Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Review: Wildfell by London Clarke

by London Clarke
Release Date: April 27th 2018
2018 Carfax Abbey Publishing
Kindle Edition; 301 Pages
ISBN: 978-1386621218
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

After a traumatic experience with her graduate school professor, Anne Fleming disposes of all her possessions, boards a plane, and plans to check out of life. But a chance meeting on an international flight leads her to Wildfell, a gothic mansion north of London. At first glance, Wildfell seems like the perfect place to hide out, and Anne is intrigued by its strange atmosphere and history of disappearances and deaths. But echoing voices, ghostly mists, a mute girl with a sketchbook full of murders, and a possessive landlady force her to confront her deepest fears.

Anne's budding romance with gorgeous Irish actor Bain Tierney holds her to the house. But when Wildfell tenants begin disappearing and dying, Anne must decide if she trusts Bain. Is anyone in the house who they claim to be? Or are there are other forces at work inside Wildfell? And will they ever let her leave?

My Thoughts
Wildfell is one of those books I chose to read simply because of its cover. I'm not typically a cover girl but I have to admit I have an addiction to covers (and stories) about big scary houses and stories about them - probably stems from my childhood and then my growing fascinating with Gothic fiction in my teens.  Whatever the case, loved the house on the cover; however, the story, while somewhat interesting, didn't quite live up to that cover.

The main character, Anne Fleming, impulsively leaves her life behind after a traumatic experience with her college professor and heads to England, without a plan or a place to stay.  I never really questioned her reasons for leaving as everyone has a reason to want to hide once in a while, but I did question the amount of money she had on her in which to survive.  I've been to London and know how expensive that city is, and after all the purchases she made, what in the world did she live on?  Anne was a bit naive when it came to living in London even though she'd been on her own in college which kind of surprised me.  She was also very trusting, almost too much (part of the naivety I guess). She gets lucky when she is able to rent a room in a spooky old house at a very low fee.  Then strange things start to happen around her and residents begin to disappear.

The actual plot line was very enjoyable and I liked the spookiness of the story.  Even the background was interesting and left a lot to the imagination which is something I like.  I hate it when the author goes on for pages explaining every little thing as if the readers can't figure things out for themselves. This one hinted quite a bit and when you got the story, you had to piece it together. Love that. And dang, I still love spooky old houses.  It would have been nice to see Anne do some more of her own research as being a grad student you would have thought she'd be all over that so the author had to rely more on other characters to relate the information.  While it was an interesting way for Anne to have conversations with other characters so we could get to know them, I also felt it did a disservice to Anne and made her seem lazy and unwilling to figure out the truth herself even when she is given information with which to work by others.  

So while I did enjoy the fast plot and the interesting characters that were in this book, my main issue was with Anne herself.  Like I'd already mentioned above, she did seem a bit selfish and naive throughout the book.  And I just couldn't get past her leaving the U.S. without a plan, without lodgings, and without a lot of money.  It is London after all.  I also had a problem with the fact that we saw little character development in her character as a lot of her reflections were on her past and what sent her to London, including the way she left things there which didn't really help me like her a whole lot.  Without giving away too many spoilers, I really had a hard time imagining that she would dump all of her belongings in a dumpster and head to London, during winter, without proper clothing and a proper coat forcing her to buy the stuff here, spending her meager amount of money.  Makes no sense whatsoever.  I also had a problem with her stay - immigration would definitely have given her a harder time than they did coming over from the U.S. without a return ticket.  It would have been possible, but very difficult.  And she would have had to prove she had the money to purchase a return ticket as well as afford to stay during the time period.  And she definitely would not be able to work.  Get where I'm going with this?  I know I'm being fussy, but I've traveled extensively and I just couldn't get past it.

Wildfell could have been so much more than it was.  I loved the setting, the house was really interesting and definitely spooky enough for me, with enough interesting moments to catch my attention.  I really wish that some of the other characters and their stories had been explored a bit more as it would have added to the tension and drama; I could glimpse it but never really caught it.  It would have been so fascinating to really involve the others, and how these characters with these issues, were all drawn together in this place.  Anne's inner monologues really got on my nerves after a while, and I was drawn to the others for some relief so it would have been nice to really learn more about them.  A good read, and basically a good story, I think those with an interest in Gothic fiction would be interested in this one, but for me, it left me somewhat dissatisfied.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Review & Giveaway: The Monastery Murders by E.M. Powell

The Monastery Murders (Stanton & Barling, Book #2)
by E.M. Powell
Release Date: September 27th 2018
2018 Thomas & Mercer
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-1503903241
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from HF Virtual Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

Christmas Eve, 1176. Brother Maurice, monk of Fairmore Abbey, awaits the night prayer bell. But there is only silence. Cursing his fellow brother Cuthbert’s idleness, he seeks him out—and in the darkness, finds him brutally murdered.

Summoned from London to the isolated monastery on the Yorkshire Moors, Aelred Barling, clerk to the King’s justices, and his messenger Hugo Stanton, set about investigating the horrific crime. They quickly discover that this is far from a quiet monastic house. Instead, it seethes with bitter feuds, rivalries and resentments. But no sooner do they arrive than the killer strikes again—and again.

When Barling discovers a pattern to these atrocities, it becomes apparent that the murderer’s rampage is far from over. With everyone, including the investigators, now fearing for their lives, can Barling and Stanton unmask the culprit before more blood is spilled?

My Thoughts
The Monastery Murders is the second book in the Stanton & Barling medieval murder mystery series and I liked it just as much as the first book, but for very different reasons.  What I really liked in this novel were the characters and the rich historical depictions of life in a monastery during 12th century England.  The way the author describes events during this time period makes you understand the characters a bit better, but also serves to remind you of the century in which the story takes place, something a reader needs to keep firmly in their head as justice and the law are so, so, so different from today.

Fairmore Abbey is a monastery of the Cistercian Order and is where most of the action takes place. As most of the monasteries during this time place tend to be somewhat isolated, the author blends the history of several real monasteries together to create this fictional one in order to give the reader an idea of what a real monastery was like during this time period.  Personally, I have always been fascinated by life in one and the discipline it requires to actually be a monk, and this monastery is no exception.  Aelred Barling, and his assistant Hugo Stanton, head to the monastery to help the Abbot deal with a horrific murder, but they encounter much more than that.

I really liked Stanton's feelings with regards to life in the monastery simply because it seemed to mirror my own.  While I understand the reasons for wanting that kind of life, I did tend to wonder about those men who didn't have a choice about being there, and this eventually became one of the themes of this novel.  What I really enjoyed however, was the defining relationship between Stanton and Barling as they grew to respect each other, not just as co-workers, but as men as well, learning more about each other is such a confined space.  Their characters are so different from each other, but they also tend to compliment each other, with their strengths and weaknesses balancing each other out.  I also enjoyed the slight thawing in behaviour of Barling towards Stanton, with him even giving the younger man some praise now and again.  While I am glad to see them getting along much better, their somewhat prickly relationship and their bantering does make them more fun to read so I hope it doesn't change too much.  

The monastery is set in quite a harsh and unforgiving land and the author wrote about it in such a way that I felt like I was right there, could feel the cold drafts and the welcoming heat from the fires. The murders were somewhat grizzly but I really liked the premise of them, although I did feel at times I was reading a horror book and not a historical mystery novel.  I did figure out who it was quite early on simply because it made the most sense, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book.  I often got caught up in the daily lives of these men, their reluctance to get up in the freezing cold to perform their duties, the lack of sleep, the days fill with labour and prayer.  So well researched.  

The Monastery Murders is a fascinating medieval murder mystery set in quite a bleak land, one that made me reach for my blanket and snuggle deep as I was reading, grateful for my warmth.  I thought the author did a fantastic job describing the medieval nature of the abbey, the men's lives, and what it would have possibly been like to live during that time.  And while I enjoyed the mystery, I did feel like the murders were too much at one point, taking away from the lovely mystery the author had set up making me feel like I was in a horror novel instead.  I thoroughly enjoyed the developing relationship between Stanton and Barling and look forward to more adventures featuring these two men.  I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves medieval history with a twist.  


The Monastery Murders
Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar

Auschwitz Lullaby
by Mario Escobar
Release Date: August 7th 2018 (First published January 1st 2016)
2018 Nelson
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0785219958
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars


In 1943 Germany, Helene is just about to wake up her children to go to school when a group of policemen break into her house. The policemen want to haul away her gypsy husband and their five children. The police tell Helene that as a German she does not have to go with them, but she decides to share the fate of her family. After convincing her children that they are going off to a vacation place, so as to calm them, the entire family is deported to Auschwitz.

For being German, they are settled in the first barracks of the Gypsy Camp. The living conditions are extremely harsh, but at least she is with her five children. A few days after their arrival, Doctor Mengele comes to pay her a visit, having noticed on her entry card that she is a nurse. He proposes that she direct the camp’s nursery. The facilities would be set up in Barrack 29 and Barrack 31, one of which would be the nursery for newborn infants and the other for children over six years old.

Helene, with the help of two Polish Jewish prisoners and four gypsy mothers, organizes the buildings. Though Mengele provides them with swings, Disney movies, school supplies, and food, the people are living in crowded conditions under extreme conditions. And less than 400 yards away, two gas chambers are exterminating thousands of people daily.

My Thoughts
Auschwitz Lullaby is largely based on the true story of Helene Hannemann, a German woman married to a Roma, something that became illegal under the Nazi regime. As a German citizen, she didn't have to go to this camp she refuses to leave her five children and her husband and decides to go with them.  And while this is a book about concentration camps, Auschwitz in particular, it is also a book about the propaganda machine that was the Nazi regime, and how influential they were in convincing people these camps were a "good thing", despite the stories. 

Helene is a warm generous person who had to learn to survive very quickly in some very difficult conditions.  To say she was naive was generous and if it wasn't for the help of some of the other women, she would have died very early on in her stay.  Starving and losing weight, freezing, being attacked, she really had little understanding of the real danger she was in, always demanding things she felt every citizen should receive. And I'm not really sure she fully understood the danger she was in even when whole barracks were being killed because a couple of people had typhoid.  Enter Mengele (just the name gives me shivers). As a nurse Helene was recruited to work for him and had to develop a children's nursery.  Considering the many works I have read about the Holocaust and about Mengele, this is the first that really focuses on the nursery.  And I have to admit, my heart shrank a little bit at some of the horrors I was imagining I would read about.  But it was more about Helene's efforts to give the children some comfort and some hope; it was not really a story about Mengele except in regards to Helene's interactions with him as she ran the nursery. So, while there are some horrifying things in this book, it's nowhere near as graphic as some of the other books about the Holocaust have been, when I have had to put the book down after each chapter because I just couldn't go on. Thankfully, Mengele and his graphic experiments, for the most part, are not really mentioned in here. But like I said, it is a book about Auschwitz, so there is going to be some graphic scenes, it is unavoidable. 

Helene's story is definitely one that should be shared as with all other Holocaust stories, as difficult as they are to read, so that we never forget what happened.  I am one who never gets tired of reading books about the Holocaust; the number of people involved means so many different stories to tell and so many different perspectives to share.  And for those of us whose families have been affected by the war, it is important to learn about it.  What is particularly horrible about this book is knowing what Mengele was doing just down the road while he gave movies and toys to Helene's little nursery for propaganda purposes, for the big guns to see that everything was going according to plan.  Helene's interactions with Mengele were chilling, and you can feel Helene's fear of him right through the pages.  Even when she learned a bit about what was happening to the children, I have to admire her bravery in facing him and asking for more food and more clothing.  I would have been scared to death of him.  And when she learned about the twin experiments, having twins of her own, I can't even imagine what was going through her mind.  I think I would have hidden my kids. 

The book sheds more light about the Romani people and what they suffered during the Holocaust.  The writing is simple, but horrifying in its simplicity, leaving much to the imagination (and I can imagine plenty, thank you very much).  The characters were what made this book so enjoyable; there were no pages of horrifying descriptions, just scenes as they happened, which were horrifying enough.  I really liked this author's way of writing.  My only flaw with the novel, which is why I gave it the rating I did, is the beginning and end.  I don't want to spoil it so you'll have to see for yourself, but I don't think it was necessary. Helene's story was powerful enough.

Auschwitz Lullaby is one of those stories that grips you and makes you hope for a different ending.  I think part of it is because the focus was on Helene and her desperate situation to save her five children.  Because of this, she took risks, took on those in authority, all to protect not just her children, but as many children as she could.  As a German citizen she was entitled to certain things but that would have meant being separated from her children and she wasn't willing to do that.  I highly recommend this book to those who have an interest in reading about the Holocaust.  It is definitely a worthwhile entry to the genre, and reminds us that all life is precious.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Giveaway: House of Ashes by Loretta Marion

House of Ashes: A Haunted Bluffs Mystery by Loretta Marion

Supernatural Mystery 1st in Series 
Crooked Lane Books (November 13, 2018)  
Hardcover, 336 pages 
ISBN-10: 1683318439  
ISBN-13: 978-1683318439  
Digital Details Coming Soon

A family patriarch’s dying proclamation, an enigmatic disappearance, and a century-old curse converge in the shadows of a majestic home on Cape Cod’s craggy coast.
Thirty-seven-year-old painter Cassandra Mitchell is fourth-generation to live in the majestic Battersea Bluffs, a brooding Queen Anne home originally built by her great-grandparents, Percy and Celeste Mitchell, and still standing despite tragedies that have swept the generations. Local lore has it that there was a curse placed on the family and the house is haunted, though opinions are divided on whether it's by malicious or benevolent spirits. Cassie believes the latter―but now she stands to lose her beloved home to mounting debt and the machinations of her dream-weaving ex-husband.

Salvation seems to arrive when a nomadic young couple wanders onto the property with the promise of companionship and much-needed help―until they vanish without a trace, leaving behind no clue to their identities. Cassie is devastated, but determined to discover what's happened to the young couple...even as digging into their disappearance starts to uncover family secrets of her own. Despite warnings from her childhood friend, now the local Chief of Police―as well as an FBI agent who pushes the boundaries of professionalism―Cassie can't help following the trail of clues (and eerie signals from the old house itself) to unravel the mystery. But can she do so before her family's dark curse destroys everything in its path?

About the Author

An author of fiction, Loretta Marion’s writing bridges the genres of mystery and suspense and women’s fiction, always with hints of romance and humor, sometimes delving into the psychological and paranormal. She creates strong but flawed and struggling characters as appealing as the rich atmospheric settings in which the stories take place.

Loretta is a true bibliophile and has loved reading and creating with words since she was a young girl. And that affection for the written word followed her like a shadow throughout her life as she put pen to paper crafting marketing and advertising copy, educational brochures, and newsletters. But her passion for writing fiction evolved from the unlikely world of hospice. As a volunteer, she set out to establish a Legacy Story program to honor and preserve the rich heritage of the fascinating people who were soon to leave this world. The meaningful experience inspired her to create her own interesting characters and stories. Her debut novel, The Fool's Truth, was a twisty and suspenseful mystery with whispers of romance. Her newest novel, HOUSE OF ASHES – A Haunted Bluffs Mystery, is the first in a series published by Crooked Lane Books.

Though born and raised in the Midwest, Loretta fell in love with New England and has made it the setting for much of her writing. When not whipping out words on her laptop, she is traveling, enjoying outdoor pursuits, or is curled up with a delicious new book. Loretta lives in Rhode Island with her husband, Geoffrey, and their beloved Mr. Peabody, a sweet, devoted and amusing “Corgador” (Corgi-Labrador cross). (

Eighty years ago ~ Whale Rock, Massachusetts ~ Cape Cod Bay Friday, December 13th

     Percival Mitchell balled up the tele gram and threw it into the blazing tavern fire. It had arrived that morning, but he’d yet to share the devastating news with his wife. He needed some Dutch courage before he found the words to tell Celeste that now the last of their three boys had been killed. “A shot of Old Crow, Lloyd,” he said to the barkeep, then downed it, glad for the punishing burn in his throat. He’d loved all his sons, but the youngest, Ambrose, had been most like him, with a love of the sea and a desire to see the world.  They’d struck a deal: Ambrose would enlist in the Navy, but after three years’ time he would return to Whale Rock and assume his rightful place at the helm of the family business. Yet only weeks later, while Ambrose was stationed in China on the USS Panay, there’d been a surprise attack by the Japanese on his ship. The attack was allegedly a mistake, and the USS Panay just an unfortunate target— but what consolation would that be to Celeste, who had already lost her other two sons? 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Review: The Birthday by Carol Wyer

The Birthday (Detective Natalie Ward, Book #1)
by Carol Wyer
Release Date: September 27th 2018
2018 Bookouture
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1786815378
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

When five-year-old Ava Sawyer goes missing from a birthday party at a local garden centre, the police are bewildered by the lack of leads. That is until two years later, when Ava's body is found and another little girl, Audrey Briggs, goes missing. Audrey also attended that party ...

Leading the investigation is Detective Natalie Ward. A mother of two teenagers, this case chills her to the bone, and is a disturbing reminder of the last job she worked on. One that ended very badly.

Natalie soon discovers that Ava's mother has some worrying gaps in her alibi and as she digs deeper, she's sure Ava's father is not telling the full story. And what did the owner of the garden centre Elsa see that day? Something that she's not telling Natalie ...

Just as Natalie is facing up to the grim possibility that Ava and Audrey were killed by someone close to home, another little girl from the party doesn't come home from her ballet lesson. Can Natalie find a way to stop this killer before more innocent lives are taken?

My Thoughts
The Birthday is the first book in the Natalie Ward series and I enjoyed it tremendously.  With an amazing amount of twists and turns, I had to work really hard trying to figure out who the culprit was, and I enjoyed the events and journey along the way.  I am a huge fan of this author and was happy to see a new series featuring a woman detective, one with two teenage children, working hard at keeping her marriage together yet dealing with a demanding job that keeps her away from her not quite so understanding family.  

I usually stay away from murder cases involving children, but having read books by this author before, I knew she would treat the material with sensitivity, and she definitely did.  Unfortunately, Natalie joins the force just as little Ava's body was discovered, after having been missing for two years, when a local construction company digs up her remains during an expansion.  Natalie was still recovering from her previous case which didn't go very well, so finding the remains of a little girl threw all of her guards she had built around her up in the air.  I really loved her character; she was approachable, but still tough as the lead detective, trying to balance a family life and work, with a husband who was suffering with a complex after being laid off from his own job.  Working with a team that actually gets along (quite refreshing), she put a lot of pressure on herself to find the killer before he struck again.  Her fear of failure kept her going day after day as she didn't want a repeat of the previous case, one of which we only get a glimpse.  

I have always liked this author's writing, and this book is no exception, gripping the reader right from the beginning.  Trying to figure out the killer was not my primary objective as I was too interested in Natalie's story, how she worked and how she interacted with her colleagues.  I was quite impressed with Natalie and I have to give the author kudos for creating a complete package character, one who is strong and intelligent, but is still flawed.  The book moved quickly from scene to scene, quite cohesively, and I definitely liked all of the members of the team.  

The Birthday is a good start to this new series and I am looking forward to seeing what Detective Natalie is confronted with next.  As with any first book in a series, we have just been introduced to a variety of characters so I am looking forward to some character development and seeing where the author takes them as I enjoyed the people on Natalie's team and would love to see more of them. The story is fast-paced and well-structured with an interesting little story line about the killer.  Highly recommended. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Review & Giveaway: Drop Dead Ornaments by Lois Winston

Drop Dead Ornaments (An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Book 7)
by Lois Winston
Release Date: October 22nd 2018
2018 Self published
Kindle Edition; 209 Pages
ISBN: 978-1940795447
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from Great Escapes Book Tours

3.5 / 5 Stars

Anastasia Pollack’s son Alex is dating Sophie Lambert, the new kid in town. For their community service project, the high school seniors have chosen to raise money for the county food bank. Anastasia taps her craft industry contacts to donate materials for the students to make Christmas ornaments they’ll sell at the town’s annual Holiday Crafts Fair.

At the fair Anastasia meets Sophie’s father, Shane Lambert, who strikes her as a man with secrets. She also notices a woman eavesdropping on their conversation. Later that evening when the woman turns up dead, Sophie’s father is arrested for her murder.

Alex and Sophie beg Anastasia to find the real killer, but Anastasia has had her fill of dead bodies. She’s also not convinced of Shane’s innocence. Besides, she’s promised younger son Nick she’ll stop risking her life. But how can she say no to Alex? 

My Thoughts
Drop Dead Ornaments is the seventh book in the Anastasia Pollack Mystery Series and while it was a fun read, and I enjoyed it, I don't actually think it was the strongest book in the series.  This one pretty much picks up after the last book as Anastasia heads home from the hospital after her encounter with Virginia Owens and finds a bunch of teenagers in her house decorating tree ornaments.  Anastasia's son is dating Sophie, one of the teens creating ornaments for charity, which is how Anastasia and company meet the central figures involved in this book and the events that occur. Sophie's dad is the one who is arrested for murder and Anastasia wanted to help her son and his new girlfriend so she quietly started investigating despite wanting to stay uninvolved.  While I wasn't crazy about the mystery itself, I do have to agree with Anastasia's reasons for getting involved as I would have felt the same way if it was my son and his girlfriend.

The book is a light-hearted cozy mystery with lots of energy and definitely lots of action and interaction between characters.  Because I have read all the previous books, I was familiar with the backstories, but I am not sure if a reader should actually start with this one as you might be missing quite a bit of the back stories.  The author does a great job of filling you in on Anastasia's current situation and highlighting some of what is going on in her life, but there is important stuff missing.  Anastasia was still struggling with commitment issues, and her sons were finally dealing with their anger issues towards their dad, but if you haven't read the previous books, the full reasons for all of that might not be fully clear.  It also makes it difficult to fully appreciate how far Anastasia has come since the first book and her relationship with Zack is one of the things I enjoy reading about in this series.  I love her inner demons about whether Zack is really a spy or not, and now I am starting to wonder myself.  There is a secret part of me that hopes he is and his story line will make an appearance in future books.  And I am still not crazy about her mother-in-law and would love to see her gone from the books, but in a spectacular way.  I don't even find her character interesting, to say the least.  Ira though, is interesting, and I wonder what the author has in store for him.

In this book we sort of have two mysteries, both of which are rather weak in my opinion, but there you have it.  There is the murder that involved Shane, Sophie's father, and while I understood Sophie's anger, I was not impressed with her behaviour as she sounded like a brat, even after the murder was sort of, kind of, solved.  To be honest, there really wasn't a whole lot of investigating around the murder, and I was somewhat disappointed at how everything turned out, and the result was not really satisfying.  I like my mystery stories to have a bit more meat to them and this one just...didn't.  The other mystery involved Lucille, the mother-in-law, and her disappearance.  Not really interesting in my book.  And I'm not sure how it fit into the story.  Luckily, the engaging characters and the witty dialogue saved the book.  I enjoyed their antics, even if I wasn't crazy about the mystery story line and was looking for more, and I have always enjoyed their interactions. The pacing of the book was quick and I do have to admit the author went out of her way to try to have some twists and turns to engage the reader.  

Drop Dead Ornaments had its usual cast of engaging characters and lively dialogue as well as some interesting moments, but for me, the mystery portion of the book was lacking.  I like it when there is a more active investigation and while I liked the repartee between Anastasia and the cops, there really wasn't much of a mystery with which to work, and it was kind of pushing the edge of believability when Shane didn't even recognize the person who died because they had changed that much.  I am willing to push the boundaries, but only so much.  However, that being said, I loved the other books a lot so I do highly recommend you give this series a try, and even if this book wasn't the strongest book in it, it was still a fun read.  


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