Savage-Bonds-cover-194x300Canadian author Ana Medeiros’ The Raven Room Trilogy follows the sexcapades of Dr. Julian Reeve, a child psychologist, and journalism student Meredith Dalton. Sometimes you can jump into a series without having read the first book, but I really felt like I was at a severe disadvantage reading book two in Medeiros’ trilogy. Savage Bonds picks up where The Raven Room leaves off, but for a newbie reader, I literally had no sweet clue what was going on and I never felt as though I was sufficiently caught up.

This is what I do know:

Julian Reeves is addicted to the darker side of sex which, as a card-carrying member of The Raven Club, he has access to. He’s also addicted to drugs. And he has a troubled and complicated past which is somehow connected to Tatiana and Alana. And when Savage Bonds opens he is being questioned by the cops (one of whom just happens to be Meredith’s step-mother, Pam) because Alana is dead and Tatiana is missing.

When another woman with connections to The Raven Room (and Julian) turns up dead, Meredith decides that she needs to investigate. That’s because Julian is Meredith’s lover (or was her lover; they don’t get it on in this book although Meredith gets around and shares Julian’s predilection for rough sex, or at least sex of the non-vanilla variety.)

Many of these relationships seem to have been established in the first book – so it’s really difficult for me to give this book a fair shake considering I spent  lot of time just trying to keep these people straight; I was definitely missing backstory. Although, ultimately, I wonder if backstory would have helped me enjoy this story any more.

I have read a lot of erotica. And a fair amount of BDSM-flavoured erotica…and Savage Bonds didn’t really up the ante. I mean if  The Raven Room is supposed to be this super-sekrit underground club, shouldn’t it be special? A little bloodplay and anonymous blow jobs don’t really scream exclusivity to me. Worse, without the benefit of what came before I just didn’t care about any of these players and all their interactions with each other seemed shrill or forced. Am I supposed to be rooting for Julian because of his troubled past? Am I supposed to be shipping Julian and Meredith?

From what I could tell on the Internet, readers seemed to really enjoy The Raven Room and were quite anxious to read Savage Bonds. A few of them, though, had some of the same issues with this book that I did…and they were invested going in.

So – maybe start with The Raven Room and see how you feel. I won’t be backtracking because, honestly, the whole thing was just meh for me.

Thanks to TLC for the opportunity to review this book.

 

1001-Ways-to-Be-Creative-cover-300x300Creativity is a funny thing. I look around and see all these people who are tremendously creative. Both of my children are talented artists. My daughter spent many years studying ballet and is a beautiful dancer. Both my children are musical; my son taught himself to play guitar. I have other friends who are artists, painting with words or yarn or fabric or glass or clay. Some put their art on a plate. But I am probably not the only person on the planet who feels like they don’t have a creative bone in their body. I don’t draw or paint. I don’t dance. I can’t sing. The one thing I do like to do is write.  I love to do it and have been doing it for as long as I can remember.

In her book 1,001 Ways to Be Creative,  Barbara Ann Kipfer suggests that creativity “isn’t only about artistic skills; it is a way of seeing the world. It gives you the power to shape your life, unify and balance your interests, and emphasize your uniqueness.”

I love that Kipfer gives readers permission to explore their creativity. Honing it, she suggests, gives you “that inexplicable burst of inspiration that suddenly allows you to see from a new angle or bring something new into existence.” We might call that ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking and its value to every-day problem solving should not be under-estimated.

1,001 Ways to Be Creative offers is a lovely little book that will surely offer inspiration to people like me who probably don’t realize that they are creative (or could be) in a million different ways (or a 1,001) every single day. It’s all in how you look at it.

Kipfer’s suggestions include things like:

356. Ask a stupid question.

429. Look for the unusual in everything you do.

464. Use sealing wax as a dramatic way to end a letter.

494. Change your look for one day.

764. Observe, collect, analyze, and compare patterns.

868. Carve a face in a fruit or vegetable

Kipfer  “speaks to all who seek greater creativity in their lives.”  You can easily start your creative journey with this book.

Thanks to TLC for the opportunity to review this book.

Look-for-Her-cover-200x300I have a feeling that I am going to be in the minority here, but I didn’t really groove to Emily Winslow’s Look For Her. This is the fourth book in a series featuring British detectives Morris Keene and Chloe Frohmann, but I didn’t know that going in and I don’t think it really matters in terms of your enjoyment (or in my case lack of) when reading the novel.

Back in 1976, Annalise Wood disappeared. Years later, another Annalise brings her up in a therapy session with Dr. Laurie Ambrose.

…she went missing when she was sixteen. My mother was the same age when it happened. Annalise was lovely, much prettier than my sister and I ever became. She was the kind of girl you look at and think, Of course someone would want to take her.

The body wasn’t found until 1992 and DNA didn’t yield any results at the time, but now there’s been a break in the case.  Keene (who is no longer an active detective) and Frohmann (who has recently had a baby) reunite to follow the trail of new evidence. The pair are prickly with one another; they have clearly had a falling out in a previous installment of the series.

You’d think that all the elements for a compelling mystery would be there, right? Decades old mystery. New evidence. Unreliable narration. So what didn’t work?

Look For Me lacked momentum. Told through transcribed therapy sessions and multiple points of view (the detectives, the therapist, e-mails), I just couldn’t settle into the narrative. (Trust me, multiple narratives aren’t usually a problem for me.)  There are a lot of characters to keep track of (also generally not a problem), and complicated family relationships. Perhaps I would have been more inclined to try to untangle the threads if I had cared one iota for any of the characters, but I didn’t.

So it’s weird that I didn’t like this book because it had all the right ingredients and it should have added up to a big win for me. To be fair, because I didn’t read it in one breathless gulp (as is often the case with books like this) I found the story way too convoluted. Part of what was unsatisfying to me was how neatly all these disparate threads were woven together at the end: perhaps just a little too neatly.

My dissatisfaction aside, Winslow can certainly write and I suspect that fans of the series and the majority of the readers who enjoy twisty mysteries will like this book.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for the opportunity to review this book.

 

 

 

20170423-QUIET-CHILD-cover-rev-11-18-16John Burley’s novel The Quiet Child asks some compelling questions: ‘How far would you go to protect the people you love?’ chief among them.

It’s 1954 in Cottonwood, California and high school Science teacher Michael McCray and his wife Kate had it all. Had being the operative word. Things have been different for them for a while now, ever since their younger son Danny was born six years ago. That’s when Kate started to get sick; now she is practically bedridden. The people of their small town started to pull away from the McCrays because it seemed that coming into close contact with them meant that you, too, would become ill and maybe even die. Danny is an odd child, mostly because he is silent. He doesn’t say a word. Sean, 10, is protective of his younger brother and that’s part of the reason both boys are kidnapped outside of a convenience store on the night their dad takes them for ice cream.

The man in the tan jacket crossing the street, heading in the direction of the parking lot. Danny in the back seat of the car, gazing out the window as he waited for them to return. The engine starting. The spin of tires on gravel. And Sean, standing there less than a minute ago. But now…

After the boys go missing, readers follow local Sherriff Jim Kent and two detectives from Shasta County as they try to piece together what happened and where the boys might be. Don’t forget – it’s the early 50s and sussing out what happened is a lot more time consuming and difficult without the aid of technology.

Kate insists that Michael do “whatever it takes” to bring back  her sons and so Michael sets off on his own. It takes a little bit before the police figure out that the kidnapper has made contact with Michael, but soon they are hot on the trail.

The Quiet Child is certainly a page-turner; I read it in a couple of sittings. Burley provides just the right amount of backstory about the key players so that we care about them and minor characters are fleshed out so that their fate is also important to us.

The interesting thing about this book is that it works on a bunch of different levels. Partly it’s a thriller: will Michael find his sons? Will they be alive? Will everyone survive? Partly it’s sort of supernatural, but I don’t think that’s even the right word. Why is Kate sick? Why is Michael starting to experience tremors in his arm? Are people right to be suspicious of Danny? Is he really able to make people ill? And then, the book is strangely philosophical. Do we really have the right to make decisions that affect the lives of others if they benefit the greater good?

Even if you think you know where The Quiet Child is heading, I suspect you’ll be surprised and I guarantee you’ll be thinking about this book for a while after you’ve read the last page.

Dark Saturday is the sixth book in Nicci French’s mystery series featuring London- darksatbased psychotherapist Frieda Klein. Although I was at a (slight) disadvantage having not read any of the previous novels in this series, I have read (and enjoyed) several other novels by French (actually the husband/wife writing team of Sean French and Nicci Gerrard) so I knew what I was in for.

There will always be a slight disconnect when reading a single  book from a series, but I didn’t find it particularly problematic. It was clear that I was missing some back story, but there were enough salient details to aid my understanding and allow me to get on with the business at hand – which is the case of Hannah Docherty.

Hannah was just eighteen when she was arrested for brutally murdering her mother, stepfather and thirteen-year-old brother, Rory. Since then she’s been incarcerated at Chelsworth Hospital which was “not a prison [but an institution where] its inmates were patients and the doctors’ job was to treat them and make them better.” However, when Frieda goes to visit Hannah for the first time “it felt like all the other high-security prisons she’d been to over the course of her career.”

Hannah has been incarcerated for 13 years and it’s immediately clear to Frieda that there has been no attempt to help her during that time. And why is Frieda visiting Hannah? She’s been asked by the police (who have clearly had five books’ worth of dealings with her) to look into Hannah’s case to see if, perhaps, there’s the possibility that she is innocent. The lead investigator on the case has recently had another conviction overturned and the police department simply want to cross their T’s and dot their I’s. They aren’t really expecting Frieda to find anything because Hannah is clearly crazy and the evidence against her is compelling.

I suspect that readers who have been reading along with Frieda over the series will already know what I quickly discovered: Frieda is tenacious. She isn’t satisfied with one meeting with Hannah. She asks for the case files and pores through documents and photographs in an effort to better understand Hannah’s story. If Hannah didn’t kill her family, who did and why?

That’s pretty much the main story in Dark Saturday. As a straight-up mystery, there’s plenty to keep readers turning the pages. For someone who isn’t familiar with all the back-story, I found some of it to be a distraction. Was I really interested in sitting in on her therapy sessions with a middle-aged woman who is suffering from panic attacks? Um. No. Did I especially care about a colleague’s cancer diagnosis? Not really because I haven’t had the chance to really know him or understand his relationship with Frieda.

I don’t know how this novel stacks up to the others in the series. Frieda isn’t the most compelling sleuth I’ve ever encountered, but I will chalk that up to having missed out getting to know her in previous novels. She’s smart and careful…although I often wondered how safe it was for her to be walking around London alone in the middle of the night.  Still, I enjoyed watching her attempt to create a new narrative for Hannah. Whether the re-written story is ultimately satisfying will likely depend on how it compares to Frieda’s previous cases. I wasn’t wholly satisfied, but I suspect that fans of this series will be anxiously awaiting the next book.

Visit Harper Collins for more info about this and other excellent titles.

Eurydice (Edie) is a “body” for the Elysian Society. As a body, she works with clients who possessions1seek to speak with loved ones they have lost. Dressed in a simple white dress, she sits in Room 12 and once in possession of an item belonging to the deceased, she swallows a lotus – a pill that  summons the spirits of the deceased – and the living communes with the dead. That’s the general principle of Sara Flannery Murphy’s debut novel The Possessions.

Edie has been working at the Elysian Society for five years, a long time for a body. She leads a very quiet, private life. “Since I joined the Elysian Society,” she says, “my emotions have evolved. They’ve gone from unwieldy to finely attuned. ready to snap into nothingness.”

That ability, to become a blank slate, is perhaps one of the reasons that Edie has been able to do this job for as long as she has. But then Patrick Braddock walks into her life. Patrick wants to speak with his wife, Sylvia. She drowned in a lake. The circumstances of Sylvia’s death are part of what propels the plot forward, but the relationship between Patrick and Edie is definitely the driving force.

Although Edie tells Patrick that she is not privy to the conversations that take place between a client and their loved ones, the line between Edie and Sylvia definitely blurs.

I was evasive with Patrick in Room 12 today. The truth is that Sylvia’s memories have lingered. One image in particular, clear and deep. I remember Patrick’s hand against me, at my waist. The golden hairs at his wrist, his long fingers holding the ghost of a summer tan. One or two fingernails endearingly frayed, as if he bites them when no one is watching. I could reach right into the memory, interlace my fingers with his. Feel the light calluses of his fingertips.

Before long, Edie and Patrick’s professional relationship crosses a line and Edie experiences the burgeoning weight of desire. As it often does, it clouds her judgment and drives her to find out what really happened to Sylvia.

The Possessions is a well-written literary hybrid: part mystery, part sci fi (the world seemed slightly off-kilter to me, not the far future but certainly not present day), part love story. It is certainly intriguing and yet…I found it slow going.

Edie’s past is a mystery. Her past is certainly alluded to, but we don’t learn much about her until the very end of the novel and by then it feels more like expository backfill. She’s really a non-entity and that makes it difficult to feel any empathy for her.

Patrick fares only a little bit better. As the grief-stricken husband trying to move on, he’s serviceable enough. Ultimately, neither he nor Edie are well-rounded enough to make me root for their relationship.

So in the plus column: great writing, intriguing plot, lots of potential. In the minus column: slow-moving, lackluster characters, some clunky plot machinations.

That said, Sara Flannery Murphy is definitely an author to keep your eye on.

Thanks to Harper Collins for my review copy and to TLC Book Tours for the chance to participate in this tour.

 

When I was about twelve,  I wanted a horse. Don’t ask me why; I certainly couldn’t tell you now. I’ve had three horseback riding experiences in my life – none of them involved me racing along a forest path or a stretch of beach, one with the horse. The one common theme of those riding experiences is me being terrified. In two instances, the horse decided to run (trot? gallop?) and I was unable to stop the bloody beast. In my 40s, while working for The Canadian Antiques Roadshow, I spent a freezing May afternoon  with some of my colleagues at a ranch outside of Lethbridge. A two-hour trail ride left me with bruises on the inside of my legs. I couldn’t sit comfortably for a week. So horses, after all, not my thing.

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That’s me in the middle. I am only smiling because we haven’t started our journey.

I tell you these stories so you’ll understand why I didn’t relate at all to Viv, one of the two narrators in Margot Livesey’s novel Mercury. Viv and her husband, Donald (the second, and predominate, narrator) live in a rural community outside Boston. Don is an optometrist; Viv runs a stable with her best friend, Claudia. They have two children.

28446368The first section of the novel is narrated by Don, a somewhat stoic Scotsman, who is still grieving over the loss of his father whom he admits he missed “in every way imaginable.” Perhaps this is meant to explain how things at home start to shift without him noticing: finances, his son’s trouble at school, his wife’s growing obsession with Mercury, a new horse being boarded at the stable.

Mercury, true to his name, was unmistakably hot-blooded. The lines of his body, the arch of his neck, the rise and fall of his stride, were, I agreed with Viv reluctantly, beautiful.

And obsession just about sums it up, too, as Viv tries to jumpstart her dream of competing with Mercury. Even though the horse doesn’t belong to her, Viv feels a kinship with him.

At the gate Mercury fixed his large dark eyes on me a nickered softly.  Then he scraped the ground, twice, with his right front hoof, choosing me.

Sadly, for me, I didn’t feel this kinship. Mercury is a novel with a billion things going on and a cast that, even though I read the book over the course of a handful of days, had me flipping back to figure out who they were. And all these characters have stories, too. There’s Don’s mom, feisty widow ready to love again; Jack, a blind (literally) professor who takes up with Hilary, owner of Mercury;  there’s Charlie, stable-girl who also covets the horse; Bonnie, a blip on Don’s devoted husband radar. The only thing keeping all these threads pulled together is Livesey’s prose. I’ve been a fan since Eva Moves the Furniture.

And, yeah, I get the whole Don’s an optometrist (irony!) but doesn’t actually see his wife. And I get that Viv’s devotion to Mercury blinkers her to everything else. And I also understand that Viv feels that Don’s grief over his father is isolating. But for me, there  wasn’t any emotional center in Mercury. I just didn’t buy that a horse could cause such a fuss.

I thank HarperCollins for providing me with my review copy and TLC Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this book tour.