Early Review: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TIME TRAVEL

Early Review: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TIME TRAVELThe Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
four-stars
Published by Crooked Lane Books on February 12, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: the Publisher
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the Crooked Lane Books blog tour for The Psychology of Time Travel.  Thanks so much to Crooked Lane Books and author Kate Mascarenhas for allowing me to read an advanced copy and share my thoughts on this exciting debut novel.

 

MY REVIEW:

The idea of being able to time travel is something that has captured my imagination since I was a child so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Kate Mascarenhas’ debut The Psychology of Time Travel.  I was eager to see what kind of spin she put on the concept and let me just say right now that I was not at all disappointed.  Mascarenhas brings a fresh new perspective to time travel by focusing on not so much on the idea of traveling itself, but more so on how moving back and forth through time can affect the mental health of those who regularly engage in the process.

When the novel opens, it’s 1967 and we are presented with four female scientists who are working together to build the world’s first time machine.  These pioneers decide to test the machine themselves while everyone else is off for the Christmas holidays and when they determine the machine works, they immediately contact the media to present their discovery.  To their dismay, however, one of the scientists, Barbara, suffers a live on-air mental breakdown, which threatens not only their project but also the entire future of time travel.  At the urging of Margaret, who has proclaimed herself the leader of their little group, the other three scientists decide that kicking Barbara out of the project and shunning her completely is the best way to save their discovery and keep it moving forward.

We then jump forward in time 50 years to see that time travel now occurs on a regular basis and that Margaret and the other two pioneering scientists now head up The Conclave, an elaborate complex that basically has a monopoly on time travel all over the world.  They run psychological screens and recruit candidates to become time travelers, they have their own currency system in place so that time travelers will always be able to have access to money no matter where they are in time, and they also have their own laws and courts so that they can police themselves through time.

When a dead body riddled with bullet holes turns up in the basement of a museum in 2018, however, it adds an extra twist to this time travel story by turning it into a murder mystery as well and lends itself to some very thought provoking questions.  How is this murder connected to the rest of the story?  Is the deceased from the timeline he or she was found in?  How do you catch a killer that could have come from and/or disappeared to any other point in time?

There’s a lot to love about this story but here are a few of my favorites:

Nearly all female cast of characters. If you enjoy a book with a full cast of strong female characters, then this is the book for you.  There is a minor male character or two in the book, but by and large, the story is led by women.  They have the brains, the power, the influence, and so on.  I won’t go so far as to say that all of the women in the story are likeable because Margaret really is the worst, but I will say that it is a diverse and very interesting group.

Psychological effects.  To play off the book’s title, the psychological effects on those who time travel were quite fascinating to read about.  The author clearly put a lot of thought into all of the possible reactions to having the ability to move back and forth through time.  For most who do it, it doesn’t really affect them much.  They jump forward and backwards in time, even encountering past and future versions of themselves and they don’t even bat an eye at it.  It doesn’t faze them a bit.

But then there are others who become obsessed with it.  Barbara, for example.  Once Margaret and the gang kick her out of their project, she spends most of the rest of her life obsessing about how to figure out a way back into their good graces and into the program because she’s desperate to time travel again.

Worldbuilding.  The worldbuilding in this story, especially with respect to the time traveling is just so intricate.   I thought it was brilliant that a time traveler could encounter older and younger versions of themselves. I also loved all the lingo the author came up with to describe time traveling itself and as well as the social structure within the Conclave.  I especially liked the idea that younger versions of yourself that you encountered were considered ‘Green’ while older versions of yourself that you encountered while time traveling were called ‘Silver.’

And yes, this is one seriously mind-bending book. The synopsis does not lie about that. LOL!  There were times when I expected to completely lose the plot because of all the intricate crisscrossing back and forth through time, but I’ll give the author major props in that she held on to all of the seemingly divergent threads of the story and managed to bring them all together to a cohesive and satisfying conclusion.

Ethical Questions.  I love a book that gives me food for thought and The Psychology of Time Travel definitely succeeded on that level.  In some ways the story can be quite disturbing, especially when it comes to the almost total disregard for danger and death that the time travelers have.  It’s like they’ve seen themselves and their loved ones at so many different points in the past and future that they’ve become immune to the idea of dying. It has no meaning for them.

The Conclave also seems to be ripe for corruption as they have such a monopoly on time travel and have their own rules and currency and court system.  The way they manipulate the system and move their money around to pay taxes whenever it’s most beneficial to them especially caught my attention.  I could see this book being a big hit with book clubs because there’s just so much to think about and discuss.  Does absolute power corrupt absolutely?

 

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Psychology of Time Travel.  The only real issue I ran into was that partway through the book, the author added some extra POVs to the storytelling.  What the new perspectives added to the overall plot was vital so I understood why the author added them, but it was a little confusing since I had gotten so used to the original voices who were presenting the story.  The later additions also didn’t feel as developed as the earlier characters, which added to the challenge of keeping the characters and their places on the timeline straight in my mind.

Kate Mascarenhas’ The Psychology of Time Travel offers a fresh take on the concept of time traveling.  It’s equal parts science fiction and murder mystery, with a case study of the psychological effects of time travel thrown in for good measure. There’s really a little something for everyone.  I definitely look forward to reading more from Kate Mascarenhas.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Perfect for fans of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures comes The Psychology of Time Travel, a mind-bending, time-travel debut.

In 1967, four female scientists worked together to build the world’s first time machine. But just as they are about to debut their creation, one of them suffers a breakdown, putting the whole project—and future of time travel—in jeopardy. To protect their invention, one member is exiled from the team—erasing her contributions from history.

Fifty years later, time travel is a big business. Twenty-something Ruby Rebello knows her beloved grandmother, Granny Bee, was one of the pioneers, though no one will tell her more. But when Bee receives a mysterious newspaper clipping from the future reporting the murder of an unidentified woman, Ruby becomes obsessed: could it be Bee? Who would want her dead? And most importantly of all: can her murder be stopped?

Traversing the decades and told from alternating perspectives, The Psychology of Time Travel introduces a fabulous new voice in fiction and a new must-read for fans of speculative fiction and women’s fiction alike.

 

four-stars

About Kate Mascarenhas

Kate Mascarenhas is a writer.

Born in 1980, she is of mixed heritage (white Irish father, brown British mother) and has family in Ireland and the Republic of Seychelles.

She studied English at Oxford and Applied Psychology at Derby. Her PhD, in literary studies and psychology, was completed at Worcester.

Since 2017 Kate has been a chartered psychologist. Previously she has been an advertising copywriter, bookbinder, and doll’s house maker. She lives in the English midlands with her partner.

Her new novel, The Psychology of Time Travel, is published in the UK by Head of Zeus. It will be available in the US from Crooked Lane in February 2019.

Early Review: ONCE UPON A RIVER

Early Review:  ONCE UPON A RIVEROnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
four-half-stars
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Years ago I read and fell in love with Diane Setterfield’s bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale.  Setterfield’s storytelling abilities and her atmospheric settings thoroughly captivated me and so when I read that she had a new novel coming out, Once Upon a River, I couldn’t get over to Netgalley fast enough so that I could request it.

I was a little nervous going in that my expectations were way too high just because I loved The Thirteenth Tale so much, but those fears were alleviated almost immediately as I was pulled into Once Upon a River’s magical tale right away.  The story itself follows several families who live in a town located near the Thames River and how their lives changed forever one winter night when an injured man staggered into the Swan Inn with a dead little girl in his arms.

The local nurse is summoned to examine both the man and the girl, and even though all signs indicate that the little girl is, in fact, dead, a few moments later, the girl inexplicably starts breathing again and opens her eyes.  No one can explain what has happened and the girl, who no one recognizes, including the man who found her and brought her to the inn, cannot speak so in addition to her miraculous and unexplainable return from the dead, her identity is also a mystery.

There is speculation that she is the long lost daughter of the Vaughn family, whose child was kidnapped two years before and hasn’t been seen since, but there is also the possibility that she could be the grandchild of Mr. Armstrong, whose mother was rumored to have killed herself and tried to drown her child in the river.

The townspeople are left with endless questions and so the search is on to figure out who the little girl is, what happened to her, while in the backs of everyone’s mind is the real question:  Was she really dead and if so, why isn’t she still dead?

I loved that Setterfield chooses to set Once Upon a River around the Thames River and that her version of the Thames has an almost mythological, supernatural quality to it.  My favorite bit of folklore attributed to the river in this tale is Mr. Quietly, the boatman who appears to those who find themselves in distress in the river.  It is said that Quietly will either escort you safely to land if it’s not your time to go, but that if it is your time, he will escort you to the “other side of the river.”  At its heart, Once Upon a River is about stories and folklore and how they can shape and influence people’s lives and so the river and all of the lore surrounding it really helps to lend an atmospheric quality to the story as a whole.

The story is actually so atmospheric and embedded with lore that for the characters in the story, the lines between the real and the imagined at times become blurred and this adds to the appeal of the story because Once Upon a River also contains this mystery about the little girl that must be solved.  It’s hard to talk about the mystery without giving away too much, but I will say that Setterfield crafts the mystery in such a way that it unfolds almost like a fairytale.  In fact, the whole book almost reads as if it’s a fairytale.  It has that quality of magical realism that we often see in books like those of Alice Hoffman or even Neil Gaiman.

I also found the cast of characters Setterfield creates to be an endearing bunch.  The appearance of the mysterious little girl opens up a lot of old wounds for those in the town who have lost a child.  It actually hurts to watch so many people get their hopes up about this little girl, knowing that she can only belong to one family, which means many others will end up disappointed and crushed by the loss all over again.

In contrast to those families who are haunted by this girl, there are also the other townsfolk who, although they aren’t really the focus of Once Upon a River, they still add a richness to the story because they all fancy themselves storytellers and they all latch on to the events of that fateful night and spin tale after tale, adding whatever creative details suit the purposes of their individual stories.  The storytellers ultimately end up infusing the girl’s story into the existing lore of the river, further blurring those lines between the real and the magical/supernatural.

I’d also like to speak a bit on the pacing of the novel.  If you’re expecting a fast-paced thrill ride as the mystery in Once Upon a River unfolds, you will probably be disappointed.  This is a mystery that unfolds at its own pace, where the reader is meant to savor each detail and each clue as they are revealed.  You’re meant to observe all of these seemingly unrelated characters and how they each share a possible connection to the little girl.  Yes, there are plenty of twists and turns and unexpected surprises, but the reveal builds slowly over time.  I will say that I typically prefer my mysteries to be fast-paced, but Setterfield makes the slower pace really work here.  I don’t think the story would have had such a magical feel to it if the pace had been faster.

One last element of the story that really appealed to me was that it also included the use of scientific experimentation to try to explain away the unexplainable.  I loved that although Nurse Rita feels the same draw to this little girl that everyone else feels, her scientific mind won’t let her just accept what has happened and move on.  She won’t be satisfied until she has tested every possible hypothesis for why the girl was dead but then wasn’t.  I really liked the balance between Rita’s scientific curiosity and the supernatural elements throughout Once Upon a River.

NONE!

If you’re looking for an atmospheric mystery that reads like a fairytale, look no further than Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River.  It’s truly an exquisite piece of storytelling.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

four-half-stars

About Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield is a British author. Her debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale (2006) was published in 38 countries worldwide and has sold more than three million copies. It was number one in the New York Times hardback fiction list for three weeks and is enjoyed as much for being ‘a love letter to reading’ as for its mystery and style. Her second novel is Bellman & Black (2013), an unusual genre-defying meditation on workaholism, Victorian mourning ritual and rooks, and her third, Once Upon a River, will be published in early 2019.

Born in rural Berkshire, Diane spent most of her childhood in the village of Theale. After schooldays at Theale Green, Diane studied French Literature at the University of Bristol. Her PhD was on autobiographical structures in André Gide’s early fiction. She taught English at the Institut Universitaire de Technologie and the Ecole nationale supérieure de Chimie, both in Mulhouse, France, and later lectured in French in the UK. She left academia in the late 1990s to pursue writing.

The Thirteenth Tale was acquired by Heyday Films and adapted for television by the award-winning playwright and scriptwriter, Christopher Hampton. Starring Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Colman, it was filmed in North Yorkshire and broadcast by BBC2 in 2013.

Diane now lives in Oxford by the Thames. When not writing she reads widely, and when not actually reading she is usually talking or thinking about reading. She is, she says, ‘a reader first, a writer second.’

Mini Reviews: ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS & A CHRISTMAS REVELATION

Mini Reviews:  ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS & A CHRISTMAS REVELATION'Twas the Knife Before Christmas by Jacqueline Frost
four-stars
Series: A Christmas Tree Farm Mystery #2
Published by Crooked Lane Books on November 23, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Holiday, Cozy Mystery
Pages: 246
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A Christmas delight, ’Twas the Knife Before Christmas will charm the stockings off readers of Joanne Fluke and Leslie Meier.

It’s out of the cupcake tin, into the fire for Holly White’s best friend, Caroline. Can Holly clear Caroline’s name in time to go caroling?

When a body turns up in the dumpster behind Caroline’s Cupcakes, Holly White is horrified to learn her best friend Caroline is the main suspect. Everyone in town, including Mistletoe, Maine’s sheriff, saw Caroline fighting with the victim on the night of his death. Worse, Caroline’s fingerprints are all over the murder weapon, a custom-designed marble rolling pin.

Now, just ten days before Christmas, Holly’s up to her jingle bells in holiday shenanigans and in desperate need of a miracle. Juggling extra shifts at her family’s Christmas tree farm and making enough gingerbread jewelry to satisfy the crowd is already more than she can handle—and now she has to find time to clear her best friend of murder. Add in her budding relationship with the sheriff, and run-ins with an ex-fiancé looking to make amends, and Holly’s ready to fly south until springtime.

But her Sherpa-lined mittens come off when Caroline is taken into custody. Can Holly wrap up the case in time for Christmas…even after she gains the true killer’s attention? Find out in ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas, Jacqueline Frost’s second pine-scented Christmas Tree Farm mystery.

Review:

If you’re looking for a delightful Christmas-themed cozy murder mystery, Jacqueline Frost’s ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas is sure to please.  The story is set in Mistletoe, which is a charming little town in Maine, and boy, do these folks love Christmas!  For all of you Gilmore Girls fans out there, imagine Stars Hollow but all decked out for the holidays.  That was the vibe I got the entire time I was reading and I loved it.

The story follows Holly White and her quest to clear her best friend, Caroline, who happens to be a suspect in a murder that has rocked this quaint little Christmas town.  During the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, a man is found dead, stabbed and dumped into a giant dish of peppermint candies.  The last person seen with him was Caroline, the town’s beloved owner of Caroline’s Cupcakes, and they were having a pretty heated argument.  Although no one can believe their sweet Caroline could possibly be a murderer, she still finds herself a suspect.  Holly, in particular, knows her friend is innocent and makes it her mission to prove Caroline’s innocence and find the real killer, even if she drives her boyfriend, the town’s sheriff, crazy in the process.

‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas is filled with characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. Holly, Caroline, and Sheriff Evan are all very likable, and some of the secondary characters are so quirky and fun that they practically steal the show. There’s Cookie Cutter who likes to brew “special” tea that is sure to put an extra kick in your step, a la Peppermint Schnapps, and then there’s Ray, who is so overprotective of his mother because she’s dating a new man, that he spends most of the book sneaking around spying on their dates.  Oh, and I can’t forget Holly’s cat, who has the best pet name ever, Cindy Loo Who.  Between the fabulous characters and a murder mystery that has plenty of twists and turns to keep the story interesting, I can’t recommend ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas highly enough. Cozy mystery fans are sure to love it!  4 STARS

 

Mini Reviews:  ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS & A CHRISTMAS REVELATIONA Christmas Revelation by Anne Perry
Also by this author: Twenty-One Days (Daniel Pitt, #1)
three-half-stars
Series: Christmas Stories #16
Published by Ballantine Books on November 6, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Holiday, Mystery
Pages: 192
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In this intriguing, uplifting holiday mystery from bestselling author Anne Perry, an orphan boy investigates a woman's kidnapping--and discovers there's more at stake than a disappearance.

It wouldn't quite be Christmas without a holiday mystery decorated with all the Victorian trimmings as only New York Times bestselling author Anne Perry can render it. Now the tradition continues as mayhem is once again found under the mistletoe, and intrigue stalks the cobblestone streets and gaslit parlors of old London Town.

Formerly a river urchin living on the banks of the Thames, nine-year-old Worm has never experienced a family Christmas. But thanks to a job at Hester Monk's clinic in Portpool Lane, he's found a makeshift family in kindly Miss Claudine Burroughs and curmudgeonly old bookkeeper Squeaky Robinson.

When Worm witnesses the abduction of a beautiful woman by a pair of ruffians just days before Christmas, he frantically turns to Squeaky for help. A one-time brothel owner, Squeaky knows the perils of interfering in nasty business, but he can't bear to disappoint Worm--or leave the boy to attempt a rescue on his own. What neither of the would-be saviors expects, however, is that the damsel in distress already has her dilemma well in hand . . . and is taking steps to bring her captors to justice for crimes far worse than kidnapping. But the rogues, as cunning as they are deadly, are not to be underestimated. The aid of cynical old Squeaky and hopeful young Worm just might make the difference between a merry triumph over evil and a terrible yuletide tragedy.

Review:

A Christmas Revelation is the latest installment of Anne Perry’s Christmas Stories series, which takes characters from some of Perry’s other popular series and inserts them into holiday-themed stories of their own.  This was my first time reading one of these holiday stories and I’m pleased to say that overall, even though they’re supposed to be part of a series, A Christmas Revelation still works quite well as a standalone.

The story follows a nine-year old boy nicknamed Worm, who used to live on his own as a street urchin until he got himself a job at Hester Monk’s clinic.  That job also brought him a makeshift family in the form of the always kind Miss Claudine and especially in the cynical and curmudgeonly old bookkeeper, Squeaky.  Squeaky is a man who prefers to mind his own business at all costs, but when Worm comes to him, completely distraught because he thinks he has witnessed a woman being abducted, Squeaky promises Worm, against his better judgment, that he’ll help him find and rescue the woman, if she really is, in fact, in distress.  Squeaky also realizes while he and Worm are playing detective and trying to locate the missing woman, that Worm has never had a real Christmas before so he makes it his mission to deliver a real family Christmas for Worm and to explain to him the true meaning of Christmas.

What I enjoyed most about this story was that it was a nice balance between the mystery of what happened to the woman Worm saw and the Christmas aspect that Squeaky introduces.  The story also boasts what felt like a truly authentic Victorian London setting.  It felt so Dickensian that I half expected Worm and Squeaky to rush around a corner and run smack dab into Ebenezer Scrooge himself.  I also especially liked the idea that the holidays make us want to be our best selves, as is witnessed by Squeaky’s efforts to not disappoint Worm and to bring Christmas to him for the first time.  I think the story would have worked even better for me if I had known a little more of the background of these two characters, but overall it was still a great holiday read. 3.5 STARS

four-stars

About Anne Perry

Anne Perry (born Juliet Hulme) is a British historical novelist.

Juliet took the name “Anne Perry,” the latter being her stepfather’s surname. Her first novel, The Cater Street Hangman, was published under this name in 1979. Her works generally fall into one of several categories of genre fiction, including historical murder mysteries and detective fiction. Many of them feature a number of recurring characters, most importantly Thomas Pitt, who appeared in her first novel, and amnesiac private investigator William Monk, who first appeared in her 1990 novel The Face of a Stranger. As of 2003 she had published 47 novels, and several collections of short stories. Her story “Heroes,” which first appeared the 1999 anthology Murder and Obsession, edited by Otto Penzler, won the 2001 Edgar Award for Best Short Story.

Recently she was included as an entry in Ben Peek’s Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, a novel exploring the nature of truth in literature.

Series contributed to:
. Crime Through Time
. Perfectly Criminal
. Malice Domestic
. The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories
. Transgressions
. The Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories

About Jacqueline Frost

Jacqueline Frost is a mystery-loving pet enthusiast who hopes to make readers smile. She lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three spunky children. Jacqueline is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Sisters in Crime (SinC).

Review: THE CHRISTMAS SISTERS by Sarah Morgan

Review:  THE CHRISTMAS SISTERS by Sarah MorganThe Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan
four-stars
Published by Hqn on September 25, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Holiday
Pages: 407
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

 

Sarah Morgan’s The Christmas Sisters follows the story of Suzanne McBride and her three adopted daughters Hannah, Beth, and Posy.  Suzanne and Posy live in the Scottish Highlands, while Hannah and Beth have made their homes in New York City.  This year Suzanne is ecstatic because all three of her girls are coming home for Christmas and she has made it her mission in life to put together the perfect cozy Christmas for them all.  But all doesn’t go according to plan, however, because each of her daughters seem to be going through some personal drama that is weighing them down and creating tension.

When Suzanne falls ill and her plans for the perfect family Christmas start to fall apart, can her daughters set aside their own personal drama, embrace the holiday spirit, and come together to spread some Christmas cheer of their own?

The Christmas Sisters was just such an easy book to fall in love with and that’s mainly because of the complex, well drawn characters that Morgan has created with the McBride daughters.

Hannah, the eldest, is the workaholic of the group and she’s hesitant to come home because she has a life-altering secret that she has been hiding from her family.

Beth, the middle daughter, is also dealing with issues of her own.  She’s a stay-at-home mom who no longer wants to stay at home and is trying to figure out how to make that happen.

Posy, the youngest daughter, is pretty content living near her parents.  She is, however, starting to get the itch to spread her wings and travel.  She’s conflicted though because her parents really do depend on her for so much. She doesn’t want to take off and abandon them.

I really loved these characters.  Each daughter’s personality is so well-developed and realistically drawn that I felt like they could be my own family members.  I also found the personal issues they were each dealing with to be so relatable that it was just easy to connect with each of them and become invested in their journeys. They’ve also each been burdened for years by the family tragedy that took their birth parents’ lives, a tragedy that they all refuse to talk about, even though it still clearly weighs on them.  I was just really rooting for them to come together, share their secrets and problems with one another because that’s what sisters are for, and just really push through all the tension and awkwardness and just bond.

In addition to these marvelous characters, I also adored the setting of the book.  Morgan captures the beauty and the remote atmosphere of the Scottish Highlands perfectly.  I could practically feel the chill in the air every time she described the setting and it made me want to grab a cup of cocoa and sit in front of a warm fire.  Those descriptions and the feelings they conveyed made The Christmas Sisters a perfect holiday read.

The only real issue I had with the book was that I found myself frustrated with Beth, not because of her choice to go back to work, but rather because of who she chose to go to work for, a toxic boss from her past.  I won’t give away anymore details than that, but I’ll just say she had me shaking my head so much.  Even though Beth’s story frustrated and annoyed me at times, I give major props to Morgan for creating such a realistic scenario here.  I could totally see a stay-at-home mom trying to go back to work ending up in a similar situation.

With her new novel The Christmas Sisters, Sarah Morgan has crafted a heartwarming family tale that is sure to put you in the holiday spirit. This was my first time reading a novel from Sarah Morgan, but it definitely won’t be my last!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In the snowy Highlands of Scotland, Suzanne McBride is dreaming of the perfect cozy Christmas. Her three adopted daughters are coming home for the holidays and she can’t wait to see them. But tensions are running high…

Workaholic Hannah knows she can’t avoid spending the holidays with her family two years in a row. But it’s not the weight of their expectations that’s panicking her—it’s the life-changing secret she’s hiding. Stay-at-home mom Beth is having a personal crisis. All she wants for Christmas is time to decide if she’s ready to return to work—seeing everyone was supposed to help her stress levels, not increase them! Posy isn’t sure she’s living her best life, but with her parents depending on her, making a change seems risky. But not as risky as falling for gorgeous new neighbor Luke…

As Suzanne’s dreams of the perfect McBride Christmas unravel, she must rely on the magic of the season to bring her daughters together. But will this new togetherness teach the sisters that their close-knit bond is strong enough to withstand anything—including a family Christmas?

four-stars

About Sarah Morgan

USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes romance and contemporary women’s fiction and her trademark humour and sensuality have gained her fans across the globe. She is a 3 time winner of the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America and has been nominated five times. Sarah lives near London, England, and when she isn’t reading or writing she loves being outdoors.

Look out for THE CHRISTMAS SISTERS, a festive family drama out now!

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for CITY OF BONES & THE CHILD

Backlist Briefs:  Mini Reviews for CITY OF BONES & THE CHILDCity of Bones by Cassandra Clare
four-stars
Series: The Mortal Instruments #1
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on March 27, 2007
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 485
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know...

Review:

I think I’m probably the last person on the planet to start reading the Mortal Instruments series, but finally decided on jump on the bandwagon as part of this year’s Beat the Backlist challenge.  I was looking for a fun and entertaining vacation read and City of Bones, the first book in this series, really fit the bill.  It’s a bit of a brick at 458 pages, but Cassandra Clare’s writing style is so fast-paced that I breezed right through the book in just a few sittings.

The worldbuilding was probably the biggest attraction for me in City of Bones. It was a fascinating journey to follow the protagonist, Clarissa Fray (Clary), as she learns about the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders, a fantasy world that has been hidden in plain sight in NYC around her all her life.  The author does a fantastic job of weaving into her tale pretty much any kind of supernatural character you can imagine.  There are vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, demons, and of course the Shadowhunters, who are warriors tasked with ridding the world of demons.

Aside from the fantastic worldbuilding, the characters were also a huge draw.  I was a little slow to warm up to Clary at first (I’m not even sure why honestly), but I immediately became sympathetic to her when her mother goes missing and Clary is attacked by a demon in her own home.  I especially warmed up to Clary as she began to interact with the Shadowhunters, especially Jace, who is handsome but kind of an arrogant jerk at times. (I do have to give Jace bonus points though since he is willing to help Clary find her mom.)  The author writes some hilarious banter between Jace and Clary, as well as between Jace, Alec, and Isabelle, some of Jace’s fellow Shadowhunters.  They were a fun group and I especially liked how they all had each other’s backs even in the most dangerous of situations.  Clary’s friend Simon added some entertaining nerdiness to the dynamic as well.

Even though most people have probably already long since read City of Bones, I still don’t want to give away any spoiler, so I’m just going to say that the mystery of what has happened to Clary’s mother and why Clary suddenly finds herself attacked by demons really takes the reader on a journey filled with wild and crazy plot twists.  There was never a dull moment and I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.  I’ve read complaints that the story borrows from the likes of Harry Potter, Star Wars, and more, and while I did see some resemblance, it didn’t bother me and I still enjoyed the story overall.  The star I took off is primarily because I smelled an unnecessary love triangle brewing.  4 STARS.

 

Backlist Briefs:  Mini Reviews for CITY OF BONES & THE CHILDThe Child by Fiona Barton
three-half-stars
Series: Kate Waters #2
Published by Berkley Books on December 14, 2017
Genres: Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

‘An engrossing, irresistible story about the coming to light of a long-buried secret.

When a paragraph in an evening newspaper reveals a decades-old tragedy, most readers barely give it a glance. But for three strangers it’s impossible to ignore.

For one woman, it’s a reminder of the worst thing that ever happened to her.

For another, it reveals the dangerous possibility that her darkest secret is about to be discovered.

And for the third, a journalist, it’s the first clue in a hunt to uncover the truth.

The Child’s story will be told.

Review:

Fiona Barton’s The Child is a compelling story about what happens when a long-buried secret unexpectedly rears its head and threatens to shatter lives.  It follows the story of what happens when construction workers who are demolishing a house uncover the skeleton of an infant.  For most, since forensics indicate the skeleton has been there for decades, the tragedy is barely a blip on their radar, but for three women, the discovery practically turns their lives upside down.

Emma is haunted by the discovery of the skeletal remains because she fears her darkest secret is about to be revealed for all the world (and especially for her mother Jude) to see.  Not unlike Emma, Angela sees the infant’s death as a reminder of the worst thing that has ever happened to her but is also somewhat hopeful that the discovery could bring her the closure she has never gotten over the years.  And then finally, there’s Kate, a journalist who makes it her mission in life to find out who this infant is and how she ended up buried in someone’s backyard decades ago.  I thought the author did a wonderful job of fleshing out each of these characters as well as their motivations for paying such close attention to what happens every step along the way as the skeletal remains are investigated in hopes of identifying the infant.

The main issue I had with The Child was the fact that even though I was interested in why each character reacted the way they did to the discovery of the remains, I can’t say that I really connected with any of them.  I felt like a bystander watching everything play out and waiting to see whose life would be the most turned upside down as the events unfolded.  Aside from not really connecting with the characters, I also felt like the plot, although very interesting, moved very slowly at times. It was very easy to set the book down and just come back to it whenever.

Overall, The Child is still a very solid mystery that, even with the pacing issues, I still wanted to know all the answers to.  And if you can hang around until the end, Holy Plot Twist, Batman! I totally did not see the ending coming!  3.5 STARS

four-stars

About Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare was born to American parents in Teheran, Iran and spent much of her childhood travelling the world with her family, including one trek through the Himalayas as a toddler where she spent a month living in her father’s backpack. She lived in France, England and Switzerland before she was ten years old.

Since her family moved around so much she found familiarity in books and went everywhere with a book under her arm. She spent her high school years in Los Angeles where she used to write stories to amuse her classmates, including an epic novel called “The Beautiful Cassandra” based on a Jane Austen short story of the same name (and which later inspired her current pen name).

After college, Cassie lived in Los Angeles and New York where she worked at various entertainment magazines and even some rather suspect tabloids where she reported on Brad and Angelina’s world travels and Britney Spears’ wardrobe malfunctions. She started working on her YA novel, City of Bones, in 2004, inspired by the urban landscape of Manhattan, her favourite city. She turned to writing fantasy fiction full time in 2006 and hopes never to have to write about Paris Hilton again.

Cassie’s first professional writing sale was a short story called “The Girl’s Guide to Defeating the Dark Lord” in a Baen anthology of humor fantasy. Cassie hates working at home alone because she always gets distracted by reality TV shows and the antics of her two cats, so she usually sets out to write in local coffee shops and restaurants. She likes to work in the company of her friends, who see that she sticks to her deadlines.

City of Bones was her first novel.

About Fiona Barton

In Barton’s own words…

“My career has taken some surprising twists and turns over the years. I have been a journalist – senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday, where I won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards, gave up my job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and since 2008, have trained and worked with exiled and threatened journalists all over the world.

But through it all, a story was cooking in my head.

The worm of my first book infected me long ago when, as a national newspaper journalist covering notorious crimes and trials, I found myself wondering what the wives of those accused really knew – or allowed themselves to know.

It took the liberation of my career change to turn that fascination into a tale of a missing child, narrated by the wife of the man suspected of the crime, the detective leading the hunt, the journalist covering the case and the mother of the victim.

Much to my astonishment and delight, The Widow was published in 36 countries and made the Sunday Times and New York Times Best Seller lists.

It gave me the confidence to write a second book ,The Child, in which I return to another story that had intrigued me as a journalist. It begins with the discovery of a newborn’s skeleton on a building site. It only makes a paragraph in an evening newspaper but for three women it’s impossible to ignore.

The Child will be published in June 2017 and I am embarking on my next novel. My husband and I are still living the good life in south-west France, where I am writing in bed, early in the morning when the only distraction is our cockerel, Titch, crowing.”

Five Reasons Why Diane Chamberlain’s THE DREAM DAUGHTER is a Must Read

Five Reasons Why Diane Chamberlain’s THE DREAM DAUGHTER is a Must ReadThe Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on October 2, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

Before The Dream Daughter caught my eye, I have to confess that I had never given Diane Chamberlain’s novels a try.  I always thought the synopses of her books sounded interesting but somehow just never got around to reading one.  Well, let me tell you that I’m seriously kicking myself right now because I have clearly been missing out on some amazing books.  The Dream Daughter is one of the most exquisite novels I’ve ever read. I devoured it and know for certain that it will make my Best of 2018 list at the end of the year.  It’s just that good.

It’s also one of those books that is best read without knowing too much going in, so instead of writing a full fledged review here, I’m just going to give you five reasons why I loved this book and think you’ll love it too.

5 Reasons The Dream Daughter Should Be on Your Reading List

  1. I’m a huge fan of time travel novels when they are well written and Diane Chamberlain writes time travel to sheer perfection in The Dream Daughter. Using precise scientific calculations to locate portals that will take you to a date and location of your choice, Chamberlain creates a brilliant and logical time traveling premise that will stretch the bounds of your imagination but, at the same time, will make you seriously think about whether such a thing could actually be possible.
  1. The Dream Daughter is a unique blend of science fiction and historical fiction, as well as a heartwrenching domestic drama. It has a little bit of everything, and for someone like me who enjoys all three of these, having them so beautifully woven together in one story was reading heaven.  What I think Chamberlain does especially well with this is that none of these elements takes over the story so I think even someone who loves historical fiction, for example, but not necessarily sci-fi, would still love the book.
  1. The Dream Daughter is a poignant read that is sure to capture your heart. Chamberlain explores the lengths that a mother will go to and the sacrifices she is willing to make in order to save her unborn child.  I was just so moved by the main character’s plight and the strength she displayed at every step along the way.
  1. Speaking of characters, I was so impressed by the way both of the main characters in this book were written. The story is told from the point of view of Carly, a widowed soon-to-be mom who is in danger of losing her baby, and Hunter, a physicist who just appears in Carly’s life one day and ends up having a massive impact on her life.  It’s immediately easy to feel sympathy for Carly  because we learn that not only is her husband killed in the Vietnam War, but her unborn child also has an untreatable heart defect that is destined to be fatal soon after the baby’s birth.  Carly’s desperation is palpable and it’s impossible not to root for her as she tries to find a way to save her child.  Hunter, however, is equally sympathetic but he’s also a tad mysterious, which makes him all the more interesting. When we (and Carly) meet him, he is at a rehab facility recovering from a fall off a roof.  There is some question as to his mental health and whether or not the fall was actually a jump.  Although he is initially completely uncooperative with his physical therapists, he warms up to Carly right away and they become friends.  Their lives further intertwine when Hunter falls for and marries Carly’s sister and then later when he approaches Carly with a possible solution on how to save her unborn child…if she’s willing to take a giant leap of faith.  I thought Chamberlain did such an incredible job of developing compelling, layered stories for each of these characters and ultimately entwining them together into one beautifully complex story.
  1. As you’ve probably gathered by me gushing about Chamberlain’s character development, I’m a big fan of her writing style. Not only was the character development wonderful, but everything about the story was.  The prose was gorgeous, without being purple, and the pacing was perfect.  The need to save the unborn child also added such a sense of urgency that I truly could not put the book down until I knew how it ended.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From bestselling author Diane Chamberlain comes an irresistible new novel.

When Caroline Sears receives the news that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect, she is devastated. It is 1970 and there seems to be little that can be done. But her brother-in-law, a physicist, tells her that perhaps there is. Hunter appeared in their lives just a few years before—and his appearance was as mysterious as his past. With no family, no friends, and a background shrouded in secrets, Hunter embraced the Sears family and never looked back.

Now, Hunter is telling her that something can be done about her baby’s heart. Something that will shatter every preconceived notion that Caroline has. Something that will require a kind of strength and courage that Caroline never knew existed. Something that will mean a mind-bending leap of faith on Caroline’s part.

And all for the love of her unborn child.

A rich, genre-spanning, breathtaking novel about one mother’s quest to save her child, unite her family, and believe in the unbelievable. Diane Chamberlain pushes the boundaries of faith and science to deliver a novel that you will never forget.

five-stars

About Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 26 novels published in more than twenty languages. Her most recent novel is The Dream Daughter. Some of her most popular books include Necessary Lies, The Silent Sister, The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, and The Keeper of the Light Trilogy. Diane likes to write complex stories about relationships between men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and friends. Although the thematic focus of her books often revolves around family, love, compassion and forgiveness, her stories usually feature a combination of drama, mystery, secrets and intrigue. Diane’s background in psychology has given her a keen interest in understanding the way people tick, as well as the background necessary to create her realistic characters.

Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey and spent her summers at the Jersey Shore. She also lived for many years in San Diego and northern Virginia before making North Carolina her home.

Diane received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, Diane worked in hospitals in San Diego and Washington, D.C. before opening a private psychotherapy practice in Alexandria Virginia specializing in adolescents. All the while Diane was writing on the side. Her first book, Private Relations was published in 1989 and it earned the RITA award for Best Single Title Contemporary Novel.

Diane lives with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her sheltie, Cole. She has three stepdaughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren. She’s currently at work on her next novel.

Please visit Diane’s website dianechamberlain.com for more information on her newest novel, The Stolen Marriage, and a complete list of her books.

Review: FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett

Review:  FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson BennettFoundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
four-stars
Series: Founders #1
Published by Crown Publishing Group (NY) on August 21, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 505
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Foundryside is the first installment in an exciting new epic fantasy series from Robert Jackson Bennett.  Set in Tevanne, a city that runs on industrialized magic called scriving, and that is controlled by four rival Merchant Houses, Foundryside follows the story of Sancia Grado, a master thief who takes on what is supposed to be a simple job but that ends up landing her in some serious hot water.

Sancia has no idea who has hired her – she has been hired as a subcontractor of sorts by a fellow lawbreaker.  Her task is to steal a small box that is stored in a safe located in a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s waterfront.  She has simple instruction:  retrieve the box, return it to the person who hired her, and don’t look inside the box.

Well, let’s just say that things don’t go quite as smoothly as Sancia would have hoped.  She accidentally sets fire to the waterfront and makes an enemy of Captain Gregor Dandolo, who is the closest thing to law enforcement Tevanne has.  On top of all that, Sancia also can’t resist taking a peek to see what’s in the stolen box and as soon as she does, she realizes she is caught up in something way bigger than she expected.  The box contains a powerful magical artifact that could pretty much destroy life as they know it if it were to get into the wrong hands.  With that in mind, she decides she’s not going to hand over what’s in the box, especially after the guy who hired her turns up missing and it becomes clear that someone very powerful would like to get rid of her as well.

To survive, Sancia is going to have to get creative.  She needs allies, resources, and she needs to figure out a way to harness the power of the artifact herself.  It’s the only way she can make herself strong enough to prevail…

I really loved the whole cast of characters in Foundryside, particularly Sancia.  She of course falls on the anti-hero side of things a bit since she does make her living as a thief, but that just makes her all the more interesting, especially since she’s, without a doubt, the best thief in the city.  What makes her such a great thief is another fascinating side of her character – Sancia has the ability to touch something and immediately know everything about it. If she touches a building, for example, it’s almost like a blueprint of the building immediately pops into her head, as well as any potential obstacles that lie in her path.  Definitely a handy trick for a thief to have, even if Sancia has no idea how she came by this ability.  I don’t want to say too much else about it, but I’ll just say that we do find out how she has acquired this ability later in the book and it’s truly an OMG kind of moment!

In addition to her abilities, what also drew me to Sancia is that she is sassy, fierce, and resourceful, and because she never backs down from a fight.  I loved her sense of determination.  Through flashbacks, we also get hints that she has a troubled past that still haunts her and this of course gives her an added layer of vulnerability to round out her character.

Aside from Sancia, there’s also a fantastic cast of secondary characters, namely the ones who end up forming Sancia’s crew.  Captain Gregor Dandolo comes across as a bit of a butthead in the beginning as he goes head-to-head with Sancia and tries to arrest her.  Later on though, I really found myself warming up to him and admiring him for his sense of honor.  He really does want to bring some law and order to what is currently little more than a mob-run town because of the Merchant Houses.

Rounding out Sancia’s crew are Orso and Berenice, both of whom are skilled in the art of scriving.  Orso is the quintessential grumpy old man and is absolutely hilarious at times because he just grouses and grumbles his way through everything.  We don’t get to know too much about Berenice, but she is much nicer than Orso and thus is a lovely foil to his curmudgeonly personality.

Last but not least, there’s Clef.  You really need to discover Clef yourself without any hints from me, so I’m just going to say that you will adore everything about him, especially how funny he is.  As much as I loved Sancia, Clef really gave her a run for her money in terms of who was my favorite character.

The worldbuilding and the intricate magical system is where Robert Jackson Bennett truly excels with Foundryside.  He paints such a vivid portrait of the industrialized city of Tevanne and its Merchant Houses that I really felt like I was there, and the magical system of scriving was equally impressive and utterly unique.  I haven’t talked much about scriving, so let me give you a quick rundown.  On its most basic level, scriving is a magical code.  Those who are skilled in it can carve a list of scrived commands onto any object and it gives that object sentience.  What that means is that scrived commands can actually alter reality.  You could place a scrived command on a piece of cloth, for example, telling it that it’s a brick wall and the cloth would then act as if it had the properties of a brick wall.

Whoever controls this power would thus have the ability to alter the world to suit whatever their purposes are, no matter how good or bad, which is why the artifact in Sancia’s possession is so dangerous.  That artifact is tied to even more powerful ancient scriving magic.  If the ancient language can be decoded, it would give someone practically unlimited powers.

The only reason I didn’t give Foundryside 5 stars is because every once in a while, there was a bit of overexplaining that dragged down what was otherwise a very well-paced narrative.  I understand the need to fully establish and explain the intricate magical system and the history of its evolution, but I just didn’t like having those lengthy explanations interrupt an intense action scene.  It frustrated me because I wanted to keep following Sancia and her crew and see what they were up to, not get a mini lesson on the history of scriving.

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of why you should give Foundryside a try, but to say anymore would be too spoilerish and I don’t want to go there.  If you enjoy epic fantasies with a bit of a heist plot thrown in, Foundryside is your book.  It’s also your book if you’re into anti heroes and misfits who actually end up making the perfect team.  The closest book I can think of to compare it to is perhaps Six of Crows.  If you enjoyed Six of Crows, I think you’d get a kick out of this book too.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS: 

In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new fantasy series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett. 

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

four-stars

About Robert Jackson Bennett

Robert Jackson Bennett is a two-time award winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, an Edgar Award winner for Best Paperback Original, and is also the 2010 recipient of the Sydney J Bounds Award for Best Newcomer, and a Philip K Dick Award Citation of Excellence. City of Stairs was shortlisted for the Locus Award and the World Fantasy Award. City of Blades was a finalist for the 2015 World Fantasy, Locus, and British Fantasy Awards. His eighth novel, FOUNDRYSIDE, will be available in the US on 8/21 of 2018 and the UK on 8/23.

Early Review: NOT HER DAUGHTER

Early Review:  NOT HER DAUGHTERNot Her Daughter by Rea Frey
two-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on August 21, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Rea Frey’s Not Her Daughter is an engaging story that follows two women, Amy Townsend and Sarah Walker, and how their lives become entwined because of one little girl, Amy’s five-year old daughter Emma.  One day Sarah witnesses Amy behaving abusively toward Emma in the middle of a crowded airport.  She can’t get the incident out of her mind and, when a chance encounter makes their paths cross again and Sarah realizes that Amy’s abusive behavior is a chronic pattern, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  She convinces herself that she’s not really kidnapping Emma, but instead is rescuing her.  As she sets her plan into motion, it raises the question of how far Sarah is really willing to go to make sure Emma is safe?  How much is she willing to risk?

Sounds like an absolutely gripping read, right?  I checked Goodreads and it has plenty of 4 and 5 star ratings, so lots of readers are loving this book.  Sadly, I’m not one of them though so it looks like I’m going to have the Unpopular Opinion review, which is so disappointing because I really thought I would love this one..  I’m going to start with the good though because the book does have plenty of things going for it.

In spite of my overall low rating, there were a few things that I liked about Not Her Daughter, the first being that the author does tackle a very tough subject – kidnapping – and actually does so in a way that you can almost see where the kidnapping is justified.  That, in itself, is quite a feat.  She does this, of course, by making Emma’s home environment appear so completely unhealthy that you can’t help but wish that she could be removed from it.  Her mother is clearly abusive, and her father seems to just sit back and let the abuse happen unchecked.  She also has Sarah run through all of the horrible things about the foster care system as she is considering the best course of action to take to “save” Emma.  Sarah comes to the conclusion that it would be so much better for Emma to just go with her because she appreciates how special Emma is and could love her as her own instead of just dumping her in the system. Not that I would ever condone kidnapping, but it surprised me how convincing the argument Sarah made really was.  I could see this argument being a great starting point for a book club discussion – If you knew for a fact that a child was being abused, what lengths would you go to make sure that child was removed from harm’s way?

I also found it fascinating to have the story presented from the perspective of both Amy and Sarah.  Being able to get inside their heads and see what each of them is thinking is probably the best part of the book.  You get inside of Sarah’s head and understand that she comes from a background where she was abandoned by her mother when she was 8 and so it becomes clear why Emma’s experiences resonate with her to such an extreme.  Even more fascinating, however, are when we get inside of Amy’s head and actually see some of the dark thoughts she has at any given moment, especially when she thinks about whether she even wants Emma to come home.  It’s such a disturbing and non-maternal thing for a mother to think and it’s just a major WOW moment.

If you’re into stories with lots of suspense that will keep you turning the pages, Not Her Daughter really delivers in that area as well.  There are plenty of twists and turns as Sarah tries to evade the authorities, and each twist just ratchets up the suspense that much more.

I think this is going to be a case of “It’s me, not necessarily the book” but I just had several issues with the book that made it not a good fit for me.

The first is that I just didn’t feel a real connection to any of the characters in this book.  I definitely didn’t feel much of anything for Amy, her husband, or Sarah, and even though I felt very sympathetic toward Emma because of what she had gone through in her own house, I still just didn’t feel super connected to her.  Honestly, I would have expected a book on this subject matter to move me to tears, but it didn’t at all.  I just felt like a passive observer, and I’m not sure why – maybe it was the narrative style, I don’t know.

Another issue I had was that I just found some of the things that happened in the story to be farfetched.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’m going to keep this vague but the ending in particular just seemed like something that would never actually happen and because it felt so unrealistic, I was left unsatisfied with the story as a whole.

Finally, what really took this book down a star for me, was how Amy was described throughout the book.  I get it – she’s a horrible mother who probably never should have had children in the first place and everything about her is supposed to disgust me.  But why do I need to know that she’s an overweight doughy woman who eats way too much cheese, is always gassy, and only poops about once a week?  And why do I need flashbacks of her thinking about giving birth to her children and pushing them out of her “hairy vagina”?  I’m all for vivid descriptions when they add something to the story, but those just felt unnecessary and distracting.

Even though Not Her Daughter wasn’t a good fit for me, I still think many readers will find it a powerful and riveting read.  Because of the moral dilemma that Sarah faces, it’s definitely a book that will make you think.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Gripping, emotional, and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother—and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.

Emma Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes, brown hair. Missing since June.

Emma is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Kidnapper.

Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal. When a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her—far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure whether she wants her daughter back.

Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now Emma is gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But what about Emma’s real mother, back at home?

two-half-stars

About Rea Frey

Rea always wanted to be a novelist.

When she was little, her nose was either stuffed in a book, sniffing paper, absorbing words, or letting her imagination wander. If not reading, she was writing. In journals. In notebooks. In diaries. On walls. In the sand. On legal pads. On typewriters. With quills.

In college, she majored in fiction writing and somehow fell into nonfiction and personal training. Her dreams of sitting in a writer’s haven on the water, wrapped in a sweater, penning her stories, was swapped for health and wellness gigs and her first fractured steps into the important world of the Author Platform (aka social media).

After four nonfiction books were published, countless magazine and newspaper articles written, editing jobs taken, content management contracts executed, a gym co-owned, and certifications sought, she realized she was hustling for the wrong type of writing.

So, she quit.

She gave herself a window to write a novel. Eight weeks, she told herself. Eight weeks to change everything.

Never one to back down from a challenge, she wrote her novel in just a month.

The rest went something like this: Secure a phenomenal agent, join a writer’s group, bear witness to the magic of self-belief as the book got into a bidding war and landed her a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press.

Now, when asked what she does, she says the following: I’m a motherfucking writer.

Rea is a novelist. She writes books. And swears. And drinks lots of coffee. And has a daughter. And a dreamy husband. And still manages to find the magic in books.

She hopes you will put down the phone and pick up a book (preferably hers when it hits the shelves). And find the joy in reading.

Because there’s nothing quite like the power of words…

Early Review: VOX by Christina Dalcher

Early Review:  VOX by Christina DalcherVox by Christina Dalcher
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on August 21, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Christina Dalcher’s Vox is a dystopian novel set in America in the not-so-distant future.  Instead of being the land of the free and the home of the brave, however, Dalcher’s America is one where radical religious fundamentalists have taken the reins of power and have implemented what they call the “Pure Movement.”  What the Pure Movement entails is basically stripping women of all of their basic rights, including the right to speak. One day women are just removed from the workforce and fitted with bracelets that count the number of words they speak.  If they go over the their daily allotment of 100 words, or if they try to skirt the 100 word limit by using any form of non-verbal communication, there are severe consequences.

Girls are also placed into different schools from boys and no longer receive the same caliber of education.  They are taught how to do basic arithmetic and how to do household chores like sewing and cooking, the idea being that they are meant to take care of household responsibilities while the men in their lives go out and earn a living.  Cameras have been mounted everywhere to make sure women and girls are falling into line as expected and punishments are readily doled out if they are not complying.

Needless to say, life is pure hell for women like Dr. Jean McClennan, the protagonist in Vox.  Jean is a renowned linguist who was engaged in groundbreaking research that would benefit stroke victims when she is forced out of work and fitted with a bracelet.  Jean is in denial that this is actually happening and she’s absolutely furious at herself for not seeing the signs and not trying to do something to stop this movement from taking hold.  She’s also angry at the men in her life for going along with it and she’s furious at women like her neighbor, Mrs. King, who seem perfectly content with this new way of life.  Most of all, Jean is livid because of how quickly she sees her young daughter fall into line and embrace the idea of speaking as few words in a day as possible.

So what happens when Jean is offered a temporary reprieve from her new way of life because the President needs her expertise?  Can she figure out a way to put a stop to this horrid movement before she, her daughter, and all American women are stripped of their voices?

 

Gosh, where to start with this book?!  I’m always a big fan of books that really make me think and that get to me on an emotional level, and wow, does this book ever fit the bill in both of those categories!  I think The Handmaid’s Tale and maybe The Hunger Games are the last two books I’ve read that got to me the same way Vox did.  I was so angry the whole time I was reading and lost track of how many times I just wanted to fling it across the room.  Why?  I think because even though the book falls into the dystopian category, it just felt so darn plausible.  Way too plausible, honestly, especially given the current administration in charge in the U.S. How many times have we heard this President make sexist and derogatory comments about women?  I get the feeling that he and his cronies would be all too happy to shut women up if they could and so this book resonated with me immensely for that reason.  If I wasn’t already an activist prior to reading Vox, it would definitely motivate me to become one.

In addition to how much it resonated with me and made me think about our government and how easily things could go horribly wrong if a radical movement were to take hold, I also loved how the author really thought of every little detail as she was building this dystopian version of America.  My very first question while reading was why wouldn’t all women just flee the country as soon as they got wind of what the founders of this movement had in mind?  The author took care of that right away by having their passports confiscated.  And it was like that all along the way…every time I thought of something that made a world like this seem highly unlikely, Dalcher immediately came up with something that made it suddenly seem all too likely.  She really thought of every little detail and made the idea of this kind of society frighteningly realistic, especially when she illustrates how this group pushes their agenda using the schools so as to indoctrinate them at a young age.

Another huge selling point of the book for me was, of course, the protagonist, Dr. Jean McClennan.  Can you imagine being at the top of your field in such an important line of work and suddenly being told to go home and shut up?  I felt tremendous sympathy for her, not just for her own loss of voice but also because she has to watch her daughter grow up accepting such a horrible way of life.  I thought the author did an incredible job of portraying the array of emotions that Jean was feeling – the initial denial, the anger, the frustration, the growing hostility toward the men around her, including her own eldest son who seems to have immediately embraced the Pure Movement, all of it is palpable and as a mother, I found it all so easy to relate to.

 

Overall, I thought Vox was an incredibly well written and gripping read.  The only real issue I had with it was that it felt like the ending wrapped up a little too quickly.  It just felt a little rushed and like maybe a few things fell into place a little too conveniently.

 

Vox is an utterly terrifying book in part because even though it’s supposed to be a dystopian read, it seems like something that could easily happen if the wrong people were ever in power.  It serves as a warning to us all to never take for granted what we consider to be our rights and to pay attention to what is going on at all levels of government.  The world on display in Vox is reminiscent of what we see in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale so I’d definitely recommend to fans of that book and TV series.

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial–this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end. 

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

four-stars

About Christina Dalcher

Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.

Her short stories and flash fiction appear in over one hundred journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Dalcher’s novels.

After spending several years abroad, most recently in Sri Lanka, Dalcher and her husband now split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy.
Her debut novel, VOX, will be published in August 2018 by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A FEAST FOR CROWS & RUIN AND RISING

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A FEAST FOR CROWS & RUIN AND RISINGA Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Also by this author: A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)
three-half-stars
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire, #4
Published by Bantam Books on October 17, 2011
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 1061
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

With A Feast for Crows, Martin delivers the long-awaited fourth volume of the landmark series that has redefined imaginative fiction and stands as a modern masterpiece in the making.

After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it's not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.

Review:

I always feel like I have accomplished something monumental every time I finish one of George R.R. Martin’s books and A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, is no exception.  Every book in the series is challenging and a major time investment because of the intricate plots, detailed worldbuilding, and all of the machinations of those who are jockeying for position to seize control of the Iron Throne.  These are not light reads by any stretch of the imagination.

What makes A Feast for Crows so much more of a challenging read, however, is that several of the major players from the first three books are suddenly missing and their absence, at least for me anyway, poses a huge distraction. With each chapter that I finished, I kept turning the page expecting to see a chapter from Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen.  I found their absence incredibly frustrating, especially since they are three of my favorite characters.  It was also frustrating because not only was I not getting three of my favorites, but now all of the sudden, four books into the series, I’m suddenly getting a whole slew of new narrators. While these new players are no doubt important to the overall series plot, they just weren’t who I wanted to read about, especially after the events of the third book.

A Feast for Crows also has a slightly different feel from the others in that there was a lot less action (i.e. favorite characters dying) and a lot more character development.  Brienne of Tarth’s chapters were probably my favorite because I’m just such a huge fan of her absolute determination to keep her oath to Catelyn Stark, even as her journey continues to take more and more dangerous turns and trying to fulfill that oath may end up costing Brienne her own life.  After Brienne, I’d have to say that Cersei Lannister’s chapters are a close second favorite. Even though she probably has the most uphill battle of all of those vying for the Iron Throne, she will stop at absolutely nothing to try to take it. Cersei possesses this unique combination where she comes across as utterly ruthless yet somehow still a bit vulnerable.  I love to hate her, but at the same time, I find myself cheering her on even as I ultimately want her to fail. Other favorites who appear in this book are Jaime Lannister, whose journey toward redemption continues, as well as the Stark sisters, Arya and Sansa, who each appear to be on journeys where they must give up their own identities, at least temporarily, in order to survive.

Even though A Feast for Crows is not my favorite book in the series, it’s still overall a solid read.  The brilliant character arcs of each of the characters I mentioned really does help to offset the frustration that the absence of Jon, Tyrion, and Daenerys creates.  They better be in the next book though, and the dragons too! 3.5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A FEAST FOR CROWS & RUIN AND RISINGRuin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
Also by this author: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)
four-stars
Series: Shadow and Bone, #3
Published by Indigo on June 19, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 350
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

Review:

I’m so excited to be able to say that, with my reading of Ruin and Rising, I have finally finished Leigh Bardugo’s  Grisha Trilogy!  The one thing I hate about trying to review series books is that it’s so hard to talk about the final book in a series without spoiling the entire rest of the series.  Because I really don’t want to spoil anything for those who have yet to visit the Grishaverse, I’m going to be both vague and brief in my remarks.

First and foremost, let me say that overall I found Ruin and Rising to be a very satisfying ending to the Grisha trilogy. Did I get everything I wanted?  No, not entirely, but I did get enough that I was content when I reached the last page and closed the book.  I think much of my contentment has to do with the fact that I was solely invested in Alina finding that third amplifier and defeating the Darkling to save Ravka.  I was not at all invested in any of the three romantic possibilities that presented themselves to her.  Since I usually loathe love triangles in any form, I actually consider it quite a testament to Bardugo’s storytelling abilities that I was able to fully enjoy the overall storyline without getting super annoyed by Alina’s attraction to Mal, the Darkling, and to Nikolai.  Normally something that like would have me wanting to fling the book across the room, lol.

I do have to admit that my love of the Darkling was completely obliterated in this final book.  He crossed enough lines this time around that there was just no redeeming himself in my mind.  The biggest draw for me in this third book, instead, was actually watching Alina, forever the underdog whether she’s a saint or not, regroup and come up with a new plan to take down the Darkling.  I loved watching her move so naturally into that leadership role, just as I also loved watching Alina and her team in their pursuit of that third amplifier, which was so desperately needed if she was going to have a chance of overpowering the Darkling.  And don’t even get me started on the huge plot twist involving the third amplifier. That totally blew my mind!

While I do wish that a few characters had gotten better endings (I’m looking at you, poor Nikolai), overall, I thought everything about the ending was quite fitting and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the series to anyone who enjoys reading fantasies and is looking for a quick and addictive read. 4 STARS

three-half-stars

About George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin was born September 20, 1948, in Bayonne, New Jersey. His father was Raymond Collins Martin, a longshoreman, and his mother was Margaret Brady Martin. He has two sisters, Darleen Martin Lapinski and Janet Martin Patten.

Martin attended Mary Jane Donohoe School and Marist High School. He began writing very young, selling monster stories to other neighborhood children for pennies, dramatic readings included. Later he became a comic book fan and collector in high school, and began to write fiction for comic fanzines (amateur fan magazines). Martin’s first professional sale was made in 1970 at age 21: “The Hero,” sold to Galaxy, published in February, 1971 issue. Other sales followed.

In 1970 Martin received a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, graduating summa cum laude. He went on to complete a M.S. in Journalism in 1971, also from Northwestern.

As a conscientious objector, Martin did alternative service 1972-1974 with VISTA, attached to Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation. He also directed chess tournaments for the Continental Chess Association from 1973-1976, and was a Journalism instructor at Clarke College, Dubuque, Iowa, from 1976-1978. He wrote part-time throughout the 1970s while working as a VISTA Volunteer, chess director, and teacher.

In 1975 he married Gale Burnick. They divorced in 1979, with no children. Martin became a full-time writer in 1979. He was writer-in-residence at Clarke College from 1978-79.

Moving on to Hollywood, Martin signed on as a story editor for Twilight Zone at CBS Television in 1986. In 1987 Martin became an Executive Story Consultant for Beauty and the Beast at CBS. In 1988 he became a Producer for Beauty and the Beast, then in 1989 moved up to Co-Supervising Producer. He was Executive Producer for Doorways, a pilot which he wrote for Columbia Pictures Television, which was filmed during 1992-93.

Martin’s present home is Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a member of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (he was South-Central Regional Director 1977-1979, and Vice President 1996-1998), and of Writers’ Guild of America, West.

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the Six of Crows Duology and the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising), as well as the upcoming Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Aug 2017) and The Language of Thorns (Sept 2017).

She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

She would be delighted if you followed her on Twitter, elated if you visited her web site, and fairly giddy if you liked her selfies on Instagram.