Tag Archive | TLC Book Tour

The Quiet Child – John Burley

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 – Nicci French

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.

The Possessions – Sara Flannery Murphy

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.

 

Mercury- Margot Livesey

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.

 

Connected Underneath – Linda Legters

Celeste, the wheelchair-bound narrator of Linda Legter’s novel Connected Underneath,  promises to tell us everything, even the parts too terrible to share. Then she admits “there, already: I’ve hardly begun and I’m already lying.” Whether or not Celeste’s lies are as pivotal to the story as she’d like to think is open to debate and, truthfully, she’s the least interesting part of the story, anyway. Connected Underneath cover

Celeste lives in Madena, a tiny town in upstate New York. She introduces the reader to the novel’s key players: Theo and Natalie – high school friends, although Theo had definitely hoped for more. Natalie, however, liked boys like Mike Teague, high school basketball star, because “Theo was from the wrong side of town, her side, and she wanted a different side.” When she becomes pregnant, Natalie turns to Theo for help and he ends up adopting her daughter, whom he names Persephone. (A fitting name, as it turns out -Persephone was the goddess of the underworld – because Seph, at fifteen, is a little off the rails.)

Theo and Seph are actually disconnected these days. Seph is in love with a girl called Krista, but she trades sex for tattoos. Billie, the tattoo artist, is “sweet, gentle, swift, so it never seemed like a very big deal, not even the first time, the time that drew blood.” Of course, Seph keeps the tattoos and the sex from her father, but even so, Theo is beginning to worry about his daughter; “he was sure his girl was in trouble.”

So that’s the impetus for a visit to Natalie’s house across town. She lives with her husband, Doug, and their son, Max. Natalie doesn’t really want anything to do with Theo and shows little interest in the daughter she gave up fifteen years ago. In fact, when Theo admits he’s afraid of losing her, Natalie’s response is callous and decidedly un-motherly: She tells him, “You’re too late. Not my fault.”

Connected Underneath is a story about secrets – those we keep from each other and those we keep from ourselves. It is also a story about the damage we can do, both willfully and inadvertently. Everyone in Connected Underneath seems to operate, ironically, without actually realizing how they are connected and when the secrets  bubble to the surface, discretion is abandoned and truth is used as a weapon.

Theo is definitely the most sympathetic character. Despite a fraught childhood, he has always tried to do the right thing. He loves his daughter, even if he isn’t quite sure how to keep her safe. Natalie is another story. I didn’t like her and also, more importantly, didn’t believe her. Not for a  minute. And then there’s Celeste. As she watches Theo’s world unravel, her world – miraculously – begins to right itself. Can’t say that I was all that invested in her, either.

On the plus side – Connected Underneath is an elliptical, strangely compelling story about the ways we try to save each other, even when we can’t. It is well-written, even if I didn’t believe in some of the characters. It is almost relentlessly grim, but sometimes life is just like that.

tlc logoThanks very much to TLC Book Tours for  inviting me to be a part of the book tour for Connected Underneath and to Linda Legters and Lethe Press for providing my review copy.

 

 

I Take You – Nikki Gemmell

tlc tour hostThanks to the folks at TLC, I’m back with another book by Nikki Gemmell. You’ll recall that I took a look at her novel With My Body last month and today I am going to talk about her book I Take You. Beginning with The Bride Stripped Bare, With My Body and I Take You form a trilogy of sorts, although the characters and plots don’t really overlap so each book could be read independently of the others. I Take You

I Take You is the story of Connie Carven, wife to Clifford, a banker who has been seriously injured in a skiing accident and can no longer – erm – perform certain husbandly duties. No matter, Cliff has found other ways to satisfy his wife, most of them involving his Mont Blanc pen and a wicked imagination. At first Connie seems like a willing participant in her husband’s increasingly perverse sexual games, but one night Cliff takes things a teensy bit  (okay, a lot) too far and something in Connie, I don’t want to say snaps – changes.

Truthfully, I didn’t get Connie’s relationship with Cliff. Like, at all. Pre-accident he was  “her American…someone to be laughed at and admired and feared in equal measure.” Cliff is over-the-top rich and Connie “grew quickly addicted to this way of living – loved the sparkly, unthinking splash of it.”

When she tries to explain her relationship with Cliff to her father she says:

“We’re happy , Dad. As we are. I’m his wife and I have a job to do. A very important one. Now more than ever. Only I can help him, only me. I’ve bcome crucial to him in a way that’s impossible to explain.”

We are meant to believe that Cliff’s accident was the impetus for her to fall in love with her husband because “it tipped their sex life into something else. Because Cliff gouged out – patiently, gently, beseechingly – the very marrow of his impenetrable wife. It had been the trigger that now tipped him into something else.”  But the thing is, I don’t see these two as having very much of anything at all except perhaps for a co-dependent relationship and a penchant for kinky sex. And I never saw Cliff as a nurturing, kind man and he can’t kiss worth a damn, apparently.

Then, matters get more complicated when Connie meets Mel – he’s the gardener who takes care of the private communal garden that belongs to the houses on their square. It was at this point that I had a ‘wait a minute’ moment. I Take You was starting to sound suspiciously like another book: D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterly’s Lover.  According to the blurb on the back (which I hadn’t bothered to read) Gemmell was indeed inspired by Lawrence’s infamous book.

Everything you think is going to happen, happens. Mel and Connie start an illicit affair; Cliff gets all bent out of shape about it; Connie chooses personal happiness over marital responsibility.

So how does I Take You compare with the other erotica out there? Well, Gemmel’s writing is still lovely (although I think I might have appreciated this book a bit more if I’d had more of a breather between this one and With My Body.) It’s often quite graphic, so if that’s not your cup of titillation tea – perhaps this isn’t the book for you.

I can’t say I was quite as enamoured with I Take You as I was with With My Body. I may need a little while longer to figure out why Connie’s journey just didn’t resonate with me the way the narrator in With My Body did.