Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #Horror GHOSTS OF MANOR HOUSE by @GhostsofMH

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Ghosts Of Manor House by Matt Powers

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My review:

I write this review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber and the author for providing me a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

The description of the book provides us with a good gist of what the book is about (and it is accurate) but the title itself will stir readers in the right direction. Yes, this is a book about ghosts and it centres on a house. Manor House is a house with plenty of history behind. And Mr. Travels, the old oak tree in its vicinity, has seen its share of events, mostly dark ones.

The book is a ghost story in the best tradition of psychological horror. The clever way in which the story is designed made me think of magicians and sleight of hand artists who misdirect the spectators and create an atmosphere where the most bizarre or magical things can come true. The story is told in the third person and although it mostly tells of the events that happen to the family Wilder, it also has a prologue and an epilogue that beautifully bring the story full circle and incorporate it into the mythology of the house, turning it into a representative of what the house stands for, and of the stories of the rest of its inhabitants. The story is set in the recent past, before social media and mobile phones were the norm, and it is told in the third person, in its majority from the point of view of Edmund Wilder, (although later there are some chapters told from the point of view of his brother-in-law, Charlie), who was a happy husband and father until tragedy stroke and he lost his son, Tommy. His wife is depressed and when she suggests spending a few days at Manor House to have a break and strengthen their family ties, he agrees. The plan is for him to take the opportunity to write the book he has been talking about for ages. The narration is not straightforward. Although the book is pretty short, the reader needs to remain attentive, as Edmund experiences strange events, and his story is interspersed with his writing, that includes stories about the house, a diary where he narrates dreams (sometimes experienced whilst awake and sometimes asleep), and the time frame is not as evident as it might seem at times. Edmund is not a reliable narrator. He interacts with a number of mysterious characters that keep reassuring him that everything is all right, but he is not totally convinced of that. There are moments when he feels that he is not in control of what is happening or what he is writing, but that he is rather a conduit for somebody or something else (Manor House?).

These mysterious characters who work in the house (Lucas, the housekeeper, and the groundskeeper) give him some clues as to what might be really going on, but we experience events through Edmund’s eyes and senses, and although we might be as convinced as he is that things are not right, and we have some extra information (the prologue and later the chapters from Charlie’s point of view), we still feel as lost and puzzled as him.

Matt Powers does a great job of enveloping the story in suggestion and creating intrigue, without using gore descriptions or openly violent scenes. He manages to make the readers autosuggest themselves and creates a psychological atmosphere of disquiet and dread. The fact that we only know some basic facts about the family and the protagonist rather than having a very personalised and detailed portrayal of the individuals and their characteristics helps us immerse ourselves in the story and we can easily identify with the role of observer and writer Edmund takes on (more or less willingly).

The style of the writing is atmospheric and it alternates with stream of consciousness and with descriptive writing of historical events and lore, but as mentioned, due to the state of mind of the character whose point of view we share in, it needs to be followed closely and it is not a light and easy read.

The author explains that he intended to pay homage and create his own version of the horror stories about ghosts and haunted houses he loves, and in my opinion, he is successful. Fans of horror stories will find plenty of nods to stories and authors who have written in the genre and will enjoy that aspect as much as the story itself. Although I did not find the novel scary or the ending surprising per se, it is eerie and it does a good job of exploring the psychology of anxiety and fear, while at the same time touching on the themes of loss, grief, guilt, and the toll losing a child can have on family relationships.

A short read recommended for those who prefer their frights more psychological and less gory in nature. And I agree with the author’s chosen quote by Dean Koontz:

Houses are not haunted. We are haunted, and regardless of the architecture with which we surround ourselves, our ghosts stay with us until we ourselves are ghosts.

Another author to keep a close eye on.

Book description

Edmund and Mary Wilder are very much in love. But the death of their young son, Tommy, has shattered their family. Edmund is determined to bring them back together, drawing on the only bit of strength he has left—his love for Mary and their daughter, Stephanie. But Mary sinks deeper into depression while little Stephanie’s anger grows. Edmund flounders in his attempts to rescue his family from the brink of collapse and doesn’t know where to turn.

Then Mary receives an invitation for the family to become guests at Manor House, a seemingly quaint Bed and Breakfast. This, she assures her husband, is the answer to all their troubles.

Edmund arrives ahead of his family to spend a couple days working on his long-delayed novel. But his growing curiosity about the old house leads Edmund to an encounter that will change him forever.

What will you sacrifice for love?

An old fashioned psychological thriller with a nod to Stephen King, Manor House will keep you guessing and compel you to turn the page to the very end.

A mother will sacrifice anything for her children. A husband will risk everything to save his wife. Manor House will take them all.

About the author

Matt is the author and creator of Ghosts of Manor House and Senior Producer at Zynga. Computers and video games have been a part of his life since he was young. As a child, he always played video games and when he was ten, his Dad told him that he should try making his own. And so he taught himself to program and create games on the computer. He majored in Computer Science and enjoys working with a team of creative people. Matt has a passion for books and finds writing to be a great way to release his inner creativity.

Matt lives and works in the busy and vibrant metropolis of San Francisco where he is surrounded by extraordinary views of the ocean. He loves how the city is filled with a variety of people and activities – there is always something to do and new to see. In addition to San Francisco, Matt spends a lot of time in Grass Valley with friends and family where he can escape the concrete jungle for the relative calm of this gold mining sierra town. This is where the characters and story of Ghosts came to life.

He loves to write because he can use his wacky and twisted imagination to create interesting characters that he brings to life on paper. Matt’s writing process with Ghosts started with a concept, “write a creepy haunted house story.” Ideas became scenes, which became characters that created a story. Matt made a deal with Manor House to tell its tale and so he did, but at what price?

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#Giveaway 2 paperback copies open internationally. (closes Saturday 20th January)

Winners were Kristen & Marjorie.

 

 

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #WW2 naval suspense #Thriller JONAH by @CarlRackman

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Jonah by Carl Rackman

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My review:

I write this review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I thank Rosie and the author for providing me an ARC copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

Although I had read great reviews of one of Rackman’s previous books, Irex, I had not read his work yet but I was eager to check his new novel, especially as it came greatly recommended by other reviewers from Rosie’s team.

The novel did not disappoint. It is a thriller set (mostly) in a US Navy destroyer in the Pacific during WWII. Moby Dick is one of my favourite novels (depending on the moment you ask me, my favourite) and I do like a story set at sea, although I’m not an expert on the topic. As we read the novel it becomes clear that the author has researched the historical period and the setting well and he is skilled at making readers get under the skin of the characters and share in their experiences and settings. Although some of the nautical terms might not be familiar to us, we can easily guess from the context, and we share in the heat, exhaustion, tension, anxiety, fear, and camaraderie. The setting of the novel, the destroyer, apart from being a confined space is a microcosms where we can find men from all walks of life, career navy men, enlisted men, older and younger men, some who’d never even seen the sea and others from long nautical tradition, and men from a variety of religions, ethnic backgrounds, and regions of the USA. These men are thrown together to fight a war under extreme circumstances and when we meet them they have all experienced things we would not wish on anyone.

The story is written in the third person, mostly from the point of view of Mitch Kirkham, “Lucky” Kirkham, a gunner who seems fated to survive when everybody around him dies. Early in the book, we witness another example of his good luck (by that point he had already earned his nickname following a battle in Okinawa where he was one of the few survivors), but unfortunately, not everybody sees things the same way, and he gets bullied and victimised, accused of being a coward. To add to his difficulties, strange things start happening on the ship. Some of the men start experiencing unusual things, there is paranoia, violence, deaths, and the weirdest explanations are suggested. His peers insist that Mitch is a Jonah (they believe he is bringing them bad luck or worse and want to throw him overboard), and his life becomes increasingly complicated.

The narrative of what happens in the ship (mostly from Mitch’s point of view, although at times, often when he is out of action, we also share in the point of view of a few other characters, like the medic of the ship, or the second in command), is interspersed with flashbacks (or memories) of incidents of the past of some of the men in the ship, usually those that end up right in the middle of the action. These snippets give us a better idea of what these men were like at home, in their real lives, when they were not cogs in the Navy machine, and they provide clues as to the psychological make-up of the characters (and also make us wonder what they might all have in common). Although the novel is mostly action-driven, we get brief glimpses into the men’s personalities and motives that add to the complexity and to the enjoyment for those of us who like well-defined characters.

As a psychiatrist and somebody who enjoys psychological thrillers, I started wondering about the situation and coming up with my own theory from early on (no, I won’t share any spoilers). Yes, I was right; although the nitty-gritty detail is not fully revealed until the very end of the book and it is… Well, if you like conspiracy theory books, I think you’ll be pleased. It is also very believable and that is the scariest aspect of it. I had to do some research of my own after reading the book, because although I had read about some aspects of the story (it is not based on real events, but it realistically portrays the life of navy men at war and the way the Navy operated), I did not realise the extremes to which these men were subject to.

The book is not only vividly written, intriguing, and tense, but it also deals with many important topics, such as survivors’ guilt, PTSD, war and fighting, the treatment of the combatants, experimentation, and the use of attention-enhancing drugs and its dangers.

And yes, as a Moby Dick lover, I did particularly enjoy the end.

As mentioned, the book is well researched and there is a glossary of terms and also an author’s note to explain the background to the story and clarify which aspects are based on truth and which have come out of the author’s imagination.

I’d recommend it to lovers of historical fiction, especially set in WWII, people who love atmospheric thrillers, within a naval setting and to anybody who enjoys a ripping good read.

Book description

The North Atlantic, 1940. A British destroyer pounces on a seemingly abandoned U-boat, leading to a spine-chilling encounter.

Five years later, the US Navy destroyer Brownlee grimly prepares to battle a swarm of Japanese kamikazes at Okinawa.

Mitch “Lucky” Kirkham, a young gunner on the Brownlee, wakes up miraculously unscathed after his crewmates are killed in a fearsome kamikaze strike.

Bullied and resented amid accusations of cowardice and worse, Mitch re-boards his patched-up ship for the long voyage back to San Francisco. All he wants is to go home.

But far out in the boundless emptiness of the Pacific, a strange madness begins to seize the sailors on the Brownlee. Terror, hysteria and suicide torment the men amid sightings of ghosts and a terrifying monster that stalks the ship by night.

Mitch stumbles upon a possible explanation for the madness. But as the ship presses on alone, deeper into the vast Pacific Ocean and the grip of insanity, will anyone listen to him before his famous luck runs out for good?

Jonah is a searing, psychological suspense thriller, the latest from Carl Rackman, author of Irex and Voyager.

About the author

Hi! I’m Carl Rackman, a British former airline pilot turned author. I come from a naval military background and have held a lifelong interest in military history and seafaring.

I spent my working life travelling the world and this has given me a keen interest in other people and cultures. I’ve drawn on my many experiences for my writing.

I write suspense thrillers with a flair for evocative descriptions of locales and characters. I enjoy complex, absorbing storylines combined with rich, believable characters, so that’s the sort of fiction I write. I try to create immersive worlds for the reader to explore, and characters who are more than just vehicles for the story.

Carl Rackman

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT @OlgaNM7 reviews Bear Medicine by @gekretchmer

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Bear Medicine by G. Elizabeth Kretchmer

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My review:

I have read two of Elizabeth Kretchmer’s books before. The Damnable Legacy and Women on the Brink and enjoyed them. When I was informed that the author had published a new book, I had to check it out.

Once again, Kretchmer focuses on issues that relate to women’s lives and also to the environment and to human beings’ place in the world. The story is narrated by two women, Brooke and Anne, in the first-person. Although both women have a lot in common (both are married and not terribly happy in their marriages, although they are not fully aware of it or at least they haven’t acknowledged it to themselves yet, and they both love nature), they are separated by a hundred and forty years. Whilst Brooke lives in our present, Anne convinces her husband to visit Yellowstone not long after the Park is established, seriously underestimating the risks. Both women suffer because of their decisions (Brooke is mauled by a grizzly bear and is seriously injured, and Anne ends up alone and defenseless without experience on surviving in the wild) and are helped by other women. And in both cases, these seemingly terrible decisions end up totally changing their lives. The book is part contemporary women’s fiction and part historical fiction, and an inspirational read.

Both characters are sympathetic because of the terrible circumstances they find themselves in, although they are not the standard heroines that suddenly and almost magically become enlightened and proficient at everything. They sometimes show little insight into their real situations, can be naïve, do little to help themselves, moan, and take one step forward and two steps back. If anything, Anne, who married young and has little experience of the world, seems to take to the new situation and accept Meg’s teachings more easily, although it must have been a bigger shock to her and farther away from her everyday experience. The society of her time was also more prejudiced, and the fact that she becomes best friends with a Native American woman is much more of a leap of faith than Brooke’s friendship with Laila and her confused feelings about the younger woman. But Brooke has also been victimised (even though it takes her quite a while to accept that) for much longer, has two grown-up children, and therefore has much more to lose. It is understandable that she struggles more and it takes her longer to fully embrace her new reality. I think most women will recognize themselves in one of the characters, either the narrators or their friends and helpers, and feel personally involved in the novel.

The writing is beautifully descriptive and there are very touching moments, some because of the extremes of emotion and suffering, and some because of the moments of clarity and insight that the love of the women and their cooperation with each other brings them. The author has done her research (she explains her process at the end and also acknowledges her sources) and I learned much about the birth of Yellowstone and the Indian Wars by reading this book.

There are serious and current subjects discussed in the novel (abuse [mental, physical, and sexual], rape, drug abuse, mental illness, nature and environment, the protection of wild animals, politics, parent-child relationship), there are adventures and risky situations, secrets, betrayal, and plenty of love. Although most readers will figure out soon enough the connection between the two women, we care enough for both characters and their adventures to keep reading and hoping we will be right about the end. And yes, the ending is empowering and positive too.

An emotional book (yes, I did cry), an enlightened book, and also a realistic book, that shows us some women who are not the perfect heroines, all powerful and knowing, but who make mistakes, hesitate, don’t know what to do for the best, and can be annoying and irritating at times, but who become stronger and learn about themselves by joining with other women and choosing to work together.

An inspiring read and a book that I recommend to women (and men) who enjoy multi-dimensional characters. It will also delight people who love historical fiction, in particular, the Indian Wars, and readers interested in Native American tradition and mythology. Another great book by a writer I will keep my eye on.

Book description

When Brooke sets off on a trail in Yellowstone National Park to train for an upcoming marathon, she is savagely attacked by a grizzly bear. One hundred forty years earlier, Anne accompanies her husband on a camping trip in the nation’s first national park and awakens one morning to find he’s been captured by Nez Perce warriors. Both women encounter a sacred but savage landscape. Both fall under the care of American Indian women. Ultimately, Brooke and Anne must each overcome multiple obstacles, with the help of their new friends and native lore, to find what she seeks.

Alternating between contemporary and historical times, Bear Medicine is a story about women helping women in a complicated, male-dominated world.

About the author

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer holds an MFA in Writing from Pacific University. Her short story collection, Women on the Brink, and her debut novel, The Damnable Legacy, were both published by Booktrope Editions. Her short fiction, essays, and freelance work have appeared in The New York Times, High Desert Journal, Silk Road Review, SLAB, and other publications. When she’s not writing, she’s facilitating therapeutic and wellness writing workshops or spending time in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three sons, and Lani the Labradoodle.

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT @OlgaNM7 reviews #Thriller In Wolves’ Clothing by @greg_levin

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading In Wolves’ Clothing by Greg Levin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book description

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

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

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

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

About the author

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

Greg’s novel The Exit Man was optioned by Showtime for development into a TV series, and won a 2015 Independent Publisher Book Award (a.k.a., an “IPPY”). He earned a second IPPY with his next novel, Sick to Death, which Craig Clevenger (The Contortionist’s Handbook) called “a tour de force dark comedy.” Greg’s latest book, In Wolves’ Clothing (launching Oct 11, 2017!), is his most dangerous. He wrote much of it during a ten-week-long workshop led by the great Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club and lots of other books Greg sleeps with at night).

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

Greg Levin

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT @OlgaNM7 reviews #YA Silhouettes by @ELTenenbaum

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Silhouettes by E.L. Tenenbaum

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

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

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

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

Diamonds hide in a lump of coal.

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

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

“Great. Just like when I was alive.”

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

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

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

Book description

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

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

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

About the author

Hi! I am writer who thinks a bookstore (real or online) is the happiest place on earth!
I’m also partial to other things, like baking (cookies), musicals (though I can’t really sing) and superhero graphic novels (though I can’t really fly).
Above those, I love to write in different mediums, especially novels.
Read, share, talk about them.
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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Clean #Romance By Light Of Hidden Candles by @DaniellaNLevy

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading By Light Of Hidden Candles by Daniella Levy

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This novel fits into several genres. It is a romance (a clean or sweet romance. I’m not sure if the same that there are Christian books, there is also a category for Jewish books, but if there is, it would fall into that as well), where fate seems to conspire to unite the two protagonists whilst their faith separates them (Alma, the young American woman is an Orthodox Sephardic Jew, while Manuel, the Spanish young man is not only Catholic but he is considering priesthood). It is also a historical novel. Both protagonists have always wondered about their past, their genealogy and family histories, and are fascinated by some stories about their ancestors that have been passed down for generations although with little in the way of evidence to confirm them. They end up joining a project to do some family research in the historical archives in Madrid and they pair up as a team. Whilst we follow their research and investigation, with alternating chapters in the first-person, told from each one of the protagonists points of view, we also have some chapters set in the XV century in Spain (1492), told in the third person, from the point of view of Miriam, a Jewish young woman whose father’s dealings with conversos (Jews who had converted to Catholicism) gets him into trouble with the Spanish Inquisition (yes, Monty Python get a mention, don’t worry). The book is also a book about religious and personal identity and faith, and it goes into a fair amount of detail about the Jewish faith, not only about customs but also about points of faith and doctrine. For both, Alma and Manuel, their faiths are fundamental parts of who they are and they are both determined not to allow their friendship to cross boundaries and develop into something that is impossible if they are to remain faithful to their beliefs. I think you probably can guess where this is going.

The characters are likeable, quirky (especially Alma. Manuel seemed too good to be true at times, but then, male characters in romances sometimes are, and this is not a story full of rogues), and easy to empathise with. Alma’s family and her interaction with them feel real and give the reader a good sense of the joys and the struggles of trying to keep the tradition alive despite the pressures of the modern world. Manuel’s mother is very peculiar, although everything is explained later, and he does not have other contacts or close family, so his chapters focus mostly on his doubts about his faith and on his relationship with Alma. Their interaction is sometimes funny (rather than Romeo and Juliet this is more like Much Ado About Nothing), sometimes poignant, and sometimes deep and reflective. They can be at times naïve (they have both lived what appear to be quite sheltered lives, despite their very different backgrounds and circumstances), unaware, and blinkered (there is much made of the prejudice in Spain, both in the past and now, but they don’t seem aware of any issues in that respect in the USA), but they are devoted to their families and their projects, they are well-liked by all they come in contact with and meet interesting people whose stories illustrate multiple aspects of living according to a religious faith.

The novel travels with the characters, providing a wonderful background for the story (New York, Granada, Madrid, Lorca, Cartagena), without long and tiresome descriptions, just enough detail to fire up the imagination and transport the readers there.

There is mystery (well, there are several mysteries) and coincidences, luck, and fate play a huge part in the story. I don’t think many readers will be surprised by what happens, although, like in many romances, the beauty is in the detail, the process, and in how seeing how things will come together in the end. And yes, the ending is satisfying.

I would recommend this novel to readers who love romances with a big dose of both fate and faith, who like clean novels (no swear words, no sex), are interested in the Jewish faith and its history, and enjoy the company of warm-hearted characters who deserve the best of luck.

Book description

In a mud hut in the Jewish Quarter of 16th-century Fez, a dying woman hands her granddaughter a heavy gold ring–and an even heavier secret.

Five hundred years later, Alma Ben-Ami journeys to Madrid to fulfill her ancestor’s dying wish. She has recruited an unlikely research partner: Manuel Aguilar, a young Catholic Spaniard whose beloved priest always warned him about getting too friendly with Jews. As their quest takes them from Greenwich Village to the windswept mountain fortresses of southern Spain, their friendship deepens and threatens to cross boundaries sacred to them both; and what they finally discover in the Spanish archives will force them to confront the truth about who they are and what their faiths mean to them.

At times humorous, at times deeply moving, this beautifully written and meticulously researched book will appeal to anyone interested in the history of Inquisition-era Spain, Sephardic Jews, or falling in love.

 

About the author

Daniella Levy is an Orthodox Jewish mother of three, rabbi’s wife, writer, translator, self-defense instructor, bridal counselor, black belt in karate, and certified medical clown–and she still can’t decide what to be when she grows up. Her articles, short fiction, and poetry have been published in both English and Hebrew in publications such as Writer’s Digest, The Forward, Pnima Magazine, Reckoning, Newfound, the Rathalla Review, and the Jewish Literary Journal, as well as online platforms such as Kveller, Aish.com, JWire, Ynet News, and Hevria.
Born in New York, Daniella immigrated to Israel with her family as a child. She wrote her first book at age ten and completed her first full-length novel at fourteen. Her Talmud studies notes from high school consisted of a series of silly dramatizations of Jewish sages yelling at each other. She’s pretty sure her teacher would have been horrified.
She blogs at LetterstoJosep.com about Judaism and life in Israel, and at RejectionSurvivalGuide.wordpress.com about resilience in the face of rejection and criticism. Connect with her online at Daniella-Levy.com.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Do You Realize by Kevin Kuhn @Big_Kuhna #fridayreads

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Do You Realize by Kevin Kuhn

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My review:

I’m reviewing this novel on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie and to the author for this opportunity.

It is a bit difficult to categorise this story. It is not straight science-fiction, although there are sci-fi elements (a strange app that allows people to travel between dimensions and parallel universes), elements of family drama (a man in crisis who can no longer stand his job, whose teenage children are having difficulties, whose relationship with his wife is starting to suffer, and who experiences a number of tragedies in his life), and much discussion about the philosophy of life, humanity, the future, and matters that could fit into the category of spiritual and inspirational literature.

The novel follows the story of George, who has a managerial position in an insurance company but hates his job, and whose whole life seems to have lost its zest and momentum. He meets a man in the train, Shiloh, who asks him interesting questions (all related to song titles that also serve as chapter titles) that make him think and who keeps challenging his beliefs. At some point, he gives him an Apple watch and tells him to test an App of his creation. This App allows him to travel to his own past, only it is not his real past. He can travel to a parallel dimension and relive a day in his life, but instead of his real life, it is the life of a different version of him in that dimension. So his experience in that world is not necessarily the same but it has many points of contact with the one he already lived through. Whatever happens in one version of the world does not impact another. Although to begin with, he travels with the intention of changing things in his present, he soon realises that is not possible. He becomes frustrated as he is not sure why he has been chosen or the whole purpose of the experiment and Shiloh is less than forthcoming. George needs to come to terms with what his life is really about and learn what is really important.

There is nothing peculiar or remarkable about George at first sight. He loves his wife, Elena, a stay at home mom, but their relationship has become lost in everyday tension, problems, and stress. He is not particularly insightful and his life does not appear to be important. It is not evident why Shiloh has chosen him. Perhaps the fact that there is nothing particularly remarkable or peculiar about him is intended to make the readers find it easier to put themselves in his shoes and follow the process, as he is a very familiar and recognisable character, even if we do not share his personal attributes or his life story.

I liked the interaction between George and Shiloh and the fact that he was a pretty mysterious but engaging character. I liked his T-shirts (always with funny puns on Physics-related subjects) and his enthusiasm. His interactions with George were definitely more tell than show, and they made me think at times of Philosophy treatises, like Plato’s Dialogues, even if the ideas were based more on concepts and theories of modern Physics, Ethics, music, and even sports.

The novel is divided into a number of sections. First, we have the conversations between George and Shiloh that I found illuminating and fascinating, although at times they could be frustrating and somewhat repetitive; especially when George seemed a bit slow in understanding some of the ideas and the concepts.

Second, we have George’s everyday life, where we get to know his wife, and his daughter, and son, although I felt I knew more about the children than about the parents, particularly George. That is likely due to the fact that the story, although told in the third person, is told mostly from George’s point of view (until the very end of the novel, where we see Shiloh’s perspective), and although he shares some memories, he reflects and thinks more about his family than he does about himself. They are all nice at heart and, in many ways, their problems are very much those of a fairly privileged society, until tragedy strikes.

Third, we have the chapters where George travels in time and he starts to realise what his life is really about.

And last, but not least, there are the dreams. One of the side effects of those trips are very vivid and weird dreams and these seem to be consist of visions of what most of us would think time travel would be like, as these dreams take him from prehistoric times to a faraway future.

Although I was not sure how connected I felt to George’s character, towards the end I felt engaged with him and his family (perhaps because I could personally relate to some of the things they go through as a family). Although it was more of an intellectual experience than an emotional one for most of the book, I did become attached to the family by the end. And the book gave me much to think about.

The book reminded me a novel I read not long ago, The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello (you can check my review here), and although the stories and the writing styles are quite different, both of them went beyond the plot to question much bigger things.

The novel flows and ebbs. It is not a fast read, but it is an engaging one and I wanted to keep reading, intrigued, like the protagonist by what Shiloh would come up with next. I did not find his explanations of physics, ethics, and other concepts complex to understand and, apart from some moment of irritation when George seems to find it difficult to accept and understand what is happening, I found the style of writing easy to follow, with heavy moments and some lighter ones, and I thought the balance between the theoretical discussions and the life drama was well-achieved for most of the book.

I’d recommend this book to people looking for inspiring books and books providing bite-size information about recent theories in Physics, Ethics, and views of the world we live in that will make them think about the future and reconsider their priorities. I think lovers of music (Rock and Roll in particular) and sports will enjoy it in particular.This is not a book full of action for those who love adventures, or a standard sci-fi book, so I’d recommend readers to check a sample of the book and see how they feel.

Book description

George is a middle-management, middle-class, middle-aged guy who hates his job and struggles to stay connected to his wife and teenage children. Most guys might end up with a steamy affair and a flashy car for their midlife crises, but George gets a quirky philosophical physics professor named Shiloh. Trapped with this mysterious misfit on his morning commuter train, George is dragged into awkward conversations about love, fear, music, and the meaning of life. Shiloh also asks George to beta-test an app he wrote for the new Apple Watch–and with a free watch included, how could he say no?

When tragedy strikes, throwing George out of his uncomfortable comfort zone, he learns that Shiloh’s app lets him journey through alternate versions of his past. As challenges mount in his own reality, George must make a decision that will change him–and possibly the entire multiverse–forever.

About the author

Kevin Kuhn lives in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, with his wife Melinda, three children, and two fierce schnoodles. He is a technology executive who enjoys sipping cheap bourbon, avoiding yard work, and living vicariously through his children’s sports. While Kevin has no musical skill whatsoever, he appreciates a broad spectrum of artists from Pink Floyd to Prince and Radiohead to the Rolling Stones. His golf game is horrific with flashes of mediocrity.

Kevin A. Kuhn

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Mystery The Unraveling of Brendan Meeks by @briancohnMD

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Unraveling Of Brendan Meeks by Brian Cohn

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My review:

I’m writing this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Having read and enjoyed Brian Cohn’s previous novel The Last Detective  (you can check my review here), I was very intrigued by his new novel. Although it also promised a mystery/thriller of sorts, this one was set firmly in the present, well, as firmly as anything can be when told by a character suffering from paranoid schizophrenia who rarely takes his medication. As I am a psychiatrist, and I read many thrillers, the book had a double interest for me.

As the description says, the story told is narrated, in the first person, by the main character, the Brendan Meeks of the title. Although he is from a good family and had an affluent (if not the happiest) childhood, his mental illness disrupted his education (he was studying a masters in computer sciences at the time), and his life. He now lives in a rundown apartment in St. Louis, surrounded by other marginal characters (a war veteran suffering from PTSD who never leaves the house, a drug-addict girl whose dealer has become something more personal, an understanding Bosnian landlord…). His main support is his sister Wendy. When she dies, he decides to investigate her death, and things get even more complicated, as his brain starts making connections and seeing coincidences that might or might not be really there.

Brendan is the perfect example of an unreliable narrator. His mental illness makes him misinterpret things, give ominous meanings to random events, and believe that everything that happens relates to him and “the code”. Brendan hears voices, abusive voices, mostly in the second person, that give him orders, insult him, tell him to harm himself and others… He has a complex system of paranoid delusions, all related to a “code” he believes was implanted in his brain, and he is convinced that there is a conspiracy of various agencies (mostly men dressed in dark suits driving black SUVs) that will stop at nothing to try and recover that information. Thanks to his parents’ money (as this is the USA, his access to care would be limited otherwise) he sees a psychiatrist once a week, but he rarely takes medication, as he is convinced that if he does, he won’t be able to escape these agents that are after him. Yes, the medication helps with the voices, but it does not seem to touch his delusions (if it is all a delusion). There are several points in the novel when Brendan ends up in hospital and is given medication, and then he seems to hold it together for a while, enough to go after some clues and make some enquiries, but the longer he goes without medication, the more we doubt anything we read and wonder if any of the connections his brain makes are real or just a part of his illness.

I thought the depiction of Brendan’s mental illness and symptoms was very well done. It brought to my mind conversations with many of my patients, including his use of loud music or the radio to drown the voices, his feelings about the medication, his self-doubt, the attitude of others towards him (most of the characters are very understanding and friendly towards Brendan, although he faces doubt and disbelief a few times, not surprisingly, especially in his dealings with the police and the authorities), and his thought processes. He is a likeable and relatable character, faced with an incredibly difficult situation, but determined to keep going no matter what. His sister’s death motivates him to focus and concentrate on something other than himself and his own worries, and that, ultimately, is what helps him move on and accept the possibility of a more positive future. He also shows at times, flashes of the humour that was in evidence in the author’s previous novel, although here less dark and less often (as it again fluctuates according to the character’s experiences).

The narration is fluid and fast, the pace changing in keeping with the point of view and the mental state of the protagonist. There are clues to the later discoveries from early on (and I did guess a few of the plot points) although the narrator’s mental state creates a good deal of confusion and doubt. The rest of the characters are less well-drawn than Brendan, although that also fits in with the narration style (we only learn as much as he tell us or thinks about them at the time, including his doubts and suspicions when he is not well), and the same goes for his altered perceptions of places and events (sometimes offering plenty of detail about unimportant things, and others paying hardly any attention at all).

Where the book did not work that well for me was when it came to the mystery/thriller part of it. There are inconsistencies and plot holes that I don’t think can be put down to the mental state or the altered perception of the character. There is an important plot point that did not fit in for me and tested my suspension of disbelief (in fact made me wonder if the level of unreliability extended beyond what the novel seemed to suggest up to that point and I became even more suspicious of everything), and I suspect readers who love police procedural stories will also wonder about a few of the things that happen and how they all fit together, but, otherwise, there are plenty of twists, and as I said, the build-up of the character and the depiction of his world and perspective is well achieved. Although the subject matter includes drugs, overdoses, corruption, child neglect, difficult family situations, abuse, adultery, and murder, there is no excessive or graphic use of violence or gore, and everything is filtered through Brendan’s point of view, and he is (despite whatever the voices might say) kind and warm-hearted.

I recommend it to readers interested in unreliable narrators, who love mysteries (but perhaps not sticklers for details or looking for realistic and detailed investigations), and are keen on sympathetic psychological portrayals of the everyday life of a young man suffering from schizophrenia.

Book Description

THE UNRAVELING OF BRENDAN MEEKS is a first-person glimpse into the mind of a young man with schizophrenia as he deals with tragic loss. The result is a unique and unforgettable mystery clouded with hallucinations and fraught by paranoia.

Meeks is a young man born with a silver spoon jammed down his throat, a fact his domineering mother has never let him forget. Although he has nearly everything he could ever want—friends, money, a good education—Brendan’s life falls apart during graduate school when he begins to show signs of schizophrenia. Forced to drop out of school, he watches most of his friends disappear and his parents distance themselves further and further.

The only constant left in Brendan’s life is his loving sister, Wendy. When she turns up dead, he must ignore the insults and threats from the voices in his head to begin his own investigation. With the help of an odd assemblage of his few friends—a drug dealer, a meth addict, and a war veteran with a bad case of agoraphobia—he begins to uncover a conspiracy that may, or may not, be a byproduct of his own delusional mind.

About the author

Brian Cohn

Brian is an ER doctor practicing in St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives with his beautiful wife and their two rambunctious children. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama where he grew up loving to read. His passion for books continued through his college career at the UNC-Chapel Hill, and traveled with him back to Alabama where he attended the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He moved to St. Louis for residency training, met his wife, and fell in love with both her and the city itself. He has been practicing emergency medicine for over a decade and loves helping people every day, but turned to writing as a creative outlet.

A self-professed nerd, Brian has long enjoyed everything science fiction, from books to TV and movies. He is also a huge fan of great mysteries and thrillers, and is a sucker for a surprising plot twist. He writes the kind of books that he would want to read, reflecting a deep-seated curiosity about what motivates people to do the things they do.

When he’s not busy writing and taking care of patients, Brian loves to run, play with his children, and spend quiet time watching TV with his wife. If he can only figure out how to do all three things at once, he’ll finally have it made.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT @OlgaNM7 reviews #HistFic Blood Rose Angel by @LizaPerrat

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs at http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Blood Rose Angel by Liza Perrat

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My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

This is the third novel I have read in the series The Bone Angel and the fourth novel by Liza Perrat. (You can check my reviews of Spirit of Lost Angel here, Wolfsangel here and The Silent Kookaburra here.) You might have guessed by now that I enjoy her books. Having read The Silent Kookaburra first, for quite a while I thought that was my favourite of the author’s novels (and don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the others) but now, I’m not so sure.

We are in Lucie-sur-Vionne, France, 1348. The whole series is set in the same location and follows the characters of the female line of a family who are linked by their midwifery skills (or wish to care for others) and by the passing of a talisman, the bone angel of the title. All the women of the series feel a strange connection to this angel (whose story/legend we hear, first- hand, in this book) and to each other, although this novel is, so far, the one set further back in the past, and at a very momentous time (like all the others). The Black Death decimated a large part of the world population and this novel offers us the perspective of the people who lived through it and survived to tell the tale.

The story is narrated, mostly in the first person, by midwife Héloïse, whose birth was problematic (her mother, Ava, a midwife herself, died before she was born and her aunt, Isa, extracted her from the womb) and due to the superstitions of the time, she was shunned and taunted as a child (she was not only a bastard, as her father was unknown, but she was also ‘unborn’). She always felt guilty for her mother’s death and resisted becoming a midwife due to that. But, eventually, she heeded her calling, learned from her aunt, and has become loved and appreciated by most people (apart from a few villagers who blame her for unlucky events). Unfortunately, as human nature dictates, when the epidemic reaches the village (at the same time as her husband, a stonemason who had been working in Florence) and people start dying, everybody looks for someone to blame, be it cats, the Jews, the lepers, or… There are a few chapters told from other characters’ point of view, only to complete the picture when Heloise is otherwise engaged (I’m trying not to give any spoilers here).

Héloïse is a strong-willed woman, who struggles between trying to fulfill her vocation (what she sees as her mission no matter how little recompense he gets for it) and being a dutiful wife who puts her husband and family above everything else. She is a compelling character and one that rings true and whose situation is ever relevant, especially to women who always have to try and find a balance between career and family life. She is a worthy heroine, who cares for people, who tries to do the right thing, even if it might cost her, who perseveres and remains faithful to her ideas, who doubts and questions acknowledged ‘truths’, and who is a natural leader. The rest of the characters, both, villagers and nobles, good and nasty, are all well-defined and recognisable, although perhaps the female characters are drawn in more detail than the males (although midwifery and birthing was women’s business at the time, so it is understandable), and I must say I felt like a member of her extended family by the end of the book.

The novel’s plot is fascinating and as good as any historical fiction I have read. History and fiction blend seamlessly to create a story that is gripping, emotionally satisfying, and informative. Even when we might guess some of the twists and turns, they are well-resolved, and the ending is satisfying. (I have read some reviews that mention it is a bit rushed. It is true that it all comes together at a faster pace than the rest of the novel, but my suspicion is that readers didn’t want the story to end. I know that was my case).  The life of the villagers is well observed, as is the relationship between the different classes, the politics of the era, the role of religion, the power held by nobles and the church, the hypocrisy, superstition, and prejudice, and the social mores and roles of the different genders. The descriptions of the houses, clothing, medical and midwifery procedures, and the everyday life are detailed enough to make us feel immersed in the era without slowing down the plot, that is a page turner in its own right. I particularly enjoyed the sense of community (strongly dominated by women) and the optimism that permeates the novel, showing the strength of the human spirit even in the hardest of circumstances. The author includes a glossary at the end that explains the words no longer in use that appear in the novel and also provides background information on the Black Death and the historical figures that grace its pages. Although it is evident that the book involved a great deal of research, this is flawlessly weaved into the story and add to the feeling of authenticity.

This novel, like the rest of the series, can be read as a stand-alone, although I doubt that anybody reading it will not want to read the rest.

Another great novel by Liza Perrat and one of my favourites. I will not forget it in a hurry and I hope to keep reading more novels by the author. I recommend it to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the era, the Black Death, and medical techniques of the time, readers of women’s fiction, and anybody looking for great characters and a writer to follow.

Book Description

1348. A bone-sculpted angel and the woman who wears it––heretic, Devil’s servant, saint.
Midwife Héloïse has always known that her bastard status threatens her standing in the French village of Lucie-sur-Vionne. Yet her midwifery and healing skills have gained the people’s respect, and she has won the heart of the handsome Raoul Stonemason. The future looks hopeful. Until the Black Death sweeps into France.
Fearful that Héloïse will bring the pestilence into their cottage, Raoul forbids her to treat its victims. Amidst the grief and hysteria, the villagers searching for a scapegoat, Héloïse must choose: preserve her marriage, or honour the oath she swore on her dead mother’s soul? And even as she places her faith in the protective powers of her angel talisman, she must prove she’s no Devil’s servant, her talisman no evil charm.

About the author

Liza Perrat

Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.
When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her family for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist.
Since completing a creative writing course ten years ago, several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine, France Today and The Good Life France.

Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in the French historical “The Bone Angel” series set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution. The second in the series, Wolfsangel, set during the WWII Nazi Occupation of France, was published in October, 2013. The third, Blood Rose Angel, set during the 14th century Black Plague years was published in November, 2015.
Friends, Family and Other Strangers is a collection of humorous, horrific and entertaining short stories set in Australia.
Liza is a founding member of the Author Collective, Triskele Books and regularly reviews books for Bookmuse.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Painted by Kirsten McKenzie @Kiwimrsmac #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs at http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Painted by Kirsten McKenzie

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My review:

Thanks to Rosie Amber and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, that I freely chose to review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Description

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

When art appraiser Anita Cassatt is sent to catalogue the extensive collection of reclusive artist Leo Kubin, it isn’t only the chilly atmosphere of the secluded house making her shiver.

Upon entering the house, Anita stands before a silent audience of portraits clustered on every wall. Every painted eye is watching her, including those of the unfinished portrait on the artist’s easel. A portrait with an eerie familiarity.

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

Disturbed, a man eases himself out of his portrait and stretches. Free at last from the confines of his canvas, he has no intention of ever returning. He has a painting to finish…

About the author

Kirsten McKenzie

For years Kirsten McKenzie worked in her family’s antique store, providing a unique insight into the world of antiques which touches every aspect of her writing.

Now a full time author, her historical fiction novels ‘Fifteen Postcards’ and it’s sequel ‘The Last Letter’ have been described as Time Travellers Wife meets The Far Pavilions, and “Antiques Roadshow gone viral”.

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

She lives in New Zealand with her husband, daughters, and her SPCA rescue cat.

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