The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths – a review

Thursday_horizons

For today’s Thursday Creation Review, I’m catching up on an outstanding one from March when. I wrote a few words on Goodreads for this third book in the Fiona Griffiths series by Harry Bingham and promised a longer review.

This will be my third review of a Fiona Griffiths book – see also: Book 1. Talking to the Dead and Book 2. Love Story with Murders.

Anyway, as promised…

StrangeDeath

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths

(Fiona Griffiths #3)

by

Harry Bingham (Goodreads Author)

It started out as nothing much. A minor payroll fraud at a furniture store in South Wales. No homicide involved, no corpses. Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths fights to get free of the case but loses. She’s tasked with the investigation.

She begins her enquiries, only to discover the corpse of a woman who’s starved to death. Looks further, and soon realizes that within the first, smaller crime, a vaster one looms: the most audacious theft in history.

Fiona’s bosses need a copper willing to go undercover, and they ask Fiona to play the role of a timid payroll clerk so that she can penetrate the criminal gang from within.

Fiona will be alone, she’ll be lethally vulnerable – and her fragile grip on ‘Planet Normal’ will be tested as never before …

Review 5 stars

Fiona Griffiths is one amazingly quirky detective and this third book adds just another layer or two to her persona. Harry Bingham continues to throw curve balls in her path, starting with that title.

When DC Fiona Griffiths is tasked with investigating a minor payroll fraud, she discovers a vaster crime is lurking within the first. Fiona is asked to go undercover as a timid payroll clerk to penetrate the criminal gang from inside. But, being alone and vulnerable, challenges her ability to cope with reality.

I enjoyed this third book even more than the previous. Fiona continues to go down unexpected paths and evolve in unexpected ways. With her new persona, she is so complex and fascinating that there was room for her to explore this new world, discover different people – all well portrayed – and prove she can interact convincingly with criminals. If you have read the first two books, then you know that her father has criminal connections. However, she is always operating on a precipice – in reality, and in her mind.

As Fiona becomes Jessica, there is a clever change of pace that matches the new character – a new character that Fiona inhabits almost too well. The title began to make sense, but then the author added new twists and turns – new layers to his protagonist and that title.

The settings are crafted with a realism that matches the unfolding story – from London offices to remote Welsh farms. Gritty when the scene requires that but uplifting when the reader needs green spaces and strong breezes. A year in Fiona’s life covers so much territory.

Harry Bingham is a great believer in keeping readers thinking as well as the coppers and the criminals. He creates believable situations and demonstrates the depth of his research, even down to the details of forms that Fiona/Jessica handles and the electronics both sides use.

Nothing is ever easy or calm when undercover, and as Fiona/Jessica got deeper into this criminal world, I asked, “Will Jessica survive?” Prepare for another awesome ending.

I look forward to visiting Fiona Griffiths’ Cardiff/South Wales world soon, especially as she has ongoing questions to resolve.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

Mr Churchill’s Secretary – a review

Thursday_horizons

For today’s Thursday Creation Review, I’m reviewing a historical mystery set in World War II that I read after reading tempting reviews for two books from the ongoing series.

I’m hesitating from getting the next book for reasons stated in the review – and the length of the series so the costs in reading time and my dwindling book funds.

 MaggieHope

Mr Churchill’s Secretary

(Maggie Hope Mystery #1)

by

Susan Elia MacNeal (Goodreads Author)

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

In this thrilling debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character, Maggie Hope, into a beautifully crafted mystery.

Review 3.7 stars

Fortunately, I didn’t read too many reviews of this novel first, so my enjoyment wasn’t tainted by watching out for potholes – historical or linguistic errors. Yes, I spotted some mistakes, but the plot swept me past them. So, I’m not going to nit-pick – and I know first-hand about American editors making changes for their larger market. (I fear my own writing lapses into Americanisms that might cause problems.)

Anyway, I suspended my disbelief and judgemental self to read about a clever young woman attempting to push past the restrictions imposed on women. The heroine, Maggie Hope has the qualifications to be more than just a typist for Winston Churchill, but that is how she starts out at 10, Downing Street. From there, she becomes involved in ‘a web of spies, murder, and intrigue’ earning promotion of sorts.

The plot unfolds through a series of events told from multiple POVs – almost too many by the end, though never a read-block – and the threads are brought together in a series of climactic episodes. Eventually, these lead into the over-long set-up for what has become not just a sequel but a series of books.

Were there plot holes? No, a few coincidences but life is full of them, and these felt explained, especially as some characters were being minimal with what they told Maggie – they have their reasons like there is a war on and “Careless talk costs lives”.

As a Brit ex-pat living in the US, I enjoyed reading about London during the war and recognised places from having lived there (and researched places destroyed in the Blitz). The fashion, music, art and celebrity references made me smile, especially as Maggie was part of a set on the fringes of high-society. Hobnobbing and name-dropping was rife throughout the world I grew up in. There were settings outside London that I recognised, although a few decades after these events – they came alive for me.

The characters, especially Maggie, felt realistic, even though emotions felt restrained in some cases. For instance, when death becomes more personal, there are demonstrations of grief – but not wailing. But even by the time the Blitz arrives, there is a sense of numbness for some – a numbness that shatters, perhaps not as overtly as we might portray it today. Stiff upper lip? And some of the secondary roles felt shallow in passing.

When the Luftwaffe arrived over London, the atmosphere changed, and the plot moved faster for me. Life must continue, including dancing, but the danger was more visible – and the smell pungent. So, characters are asking, ‘Who to trust?’ They become more conscious of Nazi sympathisers and more in their midst. Britain has older enemies and we slowly learn why in dialogue, memories and songs.

I always felt that Susan Elia MacNeal had done her research – for instance, when Frederick Ashton appeared- and despite the few potholes that I read around. Her ‘historical notes’ make it clear that this research was extensive, and she used numerous reputable sources, including her inspiration for Maggie and her fictional exploits in the real-life Churchill secretaries, Marian Holmes and Elizabeth Layton Nel.

This was a fast read, and I recommend this novel. Book 2 will have to wait as I have other historical novels to tackle first – and I need to forget those distracting reviews that I want to disagree with.

3.7 stars upgraded to 4.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – three stars

Structure – three stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

 

Horsemanship – a review

Thursday_horizons

Horses will always have a place in my heart, so today’s Thursday Creation Review is special in many ways. When my freelance equestrian writer friend, Gina McKnight collated some quotes from horse people around the world, I was interested, especially as these were an extension to the interviews that she had done with them. And one of those interviews was with me – https://ginamc.blogspot.com/2014/02/roland-clarke.html. (My quote, though, is only in the book so you will have to buy it…)

Horsemanship

Horsemanship

by

Gina McKnight (Goodreads Author)

0.0  ·  Rating details ·  0 Ratings  ·  0 Reviews

Journey through country stables, city trails, working round pens, and shining arenas where you will find equestrian wisdom from around the world. “What does horsemanship mean to you?” The question asked of cowboys, horse trainers, clinicians, equine writers, eventers, bull riders, barrel racers, and more! As a freelance writer, Gina McKnight connects with amazing horsemen and horsewomen. They are the inspiration for this book. To read their entire interview, visit www.ginamc.blogspot.com. Thanks to each one for their contribution to this volume. Special thanks to Zorka for inspiration and motivation. Her charismatic character, along with her engaging art, continue to encourage and support our love for horses. A portion of the proceeds from this book will be donated to local horse rescues

Review 5 stars

This collection is more than a taster as it contains some profound quotes by equestrian people from around the world who were interviewed by Gina McKnight over the last few years.

I enjoyed reading the diverse interpretations of ‘horsemanship’ and was not surprised at the overlap. Trust and respect kept being mentioned as well as understanding the horse’s language.

“To me horsemanship means two-way communication between horse and rider based on mutual trust, respect and affection. It is more than physical communication, it is mental and emotional as well. Horsemanship leads to an intuitive connection so that communication requires no conscious thought.”

Lee Atterbury

Wisconsin, USA

Equestrian

Author of Big Fracking Mess

www.leeatterbury.com

 

Another theme in the ‘thoughts’ is how important it is to develop a special relationship on an equal basis. In fact, that seems to be the hidden message to many regardless of discipline or nationality.

“To me, horsemanship, is having the ability to establish and then develop a productive relationship with a horse, which subsequently leads to earning the horse’s trust and confidence in you.”

Bill Slader

Ohio, USA

Equine Photographer

www.billsladerphotography.com

 

I loved reading about all those subtle ways of asking a horse to flourish, not forcing them but forging a natural bond. These horse people understand that a rider must feel what is best for the horse. This is real teamwork – when human and horse are working together for fun or sport. We are reminded that the horse can be a trainer and a partner. And there is another crucial bond.

“The definition of horsemanship is basically the skill, art or practise of riding horses. What it means to me is love. Pure love. Love of a beast that is so big he can squash you like a grape…but he won’t…because he loves you, too.”

Karen Miscovich

Florida, USA

Optimal Horse Environment Horse Boarding at Picalata Farms

 

There are pages of horse wisdom here, and some of my favourite equestrian writers share their thoughts as well – why not, they are equestrians too.

“…It would make for better equine/human relationships if the human tried to think more like the horse when in the saddle instead of assuming the horse is thinking/feeling human thoughts and emotions.”

TK Lukas

Texas, USA

Equestrian

Author of Orphan Moon

www.tklukas.com

 

I have watched many proponents of horsemanship with their own techniques and yet, as this book shows so well, their approaches overlap – they seem to have become unified with the horse.

Glimpse that through this collection and at Gina McKnight’s site – www.gmcknight.com

HorseCoverRC

Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered? – a review

Thursday_horizons

 

For today’s Thursday Creation Review, I’m reviewing another of Sue Barnard’s novels, Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered?, which I announced prior to its release on Monday, July 30th, alongside my review of Sue’s last novel, Never on Saturday.

This post is somewhat delayed due to MS depression zapping my spoons.

Heathcliff

Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered?

by

Sue Barnard (Goodreads Author)

“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now…”

Cathy’s immortal words from Wuthering Heights change Heathcliff’s life. At just seventeen years of age, heartbroken and penniless, he runs away to face an unknown future.

Three years later, he returns – much improved in manners, appearance and prosperity.

But what happened during those years? How could he have made his fortune, from nothing? Who might his parents have been? And what fate turned him into literature’s most famous anti-hero?

For almost two centuries, these questions have remained unanswered. Until now…

Review 4.4 stars

I always enjoy Sue Barnard’s novels so was looking forward to this one – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Although I read some long summaries of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, to familiarise myself, I regretted that I had never read the book – my excuse being that it was not a set book at school, unlike Jane Austen’s and Joseph Conrad’s works. (An omission that I intend to rectify). However, a prior knowledge isn’t required as many of the incidents are recounted, albeit with the missing three years at their heart.

The style of narration adopted seems to echo that used by Emily Bronte, but with Sue Barnard’s style woven in to make this a re-telling. Each scene is told from alternating perspectives, with the narrator’s name before each one.

For those three years of Heathcliff’s life that Emily Bronte left unexplained, Sue Barnard has done some interesting research and come up with plausible reasons, not only for his wealth and prosperity but also for his appearances and mannerisms. But I won’t let on about that time, just believe me when I say that the explanation works – as does some fascinating revelations at the end of the novel. Hidden secrets and devious research make for key threads.

Barnard makes good use of the historical setting for her re-telling, creating some new and memorable characters to fill those unexplained years. And the existing characters might be Bronte’s but they are fleshed out, although I didn’t understand some of their oddities. Heathcliff became clearer and darker than I had envisaged him – no thanks to Hollywood. He comes over as both tragic as he spirals out of control and depressing in his failure to see reason. But isn’t that the way with anti-heroes?

So, this wasn’t a smooth read, nor my favourite Barnard book, but I still recommend this novel.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

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The Case of the Black Tulips – a review

Thursday_horizons

For today’s Thursday Creation Review, I’m back to tackling a book review – I missed writing a proper post last week, although the excuses were forthcoming.

Anyway, back to today’s review (which I started last week).

I had been reading just samples as books I planned to start next were due to arrive. They did, but one sample had so hooked me that I had to discover more about it first.

 BlackTulips

The Case of the Black Tulips (Caster & Fleet Mysteries, #1)

by

Paula Harmon (Goodreads Author),

Liz Hedgecock (Goodreads Author)

There’s a new detective duo in Victorian London…

When Katherine Demeray opens an unsigned letter addressed to her missing father, she is drawn into a quest to find the terrified letter-writer and learn the secret of the black tulips.

Struggling to support herself after her father’s disappearance, Katherine has neither time nor money to solve the mystery alone. She has no choice but to seek help from a woman she has only just met; awkward socialite Connie Swift.

As the letters become increasingly frantic, this unlikely team of amateur detectives must learn to work together, while struggling to navigate the rigid rules of Victorian propriety, their families’ expectations, and the complicating interference of men.

Confronting danger as they venture into new and frightening territory, Katherine and Connie risk arrest, exposure, and even their reputations to solve the Case of the Black Tulips. Can they solve the mystery before someone gets killed….or they kill each other?

The Case of the Black Tulips is the first book in the Caster & Fleet mystery series, set in 1890s London.

Review 4.1 stars

When typist Katherine Demeray and her new friend socialite Connie Swift attempted to solve a mystery letter to Katherine’s father, I was drawn into their dangerous venture as they struggled to navigate Victorian society and the darker side of London.

The mystery of the letter writer and the clue of black tulips created a plot that worked through to the end, and the ending set up future cases for the endearing – or should that be spirited – lady detectives. (The second mystery is also out, and another is in the pipeline.)

I found that the main protagonists of Katherine and Connie were distinct and worked as a team, along with some memorable key supporting characters. I wondered if each of the authors had taken on a protagonist as the voices were so distinct – and that proved to be the case, with fascinating and effective results. What better way to write two protagonists than have two writers – or a split-personality. This clever approach led to some intriguing cliff-hangers for readers – and it seemed for writers/protagonists in the dark.

Some of that darkness is Victorian London with minimal lighting. This setting felt familiar as an ex-Londoner and yet this London was different with its carriages, rural outskirts (now, houses), plus the ever-present smoke that would soon become smog.

The story, the characters, their situations and the settings felt realistic. Whether this was historically accurate, I’m not sure, but the authors seem to have done plenty of research, and that gives a sense of authenticity that worked for me.

I enjoyed the read and I will buy the sequels. Not five stars but a recommended four plus.

 

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – four stars

 

 

To marry Heathcliff?

Thursday_horizons

For today’s Thursday Creation Review, I’m changing tacks again and sailing further into uncharted seas – variety and all that mirror stuff.

Anyway, one of my favourite authors – and one of my editors and writer-friends – is Sue Barnard. Ever since her first novel, The Ghostly Father, I’ve been an avid follower, reading all four of her novels released to date – all four or five star reads. Sue’s latest novel, Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered? , is released on Monday, July 30th, so I will present the novel for your delectation.

First, an extended version of my original review of Sue’s last novel, Never on Saturday.

NeverOnSaturday

Never on Saturday

by

Sue Barnard (Goodreads Author)

Two stories, two heartbreaks: one past, one present…

Leaving her native France and arriving in North Wales as a postgraduate student of History and Folklore, Mel is cautiously optimistic that she can escape from her troubled past and begin a new and happier life.

She settles into her student accommodation and begins work on her thesis, concentrating particularly on one fascinating manuscript: a compelling and tragic tale of a cursed medieval princess.

Then she meets Ray – charming, down-to-earth and devastatingly handsome. Within days, Mel’s entire world has transformed from lonely and frustrated to loving and fulfilled. Despite her failure with previous relationships, she allows herself to hope that this time, at last, she can make it work.

But Mel’s dreams of happiness are under constant threat. She is hiding a dark and terrible secret, which Ray – or indeed anybody else – must never ever discover…

Review 4.4 stars

I enjoyed this novel which once again showed Sue Barnard’s ability to write in different ‘genres’ – or perhaps that should be time-styles as this engrossing novella has a historical timeline and a present day one.

The two threads to this tales weave together – but saying ‘why’ would be a spoiler. I enjoyed the way they came together and sussed what was going on, or rather ‘who’, early on – even if I took a confusing operatic detour in my head.

Mel is an interesting character as is Ray but in a different way. I enjoyed the familiar North Wales setting and the brief language references. The folklore and historical elements never felt overdone and they were informative as they were thrown in as neat asides.

Never on Saturday is a fast and easy read with a neat ending, a well-crafted mix of styles and their respective settings. Plus, there are informative author notes at the end. Overall, I would recommend this novella.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

How the Story Came About:

Sue Barnard: “A few years ago I was on holiday in western France and came across a legend associated with the area I was visiting.  Previously I’d been vaguely aware of the existence of this legend, but until then I’d known next to nothing about it.

A couple of weeks after I returned home, I was mowing the lawn when suddenly a line of dialogue popped into my head.  Goodness only knows where it came from, but it proved to be the starting point for what would eventually become Never on Saturday.

The line was “My name isn’t [X], it’s [Y].”  Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific here, because that would give away too much.  But suffice it to say that [Y] is the name of the character featured in the old French legend.”

Buy link: mybook.to/never-on-saturday

Other Reviews:

“An intriguing combination of myth and modern! I don’t like to give the story away to spoil it for future readers, but Sue has taken a myth and woven it into a magical love story. This story is easy to read and follow, even though it slips backwards and forwards in time. An act of revenge, a curse, a mythical creature, magic, and a rather attractive man goes into the mix to make a very entertaining story.”

“A must-read for fans of paranormal romance. A simple, modern-day love story is interwoven with an ancient French fairy-tale. I’m a sucker for folklore so I loved the old legend which I hadn’t come across before but even if you have you won’t know how this version will end.”

“A well-crafted, beautifully written little novella, which I devoured in one sitting. Like every book written by this author, a quality read which ticks all the boxes.”

 

Heathcliff

Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered?

by

Sue Barnard (Goodreads Author)

“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now…”

Cathy’s immortal words from Wuthering Heights change Heathcliff’s life. At just seventeen years of age, heartbroken and penniless, he runs away to face an unknown future.

Three years later, he returns – much improved in manners, appearance and prosperity.

But what happened during those years? How could he have made his fortune, from nothing? Who might his parents have been? And what fate turned him into literature’s most famous anti-hero?

For almost two centuries, these questions have remained unanswered. Until now…

How the Story Came About

Sue Barnard: “It all began with a chance remark from a former schoolfriend: “Sue, I love the way you’ve based your book on what we did at school. What are you going to do next?”

“We were chatting just after the release of my third novel, The Unkindest Cut of All, which features a performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. This was the play we’d studied for English Literature O-Level (as it then was, back in the dark ages before GCSEs). The novel set for the same exam was Emily Brontë’s classic Wuthering Heights.

“Well,” I chuckled, “there’s always Heathcliff…”

“At the time, it was just a passing joke between two friends who recalled crying on each other’s shoulders as we’d struggled to make sense of the vagaries of the plot, tried (and mostly failed) to decipher Joseph’s incomprehensible dialect, and attempted to understand the book’s complicated inter-personal relationships. The latter was not made any easier by the characters’ confusing similarity of names. Emily Brontë had clearly never read the rule-book about this. Three of the characters have names beginning with the same initial, one of them has a first name which is the same as the surname of another, and two others have the same name entirely!

“But somehow, the idea just wouldn’t go away. I then recalled how our teacher (the wonderful Mrs Hall) explained how “…by having the story narrated by Nelly Dean, Emily Brontë avoids having to tell us exactly what happened to Heathcliff during those missing three years…”

“So – what might have happened to him? Could I try to get into his mind, and write a story which attempts to answer that question?”

Buy Link: http://mybook.to/heathcliff

Reviews

“I had always wondered what happened to Heathcliff during those three years he was absent from the action of ‘Wuthering Heights’. What would change him from a passionate, unruly youth into a polished gentleman? And who were his parents?”

“Sue Barnard answers these questions (and more) in a way that makes total sense, as well as making a really exciting story in its own right. Painting vivid pictures of the culture of the time, Barnard shows us Heathcliff as he changes – and why. I loved the fact that her plot and his development made sense psychologically as well as culturally while fitting in seamlessly with the text of WH. I love WH so much that I would have worried about any additions, had not Barnard proved herself to be a safe pair of hands in her earlier books. Being a Cathy myself, I’ve always wanted more of Heathcliff – and I couldn’t have got him in a better form!”

“A great read! It is fascinating to discover the author’s take on one of literature’s great mysteries. Be sure to read the author’s note too.”