The Death of Mrs Westaway – a review

Thursday_horizons

This week’s Thursday Creation Review is somewhat unexpected in that I had something else put aside to read. That novel had to wait as this book shot to the top of the reading pile. Read on and find out why.

DeathOfMrsWestaway

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

by

Ruth Ware (Goodreads Author)

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark WoodThe Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fourth novel.

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

Review 5 stars

This novel derailed my reading plans, and I have no regrets. After reading a blogged review, I had to discover more so I read the sample and was swept into Hal’s world.

I felt her dilemmas as she struggled to make finances stretch – and fend off loan sharks – as she side-stepped through life as a tarot card reader. Like Hal, I lived in Brighton – although never all-but-on-the-streets. Full marks to Ruth Ware for resurrecting the West Pier – artistic licence at its best. Plus, I’ve had experiences with tarot cards – but not as a card reader.

Anyway, I knew that the answer must lie in the mysterious letter that Hal receives, tempting her with an inheritance that she knows isn’t hers. She had to attempt to claim the money, so I had to buy the book as I needed to keep reading.

She entered another world, Trepassen House, facing another class, one where money seems to grant advantages, even privileges – but there are consequences. Love can be a rarer commodity in such circles, unlike Hal’s childhood, ironically.

However, Hal and the reader are plunged into the menacing world of the country house – Gothic with wonderful details that rang true for me. I grew up in that world, so the house and its occupants came alive – except that was as much the author’s words and their phrasing.

Hal isn’t fully prepared for the Westaway family and all the secrets. Yet, she has the skills to adapt to the situation – not an easy feat as even I would struggle. Families and inheritance can be vicious whatever is at stake – I’ve been there, and it never ends, for some. I recognised too many of the family members and aspects of key supporting characters. I wanted to discover what those secrets were, and who was determined to stop Hal at any cost. Mrs Westaway might be dead, but she had left a legacy that posed questions. Why did she make that will? What did she know? What happened at Trepassen?

There were elements that were pure Daphne du Maurier, so I was amused when someone mentioned Mrs Danvers. But this was gothic intrigue meets internet revelations – but only when there was a signal and no distractions. Trepassen’s remote Cornish setting – another Rebecca echo – with its charming magpies, adds to the menacing atmosphere.

Although the third-person deep POV of Hal carries the main story-line, the unidentified first-person diary entries are a clever addition. For me, that diary added new questions and new scenarios. The entries also added red herrings for unwary readers like me. At one point, I thought I had identified the writer and resolved what was happening. Wrong. Yes, I realised before the end, but not entirely. So, I was pleasantly surprised at what had really happened, especially as all the clues were there – just cleverly disguised.

Five days after Hal pulled me from Brighton to Cornwall, I had finished this novel – that’s fast for me. I was tempted to drop everything to discover what the author had so artfully contrived – and I was never disappointed.

A well-deserved five stars.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

Look the Other Way – a review

Thursday_horizons

Kristina Stanley is among my favourite mystery authors and when her Stone Mountain series closed with Avalanche, I wondered where we would be swept to next. (Well, if I was truthful, I had an inkling as Kristina is one of my gurus.)

So, in the next mystery, we are transported in Look the Other Way from the mountains, we are now afloat.

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Look the Other Way

by

Kristina Stanley (Goodreads Author)

SUBMERGED BENEATH THE DEPTHS IS A SEA OF SECRETS…

A year after her Uncle Bobby mysteriously disappears in the turquoise waters surrounding the Bahamas, Shannon Payne joins her grieving aunt to trace Bobby’s last voyage. Shannon hopes the serenity of the sea might help her recover from a devastating breakup with her fiancé.

Sailing the 38-foot catamaran, A Dog’s Cat, is Captain Jake Hunter, a disillusioned cop who has sworn off women. While Shannon tries to resist her growing attraction to the rugged captain, she uncovers dark truths about her uncle’s death that might send them all to the depths.

Review 4.6 stars

I’m always ready to pick up another Kristina Stanley mystery and I wasn’t disappointed with this one.

She takes her diverse life encounters and creates great stories from them – this time tapping into her sailing experience. As a result, the characters, settings and situations ring true, and I was with Shannon Payne in the Bahamas, sailing A Dog’s Cat, attempting to resolve what happened to her Uncle Bobby, and I had to wonder when something might happen with rugged Captain Jake Hunter. Is he what he says he is?

The novel was well-structured, balancing mystery and romance while weaving the plotlines together. As a mystery writer, I attempt to unravel the threads and there were more than enough to keep me reading – even after I worked out who the antagonist was, sometime before the end.

From that point onwards, the suspense element went up some notches as my concern for Shannon’s situation grew. My mind was trying to keep ahead of her…and the villain. Getting that revelation moment right needs skill as not all readers ‘click’ in the same place – keeping them on board takes craft, and Stanley has that in boatloads.

Also, there were some clever red herrings that kept my ‘little grey cells’ buzzing for page after page. All the characters had backstories and depth, with various reasons to suspect them of committing some crime. Their actions were sometimes deceptive and there were plenty of misunderstandings as in all good mysteries.

The Bahamas setting was both enticingly exotic and hidden with subtle threats. Many of the places must be real – or felt that they should be. The author’s knowledge of boats and sailing lent the writing an authentic vibe – and from my limited experience ‘mucking around in boats’, I felt swept along with events of a maritime nature. And the characters’ relevant skills varied appropriately from those that knew their charts to those needing a bottle or a life-jacket – or both.

Look the Other Way is another excellent Kristina Stanley novel that kept me thinking, so if you like a good mystery plus sailing and romance, I would recommend this book – 4.6 stars raised to Five.

I suspect that if this isn’t meant to be the start of a new series, then popular opinion might demand the return of Shannon Payne. However, until then we can anticipate a new Kristina Stanley mystery that is in the works. For now, I’ll just recommend each one she’s already written.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

#TheIWSG Ultimate Writing Goals

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

Is it really July already? Where did June go? Is it time for another Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog post? In fact, this post is a day early due to the US Fourth of July Holiday. Does that mean we all get to celebrate? Oh wait, I’m a Brit living in the US, so I must acknowledge this celebration of when the US got rid of the British Empire. Or did we Brits get rid of the damn tea-dumping, pesky colonists?

On to the IWSG brain-teaser:

July 3 question – What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

Those ‘ultimate writing goals’ are still moveable feasts.

First off, my goals are not what they were when I was in my teens, churning out scrappy shorts and dreaming of publishing multiple novels. When I was a working journalist, I had scaled back to one equestrian mystery with possibly two sequels.

Now I’m coping with health issues that make my goals move each day/month/year. OK – July 2018…goals = continue blogging for IWSG once-per-month, my Thursday Review every week – plus the odd blog hop/article/interview. And as for the fiction writing, attempt to write the three short stories linked to my Snowdon Shadows series. Perhaps I can dream of publishing one more novel – even if the first was a damp squid.

Is it wise to retire after one published opus?

Despite the brain fogs and jumbled thoughts, I still have urges to write – just not with any real hope of publishing anything else.

As I asked last month, is it time to just read and dream? (And become a ‘reviewer’.)

**

The awesome co-hosts for this July 3 posting of the IWSG are Nicki Elson, Juneta Key, Tamara Narayan, and Patricia Lynne!

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting! 

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

Sword of Destiny – a review

Thursday_horizons

Ever since I met Geralt of Rivia in the game, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt and posted about it in W is for Witcher, I have been exploring the origins of that world in the creations of Andrzej Sapkowski.

After reviewing the first book in Geralt’s chronology – The Last Wish – I kept reading. I will eventually review the game but I have many hours left so today my Witcher journey continues with a review of the second collection of short stories, Sword of Destiny:

SwordOfDestiny

Sword of Destiny (Saga o Wiedźminie #2)

by

Andrzej Sapkowski

The New York Times bestselling series that inspired the international hit video game: The Witcher.

Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent.

This is a collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection THE LAST WISH. Join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike…
The Witcher series 
The Last Wish
The Sword of Destiny 
Blood of Elves
The Time of Contempt
Baptism of Fire

The Malady and Other Stories: An Andrzej Sapkowski Sampler (e-only)

Review 5 stars

I’m attempting to remain chronological in reading and reviewing Andrzej Sapkowski’s absorbing books about Geralt of Rivia, although I first met the White Wolf in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt video game. I also know that there are some shorts that might not fit this chronology.

However, the six short stories in this second collection are on the one hand standalone but on the other, there are strong threads linking them – not least the White Wolf himself, Geralt of Rivia.

Some see him as emotionless and ruthless, but his potion-subdued emotions emerge, and he is torn by his heart and by his destiny. Sapkowski creates an evolving and complex character who has a code, relationships, habits, quirks, dreams, nightmares…and destiny.

That destiny unfolds in the stories – and I know in later books. However, the author doesn’t use a linear style for the plot, weaving the threads with flashback memories, nightmares and encounters. Some readers might find this approach confusing, but when the pieces fall into place, I sat back and admired the craft, grinning with pleasure.

Each story deals with an event in Geralt’s journey, introducing both new characters and old ones, like Dandelion, the bard and Yennefer, the sorceress. From the opening story, The Bounds of Reason, when we encounter the mysterious Borch Three Jackdaws, we realise that this is neither a black-and-white world nor classical fantasy, but a multi-faceted and richly-visualised world of many hues, some grey and muddy, some earthy and verdant, and some red as blood or purple as lilacs.

Each character, in this and the other stories, has levels of complexity, none more so than the child called Ciri in the last two stories – The Sword of Destiny and Something More.

I could write about all six stories, but other reviewers can do that better. Do I focus instead on Yennefer’s devious attractions or Dandelion’s humorous escapades? Not this time – even if they are both play memorable character-driven episodes.

Ciri is the person who fascinated me most, watching her cope with events as a child, her raw emotions and reactions, seeing her encounter Geralt and struggle together with Destiny. The whole plot comes together in their story, with seeds sown in one of the key stories in The Last Wish collection and continued in the novels (and games).

Everything takes place in a world that mirrors issues that our society still struggles with, like prejudice and racial segregation. Pogroms directed against elves and dwarves echo the horrors that the Jews suffered, totally – and witch burnings were for real. And the persecution of ‘minorities’ continues. People even dislike Witchers so abuse and exploit them – so why not send all Moslems back where they belong.

Geralt’s world is filled with monsters, and sometimes the human ones are the worst – as in ours. Sapkowski takes folklore and cleverly twists it, posing dilemmas. What side do you stand with, Order or Chaos? Are all dragons evil because a knight-errant must rescue maidens in distress? Sapkowski also raises topical issues, such as the struggle to preserve the natural world, vanishing species struggling to survive. Do we have a right to their land?

I have just taken a few enjoyable steps exploring Sapkowski’s creation, even if I’ve visited the world others built from his imagination. Playing the Witcher 3 game and reading the early books creates moments of ‘understanding’ about this complex world. The depth originates in Sapkowski’s mind, so I must keep reading.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – a review

Thursday_horizons

Another Thursday, another review, but my brain won’t co-operate. Not because I don’t know what to review, but because I’m uninspired.

At the end of April, I posted Z is for Zelda which included the information that F Scott Fitzgerald’s wife was called Zelda. When I admitted that I’d never read any Fitzgerald, one well-read follower suggested The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as a great start to discovering him – thanks, Heather Erickson.

This review will be shorter as this is a short story.

Benjamin Button 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Today, F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for his novels, but in his lifetime, his fame stemmed from his prolific achievement as one of America’s most gifted story writers. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a witty and fantastical satire about ageing, is one of his most memorable stories.

In 1860 Benjamin Button is born an old man and mysteriously begins ageing backwards. At the beginning of his life he is withered and worn, but as he continues to grow younger he embraces life — he goes to war, runs a business, falls in love, has children, goes to college and prep school, and, as his mind begins to devolve, he attends kindergarten and eventually returns to the care of his nurse.

This strange and haunting story embodies the sharp social insight that has made Fitzgerald one of the great voices in the history of American literature.

Review 4.3 stars

This cleverly crafted short story was inspired by a remark of Mark Twain’s that, “Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.”

Ageing backwards has its advantages, and Fitzgerald explores various elements of such a life, Benjamin Button’s, showing how the happiness is balanced with frustration and misunderstanding – disadvantages. He weaves humorous moments alongside poignant ones creating a satirical commentary on society’s response to growing up, ageing, appearances and abilities.

The language may feel dated, and the social standing of the Buttons may seem alien to many, yet the attitudes and expectations of people around Benjamin ring true today.

Have our attitudes really progressed? A quick but thought-inspiring read from a master craftsman.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

 

 

 

 

Born in a Treacherous Time – Blog Hop

Today, I have the pleasure of taking part in the Blog Hop for fellow author Jacqui Murray’s historical novel, Born in a Treacherous Time. Some of us take our time crafting our creations – I took over 13 years with my debut, even though it was a mystery. It’s therefore totally understandable that Jacqui took two decades to research and write Lucy’s story.

So, as she says, “After 20 years, I really need a send-off for this baby!”

Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive in the harsh reality of a world where nature rules, survival is a daily challenge, and a violent band threatens to destroy everything Lucy thinks she understands.

 If you like Man vs. Wild, you’ll love this book. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. It will bring that world to life in a way never seen before.

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Summary:

Born in the harsh world of East Africa 1.8 million years ago, where hunger, death, and predation are a normal part of daily life, Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive. It is a time in history when they are relentlessly annihilated by predators, nature, their own people, and the next iteration of man. To make it worse, Lucy’s band hates her. She is their leader’s new mate and they don’t understand her odd actions, don’t like her strange looks, and don’t trust her past. To survive, she cobbles together an unusual alliance with an orphaned child, a beleaguered protodog who’s lost his pack, and a man who was supposed to be dead.

Born in a Treacherous Time is prehistoric fiction written in the spirit of Jean Auel. Lucy is tenacious and inventive no matter the danger, unrelenting in her stubbornness to provide a future for her child, with a foresight you wouldn’t think existed in earliest man. You’ll close this book understanding why man not only survived our wild beginnings but thrived, ultimately to become who we are today.

This is a spin-off of To Hunt a Sub’s Lucy (the ancient female who mentored Kali Delamagente, the female protagonist).

 

“Murray’s lean prose is steeped in the characters’ brutal worldview, which lends a delightful otherness to the narration …The book’s plot is similar in key ways to other works in the genre, particularly Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear. However, Murray weaves a taut, compelling narrative, building her story on timeless human concerns of survival, acceptance, and fear of the unknown. Even if readers have a general sense of where the plot is going, they’ll still find the specific twists and revelations to be highly entertaining throughout. 

A well-executed tale of early man.” 

–Kirkus Reviews

Click here for the entire review

 

An early reader’s review

Born in a Treacherous Time sheds light on a period of time that gave birth to the human race, and allow us to bear witness to the harshness and tenacious spirit that is uniquely human—to survive and endure. Readers with a thirst for knowledge and who enjoy historical fiction, this is a must-read. I am looking forward to reading book 2 when it is published.

 “I devoured the book in 2 sittings.”

 –Luciana Cavallaro, author of Servant of the Gods series and webmaster of Eternal Atlantis

 

Today’s question to Jacqui Murray is:

What one characteristic would you say allowed Lucy to survive in a world populated with Sabertooth Cats, violent volcanoes, and predatory species who liked to eat man?

“Really, with our thin skin, dull teeth, and tiny claws (aka fingernails), Lucy had no right to survive against the thick-skinned mammoth or tearing claws of the great cats of that time. But we did. The biggest reason: Even then, Lucy was a problem solver. She faced crises and came up with solutions. Where most animals spent their time eating and sleeping, Lucy had time left over. This, she used to solve problems.

To me, that thoughtful approach to living, one no other animal exhibits, is why we came to rule the planet.”

Man v Nature

Book information:

Title and author: Jacqui Murray – Born in a Treacherous Time

Series: Book 1 in the Man vs. Nature series

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Cover by: Damonza 

Available at: Kindle

 

Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Wild seriesShe is also the author of over a hundred books on integrating technology into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Social Media contacts: 

http://twitter.com/worddreams

http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

https://worddreams.wordpress.com

https://jacquimurray.net

For a sample of this amazing novel, please visit Amazon and Look Inside.