Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Trust by Ronald H. Balson

5 Star

When his uncle dies, Liam Taggart reluctantly returns to his childhood home in Northern Ireland for the funeral—a home he left years ago after a bitter confrontation with his family, never to look back. But when he arrives, Liam learns that not only was his uncle shot to death, but that he’d anticipated his own murder: In an astonishing last will and testament, Uncle Fergus has left his entire estate to a secret trust, directing that no distributions be made to any person until the killer is found. Did Fergus know, but refuse to name, his killer? Was this a crime of revenge, a vendetta leftover from Northern Ireland’s bloody sectarian war? After all, the Taggarts were deeply involved in the IRA. Or is it possible that the killer is a family member seeking Fergus’s estate? Otherwise, why postpone distributions to the heirs? Most menacingly, does the killer now have his sights on other family members? 

As his investigation draws Liam farther and farther into the past he has abandoned, he realizes he is forced to reopen doors long ago shut and locked. Now, accepting the appointment as sole trustee of the Fergus Taggart Trust, Liam realizes he has stepped into the center of a firestorm.

Kathryn - 5 Star

I really enjoyed my past Ronald H. Balson reads and so was delighted to sink my teeth into this one.  Set in the present with family ties to recent history the plot covers the life of Liam from his childhood in Ireland (during the period referred to as The Troubles) to the his current position of being the trustee of his uncle's will. 

There are a lot of characters and it's important to get them straight or you will find yourself confused.  Not only are there a number of family members and beneficiaries to the will but there are a lot of other possible "suspects".  Suspects because the death of his uncle is deemed to be suspicious by both the police and the family. 

I found the juxtaposition between the imminent danger and the complex family relationships to be fascinating. There are many loving bonds in this family and also a number of conflicts which kept me on my toes. Things seemed to be changing constantly especially as they seemed to be getting no closer to a culprit. 

Reviewing thrillers and mysteries is difficult without giving away the plot but I will say again that I was engaged all the way through and loved the historical aspect that peppered the plot. And though I had an idea of who would eventually be the culprit I wasn't sure until the very end. 

A great read and something a little bit different.

Thank you to St Martin's Press for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Queen of Bloody Everything by Joanna Nadin

5 Star

Dido Sylvia Jones is six years and twenty-seven days old when she moves from London squat to suburban Essex and promptly falls in love with Tom Trevelyan, the boy next door. It's not just Tom that Dido falls for, though: it's also his precocious sister, Harry, and their fastidious, controlling mother, Angela. Because Angela is everything that Edie—Dido's own mother—is not. And the Trevelyans are exactly the kind of family Dido dreams of: Normal.

Dido wants to be normal more than anything else in the world. But it's the very thing that Edie can never be, as Dido—and the Trevelyans, including Dido's beloved Tom—will eventually learn the hard way.

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Kathryn - 5 Star

This book grabbed my attention and my heart not only because of the story but because of the writing. Every word had a purpose and the subtleties of each sentence made me question the undertones.

The novel is a study on relationships, primarily the bond between mother and daughter, and it is written as if the daughter is writing or speaking to her mother from childhood to adulthood. Their lives are difficult but not always due to hardships that are clear. It seems that Evie isn't entirely on board with her role as a mother and Dido is aware that her upbringing is unconventional, even as a small child. Though often frustrated Dido also loves her mother. Their interactions are heart breaking at times and it's no stretch to understand why she clings to the family in the home behind theirs. Their normalcy and clear roles make her feel safe. 
While my feelings of compassion for Dido were always clear my bond with Evie was mixed. I liked her spirit and her tenacity and also felt her longing for love from her daughter. But she could also be entirely devoid of maternal instinct so at times I couldn't always support her.  

The neighbours that Dido attaches herself to each represent something she is missing in her life and the author very gently weaves the links to each of them throughout the novel naturally. I was entirely convinced of their worth for her.  

While examining the mother/daughter bond this is also a novel of self discovery and growing up. A study on the way we are nurtured that will make you think and I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to read it.

Thank you to Pan MacMillan for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas at Hope Cottage by Lily Graham

4 Star

When thirty-year-old food writer Emma Halloway gets dumped then knocked off her bike, she’s broken in more ways than one, and returns to her family’s cosy cottage in the Yorkshire Dales. Emma hasn’t been back in some time, running from her crazy relatives and her childhood sweetheart, Jack Allen.
Emma’s grandmother is determined to bake her back to health and happiness, as the Halloways have done for generations. Surrounded by old friends and warm cinnamon buns, Emma starts to believe in her family’s special talents for healing again. But then in walks Jack with his sparkling hazel eyes, stirring up the family feud between them. 
As the twinkly lights are strung between the streetlamps, Emma remembers just why she fell for Jack in the first place... and why a Halloway should never date an Allen.
The infuriating new lodger, Sandro, doesn’t believe anyone should have to choose between love and family. With a little bit of Christmas magic, can Emma and Jack find a way to be together, or will Emma find herself heartbroken once more?

Kathryn - 4 Star

I became a bit attached to this village and this family.  There's something about the bonds that Lily Graham creates that appeal to me and I had a great visual of Hope cottage and the lovely women who prepared the meals, with hope and love, for those who asked for help. I was never really clear if they considered themselves witches or simply blessed with gifts of help?  Either way the warmth of the home and the history in that kitchen came through. 

Emma is unsettled being back in the village though, partly because her extensive injuries are making her feel unlike herself and partly because she has had to come face to face with the ex she lost.  I never really took to him, which was just as well really, and was much more intrigued by her aunt's lodger. He was lovely, smart and warm, just the right sort of man to help Emma become herself again! But with the romance to the side I just adored the bonds between Emma and het aunts. She was obviously very close to each of them and those relationships made the story for me.  

I wish Emma had had more friends- there were some speckled into the story but none that really made me feel she had support her own age.  Regardless though the novel is charming and both emotional and amusing.  A great read!

Thank you to Bookouture for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

4 Star

The lead homicide investigator in a rural town, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is deeply unnerved when a high school classmate is found strangled, her body floating in a lake. And not just any classmate, but Rosalind Ryan, whose beauty and inscrutability exerted a magnetic pull on Smithson High School, first during Rosalind's student years and then again when she returned to teach drama. 

As much as Rosalind's life was a mystery to Gemma when they were students together, her death presents even more of a puzzle. What made Rosalind quit her teaching job in Sydney and return to her hometown? Why did she live in a small, run-down apartment when her father was one of the town's richest men? And despite her many admirers, did anyone in the town truly know her? 

Rosalind's enigmas frustrate and obsess Gemma, who has her own dangerous secrets—an affair with her colleague and past tragedies that may not stay in the past.

Sabrina-Kate - 4 Star

As I have said before, I do truly love mysteries with crime fiction and this combined the best of both worlds. Gemma Woodstock is the police officer investigating the terrible crime, in order to find out who killed her former friend, Rosalind Ryan. A bit of a crisis of conscience and a coming to terms of the trauma- this book alternates through the past and present in order to put every piece of the puzzle together.

Gemma is not a terribly compelling character as she is not particularly likeable but her life definitely drew me in. The mystery kept me intrigued and I was very entertained. I liked how I was unable to unravel the story until the author decided to put everything together. Gemma has a messy life, past and present, which helped to keep me guessing about all that was happening and had happened.

A fantastic thriller, full of mystery and suspense, I enjoyed this author’s writing style quite a lot and got to know a bit about New South Wales where it is set.

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

Connect with Sarah Bailey:
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Friday, December 15, 2017

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

3.5 Star

After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew.

From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures.

Kathryn - 3.5 Star

The secret history of witches spans multi generations so the thread of the story is the theme rather than the people themselves. I enjoy this kind of saga if I feel the characters are interesting and have brought something new to the story.

I found though that we probably had a couple of extra generations here that didn't add much of note to the plot. I don't really remember the generations between Nanette and Veronica except for "lady" Irene.  

It's unfortunate because the novel started off really strongly with a powerful witch Ursule who died to protect the rest of her family when they were being persecuted. The family then relocates to England where the female descendants were still gifted with the power in some ways but didn't seem to be using it for much, good or bad.  They all seemed to be afraid of the men in the family or at least they bowed to their wishes in that they hid their powers from the world. There was of course a need for some secrecy, they didn't want to be caught again but it seems like they were a subdued version of what they could have been.

There were only two women that stood out for me.  Irene, though the epitomy of unpleasant, at least she decided to use her powers to make her own decisions and Veronica, who quietly found a way to use her own for the greater good.

There were some wonderful scenes that stood out and characters I clung to and overall I got pleasing satisfaction from the story- I just wish that each generation had brought something more impactful. 

Thank you to Orbit Books for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

That Crazy Perfect Someday by Michael Mazza

5 Star

The year is 2024. Climate change has altered the world’s wave patterns. Drones crisscross the sky, cars drive themselves, and surfing is a new Olympic sport. Mafuri Long, UCSD marine biology grad, champion surfer, and only female to dominate a record eighty-foot wave, still has something to prove. Having achieved Internet fame, along with sponsorship from Google and Nike, she’s intent on winning Olympic gold. But when her father, a clinically depressed former Navy captain and widower, learns that his beloved supercarrier, the USS Hillary Rodham Clinton, is to be sunk, he draws Mafuri into a powerful undertow. Conflicts compound as Mafuri’s personal life comes undone via social media, and a vicious Aussie competitor levels bogus doping charges against her. Mafuri forms an unlikely friendship with an awkward teen, a Ferrari-driving professional gamer who will prove to be her support and ballast. Authentic, brutal, and at times funny, Mafuri lays it all out in a sprightly, hot-wired voice. From San Diego to Sydney, Key West, and Manila, That Crazy Perfect Someday goes beyond the sports/surf cliché to explore the depths of sorrow and hope, yearning and family bonds, and the bootstrap power of a bold young woman climbing back into the light.

Sabrina-Kate - 5 Star

Surfing has always been a sport that appeals to me. Now, I can't swim very well and I would probably never try it but I love watching it. The sheer power of nature coupled with such athleticism has long been fascinating to me so this story about Mafuri had me hooked from the beginning.

The best thing about this novel was how unique it was. I am not sure if there are any other novels about surfing but there are surely none that are quite like Mafuri and her story which had all kinds of unique characters and took us on a wild ride around the planet vacillating from past and present and we even foray into the future.

Mafuri is all kinds of bold and strong but has things in her past that are making her hesitant and weaker. This story focuses on her journey to come to terms with certain things and the renewal of her strength. Between her own fears and dealing with her father's issues, we get to see just how strong this young woman is and how she is able to accomplish her journey to the Olympics, which is her ultimate goal. 

A story about inner strength and overcoming obstacles, this was a compelling read even if I didn't understand all of the sports terms or analogies. The book was powerful enough to capture my attention and keep me vested in it.

Thank you to Wunderkind PR for our review copy.   All opinions are our own.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

4 Star

Here is a gorgeous, slowburning story of families growing up and tearing each other apart in rural Northern Ontario, where tragedy and hardship are mirrored in the landscape. 

Centre stage are the Morrisons whose tragedy is insidious and divisive. Orphaned young, Kate Morrison was her older brother Matt's protegee, her curious fascination for pond-life fed by his passionate interest in the natural world. Now a zoologist, she can identify organisms under a microscope, but seems blind to the tragedy of her own emotional life. She thinks she's outgrown her family, who were once her entire world - but she can't seem to outgrow her childhood or lighten the weight of their mutual past.

Kathryn - 4 Star

I was loaned this novel to read on holiday and I was fascinated from the first pages.  Initially I was inspired by the fact that it was set in my own country and that adult Kate was about my age.  That's where the similarities ended as she was raised in northern Ontario amongst farmland and a bustling communit-centered life. 

I was emotionally invested in the Morrison family so deeply that I cried for the children when tragedy struck them all and yet I was impressed by their quiet resilience, their focus on family and their support of one another.  Their life was both tragic and rich with the bonds that tied them.

While the Morrisons are blessed with a sense of family bond there are other families in the town that are plagued with histories that seem to be doomed to repeat themselves. Their lives are entwined with the Pyes not only in Kate’s own lifetime but throughout history and added a huge amount to the overall scene. 

The novel is mainly centered around Kate as she narrates the story and I found her a bit cold if truth be told.  I suppose her rearing was unconventional and her losses were many but as she was also so close with brother Matt I found it unnatural that she would be so aloof.  I had a very hard time relating to her as an adult and was frustrated by her relationship with her boyfriend. There is a huge gap of time between her childhood (which is explored deeply) and the woman in her 40’s.  I wish we had been given more about the intervening years to show us how she ended up so much more guarded as despite her great loss I would have expected the warmth she began life with to follow through a more into her adulthood.  
Crow Lake is an interesting read and I enjoyed it for it's exploration of family dynamics.

All opinions are our own.

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

The One That Got Away by Melissa Pimentel

3 Star

Ruby and Ethan were perfect for each other. Until the day they suddenly weren't.

Now, ten years later, Ruby is single, having spent the last decade focusing on her demanding career and hectic life in Manhattan. There's barely time for a trip to England for her little sister's wedding. And there's certainly not time to think about what it will be like to see Ethan again, who just so happens to be the best man.

But as the family frantically prepare for the big day, Ruby can't help but wonder if she made the right choice all those years ago. Because there is nothing like a wedding for stirring up the past . 

Kathryn - 3 Star

A classic story of the love that you wish you hadn't lost- this novel is based on Jane Austen's Persuasion.  I don't have a full head of details on that anymore so I'm going to assume that this somewhat follows that plot with a modern twist!

Certainly set in the now, Ruby seems to be quite stressed about seeing her ex Ethan at her little sister's wedding in the England.  Her angst would seem over the top except that she chose to end their relationship a decade ago and appears to have regretted it ever since.  It's also slightly intimidating for her that he's now a hugely successful entrepreneur known all over the world.  Her sister's over the top wedding is nothing compared to her feeling about seeing Ethan again.  

Their meeting on his side is civil but lacking warmth which makes Ruby even more unsure.  
They move through the pre wedding hoopla with caution but there are many distractions in the form of twenty something ladies with brilliant careers that are interested in Ethan and a charming doctor Ruby meets while out running.  But they are clearly still circling each other like sharks!

Though this novel won't surprise you I was still charmed by the families and the backstory between Ruby and Ethan. I enjoyed the wedding setting and the interactions with the other guests and family. The story was simple and sweet, definitely a fun read.

Thank you to St.Martin's Press for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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