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Book Review – A Time of Torment by John Connolly

Book Review – A Time of Torment by John ConnollyA Time of Torment (Charlie Parker #14) by John Connolly
four-stars
Series: Charlie Parker #14
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books on August 2nd 2016
Genres: Mystery, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

Goodreads Synopsis:

Dangerous and driven private investigator Charlie Parker returns in the latest gripping thriller of internationally bestselling author John Connolly’s series, in which ungodly fears haunt a strange and isolated community.

Jerome Burnel was once a hero. He intervened to prevent multiple killings, and in doing so destroyed himself. His life was torn apart. He was imprisoned, brutalized.

But in his final days, with the hunters circling, he tells his story to private detective Charlie Parker. He speaks of the girl who was marked for death, but was saved; of the ones who tormented him, and an entity that hides in a ruined stockade.

Parker is not like other men. He died, and was reborn. He is ready to wage war.

Now he will descend upon a strange, isolated community called the Cut, and face down a force of men who rule by terror, intimidation, and murder.

All in the name of the being they serve. All in the name of the Dead King.

My Review:

I have to confess that prior to receiving a pre-approval from NetGalley inviting me to review A Time of Torment, I had never heard of John Connolly nor had I read a single book from his Charlie Parker series. I was therefore a little hesitant to accept the invitation to review since this is actually the 14th book in the series and I typically like to read a series in order. I’m still in the honeymoon phase with Netgalley where rejections are more common than approvals, however, so I figured I would go ahead and give it the old college try and at least see if this was a series that might be of interest to me.

I’m so glad I accepted the invitation too because A Time of Torment turned out to be an incredible read for me. I literally could NOT put it down! At one point, I even had my iPad propped up on the counter as I cooked and did chores so that I could keep reading as I worked. The story is just that riveting!

I don’t want to give away too many plot details since this is a detective story, so I’m just going to focus on a few elements of the story that I really enjoyed:

Charlie Parker and his sidekicks/bodyguards, Angel and Louis. Charlie’s grit and determination really impressed me, especially since he is just fighting his way back from a near-death experience. This happened in a prior novel, but we are given enough information to know that it has affected him tremendously, both personally and professionally. I also liked how devoted Angel and Louis were to him. No matter how tough the stakes got, they always had his back. The three of them made for one hell of a team, a force to be reckoned with, and so it was easy to connect with them and want them to succeed. I also liked that, even though it was overall a pretty creepy read, their interactions were still infused with enough witty banter to lighten the mood at times. I just really liked these guys and look forward to reading some of the older books to watch their relationships develop.

Charlie’s Case – The case that Charlie was hired to investigate was truly fascinating in terms of its complexity and that it all comes about because one man, Jerome Burnel, finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jerome plays the part of a hero by stopping two men from committing armed robbery, but in doing so, he ends up killing the two men while trying to protect himself and the store owners. Well, apparently, these were the wrong two guys to kill because their deaths set off a chain of revenge against Jerome that is nearly impossible to even fathom. He ends up framed for a crime he didn’t commit and spends five years in prison where he is tortured almost daily by his fellow prisoners. Jerome is convinced that this trail of horror that has dogged him since he shot those two men, and that as soon as he is released from prison, someone will end his life. When he is finally released, he immediately goes to Charlie Parker. He tells Charlie his story and about his belief that something bad is going to happen to him, and he wants to hire Charlie to investigate if something does in fact happen to him. Jerome’s prediction comes true and so Charlie Parker and his associates are on the case, which takes them down the East Coast from Maine to West Virginia, to a cult-like group called The Cut. Charlie immediately suspects that The Cut may be involved, but they are a dangerous group to deal with and the local law enforcement tends to steer clear of them as much as possible and so doesn’t take kindly to Charlie coming in to kick the hornet’s nest, so to speak. It’s fascinating to see how much power this group wields in the town and I loved the tension and suspense that Connolly creates by having Charlie just roll into town, ready to take on The Cut — and anyone else who gets in his way — to get what he needs, no matter what.

The Cut – Wow, what a deranged group of people! The things they do to outsiders who cross them, not to mention what they’re willing to do to each other, will truly have your jaw hanging open. These are vicious characters you’ll truly love to hate and will want Charlie to bring down, whether or not they even have anything to do with Jerome’s disappearance.

John Connolly’s Writing Style – I really enjoyed the way Connolly wove together this mystery. The narrator is third person omniscient so we get to follow along seeing what Charlie sees as he is investigating, but then we also get chapters that focus on other seemingly random characters – characters Charlie hasn’t encountered yet – and we get just enough information about them to wonder how they will fit into the investigation. Then we return to Charlie’s investigation and follow him until he does encounter them and their role is revealed. I thought doing it that way added a unique twist to the storytelling.

I also liked that Connolly included enough history from the prior novels so that this 14th novel is readable as a standalone novel, but not so much background that if you’ve read the 13 previous novels, you aren’t skipping entire passages because they feel like a rehash, which is a problem that I often have with long-running series.

The Supernatural/Paranormal Element – This was another fascinating and unique twist that made A Time of Torment so much more than a typical detective story for me. Again, I don’t want to give away too many details, but let me just say that Charlie’s search for the ‘Dead King’ in particular will keep you on the edge of your seats.

While the Supernatural element was a very entertaining aspect of the story for me, I definitely want to go back and read earlier novels because I felt like I was probably missing some background that would have made this element make even more sense to me, especially as it related to Charlie’s daughter, Sam. Even with my confusion though, the supernatural elements added even more suspense to a story that was already compulsively readable.

If I had it to do all over again, I’d probably start at the first book and read the entire series in order, but if you’re looking for a riveting read that you won’t be able to put down, then definitely give John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series a try. If the 14th book is still this good, I can only imagine how great the prior books must be.

Huge thanks to Mr. Connolly, Atria Books, and Netgalley for allowing me to preview this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: a strong 4 stars!

four-stars

About John Connolly

John Connolly was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1968 and has, at various points in his life, worked as a journalist, a barman, a local government official, a waiter and a dogsbody at Harrods department store in London. He studied English in Trinity College, Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University, subsequently spending five years working as a freelance journalist for The Irish Times newspaper, to which he continues to contribute.

His first novel, Every Dead Thing, was published in 1999, and introduced the character of Charlie Parker, a former policeman hunting the killer of his wife and daughter. Dark Hollow followed in 2000. The third Parker novel, The Killing Kind, was published in 2001, with The White Road following in 2002. In 2003, John published his fifth novel—and first stand-alone book—Bad Men. In 2004, Nocturnes, a collection of novellas and short stories, was added to the list, and 2005 marked the publication of the fifth Charlie Parker novel, The Black Angel. John’s seventh novel, The Book of Lost Things, a story about fairy stories and the power that books have to shape our world and our imaginations, was published in September 2006, followed by the next Parker novel, The Unquiet, in 2007, The Reapers, in 2008 The Lovers, in 2009, and The Whisperers, the ninth Charlie Parker novel, in 2010. The tenth Charlie Parker novel, The Burning Soul, was published in 2011, to be followed in 2012 by The Wrath of Angels. The Wolf in Winter, the twelfth Parker novel, was published in April 2014 in the UK and in October 2014 in the US. 2015 saw the publication of A Song of Shadows, the 13th Parker novel, and Night Music: Nocturnes Volume 2, the second collection of short stories. The 14th Parker novel, A Time of Torment, will be published in April 2016 in the UK and in July 2016 in the US.

In 2009, John published The Gates, his first novel for young adults. A sequel was published in 2011 as Hell’s Bells in the UK and The Infernals in the United States; the third in the Samuel Johnson trilogy, The Creeps, was published in 2013 in the UK and in 2014 in the US. DreamWorks Studios acquired the Samuel Johnson trilogy in 2015 for development as a possible franchise.

Books to Die For, a nonfiction anthology co-edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke, won the 2013 Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Critical/Biographical Book of the year.

With his partner, Jennifer Ridyard, John published Conquest, the first book in the Chronicles of the Invaders series for teenaged readers, in 2013. The second book in that series, Empire, followed in 2015, and the third, Dominion, will be out in February 2016 in the UK and in May 2016 in the US.

John Connolly is based in Dublin but divides his time between his native city and the United States, where the Charlie Parker mysteries are set.

Book Review – Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

Book Review – Magic Bitter, Magic SweetMagic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg
three-half-stars
Published by 47North on June 28th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 296
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

Goodreads Synopsis:

Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes.

During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is—as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences.

From the author of The Paper Magician series comes a haunting and otherworldly tale of folly and consequence, forgiveness and redemption.

* * * * *

My Review:

Charlie N. Holmberg’s Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet was a much darker story than I was expecting. I think maybe that pretty cover fooled me into thinking I was heading into a light, fluffy, and whimsical read.  While I did find the read to be whimsical, instead of the light and fluffy, however, I found myself immersed in a tale full of weighty themes and relevant life lessons, the dominant one being that you have to take responsibility for choices that you make because actions have consequences.

Maire is a young woman who learns this lesson the hard way. When the story opens, Holmberg grabs the reader’s attention immediately as she begins to describe Maire.  Maire is working as a baker and, curiously enough, has the ability to infuse her baked goods with qualities such as hope, strength, generosity, love – basically whatever qualities she chooses. Those qualities are then passed on to those who eat the baked goods.  What makes Maire even more interesting is that she has lost her memory – she has no idea who she is, where she came from, and no memories at all prior to the moment that a woman named Arrice found her in the forest a few years earlier and brought her to her own home to live.  Although Maire is somewhat curious about who she is and where she came from, overall she is content with the life she is living and so doesn’t dwell on her true identity too much.  Right away I found Maire to be an endearing protagonist, both because of her magic, which she seems to use only to help people, and because the memory loss gives her a human and vulnerable quality.  I found myself immediately in her corner, cheering her on, as the real action of the story began.

Holmberg then begins to deftly weave in a few plot twists, the first of which being Fyel. Maire is outside one day when she encounters Fyel, a translucent man all dressed in white, who also has wings of some sort.  He tells Maire that he is not from this world, but that he knows who she is and that she must try to remember as well.  Many of his remarks are cryptic and he refuses to tell her much more because he says she won’t believe his far-fetched tale and that if she denies the truth, she will be lost to his world forever.  He says she must piece the story together herself so that she will believe it.

Maire then becomes obsessed with trying to figure out who she is, but soon after this encounter, we have another plot twist – marauders attack Maire’s village and she is sold into slavery.  Strangely enough, her new master Allemas seems to already know who she is and even acts as though he has been searching for her, even though Maire is pretty sure they’ve never met.

The story takes a dark turn at this point because Allemas is a cruel and unpredictable master and Maire does not fare well working for him, especially once he realizes that Fyel has also found Maire. By this point, Maire is desperately trying to figure out who she is, what her connection to Allemas is, and especially what her connection to Fyel is. The second half of the book primarily follows Maire on her journey as she discovers her true identity, how she ended up where she is, and most importantly, as she realized that what happened to her was a direct consequence of choices she made in her other life. Maire’s journey is particularly fascinating in the sense that with each new memory she has about her past, her body undergoes a change as she slowly starts to transform back into what she was before she lost her memory and ended up here.

I did notice a few plot holes here and there as I was reading — things that happen that seem a little too coincidental or even the fact that Maire doesn’t seem to think it’s at all strange that she has this unusual magical baking ability, but I still thought overall this was a great read. While, like the magical baking itself, I’m not sure they really added much to the plot of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, I thought Holmberg’s whimsical touches, such as weaving various fairy tales such as Alice in Wonderland, Hansel and Gretel, and The Gingerbread Man into her story, made the story an immensely fun read.  What I really liked though were the darker threads that ran through it.  Offsetting those whimsical fairy tales as Maire discovers her true identity, is a dark tale that is reminiscent of both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Book of Genesis in the Bible.  I loved the added weight those elements gave to the overall story.

For me, the main weakness of the story was the ending. I felt like there was this huge build up to the reveal of Maire’s identity and then a rush to wrap things up, with years tacked on in an epilogue. I would have liked a little more explanation as to what specifically happened from Maire’s return home to what we see in the epilogue. That part just felt too abrupt for me. Other than that though, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet is a book I would recommend to anyone who enjoys fantasy. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to children, because even though it has those fun shout outs to familiar fairy tales, I think the darker parts of the story, particularly some things that happen to Maire along the way, would make it too violent and frightening for younger readers.

Thanks so much to Netgalley, 47North, and to Charlie N. Holmberg for allowing me the opportunity to preview this book.

Rating: 3.5 stars

three-half-stars

About Charlie N. Holmberg

Charlie Nicholes Holmberg was born in Salt Lake City, Utah to two parents who sacrificed a great deal to give their very lazy daughter a good education. As a result, Charlie learned to hate uniforms, memorized all English prepositions in alphabetical order, and mastered the art of Reed-Kellogg diagramming a sentence at age seven. She entered several writing contests in her elementary years and never placed.

Being a nerd, Charlie started writing fan-fiction as a teenager in between episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. She became a full-fledged band geek with mediocre talent in high school, where she met her husband. While she strove to win his attention by baking him cookies and throwing ramen noodles at his house, he didn’t actually ask her out until six years later.

Charlie began taking writing seriously during her undergrad at Brigham Young University, where she majored in English and minored in editing. She finally won a few writing contests. She graduated with her BA in 2010 and got hitched three months later. Shortly afterwards, her darling husband dragged her to Moscow, Idaho, where he subsequently impregnated her.

In summer 2013, after collecting many rejection letters and making a quilt out of them, Charlie sold her ninth novel, The Paper Magician, and its sequel to 47North with the help of her wonderful agent, Marlene Stringer. She currently lives with her family in Utah. Someday she will own a dog.

(Did she mention her third book, The Master Magician, totally made the WSJ bestseller list? Because it totally made the WSJ bestseller list.)