My Rogue, My Ruin – a review

I realise that I haven’t written a review since September 1st. Although, despite my poor health, I have been reading so there are seven overdue reviews. I’m going to leave those for now and review the book that I just finished.

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My Rogue, My Ruin (Lords of Essex #1)

by Amalie HowardAngie Morgan 

The beau monde has always had it all–money, pride, titles–while the needy die on their doorsteps. So I don a mask, steal from the rich, and give to the poor. I am no longer Lord Archer Croft, the Marquess of Hawksfield and the son of a duke.

I am the Masked Marauder.

My only rule: never let anyone close enough to know my secret. So I’m cold and hard and scare everyone away. That’s just what it takes if I hope to make a difference in this world.

Until one woman, Lady Briannon Findlay, pitied by the ton, sees through my defenses, and I can’t help the heat between us. Everyone sees her as quiet and frail, but I see the spark behind her eyes and I’m like a moth to her flame. For a moment, I think I might be able to keep her and my secret.

But I was never meant to have it all…

REVIEW – ****

I received this book as a prize in a random genre competition and found it hard to put this down. In fact, I stopped reading another book to make time for this one. I’m a very slow reader, otherwise, I’d have read this in one sitting. I rarely read Historical Romances but this had all the right elements to draw me in: well-drawn characters, mystery and intrigue, a strong female lead, visual settings, and there are horses – not surprising as the setting is England in 1817.

The romance between Archer and Briannon/Brynn is tempestuous given their vibrant characters, with incidents and society leading to some challenging encounters. True love never runs smoothly as Archer and Brynn discover, often struggling against their own personalities and realistically wavering emotions. Their motivation throughout is logical in the situations they find themselves.

The characters are all believable and well-imagined, and the society they inhabit rings true – my upbringing brought me into contact with the modern ‘remnants’ of the ton and I could visualise some of the ‘types’.

Attempting to avoid spoilers, I found the mystery plotline worked extremely well and kept me thinking until the end. This was the kind of mystery plot that has you looking for the clever foreshadowing and hidden clues. As a mystery reader primarily, I felt that the authors pulled that off brilliantly.

Attempting to work with another author must be a challenge – I’ve only once attempted it, and failed – but Amalie Howard and Angie Morgan have blended their writing seamlessly. There are no signs of anything like alternate authors for alternate chapters or scenes. They write with one voice and I now await the next Lords of Essex novel.

 In The Midst Of Life -a review

When I devised my point system, I wasn’t expecting a book to slip to the third star position. But I hope my review justifies this score.

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In The Midst Of Life (D.I. Angel Mystery #1)

by Roger Silverwood

Twenty years ago, a nurse in a hospital for the criminally insane was brutally and savagely murdered by a patient.

It later turned out that the patient had had his medication withheld by another nurse, who had been stealing and selling drugs for her own gain – and her subsequent disappearance triggers the beginning of a gruesome trail of enquiries.

Then the disgraced nurse’s sister arrives in Inspector Michael Angel’s office with news of a murder, and fears for her own safety.

With some mysterious clues – a dead woman wearing one stocking inside out, an American class ring, and two dead cats – and a lot of clever humour, Inspector Angel scrambles to find the killer in south Yorkshire.

Despite obstruction from the Chief Constable, the doggedly determined and charismatic Inspector Angel stubbornly ferrets out the suspects.

By relying on his eternally willing right hand man, and resorting to an unusual strategy, he manages to narrow the long list of suspects down.

But are his suspicions right?

And can he stop the killer before anyone else is cut down In the Midst of Life…?

‘In the Midst of Life’ is the first novel in the DI Michael Angel series.

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The blurb for “In The Midst of Life” intrigued me, and the opening chapter hooked me. But as I read more this novel proved a disappointment. Maybe it was because I had just read three excellent crime novels.

Or maybe it was Inspector Angel. I found him irritating, although some readers have called him a strong character. I disliked his attitude towards his colleagues, which was more than racist in places. Maybe he is based on real cops, but I hope he’s in the minority.

I felt uneasy about his approach to solving crimes, not least the way that he reacted to some video evidence. He also seemed to be more concerned about petrol station robbers than the murder. Or was that the writer? Was there a subtle clue here that I missed?

The plot had me guessing until the resolution, but too much was revealed at once, and it didn’t read right. This wasn’t an Agatha Christie reveal that has this captivated reader flicking back for clues. I felt cheated when Angel revealed things that were never set up earlier.

I came away wondering if that was his main reason for not worrying about the murder. Or was that because the victim was a woman? But then Angel’s not a misogynist just a stereotype. And what’s with a police force with no women?

However, Roger Silverwood still needs some credit for not only writing one book and getting it published, but also a whole series. That takes something. Shame the plot fell short.

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So did I learn anything from reading “In The Midst Of Life”? Well, I realised that I must avoid putting off readers with my protagonist’s attitude. Researching the modern police force is essential, so I’m glad to be in touch with two North Wales police officers – one of them female. Finally, the plot resolution must tie into previous events, even if there are red herrings and hidden clues.

 

 

 

 

Bad Moon Rising – a review

I’ve been sticking with the crime fiction for my reading, although my next review is of a darker offering. But I was engrossed once again, not least because the forensics in this was so well researched and described.

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Bad Moon Rising (D.I. Paolo Storey #1)

by Frances di Plino (Goodreads Author)

*** SEMI-FINALIST in the KINDLE BOOK REVIEW 2012 competition ***
*** FINALIST for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014***

One more soul is safe.

Brought up believing sex is the devil’s work, a killer only finds release once he has saved his victims’ souls. Abiding by his vision, he marks them as his. A gift to guide his chosen ones on the rightful path to redemption.

Detective Inspector Paolo Storey is out to stop him, but Paolo has problems of his own. Hunting down the killer as the death toll rises, the lines soon blur between Paolo’s personal and professional lives.

For anyone that likes their crime fiction dark and gritty, then I recommend “Bad Moon Rising” by Frances di Plino. The killer is believably twisted by his religious calling, and his identity is cunningly hidden from Detective Inspector Paolo Storey, his colleagues and the reader.

Frances di Plino has crafted a memorable detective, complex and tragic like some of the finest flawed characters. When I finished the novel, I wanted to know more about him and where his life was going. I must read the next book in the series.

The depth of characterisation doesn’t end with the protagonist and antagonist. Even the minor characters are well portrayed, and stand out in their own right. There is also a strong sense of the complex workings of all aspects of the police, including forensics, but told believably.

The personal interactions weave around the investigation, especially with Paolo Storey, whose own attitudes often drive the action. This takes the story to another level, where all the elements are working seamlessly to create a relentless story…a dark tale that seeps into unexpected crannies.

The twist was unusual, but that is the sign of a clever author. Find a new angle and make it work. I’m intrigued what Someday Never Comes (D.I. Paolo Storey, #2)  will add to this excellent series opener.

The Secret of Lakeham Abbey – a review

Yesterday, I posted “What earns Stars?” about my dilemma over review stars, and mentioned the book that rates more than five. Well this is the one that I had in mind, so read on.

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The Secret of Lakeham Abbey

by Sally Quilford (Goodreads Author)

1948

When Percy Sullivan’s family take over Lakeham Abbey for the summer, it was a chance to get away from battered post-war London and be cossetted by the capable and pretty housekeeper, Anne Pargeter.

They soon learn that the Abbey conceals a dark secret; one that someone was willing to kill to hide. When Anne is convicted of murder and sentenced to execution, Percy is determined to do all he can to save his friend from the gallows.

He encourages everyone to tell their side of the story. This leads to some startling revelations, including a shocking secret that Percy’s mother tried to hide from him.

 

The blurb hooked me on the book’s launch day, and I immediately read the opening pages online. Then I had to read more. This was a beautifully crafted mystery in the tradition of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, and I found it hard to put down. Despite life’s interruptions, I finished it in just over a day – close to my record.

From the first sentence, I loved the voices of the characters, especially Percy Sullivan’s. He’s a teenager driven by his desire to prove his friend Anne Pargeter, and his encouragement of everyone to tell their side of the story is genius. Genius on his part, and on the author’s.

All of them have great voices that reveal so much about them and their part in the clever plot. Everyone has something to hide, however insignificant – but then don’t we all. For the sleuths like Percy, the art is reading between the lies and half-truths to unravel the hidden truths. True to the Golden Age detectives, Percy and the police gather everyone for a neatly located revelation that surprises all.

Although secrets and murder are the driving force, and Percy’s focus in on solving the mystery, there is romance between various characters – but I won’t say whom. In fact, there is plenty of emotional interactions between characters, all well-painted.

This was not only an excellent read, and a ‘read-again’ book, but it also made me work back through the novel looking for the crafty techniques that Sally Quillford used. “The Secret of Lakeham Abbey” reminded me of a clever Agatha Christie mystery.

 

As a writer, this novel was a lesson in how to craft a mystery, which was why I studied all the scenes that gave clues to the murder. Learning how to use red herrings, deceit, and well-timed distractions, is something that I still have to take on board. Thanks Sally Quillford for helping show me some of the how. And that’s why I wish I could give “The Secret of Lakeham Abbey” six stars.

 

 

 

 

 

What earns Stars?

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

 

Writing book reviews makes me insecure when it comes to awarding stars. Hence this post on the official Insecure Writer’s Support Group day.

At one point, in the dim past, it seemed simple: if it was a book that I would re-read, then it earned five stars, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. If it was a disappointment, then it earned three (or less). Nothing earned less, as one and two star books didn’t get past the initial blurb-opening-cover test – although I admit to a few mistakes.

Anyway, here’s my latest guide to the Stars based on reviewing as a fellow writer and as a reader.

One Star: The author managed the awesome feat of publishing a book.

Two Stars: Published and with almost no formatting/proof-reading/typo/spelling errors etcetera.

Three Stars: Published, error-free-ish, and with a logical, understandable plotline. Okay read.

Four Stars: As three, plus engaging story, characters, setting, and well-crafted sub-plots. Recommended read.

Five Stars: Not just a recommended read, but a book that demonstrates the craft of writing. Enjoyable and inspirational.

Although this star system avoids judging books against each other, which I hate doing, there is one major problem with this rating method. My review tomorrow demonstrates that failing. What score should I give a book that deserves five stars, is a ‘read-again’ book, and demands that I work through it looking for the clever techniques that the writer used. Do I need to have a Six Star grade?

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I remember doing that when I got to the end of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I needed to know how she had got away with Rule 1 of the 10 Rules of Golden Age Detective Fiction, producing a clever twist ending that worked. Of course, that rule is now broken in many instances, as are many others.

Anyway, I’m not sure how I will apply my Stars grading to non-fiction, but what are your measures of a fiction book’s qualities? Do you avoid giving five stars? Do you want to give five stars to most books that you choose to read? Have you ever given a book one star, even if it was mine?

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The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. We post our thoughts on our own blogs. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs. We offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Please visit others in the group and connect with my fellow writers.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

And be sure to check out our Facebook group –https://www.facebook.com/groups/IWSG13/

The awesome co-hosts for the June 1st posting of the IWSG are  Murees Dupe, Alexia Chamberlynn, Chemist Ken, and Heather Gardner. 

 

Blaze – a review

Having finished two novels in quick succession last week, there will be two book reviews this week as well as my Insecure Writers Support Group monthly post tomorrow.

First though a review of another mystery novel that gave me some more insights into writing an engrossing and exciting read.

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Blaze (A Stone Mountain Mystery #2)

by Kristina Stanley 

Instead of exchanging vows, Kalin Thompson spends her wedding day running from a forest fire near Stone Mountain Resort, and the pregnant friend trapped with her has just gone into labor. Meanwhile, Kalin’s fiancé, Ben Timlin, hangs from the rafters of a burning building, fighting for his life. Can the situation get any hotter?

When the fire is declared as arson, finding the firebug responsible becomes Kalin’s personal mission. In the course of her investigation as Director of Security, she discovers that some people will go to extreme measures to keep her from exposing their secrets.

Having enjoyed Kristina Stanley’s winter mystery Descent, Book 1 of the Stone Mountain series, I was looking forward to No 2 Blaze, and I wasn’t disappointed.

From the moment the forest fire ruins Kalin and Ben’s wedding plans, I was swept up in the crises and life-threatening situations. There are moments of calm, time for reflection, but there are always questions driving the reader along. So I didn’t tarry too long.. We know that nothing runs smoothly for a busy Director of Security, even when the RCMP are doing their job. Kalin has to be involved.

The plot was fast-paced and well-structured, with enough neat red herrings to keep me guessing almost to the end – just like in Descent. Although this works as a standalone, it’s best to read Descent first, as other reviewers have said. Then you become familiar with some of the characters, as well as some past events. Nothing crucial but that adds colour.

The clever interaction between the well-painted characters, many new, gives the novel sub-plots that enrich the read, and take Blaze beyond a mystery. Yet these emotional subplots interplay with the crises that weave through the lives at Stone Mountain Resort. And the dog characters are well integrated – not surprising as the author owns one.

Once again, Kristina Stanley has captured the atmosphere of her setting, whether it’s being ravaged by fire or in the vistas from the slopes that attract other outdoor pursuits suited to the season. Here skiing has given way to mountain biking.

The winter beckons though and I can’t wait for Avalanche, Book 3 of the Stone Mountain Mystery series.