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review 2019-07-13 12:28
A highly recommended tough and inspiring read
winter flower - Charles Sheehan-Miles

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

This is the first novel I read by Charles Sheehan-Miles, who is a brand new author to me, although he has published a large number of books, and from the comments I guess he has a legion of fans that were surprised by this book, as it is not a romance. I cannot compare it to his previous work, but I agree with the warning. If readers from his previous books approach this novel as a romance, they will be shocked, because it is far from it.

This is a long book (over 600 pages long), divided up into four parts, with a prologue set two years before the main action of the book, although there are flashbacks (memories) narrated in the first-person by the four main characters —all members of the same family— that offer readers a good understanding of the background to the current situation and help them get to grips with their circumstances, their pasts, and who they are. This is the story of a family, a married couple and their two children, on the brink of collapse due to a terrible tragedy that took place two years before the action we follow chronologically. Or so it seems. (The truth is a bit more complicated than that). Sam and Brenna, the children (adolescents by the time we met them) are close, and Brenna has always willingly played the role of big sister to Sam, there to protect and guide. Until she disappears. Carrying on without her puts a big strain on a family we soon learn was going through difficulties already (some more out in the open than others), and whose communication had ground almost to a halt. The parents, Cole and Erin, are living example of the “opposites attract” edict, at least from a political perspective (Cole, the father, who as a young man decided formal education wasn’t for him and moved up the corporate ladder at lightning speed, is conservative as can be, while Erin, the mother, a college  graduate, is a convinced liberal who sacrificed her career to look after her children), and although the story opens up with Sam’s narration, we soon get to read their own perspective on the matter, and the kind of traps they find themselves in.

This is a story that deals in many important subjects, and it could have been told in a variety of ways, but I am impressed not only by the subjects (adultery and its toll on family relationships, sex trafficking, rape, prostitution, bullying, harassment and violence against the LGBT community, missing youths, the isolation of the trans-gender experience for young people, prejudice and harassment at work…) and the sensitive and enlightening way they are handled, but also by the way the story is told. The author allows each character to tell his/her own story, and that makes us walk a mile in their shoes, no matter how uncomfortable they might feel. I am sure many readers will think, as they read, that they would have never reacted in a certain way, or allowed their circumstances to deteriorate to such an extent, but, do we truly know? Although, as the author reminds us in the final note, the events in the book are far from unique (yes, it is a work of fiction, but many individuals and families unfortunately will go through similar experiences to those depicted in the book), many of us will never have been in close contact with somebody in such dire circumstances, much less be directly affected by it, so, how do we know what we would do? The characters are not necessarily the most likeable when we meet them (drinking heavily, harassed, afraid for their lives, paralysed and frozen, unable to make decisions and move on), and they are all closed off from each other, trapped, physically or mentally, sometimes by others and their preconceptions, sometimes by their own fears and inability to grief and forgive. The author also makes a conscious decision to introduce the rest of the family —the parents and Sam— first, so we get to see the effect her loss has had on the family, before we meet Brenna, the missing girl. Her situation is heart-wrenching, and the most extreme and difficult to read about, although none of the characters have an easy ride.

Thankfully, the author manages to achieve a difficult balance between telling the story, not pulling any punches, making sure people can understand and empathise with what the characters are going through, while avoiding extremely graphic scenes (both of sex and violence), and gratuitous iterations and repetitions of the abuse, which would risk further exploitation rather than facilitating understanding and empathy. Don’t get me wrong; this is a hard read, and readers with triggers arounds topics such as child abuse, rape, bullying, violence against women and the LGTB community, and racism need to be aware of it. Even people who don’t have such triggers will find it a tough read, but, on the other hand, this is a book with a big heart, and the individual journey of each character, and of the family as a whole, make for an inspiring and hopeful read.

I have already talked about how impressed I am by the story and the way it is told. I grew fond of all the members of the family by the end of the book (it’s impossible for our hearts not to go out to Sam and Brenna, but we get to appreciate their parents as well), and I particularly enjoyed the journey of enlightenment Cole’s father goes through. The author includes most of the reactions we can imagine to these subjects, from the sublime to the ridiculous, (not everybody changes and accepts either. Bigotry remains alive and well, as we all know), and they all felt true. I was particularly fond of Jeremiah and his wife — almost too good to be true— who are an ideal we should all aspire to. I also liked the fact that the story does not stop when most readers would expect it to, and even Sam makes comments on that. There is no magical happy ending here that just makes everything right again. All the members of the family will have to keep working at their relationship and supporting each other, but that is as it should be.

There were no negative reviews of the book at the time I wrote this, and the only objections (apart from the warning that it is not a romance) some people had referred to were Sam’s virtual game  playing (that a reader didn’t feel added anything to the novel. Personally, I think it helps readers understand what life is like for the character and experience the kind of coping strategies adolescents in similar circumstances might use), and some others felt the book could have been shorter and still managed to tell the same story. That might be true, but I suspect some of the nuances would have been lost.

This is an excellent book that manages to combine complex and credible characters with a plot that deals with several difficult subjects, without becoming preachy or too graphic. It is horrifying, touching, and insightful all at the same time, and it makes readers witness the highs and lows of the human condition. I recommended it to readers interested in the subjects, but I advise those who might worry about possible triggers to proceed with caution. The author adds some resources (links to websites) for people who need more information about some of the issues raised in the book, and I thought the final conversation of the book, between Brenna and her grandfather in the garden —when the grandfather talks about the snapdragon, and how it grows back after getting rid of the dead stuff, stronger and more beautiful— stands as a great metaphor for the story. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

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review 2019-02-08 23:06
Dark, scary, and gripping.
The Nowhere Child - Christian White

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I’ve read quite a few books by Australian writers recently (Liane Moriarty, Jane Harper, Liza Perrat), and although very different, I enjoyed all of them and could not resist when I saw this novel, especially as it had won an award Harper’s first novel The Dry also won.

Although part of this novel is set in Australia, it is not the largest or the most important part of it. This novel is set in two time frames and in two places, and the distance in time and space seems abysmal at times. The novel starts with a bang. Kim, the main protagonist, an Australian photographer in her late twenties, receives an unexpected visit and some even more unexpected news. This part of the story, the “now”, is narrated in the first person from Kim’s point of view, and that has the effect of putting the readers in her place and making them wonder what they would do and how they would feel if suddenly their lives were turned on their heads, and they discovered everything they thought they knew about themselves, their families, and their identities, was a lie. She is a quiet woman, and although she gets on well with her stepfather and her half-sister, and she badly misses her mother, who died a little while back, she’s always been quite different to the rest of the members of her family, and enjoys her own company more than socialising. There are also strange dreams that bother her from time to time. So, although she does not want to believe it when the stranger tells her she was abducted from a small town in Kentucky as a little girl, she is not as surprised as she should be. At this point, we seem to be in the presence of a domestic drama, one where family secrets are perhaps a bit darker than we are used to, but the plot seems in keeping with the genre. And most of the “now” section of the book is closer in tone and atmosphere to that genre.

But we have the other part. The “then”, written in the third person, from a variety of characters’ points of view. Readers who dislike head-hopping don’t need to worry, though, because each chapter in the “past” section is told from only one character’s point of view, and it is quite clear who that is, avoiding any possible confusion. The story of the background to the kidnapping, and the investigation that followed, is told from the point of view of members of little Sammy’s family, the sheriff (I really liked him), neighbours of the town, and other characters that at first we might not grasp how they are related to the story, but it all ends up making sense eventually. This part of the novel feels much more gripping and dynamic than the other, and although we don’t always follow the characters for very long, the author manages to create credible and sympathetic (or not so sympathetic) individuals, some that we get to feel for and care, and even when they do some pretty horrible things, most of them feel realistic and understandable. And the story of what happened in the past makes for a pretty dark combination of thriller and mystery, well-paced and gripping.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I must say the town of Manson of the novel is a place that seems right out of a dark fairy tale, and I kept thinking of the opening titles of the TV series True Blood (not because of any supernatural thing, but because of some of the images that appear there). While some of the scenes seem typical of a small town in the middle of nowhere, others reminded me of Southern Gothic novels, and, a word of warning: there is violence, and there are scenes that can be terrifying to some readers (although no, this is not a horror novel, the author is not lying when he says he admires and has learned a lot from Stephen King). The story is full of secrets, red-herrings and confusing information, clues that seem clear but are not, and Kim/Sammy is a woman who keeps her emotions to herself, understandably so considering the circumstances. I am not sure many readers will connect with Kim straight away because of her personality, but I understand the author’s choice. If she was an emotional wreck all the time, it would be impossible for her to do what she does and to learn the truth, and the novel would be unbearable to read, more of a melodrama than a thriller or a dark mystery. The part of the story that deals with the present helps reduce the tension somewhat while keeping the intrigue ticking, and although it feels slow and sedate compared to the other part, it does ramp up as they dig into the past and the two stories advance towards their resolution.

Without going into detail, I can say that I enjoyed the ending, and although I suspected what was coming, I only realised what was likely to happen very late in the story. Despite this being the author’s first novel, his screenwriting experience is evident, and he has a knack for creating unforgettable scenes. This is a novel destined to become a movie, for sure, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t.

This is not a typical mystery or thriller, and although it has elements of the domestic noir, it is perhaps more extreme and darker than others I have read in that genre. We have a very young child being kidnapped; we have murder, extreme religious beliefs, prejudice, postnatal depression, a dysfunctional family, snakes, secrets, lies, child abuse, and more. If you are looking for an intriguing read, don’t mind different timelines and narrators, and are not put off by difficult subjects and scary scenes, you must read this one.

 

 

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review 2015-09-15 20:17
From the Cradle
From the Cradle - Louise Voss,Mark Edwards
A Detective Lennon Thriller (Book 1)
ISBN: 9781477825273
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publication Date: 11/1/2014
Format:  Paperback
My Rating:  4 Stars
 
A special thank you to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for a complimentary reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Dynamic duo, Louise Voss and Mark Edwards combine their talent, wit, and style, delivering FROM THE CRADLE,introducing a new psycho-crime, cop thriller series, featuring London’s Detective Inspector Patrick Lennon—a Mystery. A child abduction. A Kidnapping. Juicy secrets.

Interracial couple, Helen and Sean Philips go out for the evening, leaving their 15-year-old teenage daughter, Alice to babysit younger 3-year old sister, Frankie. They have no clue what they will find when they return. Frankie is gone. Alice remains.

DI Patrick is married to Gill, with a five-month-old baby, Bonnie. At the opening of the book, Patrick walks into his home, to find a horrific scene.

We jump to eighteen months earlier, alternating chapters with Helen and Patrick, recounting the days leading up to the abduction, with Detective Inspector Patrick Lennon and his colleague Detective Sergeant Carmella Masiello.

Then more children missing. In London, there are three couples, frantic after their children have been taken from them in very different ways. There are no ransom notes. Motive? Children are vanishing in thin air? Who is taking the children and why? Are they connected?

As Patrick deals with his own demons, inside his family, he is desperate to solve the mystery of the missing children. What do these cases have in common?

A fan of both Voss and Edwards, separately, and combined—a talent for mixing psychological suspense with cop procedural, and some wit, for heart-pounding suspense. Truth or lies? What is missing? Secrets?

Poor Patrick has all sorts of problems, from his wife, his family, his work. Patrick's personal problems adds a bit of spice and intrigue to the overall story- can't wait to see what is next for him!

Complex and multi-layered, readers will be glued to the pages to solve the mystery. A nice twist at the end, leaving you dying for the next installment, The Blissfully Dead.

I listened to the audiobook last year, narrated by James Clamp,delivering a suspenseful performance. As often the case, I listen to audiobooks, while traveling, not always in a place to post a review, straightaway. I failed to return with a review, and when starting The Blissfully Dead, realized I needed a refresher.

Fans will be delighted with this new exciting series.
 
 
Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/#!From-the-Cradle/cmoa/55f8657d0cf23d0ff004c10e
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review 2015-01-26 20:42
Through the Fog
Through the Fog - Michael C. Grumley

By: Michael C. Grumley
ISBN: 9781477820957
Publisher: Amazon/Thomas & Mercer
Publication Date: 1/27/2015
Format: Other
My Rating: 4 Stars

 

A special thank you to Amazon Publishing, Thomas & Mercer, and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

THROUGH THE FOG by Michael C. Grumley is an intense mystery psychological crime thriller of obsession, intrigue, with highly charged topics of PTSD, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), and child abduction—a complex short, page-turner, full of action and intrigue.

Evan Nash, eighteen years old and is constantly bullied at school, a bit of a misfit. When some bullies run him down with their car, while riding his bike; he hits his head and damage to his bike. Later he begins experiencing change and alarming episodes, draining him, both physically and mentally. He sees things which make no sense.

He is seeking help by seeing a psychologist, Dr. Shannon Mayer. He trusts her and they have a good doctor/patient relationship. However, Evan is unaware Dr. Mayer’s daughter was kidnapped over eighteen months ago and she is hanging by a thread, with no leads on the case. Her husband a cop is suffering severe depression, and is close to suicide as he feels he has let his wife and daughter down.

When Evan is in Mayer’s office, she is shocked when he is put under, he sees things and she begins to wonder, selfishly, if this gifted boy can help solve the case of her daughter. She sends him to a doctor (her sister is a nurse for this medical doctor), to have him checked out. Everything checks out except he possibly had a concussion.

She sets up a clever trick to ensure Evan really can see things. When he is put under once again he sees things, however, his life is in danger, as drains him physically. She does not want to risk his life. She is honest with Evan and tells him she is sorry she used him to help solve her daughter’s kidnapping.

Evan, the thoughtful boy, wants to help and decides to be put under one more time as he sees more clues which alerts Shannon, of the immediate danger for a race against time. Evan says the little girl is still alive and the clues could lead back to someone in the Mayer’s past.

In the meantime, they began researching other similar cases and find one; however, the patient, similar to Evan died, and was part of the CIA using him in a horrific way; however, they continue to search for the doctor, needing answers, for both families to locate this abductor before it is too late. As all the storylines intersect, a powerful ending, setting up for the next book in the series. One boy risks his life for another.

I really enjoyed this short novel, reading in one sitting; well-developed likable characters, and twists and turns, keeping the suspense high, for an engaging read. Looking forward to reading his next book an author to watch, and follow!

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1161252880
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review 2015-01-21 19:43
Hades
Hades (An Archer & Bennett Thriller) - Candice Fox

By: Candice Fox
ISBN: 9781617734410
Publisher: Kensington Books
Publication Date: 1/27/2015
Format: Paperback
My Rating: 5 Stars

 

A special thank you to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

HADES, a spine-chilling debut, by award-winning Australian author, Candice Fox is a dark, twisted, violent, gruesome psychological, crime, cop procedural, suspense thriller all rolled into ONE "Bloody-Good" mystery. Like NO other - Good versus evil mostly, evil.

It all began one night, a kidnapping gone wrong, five evil men, murdered millionaire parents, half- dead brother and sister-ages three and five, two privileged children, the junkyard; Hades, the junkyard king in Sydney, “The Lord of the Underworld,” intelligent, artistic man, a sculptor, known for disposing of bodies, for a mere price of twenty grand.

HADES: “His first thought would be to bury the children there together and dig the stranger in somewhere, anywhere, with the dozens of rapists, killers and thieves who littered the grounds of the dump. He closed his eyes. Too many strangers were coming to his dump these nights with their bundles of lost lives. He would have to put the word, NO new clients were welcome. The ones he knew his regular clients brought him bodies of evil ones. But these strangers. He shook his head. These strangers kept bringing innocents.”

Until he realizes, they are NOT dead. He WILL allow the two children to live; raise them as his own. Their new names will be Eden and Eric.

There was nothing in Hades’ past that he could use as a model for a healthy childhood. He had learned about respect by beating it into people and fairness was something he’d rarely witnessed. Some part of him feared that one day they would be gone from his life as abruptly as they had come. Though villains of every nature still arrived at his door seeking help, the little ones gave him a reason to believe that not all of his life was dedicated to evil.

He fell in love with them, with a complete and undeniable love of a father. He wanted the best for these two brilliant students.

The first time the children killed they were eight and ten. The best he could do was try to turn their killer instincts on those other monsters out there in the night who deserved it, and in a twisted and sickening way, maybe they would be making the world safer from the same darkness they each carried.

Flashing back from past to present, some twenty years later, homicide detective Frank Bennett meets his new partner, the dark and beautiful Eden Archer. Her brother, Eric, is also in the homicide squad and immediately makes it clear that he has real problems with anyone chosen to be Eden's partner. While they are experienced detectives, it is soon clear to Frank that there is something very unusual about Eden and Eric. Made even more difficult when their first case together turns into a bizarre serial killer scenario- a killer who seems to be harvesting of organs. A lot of organs.

“No matter how much Hades fantasized about the two of them being children, moldable, and teachable and eager for love, they had stopped being children the night they were given to him, the night their parents were killed. Hades had fallen in love with two chimeras, two monsters in disguise, incapable of feeling the way he felt, of loving the way he loved. The horror they had experienced had cut a hole in them and they would be driven in vain to fill that hole for as long as they lived. Dogs with a taste for blood, enslaved to the need. “

Hades is unsure the children know "right from wrong", but he is hoping they can learn. The junkyard is a place for the evil ones, and never for the innocents.

Then, Eden: Age five, when the murder of her family occurred. She as a child then, and never was again.

Present, Eden: “A monster removed from the earth. The world was a little if safer for sons and daughters, mothers and fathers sleeping and laughing and holding each other in millions of houses and streets all over the world. One fiend at a time over and over, Eden and her brother had made the world a little bit safer. The job made it easy to find them, to pick them out and examine them like the lice they were, to choose them and crush them before they were safely bottled. Child molester, wife beaters, pimps, and psychotics and thrill killers. Snip, snip, snip. She was cutting away the ragged edges of a net and wholesome world. Tonight would be the last. To end a story. To kill for justice, and not for vengeance. However, she cannot stop the voices.”

What a debut! I could not go to bed until I finished the novel, as scary as it was to read, you are pulled in with Hades, who loves the brother and sister, and at the same time your heart goes out to damaged and troubled children experiencing great psychological trauma and pain. All they know is violence and revenge.

I was blown away by the author’s inspiration for the book, and her vast background. I listened to a hang out session with the author, discussing the book, and was fascinated, as why this novel was so enthralling! Fox seamlessly balances the horrific past with the present investigations, perfectly paced, and what an imagination, keeping you glued to the pages. This could be a TV series...

Not for the faint-hearted; however, if you love a compelling crime psychological thriller with a wicked evil twist….HADES is for you. Cannot wait to read EDEN, (have to wait until Aug 25, 2015 for release in Kindle format US), the next in the series, as we continue the saga with Eden and her partner Frank. Well done, an author to follow!

Fans of Jennifer Hillier, Paul Cleave, and Karin Slaughter will enjoy this one.

Candice Fox is the middle child of a large, eccentric family from Sydney's western suburbs composed of half-, adopted and pseudo siblings. The daughter of a parole officer and an enthusiastic foster-carer, Candice spent her childhood listening around corners to tales of violence, madness and evil as her father relayed his work stories to her mother and older brothers

 

 

 

Coming August 25, 2015 US


Most homicide detective teams run on trust, loyalty, and the shared desire to put killers behind bars. Frank Bennett's partner, Eden Archer, thrives on darkness and danger. She has a rare talent for catching killers - but her idea of justice has little to do with courtrooms.

 

Now three girls are missing, and Eden is going undercover to a remote farm where the troubled go to hide and blood falls more often than rain. Frank’s job is to keep an eye on his partner while she's there - but is it for Eden's protection, or to protect others from her? Walking a tightrope between duty and desperation, Frank confronts a threat from Eden’s past—the sadistic crime lord Hades, who raised her. Suddenly, the hunter is the hunted. And a killer’s vicious desires are about to be unleashed . . .

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1171068911
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