not all from the same point of view. Although I’ve said that Gael is the main narrator, and she has more chapters than the rest, we also get to hear the voices of the other characters, who take us back into some of the reunions the friends have had over the years, and that allows readers to compare and contrast Gael’s version of the rest of her friends with their own words and insights. Readers can compose a mental picture and fit in the pieces of the puzzle, making their own minds up and deciding if they agree or not with Gael’s perceptions. It also makes for a more rounded reading experience, as we get to know each character more intimately, and perhaps to empathise, if not sympathise, with all of them. I liked Gael from the start: she is articulate, a journalist, and a bit of a free spirit, but she always tries to understand and accommodate others as well, and she is more of the observer and the outsider in the story, for reasons that will become evident to the readers from early on. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the friends are like an ersatz family, with individual roles they always fall back on when they are together (the nurturing mother, the responsible and dependable father, the youngest and spoilt sister, the rushed and sporty brother, the sister whom everybody confides in [Gael]), and this reminded me of Eric Berne’s Games People Play. All the characters are articulate and savvy enough to be aware of this and play it for keeps as well.

The book flows well, and the language used is appropriate to each one of the individual characters, fitting with their personalities and quirks without calling too much attention to itself. It helps move the story along and manages to build up the tension, even when there isn’t a lot of action in the usual sense. There are mysterious events taking place (some that will have readers wondering if the characters are imagining them or not), clues that sometimes don’t seem to amount to much, hints, and some memorable scenes. But all those elements are woven subtly into the narrative creating a spider web that traps the readers and the more they read, the more they become entangled in the strands of the story and the characters until it becomes almost impossible to put the book down.

There is a closure of sorts, although the ending is ambiguous and most of the surprises and big reveals have come before then. I liked the fact that there is much left to the imagination of each reader, but I know such things are down to personal taste.

This is a great psychological drama, with engaging characters (some more likeable than others), fascinating relationship dynamics, and a mystery at its heart. It’s a gripping read, perfect to keep our minds engaged and to have us pondering the ins and outs of friendships, relationships, and which actions would push us beyond the limits of forgiveness. A gem.

The last 7% of the e-book contains the first-chapter of the author’s work-in-progress, in case you wonder about its length.

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

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE NOWHERE CHILD by Christian White (@CWhiteAuthor) (@HarperCollinsUK) Dark, scary, and gripping.

Hi all:

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve read and reviewed quite a few books written by Australian authors recently, and here comes another one. I’m not sure why, but I suspect this won’t be the last one either.

The Nowhere Child by Christian White
The Nowhere Child by Christian White

The Nowhere Child: The bestselling debut psychological thriller you need to read in 2019 by Christian White

A little girl went missing years ago. That child is you.

A dark and gripping debut psychological thriller that won the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, previously won by THE DRY and THE ROSIE PROJECT.

‘Read page one, and you won’t stop. Guaranteed’ Jeffery Deaver

A child was stolen twenty years ago
Little Sammy Went vanishes from her home in Manson, Kentucky – an event that devastates her family and tears apart the town’s deeply religious community.

And somehow that missing girl is you
Kim Leamy, an Australian photographer, is approached by a stranger who turns her world upside down – he claims she is the kidnapped Sammy and that everything she knows about herself is based on a lie.

How far will you go to uncover the truth?
In search of answers, Kim returns to the remote town of Sammy’s childhood to face up to the ghosts of her early life. But the deeper she digs into her family background the more secrets she uncovers… And the closer she gets to confronting the trauma of her dark and twisted past.

https://www.amazon.com/Nowhere-Child-bestselling-psychological-thriller-ebook/dp/B07FV282YY/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nowhere-Child-bestselling-psychological-thriller-ebook/dp/B07FV282YY/

Editorial Reviews

“A nervy, soulful, genuinely surprising it-could-happen-to-you thriller ― a book to make you peer over your shoulder for days afterwards.”―A.J. Finn, New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window

A stunning debut…White skillfully creates a credible story filled with surprises and realistic characters worth caring about.”―Associated Press

The Nowhere Child is the personification of a high-concept thriller, brilliantly executed. White raises the bar on psychological suspense, telling Kim Leamy’s tale in a stylish voice and with a heart-pounding pace. Read page one, and you won’t stop. Guaranteed.”―Jeffery Deaver, New York Times bestselling author

The Nowhere Child is compelling and intense. The alternating chapters between past and present are perfectly paced and masterfully written to maximize suspense and lead us down a path of love, hate, redemption, and―ultimately―hope. I literally could not put this book down until I turned the last page. The best debut novel I’ve read in years.”―Allison Brennan, New York Times bestselling author of the Lucy Kincaid and Max Revere series

The Nowhere Child is pure dynamite. The high concept premise grabbed me from the first page and refused to let me go until I finished. You may try to read it slowly, so you can savor every single word, but the story is so all-encompassing―the need to know what happens next so urgent―you’ll forget all about savoring and find yourself tearing through the pages as fast as your fingers can manage. You do not want to miss this book!”―Linda Castillo, New York Times bestselling author of the Kate Burkholder series

The Nowhere Child is a well-written thriller that avoids the clichés of the genre. The characters are interesting and believable and the book kept me reading up to the satisfying conclusion.” ―Phillip Margolin, New York Times bestselling author of The Third Victim

An impressive debut novel, deftly plotted, constantly shifting and full of vivid characters.”― Garry Disher, author of the Inspector Challis mysteries

“White skillfully builds an uncertain, noxious world of dysfunctional families and small-town secrets. The Nowhere Child is a gripping debut from an exceptional new talent.”― Mark Brandi, Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award-Winning author of Wimmera

“Such a clever idea, which grips from the very first chapter.”―Ragnar Jonasson, author of Snowblind

“Beautifully written, perfectly suspenseful and wonderfully dark. I could not put this book down.”― Susi Holliday, author of The Deaths of December

Packed with tension, twists and tremendous pace, it’s hard to believe that this is the work of a debut author. The Nowhere Child is stunning and flawless. I can’t recommend it enough.”― Thomas Enger, author of Burned

The Nowhere Child is a fabulous read, populated by such well-drawn and identifiable characters that I felt I knew them. I was desperate to know how the story unfolded. Brilliant!”― Louise Voss, author of From the Cradle

“[An] outstanding debut. By juxtaposing past and present, the author keeps the tension high. The impatient may be tempted to skip ahead, but they shouldn’t. Thriller fans will want to savor every crumb of evidence and catch every clue. White is definitely a writer to watch.”―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In this stunning first novel, White weaves stories within stories while keeping the thrilling mystery alive. [A] tightly woven debut thriller.”―Library Journal (starred review)

“White has written a “returning-to-your-southern-roots” tale with a difference; Kim is exploring
roots she never knew she had, and the journey is as bumpy and fraught with bewildered feelings as readers
might imagine. This worthwhile story of a woman’s quest for the truth will work with women’s-fiction readers as well as mystery fans.”―Booklist

“A very auspicious debut…A tightly written book with a dynamite plot.”―Toronto Globe and Mail

Author Christian White
Author Christian White

About the author:

Christian White is an Australian author and screenwriter. His debut novel, The Nowhere Child, won the 2017 Wheeler Centre Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript, and will be published in June through Affirm Press and in multiple territories around the world in 2019.

He also co-created the television series Carnivores, currently in development with Matchbox Pictures and Heyday TV, and co-wrote Relic, a psychological horror feature film to be produced by Carver Films (The Snowtown MurdersPartisan). The film has received funding support through Screen Australia and Film Victoria, and will be directed by Natalie Erika James. He has written several short films that have screened at film festivals around the world, including Creswick, which won Best Short Form Script at the 2017 Australian Writers’ Guild AWGIE Awards.

Born and raised on the Mornington Peninsula, Christian had an eclectic range of ‘day jobs’ before he was able to write fulltime, including food-cart driver on a golf course and video editor for an adult film company. He now spends his days writing from home in Melbourne, where he lives with his wife, filmmaker Summer DeRoche, and their adopted greyhound, Issy. He has a passion for true crime podcasts, Stephen King and anything to do with Bigfoot.

The Nowhere Child is his first book. He’s working on his second.

Follow Christian White on Twitter.

https://www.christian-white.com/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I’ve read quite a few books by Australian writers recently (Liane Moriarty, Jane Harper, Liza Perrat), and although very different, I enjoyed all of them and could not resist when I saw this novel, especially as it had won an award Harper’s first novel The Dry also won.

Although part of this novel is set in Australia, it is not the largest or the most important part of it. This novel is set in two time frames and in two places, and the distance in time and space seems abysmal at times. The novel starts with a bang. Kim, the main protagonist, an Australian photographer in her late twenties, receives an unexpected visit and some even more unexpected news. This part of the story, the “now”, is narrated in the first person from Kim’s point of view, and that has the effect of putting the readers in her place and making them wonder what they would do and how they would feel if suddenly their lives were turned on their heads, and they discovered everything they thought they knew about themselves, their families, and their identities, was a lie. She is a quiet woman, and although she gets on well with her stepfather and her half-sister, and she badly misses her mother, who died a little while back, she’s always been quite different to the rest of the members of her family, and enjoys her own company more than socialising. There are also strange dreams that bother her from time to time. So, although she does not want to believe it when the stranger tells her she was abducted from a small town in Kentucky as a little girl, she is not as surprised as she should be. At this point, we seem to be in the presence of a domestic drama, one where family secrets are perhaps a bit darker than we are used to, but the plot seems in keeping with the genre. And most of the “now” section of the book is closer in tone and atmosphere to that genre.

But we have the other part. The “then”, written in the third person, from a variety of characters’ points of view. Readers who dislike head-hopping don’t need to worry, though, because each chapter in the “past” section is told from only one character’s point of view, and it is quite clear who that is, avoiding any possible confusion. The story of the background to the kidnapping, and the investigation that followed, is told from the point of view of members of little Sammy’s family, the sheriff (I really liked him), neighbours of the town, and other characters that at first we might not grasp how they are related to the story, but it all ends up making sense eventually. This part of the novel feels much more gripping and dynamic than the other, and although we don’t always follow the characters for very long, the author manages to create credible and sympathetic (or not so sympathetic) individuals, some that we get to feel for and care, and even when they do some pretty horrible things, most of them feel realistic and understandable. And the story of what happened in the past makes for a pretty dark combination of thriller and mystery, well-paced and gripping.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I must say the town of Manson of the novel is a place that seems right out of a dark fairy tale, and I kept thinking of the opening titles of the TV series True Blood (not because of any supernatural thing, but because of some of the images that appear there). While some of the scenes seem typical of a small town in the middle of nowhere, others reminded me of Southern Gothic novels, and, a word of warning: there is violence, and there are scenes that can be terrifying to some readers (although no, this is not a horror novel, the author is not lying when he says he admires and has learned a lot from Stephen King). The story is full of secrets, red-herrings and confusing information, clues that seem clear but are not, and Kim/Sammy is a woman who keeps her emotions to herself, understandably so considering the circumstances. I am not sure many readers will connect with Kim straight away because of her personality, but I understand the author’s choice. If she was an emotional wreck all the time, it would be impossible for her to do what she does and to learn the truth, and the novel would be unbearable to read, more of a melodrama than a thriller or a dark mystery. The part of the story that deals with the present helps reduce the tension somewhat while keeping the intrigue ticking, and although it feels slow and sedate compared to the other part, it does ramp up as they dig into the past and the two stories advance towards their resolution.

Without going into detail, I can say that I enjoyed the ending, and although I suspected what was coming, I only realised what was likely to happen very late in the story. Despite this being the author’s first novel, his screenwriting experience is evident, and he has a knack for creating unforgettable scenes. This is a novel destined to become a movie, for sure, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t.

This is not a typical mystery or thriller, and although it has elements of the domestic noir, it is perhaps more extreme and darker than others I have read in that genre. We have a very young child being kidnapped; we have murder, extreme religious beliefs, prejudice, postnatal depression, a dysfunctional family, snakes, secrets, lies, child abuse, and more. If you are looking for an intriguing read, don’t mind different timelines and narrators, and are not put off by difficult subjects and scary scenes, you must read this one.

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

Ah, and in case you’ve never watched True Blood and don’t know what I’m talking about…

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE LAST THING SHE SAID by Rachel Walkley (@RachelJWalkley) #RBRT A beautifully written feel-good story.

Hi all:

I bring you a book by one of the authors I discovered though Rosie’s team. This is the second of her novels and… she’s a keeper!

The Last Thing She Said by Rachel Walkley
The Last Thing She Said by Rachel Walkley

The Last Thing She Said by Rachel Walkley. Women’s fiction with a touch of the paranormal. A beautifully written feel-good story.

“Beware of a man named Frederick and his offer of marriage.”

Rose’s granddaughters, Rebecca, Leia and Naomi, have never taken her prophecies seriously. But now that Rose is dead, and Naomi has a new man in her life, should they take heed of this mysterious warning?

Naomi needs to master the art of performing. Rebecca rarely ventures out of her house. She’s afraid of what she might see. As for Rebecca’s twin, everyone admires Leia’s giant brain, but now the genius is on the verge of a breakdown.

Rebecca suspects Naomi’s new boyfriend is hiding something. She begs Leia, now living in the US, to investigate.

Leia’s search takes her to a remote farm in Ohio on the trail of the truth behind a tragic death.

Just who is Ethan? And what isn’t he telling Naomi?

In a story full of drama and mystery, the sisters discover there is more that connects them than they realise, and that only together can they discover exactly what’s behind Rose’s prophecy.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Thing-She-Said-ebook/dp/B07L2XFPPV/

https://www.amazon.com/Last-Thing-She-Said-ebook/dp/B07L2XFPPV/

Picture of author Rachel Walkley
Author Rachel Walkley

About the author:

Born in the Midlands, I grew up in East Anglia and am now firmly lodged in the North West of England. My first writing achievement was my Brownie badge and after that I’ve never let go of the dream of becoming an author. Once a librarian and caretaker of books, I’m now a teller of tales and want to share with you the secrets that hide in the pages of my books.
Please stop by my website – rachelwalkley.com and find out more about my books in the making.

https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Walkley/e/B07B5G7VZP/

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I recently read and reviewed Rachel Walkley’s first novel The Women of Heachley Hall (you can check my review here) and enjoyed it so much that I had to check her second novel as soon as it became available. And I thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

This is the story of three sisters, twins Rebecca and Leia, as different as two sisters can be (or perhaps not), and younger sister Naomi. Their parents move to the US when the youngest sister is in her late teens and she refuses to go with them. Rebecca becomes her ersatz mother (Nancy, their mother, does not seem particularly close to any of them, although perhaps that is the sisters’ impression) and eventually Leia also moves to the US to work on her medical research.

The three sisters are gifted, although they all have trouble dealing with their gifts, which are very different. Rebecca gives up her career as a lawyer to take refuge at home, bringing up her children and looking after her husband and the house; Naomi, a talented flute player, loves to perform but does not feel confident and dedicates most of her life to teaching music to children; Leia has a big brain and dedicates her efforts to useful research, but hates the limelight and would prefer all the credit to go to her team. Their grandmother, the member of the family that managed to get them all together with her traditional birthday celebration, also had a gift, but most people dismissed her birthday predictions as an eccentricity. When Rebecca starts investigating her grandmother’s past pronouncements —for very personal reasons—, she gets a big surprise.

The story is told in the third person from different points of view, mostly those of the sisters, although we get some glimpses into other characters’ minds as well, and in chronological order for the most part. There are some short chapters that go back to show us past events (there are no lengthy explanations or “telling” in the novel), and these flow logically from the narrative. For example, if Naomi is thinking about the relationship with her parents, her memory might go back to how she had felt when her parents decided to leave the country. It is a great way of layering the background story of the characters without disrupting the action for too long, and it also helps us understand where the characters are coming from, and their reasons for being the people they are. Each chapter and fragment is clearly labelled with the character’s name and the date, and it is not an effort to follow the story, as it flows naturally, at a sometimes wandering but engaging pace.

There are some descriptions of places and locations, but these are limited to what is necessary to tell the story and to allow readers to see it. The story is more interested in the psychological makeup of these characters, and the author does a great work of making us understand them in their own terms. We see each protagonist from her sisters’ point of view first, but on later seeing things from their perspective, we get a completely different picture of them. By the end of the story I was attached to all of the characters, even the ones that at first I was not sure about. And although not all the characters are sympathetic, the novel is not judgmental about any of them, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I particularly enjoyed the character of Rose, the grandmother, the passages about Naomi’s playing and her thoughts about it (if you read the author’s note at the end you’ll understand why these scenes appear so vivid), and grew very fond of Leia and Howard. That is not to say I don’t like Rebecca and the rest of the chapters from Naomi’s perspective, but perhaps because they are the ones we get to know first, we are on their side from the beginning, and the rest of the characters came as a revelation much later on. There are secrets and lies, but none are Earth-shattering or beyond most reader’s expectations and experiences, and they do not require a huge amount of suspension of disbelief, even the paranormal elements. There is mystery, but the strongest element of the story is the relationship between the three sisters and how they all become more their individual selves by working together and protecting each other.

The novel is both easy to read and beautifully written, and the ending… No, I won’t give you details, but let’s say I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I did. Definitely a feel-good story.

A book I recommend to anybody who enjoys contemporary women’s fiction, optimistic stories about family relationships with a touch of the paranormal, and who are eager to discover a new and talented writer.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always, keep smiling! And reading (even in Christmas)!

Categories
Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews

#Tuesdaybookblog #Blogtour and review THE CHRISTMAS WISHING TREE. An Eternity Springs Novel by Emily March (@EmilyMarchBooks) An enchanted town, the power of believing, a mystery, and the perfect romance

Christmas Wishing Tree Blogtour Banner
Christmas Wishing Tree Blogtour

Hi all:

Yes, I know it’s not Christmas yet, but when I got offered the opportunity to read this book in the summer, I quite fancied it (it was really hot) and the blog tour sounded very appealing as well. If any US readers of the blog fancy a copy, let me know your e-mail address and I’ll make sure you’re entered into the giveaway of a copy of the book. 

The Christmas Wishing Tree. An Eternity Springs Novel by Emily March 

Summary:
Sometimes life’s most magical journeys bring you back to where it all began…From USA Today bestselling author Emily March comes The Christmas Wishing Tree, an enchanting account of the magic and miracle of Christmas.

A man who loves adventure and the open sea, Devin Murphy returns for a short Christmas trip to his small hometown of Eternity Springs. Immersed in the joy and magic of the holiday season all around him, he doesn’t hesitate to play along when a young boy phones Santa to ask for a very special wish. Devin never guesses that a wrong number has the potential to make everything in his life so right.

Jenna Stockton adopted Reilly when he needed a mother and she intends to keep him safe. A small town across the country called Eternity Springs seems like a good place to hide from their past without any complications —until sexy Santa himself discovers her secrets. When Devin proposes a daring plan to face down the danger together and defeat it once and for all, she is tempted. Maybe Devin really is capable of making wishes come true? Perhaps in a Christmas wish they’ll both find the miracle they’ve been looking for all along…

A delightful Christmas novel in the New York Times bestselling Eternity Springs series.

Buy Links:

Macmillan

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-a-Million

Indie Bound

Powells

Author Emily March
Author Emily March

Author Bio:

Emily March is the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels, including the critically acclaimed Eternity Springs series. Publishers Weekly calls March a “master of delightful banter,” and her heartwarming, emotionally charged stories have been named to Best of the Year lists by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Romance Writers of America. A graduate of Texas A&M University, Emily is an avid fan of Aggie sports and her recipe for jalapeño relish has made her a tailgating legend.

Social Links:

Emily March Website

Twitter: @EmilyMarchBooks

Facebook: Emily March

Pinterest: Emily March

My review:

I am thankful to St Martin’s Press for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review and for the opportunity to participate in the blog tour of its launch.

Although I am not a big fan of Christmas, I do enjoy some Christmas stories, movies, and songs (especially out of season, when one isn’t surrounded by it). The offer to read and review this novel reached me in the middle of a pretty hot summer and it felt like the perfect way to combat the heat. It worked, for sure, and although I had never read any of the other novels in the Eternity Springs series, I quickly became enamoured of the place and its inhabitants. I can reassure you, though, that the story goes beyond the Christmas theme, and there are wonderful scenes that take place in other seasons (the Fall, the Fourth of July…) and other locations apart from Colorado (Nashville, Florida, Australia, and the Caribbean).  But I have to agree that the overall theme of the novel, and the spirit that suffuses it, is that of Christmas.

The novel, written in the third person, shares the alternating points of view (and locations) of a part-time resident of Eternity Springs, Devon Murphy (the son of Cam and Sarah Murphy, and brother to Michael, long-term residents of the town), and Jenna Stockton, a doctor specialising in Obstetrics and Gynaecology whom we meet in Nashville. While Devon seems to be a free-spirited man who loves the sea, boats, fishing, and women, but avoids commitment like the plague, Jenna is a model of responsibility. She is a single mom to Reilly, whom he adopted after looking after his mother, a young woman down on her luck who died when the boy was a toddler. She works hard and would do anything to ensure the safety and happiness of her son. But he has a Christmas wish that is out of her hands. Somehow, luck, magic, or the power of believing puts Reilly and Devon in contact, and in a roundabout way, the destinies of the three of them intersect in the wonderful town of Eternity Springs. Both main characters have secrets (as readers of the genre will probably expect): Devon has a traumatic past in the relationships department and has a lot in common with Reilly, and Jenna’s life is haunted by a stalker who seems intent on upping-the-ante and putting her and her son’s lives at risk.

I liked the characters and their relationship, that follows the well-known formula of will-they/won’t-they so successful in the romance genre (they both have very valid reasons for their hesitation, although if you get easily impatient, I must warn you that the book is quite long and the story develops over close to two years), and I liked many of the secondary characters as well (despite not having read other novels in the series, I got a fairly good sense of who they were, and I did not feel I could not fully enjoy the story because of lack of background information. And I wouldn’t mind getting to know more about many of them), particularly Celeste, her resort, and the wonderful idea of the Wishing Christmas Tree that gives the book its title. She has a touch of the magical and is the fairy godmother of the town and all the characters (and I’d love to meet her).

What I most enjoyed of the book was the town of Eternity Springs. I have read a number of novels that take place in charming towns (islands or other locations) where outsiders come and are quickly adopted by the community, becoming, in many cases for the first time, part of a big family. I always enjoy the fact that the town becomes a protagonist in its own right and when the novels works well, you feel as if you had spent time in a real place and look forward to future visits to the magical location. Eternity Springs is one of those towns, and to add to its attraction, it is located within a marvellous natural setting, and the writer does a good job of introducing us to parks, lakes, mountains, taking us on sledge rides, fishing, camping, and exploring the wonderful facilities and the traditions of the place. Although it has more than a touch of the fairy tale (everybody seems to be well-off, everybody is fairly happy, apart from the main protagonists, temporarily, and even the bad things that happen are pretty mild) and it can be a bit sugary at times, I think it would take a very cold heart to read the novel without falling for the magic of the town and its inhabitant. (And perhaps shed a tear or two. Good tears, though).

If I had to point out some things that readers might have issue with, one would be the mystery element. Jenna’s background story and her circumstances bear heavily upon her actions and how cautious she is when it comes to meeting new people and possible romances. Although the mystery element ramps up the tension and adds to the interest of the story, on occasions it seemed to be more of an afterthought and an opportunity to show Devon and his friends (all male) as a team capable of investigating and keeping everybody safe (and yes, some elements of the rescue fantasy and the knight in shining armour were clearly at work there). Although Jenna herself complains at times about being treated like a weak woman in need of protection —despite being a competent professional who had managed well by herself until that moment— this novel keeps to conventional and traditional gender roles rather than challenging them. I know that such plots and story-lines are typical of many romantic (wish-fulfilment) novels but might not suit all readers, especially those who prefer women in charge of their own destinies. As a reader of thrillers and mystery novels, I did not feel the mystery would have satisfied fans of the genre, as we are not given enough information to solve it (we get some details of the case but others are brushed over quickly and the resolution, when it arrives, is somewhat anticlimactic), and it takes a backseat to the romantic part of the story. Having read other books that mix both genres, and this being a romance with some mystery thrown in, rather than the other way round, I did not think its intended readers would be too disappointed.

There are many other subplots I have not mentioned, including dogs, pregnancies, health scares, fishing, older motherhood, baking, National Parks, love of nature, adoption, social media, stalking, counselling, vocation, tropical storms, family, traditions, Santa Claus, magic, traumatic relationships… There are wonderfully vivid and memorable scenes, the style of writing is easy and fluid, and the descriptions bring to life both the locations and the characters (without going overboard with the physical descriptions of the protagonists and love interests, although yes, don’t worry, they are attractive), and there are some sad moments, some funny ones, and many emotional and heart-warming scenes as well. There is plenty of sexual attraction and tension between Devon and Jenna, but there is no graphic sex and although there are some thrilling scenes, the doors stay firmly closed behind the protagonists when it comes to that side of things.

I know readers of romantic novels expect a happy ending. Well, you won’t be disappointed here. What’s more, I know some readers can get really upset if they feel there are elements in the story that are not fully solved and hate it when they feel that writers are using hooks and unresolved issues to keep them buying books in a series (not everybody feels the same, though). As I have said before, this novel can be read independently from the rest of the series, and all the plots and subplots of the story, even the secondary ones, are solved satisfactorily. So don’t hesitate to pick up this novel just because it’s part of a series. You will feel sad it has ended but it won’t keep you awake at night trying to guess what happened next. I kept imagining this novel as either a movie, or better even, a TV series, and would be surprised if some production company didn’t snatch it up. Done well it would be irresistible.

In sum, this is a novel that takes place in a magical location, in gorgeous settings, with a Christmas theme and a hopeful message, a romance that includes elements of mystery/thriller, with likeable characters that will make you feel home. I, for one, won’t hesitate to visit Eternity Springs again in the future.

Thanks to St Martin’s Press and to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading and please, if you have a minute, remember to like, share, comment, click, keep reading, review and smiling. And if you live in the USA and fancy a copy of the book, leave me your e-mail in the comments and I’ll make sure you are entered into the giveaway. Good luck!

 Oh, and I wanted to let you know my blog is featured on the Top 100 Book Blogs UK/Book Review Websites UK, here. Visit if you can, as it is a very comprehensive list and you will recognise a few faces. 😉

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE WOMEN OF HEACHLEY HALL by Rachel Walkley (@RachelJWalkley) #RBRT A Romantic mystery, with a touch of the paranormal, a gothic mansion and wonderful characters.

Hi all:

It’s not one of my usual days to share a review, but as this book launches today, I decided it was only appropriate, as I’d really enjoyed it.

Thanks to Rosie Amber (and don’t forget to check her blog, here).

Cover of The Women of Heachley Hall by Rachel Walkley
The Women of Heachley Hall by Rachel Walkley

The Women of Heachley Hall by Rachel Walkley

Miriam has one year to uncover Heachley Hall’s unimaginable past and a secret that only women can discover.

The life of a freelance illustrator will never rake in the millions so when twenty-eight-year-old Miriam discovers she’s the sole surviving heir to her great-aunt’s fortune, she can’t believe her luck. She dreams of selling her poky city flat and buying a studio.
But great fortune comes with an unbreakable contract. To earn her inheritance, Miriam must live a year and a day in the decaying Heachley Hall.
The fond memories of visiting the once grand Victorian mansion are all she has left of her parents and the million pound inheritance is enough of a temptation to encourage her to live there alone.
After all, a year’s not that long. So with the help of a local handyman, she begins to transform the house.
But the mystery remains. Why would loving Aunt Felicity do this to her?
Alone in the hall with her old life miles away, Miriam is desperate to discover the truth behind Felicity’s terms. Miriam believes the answer is hiding in her aunt’s last possession: a lost box. But delving into Felicity and Heachley’s long past is going to turn Miriam’s view of the world upside down.
Does she dare keep searching, and if she does, what if she finds something she wasn’t seeking?
Has something tragic happened at Heachley Hall?

https://www.amazon.com/Women-Heachley-Hall-Rachel-Walkley-ebook/dp/B07B53V6YM/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Women-Heachley-Hall-Rachel-Walkley-ebook/dp/B07B53V6YM/

Picture of author Rachel Walkley
Author Rachel Walkley

About the author:

Born in the Midlands, I grew up in East Anglia and am now firmly lodged in the North West of England. My first writing achievement was my Brownie badge and after that, I’ve never let go of the dream of becoming an author. Once a librarian and caretaker of books, I’m now a teller of tales and want to share with you the secrets that hide in the pages of my books.
Please stop by my website – rachelwalkley.com and find out more about my books in the making.

https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Walkley/e/B07B5G7VZP/

You can check her blog here:

http://thequietwriter.com

My review:

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

I love old mansions, old houses, and antiques, and that was one of the things that attracted me to this book, together with the mystery aspect of it. As I’m in the process of moving, and I’m dealing with a house sale, the topic felt timely, and I am pleased I decided to go with my gut feeling.

This book manages to combine quite a few elements that I love in stories. There is a lone female protagonist, Miriam, that has to face challenges (OK, she is not fighting with a sword, but she has to confront difficulties she has never had to deal with before) and she gets to learn plenty about herself in the process. There is an old mansion (there is more than a touch of the gothic novel) that hides mysteries and tragedies of old (there are rumours that it is haunted and… well, I’m trying not to include any spoilers in this review, so I’ll keep my peace). There are family secrets, both Miriam’s and those of previous occupants of the Hall, that Miriam feels compelled to investigate, to fully understand her legacy and her feelings about Heachley Hall. There is a small town with friendly folks (and some not so friendly) that help give the place a genuine feel. The struggles of Miriam to make a living as a self-employed illustrator of children’s stories made me feel particularly connected to the character. I also enjoyed the way her relationship with Ruth, an older woman, a client and now a friend, is portrayed. There is also an element of historical fiction, as later in the book Miriam has access to a document that covers past events in the house (again, I’m trying not to give too much away), and we get to experience the way time transforms the mansion and also see how much society has changed since the XIX century. Ah, and let’s not forget, there is also a very romantic love story. (And a paranormal element…)

Imagine getting stuck, alone, in a huge old house that is falling to bits, with hardly any money to make any renovations or even make it liveable, and having to stay there for one year and one day to receive your inheritance. Although money is initially a big draw for Miriam (she is not in a particularly good place and feels she should show people she can rise to the challenge), she is also intrigued about her aunt Felicity’s reasons for setting up such strange condition. She only remembers having visited her aunt a few times as a very young child, and it makes no sense. Like so many amateur detectives, she is like a dog with a bone and has to keep making enquiries, no matter how many times she seems to have hit a dead end.

I liked Miriam. Although she has suffered tragedy and losses as a young child, she has reached adulthood as a well-balanced individual. She does have insecurities and issues, but she does not allow any drawbacks to bring her down and keeps going. She becomes stronger and more determined as the book progresses, but she does not waste much time feeling sorry for herself (only a little bit). I enjoyed the rest of the female characters as well, and although we only learn about some in the retelling of their stories, the author manages to bring them to live and make us connect emotionally with them.

The story is mostly narrated in the first person by Miriam (apart from the document I mentioned before), and she is excellent at describing, not only people and places (she is an artist after all), but also her own feelings, doubts, and mental processes. Although I know not all readers are keen on first-person narratives, I think the author does an excellent job of creating an engaging and genuine character. She is no superheroine who can do everything as soon as she steps into the property (she gets some help with her project), and she gets distracted, forgets things, gets scared, but does not give up. The story ebbs and flows as the time passes and the mystery aspects kept me reading on, although this is not a fast-paced action novel. The writing is beautifully descriptive without going over the top, and although there are sad moments, there are also light and joyful moments its readers can enjoy.

The mystery aspect of the novel is well integrated into the narrative, and although I had my suspicions about what was going on, the story is beautifully constructed and precious, and it is very satisfying. If you are one of those readers who hate cliff-hangers and always feel that there is some explanation missing and you’d like to know a bit more, you’ll be over the moon when you read this novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, which combines so many of my favourite things, and I’d recommend it to people who enjoy gothic stories (it is not scary but it has some eerie moments), who love old mansions, mysteries without blood and guts (no explicit violence), who like to read a romance with a difference (no explicit sex either), and who like to make friends with the characters of a novel and feel at home with them. Although it does remind me of some books (Rebecca, Jane Eyre…) and movies, I don’t want to go into any detail to avoid spoiling the story for you. But do check it out if any of the things I’ve mentioned appeals. It’s a winner.

Thanks to Rosie Amber and to her whole team for their continued support, thanks to the author for her book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE FRAUD OR MIRACLE TRILOGY by Christoph Fischer (@CFFBooks) Great characters, mind-bending twists and turns, and a fantastic ending.

Hi all:

Today I bring you a particularly long review as I got a paperback copy of a trilogy by an author I’ve read before (and you must visit if you haven’t, as he’s not only talented but a great supporter and advocate of other writers and good causes, oh, and Eurovision) and I decided to review each book separately, but…

The Fraud or Miracle Trilogy by Christoph Fischer
The Fraud or Miracle Trilogy by Christoph Fischer

The Fraud or Miracle Trilogy by Christoph Fischer  Great characters, mind-bending twists and turns, and a fantastic ending.

“The Fraud or Miracle Trilogy” comprises three novels that explore – both, seriously and light-heartedly – the conflict between facts versus faith and trust versus doubt. In “The Healer” advertising executive Erica Whittaker, diagnosed with terminal cancer, seeks help from retired, controversial healer Arpan. He has retired for good reasons, casting more than the shadow of a doubt over his abilities. So begins a journey that will challenge them both as the past threatens to catch up with him as much as with her. On one level this is just the story of a young woman trying to survive, on the other it’s about power, greed and selfish agendas, even when life or death is at stake. Can Arpan really heal her? Can she trust him with her life? And will they both achieve what they set out to do before running out of time? In “The Gamblers” Ben, an insecure accountant obsessed with statistics, gambling and beating the odds, wins sixty-four million in the lottery and finds himself challenged by the possibilities that his new wealth brings. He soon falls under the influence of charismatic Russian gambler Mirco, whom he meets on a holiday in New York. He also falls in love with a stewardess, Wendy, but now that Ben’s rich he finds it hard to trust anyone. As both relationships become more dubious, Ben needs to make some difficult decisions and figure out who’s really his friend and who’s just in it for the money. In “The Sanctuary on Cayman Brac” the loose ends from both novels come to a head in a sizzling finale. Praise for “The Healer”: Lots of twists and a brilliant ending I like a book that has me second guessing all the way through. It grabs hold and takes you on a wonderful journey. This book is exactly like that. I changed my mind as to who is wrong and who is right, who could be trusted and who couldn’t, from the start through to the finish. Praise for “The Gamblers” This story is thrilling, fascinating, fast-paced, and it presents interesting physiological questions on human natural in general and Ben Andrews in particular. A wonderful story I highly recommend!

Paperback:

https://www.amazon.com/Fraud-Miracle-Trilogy-Christoph-Fischer/dp/1978395841/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fraud-Miracle-Trilogy-Christoph-Fischer/dp/1978395841/

E-book:

https://www.amazon.com/Fraud-Miracle-Trilogy-Christoph-Fischer-ebook/dp/B076N771K4/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fraud-Miracle-Trilogy-Christoph-Fischer-ebook/dp/B076N771K4/

Author Christoph Fischer
Author Christoph Fischer

About the author:

Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years, he moved on to the UK where he now lives in a small town in West Wales. He and his partner have three Labradoodles to complete their family.

Christoph worked for the British Film Institute, in Libraries, Museums, and for an airline. ‘
The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ was published in November 2012; ‘Sebastian’ in May 2013 and ‘The Black Eagle Inn’ in October 2013 – which completes his ‘Three Nations Trilogy’. “Time to Let Go”, his first contemporary work was published in May 2014, and “Conditions”, another contemporary novel, in October 2014. The sequel “Conditioned” was published in October 2015. His medical thriller “The Healer” was released in January 2015 and his second thriller “The Gamblers” in June 2015. He published two more historical novels “In Search of a Revolution” in March 2015 and “Ludwika” in December 2015.
His latest novel “The Body In The Snow” is his first cozy mystery.
He has written several other novels which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.

https://www.amazon.com/Christoph-Fischer/e/B00CLO9VMQ/

My review:

I have decided to review each story separately. So here goes…

First:

The Healer (Fraud or Miracle? Book 1) by Christoph Fischer A psychologically astute book that will make you think about your own mortality. And what an ending!

I have read and reviewed a couple of the author’s books in the past and enjoyed them, and I was intrigued by this book when it came out, but due to my personal circumstances (my father suffered from cancer and died around the time of its publication) I didn’t feel I was in the best frame of mind for it. Now that it has been published as part of The Fraud and Miracle Trilogy, I was very pleased to receive a paperback copy and finally get to read it.

The story is deceptively simple. A woman suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer, desperate, follows the advice of her personal assistant and approaches a healer, Arpan. I am not sure if he would call himself a “faith” healer, but he insists that those he treats should be totally invested in the process, including transferring 50% of their assets to his account. Although he states all that money goes to charity, it caused suspicion and scandal years back, and he has been keeping a low profile ever since. After much insistence and a different deal, he agrees to treat Erica, who also has secrets of her own. There are strange conspiracies surrounding Arpan and his healing process but Erica’s life is changed forever. Things are not as they seem, of course.

The story is written in the third person from Erica’s point of view, and we get to share in her doubts, suspicions, paranoia, hope, and also to experience the healing with her. The book transmits a sense of claustrophobia, and although there are treks around the Welsh countryside and later we move to a different country, most of the story takes place within Arpan’s tent, and there are only a few main characters (mostly Erica (Maria), Arpan (Amesh), and Anuj) with some secondary characters that we don’t get to know very well (Hilda, Julia, Gunnar). There are no lengthy descriptions of settings or of the appearance of the characters, because we follow the point of view of a woman totally preoccupied with her health and her mortality, and that makes her not the most reliable of narrators. She describes the physical and mental effects that the illness and the healing process have on her, and we are also privy to her suspicions and doubts. The book offers fascinating psychological insights into how much our “rational” point of view can change when our life is at stake, and it is impossible to read it and not wonder what we would do in Erica’s place.

I kept thinking that the story, which relies heavily on dialogue (both between characters and also internal dialogue), would make a great play, and its intensity would be well suited to the stage. Although most of the characters are not sympathetic, to begin with, their humanity and the big questions they are forced to deal with make them intriguing and worthy subjects of our observations.

The ending brings a great twist to the story. Although I think most readers will have been suspicious and on alert due to the secrets, false information, continuous doubts, and different versions of the truth on offer, the actual ending will make them question everything and re-evaluate the story in a different light. And, considering the nature of the subject it deals with, that is a great achievement.

I recommend it to those who enjoy stories that make them think, to readers who are not searching for cheap thrills and prefer a psychologically astute book and especially to those who want to feel personally invested in the stories they read. I look forward to the rest of the books in the trilogy.

Second:

The Gamblers (Fraud or Miracle? Book 2)

My review:

This is the second book I read in the Fraud and Miracle trilogy, and its inclusion there is sure to put readers on their guard. But that is the beauty of it. You know something is going on, and you might even suspect what (although not, perhaps, in detail) but you can’t help but eagerly keep reading and follow the story, enmeshed in the same web of illusion and deceit that traps the main character, Ben.

The story is written in the third person and follows the point of view of Ben, the protagonist. He is a somewhat socially awkward young accountant who leads a modest life in London, who is not precisely streetwise, and who feels more at ease playing games in online communities than interacting socially in person. He is obsessed with numbers (in real life, I wondered if somebody with similar personality traits might fit into the very mild range of autistic spectrum disorder. He acknowledges that he is bad at reading people’s emotions and expressions, he is anxious in social situations and functions by imitating other people’s behaviour, he displays obsessive personality traits…) and does not believe in luck and chance. He is convinced that random events (like lottery or games of chance results) follow a pattern and he is determined to find it. He gets a bit lottery win (£64 million), and although he does not value money per se (at least at the beginning of the story), he decides to treat himself travelling to New York. Everything seems to change from that moment on, he makes a new friend (the glamorous and charming Mirco) and meets the girl of his dreams, Wendy.

The third person point of view suits the story perfectly. On the one hand, we follow Ben’s point of view and his thought processes. We are aware of his misgivings and doubts. He does not believe in luck, after all, and he cannot accept that all these good things are happening to him, especially as they seem to coincide with his lottery win. At the same time, the third person gives us enough distance to observe and judge Ben’s own behaviour (that does not always fit his self-proclaimed intentions and opinions) and also that of those around him. There are things that seem too good to be true, there are warnings offered by random people, there are strange behaviours (both, Mirco and Wendy, blow hot and cold at times), and there are the suspiciousness and rivalry between his new friends. We warm up to his naiveté and to his child-like wonder and enjoyment at the fabulous new life that falls on his lap, but we cannot help but chide him at times for being so easy to manipulate.

The author reflects perfectly the process Ben goes through in his reading. Mirco keeps telling him that he should forget about methods and just “feel” the game, and despite his attachment to his theories, there is something in him that desperately wants to believe in miracles, in good luck, and, most of all, wants to believe that he deserves everything he gets: the money, the friendship, and the love. This is a book about con artists and the book implements their technique to perfection. Con-games are a big favourite of mine, and I love how well the book is designed, and how it treats its readers to a peep behind the scenes of the big players, while at the same time making them play the part of the victim. Yes, we might be shouting at Ben and telling him not to be so gullible, but what would we do in his place? Wouldn’t we just want it to be true too?

The story takes place in glamorous locations and it revolves around the world of high-stakes gambling, night-clubs, and big spenders. It might be particularly interesting to those who love casinos and betting, but that is only one aspect of the book. It can be read independently from the first book in the series, and although there are tense and emotionally difficult moments, there are no violence or extreme behaviours. And the ending… You might be more or less surprised by the big reveal, but the actual ending is likely to leave you with a smile on your face.

A book that will make you question yourself and that will keep you guessing until the end. A fun read for lovers of con-games and those who always wondered what they would do if their luck suddenly changed. I’m looking forward to the third book in the trilogy.

And third:

The Sanctuary on Cayman Brac: Key to the Truth (Fraud or Miracle? Book 3) 

My review:

This is book three in the Fraud and Miracle Trilogy, and after reading it, I confess I’ll miss the characters and the twists and turns.

The series deals in subjects that seem more relevant now than ever. In a world dominated by fake news, where elections are doctored, and the future of a nation might be in the hands of people who manipulate data to benefit the highest bidder, the status of the information we take for granted, who deserves our trust and how far we would be prepared to go to learn the truth have become pressing matters we all must seriously think about.

Author Christoph Fischer brings together the cast of the two previous novels, delighting the many readers who felt, like Erica, that things were not settled and they wanted to know what would happen next. Had she really discovered the truth, and was she going to let it go at that? Like we did in The Healer, we follow Erica, who has managed to locate Arpan in Cayman Brac, and has decided to confront him, gun in hand. But, no matter how determined she is, she cannot resist the connection she felt to Arpan, and she accepts his version of the truth. Of course, that might be “his” truth, but is it what really happened? Erica once again cycles from belief to doubt and back again, and although her feelings for Arpan intensify, she needs to know if she was ever “healed” or not. Thanks to her insistence we get to meet Hilda, but like many other characters in the story, appearances can be deceptive.

Readers of the series will recognise some of the characters from The Gamblers and that will make them keep a close eye on what they do. But even with the advantage we have over Erica (we follow her and share in her clues, but have good reason to doubt some of the events, as we know who some of the students at Arpan school really are), the author once more keeps adding twists to the story, and the final reveal scene (worthy of an Agatha Christie novel) is as tense as any of the poker games in The Gamblers. I will not reveal the many bluffs, but if I had to summarise it I’d say… Wow.

I particularly enjoyed meeting Erica again. Although the nature of her healing might not be what she had initially expected, she is much more open and human, able to recognise her own limitations and weaknesses, and prepared to experiment and enjoy life. While some of the other characters might not have changed much (and continue to play for high stakes), others, like Ben, have learned their lessons and now focus on what really matters. Beyond the twists and turns of the plot, there are solid characters that grow and change throughout the series and we root for them and care for their well-being.

The island and the retreat, which we enjoy both as visitors and as participants thanks to Erica, are beautiful and inspiring and although most of us would find it difficult to cope with some of the rules and restrictions of the sanctuary, we’d all love to visit it and spend some time recovering and reenergizing. Personally, I would love to experience the inner workings of such a place and perhaps even to bear witness to some of the mind games.

A great ending to the trilogy, entertaining, satisfying, and surprising, that will leave readers feeling hopeful and confident. Sometimes the teachers are the ones who need to learn the lessons and letting go of control is the way to progress and evolve. My congratulations to the author.

Thanks to the author, to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW and keep smiling!

[amazon_link asins=’1481130331,1499130597,B00FSBW2L6,1519539118,B00CLL1UY6,B00TYG1WGM,B076J3YKXZ,B01LVYRI9L’ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’89012751-3fb3-11e8-8a05-f586ec67cfb0′]

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE SECRET OF THE LOST PHARAOH (MATTHEW CONNOR ADVENTURE SERIES BOOK 2) by Carolyn Arnold (@Carolyn_Arnold) #Bookreview A thrilling and fun adventure for lovers of Ancient #Egypt and Indiana Jones

Hi all:

Today I bring you the review of a book that launches today. And if like me, you are looking for a bit of distraction from everyday life, this might be just the ticket.

The Secret of the Lost Pharaoh (Matthew Connor Adventure series book 2) by Carolyn Arnold. Book launch and review
The Secret of the Lost Pharaoh (Matthew Connor Adventure series book 2) by Carolyn Arnold. Review

The Secret of the Lost Pharaoh (Matthew Connor Adventure series Book 2) by Carolyn Arnold

Mystery lovers will need to hold on to their hats for this follow-up to City of Gold, which reviewers described as “a fast-paced action adventure” that is “akin to an Indiana Jones story set in modern times.” Now, the second in the series promises to bring much of the same excitement! Join archaeologist and adventurer Matthew Connor and his friends as they go after the Emerald Tablets to save the world in The Secret of the Lost Pharaoh.

In Egypt’s Western Desert lies the tomb of an unnamed pharaoh that hides a secret so powerful, it could destroy the world as we know it.

Archaeologist and adventurer Matthew Connor has made a career of finding legends the world has all but forgotten. Though there’s one in particular that has fascinated him for years—the Emerald Tablets. Myth says that they possess the knowledge of the universe, allowing humankind to traverse Heaven and Earth, and have the power to bestow wealth and wisdom upon whoever possesses them. But if they fall into evil hands, it could cause a global disaster.

So when a former colleague stumbles across an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic map that promises to lead to a pharaoh’s tomb and the Emerald Tablets, there’s no way he’s turning down her invitation to join the dig. He only has one stipulation: his best friends Robyn Garcia and Cal Myers come with him.

The road ahead isn’t going to be an easy one, and their shared dream of recovering the Emerald Tablets is being crushed at every turn. And just when they think it’s all over, they learn there are a few clues they have overlooked. But they’re no longer the only ones searching for the Tablets. Now, the fate of the world hangs in the balance, and soon they’ll find out that when it comes to hunting legends, they can’t trust anyone.

Links:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Apple iBooks

Kobo

Google Play

Goodreads

If you want to know more about the series, here is what to expect from the Matthew Connor Adventure series:

 

Action-adventure books for the mystery lover. Does treasure hunting excite you? What about the thought of traveling the globe and exploring remote regions to uncover legends that the world has all but forgotten? If so, strap yourself in for an adventure with modern-day archaeologist Matthew Connor and his two closest friends. Indiana Jones meets the twenty-first century.

 

This is the perfect book series for fans of Indiana JonesLara CroftNational Treasure, and The Relic Hunter.

Photo of author Carolyn Arnold
Author Carolyn Arnold

Author Bio

 

CAROLYN ARNOLD is an international bestselling and award-winning author, as well as a speaker, teacher, and inspirational mentor. She has four continuing fiction series—Detective Madison Knight, Brandon Fisher FBI, McKinley Mysteries, and Matthew Connor Adventures—and has written nearly thirty books. Her genre diversity offers her readers everything from cozy to hard-boiled mysteries, and thrillers to action adventures.

Both her female detective and FBI profiler series have been praised by those in law enforcement as being accurate and entertaining, leading her to adopt the trademark: POLICE PROCEDURALS RESPECTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT™.

Carolyn was born in a small town and enjoys spending time outdoors, but she also loves the lights of a big city. Grounded by her roots and lifted by her dreams, her overactive imagination insists that she tell her stories. Her intention is to touch the hearts of millions with her books, to entertain, inspire, and empower.

She currently lives in London Ontario with her husband and beagle and is a member of Crime Writers of Canada and Sisters in Crime.

 

There’s more! Today, she answers a few questions for us and gives us insight into her life and journey as a mystery author.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I don’t remember back as far as a young child, but as a young adult, I either wanted to be a defense attorney, a police officer, or a journalist. As a crime author, I’ve really become a blend of all three. LOL

If you had one wish, what would that be?

That people would use their energy for building other people up and that the world could unite, accepting each other’sdifferences, even when there’s not the threat of an alien invasion or global destruction. 😉

How do you develop your plots and your characters? Do you use any set formula?

I write organically or go with the flow. Writing in this manner is also known as panster-style. If I set out to write an outline—even a brief one—my creativity stops.

When I start writing a book, I normally only have the concept of the plot. Most times I don’t even know who the killer is and I never know in advance how I’m getting my investigators to their door.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a published author?

It will take a lot of hard work, likely more than you can imagine until you’re immersed in the process, but there is no need to get overwhelmed. Take one day at a time and keep your focus on how much you enjoy writing and how you are writing for the readers who will love to read you.

Connect with CAROLYN ARNOLD Online:
Website | Twitter | Facebook

And don’t forget to sign up for her newsletter for up-to-date information on release and special offers at http://carolynarnold.net/newsletters.

And before I tell you what I think, I thought I’d offer you a sample

Excerpt from the Chapter 3 of The Secret of the Lost Pharaoh (Matthew Connor Adventure series)

Robyn went to get up when her door opened and Matthew Connor strolled in. His eyes were bluer than she remembered. She swept some of her dark hair behind an ear. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, it’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other,” he responded casually.

“You’re the one who took off to Alaska, and before that to—” She stopped talking before it came across like she was keeping track of his schedule. “It’s good to see you.”

And it was. It always was. They’d been friends since college and lovers there for a while, too. But just when things started to get serious between them, she’d been offered this job. And with her life plan coming together and Matthew’s selfless understanding, they’d ended things so she could focus on her career. She’d even gone so far as to avoid expeditions with him for a time, claiming they were too dangerous.

“You too.” He flashed her a smile that could stop her heart if she allowed it to.

“If you had been around yesterday, you could have joined us at Gretzky’s.” By us, she meant, Cal, Sophie, and herself, but Matthew would know that.

He was still smiling as he sat down in the chair across from her. “I figured you’d end up on a patio for drinks.”

“Uh-huh.”

She regarded the light in his eyes but also picked up on shadows of secrecy. He got that look when he was thinking about an expedition. But she didn’t have time to go away to wherever it was he had in mind. Maybe he had the luxury of dropping everything on a whim, but she didn’t. She was tethered to a job she loved, and Lord knew she had enough that needed taking care of. The e-mail about the African exhibit was far from being the only thing on her to-do list.

“If you’re here about an expedition, I can’t go,” she stated, certain she was getting in front of what he’d come here to ask.

“You don’t even know when I’m going.” Matthew leaned forward, one corner of his mouth lifting as if it had been raised by a hook. It was a carefree and devilish expression, and one that she found titillating, whether she wanted it to or not. And she didn’t want it to. They were better off as friends. It was so much less complicated. He did his thing; she did hers. And when they did go on quests together, it was an experience they shared as friends.

“It doesn’t matter.” She was shaking her head. “I have too much to do here.”

Matthew’s gaze went to her tidy desk before meeting her eyes. “It doesn’t look like it.”

“You know that my desk isn’t an indication of my workload. Do you want to see my in-box?” She gestured toward her monitor and then set her hand down on her desk.

Matthew reached forward and put his hand on top of hers. Her heart began to beat faster. She pulled her hand away and swallowed, hoping he hadn’t sensed how uncomfortable his touch made her.

His gaze dropped to her desk but then tracked up to meet her eyes. “You seem a little jumpy. I think someone needs a vacation.”

“Ha!” She mocked laughter. “You have no idea.” Truth be told, she hadn’t taken time off since the better part of a year ago, when they had gone in search of the City of Gold.

Matthew splayed out his hands. “No time like the present, then.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “An expedition”—she pointed a swirling finger at him—“isn’t a vacation. It’s work.”

Matthew sat back in his chair and bobbed his head side to side. “Fun work. And in this case, it could affect the fate of the world.”

“Excuse me while I roll my eyes. The fate of the world? Really?” She expected him to smile or laugh, but his eyes darkened and his mouth fell into a straight line. “You’re serious?”

“I am dead serious.”

“So what is this mission that could affect the fate of the world?” She’d started off armed with cynicism but found that her shield was starting to lower. What was wrong with her? Was he really baiting her with the fate of the world? Was she that desperate for time off that she was buying into his hyperbole?

“Before I continue,” he said, “I just want to make sure you realize that what I’m about to tell you is highly confidential.”

The Secret of the Lost Pharaoh, book launch and review
The Secret of the Lost Pharaoh. Now available

My review:

Thanks to the author’s publicist for offering me this opportunity to participate in the blog tour for the launch of this novel and for providing me an ARC copy that I freely chose to review.

I have read one of Carolyn Arnold’s Police Procedural books (Remnants, Brandon Fisher FBI Book 6. You can read my review here) and when I was approached about this book, that is quite different in genre, I was very curious. I know I’m not the only reader fascinated by Ancient Egypt, Archaeology, and the secrets hidden by the pyramids and the hieroglyphs. I still have a copy of Gods, Graves and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology by C. W. Ceram (well, Dioses, Tumbas y Sabios, as I read the Spanish Translation), which I was given as a child, and I remember how much time I spent reading it and imagining that I was there, in Tutankhamen’s Tomb. Of course, the book is quite old now, and I was delighted to be given the opportunity of following an expedition in modern times, and seeing how much things have changed. But some things haven’t, and the magic and the excitement are still there.

This is book 2 in the Matthew Connor Adventure series, and although I can confirm it can be read independently, there are quite a few references to the previous book, City of Gold, so if you’re intending to read the whole series, I’d advise you to start by the first book, as you might otherwise miss some of the surprises. There is enough information about book 1 to get a good sense of the closeness between the friends, the dangers they encountered in their previous adventure, and also to understand what makes them tick.  But when it came to the intricacies of their personal lives, I was curious about how much background I had missed, because, in such matters, nuances are important.

The story is told in the third person from a variety of characters’ points of view. It is Matthew Connor Series, and he is one of the main characters, but the story starts with Alex, an Egyptologist who knew Matthew from before and who calls him when she realises what she has come across. Both of Matthew’s friends, Cal and Robin appear reluctant to join him at first, for different reasons, but they cannot resist the adventure, and they make a great team. Robin is the studious and organised one, and she’s always dreamed of Egypt. Cal is a photographer who loves adventure and is always trying to bring a light touch and a joke to the proceedings, and the fact that he is not knowledgeable about the topic offers the author the perfect excuse to explain the background, both historical and procedural, to their expedition. Matthew is an interesting mixture of intuition, deduction, and determination. He has great instincts even if sometimes he might get side-tracked by his emotions and his flirting with danger.  I know some readers are reluctant to read books where the point of view changes often, but it is well-done here, and it helps keep the mystery and the intrigue, as each character’s personality and insights provide us different clues to what is really going on. It is up to us to put the pieces of the puzzle together and it is great fun.

The book is fast-paced, and it will delight lovers of adventures. If you love Indiana Jones, you will be fascinated by the Emerald Tablets, the lost pharaoh, the snake whisperer, the treasure map, the betrayals, and the many secrets. In an ideal world, I would have loved to know more about the pharaoh and his secrets (he sounds like a fascinating character), and I was much more interested and convinced by the adventure aspect of the story than by the personal relationships and the love stories of the characters. Matthew came across as quite fickle at times, but he is very young (that is more evident emotionally than professionally), and I think his reactions and behaviour are understandable. The three friends go through emotional turmoil, and in all cases, it is related to their profession and their love of adventure, which brings an interesting and realistic aspect to the matter. We are used to adventurers who are either loners, or somehow come across a kindred spirit who loves adventures as much as they do, but rarely do we find a group of friends who know the value of their friendship and appreciate the difficulties of fitting their love for adventure into a ‘normal’ life. None of the main characters are flawless heroes (some hate snakes, there are jealousies, unfunny jokes, superstition, lack of commitment, and lies) and, for me, that is a strength, because it makes them human and easier to identify with.

The author once more shows her skill at research, and the technology used as part of the expedition, the procedures followed, and the setting blend smoothly into the story without delaying the action or going into unnecessarily detailed descriptions. There are clues, red herrings, plenty of suspects, and twists and turns to keep the mystery readers engaged too.

A thrilling and fun adventure that I recommend to anybody who loves the Indiana Jones movies and has always been intrigued by archaeological mysteries. The plot is particularly strong, but the characters are relatable and likeable, and I would love to join them on their next adventure. I am sure you will too.

Thanks once again to the author and her team, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and keep SMILING!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE ENGLISH WIFE: A NOVEL by Lauren Willig (@laurenwillig) (@StMartinsPress) Recommended to fans of Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and Jane Austen’s novels. #bookreview #historicalfiction

Hi all:

I am sure today’s book won’t be to everybody’s taste, but I loved it. See what you think.

The English Wife by Lauren Willig
The English Wife by Lauren Willig

The English Wife: A Novel by Lauren Willig

From New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous novel set in the Gilded Age, full of family secrets, affairs, and even murder.

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

https://www.amazon.com/English-Wife-Novel-Lauren-Willig-ebook/dp/B072TY6MS6/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/English-Wife-Novel-Lauren-Willig-ebook/dp/B072TY6MS6/

Author Lauren Willig
Author Lauren Willig

About the author:

Lauren Willig is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Pink Carnation series and several stand alone works of historical fiction, including “The Ashford Affair”, “That Summer”, “The Other Daughter”, and “The Forgotten Room” (co-written with Karen White and Beatriz Williams). Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. After graduating from Yale University, she embarked on a PhD in English History at Harvard before leaving academia to acquire a JD at Harvard Law while authoring her “Pink Carnation” series of Napoleonic-set novels. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

https://www.amazon.com/Lauren-Willig/e/B001IGQV62/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

In case you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to read the whole review (you know I can go on and on), I love this novel. I recommend it to anybody who enjoys historical fiction with a mystery at its heart, especially if you enjoy gothic novels. If you love Rebecca and Jane Eyre, I would advise you to check it out. And, for the insights it offers on the society of the time (both sides of the Atlantic), I think fans of Jane Austen who are interested in novels beyond the Regency period will also enjoy it.

This historical novel, set at the end of the XIX century, starts with a murder and the mystery surrounding it. On the day when Annabelle and Bay, a couple of the best of New York society (Annabelle, the aristocratic English wife of the heir of the Van Duyvil dynasty) have organised a ball to celebrate the completion of their new mansion, he is found dead with a knife (a dagger from his costume) in his chest, and his wife is presumed drowned under the icy waters of the river. Janie, Bay’s sister, alarmed at the different versions of the story that circulate (either her brother killed his adulterous wife and then committed suicide, or his wife killed him intending to run away with her lover, although her brother is also accused of adultery with their cousin Anne…) and how they will affect her little niece and nephew, decides to try to find the truth. She chooses an unlikely ally (more unlikely than she realises at the time), a reporter (her mother values privacy, appearances, and reputation above all, and she appears to be the perfect obedient daughter), and the novel tells the story of their investigation, that we get to follow chronologically from the moment the body is discovered, in January 1899, for several weeks. We also get to read about events that took place several years earlier (from 1894 onward), when Annabelle (also known as Georgie) first met Bay, in London. She was working as an actress and they become friends. These two strands of the story, told in the third person, but each one from the point of view of one of the main characters, Janie and Georgie, run in parallel until towards the very end, and that offers us different perspectives and insight while at the same time helping keep the mystery going. The more we know about the ins and outs of the characters, their relationships, their families, and their secrets (and there are many. Other than Janie, who only starts keeping secrets after her brother’s death, all the rest of the characters carry heavy loads, sometimes theirs, sometimes those of others), the more we feel invested in the story, and the more suspects and red herrings that keep appearing. I have read some reviewers that complained about the story not being a mystery or a thriller. Well, a thriller it is not, for sure (although I found the reading experience thrilling for other reasons). It has some of the elements of a classic mystery of the era, with the added beauty of the detailed setting, the appreciation of the subtle social nuances of the time, the strong portrayal of the characters, and the beautiful language. You might guess who the guilty party is (I must confess I kept wavering between several possible explanations), and also some of the other secrets (some are more evident than others), but I thought it worked well, although not, perhaps, for a reader who is looking, exclusively, for a mystery and wants to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible. This is not a book written following the rules of the genre we are so familiar with (nothing extraneous that does not move the story forward, kill you darlings, keep descriptions to a minimum) and, in my opinion, is all he better for it.

This book is full of great characters. We are limited to two points of view only, which might be biased due to personal reasons, and some characters, like Cousin Anne, generates strong emotions from all those involved (she never conforms, she steals the man her cousin Janie was going to marry, later divorces, and her attitude towards Annabelle is not supportive), but she has some of the best lines, and we get to understand her quite well by the end of the story. Janie, who has always been dismissed by her mother and ignored by the rest of the family, is an articulate, intelligent, cultured, and determined woman. Burke, the reporter, is a complex character with stronger morals than anybody would give him credit for, and Mrs. Van Duyvil, the mother, is a larger-than-life woman, whose influence is felt by those who come into contact with her, and she is far from likeable, and there are other characters that appear in a negative light. Even the “good” characters (Bay and Janie) have complex motives for their actions, and nothing is a black or white as we might think at the beginning.

As I mentioned above, the author (whose work I’d never read before but I’ll make sure to check) captures well the nuances of the time, the dress, the setting, the social mores (yes, a little like Jane Austen, although in a very different historical period), writes beautifully, and her choice of female characters as narrators allows us a good insight into what life was like at the time for women, whose power always had to be channelled through men. Times were changing already, and people keep referring to the Vanderbilts’ divorce, but this was not generally accepted yet, and certain things had to be kept hidden. The dialogue is full of wit and sparks at times, and although there is drama, sadness, and grief, there is also merriment, fun, romance, and very insightful comments on the society of the time (and yes, our society as well).

The book is full of literary references, historical-era appropriate, and most readers fond of the genre will enjoy the comments about books (and plays) of the time. I did. The narrative takes its time to explore the situations and the characters in detail, but I felt it moved at the right pace, giving us a chance to reflect upon the serious questions behind the story. Who decides who we truly are? How important are appearances and social conventions? What role should other people’s opinions play in our lives and actions? I don’t want to give any spoilers away (I enjoyed the ending, by the way, but that’s all I’ll say about it), but I thought I’d share some snippets from the book.

The juries of the world were made of men. A man could hold his honor dear in masculine matters such as gambling debts and never mind that he left a trail of ruined women behind him. Men diced with coin; women diced with their lives.

Georgie took a sip of her own tea. It was too weak. It was always too weak. She blamed it on the Revolution. Since the Boston Tea Party, the Americans had apparently been conserving their tea leaves.

“So you came rushing through the ice?” Janie didn’t know whether to be touched or shake him for being so foolish. “Slaying a dragon would have been easier. And warmer.”

Viola lifted her head. “I don’t want a lullaby. I want a story.” “Even better. I have a wonderful one about a prince who turned into a toad. You’ll adore it. It’s very educational.” (This is Anne. She has many wonderful retorts).

And this one must be one of my favourite sentences of the year so far:

Janie felt like a prism: fragile, but with the chance of rainbows.

In sum, a beautifully written historical fiction novel, with a mystery (several) at its heart, memorable characters, fantastic dialogue, and a gothic touch. Unmissable.

 

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!

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#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview PRACTICING NORMAL by Cara Sue Achterberg (@CaraAchterberg) A great book about the games families play and what love really is

Hi all:

I am approached often by writers looking for reviews. Sometimes I have so many books due for a certain date that I can’t accommodate them and also sometimes I don’t feel the books are in categories I’m in the best position to review. Cara Sue Achterberg got in touch with me about her new novel (it’s not being published officially until the 31st of May, but you have a chance to preorder it at a very good price) and I was intrigued, not only by the description of the novel but also by her biography and her previous work. And I’m pleased to say…. well, keep reading…

Practicing Normal by Cara Sue Achterberg

Practicing Normal by Cara Sue Achterberg

The houses in Pine Estates are beautiful McMansions filled with high-achieving parents, children on the fast track to top colleges, all of the comforts of modern living, and the best security systems money can buy. Welcome to normal upper-middle-class suburbia.

The Turners know in their hearts that they’re anything but normal. Jenna is a high-schooler dressed in black who is fascinated with breaking into her neighbors’ homes, security systems be damned. Everett genuinely believes he loves his wife . . . he just loves having a continuing stream of mistresses more. JT is a genius kid with Asperger’s who moves from one obsession to the next. And Kate tries to manage her family, manage her mother (who lives down the street), and avoid wondering why her life is passing her by.

And now everything is changing for them. Jenna suddenly finds herself in a boy-next-door romance she never could have predicted. Everett’s secrets are beginning to unravel on him. JT is getting his first taste of success at navigating the world. And Kate is facing truths about her husband, her mother, and her father that she might have preferred not to face.

Life on Pine Road has never been more challenging for the Turners. That’s what happens when you’re practicing normal.

Combining her trademark combination of wit, insight, and tremendous empathy for her characters, Cara Sue Achterberg has written a novel that is at once familiar and startlingly fresh.

“Does facing the truth beat living a lie? In PRACTICING NORMAL, Cara Sue Achterberg has given us a smart story that is both a window and a mirror, about the extraordinary pain ― and the occasional gifts ― of an ordinary life.”
– Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author of THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN

“What does it really mean to have a normal life? Achterberg’s stunning new novel explores how a family can fracture just trying to survive, and how what makes us different is also what can make us most divine.”
– Caroline Leavitt, author of CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD and the New York Times bestsellers PICTURES OF YOU and IS THIS TOMORROW

“PRACTICING NORMAL takes a deep dive into the dysfunctional dynamics of a ‘picture perfect family.’ A compelling story about the beautiful humanity in the most ordinary of lives: from first love to a marriage on the downward slide to an unexpected family tragedy. Achterberg handles each thread with tender care and we can’t help but root for every member of the Turner family.”
– Kate Moretti, New York Times bestselling author of THE VANISHING YEAR

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Practicing-Normal-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B06XH4SJW6/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Practicing-Normal-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B06XH4SJW6/

Author Cara Sue Achterberg
Author Cara Sue Achterberg

About the Author

Cara Sue Achterberg is a writer, blogger, and occasional cowgirl who lives on a farm in South Central, Pennsylvania.

Her first novel, I’m Not Her, was a national bestseller. When an obese check-out clerk and a superficial twenty-something switch lives, they discover what it’s really like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Her second novel, Girls’ Weekend was released May 2016 and takes readers along for the ride when three overwhelmed moms go away for a weekend and decide not to go back to lives that don’t seem to fit anymore. It’s a book for every person who has ever wondered – is this all there is?

Cara teaches workshops on creating and affording an organic life, based on the information shared in her book, Live Intentionally: 65 Challenges for a Healthier, Happier Life, which was chosen as first runner up at the 2015 Green Book Festival.

She teaches creative writing and her essays and articles have been published in numerous anthologies and magazines. You can find links to Cara’s blogs and inspiration for teen writers on her website CaraWrites.com.

 

Cara enjoys fostering dogs for the nonprofit all-breed rescue organization, Operation Paws for Homes and writes a blog about her experiences. Her small hillside farm is home to three horses, a changing number of cats, and plenty of chickens.

https://www.amazon.com/Cara-Sue-Achterberg/e/B00PYVVB5S/

My review:

I was given a copy of this book as a gift and I freely chose to review it.

Tolstoi’s probably best-known quote: All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way fits perfectly this novel. As a psychiatrist, ‘normal’ is one of those terms that we always seem to come back to, even if it is impossible to define. It seems that normal is always what other people are, never us. Perhaps, as it is discussed in the novel in reference to Autism and Asperger’s, which are conditions that fall within a spectrum, the same is true for normality. It is not an on or off thing. Perhaps we all belong to some point within the spectrum, but we’d be hard pushed to find many people whom we’d all agree were ‘normal’, at least if we got to know them well.

The novel introduces us to the Turners, who live a reasonably comfortable life within a theoretically idyllic neighbourhood. Once we scratch a bit under the surface, we find: Jenna, the sixteen year old daughter, who is not a goth but likes to shave her hair, dye it in interesting colours, collects piercings and is an ace at breaking into neighbours’ houses (courtesy of her father’s job in a security company). Kate, her mother, is forever busy caring for everybody but herself. She has to look after her mother, Mildred, who might be dementing, or perhaps not, and who lives alone, never leaves the house and talks to her birds. She also has to look after JT, her son, with an Asperger’s diagnosis, who cycles through periods of obsession with different topics (ER Medicine, Fire-fighting…), has tantrums if his routine is disturbed, cannot read people’s expressions or understand their feelings, but is a genius at Maths and has an incredible memory. She also runs around the rest of the household and is always worried about her husband, Everett, who cheated on her once (that she knows of). The chapters alternate the first-person narrations of Jenna (who somehow becomes friendly with the rich, handsome and all-around nice neighbour, Wells, who isn’t, after all, the stereotypical jock), and Kate (whose sister, Evelyn, has made contact with their father, Frank, who left them when they were young children, and believes their mother has been lying to them) allowing the reader to better grasp, not only the secrets they all keep from each other, but also the different ways the same events can be interpreted and seen. Everett’s narration (also in the first person) joins later, giving us hints of more secrets to come,  allowing us a more rounded picture and offering us a male perspective.

I found the first person narrations served well the topic, and the voices of the three narrators were very distinct and fitted in well with their characters. Although personally, I can’t say I liked Everett very much, no characters are despicable and all of them love their family and each other, even if they might go about it the wrong way. Jenna’s strong hostility towards her father is easy to understand, not only because he cheated on her mother (and is still doing it after promising not to) but because she had idealised him when she was a child and he’s shattered that illusion. She is clever, challenging and reckless but with a great heart (she doesn’t care for rules or conventions but has no bad intentions) and her romance will bring warm memories to all readers who are still young at heart. Kate is a woman who is always at the service of others and makes big efforts to ignore what she feels she can’t cope with, even if it means living a lie. But she learns that she is stronger than she thinks and grows during the novel. She also gets to understand that her dreams of romantic love are unrealistic, and we feel optimistic for her at the end. Everett is a man who lost his way (it seems) when he left his job as a policeman. Now, to feel better about himself he’ll do almost anything, not caring what the consequences for himself and others might be, and he always puts his needs before those of the rest of his family. He does not understand his children but he loves them and tries to do what he thinks is best, within limits. JT is a wonderful character, well-drawn and realistic in terms of the behaviours he exhibits and his relationship with Kate, Jenna and the rest of the family is heart-warming and has the ring of truth.

There are many secrets, some that come from a long time back and some much more recent, and the narrative is good at revealing them slowly, even if we might strongly suspect some of them, partly because we have access to the thoughts of several the characters (as they don’t communicate with each other that well). There are also many love stories and many different kinds of love that are explored. Ultimately, love must be about more than just saying the words and looking into each other’s eyes. It isn’t something we should feel automatically entitled to; it has to be proven and worked on, as Cassey, a friend of Jenna and later Kate, explains.

The secondary characters are also interesting, mostly sympathetic (with the exception of Wells’s family, and Evelyn, who comes across as self-centered and domineering) but not drawn in as much psychological detail as the members of the family, but they are far from unidimensional. I really liked Cassey, the hospice nurse who understands all the females of the family and helps them without asking anything in return, and Phil, a good man who, like Wells, disproves Mildred’s generalisations about men. Mildred, the grandmother, can be at once annoying and endearing, but eventually, we get to understand her a bit better, even if we might not necessarily agree with her actions. I also loved the animals, especially Marco.

This is a well-written book, where plot and characterisation go hand in hand, that offers good psychological insights into the nature of family relationships and the games members of a family play with each other. It also will make readers think about what love means and will remind them of the risks of keeping secrets, not only from others but also from ourselves. The narration flows well and once you get to know the characters it’s difficult to stop reading and you feel bereft when you come to the end as they’ve become part of the family. A great read.

I couldn’t leave you without sharing a few of the sentences I highlighted.

Never break more than one law at a time.

Kate talking about JT, her son, with Asperger’s: but I focus on what JT can do, not what he can’t.

Kate again, wondering about her son’s inability to read other people’s expressions and know what they’re feeling or thinking:

Maybe it would be easier to sail through life unaware of the emotions of the people around you.

And Jenna, on one of her typical (and oh, so accurate, sorry gentlemen) pearls of wisdom (although this one she keeps to herself):

If men didn’t have penises, they’d probably be a lot smarter.

Thanks very much to the author for offering me the opportunity to review her book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!

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