Category Archives: stories

Hot Water by Christopher Fowler- a Review

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This book by the author of the wonderful Bryant and May series is a standalone book set in the area near Nice, France,

The story was intriguing and multi-layered as Fowler’s books always are. He definitely keeps the reader entertained and on tenterhooks. Various threads come together in an intriguing way by the end of the book.

Steve is a 42 year old British man who has a desire to have a sexual relationship with an 18 year old—which, of course, is gross anyway—but it set the stage for the events of the story. Steve arranges to rent a holiday home near Nice for a business trip for his wine business. He invites the girl, Summer, to join him. The leasing agent tells him he has to rent it for two weeks, so he invites the girl for the first week and his wife and son for the second week. He is supposed to arrive a few days before his family so he can sleep with the girl.

Hannah, a 23 year old young woman, is the cleaner for the house that Steve rents. Hannah is not supposed to interact with the guests, but when she meets Summer, she breaks the rule and becomes involved in the girl’s life. Steve’ arrival is delayed and the plans change wherein he’s going to arrive a mere few hours before his family—time enough for a quickie, but then Summer has to go.

The day Steve’s family is supposed to arrive, Hannah can’t get in touch with Summer. She believes the girl left with a gay friend to stay with him now that Steve’s family is arriving. When Hannah arrives to clean, she finds items left by Summer strewn around the place.

As the week goes on, other things appear—like Summer’s phone and passport. The people in the house, Steve, his wife and son as well as Steve’s employee, Giles and his wife, are all hiding things. Everyone in the villa has issues and secrets.

Hannah becomes more and more suspicious about what really happened to her friend. A local child goes missing as well, causing Hannah to investigate that in addition to what happened to Summer. Did her friend leave voluntarily? Did she leave before anyone else arrived? Did she argue with Steve? Is she gone off with friends? Or is her body buried somewhere on the property? And how does the missing child and the gardener fit into the picture? What about the other guests, the villagers and even her boss?

This is a great, convoluted story that really appealed to this reader.  Lots to unpack and a ton of pieces to put together to get to the truth of the events that occurred in the vacation villa. I recommend this one as a fun beach read—even if you’re not in the Cote d’Azur!

Murder on Mustique- Anne Glenconner- A Review

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I picked this one up when Barnes and Noble had their hardbacks 50 percent off. I liked the cover and the blurb sounded good. Of course, I’d heard of the island of Mustique and how it was made into a place for celebrities to build homes and find peace and quiet, so the idea of a murder mystery set there was intriguing.

As I started reading, I realized why the author’s name sounded familiar. She was the wife of the man who bought the island in real life and gifted Princess Margaret with the land to build her own escape home. The author started the story by having the fictional narrator explaining she was a former lady in waiting for the princess and that her husband bought the island in the 1950s. I don’t want to say this was a Mary Sue type story, but it skirted the edge—except the heroine was seventy years old rather than a young girl.

This was a novel, but there was a whole lot of truth in it—not the murder mystery part nor the person who committed the crime (I hope- LOL) but a lot of the history of the island and of the author herself.  I did enjoy the story—even the totally unrealistic parts. The author did a good job with the red herrings and the culprit, so I can forgive her for the use of herself—perhaps an idealized version—as the heroine of the story. It was kind of refreshing to have an older woman in good physical shape as a strong protagonist even though I couldn’t get it out of my head that she was a real person.

One of the parts of the book that resonated with me near the end was this comment by the heroine: “My own grief is harder to define. Why do I care so much about losing something that never really existed? The space left behind will fill, as time passes.”

That passage reminded me of when I finally realized that someone who I’d considered a friend was actually a malignant narcissist and then, for my own protection, I cut off contact with the person. I grieved over the loss of that relationship for a long time and almost got sucked back in again—until I came to that same realization. None of my memories of that person were based on real feelings on the part of my “friend” and our relationship never really existed. It was all an act on that “friend’s” part even though I invested myself in our friendship. 

It makes me wonder if this author also had a real life experience with such a narcissist. It sure seemed to me like that was one more of the truths she expressed in this fictional tale. Until you’ve actually been a victim of a malignant narcissist, it’s hard to understand just how awful they can be. Her passage above rang true. 

Overall, the book was good and I enjoyed the tale.

Never After by Melissa De La Cruz- A Review

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This was a book for 10-14 year olds but it looked cute when I was at the bookstore so I bought it.  Melissa De La Cruz has a lovely imagination. I loved all the twists on the fairy tales we all know and love.  The heroine of the story was likable and intelligent. She was sassy and a strong character.

The two friends she makes are also interesting characters. Jack was smart and clever. Alistair was witty and irreverent. The three friends all played off each other well and worked as a team to solve problems.

The author put in some lessons for middle school children to learn in a way that was fun and creative. She touched on bullying as well as other subjects children are faced with in school these days.  She also didn’t “dumb it down” for the readers. There were words I’m sure aren’t in the normal vocabulary of most middle-schoolers, but exposing them to those is smart. She may be making some life-long readers with this book and the ones that will be coming after it. Adventure is a great way to keep a child interested and engaged.

The story had a great premise and even though I am way past middle school age, I thoroughly enjoyed the tale. I will definitely be buying the next in the series as I truly think these characters are fun and interesting. I will share this book with some of my younger friends and relatives. I think they will enjoy it.

Christmas Cocoa Murder- a Review

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This was an anthology of three stories. Carlene O’Connor wrote Christmas Cocoa Murder;   Maddie Day wrote Christmas Cocoa and a Corpse; and Alex Erickson wrote Death by Hot Cocoa.

All three stories were enjoyable. I liked the Death by Hot Cocoa one the best. I enjoyed the escape room concept and the set up was clever. I did guess who-dun-it pretty quickly, but that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the story and the rooms set up in a holiday theme in the escape room. 

The Christmas Cocoa Murder was also a really cool set up. As a fan of dunking tanks in my younger days, I loved how the author used that concept in her story—I can’t even imagine how sticky it would be to be dunked in cocoa though- *shudder* — The characters in this one were well drawn and intriguing. The mystery was well done and the nutcrackers were a neat addition to the puzzle.

My least favorite was Christmas Cocoa and a corpse. Not because the story lacked anything, it was a good concept and execution. What I didn’t care for was the nicknames – every single character had a nickname- which just seemed off-putting to me. I also didn’t enjoy the overuse of descriptions- too much detail on everything the characters wore and the settings. I know some people enjoy that, but it wasn’t my thing at all.

Overall, this was a cute set of stories and very holiday—if your holidays include murder by cocoa. 🙂

The Family Upstairs – Lisa Jewell- a Review

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I went to a wedding a week ago in Tallahassee and, on my drive back, stopped at a couple of Goodwill Stores as they always seem to have a good selection of used books. One of the ones I purchased was The Family Upstairs. I hadn’t read any of this author before, but I’m a fan now. The book was intriguing as well as a quick read. A house with dark secrets is at the center of the tale.

The story is told from three points of view and I enjoyed all of them. Each had a distinctive voice and were compelling in different ways. The movement from each voice to the other was smooth and kept me turning pages.

In the author note, she stated her inspiration for the book came from seeing a woman in Nice, France sneaking her children into the public baths near the beach. From that, a tale of family terror, loss, and lives shattered was born. I loved how all the threads of the story came together. I figured out most of it, but a surprise or two in the pages made this reader happy as I usually solve it all before the end.

Each of the three protagonists were dramatically affected by their upbringings and the way the author showed how those experiences carried over into their adult lives was genius. It’s a dark tale, but moments of light and love shine through. I throughly recommend this one for a few hours of entertainment mixed with a little anxiety for the characters.

Sunflowers Under Fire by Diana Stevan

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Perseverance, grit and sheer pluckiness describe the heroine of this fictionalized story about the life of author’s grandmother. What a lady she was. From the opening sequence when she gave birth by herself on the kitchen floor, got up and cooked for her husband who just joined the army and then walked the food a number of miles while half a day post-partum, to her bravery when she decided to move her family to an unknown land where they didn’t know the language, Lukia is someone to admire. She was an amazing human being and the author captured the spirit of this lady in a way that made this reader relate to her (even though I’ve never been faced with anything like the situations Lukia faced).

The heroine handled herself well and kept her family fed and with shelter in all kinds of adversity. The losses she suffered were horrible, but she didn’t let them daunt her or cause her to lose her faith.

I very much enjoyed reading this book even though it was dismal and heartbreaking in parts. My admiration of Lukia grew throughout the book. She was just not going to sit down and take it when life didn’t go her way.  If you like tales of fortitude and overcoming tribulation, I recommend this one highly. 4.5 stars

Dracula’s Death, a Review – by Laszlo Tamasfi; Illustrations by Jozsef Svab

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Dracula’s Death is a retelling of a Hungarian silent film that has been lost to time. The author has meticulously researched this film as well as the novelization of the story. He has translated the tale from Hungarian and it’s a gem of a story. This is not your standard Dracula tale. This one involves a mental asylum, a young girl in love but sad due to her father’s impending death, and a lot of creepy inmates of that asylum. The heroine is a sweet character and I found myself rooting for her throughout the story. 

The story is evocative and well-told. The descriptions are lovely and this reader was transported to the snowy mountains of Europe just reading the prose. The illustrations are also lovely and amazing. Even the cover of the book is delicious. I very much enjoyed this story and appreciate the efforts made by the author to translate this to English as otherwise, it wouldn’t be available for us here to enjoy. 

After the story—which is very creepy and exciting—the author shares his research into the film. He translates many articles that were published during the time the film was being made as well as publicity ads during the era of the release of this silent film. Photos are also shared that bring this movie to life. It’s sad that its been lost to the annals of time, but wow—good job to Mr. Tamasfi for his work in bringing it to us—as well as the articles about it—and the Mr. Svab for his wonderful illustrations. 

If you like horror or Dracula tales, this one shouldn’t be missed as it’s a different take on a popular character and suitably creepy. If you’re a film buff—silent or talkies—this is a great resource for a missing piece of film history. 

Essex, Tudor Rebel by Tony Riches, a Review

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This meticulously well-researched book surprised me in a few ways. I’ve long been a history buff and intrigued by the House of Tudor and all the various courtiers who inhabited that world. I attended elementary school in Virginia which is steeped in early colonial history. My family took full advantage of that and we spent many a weekend at various historical sites—to say nothing of school field trips. Queen Elizabeth I was one of the first monarchs I remember learning about.  Of course, as a child, I had no idea of the machinations of her royal court but that foundation started a lifelong journey of amateur study of history.

I was intrigued to read a full length story about the Earl of Essex. Of course I’d heard/read, many times,  he went from queen’s favorite to execution but most of what I’d read skimmed pretty quickly over his exploits and how he ended up on the scaffold. This story pulled me into his world and his psychology. The man obviously was affected by his upbringing and the early death of his father as well as being raised away from his family (which I know happened often in those days). It was as if he had something to prove, but he didn’t have the proper guidance to learn to cope with life and how to compromise to get along in the world.

His refusal to listen to orders and defy his superiors in battle was remarkable. I was amazed he lasted as long as he did with the defiance he showed to the queen. She truly had a major soft spot for him which seems very unusual based on her intolerance for foolish behavior from many others. He sure took advantage of this soft spot and, after reading this book, I think it actually emboldened him to continue making rash decisions. Perhaps if she’d taken a sterner hand with his shenanigans, things would have been very different for him.

The detail of his last-stand march on the palace was almost unbelievable. It was a powerfully written scene—and not in a good way. I kept shaking my head at his actions. Even though I knew the outcome was his execution, I had to keep asking myself what the heck he was thinking and how he thought there would be a victory for him in all his rashness. He knew Queen Elizabeth was no stranger to ordering executions, but he clearly thought he was immune to her wrath to that extent since he’d gotten away with insubordination in the past. The defiance of her authority was arrogant and astounding. This book really brought that home in a way that it never had been to me before.

The author really made this story come alive. The background of Essex’s childhood, loss of love and family, along with his need to prove himself (and going into debt over and over in that quest) and his lack of awareness led to his downfall. The author is to be commended for the way he made this story real and relevant to our time. The psychology of this character is intriguing and based on his behaviors, it was only a matter of time before he enraged the Queen past redemption.  I recommend this book highly for an in-depth study of Essex and his character. It reads like a novel but was clearly based on the history and well-researched.

If She Dies- by Erik Therme – A Review

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The blurb for this story set me up for a certain kind of story and, surprisingly, it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, there were twists and turns and some surprises, and it definitely held my attention despite not leading me where I thought it would. The beginning was not like a traditional thriller. It was a slow start that built through the first almost ¾ of the book. I liked it a lot and being surprised by a few things made it even more enjoyable. It didn’t take me long to read it, because it moved fast and held my interest.

There were a couple of places where I thought the protagonist, Tess, was a little naïve and slow on the uptake, but it served the plot, so I can get past that. She wasn’t one of those heroines that make the reader want to slap some sense into her and the naivety was somewhat understandable.

The minor characters like Tess’s brother and husband were well-drawn with good back stories and motivations for their actions. Her husband, Josh, was a bit OCD, but that showed the author put a lot of thought into how he would act as well as react to Tess. I did get a bit peeved at Josh a few times, but to me, that’s a sign of a good story since it means I am relating to the characters.

I have a friend who lost her child in similar circumstances to how Tess and Josh lost Lily and so much of how these characters dealt with their grief was familiar to me from what my friend and her husband went through, the scenes dealing with the sadness, loss and lack of communication really resonated with me. Well done to the author for being able to realistically write about such horrific loss as well as making the story suspenseful.

This one is a 4.5 star read for me. A hard subject handled skillfully. 

Saint Vandal’s Day by D. E. Haggerty- A Review

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I read this book in about an hour and a half. There was a breeziness about it that was appealing. It had a lot of fun parts and I definitely loved the recipes in the back. The cupcakes all sounded really, really good.  I may have to break out the cupcake tins! 🙂

The main character, Callie, was charming and likeable and I enjoyed her relationship with her friends and her fiancée. Most of the characters seemed to be people you’d actually meet on the street and enjoy a chat with. The mystery of the whodunit wasn’t that hard. I pegged the culprit from the first scene the character appeared in. The reason for the actions wasn’t as easy to figure out, though. I had a different motive in my mind, so credit to the author for that.

I did not care for some of the behavior of the character who owned the bakery with the main protagonist. She was the one who baked the cupcakes and she was very volatile and almost unbelievable as a character—she seemed almost like a caricature instead. She truly became annoying before the end of the story.  Out of control, having to be held back from attacking people, stalking, and threats of violence when anyone criticized her cupcakes seemed over the top to me. The parts where she was trying to help the protagonist not cheat on her pre-wedding diet seemed unkind and almost rude the way she snatched food from her friend’s hand. It may just be me, but that rubbed me the wrong way.

This was the last of the series of seven stories, and while I enjoyed the time I spent reading it, it didn’t appeal enough for me to go back and read the others in the series.  There were a number of allusions to the other stories in this short book, but the references were enough for me to guess at how they unfolded so I don’t find it necessary to read them. And sadly, I’m not sure I could handle that baker in other tales. She was the one part of this book that made me bring this rating down to a 4 rather than a 5.