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#TuesdayBookBlog AN END TO ETCETERA by B. Conklin (@rbconklin1) Believe Nothing. Doubt Everyone

Hi, all:

I bring you another great find I picked up from Rosie’s Book Review Team. You know I have a personal connection and interest in books related to mental health, and therapy, and those where the psychology of the characters plays an important role, so you’ll understand why I was immediately attracted to this one. I am not going to enter into issues of diagnosis or evaluate how accurate the book might be, as my experience with young patients is very limited, and I’ve never worked as a therapist, but I can tell you that this is pretty impressive. And some.

An End to Etcetera by B. Robert Conklin

An End to Etcetera by B. Conklin

A boy. A shadow. A murder.

Or not?


Pathological liar? Sociopathic killer? Or just a troubled kid seeking attention? These are the questions that haunt therapist Selena Harris as she undertakes the most challenging case of her career.

Sitting on a couch two feet across from her is an ordinary-looking teenager who confessed in a text, inadvertently broadcast to his entire school, to murdering an autistic child left in his care. With no evidence to support Leal Porter’s testimony, authorities have referred him to Selena for counseling.

Challenging her professional distance is the emotional bond she develops with this lonely, isolated boy, whom classmates describe as “that scrawny kid who talks to himself at his locker.” Although Selena believes the alleged victim is the product of her client’s fevered imagination, she harbors one major doubt:

What if she’s wrong?

Selena can relate to Leal’s feeling of isolation, especially as she has returned to her small hometown on the heels of a divorce to take care of her father, who has suffered a debilitating stroke. In Leal’s case, however, he’s a school outcast due to his predisposition to tell tall tales to worm his way out of trouble.

Stepping outside the confines of her office in a quest for clues, Selena is determined to separate fact from fiction. But nothing in her experience prepares her for the harrowing revelation of the inner demon that lurks beneath the surface of Leal’s confession.

Katherine Burkman, author of April Cruel, writes: “What is fascinating about An End to Etcetera is the nature of the relationship between a psychologist and her thirteen-year-old patient. As a whodunit, we are not sure of what has been done or who is responsible, as we watch both patient and therapist evolve. Extremely well-written, the suspense involves more than that in your usual mystery, since it is the mystery of life itself. The writing pulls you in and won’t let you go.”

Author B. Robert Conklin

About the author:

B. Robert Conklin (he/him/his) lives, writes, and works, not necessarily in this order, in Columbus, Ohio, where he helps his spouse nurture the creativity of their three Gen-Z kids, who seem determined to take less-traveled paths of their own. In his leisure time, he takes nature walks with his family’s two ferrets and practices the craft of cartooning.

His credits include stories in Blue Moon Literary & Art Review, THAT Literary Review, and Kestrel, with another accepted for publication in The Strong Stuff: The Best of Fictional Café, Volume II. With a teaching background in composition and literature, he has also co-authored a college textbook to help emerging writers connect with their world.

His day job involves developing e-learning modules and hosting internationally attended webinars on the topic of nondestructive testing—a profession geared to keeping airplanes from crashing, bridges from collapsing, and nuclear reactors from imploding.

Visit him on Twitter @rbconklin1 or at brobertconklin.wordpress.com

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

The author has published stories before, and not only that, but he has studied and taught writing, and although this is my first contact with his work, his level of expertise is evident in all aspects of this novel: plot, characterisation, style…

The description provides enough clues as to the general plot, and in order to avoid spoilers, I will try not to elaborate too much on that aspect of the book. This psychological thriller (for lack of a better categorisation) digs deep into the mind of its characters, and it has a way of grabbing readers’ attention and making us question everything we read and our own minds.

This is a book beautifully constructed. The story is narrated in third-person, from alternating points of view, those of Selena, the therapist (a child and adolescent psychologist), and of one of her patients, Leal, although there are many extras and the story is anything but straight-forward, both in the plot and the way it is told. The writing is beautifully descriptive, and a lot of the novel is taken up by lengthy descriptions of the therapy sessions between the two main characters. Those, though, as Selena notes, consist of Leal narrating a story. This might (or not) be the story of what happened, and what landed him in trouble at school. Nobody seems to believe his version of events, and he insists on narrating that story in chronological order, in maddening detail, despite any attempts made by Selena at changing the pace, bringing up other issues, and trying to complete her report for the school in a timely manner. Selena, who has plenty of insight into what her behaviour should be like and into the need to keep professional boundaries with her patients, starts to pursue other avenues of information, to try to corroborate or disprove the account Leal is offering her. Her efforts keep being thwarted. Some of the people who appear in the boy’s story are no longer there, others are never available or have their own agendas and won’t cooperate fully, and her personal life (especially her pregnancy and her father’s illness) intrudes as well. After all, she has just moved back to live with her father in the small town where she was born, she is going through a divorce, and this pregnancy came quite unexpectedly after some painful losses. The more we read, the more we question everything, sometimes agreeing with the therapist, sometimes wondering about her own mental state.

There are clues and things that might make readers uneasy and raise doubts, and although this is not a standard mystery, readers need to keep their wits about them. Selena keeps sending e-mails to a mentor/lover and perhaps more, with details of the case, in an attempt at supervision. We get access to dreams, a deep mindfulness session with Leal that might uncover things even he is not aware of, and we can’t help but wonder how a boy so young could be as articulate as he is at times. Selena starts going beyond being a detective of the mind (soul, even) and starts digging too deep into matters, putting herself in situations that might not only be unethical but also truly dangerous.

There are plenty of secrets and half-truths in the story, with characters such as Thuster (who might or might not be only a shadow embodying the darkness inside Leal and all of us), a mother who has something to hide, a couple with a strained relationship, a woman who cannot let go of her relationships, a brother who refuses to grow, a disappeared priest, an artist with a peculiar painting style, women with tattoos, mannequins, guns, drownings, non-conventional families, therapists enmeshed in their therapies… The word “leal” means “loyal” in Spanish, and indeed, trust and loyalty are at the heart of the story.

Those of you who love unreliable narrators (as I do) will have a field day with this story. As per the ending… It is one of those endings that makes you reconsider the whole of the novel you have just read. I found it both, satisfying and disturbing. Disturbing because the ending of this novel, which keeps you guessing and second-guessing yourself all the time, does not disappoint in that aspect either. Satisfying because you do get answers to all your questions, although are those “the right” answers? As is the case with the best novels, this one will keep you thinking long after you have turned the last page.

A sample of the writing:

For those of you who might be intrigued by the title, it comes from a conversation between the therapist and Leal’s mother:

She said she just wants it to end —the etcetera.

The etcetera? I asked her what she meant.

You’ll find out soon enough, she told me. With Leal, there’s always one more thing—one damned thing after another to worry about.

Here, Selena is e-mailing her mentor and supervisor, telling him what the experience of her sessions with Leal is like.

And yet, all the while, I have the feeling there is more going on inside his head than is coming across verbally. His focus is perpetually inward. It’s as though there is a feature-length movie unfolding in his imagination, complete with dialogue, pans and zooms, soundstages—who knows, even CGI—and I am like a hungry dog, grateful for tidbits, leftovers, thrown from a table holding a smorgasbord out of my reach.

An example of the type of descriptive writing I so liked:

The wind died away and the surface of the lake became very calm, as still as green glass. She sat by the shore, hands on her stomach, feeling the movements within coming more and more strongly now, so she knew it wouldn’t be long. The farther shore of the lake became a distant world, foreign and invisible, shrouded in mist, and the stars of the night sky opened like holes puncturing the canvas of a wide purple umbrella.

I recommend this book to those who love beautiful writing, mind games, stories that make you dig deep into the psychology of the characters, especially if you don’t expect lots of action and a fast pace. Some of the topics that come up in the story might be disturbing (there is domestic violence, and some violent scenes, although not too explicit or extreme) but this is a novel more disturbing by what it makes us think of than what it actually says. You have been warned.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for the support, thanks to the author for his novel, and thanks to all of you for reading. Remember to share with anybody you think might enjoy it, and keep smiling!

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#TuesdayBookBlog The Necromancer’s Daughter by D. Wallace Peach (@Dwallacepeach) A dark fairy-tale with complex characters. And dragon #Fantasy

Hi, all:

I bring you a review of a fantasy novel. As you know, I don’t read many books in this genre, but after reading Teagan Geneviene’s fabulous serial Dead of Winter, and after seeing this novel featured on many blogs, I had to give it a go. And I’m so pleased I did.

The Necromancer’s Daughter by D. Wallace Peach

The Necromancer’s Daughter by D. Wallace Peach

A healer with the talent to unravel death. A stillborn child brought to life. A father lusting for vengeance. And a son torn between justice, faith, and love. Caught in a chase spanning kingdoms, each must decide the nature of good and evil, the lengths they will go to survive, and what they are willing to lose.

A healer and dabbler in the dark arts of life and death, Barus is as gnarled as an ancient tree. Forgotten in the chaos of the dying queen’s chamber, he spirits away her stillborn infant and in a hovel at the meadow’s edge, breathes life into the wisp of a child. He names her Aster for the lea’s white flowers. Raised as his daughter, she, too, learns to heal death.

Denied a living heir, the widowed king spies from a distance. But he heeds the claims of the fiery Vicar of the Red Order—in the eyes of the Blessed One, Aster is an abomination, and to embrace the evil of resurrection will doom his rule.

As the king’s life nears its end, he defies the vicar’s warning and summons the necromancer’s daughter. For his boldness, he falls to an assassin’s blade. Armed with righteousness and iron-clad conviction, the Order’s brothers ride into the leas to cleanse the land of evil.

To save her father’s life, Aster leads them beyond Verdane’s wall into the Forest of Silvern Cats, a wilderness of dragons and barbarian tribes. Unprepared for a world rife with danger and unchecked power, a world divided by those who practice magic and those who hunt them, she must choose whether to trust the one man offering her aid, the one man most likely to betray her—her enemy’s son.

~*~

From best-selling fantasy author D. Wallace Peach comes a retelling of the legend of Kwan-yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy. Set in a winter world of dragons, intrigue, and magic, The Necromancer’s Daughter is a story about duty, defiance, cruelty, and sacrifice— an epic tale of compassion and deep abiding love where good and evil aren’t what they seem.

Author D. Wallace Peach

About the author:

A long-time reader, best-selling author D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life when years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books. She was instantly hooked.

In addition to fantasy books, Peach’s publishing career includes participation in various anthologies featuring short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. She’s an avid supporter of the arts in her local community, organizing and publishing annual anthologies of Oregon prose, poetry, and photography.

Peach lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.

For book descriptions, excerpts, maps, and behind the scenes info, please visit

http://dwallacepeachbooks.com

For her blog on all things writing, please visit http://mythsofthemirror.com

Ready for an adventure?

The Ferryman and the Sea Witch; The Sorcerer’s Garden; Sunwielder; The Bone Wall; The Melding of Aeris; Unraveling the Veil Series: Liars and Thieves, Allies and Spies, Lords of Chaos; The Shattered Sea Duology: Soul Swallowers, Book I, Legacy of Souls, Book II; The Rose Shield Tetralogy: Catling’s Bane, Book I, Oathbreakers’ Guild, Book II, Farlanders’ Law, Book III, Kari’s Reckoning, Book IV; The Dragon Soul Saga: Myths of the Mirror, Book I, Eye of Fire, Book II, Eye of Blind, Book III, Eye of Fire, Book IV; Grumpy Ana and the Grouchy Monsters: A Children’s Space Tale.

My review:

I have read many great reviews of Wallace Peach’s novels, and although the genre wasn’t one of my favourites, I was intrigued by this one, partly because of the description, and partly because I read an interview with the author where she shared how she came to write this story. She was challenged to write a story where one of the protagonists wasn’t attractive and handsome but was beautiful inside, truly good with a heart of gold. A sample of the book nailed the deal, and I am very happy I decided to read it because this novel is as good as everybody said.

Although I don’t consider myself a fan of fantasy, I have always loved fairy tales, and the story of Aster and Barus has something of the fairy tale, a fairly dark one at times. (We all know some fairy tales are incredibly cruel and dark). Death, necromancy, people coming back from death, poisons, religious fanaticism, wars, destruction, intolerance, lies, threats, betrayals, persecutions… At the end of the book, the author explains how the story relates to the legend of Kwan-yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, and though there are similarities, this is an original revisiting of the legend, with many distinct characteristics.

Both Barus and Aster are fascinating characters. They both have to fight against terrible odds to pursue their calling of being healers, of the living and sometimes even of the dead: Barus, because he is severely handicapped by his poor health and his contorted body; Aster, because she was born a princess but also dead, and she is seen as an abomination by the members of a religious order with plenty of power in her kingdom, the Red Order. She does not want to be queen or to exercise her birthright, but that seems to be the only way she can help her father. If you imagine things won’t go according to plan, you will be right.

Aster isn’t the only one who finds herself in a bind that gets more and more entangled the more she tries to free herself from it. One of the male characters she meets, Joreh, is trapped between his loyalty to his father (the Vicar of the order), his faith in the Goddess, and his strong feelings for Aster. His attitude and beliefs change over time, and he is, perhaps, the character who evolves the most in the story. I liked those characters, and many more, in particular, Teko, who brings a light and fun touch to the novel. That does not mean everybody is good in the novel. The Red Order, and the Vicar in particular, have few redeeming qualities (if any), and there are others who are somewhat ambiguous and that helps to make them more realistic.

Those who, like me, aren’t too fond of lengthy backstories and complex and detailed world-building which slows down the story, don’t need to worry. There are beautiful descriptions of places and beings (yes, dragons among others), but those are always narrated (in the third person) from the point of view of one of the main characters and are relevant to the story. The author is excellent at providing us with information about the world order and the people in it in small doses as the story advances, without overwhelming us or causing confusion.

A couple of random quotes will give you a taster of the quality of the writing:

A salty breeze raised a lacy froth on the waves’ tips, and giant swells rolled into a tapered cleft, thundering when they crashed against unforgiving walls. The day’s golden light hid behind a sheath of clouds, and mist billowed with the icy breath of the coming winter.

“No sense scaring anyone with stories that aren’t true when there’s enough true ones to make a person think twice.”

The snowfall had dwindled, but not the wind. Silver-rimmed clouds scudded across a gibbous moon, and the frigid night kissed his cheeks like a ghostly lover, enveloping him in her icy arms.

There are plenty of adventures, and action scenes, alternating with more contemplative moments, and some truly emotional events, and although I was sorry to get to the final page of the story, I found the ending satisfying. In an ideal world, I would love to learn more about Aster’s mother and also about some of the other female characters who only make brief appearances in this novel (much of the story is about Aster’s quest to find her “father”, Barus, and she is mostly surrounded by men), and I would also like to know more about the connection between Aster (and other blood members of her family) and the dragons. I am sure the author has plenty of ideas to work on already, but just in case she is ever stuck, I leave my suggestions there. Perhaps a prequel?

There is violence, death (including the death of children), and some of the content can be disturbing, but if the topic and the description don’t cause concern, I don’t hesitate in recommending the story not only to those who love fantasy, but also to readers of adventure stories who don’t mind a touch of fancy, the supernatural, and who appreciate dark fairy-tales, with psychologically complex characters and superb writing. Another author I will keep a close eye on in the future.

Thanks to the author for this novel, thanks to numerous bloggers for recommending it, thanks to all of you for reading this, and remember to like, comment, and share it with anybody who might enjoy it. Oh, and of course, keep smiling and taking care of yourselves.

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#TuesdayBookBlog #Exiles by Jane Harper (@janeharperautho) (@panmacmillan) #Netgalley Aaron Falk comes full circle

Hi all:

I bring you the latest novel by Jane Harper, who is one of my favourite novelists in recent years, and one of a group of Australian writers (she is originally from Manchester, in the UK) whose publications I always celebrate. This is the last novel of Aaron Falk, her most famous character, and although I prefer some of her other novels, it is a great read. I must confess that I identified with some of the conversations and the decisions a couple of the characters are faced with, and I think after the strange years we have survived, quite a few people might feel the same.

The book will be published on the 2nd of February 2023, and you can preorder it already.

Exiles by Jane Harper

Exiles by Jane Harper

FROM NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AND AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR JANE HARPER COMES EXILES, A CAPTIVATING MYSTERY ABOUT A MISSING MOTHER

“Once again Harper proves that she is peerless in creating an avalanche of suspense with intimate, character-driven set pieces…Harper’s legions of fans will exult in reading Exiles.”
—David Baldacci, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Federal Investigator Aaron Falk is on his way to a small town deep in Southern Australian wine country for the christening of an old friend’s baby. But mystery follows him, even on vacation.

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of Kim Gillespie’s disappearance. One year ago, at a busy town festival on a warm spring night, Kim safely tucked her sleeping baby into her stroller, then vanished into the crowd. No one has seen her since. When Kim’s older daughter makes a plea for anyone with information about her missing mom to come forward, Falk and his old buddy Raco can’t leave the case alone.

As Falk soaks up life in the lush valley, he is welcomed into the tight-knit circle of Kim’s friends and loved ones. But the group may be more fractured than it seems. Between Falk’s closest friend, the missing mother, and a woman he’s drawn to, dark questions linger as long-ago truths begin to emerge. What would make a mother abandon her child? What happened to Kim Gillespie?

Author Jane Harper

About the author:

Jane Harper is the author of The Dry, winner of various awards including the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, the 2017 Indie Award Book of the Year, the 2017 Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year Award and the CWA Gold Dagger Award for the best crime novel of 2017. Rights have been sold in 27 territories worldwide, and film rights optioned to Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea. Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK and lives in Melbourne.

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Pan Macmillan for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

This is the fifth of Jane Harper’s novels I read, and it is the third one whose protagonist is Federal Investigator (AFP Officer) Aaron Falk. This time, the story is set in Southern Australia, in the fictional Marralee Valley, a wine-producing region. The author’s stories —mysterious crimes set in Australia— have gained the accolade of “outback noir”, and it feels right, although they share much in common with domestic noir, even when the setting tends to rely heavily on the landscapes and peculiarities of Australian towns, especially small towns, and nature. The action builds up slowly; there is a lot of attention paid to family and close relationships, to the psychology of the characters, and to the way the crime (or crimes) interact with the setting; and rather than being heavy on the procedural part of the investigation, the stories tend to focus on uncovering the truth by unveiling the personal stories of those involved and testing the different versions of what happened. For those who worry about explicit violence and gore, you can rest assured. There are some creepy and tense moments, and we come to the realisation that not all the characters are as benign as they seem to be, but that is all. And the story is complete in itself and it is not necessary to have read the two previous novels starring Falk to follow it, although those who have will be able to better appreciate the full arc of his story and how he has evolved.

I hadn’t read much about the story beforehand, but it still felt like a final adventure for Falk from early on, and not only because he is joined by some of the characters he met in The Dry, which were favourites of mine. There is a beautiful symmetry in the way the story works out. In The Dry, the first of the three stories Harper has published about Falk, he goes back to the little town where he grew up, to attend the funeral of a friend. In this one, he goes to a small town to not only attend the christening but also become godfather to Greg Raco’s son, a recent friend he met in the first novel and with whom he investigated that case. He is welcomed into Raco’s family and the town, and although he had never visited before, it feels like a homecoming for him.

There are two crimes in this novel, both old (and more or less cold) cases. One is the case of Kim, a woman who went missing the previous year at the local wine fair, and whose disappearance resulted in the cancellation of the christening of Raco’s boy (because this is a book about second chances as well). Even though he didn’t know the woman, Falk became a witness in the case, because Kim happened to be the long-term on-and-off partner of Raco’s brother, Charlie, with whom she shared an adolescent daughter, Zara, who lived with her father in the vineyard. Kim had moved away, married again, and was now also the mother of a little girl. Although most people suspected she had committed suicide, all her friends were surprised that she would have abandoned her daughter, leaving her alone and unattended in her pram at the fair.

The other case was a hit-and-run incident that had taken place in the same area six years previously, in which a man who worked in the office next door to the missing woman, had been killed. Are the two cases related? Zara and the missing man’s son, Joel, think so and are determined to find the truth out. Falk finds himself involved in both cases, in the lives of his friends and the people of the town, and starts questioning many things about his work, his priorities, and his own future.

Among the themes, I have mentioned families, difficult and even abusive relationships, childhood and long-term friendships and how they evolve through the years, small-town life, professional and personal choices, what would we do to uncover the truth and to protect our children, and there is a romance as well, one that I enjoyed precisely because it was a bit unusual but I felt it suited the characters involved perfectly well.

The story is slow and reposed, and it meanders through the events that are happening while the christening and the fair are being organised, as we follow Falk’s thoughts, reflections, and his nagging sensation that he is missing something. There is something quite bucolic about the rhythm and the development of the story, although I didn’t feel the setting was as well achieved and as realistically rendered as in the two other stories (The Dry and Force of Nature), perhaps because Falk is seeing things from a different perspective and he is not the same person and is not in the same place as he was before. There is also something idealised about the way the place is depicted, and although there are some disturbing elements and characters, “noir” is a bit of a stretch for the way the story develops.

The story is narrated in the third person, mostly from Falk’s point of view. There is a change in point of view towards the end of the story that turns things on their head, but I don’t want to reveal too much or spoil the story for those reading it, so I’ll leave you to check it out. It is an interesting choice on the part of the author, and I suspect some readers won’t like it. It adds some depth to the story, although it might be frustrating for those looking for a standard mystery. I personally enjoyed the ending (endings, as Falk, eventually solves both cases), even though I agree with comments that say it seems to come on quite suddenly compared to the rhythm of the rest of the novel.

I am happy to recommend all the novels Harper has published to date. They are beautifully written, and she creates intriguing plots and credible characters (some we love, and some we don’t). Despite the mystery elements, these books are not high-octane, fast-paced, action-packed, and anxiety-inducing thrillers. They are reflective and take their time to set the story and introduce the characters and their conflicts. Although this is not my favourite, I feel it works well as the last call for Falk; it provides a suitable and happy closure for the character, and I strongly recommend it to those who have read the two previous novels. Oh, and I learned that the second Falk novel has also been adapted to the big screen. I look forward to it, as I enjoyed the excellent adaptation of The Dry, and Eric Bana is an actor I’m always happy to watch.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author, for her novel, thanks to all of your for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and always keep smiling.

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#TuesdayBookBlog THE THIN BLUE-YELLOW LINE BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE: A WAR DIARY FROM UKRAINE by Anton Eine (@AntonEine) , Simon Geoghegan (Translator) #RBRT #Ukraine

Hi, all:

I bring you a book that needs no introduction. Not a book I’ll ever forget. Thanks to Rosie and her team for the support.


The Thin Blue-Yellow Line by Anton Eine

The Thin Blue-Yellow Line. Between Love and Hate by Anton Eire (trans.) Simon Geoghegan

A diary chronicling the hopes, pain and fears of ordinary Ukrainians collected during the current war. Frank, emotional and straight from the heart.

This book is about the first 100 days of fascist Russia’s perfidious and unfounded invasion of Ukraine. But it is not an account of the war and its battlefield engagements. It’s about people. About their feelings and emotions, their experiences, fears and pain, their suffering, hope and love.

I started writing this book one sleepless night in Kyiv when I had been kept awake all night by the roar of our aerial defense system and explosions nearby, listening out for approaching rockets and bombs and wondering whether I should take my wife and young son and run for the air-raid shelter. That night, I realized that I had a duty as a writer to act as a voice for those whose stories desperately needed to be told to other people in the world.

I wrote about what I saw and felt. About the stories, my relatives and friends shared with me. It became a chronicle, memoir, diary and confession. I set down our stories so that the whole world might know and understand what we have been through. So that the whole world might share our experiences of this war alongside us – in our trembling buildings, in our freezing cold basements, underground parking lots, bomb shelters and metro stations and in the ruins of our burning cities. So that the world might be given a glimpse into our hearts through the lacerated wounds that have been inflicted on them by this cruel and barbaric war.

Author Anton Eine

About the author:

Anton Eine is modern sci-fi and techno-fantasy author from Kyiv, Ukraine.

He has published ‘I, Jesus, Rock Star’ novel, techno-fantasy cycle “Programagic”, Sci-Fi short stories collection “Human Kind” and superhero series “Maze City Stories”.

After building his successful carrier in marketing, he decided to let his creativity write fantastic fiction books to actualize numerous ideas he had in his mind for years.

Anton is passionate about food (and some drinks of course!), photography, animals (especially wild cats), and rock music. He likes embedding his hobbies into the fantastic canvas of his writings and to share that passion with his readers.

Anton Eine officially can’t stand any limits and boundaries, so his books usually step out of the box of traditional genres, crossing the edges of conventional storytelling and blurring the borders of common thinking.

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

This non-fiction book (it might seem incredible and over a year ago we wouldn’t have imagined it could happen, but this is not a fictional dystopian story) is one of the most difficult books to review I’ve come across. The author explains how difficult it was for him to write. He is a writer of science-fiction and techno-fantasy, and he hadn’t planned to write a non-fiction book. In fact, he was supposed to be working on several of his fiction books, including one that he has been working on for many years when events took an unexpected turn. We have all lived through events that seem to have come right out of a horror book in recent times, but for the people of Ukraine, things got even weirder and more dangerous on the 24th of February 2022.

Anton Eine felt he had to write about what was happening, and make sure that people all over the world could get a first-hand account and hear the stories of the people who were living through the nightmare of the war. An author who speaks and writes in Russian, who lives in Kyiv, and who shares his experience of all the gamut of emotions throughout the first 100 days of the war. I’m writing this review when the war has passed the mark of 300 days, and what can one say? If we had a hard time believing it when it started, what can we say almost a year later?

This is a raw book, where the author bares his soul and shares his thoughts and feelings. It is painful, it is ugly at times (if you don’t like name-calling, dehumanising others no matter what they do [although he would counter that the ones doing the dehumanisation are the enemies], and people freely expressing their anger, do not attempt to read this book). The author explains that he decided to write the book as things were happening and capture the impressions and feelings, rather than letting them cool down and being rational about it because that is not what it was about. He didn’t attempt an analysis of the situation, and he does not talk about military campaigns. He feels that kind of books should be written by others. What he wants is to share the stories of many who might never be inclined to share them outside of their own circle of friends and relatives, and also his own.

This is not a straightforward collection of stories. This is the story of the writing of the book as well, of the circumstances of writing it; trying to be in touch with relatives and friends displaced by the war, fighting, volunteering, or missing; worrying for his wife and young son; trying to decide how to explain what is happening to a three-year-old; wondering if they should have left, as they did, or stayed in the city. Of jumping out of bed with the alarms; getting sidetracked by a song, an update, an intercepted message between a Russian soldier and his wife, a show of solidarity, the result of a poll revealing what Russians think about the war, a request for material from his brother, who has joined the Territorial Army, accounts of destruction, cruelty, and massacres…

Eine writes poems, refers to favourite songs, singers and groups, books, and stories. (I must confess I am not a big reader of fantasy or science-fiction and was only familiar with some of the musical references. I don’t think our tastes are too similar, but that is neither here nor there). The book follows a more or less chronological order, although sometimes the author might backtrack to talk about a memory or an episode that he couldn’t include as it happened. Eine mentions the Kübler-Ross model, the one we associate with the five stages of grief, and there are some similarities he acknowledges at times. He cannot believe what is happening at first, especially in XXI Century Europe (although, of course, not that much time has passed since WWII, which he often refers to, and many other wars had taken place since, some in Europe as well), and this quickly becomes anger, an anger that doesn’t go anywhere, although there is some modulation and questioning at times.

I think many of us have learned more about Ukraine since the war started than we ever knew before, but that still is pretty limited in most cases. We get the news here, sometimes live connections with people in situ, but many of the things mentioned in the book haven’t reached us here, at least in Spain where I am. What we hear is more than enough to horrify us, but the stories the author shares make it all more vivid and more difficult to look away from. They highlight the fear, the confusion, the not knowing what to do for the best. Whatever the protagonists of the different stories decided to do (stay, leave the country, join other members of the family, enlist, hide, volunteer to help…), they are always wondering if it was the right thing, if they should have done something else. The ones who were (or have been, so far) lucky, keep thinking about those who weren’t. There are many stories of women running away with their young children, sometimes ill and in dire need of help, having to face terrible ordeals, and luckily, in many cases, eventually finding help and kindness, in their own country or a neighbouring one. Those stories are a drop in the ocean if we think of the number of refugees from the war, and as Eine explains, many people don’t want to talk about it, at least at the moment, and are trying to forget and get on with their lives as much as they possibly can, but they do paint a horrific picture of what it must be like for many people in that situation.

After the stories, and when the book reaches day 100 of the war, the author renders an homage to just a few of the many heroes, men and women, young and old, who have put the lives of others before their own survival, and who have gone above and beyond what most people would expect, as the writer says, not out of patriotism, but out of love for humankind. As the author concludes, “We are all Ukraine”.

The proceeds of the book will go to help Ukrainians in need, and the author also has other suggestions, for those who want to do more, as to how to help.

This is not a book I would recommend freely to everybody, because people know what their limits are when it comes to reading, especially non-fiction, and I cannot even think of trying to list all the warnings (probably anything bad you can think about, you’ll find here). On the other hand, even if you don’t feel up to reading it at the moment, you might know of somebody who wants to read personal accounts or even people who would be happy to buy the book simply as a way to help the people of Ukraine. Do your best. Spread the word.

Thanks to the author for providing us with this account, especially in such difficult circumstances, and I hope he and his family remain safe and his country’s nightmare comes to an end very soon. Even after reading the book, it is still difficult to fully comprehend what it must be like.

Thanks to all of you for reading, and if there is anything you can do to share, please do.

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Book reviews TuesdayBookBlog

#TuesdayBookBlog HUNTING TIME (A Colter Shaw Novel Book 4) by Jeffery Deaver (@JefferyDeaver) (@HarperCollinsUK) Hunter or hunted? A question with no easy answer in Deaver’s excellent new novel

Hi all:

I bring you the review of a book by a well-known author, where I managed to catch up with one of his series.

Hunting Time by Jeffery Deaver

Hunting Time (A Colter Shaw Novel Book 4) by Jeffery Deaver

The New York Times bestselling master of suspense is back with a riveting thriller, as reward seeker Colter Shaw plunges into the woods and races the clock in a case where nothing is quite what it seems.

THERE ARE TWO FUNDAMENTAL RULES OF SURVIVAL.
#1: NEVER BE WITHOUT A MEANS OF ESCAPE.
    Allison Parker is on the run with her teenage daughter, Hannah, and Colter Shaw has been hired by her eccentric boss, entrepreneur Marty Harmon, to find and protect her. Though he’s an expert at tracking missing persons—even those who don’t wish to be found—Shaw has met his match in Allison, who brings all her skills as a brilliant engineer designing revolutionary technology to the game of evading detection.
 
#2: NEVER BE WITHOUT ACCESS TO A WEAPON.
    The reason for Allison’s panicked flight is soon apparent. She’s being stalked by her ex-husband, Jon Merritt. Newly released from prison and fueled by blinding rage, Jon is a man whose former profession as a police detective makes him uniquely suited for the hunt. And he’s not alone. Two hitmen are also hot on her heels—an eerie pair of thugs who take delight not only in murder but in the sport of devising clever ways to make bodies disappear forever. Even if Shaw manages to catch up with Allison and her daughter, his troubles will just be beginning.

SHAW IS ABOUT TO DISCOVER RULE #3:
NEVER BELIEVE ANYTHING.
    As Shaw ventures further into the wilderness, the truth becomes as hard to decipher as the forest’s unmarked trails…and peril awaits at every turn.

Author Jeffery Deaver

About the author:

Jeffery Deaver is an international number-one bestselling author. His novels have appeared on bestseller lists around the world. His books are sold in 150 countries and translated into over twenty-five languages. He has served two terms as president of Mystery Writers of America, and was recently named a Grand Master of MWA, whose ranks include Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Mary Higgins Clark and Walter Mosely.

The author of over forty novels, three collections of short stories and a nonfiction law book, and a lyricist of a country-western album, he’s received or been shortlisted for dozens of awards. His “The Bodies Left Behind” was named Novel of the Year by the International Thriller Writers association, and his Lincoln Rhyme thriller “The Broken Window” and a stand-alone, “Edge,” were also nominated for that prize. “The Garden of Beasts” won the Steel Dagger from the Crime Writers Association in England. He’s also been nominated for eight Edgar Awards by the MWA.

Deaver has been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, the Strand Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Raymond Chandler Lifetime Achievement Award in Italy.

His book “A Maiden’s Grave” was made into an HBO movie starring James Garner and Marlee Matlin, and his novel “The Bone Collector” was a feature release from Universal Pictures, starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Lifetime aired an adaptation of his “The Devil’s Teardrop.” NBC television recently aired the nine-episode prime-time series, “Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector.”

You can find out more about Jeffery on his website www.jefferydeaver.com

 Facebook page http://facebook.com/JefferyDeaver

and follow him on Twitter @JefferyDeaver.

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Harper Collins UK for providing me with an early ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I read The Never Game, Deaver’s first novel in the Colter Shaw series, some time back. That was my first experience reading Deaver, and when I was invited to read this novel, I thought it would be interesting to see how things had evolved, as I had not read the two titles in between.

This novel is quite similar, in some ways, to the previous one I had read, although with some notable differences. One of my main queries (the only important one) after reading the previous novel was about a certain sense of disconnect with the protagonist, who makes his living by collecting rewards for solving all kinds of cases (this novel starts with him trying to trace and recover an important part of a miniature and fairly portable nuclear power station, but it soon becomes a case of protecting and finding two missing people, a mother and daughter on the run), has a fascinating past (he was brought up by survivalist parents, especially his father), and demonstrates an amazing set of skills. Things have moved on since then, though, and Shaw, who had many matters pending at the time, some very personal, is now in a different place, has connected with his family, has set many things to rest, and despite his professionalism and his dedication to duty, there is more of the human being surfacing at times. I enjoyed that, particularly the relationship teacher/student (father/daughter?) that develops between him and Hannah towards the end of the book. There are some evident parallels between him and the girl’s father (they seem like mirror images of each other at times) that make the final part of the story shine brighter. Beyond Shaw’s cool façade, it is evident that he cares, and that made him, at least for me, much more interesting from a psychological point of view.

I don’t think readers who haven’t read the rest of the books in the series need to worry if they grab this one first. I am intrigued by what happened in between, but despite some brief references to it in the book, the details are not revealed, don’t encroach on the current story, and those who want to go back and read the rest won’t have to regret any spoilers (not important ones). We share in Shaw’s memories sometimes (and some of the other characters as well), but these are punctual episodes and only help round up the character and his skills, while giving us clues as to his upbringing. The cases do not follow on from another novel; we jump into the action as one of the cases is solved and the other one develops soon after, and we are given enough information to follow the events, although, as you might imagine in this kind of books, things aren’t always exactly as they seem to be.

The story is narrated in the third person, and although we follow Shaw’s point of view for a lot of the story, we also get to see things from the perspective of Allison, the mother being hunted, those chasing after them, other investigators involved in the case, and some characters who play smaller (but still important) parts. I recommend keeping your wits about you as you read this novel, because no detail is too small, and Deaver is very clever in what he chooses to show us, and where he chooses to interrupt a memory or end a chapter. Do not assume you know what has happened, because he knows how to turn things around.

Some readers complained that the beginning is slow and that there is too much detail about the miniature nuclear power station (they call them ‘Pocket Suns’, and I liked the name), but I did find it fascinating, especially at a time when nuclear energy has become more of a controversial subject than ever. The story offers an interesting angle on the matter, as it does on leaks of state secrets, and irrespective of what one’s opinion might be, reflecting on such topics is always important. Domestic violence and alcoholism also play a part, as do betrayal, corruption, guilt, lies, family ties, social media… I think by the end of the novel most people will have wondered what they would have done faced with the protagonists’ choices and many might be surprised by the answers. I am still pondering some of the ethical issues the novel raises, and I appreciate the non-judgemental attitude of Shaw. I wish many more people were that open-minded.

The main characters are well-drawn, and I liked the dynamics between mother and daughter, which felt true. There are some other characters that play smaller parts, but all of them have something that makes them interesting (or most of them), and I was also quite intrigued by the peculiar duo of the two hired hands in pursuit of Allison and Hannah. Deaver knows how to drop little hints, introduce habits, refer to gestures, or even verbal ticks, to make the characters come to life and make us feel as if we were watching a movie. Everything has a reason and nothing is left unexplained, one of the author’s trademarks.

I have already said I didn’t mind the slower beginning, but it is true that the novel picks up pace as it moves along, and the last third of it (there are four parts, but the last two feel much shorter than the others) packs a lot of action in. And a major plot twist (well, two, or even three). You might have been reading the story leisurely, but then it becomes a fast page-turner, and you can’t blink for fear of missing an important plot point. Moral ambiguities aside, I really enjoyed the ending.

This is another book Deaver fans shouldn’t miss, especially those who have been following the Colter Shaw’s series. Those who haven’t and enjoy reading adventure thrillers with strong and skilled protagonists (MacGyver is mentioned and with good reason), and well-plotted novels full of twists, red herrings, and several surprises, shouldn’t hesitate to read it. You do not need to have read the rest of the books to enjoy this one, and I get the feeling there will be many more to follow.

Thanks to NetGalley, Harper Collins UK, and the author, for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share with anybody who might enjoy it, click, comment, and always, keep smiling. Oh, and Happy 2023!

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Book reviews

#Bookreview Baking Bad: Notes from My Diary by John Dolan (@JohnDolanAuthor) Brief, extremely dark humour and the opposite of a morality play

Hi, all:

For those of you who are looking for something different, non-seasonal, brief, and who appreciate an extremely dark sense of humour, I recommend this short read by John Dolan. But be warned. It isn’t for everyone.

Baking Bad: Notes From My Diary by John Dolan

Baking Bad: Notes from My Diary by John Dolan

“I need to spend some time reburying in the garden. Next door’s dog has dug up a foot.”

Thus begins a surreal journal the like of which (if you’re lucky) you have never encountered before.
Author John Dolan’s unnamed diarist plumbs the depths of black comedy in a way that might make your hair stand on end. Not recommended for the PC-aware or those with a weak stomach.
Contains helpful tips on cooking and on murdering people.
https://www.amazon.com/Baking-Bad-Notes-My-Diary-ebook/dp/B089R7BH7S/

Author John Dolan

About the author:

“Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants.”

John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.

He is the author of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ mystery series and the ‘Children of Karma’ mystery trilogy.

My review:

I am a fan of John Dolan, and he is one of the few authors who can make me read genres I don’t usually read, and whom I trust implicitly. That doesn’t mean he cannot surprise me. Quite the opposite. His sense of humour can be very dark and sharp, and he (and his characters) know how to keep a poker face, which means that sometimes one doesn’t quite know when he (and they) are being serious. But mistaking their statements for jokes when they are told in earnest can be dangerous.

I love his two mystery series set in Thailand, his most recent novel (Land of Red Mist), but this book is one that has more in common with some of his shorter and darkly humorous writings, like Fun with Dick, The Ortford English Dictionary, or Jim Fosse’s Expense Claim.

As I did when I reviewed the Dictionary, I must warn readers that this is not a book for people looking for an easy and gentle read, and if taken too seriously, it is bound to offend most readers.

This is a very short book, and it takes the form of the diary notes of a character who is a bit peculiar. He likes to bake, but let’s say that he uses some unusual ingredients. (Don’t miss the recipes!) He is not terribly fond of pets, and although he claims to be looking for love, his methods are not the best. And his family…

He works at a laboratory specialised in animal testing, and to give you a taster of what this short read is like, this is what he says about it:

“Today marks my third anniversary of working at the lab. I believe I have found my vocation among the dead, the dying and the tortured.”

I found it extremely funny, but it is one of those books that as you read it you’re both, laughing and horrified at the kind of things that are making you laugh. You are thankful you haven’t met an individual like him in real life (hopefully!) but he is so blatant and has so few inhibitions that there is something appealing about him (as a fictional character, of course).

I recommend this book to people who appreciate a dark and extreme sense of humour, are not easily shocked, and are looking for a short but intense read. Be warned, though. The character is unredeemable, and this is not a morality play, but rather the opposite.

Thanks to the author for making me gasp and laugh out loud, thanks to all of you for reading, liking, and commenting, remember to share with anybody who might enjoy it, Happy 2023, and don’t forget to keep smiling!

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Book reviews TuesdayBookBlog

#TuesdayBookBlog A PERIL IN ECTOPLASM: JUST ONCE MORE by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene (@teagangeneviene) Brief, spooky, and atmospheric historical fiction #bookreview

Hi, all:

I bring you the review of a novella that was written for Halloween, but if you are anything like me, I am sure you’ll enjoy reading something not Christmassy this time of the year, and by one of our favourite writers and bloggers.

A Peril in Ectoplasm: Just Once More by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

A PERIL IN ECTOPLASM: JUST ONCE MORE by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

In 1920s Florida, Spiritualism enjoys renewed interest. Daphne Moultrie, the most powerful medium of her time, receives a warning from the other side, “Find her, and keep her with you. Or you will die.” All Daphne knows about this girl is what her crystal ball showed her — a four-leaf clover, and each leaf had a human eye. . Meanwhile, Daphne’s fiancé has designs of his own. He pressures her to continue séances for a strange and very demanding woman. With each of those séances, Daphne becomes weaker and closer to death. . This novella captures the Roaring Twenties, as only acclaimed author, Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene can. Settings, descriptions, and language all come to vibrant life. The ensemble cast has a number of characters, including one you will love to hate. It’s a genre mash-up, part mystery, part suspense, with a dash of light horror.

Seances, a psychic medium, warnings from a ghost, a manipulative fiancé, a woman who can’t go home, an older woman who might lose her job and home, a freakishly strong woman with a soul tie to an evil entity. All these things and people come together in 1920s Coral Gables, Florida.

Universal Purchase Links:

Kindle: relinks.me/B0BJ9N1GBX

Paperback:  relinks.me/B0BJBXGJ7L

Author Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

My review:

I have long admired Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene’s stories, and although, in general, I prefer longer fiction, in her case I am happy to read her short(er) fiction as well, in any genre, as she always manages to create complex characters, places them in compelling settings, and the action usually takes place in a more-or-less distant historical period that she brings to life in a vivid manner making use of all five senses, from a smell, to an image, a sound, a song, a texture, the fashion, the dishes, the inventions, the latest models of cars, the expressions and language, and the news, beliefs, and fads of the era. Her research is woven into the story without calling attention to it, and we get to learn about places and their history without realising it.

This story came out in time for Halloween, and it is the perfect read for it, but having read it a bit later, I think it is suitable for any time readers fancy something a bit unusual and chilling.

We have a set of strong female characters (even though some might not realise they are strong), with Daphne, a medium, as the main protagonist. Her fiancé, Crespo, a Cuban aristocrat, has been trying to take charge of her career and his insistence on her seeing a particular client is having a terrible effect on the young woman. She gets a warning from beyond this world, but one that it is not straightforward to interpret, even for her. Thankfully, her long-time housekeeper and mother figure, Maisy, Maisy’s nephew, and his journalist friend help her make sense of the clues and heed the warning, which proves very apt.

Because Daphne is at risk from a particular client, a Mrs Smith, who, as the title hints, wants to see somebody she has lost ‘just once more’, no matter how high the price might be for everybody else involved. She is bad but also desperate, and although she is neither ambiguous nor likeable, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people would have tried the same if they thought they could.

Crespo is slimy and manipulative, but he is not totally bad, as he is genuinely worried for Daphne in the end and seems to love her, in his own way. Even if that is not much, he is an interesting and complex character, although if I had to choose a male character, I’d go for one that only makes a few fleeting appearances in the story, and I won’t say any more.

Daphne comes into her own and has tremendous potential as a character, and I loved Maisy and the new secretary, and I will not go into any more details to avoid spoiling the story for readers.

There are some dark and truly scary moments, and, as you can imagine from the title and the description, plenty of paranormal elements, but there is no gore, and there is more menace than true violence, although all the more effective for that.

Apart from the characters and the eerie story, I particularly enjoyed the setting, which I was not familiar with, and the many true details about the historical period. I felt as if I had walked into Coral Gables, Florida, in the 1920s. Those who love research and having access to extra information will be pleased to know that the author adds some historical notes at the end, explaining some aspects of the story, especially those to do with spiritualism, and also referring to some of the vehicles and inventions mentioned.

Another winner for the author, and because of its length, one particularly suited to people with little time who prefer to read a story from beginning to end in one sitting or close enough. Highly recommended for fans of the author and those who love short and spooky historical fiction stories.

 Rather than choosing a sample, I thought I’d share a post from the author’s blog (which I recommend as well) where she shares a snippet from the story, another post related to it, and a review.

 Thanks to the author for this book and for her fabulous blog, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to comment, like, share, click, and enjoy the rest of the holiday season. 

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Book reviews TuesdayBookBlog

#TuesdayBookBlog MURDER & MISCHIEF (THE VICTORIAN DETECTIVES BOOK 10) by Carol Hedges (@riotgrandma72) Recommended as a stand-alone as well #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a novel in a very popular series, which I am very late to join, but that allows me to recommend it as a stand-alone as well.

Murder & Mischief (The Victorian Detectives Book 10) by Carol Hedges

MURDER & MISCHIEF (The Victorian Detectives Book 10) by Carol Hedges

It is January, a time of year when not much crime usually happens. But when Inspector Greig is unexpectedly summoned to the opulent Hampstead residence of Mr. James William Malin Barrowclough, a rich businessman, he embarks upon one of the strangest and most bizarre investigations that he has ever been involved in.

Why has Barrowclough been targeted? What is inside the mysterious parcels that keep arriving at Hill House, and why won’t he cooperate with the police? The case will take the Scotland Yard detectives on a journey out of London and into the victim’s past, to uncover the secrets and lies that haunt his present.

Murder & Mischief is the tenth novel in the series, and in the great tradition of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it entices the reader once again along the teeming streets and dimly gas~lit thoroughfares of Victorian London, where rich and poor, friend and foe alike mix and mingle.

Author Carol Hedges

About the author:

Carol Hedges (1950 – )

Carol Hedges is the successful UK writer of 18 books for Teenagers/Young Adults and Adults. Her writing has received much critical acclaim, and her novel Jigsaw was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal.

Her Ebook Jigsaw Pieces, which deals unflinchingly with many of the problems that beset today’s teens, is available on Amazon as is her Dystopic Fantasy The Last Virus

Carol is the writer of ‘The Victorian Detectives’ ~ a series of novels set in 1860s London and featuring Detective Inspector Leo Stride and his side-kick Detective Sergeant Jack Cully.

The nine books in the series are:

Diamonds & Dust, Honour & Obey, Death & Dominion, Rack & Ruin, Wonders & Wickedness, Fear & Phantoms, Intrigue & Infamy, Fame & Fortune, Desire & Deceit

She is also the author of the ‘Spy Girl’ series ~ a Middle Grade/YA set of 5 books featuring Jazmin Dawson, the female ‘Alex Rider’

The five books in the series are:

The Dark Side of Midnight, Out of the Shadows, Once Upon a Crime, Dead Man Talking, Ready Deadly Go

All her books are published by Little G Books and are available via Amazon in print and ebook.

Carol Hedges lives in Hertfordshire with a Tortie-Siamese cat called Halley and a lot of pond fish. When not writing/sleeping/trying to resist cake, she tutors A level and GCSE English Literature. She campaigns as chair of a local action group to save a community urban green space from possible development. She also minds her two grandchildren, one of whom is the star of the Award Winning series of blogs: The Adventures of L-Plate Gran

Bits of her writing life can be viewed on her Blog: http://carolhedges.blogspot.com

Visit her unusual Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/thecuriousVictorian/

Find her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/caroljhedges/

And on Twitter: @riotgrandma72

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

I have known about Carol Hedges and her books for a long time; I have read many reviews of the novels of the Victorian Detectives series, and I always thought that I would find the time to read them all in order at some point. When I realised that she had published novel number 10, I decided I’d better try to join its readers now, as that would give me a chance to comment on its suitability as a stand-alone novel. And, in case any people who haven’t read any of the previous novels in the series are debating if they will enjoy it without any background information, they can rest assured. This novel, on its own, is a great read. There are passing references to previous events (especially when referring to the background of some of the main characters and old cases), but the author only touches on them, offering enough information to help readers understand some of the interactions between the characters, but never taking the focus away from the actual story. That also means that readers who decide to go back and read some of the other novels after reading this one won’t feel as if they had been cheated because they had been told the whole story already. It is a win/win, and not an easy feat to achieve in a series, even in the mystery genre when the cases are meant to be unrelated.

The plot combines an unusual crime (at first, it isn’t even clear if there is a real crime to investigate or just some bizarre prank), with the adventures of a boy and girl (Flinch and Liza) who manage to escape from a workhouse and make their way to London. We have a number of detectives from Scotland Yard investigating the bizarre crime, and a female private detective trying to help a father locate the two children, both cases taking place in London in the late 1860s, with innovations such as the underground (and it does play a stellar part in the story), visits to fashionable department stores, pubs and coffee shops where information can be obtained, the docks, the sailors, the Chinese population, the artists of the era trying to make a living by reflecting the reality (more or less) in the streets, real estate operations, the press and their interest in strange crimes, and even a visit to Birmingham. Again, the author has a talent for making us experience the streets of London and Birmingham, the interior of public houses, hotels, shops, and big mansions, without going into long-winded descriptions that interrupt the flow of the story. The use of an omniscient narrator, who often addresses the reader directly, allows us to see things from a variety of perspectives, from a child to an officer of the law and even the baddies, and this unknown narrator also infuses the story with some touches of humour (dark at times) and a social commentary very apt to the historical period. This is not an idealised image of Victorian England. We have unscrupulous people exploiting young children, families without means being evicted and left homeless, dirt, smoke, noise, and plenty of danger.

I am sure people who have been following the story will know more about the Scotland Yard investigators, but here, although they appeared enough to give me a sense of the type of people they were, (especially Greig and Williams), and the case was so intriguing that it kept me turning the pages, I was rooting for Flitch and Liza, the young escapees going through all kinds of trials in London. Their story and their adventures reminded me of Dickens (mentioned in the description), and some of the characters would have been at home in one of his novels. There were characters who were morally good and others bad, but there were some grey areas as well, and I particularly appreciated the fact that the Chinese community is shown as welcoming and caring, and the lunatic asylum (a private facility) that appears in the story seems well-run and enlightened in its treatment of the patients.

This is not a cozy mystery novel: there are some scary moments, and sad events are referred to (and take place), but there is no explicit violence or gore. My only other warning would be to mention that the story is written in the present tense, and I know some readers don’t like that. I am a bit in two minds about it, but I must say with the use of the narrator it seemed to flow quite naturally, and it didn’t bother me in particular.

I want to avoid spoiling the story, but I enjoyed the ending (or endings). There is a degree of moral ambiguity that I appreciated, and although those who dislike chance and coincidence might not agree with me, I thought it all worked out as it should.

In sum, the reviews I had read so far were right. This is an entertaining novel, set in a fascinating historical period, which manages to bring to life the London of the Victorian era and a varied cast of characters, while intriguing us with two mysteries and making us reflect on the social circumstances of the time (and how far, or not, we have come since).

Thanks to Rosie and all the members of her team for the suggestions and support, to the author for the opportunity to finally catch up on this series, and to you for reading, visiting, commenting, liking, and sharing. Remember to keep smiling and enjoying every moment. Oh, and of course, Merry Christmas! Enjoy the holiday season!

Photo by Diogo Palhais on Unsplash. Altered using Canva
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Book reviews

Better Than Balderdash: The Ultimate Collection of Incredible True Stories, Intriguing Trivia, and Absurd Information You Didn’t Know You Needed by Owen Janssen If you love trivia, you definitely need this book! #Bookreview

Hi, all:

I bring you the review of a book that seems perfect for this time of the year, although, to be honest, it is good for any time when you fancy a bit of fun, and bite-size knowledge. I couldn’t resist it!

Better than Balderdash by Owen Janssen

Did you know that you can heat up a cup of coffee by yelling at it? How about the fact that bananas are radioactive? Or that Google hires goats as gardeners? Or that competitive slapping is a sport in Russia?

Our world is chock-full of fascinating facts, unbelievable but true stories, and mind-blowing trivia.

This book is your one-stop guide to all the extraordinary, shocking and enthralling information you didn’t know you needed to learn.

Impress your friends and family with a vast knowledge of topics guaranteed to stimulate interesting conversations!

If you want to learn some of the world’s most intriguing stories to pass the time at work, fuel the fire on your next trivia games night, or are looking for top-notch entertainment for that family road trip, then you need this book.

Inside Better Than Balderdash, you’ll discover:

● Insane facts about world history

● Bizarre stories of inventors and inventions that sound 100% made up

● Unbelievable true stories of survival

● Unusually strange trivia and fun facts about science and nature

● Shocking truths about famous and infamous people in history

… along with many more crazy fun facts and terrific tales from every facet of this wacky world.

Suitable for adults, teens and kids … Better Than Balderdash is guaranteed to be the best book gift for anyone you can think of, including yourself!

Amazon: US

Amazon: UK

Amazon: CA

Amazon: AU

​Amazon: ES

Author Owen Janssen

About the author:

Owen Janssen moved to the United States from Holland, where his father was a professor when he was two years old. His family loved traveling, and he has crisscrossed the whole country (and part of the world) with them. He finally slowed down long enough to get his teaching degree in Minnesota,but it wasn’t long before he and his college sweetheart were off again, traveling the world together.

Owen has a love of random trivia, technology, and educational matters in general. He also has a guilty pleasure of enjoying pop culture and the occasional karaoke night. He and his family still travel during summer vacations; from Disney World to going back to Holland, he still can’t get enough of all the sights he can find.

The couple got married in Minnesota and settled down in Portland, Oregon, where Owen put his teaching degree to good use. He has spent the last 20 years in teaching, also teaching his own children during that time.

My review:

I thank NetGalley, BooksGoSocial, and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

Although I’m not as big a fan of trivia or a collector of weird and wonderful facts as the author, I do enjoy the topic. I watch game quiz programmes on TV most days, I used to watch QI when I lived in the UK, and regularly participate in an online quiz, so I could not resist the description of this book. Oh, and the title and the cover are great as well.

This is a fun book, easy to read, and as the author suggests in the introduction (where the talks about his love of all things trivia and how he has found it quite useful throughout his life), it makes for quite a good conversation starter. And if you have to make any kind of speech, fishing up some interesting facts relevant to the topic would also ensure you have the attention of the audience.

The copy I accessed contains, apart from the introduction, seven chapters, a conclusion, and some information about the author, although there might be extra content in the published book. The seven chapters discuss a variety of topics: world history, inventors and inventions, pop culture, science and nature, technology, famous and infamous people, and animals and insects. And, be forewarned, the conclusion includes some bonus facts, and rightly so, because all readers are bound to be left wanting more.

Personally, I had heard some of them, but not others, and even the ones I was familiar with, I enjoyed being reminded about. They go from the smallest (a bat as small as a bumblebee, for example), to the largest (living being, and no, it’s now what you think); from the sublime (a hornet that can transform solar energy into electricity) to the ridiculous (a Swedish couple’s idea of a name for their child). It is perfect to dip in an out of, check looking for something interesting, or read from cover to cover in a few sittings. It has some small illustrations, although I would have quite liked a few photographs to accompany some of the facts. Of course, this is also a great place to get people interested in doing research into their favourite topics and discovering some new ones.

This is an easy and entertaining book to read, perfect for somebody with little time and always looking for something amusing and informative to wet his or her appetite. I have discovered things I knew nothing about, and I enjoyed the selection. I look forward to more books by the author, and I am convinced he must be a truly popular teacher. There can’t be a moment’s boredom with him at the helm!

Thanks to NetGalley, BooksGoSocial, and the author for this fun book, thanks to all of you for following me here, for reading, for your patience, and feel free to comment, like, share with others interested… And in case I don’t catch you before, remember to keep smiling and to have a lovely Holiday Season.

Categories
Book reviews TuesdayBookBlog

#TuesdayBookBlog SNOW ANGELS by Jenny Loudon (@jenloudonauthor) Grief, family, the healing power of nature, and gorgeous writing #RBRT #grief

Hi, all:

I bring you another fabulous find from Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to her for her hard work and to the rest of the team for their ongoing support and inspiration.

Snow Angels by Jenny Loudon

Amelie Tierney is working hard, furthering her nursing career in Oxford. She has a loving husband and a small son, who is not yet two. She jogs through the streets of her beloved city most days, does not see enough of her lonely mother, and misses her grandmother who lives in a remote wooden house, beside a lake in Sweden. And then, one sunny October morning, it happens—the accident that changes everything and leaves Amelie fighting to survive. Set amid the gleaming spires of Oxford and the wild beauty of a Swedish forest, this is a story about one woman’s hope and her courage in the face of the unthinkable. Praise for Jenny Loudon: ‘The writing is superb—literary in many ways—with vivid settings, filled with quite exceptional descriptions of the natural world… There are moments of lightness and humour—those slices of life that make the whole feel so real—and others when you feel at your core the frustration, the despair, the sheer impossibility… quite stunning.’ Anne Williams, Romantic Novelists Association Media Star of the Year, 2019

Author Jenny Loudon

About the author:

Jenny Loudon is a British novelist whose work includes SNOW ANGELS, a moving and uplifting tale of recovery after loss, and the bestselling love story FINDING VERITY. She read English and American Literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury and holds a Masters in The Modern Movement. She lives with her family in the English countryside.

Learn more about Jenny Loudon at

https://www.jennyloudon.com/

 My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

I had never come across Jenny Loudon before, but I don’t think this will be the last of her books I read. This is a beautiful, poignant, and moving novel, and I do not hesitate to recommend it, despite it being also terribly sad at times, and people who have experienced a recent loss might find it a bit hard to read (although, it is also inspiring and full of light).

Amelie, who lives in Oxford and was born there but whose mother is Swedish, has visited Sweden often and speaks perfect Swedish, suffers a terrible loss. She loses her family, almost in full, and although she tries, going back to work seems impossible to her, and she decides to give up her profession as well. She finds refuge with her Swedish grandmother, Cleome, who lives in a lovely cottage by a lake, close to a forest, and this is the story of her (and their) grief, their healing process, her acceptance of the situation, and the eventual rebuilding of her life, a new beginning, and a recovery of sorts.

This is not only the tale of these people. The story is told in the third-person, mostly from the point of view of Amelie and Cleome, but also of some of the other characters, and the author does a great job at describing their emotions, their thoughts, their psychological makeup, and making us feel as if we were inhabiting their skins. There are quite a few secondary characters, all interesting in their own right, and some we get to know better than others, but nature and the seasons play a fundamental part in the story. Cleome is very attuned to the rhythms of nature, the land, the lake, the trees, the creatures, and she picks up herbs, goes foraging, and engages in little ceremonies to give thanks for the many gifts the land bestows on her. The descriptions of the landscape are as good, if not better than those of the characters, and the healing powers of time and nature play an important part in the novel. I’ve never visited Sweden, but after reading this book, I am eager to do so.

I have mentioned grief before, and it is accompanied by survivor’s guilt, a desperate search for a guilty party, for meaning, and for an explanation, creating a totally realistic picture of two women confronting a tragedy beyond their imaginations. Apart from this, the novel also explores other themes, like motherhood, conventional and chosen families, secrets, political changes in Europe, immigration policies, in Sweden in particular, how to adapt to a new culture, prejudice (both, from a different culture and within one’s own culture), intolerance, romance, and love… Helen, a close friend and neighbour of Cleome, is a doctor and volunteers working with immigrants, and although this is only a small part of the story, there is one of the main characters, Tarek, who gets to explain his experience as an asylum seeker (from war-torn Syria) in a compelling way, and he shows an understanding of loss and love which inspires Amelie in many ways. I did learn about something called ‘resignation syndrome’, which seems to be a unique phenomenon suffered by some young immigrants in Sweden, and a very challenging one. (Helen compares it to Snow White, and it makes sense if you remember when Snow White is given the poisoned apple and falls into a kind of deep sleep, still alive but with no external signs of it).

I have already mentioned the effectiveness of the descriptions, and the style of writing is gorgeous, lyrical, poetic, and packs a big emotional punch. It conveys images of breathtaking beauty together with truly heartbreaking moments, although, thankfully, there are also bright and hopeful moments, and those increase as the novel progresses. Readers experience the landscapes, the sensations, and the emotions vividly, and there were moments when I was transfixed by my immersion into that magical world. The author’s deep knowledge of Sweden and her connection to it are explained in the author’s acknowledgements, which, as usual, I recommend reading.

The ending is perfect for the novel, and it will please particularly those who like to have everything tied-up, as we get to catch up on all the characters more than a year after the end of the story, and that answers many questions most readers might have.

So, as I have said at the beginning, I recommend this novel to anybody who enjoys beautiful writing, contemplative stories, and those where emotions and psychological insights take precedence over adventures and action. I have mentioned recent grief, and I know that each individual going through it has a very different way of coping with their emotions, but those for whom reading about the subject is useful, will find much to inspire them and bring them hope in this novel.

 For those of you who enjoy a little sample of the writing, here are a few paragraphs:

Tiny, fairy-like, nameless insects danced in a pale sunbeam that pierced the tree canopy. The air was full of music—cheerful tunes from a multitude of hidden birds. The sounds were beautiful and heartfel, and her grandmother was right to question it: why did they sing like this? Why bother?

 ‘You know, all these people in power? They think one more bomb will bring peace. All we ever hear is that they are killing people to get peace, using chemical weapons to secure peace. One more war will bring peace. Are they crazy? Do they not listen to themselves? How did a bomb ever bring peace, I ask you?’

 ‘Grief is like a rucksack. You might have to carry it for a long time. Sometimes, when you have had enough though, you can take it off and put it down. And sometimes, you can take things out of the rucksack and leave them by the roadside. You won’t have to carry everything forever but you will probably always be carrying something.’

 If you want to know a bit more about Resignation Syndrome, I found these two articles, and some of the things described in the first article appear in the novel.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/03/the-trauma-of-facing-deportation

https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-41748485

Thanks to the author for this wonderful book, thanks to Rosie and her team for keeping us going, and thanks to all of you, most of all, for reading, sharing, commenting, liking, blogging, and being there. Keep smiling!