Book review: Stone Circle by Kate Murdoch

About Stone Circle

Is the Ability to Read Minds a Blessing or a Curse?

When Antonius’s father dies, he must work to support his family. He finds employment as a servant in the Palazzo Ducal, home of Conte Valperga. Sixteenth-century Pesaro is a society governed by status and Antonius has limited opportunities.

When a competition is announced, Antonius seizes his chance. The winner will be apprenticed to the town seer. Antonius shares first place with his employer’s son.

The two men compete for their mentor’s approval. As their knowledge of magic and alchemy grows, so does the rivalry and animosity between them. When the love of a beautiful woman is at stake, Antonius must find a way to follow his heart and navigate his future.

My Thoughts

Stone Circle is a classic, romantic tale suited to young adult and adult audiences. Set in Renaissance Italy, the story is brimming with the esoteric practice of the era  – geomancy, astrology and ‘seeing’ are especially prominent. The inclusion of such practices might for some place the novel in the fantasy genre, but I would dispute that. Esoteric practice is not fantasy! This novel might just as well be termed visionary fiction or magic realism.

The story is simple. When seer Savinus needs a new apprentice, he devises a simple test to find one. Two applicants show the necessary attributes and Savinus decides to take them both on, making the poor and lowly and very talented Antonius his primary apprentice, and the rich and spoilt and lesser talented Nichola his secondary. Any reader will predict the tensions to follow. Nicholas shows himself to be jealous and spiteful, and Antonius of fine character. Yet he is a man with burdens and troubles and might not make the best decisions. Both young men are also attracted to Savinus’ beautiful and intelligent daughter, Giulia – also a seer – and competing for her affections. Giulia cannot practice her talents as she is female and would be classed a witch and persecuted if she did. Yet she is always there, always at the edge of being exposed.

The plot is as old as storytelling but Murdoch fills it with a unique complexity the result of her intriguing cast of lovingly crafted characters and the esoteric theme. Add to this an evocatively portrayed historical setting and the result is a captivating and gentle read that progresses at a measured pace with numerous delights and insights along the way. Stone Circle is a novel filled with charm, a story that envelopes the reader and takes them far from everyday reality. Highly recommended.

Advertisements

Book review: Burning Crowe by Geoff Smith

About Burning Crowe

Two teenagers, both alike in indignity. Will they be civil? Or will there be blood?

Bartholomew Crowe is 18 years old. His dad dead, and deserted by his stepmother, he’s running seriously low on justice. And when he is hired to find a rich kid gone AWOL, it isn’t just a job; it’s a chance to do good, a chance to fix things up, to make things right.

Handsome and loaded, Zack Richards has it all. A beautiful girlfriend. A burgeoning sideline in music management. Hell, he’s even semi-famous! But for all his good fortune, Zack Richards is angry. He’s addicted to trouble. And he’s gone into hiding.

But Bart isn’t the only one with Zack in his sights.

And as tensions rise and bullets fly, Bartholomew Crowe learns that the only things he can count on are friendship, and love.

My Thoughts

Burning Crowe is one of those thrillers that is impossible to put down. Smith draws the reader into the dark underworld of Margate and Ramsgate, two coastal towns in Kent, England – all sandy beaches and fun parks on the pier –  that were once primary holiday destinations for Londoners, and later infamous for gang violence. The author takes his readers into clubs and pubs and squats and cheap hotels, on the waterfront, the beaches, the arcade and there’s even a fabulous scene in the Turner Gallery. I enjoyed this realistic backdrop; Smith’s portrayal of these towns, through the youthful eyes of his protagonist, is well-executed and appropriately noir.

Smith’s private investigator is as unlikely as it gets, an eighteen year old not yet out of school, setting off on his first case, his solution to all the hurt he is feeling after the death of his father and his step mother’s apparent rejection. This is not a criticism; Bartholomew Crowe is a well-rounded and thoroughly endearing if hapless PI, bumbling and stumbling along, the most ineffectual hero, yet a hero turns out to be.

Smith deploys all the elements of a really good thriller, the twists and turns of the plot as the various players reveal their hand in a slow game of bluff, deceit and lies, play out convincingly. The pacing is good, the characters sharply defined. I particularly enjoyed the exchange of emails between Crowe and his granddad and seeing how that played out in the end. Satisfying complex, Burning Crowe is in essence a coming of age tale of love and relationships and the tensions in blended families. It is also a story of malice and greed and vengeance. This novel held my attention the the very end.

Find Burning Crowe here

 

Isobel Blackthorn is a prolific novelist of unique and engaging fiction. She writes dark psychological thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary and literary fiction. On the dark side are Twerk, The Cabin Sessions and The Legacy of Old Gran Parks. Her Canary Islands’ collection begins with The Drago Tree and includes A Matter of Latitude and Clarissa’s Warning. Her interest in the occult is explored in The Unlikely Occultist: A biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey and the dark mystery A Perfect Square. Even her first novel, Asylum, contains a touch of the magical. Isobel is at work on her fourth Canary Islands’ novel, a sweeping historical work based on her own family history. You can find her novels here on her website.

Book Review: Overture by Vanessa Couchman

Overture

What if you had a unique talent, but everything conspired against your dreams?

France, 1897. Born to a modest farming family, Marie-Thérèse has a remarkable singing voice and wants to become a professional singer. But too many obstacles, including her parents’ opposition, stand in her way. And, through no fault of her own, she makes a dangerous enemy of the local landlord.

When the family circumstances change suddenly, Marie-Thérèse and her mother must move to Paris to work in her aunt’s restaurant. Her ambitions rekindle, but the road to success is paved with setbacks until a chance meeting gives her a precious opportunity.

She is close to achieving all her dreams, but the ghosts of the past come back to haunt her and threaten Marie-Thérèse’s life as well as her career.

My Review

Overture presents a charming and realistic portrait of early nineteenth century rural France and the struggles that befall a humble farmer’s daughter doomed to labour for her parents and a future husband, a daughter with a natural talent, a gift that sets her apart. From the outset, Marie-Thérèse is forced to face the restrictions of her circumstances, and this she does with resentment but also with loyalty and respect. She is a dutiful daughter, not wilful or rebellious. Opportunity comes her way when her widowed mother moves them to Paris to stay with her sister, Marie-Thérèse’s aunt.

Couchman has penned a slow-paced and charming coming-of-age tale. The author’s knowledge of the setting and period appear sound and she has crafted a convincing and well-rounded protagonist in Marie-Thérèse. The supporting cast are equally well-presented and the pacing and plot twists are executed with aplomb. A light an entertaining read, Overture will appeal to those who enjoy their historical fiction unladen with complex detail and exposition. Recommended.

Purchase Link

http://mybook.to/OvertureBook1

Author Bio – Vanessa Couchman is a novelist, short story author and freelance writer and has lived in an 18th-century farmhouse in southwest France since 1997. French and Corsican history and culture provide great inspiration for her fiction. She has written two novels set on the Mediterranean island of Corsica: The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow. Her third novel, Overture, is Book 1 of a trilogy set in France between 1897 and 1945. Vanessa’s short stories have won and been placed in creative writing competitions and published in anthologies.

Social Media Links –

Website: https://vanessacouchmanwriter.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vanessacouchman.author/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Vanessainfrance

Amazon Author Page: http://author.to/VanessaCouchman

 

 

A stunning review of Clarissa’s Warning

In this busy world of ours, authors can generally expect reviews of one or two paragraphs. Every now and then one comes along that is much more than that. I am delighted to share extracts from this very long and heartwarming review of Clarissa’s Warning by Kamal of Kiri Books.

“Set in the picturesque setting of an unspoiled island, Fuerteventura – one of Spain’s Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa and Spain, the story weaves all the elements of an archplot in a masterly stroke. The story has a classical design with linear time-flow, causality, single protagonist, consistent reality, active protagonist, external conflict with the exception of the ending, which remains open. Sitting on the top of the story triangle, ‘Clarissa’s Warning’ demonstrates infinitesimal elan over its elements.

Recruiting the latent energies of a scarred soul in defeating the malice play of the supernatural, Isobel Blackthorn has created a protagonist that constantly sheds layers of insecurity and vulnerability, one at a time, to expose the solid-substance she is made of.

Claire is a wilful character with a conscious desire. And she gets a chance to fulfil her desire, courtesy, the lottery-ticket. She has the capacity to fulfil her desire and is appropriately reflected by her independent decisions and strong-willed actions. She holds the cohesive bond with the readers with the glue of empathy. As the story progresses, gaps between expectations and result keep on widening, raising the conflict level and upping the potential of the climax. Placement of the crisis, along with the design, is suitable and controls length of the climax with a palpable fervour. The flashbacks are sporadic, fact-filled and meaningful; especially the flashback of Claire mother’s demise is very graphic and emotive.

The story has a riveting rendition of the Fuerteventura and its history – the belly juice of a beetle that made it preferred inhabitable area of the wealthy, the captivating array of social and personal lives through the lens of colonialism, and the abundance of beauty of nature and traditions. The dialogues are crisp, colloquial and contextual.

The subtext dominates everywhere. When Claire mentions there are five routes to Tiscamanita and she had taken them all, she establishes herself as an exploratory and inquisitive person. She wants to restore a ruin is, in a subtle and indirect way, symbolic of her fierce desire to mend her broken past….

Her unresolved grief, of her mother’s demise, make her inner substance resonate with the subliminal energies rather too fittingly…Sensing the opportunity, the spirits use her as a conduit to express their anguish, warn her, wreck her, take help from her, or plainly observe her.

The story navigates with the enlivened characters, each with a backstory and a brain of their own…The plot has plenty of twists and turns and the structure of scenes, tightly knitted in neatly separated chapters, is taut and spill-proof…

…The anticipation of the unknown and narrative integrity keeps the conflict cocooned and growing, to burst in the final scenes with brilliantly planted and spaced expositions. In the final acts, the veiled and vilifying esoteric elements snatch away the driving seat, chase Claire to run for her life, a sprint in which she discovers the version of truth that alluded her throughout. She welcomes her own metamorphosis, and comes at terms with becoming fearless after making eye-contacts with the ever-evading reality. The light of Mafasca and the legend of Olivia Stone heightened the curiosity-quotient in this tightly-packed thriller.

Recruiting the latent energies of a scarred soul in defeating the malice play of the supernatural, Isobel Blackthorn has created a protagonist that constantly sheds layers of insecurity and vulnerability, one at a time, to expose the solid-substance she is made of.

A terrific and transforming piece of work by Isobel Blackthorn!

Book Review A Clean Canvas by Elizabeth Mundy #BookTour

A Clean Canvas: A Lena Szarka Mystery by Elizabeth Mundy

Lena Szarka, a Hungarian cleaner, dusts off her detective skills when a masterpiece is stolen from a gallery she cleans with her cousin Sarika. But when Sarika goes missing too, accusations start to fly. Convinced her cousin is innocent, Lena sweeps her way through the secrets of the London art scene. With the evidence mounting against Sarika and the police on her trail, Lena needs to track down the missing painting if she is to clear her cousin. Embroiling herself in the sketchy world of thwarted talents, unpaid debts and elegant fraudsters, Lena finds that there’s more to this gallery than meets the eye.

My Thoughts

The story opens in an art gallery as sleuth Lena Szarka cleans up on the eve of an important exhibition. The owner, Pietro, is keen to offload a painting he acquired and he hopes his exhibition will attract buyers. The artist has flown in and arrives in an inebriated state. Her painting, A Study in Purple, attracts three potential buyers. But before the new owner can take the painting home, it is stolen. What ensues is a thoroughly engaging tale filled with twists and turns as Lena pits her wits against a less than helpful police force and takes it upon herself to solve the crime, not least because her cousin, Sarika, is the prime suspect.

The narrative voice is light and warm, and the story bounces along at a fair clip. The mystery genre contains strict criteria and Mundy adheres to them all. A Clean Canvas ticks all the boxes of a good cosy mystery, not least with her endearing and pleasingly unlikely sleuth. Peppered with wit and ironic observations to make the reader smile, Mundy crafts her characters and scenes with much affection and a healthy dollop of social observation. Satisfying descriptions provide an adequate sense of place and help control the pacing. The ending, naturally, comes as a surprise. In all, this is an entertaining page turner that provides Agatha Raisin with some strong competition.

Purchase Link – amzn.to/2VWJ3ZD  

Author Bio –

Elizabeth Mundy’s grandmother was a Hungarian immigrant to America who raised five children on a chicken farm in Indiana. An English Literature graduate from Edinburgh University, Elizabeth is a marketing director for an investment firm and lives in London with her messy husband and two young children. A Clean Canvas is the second book in the Lena Szarka mystery series about a Hungarian cleaner who turns detective.

Social Media Links –

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @ElizabethEMundy

www.elizabethmundy.com

Book review – Sangre: The Color of Dying by Carlos Colon

About Sángre: The Color of Dying (Volume 1)

Carlos Colón’s first published novel is the story of Nicky Negrón, a Puerto Rican salesman in New York City who is turned into foul-mouthed, urban vampire with a taste for the undesirables of society such as sexual predators, domestic abusers and drug dealers. A tragic anti-hero, Nicky is haunted by profound loss. When his life is cut short due to an unforeseen event at the Ritz-Carlton, it results in a public sex scandal for his surviving family. He then rises from the dead to become a night stalker with a genetic resistance that enables him to retain his humanity, still valuing his family whilst also struggling to somehow maintain a sense of normalcy. Simultaneously described as haunting, hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking, Sángre: The Color of Dying is a breathtakingly fun read.

My Thoughts

Carlos Colón has penned a gem of a noir thriller in Sángre, the best vampire novel to come my way since Dracula. Meet Nicky Negrón, a thoroughly likeable and very reluctant vampire suffering from the burden of his own genetic resistance, which places him in a curious space in between being a fully fledged vampire and dead. He is a vampire with a conscience. Consequently, Nicky is the most fully rounded-out vampire character there ever was. He has scruples. He agonises over his every action. He is consumed by the intricacies of his moral position and his desire to do no harm, and his blood lust. And he is consumed with guilt and grief over the betrayal that led to his demise.

The story opens in Rahway State Prison, where Nicky is forced to find his next feed and the reader is confronted almost straight away with the raw reality of Nicky’s existence. What unravels is the story of how Nicky became a vampire and how he copes with his undead life. After his own ‘death’, Nicky encounters two other genetically resistant vampires, Travis and Donny, who educate him on the reality of his situation and offer guidance. Nicky discovers he was killed by a complete vampire, Simone, who Travis and Donny are determined to banish forever. Will they succeed? Or will Simone continue to kill and create a whole army of true vampires? And what of the curious Dr Teresa Gunder, bent on proving the existence of vampires with her groundbreaking investigations?

I loved the narrative style and the urban vibe. Told with compassion and insight, the narration in Sángre is upbeat, droll and sharply observant, the setting distinctly noir. Colón exercises superb narrative control, with excellent dialogue and perfect pacing. Exposition is kept to a minimum, carefully placed to keep the reader abreast of the reality of a genetically resistant vampire. The author has structured his novel with finesse, the movement through time, back and forth from past to present seamlessly intertwined, chapter by chapter, and culminating in a breathtaking and satisfying conclusion. Yes, there is horror here, but it is nothing the average dark thriller reader cannot take.

Sángre is laced with social commentary on the Bronx in the 1960s, on life for Puerto Rican New Yorkers, their values, culture and challenges. The author clearly knows and has a deep empathy for his subject.  A rich and immensely satisfying read. Can’t wait for the next instalment!

Check out Sángre: The Color of Dying on Amazon

Book Review: A Greater God by Brian Stoddart

Brian Stoddart

About A Greater God (Superintendent Le Fanu Mysteries Book 4)

Muslims are being murdered and communal tensions escalating
as Superintendent Chris Le Fanu returns, reluctantly, to 1920s
Madras from the Straits Settlements. He comes under fire, literally
and figuratively, as more Muslims and policemen are killed by
revolutionaries in clashes fomented by his boss, Inspector-General
Arthur ‘The Jockey’ Jepson.

As the riots spread, Le Fanu’s trusted assistants – Mohammad
Habibullah and Jackson Caldicott – disagree on both the origins
and the handling of this new crisis. Le Fanu becomes further
isolated as his only government allies, the Governor and the Chief
Secretary, are being transferred away from Madras.

Even more pressure bears in on him when former housekeeper
and lover, Ro McPhedren, falls critically ill in Hyderabad, and
Jenlin Koh, his new love, is listed among those aboard a ship
missing en route to India.

Le Fanu’s entire professional and personal future is at risk as
he confronts these challenges while Britain’s grip on India wavers.

My Thoughts

I am new to this series; entering Book 4 might have left me floundering but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself immersed in the world of Le Fanu and India of the early 20th century and brought deftly up to speed. Catch ups are kept brief and to a minimum, just enough to make the reader want to read Books 1-3.

 A Greater God is set primarily in Madras, a colourful, heaving, vibrant and exotic city –  in many ways another character in the book. The story focussed on a time of considerable political unrest in India with racial tensions mounting between Hindus and Muslims alongside a pervasive resentment towards the British Raj. Stoddart clearly knows his subjectthe historical detail peppered throughout the novel demonstrating considerable insight.

The author weaves vivid descriptions of setting and  the complexities of the historical backdrop into the narrative, binding a sense of place and the theme of cultural unrest cleverly with the plot. The result makes for a gripping read. Stoddart’s pacing is excellent and there are some satisfying twists along the way. The narrative moves along at quite a clip and never labours despite the historical content. This is quite an achievement and is a credit to the author. The dialogue flows well, too, and I especially enjoyed the witty banter.

Stoddart’s characters are well-crafted and he has a sharp eye for cultural sensitivity. The protagonist, Le Fanu, is well-rounded, likeable and suitably conflicted. He has some major decisions to make while he fends off antagonisms from various quarters. Prejudice is portrayed through the despicable inspector, Jensen, and the Muslim perspective is provided in a personal way through Le Fanu’s colleague, Habi, and his growing concern for his community.

A Greater God will appeal to those who enjoy great historical crime mysteries that are both well-written and intelligent.