Tuesday 23 September 2014

The Emerald Comb by Kathleen McGurl

The Emerald Comb is a story of betrayal, murder and the hidden mysteries of genealogy.

Katie, like many others since the internet has made it easier for laymen, is set on discovering more about her ancestors.

Genealogy has led her right to the front door of where her own family mystery started many years ago. The type of mystery and crime that remains a secret, because nobody knows a crime has been committed at all.

The reader is introduced to Bartholomew St. Clair, his timid fiancée Georgia and the woman who has ignited his passion, the manipulative Agnes.

The threesome become involved in a fatal collision of emotions and deceit. At one point a decision is made, which will change the face of their family in the future

Simultaneously we see Katie's own family change. In a strange way there are similarities in the patchwork construction to the family in the past, although those in the present are completely unaware of them.

It might have been better to have Agnes tell her own part of the story, as opposed to Mr St. Clair speaking for all the characters. Giving each character their own chapters for instance.

What I really liked was the realistic ending. In real life there would be no way of finding out just who is or was under the tree. In genealogy one often comes up against brick walls and unanswered questions, due to the lack of data, pictures and general physical evidence. Not knowing is therefore the more realistic ending, which the author has opted for instead of the usual happy end. A much better way to end it I think.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author.

Buy The Emerald Comb by Kathleen McGurl at Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @KathMcGurl  @HQStories @HQDigitalUK

Visit kathleenmcgurl.com

Read The Girl from Ballymor by Kathleen McGurl

Read The Pearl Locket or The Daughters of Red Hill Hall by Kathleen McGurl.
Read about Kathleen McGurl here.

Sunday 21 September 2014

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

It takes a while to get where it is headed, but when the story actually gets to the point it is well worth the wait.

Sort of like drinking an old single malt scotch, you can feel it wandering down your throat and when it hits the right place the burn shoots a rocket of signals into your taste buds.

Marc is the main character and the narrator of the story. He isn't very likeable at all. In fact his view on being a general practitioner, how he secures his income and patients, what he actually really thinks about his job, well it is enough to put anyone off going to see their GP ever again.

He is quick to judge others, especially Ralph, which is completely ironic when you consider his own actions during the story. Glass houses and all that jazz.

The reader is led into the story with the accusation of medical malpractice on Marc's part. It is however something far more sinister. Marc seeks vengeance for an unforgivable deed. A deed he believes was perpetrated by Ralph.

That moment between Marc and Ralph in the sitting room, after the event, when they both stop being just men and slide into the role of protective parents instead. That is when Ralph makes the mistake of victim blaming. You've seen your daughter you know what she is like. If she didn't like it why didn't she say so? The usual rubbish akin to it is her fault because she wore  a short skirt.

I also have to say I was surprised, dismayed and just could not understand how both Marc and Caroline decided to deal with their daughters ordeal. Ignore, deny and sweep under the rug in the hope it will one day fade from memory. Regardless of what actually happened, this type of reaction only places a bigger burden on the victim. A blanket of silence, as a coping mechanism. Not really something anyone should teach their children.

The conversation between Marc an his old teacher was an eye opener from a purely moral point of view. Depending on the reasons he will condone the actions, which of course brings vigilantism into the picture. Do people with the power over life and death have a get out of jail free card when it comes to the medical boys club, especially if the error or the deed was committed, due to specific circumstances?

Koch certainly knows how to mix base emotion with controversial subjects. I enjoyed the way he does that.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Atlantic Books and Edelweiss.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

UK Cover
Not many books make me seethe with anger. The injustice and blind ignorance in this story does, especially because the main plot is based on historical fact.

Unfortunately the issue of civil rights is still relevant, alive and kicking even after all these years.

I cannot even fathom treating others with such a level of contempt, hate and anger, just because they have a different skin tone to my own.

Perhaps because I was raised to treat all people equally and base my interactions or judgements about them on their person, their words and their actions, and not on their race or religion.

Children are not born hating others. They are taught to hate. Racism is indoctrinated into generations of people and they in turn repeat the insane cycle with their own offspring.

Again, I just have to repeat, I cannot comprehend how any person could think they are superior to another person based on the shade of their skin. It really does boggle my mind.

I wonder how many of these 'white' people read or watch history programmes or read books like this and recognise themselves in the role of the racist? Many of the teens, children and even adults involved in the events surrounding the civil rights movement are still alive. Do they still believe the mantras of the bigots or have they acknowledged any wrong doing on their part?

Talley has fed some of the frankly quite ignorant and insane statements people believed and repeated, during that time, into the story. For instance, 'Negro brains are naturally predisposed to be submissive.' Very reminiscent of eugenics during the Nazi era.

When you read the dates of events and realise that on the grand scheme of time we aren't talking about very long ago. Based on recent events I would say there is still a huge underlying issue regarding civil rights bubbling beneath the surface of the US.

Talley has mixed two controversial topics together to create a firecracker of a story, which is meant to stretch the boundaries of your understanding of these issues. The reader practically sits inside the heads of both Linda and Sarah , thereby giving a complete view of the issue from both sides.

US Cover
The events take place during the desegregation in schools in the late 50's early 60's. Talley has added the element of not only an interracial relationship, but also that of two girls. A triple whammy for the period of
time we are talking about.

Just so we are clear none of them should be controversial or a problem. Not race, skin colour or sexual orientation.

I can only imagine how scared the children and young teens must have been at the time. Walking through crowds of violent, abusive people, who were bent on getting rid of them no matter the cost. Being subjected to torrents of verbal and physical abuse, being spat on and called an assortment of demeaning names. Day in and day out, a war on the front-lines.

Within this story it becomes apparent that some of the children or teens being integrated into the school, feel as if they are being pushed into the part of role model and spearhead for the movement.

Making a point on behalf of their parents, for the world and the future children to come. Under those difficult circumstance anyone would have crumbled and given in, however I am glad they didn't.

It also puts the civil rights movement into perspective. How courageous these people must have been to stand up for their rights and to weather this unfathomable hatred from each corner.

Sarah is a girl just like any other girl in the process of discovering her sexual identity. Her confusion, her guilt, her shame, all emotions that Linda shares, which shows the identical nature of the human beast, regardless of skin colour.

Linda fights with her own belief system, the reader gets a keen insight into her internal battles. She likes Sarah, more than likes her, which must mean Sarah is different from the rest, right? Of course eventually she comes to the conclusion that perhaps what she has been taught her entire lifetime is wrong. Wrong on every single level, and in turn that realisation makes her regard the people around her in a completely different way.

This is a book I would recommend as scholastic material to teach children what it is like to be confronted with racism, bigotry and hate. It will also give a good insight into the doubts of the indoctrinated few, who manage to free themselves from the repetitive cycle of hatred.

I could go on for hours and pages about how good I think this book is, which of course I recommend you read for yourself.

Buy Lies We Tell Ourselves at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any retailer.

From Holocaust to Harvard by John G. Stoessinger

It would be interesting to read Stoessinger's story written by someone other than himself.

Why? First of all he does not give himself enough credit for his achievements and the difficult path he had to wander.

Secondly he is far too attached and close to the events, especially in his personal relationships, to open up about them or be objective.

Instead throughout the book there is a level of disconnect, which is completely normal for people who have been through horrific trauma, especially during the Holocaust.

Whilst he is describing his relationships there seems to be a lack of conscious thought about his own role in the failure of his relationships. The almost indifferent way he talks about his philandering, his abandonment of wives and children, and the femme fatale, who almost destroys him.

If you go all the way back to the lack of a father in his life, and the way his mother didn't protect him from his abusive stepfather, things become clearer. It is almost as if he didn't want to subject his own children to the disappointment of being hurt by him. Ironically that is exactly what happened anyway.

Being pulled from the arms of his beloved grandparents, the only ones who really showed any compassion or warmth for him, is probably the root and cause of most of his emotional problems. The fact his mother and stepfather couldn't save them is secondary to the fact that in his mind he is the one who abandoned them and couldn't save them from the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

On top of that horrific thought and knowing they must have suffered, is the knowledge that their bodies are in a mass grave. Nameless, homeless, unclaimed and forever beyond reach for him.

When I say emotional I mean his complete detachment from his own experiences and choices, as he tells the story of his life. I think without knowing it Stoessinger has actually opened up a very large window into his heart and soul, perhaps just not the window he planned to present and open in this book.

I received a copy of this book via Edelweiss.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Trial by Fire by Frances Fyfield

Fyfield's writing is quite busy, often overladen with description or dialogue when less could be more. It is also quite dry and drawn out.

What it lacks it literary prowess it makes up for in solid plot. The murder and subsequent revelation of the murderer is very well done.

Living together in the suburbs is an experiment for the couple. Bailey enjoys the housewife mode Helen has slipped into and Helen seems to think acting like an overpaid maid equals a successful relationship.

I mean come on, who waits up till nearly midnight to run their man a bubble bath and make them dinner? Not exactly realistic and certainly bound to end up making someone unhappy.

You can almost see the cracks in their relationship starting to appear, during the duration of the case and certainly towards the end. Bailey speaks to Helen, as if she were a disruptive little housewife who can't behave properly in society.

It is hard to understand why Helen is completely passive in her job and relationship, despite her abilities, education and intelligence. Instead of acting upon her instincts she chooses to make half-baked attempts at solving this crime. She happens to stumble upon the right answer and ends up putting herself in extreme danger.

I enjoyed the way Fyfield constructed a very subtle net around the killer. I t isn't until the last moment that the reader sees the net being drawn in around the person and various other leads are cut from the tangle of clues.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Edelweiss.

Sunday 14 September 2014

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs

Brennan is taken back to an old case in Bones Never Lie. Anique Pomerleau is back and on top of that really bad news she is linked to the recent murders of young girls.

Has she started another killing spree? Has she found another partner in crime to help her lure innocent victims to their deaths? Where has she been hiding all these years and just how many more girls has she tortured and killed.

Brennan starts looking for the only other person with real insight into the Pomerleau case, Ryan. Unfortunately he has dropped off the grid since the death of someone very close to him, and it doesn't look as if he is very interested in helping anyone solve any crimes.

The trail leads them round in a circle and then to an unexpected body find, which shocks and throws both Brennan and Ryan for a loop. The conclusion they end up drawing from their findings is upsetting, dramatic and just downright scary.

Reichs approaches an interesting topic in this story. The more or less always untold story of the victims after the fact and the aftermath of being held captive, tortured and raped. What it does to their state of mind and how it can cause a multitude of unexpected psychological, physical and psychosomatic problems.

Once again Reichs delivers a solid Brennan story, which may leave you with a niggle and food for thought.

Buy Bones Never Lie at Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Read The Swamp BonesThe Bone CollectionSpeaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs.

Read Exposure by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs.

Read Two Nights by Kathy Reichs.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Jesus Jackson by James Ryan Daley

Where to start?
This is the type of book I personally would have enjoyed and embraced in my teens. Specifically when I was going through my own questioning of belief, faith, religion and eventually the subject of atheism, at the age of fourteen.

It is actually quite clever the way Daley has incorporated the main plot into the mystery and tragedy surrounding the death of the main character's brother.

Jonathan is consumed by his death of his brother or more specifically how it happened. He is not only convinced it was a homicide, he is also determined to prove it.

The reader meets fourteen year old Jonathan on day of his brothers unfortunate death. He happens upon a strange figure playing imaginary football with himself. The person calls himself Jesus Jackson, and apart from his John Travolta Saturday Night Fever get-up, he looks the part of Jesus. All long scraggly hair, unkempt beard and buckets full of wisdom.

One automatically assumes he is a figment of the young boys imagination. An apparition brought on by the trauma, the stress and the confusion of the tragic events. Is it a hallucination or is this a divine message? Perhaps the man himself or a sidekick  promising a 100% satisfaction guaranteed deal. The restoration of faith.

Now how exactly does one go about doing that with somebody who does not believe in the existence of any type of god? That is the crux of the plot, and a damn fine one it is.

It isn't about  proving or disproving the existence of anything or anyone. I will leave you to find out exactly what Jonathan finds out about himself and what he believes in.

This is an excellent read, one I recommend for both younger and older readers. It challenges the wee grey cells and perhaps help to clarify the murky waters of belief and faith.
I received a copy of this book via Netgalley.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Shadow Journey by S. D. O'Donnell

This is a novella featuring Vera Blackstone from S.D. O'Donnell's novel Deadly Memories.

It is written as the type of letter you would leave behind for your loved ones when you die.

A confession, a lightening of the heavy burden she has carried for over 35 years. A secret just between her and her late husband.

A chance to finally take a breath with a clear conscience and at the same time helping those around her to understand what really happened. In the hopes it will give them an insight into her heart and soul.

To understand Vera, her actions, her choices and her personality become a lot clearer.

I enjoyed the frankness and realistic approach to the topic. There are no platitudes or fluffy marshmallow scenes. Instead it is the hard reality of life.

Why must the terminally ill suffer till the very last hour? Would you be able to make a choice of that magnitude? Should we have to help loved ones in secret because it is a crime in most countries? Or take them to die on foreign soil because the rules say they have to suffer till their body gives in?

The way O'Donnell approached the relationship between Alice and her parents is also very interesting. Mother and daughter have a fractured relationship full of friction. Alice is a Daddy's girl, which is fine but she resents her mother and is critical of the care her father is getting. She even goes as far as to threaten prosecution if she finds out her mother has killed her father. A clear case of putting her needs and wishes over that of her parents.

Vera is a strong woman, who loves her husband very much, which is why she chooses to listen to his wishes and not those of her own. Sitting on that type of secret for so many years would probably be the undoing of most people. It not only makes Vera stronger, it defines her as a person and also helps her to understand her own choice at the time.

For such a short piece it was quite emotional and prolific. I have to say I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more by O'Donnell.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author.

Monday 8 September 2014

Marrying Daisy Bellamy by Susan Wiggs

Daisy Bellamy is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Two men eager to make her their own and she is stuck in the middle having a hard time making a decision.

Logan is the reliable, comfortable option. He is the father of her child and has been a permanent fixture in her life for many years.

Julian is the free-spirited wild child,  He fits the description of the bad boy persona perfectly.

He also just happens to be the one who makes Daisy's heart pound with excitement.

So, what to do? Pick the dependable one or pick the one your heart yearns for?

Unfortunately the choice she makes becomes irrelevant when fate steps in to change the course of her plans. Heartbreak and misery decide for her instead.

One day a happy bride to be and a moment later an unhappy frustrated wife. As if that wasn't enough to cope with Daisy then gets some news that threatens to throw her right back into the deepest pit, despite it being so-called happy news.

This is certainly a box of mixed chocolates when it comes to emotions. Is sort of questions whether we are able to pick the right Mr Right for ourselves or are just victims of our own emotional roller-coaster rides, depending on our circumstances and expectations.

It also bandied around the subject of whether parents, who can't live as a couple, should stay together for the child's sake. Duty, honour and a sense of responsibility aren't enough to create a happy home or family. Unhappy families create unhappy children. Sometimes it is better to live apart and be two loving but separate parents than be together and drown in frustration.

Poor Daisy flits from one to the other trying to salvage her relationships and  rectify past mistakes. It is a bumpy and long road for this particular romance.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Harlequin UK and MIRA UK.

The Secret Wife by Linda Kavanagh

A story that starts out or seems to start out as a  wedding in the present and a simple love affair  in the past turns into something quite unexpected.

A mystery, a stalker and tragedy, and all these events are linked in a way the reader doesn't realise in the beginning.

Nothing is quite what it seems and to understand the future you have to comprehend the events of the past.

Kavanagh presents two stories being told simultaneously. The story of Laura in the present and that of Ellie in the past. Ellie is the mistress of a wealthy businessman, his so-called secret wife.

He has promised her the moon, stars and a life together. Instead all she gets is life full of lies. The actions between the two of them have repercussions that reach far into the future.

Laura is wealthy heiress with  really poor choice in men. Her brand new husband is bully, a misogynist and tends to make a point of hurting her at every opportunity. Unfortunately Laura decided to ignore the advice of her best friend Kerry and marry him anyway.

Kerry and Laura have been friends for their entire lifetime. As close as sisters, and yet Laura still chooses not to heed the words of her friend. The result is catastrophic.

It was quite interesting to see this story evolve from a romantic dalliance to domestic abuse and then into something completely different. A tale of betrayal suspense, misery and rejection with an unexpected twist at the end.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Harlequin UK and MIRA UK.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

The Moment Collector by Jodi Lynn Anderson

A haunting tale of a past life revisiting the path she once trod and how the life ended in the first place.

At first glance it appears to be a story of three young people, who are connected via place and time.

The actual spirit seems almost menacing and is centred around the house Maggie and her parents have moved into.

It is a family property passed down through the ages. The presence thinks it belongs somewhere deep below in the cellar. It is unaware of its identity, has no inkling of how or when it came to be there.

What it does know is that something bad is coming, something is going to happen to Maggie, Pauline or Liam. Is it there to help them, save them or is it there to harm them?

The ghost tries to connect with other apparitions, but comes to the conclusion that they are not from within the same time frame or era. They just float and wander by without responding to her cries. She watches the three of them, sometimes from afar and often up close.

She sees them grow close, splinter and break apart. Love is fickle, relationships come and go, but friendships are supposed to be able to withstand the test of time.

I really loved the overall feel of this story. Never too dramatic or teeny. Subtle with just enough action or emotional turmoil to keep a nice flow to the it. The most memorable element for me was the layer of sorrow and the haunting ache left behind by her memories.
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

Books about the Second World War tend to focus on the monstrosities perpetrated by the Nazi's and their collaborators during the reign of Hitler.

The war was not just fought by sadists and people willing to cross into the deepest depths of inhumanity.

It was also fought by normal men, women, boys and girls. The architect, the baker and the candlestick maker.

Leroy gives us an interesting and thought-provoking look at the men behind the uniforms and the relationships made within the confines of wartime occupation.

Vivienne has to choose between safety for her children and herself, and the innocent souls being annihilated by the Germans. It also becomes clear that the majority of Germans are confronted with the same choice. Their families, and their own lives or that of nameless victims.

Gunther tells Vivienne about superior officers, who have dared to speak out against the mass murder and maltreatment of others, and are now bullet fodder at the Eastern front. The German war and propaganda machine does not take kindly to any kind of criticism.

So the elephant in the room is whether the threat of death, violence or deportation would be enough to make you, me or anyone else stay silent. Or indeed instead try in our own way to help, even if it is only small ways. Those who stood and protested out loud were soon disposed of. The brave men, women and children, who fought silently by opposing the regime and the occupiers are the unsung heroes. Hiding prisoners, feeding them, helping them to escape. All of these things are huge in the face of the reality of being discovered.

Vivienne is confused by her reaction to Gunther. In those stolen moments together he is no longer the enemy, nor the soldier, he is just a man who wants her as much as she wants him. She learns about his life before the war, his family and career. She also has a friendly relationship with another soldier, who has come to her aid on behalf of Gunther. She finds herself in between a rock and a hard place.

Is she betraying her fellow islanders? Are the girls enjoying some fun with the German men, are they traitors for wanting a little attention and romance? Very thin lines and sketchy boundary issues for both sides of the coin.

I think the real question for me was whether Vivienne's attempt to balance the scales of justice was done because she felt guilty or wanted to redeem herself in some way. I would rather believe that the instinct to do the morally right thing, which isn't always the safest option, was a choice she made instinctively.

The ending is bitter-sweet. The repercussions remain unspoken, only the positive is relevant and that is exactly how Leroy finishes the story. She wants the reader to take that smidgen of positive in the midst of all that hate, pain and negativity. To remember that we are capable of bright moments within the deepest dark.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Harlequin UK and MIRA UK.

Virgin by Radhika Sanghani

Ellie is a 21-year-old university student, who has yet to go the full distance in the horizontal tango department.

She tends to rely heavily on the support of her close friends. Her attitude to life in general and her problems, is quite flighty and immature.

Jealousy rears its ugly head when others do better and they have any type of sexual exploit or romantic relationship, especially when it's one of her friends.

Everything, simply everything revolves around her virginity. Almost to the point of obsession, which is probably why she is letting it influence all her relationships and her daily life.

The situations are slightly exaggerated and overly dramatic to instil an overall sense of comedy to otherwise awkward situations. The sexual scenarios are quite descriptive, so I wouldn't recommend this for younger readers.

To be more specific, I mean talking about certain sexual positions or a how-to descriptions on giving certain sexual gratification to your male bed partner. It is done in a funny, joking way, a conversation between good friends having a laugh.

So, I wouldn't give this book to my very shy and inexperienced 16-year-old, but I would have given it my more experienced (at the time) 18-year-old, and I will be giving it to my older daughters to read.

It would have been nice to see a more realistic and serious representation of  virginity in our day and age. In that regard Sanghani is right on the button. There is a clear lack  of reading material on the subject, especially ones written in a way that eases the fear and pressure.

A choice which is often frowned upon and scorned at. The pressure by peers to do as they do and be as they are makes it difficult for young people to make their own choices. It is a very personal choice to remain a virgin and there are many reasons for that choice. Waiting till you meet the right person, waiting until marriage (religious and non-religious), fear of sex and/or just not wanting to have sex at all.

I think real people in this particular situation, as opposed to fictional characters, who pick up this book may actually find some of the scenarios described in this story very off-putting and anxiety inducing. The fictional and fun aspect of the book should always remain at the forefront of a reader's mind.

Prepare to learn about all the de-hairing process of  a woman. Wax, cream, shave the stubble. Not always pleasant and most certainly a learning experience most of us could and would do without. Nothing quite like hairs being ripped from sensitive places via wax strips, especially when the waxer seems to appear gleeful at the sound of post ripping screams.

The reader gets to follow Ellie on her very determined path to have her 'untouched inner lotus' well and truly deflowered. A path filled with many mortifying experiences, quite a few moments she would rather forget, and a journey worthy of a book.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Harlequin UK and Mills & Boon.

Monday 1 September 2014

A Place For Us (part 1) by Harriet Evans

There is a lot going on in this story. Loads of characters, each with a story and everyone is linked to the core characters Martha and David.

Even though I do think the beginning suffers a little from the constant change and hop skip jump from person to person, I would suggest sticking with it.

I found myself being drawn into the strange behaviour of Martha and the ominous event she is planning. In fact at the end I was surprised by how much the author had convinced me that I need to know what the secret is, ergo will have to read the next part to find out more.

Martha has come to a decision, something she has kept hidden for years has become too much of a burden to carry any longer. Perhaps old age and the need for a clear conscience is the reason for her sudden change of heart.

I am going to assume that whatever the secret is, the revelation will have an impact on each family member. I also think it is fair to say that at least one of the things she is about to reveal is about her daughter Daisy.

Daisy is notorious for her lack of mothering skills and constant absence throughout the years. Something about certain comments, recollections and conversations made me think she wasn't exactly the angel her mother portrays her to be.

Looking forward to the revelations in the second part of this family drama.
I received a copy of this book via Netgalley.