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review 2017-08-07 18:14
Gothic psychological horror, with haunted house and ghosts for art and lovers of antiques.
PAINTED: A Horror Novel - Kirsten McKenzie

Thanks to Rosie Amber (from Rosie’s Book Review Team, check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, that I freely chose to review.

When I read the description of Painted I knew I had to read it, as it was a horror novel (and despite how much I like the genre, I don’t seem to read many of them), and it had to do with art. When I read that the author had worked in the antiques family business; that sealed the deal for me.  I had not read any work by this author before (and I understand this is the first time she writes horror) but I am pleased to have discovered her.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but let’s say we have a dead painter who left very specific instructions in his will as to how to deal with the artwork he left behind. Unfortunately, there had been changes at his lawyer’s and his instructions were ignored. And we all know what happens when we ignore warnings, don’t we?

There are authors who are better at building characters than at creating a plot, and there are also authors who excel at describing places and objects but are not so good at providing psychological insights. McKenzie manages to create a great gothic atmosphere (some reviewers have said that the novel is more gothic than pure horror, but both things do not exclude each other), with a fantastically eerie and creepy house, full of even creepier portraits, and a variety of objects, furniture, and even plants that all combine to create a fabulous setting for the novel. In fact, the house becomes another character, one that hides many secrets, and of course, many ghosts.

But the author also creates fully-fledged characters, with their passions, foibles, secrets (some darker than others), and stories. Even when we do not get to share much time with them, we get flashes of their personality (be it because of their fastidiousness about their personal appearance, or because of the way they hang on to mementos from the past, or the way they present a false and harmless persona to the world when they are anything but). She manages to do this by using a variety of techniques, especially by her particular use of point of view. The story is written in the third person, but it shares the points of views of different characters. There is a certain degree of head-hopping, although I did not find it confusing and it is very smoothly done. We do see things from the perspective of all the characters. We mostly follow Anita, the young woman sent by the auctioneer’s to catalogue the paintings, because she is the first one to arrive and she spends the most time at the house, but we even get an insight into the thoughts of the lawyer’s secretary and of the farmer’s dog. And of course, the baddies (although it is not easy to decide who is good and bad in the story). There are also moments when we are told something that none of the characters could know (a great way of creating suspense and forecasting future events), like references to shadows, sounds nobody has heard yet, and things that happen behind character’s back or when they are asleep.

The character easiest to empathise and later sympathise with is Anita. It is clear from the beginning that she is battling with something that happened to her in the past and is bravely trying to get on with her life (despite still experiencing symptoms of PTSD). Her story is terrible in its own right, and it makes her reactions to what happens more justified. Some characters are nasty and difficult to like (like the lawyer), but most of them are given interesting backgrounds and scenes that make them memorable, and some are much more twisted than we realise.

I loved the details of the process of cataloguing the house contents (as I love antiques and TV programmes about antiques. Yes, I could watch The Antiques Roadshow forever and never get bored), the descriptions of the painting process, and the pace of the novel. The atmosphere is created slowly and we follow the characters’ commonsensical approach to the events to begin with and share with them their descent into paranoia and utter horror. The step-by-step reveal, the twists and turns, and the ghosts (it reminded me of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James) are also masterly rendered. And the ending… No, I did not see it coming, and as a fan of unhappy endings in horror books, this manages to satisfy, to surprise and to leave us wondering.

This is psychological horror, with ghosts and haunted house, at its best, and it does not contain gore or extreme violence (there is more menace and imagining than there is anything explicit), so I would recommend it to lovers of the genre, and to those who love atmospheric readings and don’t mind a scare or two. I cannot comment on the author’s previous writing, but she definitely has a talent for this genre, and based on the quality of her writing, I’m sure we’ll hear more from her.

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review 2017-04-08 21:53
The Hideaway
The Hideaway - Lauren K. Denton

By: Lauren K. Denton 

ISBN: 9780718084226

Publisher: Thomas Nelson--FICTION

Publication Date: 4/11/2017 

Format: Paperback 

My Rating:  5 Stars 

 

Top Southern Debut 2017! 

 

“A story both powerful and enchanting: a don’t-miss novel in the greatest southern traditions of storytelling.” —Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author

 

 

Storyteller Lauren K. Denton, a new voice in Southern fiction delivers a smashing debut, THE HIDEAWAY. Making me want to return to my southern front porch and curl up for a long leisurely nostalgic afternoon while being transported with this beautiful love story.

My vote for Southern Debut of 2017!

Set in Sweet Bay, Alabama in the Deep South, we meet Dot, a friend of Mags (Mrs. Margaret Van Buren), a tenant of The Hideaway. The Hideaway was once a booming Bed and Breakfast; however, over the years it has turned into a home for eccentric seniors (bohemian) style, artists, and the free-spirted looking for an escape; you came and never left.

As the book opens, Dot (husband, Bert) are seniors living at the house. She is admiring the latest Southern Living article featuring Maggie (Mag)’s granddaughter, Sara who owns a highly successful interior design shop in New Orleans.

People tend to arrive at this charming inn and they fall in love and decide to never leave.

Mag’s daughter, Jenny is deceased and she helped raise her granddaughter Sara. Mags was very unconventional and some called eccentric. Sara was embarrassed by her lifestyle growing up. Mags has never told her own story to Sara. By the time she had moved in with her at age twelve, Sara was at that critical age where there were peer pressure and friends’ opinions.

Sara turned out to be a stronger woman because of who Mags turned out to be. If Mags had remained under her parents’ thumb, worrying about how other perceived her, she would have been a wispy shadow of a real woman.

Sara loved the French Quarter in the Big Easy. She was proud of her shop, Bits and Pieces. She has no time for a man, relationship, or anything other than her shop. She has restored an old shotgun house and filled it with restored furniture, and antiques. A bit of everything. Her assistant manager, Allyn was always there to help out (loved him).

Her mind always went back to Sweet Bay to see Mags, her grandmother. However, she was too busy with the shop to visit more often.

However, when Sara receives the news from Mag’s attorney, she knows it is too late to spend time with her eccentric little grandmother. She had left her for greener pastures in New Orleans, but Mags was her only family. Her grandmother has passed always. Now she has regrets for not making the time.

What would happen to the house now that Mags was gone?

"The Hideaway was always full of friends and lovers, mothers and daughters, secret keepers, and secret-spillers, straight talkers and soft shoulders. We had hurt and we had joy, but I wouldn't have it any other way."


It had not been a proper bed-and-breakfast since she was a kid. As she got older, she became more aware of the unusual living arrangements. It might have been a legitimate B&B at one time, but over the years it had become a senior citizen commune with a revolving door. A long layover for people on their way to Florida retirement glory.

The old Victorian which was once a beauty, now in a poor condition. It was formerly in all the travel guides as the Southern Sight to See. They would all be shocked to see it now.

Sara soon learns she has inherited the inn and the resident seniors. She is to bring the inn back to its glory days. However, in the process, Sara soon learns there was much more to her grandmother than she ever knew.

The author takes us back to 1960's to learn about Margaret's parents, family and how she met her husband to be. The man she married. A man her family wanted her to marry. A banker. After he began cheating, over and over, she escapes to The Hideaway. A solace for many.

After meeting the original owner, whose husband died, the inn was not the prestigious Gatsby house it was previously in its hay day. Margaret comes under a false name and soon gives up the rich life, pearls and pillbox hats, for a simpler life. One she adored.

Mags meets William, a man who changes her life. A wood maker, who teaches her the important things in life. The man who held the key to her heart. However, her old life comes back to complicate things. She chooses the bohemian life, so different that the one she had previously. Mag’s past changed her from quiet to bold. Weak to strong.

Sara soon discovers more and more about her grandmother and the mysterious man in her life from the past. However, she may be more like her grandmother than she knows. She decides to remodel The Hideaway per her grandmother’s wishes.

In the process, she meets the handsome contractor which slowly changes her perspective. In addition, she encounters challenges with the residing seniors, now part of the family, and a developer who wants the land, after all the work. Plus she has her life and shop in New Orleans. She never wanted to return to Alabama. Much less run an inn.

However, just when she is about to wrap up the renovation and make plans to return to New Orleans, the old nasty developer is threatening to take away the historic dream, for a condo new project development, until someone intercepts, which changes more than one life. Sweet surprises for many.

Compelling and Inspiring! Rich in history, character, and lots of heart, Denton bridges the gap from past to present with a heartwarming and charming southern tale of family and friendship. The important things in life. A thought-provoking takeaway on a journey to self-discovery.

Do we really know our parents and grandparents? We all need to slow down, listen, and hear the intriguing stories from past generations which will enrich our lives while helping us to understand their struggles and sacrifices. After all, they helped mold us to become the person we are today. I loved Mags!!

For fans of southern, historic, Christian, women’s and contemporary fiction.

Those who enjoy authors: Viola Shipman, Nicholas Sparks, Beth Hoffman, Patti Callahan Henry, Susan Rebecca White, Mary Ellen Taylor, Lisa Wingate, Kristy Woodson Harvey, Mary Kay Andrews, Joanne DeMaio, Donna Ball, Debbie Macomber, Sherryl Woods, Laura Lane McNeal, Camille de Maio, Wendy Wax and Karen White, will enjoy this newfound author.

Well-written, a must read. Cannot wait to see what’s next from this exciting new talented author!

A special thank you to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for an early reading copy.

JDCMustReadBooks

 



Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2017/01/01/The-Hideaway
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review 2016-08-22 23:12
You’ll never look at a mirror the same way again
Mirror Image: A Novel - Michael Scott

Thanks to Net Galley and to Macmillan-Tor/Forge Books for offering me a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Horror is one of my favourite genres although I don’t read exclusively in any genre, but I always look forward to horror books. I also love antiques and TV programmes and books about antiques, and I was therefore even more interested in this novel.

Mirror Image tells the story of a haunted mirror (so to speak, although the full details of what the mirror represents and its ultimate power go beyond most stories of haunted places and/or objects) that an unwitting interior designer/antiques dealer from Los Angeles buys in London and gets shipped back. Although he at first thinks he’s got a bargain (as the mirror is much older than he realised and much more valuable), instead he gets more than he bargained for. Very soon after its arrival strange deaths happen around the mirror. At first they all look like freak accidents, but soon the police becomes suspicious of the new owner of the mirror, and there’s another mysterious figure, a tall man covered in scars, who knows more about the mirror than he’s willing to tell.

The prose is fast-paced and dynamic and the story is written in short chapters, in the third person from alternating points of views. Although many of the chapters are told from Jonathan Frazer’s point of view, there are chapters from the female detective’s point of view, from Frazer’s wife and daughter, Emmanuelle or Manny (who also become ensnared by the mirror), from three of Frazer’s employees, from Edmond, the man after the mirror, from some minor characters that make fleeting appearances in the book and even some very brief chapters that we realise are told from the mirror’s point of view. Although at first these changes in point of view tend to only take place in different chapters, as the pace picks up, especially towards the end, we might jump from one point of view to another during the same chapter. I didn’t find it difficult to follow but I know there are readers who are not keen on ‘head-hopping’.  On the one hand it might shift the focus of the action and release tension, although on the other hand, by making us share in the characters’ experiences, especially those who are just innocent victims, we are even more shocked by what happens. As the owner of the mirror becomes more and more fascinated by it, he starts experiencing dreams that seem to reveal past events concerning the history of the mirror that are particularly relevant to the current situation. As the mirror gains in strength he isn’t the only one to experience those dreams that we are also witnesses to. True historical characters, like John Dee, Edward Kelly and Queen Elizabeth I have appear to be lined to the mirror too and add intrigue and complexity to the story.

My only reservation was that I felt the female characters were slightly less well rounded. I liked the detective but we don’t get to know enough about her, and Frazer’s daughter, Manny, although central to the action, spends most of the chapters where she appears either unwell, confused or under somebody’s influence and we never discover her true self. From the few details we get about her at the beginning I assumed she was older (as she’d been living and studying in Paris, met another of the characters and lived with him for a while) but then we learn she’s only eighteen and perhaps that explains her difficulty dealing with the situation she finds herself in. There are also other female presences very important to the story, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers.

There is gore (I’ve read books that are more explicitly violent, but it’s not a mild read either), there is sexual content (as the mirror gets its strength from humans emotions and human bodily fluids, and has some pretty interesting effects on its subjects) although it’s not as explicit as I’ve read in many other books and it is seamlessly integrated into the story.  Is it scary? Yes. The novel shows how a character that to begin with is a likeable man, kind and gentle, a loving father and a generous employer, becomes a completely different person due to the influence of the mirror and he ends up doing unspeakable things. The obsession that takes over not only him but so many others who come into contact with the mirror, and the lengths people will go to gain power and immortality have a ring of truth that makes it more effective. Although this is not the most terrifying book I’ve ever read, it’s an uneasy, uncomfortable and eerie read. It is also compellingly and beautifully written, and its connection with the historical characters makes one wonder what kind of things went on in the name of experimentation and knowledge in the past.

I recommend it to lovers of horror with a kick, especially those who enjoy some historical background and mythology, and to people who love stories about haunted objects. If you read it I’m sure you won’t look into a mirror the same way again. 

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review 2016-06-05 23:40
From the Heart by Nora Roberts
Omnibus: From the Heart: Tonight and Always / Endings and Beginnings / A Matter of Choice - Nora Roberts

From the Heart contains three of Nora Roberts' early romance novels: Tonight and Always (1983), A Matter of Choice (1984), and Endings and Beginnings (1984). They're not related in any other way – no characters in common, and even the tones are different. Tonight and Always is the lightest of the bunch, with conflicts that are either internal or rooted in family. A Matter of Choice is romantic suspense. Endings and Beginnings, like Tonight and Always, has more internal conflict, but includes bursts of adrenaline due to the characters' profession (they're both TV reporters).

I'll write about each novel separately and then end my review with a bit about the volume as a whole. If you want the short version: Endings and Beginnings is good, while the rest of the volume can safely be skipped.

Tonight and Always:

Jordan Taylor is an author who has hired Kasey Wyatt, an anthropologist, to help him with his latest book (as far as I could tell, probably historical fiction dealing with Plains Indians). For the next few months, Kasey will live in the Taylor mansion with Jordan, Jordan's mother, and Alison, Jordan's 11-year-old niece. Kasey instantly bonds with Alison, whose parents died when she was 8. Kasey is also instantly attracted to Jordan. The feelings are mutual, and she finds herself forming something like a family with Jordan and Alison. However, she's well aware of her place and that this time with them is only temporary – and Jordan's mother will make sure she doesn't forget.

Roberts hit some great emotional notes, and I loved the lighter moments between Jordan, Kasey, and Alison. Jordan and Kasey's conversations were usually fun, and the overall tone of the story was pretty sweet. However, in many other ways Tonight and Always was an absolute mess.

When Kasey first met Jordan, he was complaining to the friend who convinced him to hire her. His words: “'I do find myself wondering how we're going to get on over the next few months. Professional spinsters are intimidating, and not my favorite companions.'” (4) Kasey was more amused than offended and responded to each one of the complaints he never intended for her to overhear in a breezy and clever way.

If I had been her, I'd have been angry. I'd have understood if she had gritted her teeth and focused on the future paycheck, but the way she laughed off his words baffled me, as did the repeated moments of mutual attraction that neither one of them bothered to hide. Not once did Kasey worry about what a sexual relationship with her employer might do to her professional reputation. She also didn't worry about having agreed to live in the same house as a guy who flat out stated that he intended to have sex with her.

After the initial lust was taken care of, the story settled into the family-building between Jordan, Kasey, and Alison. I enjoyed that part a lot, almost enough to make up for the way the story started, but then things went completely off the rails near the end. Jordan's mother said things that I'm pretty sure she couldn't have followed through on, and Jordan and Kasey had an angry sex scene that was essentially rape (even Jordan thought so, although Kasey assured him he was wrong: “'What happened that night was a long way from rape. I could have stopped you or fought you all the way. You know I didn't.'” (167)). If Kasey had just talked to Jordan after his mother spoke to her, they could both have avoided months of heartache, but no, that would have been too easy.

Parts of this story were good, but I can't recommend it overall.

A Matter of Choice:

James Sladerman, better known as Slade, is a New York cop who secretly dreams of quitting the force and working full-time as a writer. Commissioner Dodson knows Slade is working on a book and decides that it'd be the perfect cover for an assignment in Connecticut. Jessica Winslow, Dodson's goddaughter, may be in trouble. The FBI has evidence indicating that Jessica's antique shop is being used to smuggle jewels from Europe to the United States. Dodson wants Slade to pretend to be a writer staying at Jessica's house in order to work on his novel and organize her library. While he's there, he's supposed to guard Jessica, who'll have no clue who he really is, and keep an eye out for anything that might reveal which of Jessica's employees is involved in the smuggling operation.

Okay, first I have to talk about the premise. I can't believe that this was the best setup that Roberts could come up with in order to place a cop inside a wealthy antiques dealer's home. Commissioner Dodson having “connections” wasn't nearly a good enough explanation for why he was able to send a New York cop into the midst of an investigation going on in Connecticut, especially without anybody in the FBI or any of the cops in that jurisdiction making a fuss.

Aside from the awful premise, this was technically better than Tonight and Always. Slade and Jessica were instantly attracted to each other, the same as Kasey and Jordan, but they didn't fall on each other right away. They were strangers who'd just met, and Slade knew how bad it would look if he had sex with someone who might very well be involved in the smuggling operation (unlike his commissioner, he didn't automatically dismiss this possibility).

Unfortunately, once they finally broke down and had sex that's all they seemed to do. Jessica being in danger meant they couldn't really go out, so they spent a lot of time either cooped up in her house or walking around nearby it. Jessica felt confused, betrayed, frightened, and angry when she learned who Slade really was, but those feelings kept getting overwhelmed by lust and adrenaline. I was reminded of all my failed attempts to read Roberts' other standalone romantic suspense novels. Each time, it felt like the suspense shortchanged the romance. And this time around the suspense aspect wasn't even all that interesting.

Probably the most interesting thing about A Matter of Choice was that Slade was a cop who didn't really want to be a cop – he only became one because his father had been one. In my experience, that's highly unusual for a Roberts cop character, but it wasn't enough to make this more than a serviceable read. As much as aspects of Tonight and Always annoyed me, I still emotionally connected with the characters in that story more than the ones in this one.

Endings and Beginnings:

I'll start with a warning: this book includes a couple off-page child deaths.

Liv Carmichael is a local TV news reporter in Washington, D.C. whose greatest professional nemesis is T.C. Thorpe, a national TV news reporter. Thorpe is intrigued by her and invites her to an embassy party. It's not long before he decides that Liv is the woman he wants to marry. However, getting her to say “yes” isn't going to be easy. She's been hurt before, and there are too many things Thorpe doesn't know about her and her past.

My synopsis sucks. Anyway, this was by far the best book in the collection.

I absolutely loved the beginning. Roberts finally got the emotional balance right, or nearly so. Liv's initial feelings towards Thorpe were entirely rooted in professional rivalry, without a hint of lust or even attraction. She noted that he was handsome, but mainly because it was a point in his favor when it came to working on TV. The sexual tension did start up fairly quickly, and Thorpe fell for Liv harder and faster than was maybe believable, but Liv's emotional walls kept their relationship from progressing too quickly.

Whereas Jordan was too old-fashioned of a romance hero, and Slade was too boring, I really liked Thorpe. At least at the start, he enjoyed getting a rise out of Liv. However, he'd back off the instant he realized he'd accidentally hit a more personal sore spot. He tended to be annoyingly confident about his chances with Liv, but he wasn't quite as pushy about it as Jordan – he knew when to give her space.

Although I really enjoyed Endings and Beginnings overall, its pacing could have used a little work. I found myself getting impatient with how long it was taking Liv to finally tell Thorpe about her past (as it turned out, there was more going on than I realized). Also, it seemed like random things kept happening around Liv and Thorpe. I realize that this was a consequence of their jobs – they could be reporting on a plane crash one day, a prime minister's death the next, and a hostage situation some time after that – but it made for a weird reading experience.

The volume as a whole:

I didn't realize, going in, that this was a collection of Roberts' older romances. I had thought maybe it was a collected volume of one of her trilogies.

Anyway, this was...an experience. Most of my favorite Nora Roberts books were published in the late 90s. It's been a while since I last read any of them – I remember noticing her use of head-hopping, but I don't think it was nearly on the same level as the head-hopping I saw in From the Heart. I could put up with some of it, and I even enjoyed the way she played with during one moment in Tonight and Always, but sometimes it was just weird and confusing. For example, one scene in A Matter of Choice featured head-hopping between two shadowy villains, both referred to as “he.”

All three of these books were dated, in various ways. I can't comment on the accuracy of the information Kasey gave Jordan, but nowadays I would think he'd want to consult with at least one member of whatever tribe he was writing about, even if his book was historical fiction. I also winced when Kasey bought Jordan an Apache shaman's rattle as a present. It seemed extremely touristy, not, I think, what Roberts was going for. A Matter of Choice had one climactic moment that would have been ruined if everyone had had cell phones, and Endings and Beginnings' few mentions of real-life political moments were, of course, not very current.

Another thing I noticed was how much the characters smoked. Kasey smoked cigarettes when she was nervous, and Jordan smoked the occasional cigar. At one point, Thorpe lit a cigarette inside Liv's home without asking, and neither of them commented on that. I can't remember any specific instances of smoking in A Matter of Choice, but I wouldn't be surprised if characters in that one smoked too. So much smoking. Off the top of my head, the only recent Nora Roberts character I can think of who smokes is Roarke in her In Death books.

Reading these books reminded me of one thing I've always really liked about Roberts' heroines: they almost always have careers that they're passionate about and that they love. In that respect, Tonight and Always bothered me the most, because Kasey's pregnancies seemed like they would have gotten in the way of going on digs (or maybe not? I honestly have no idea). Endings and Beginnings was fabulous, though, with Liv rightfully telling Thorpe off when he got in the way of her doing her job at the scene of a terrorist attack.

 

Rating Note:

 

My final rating is an average of the ratings I might have given each of the three books if I had been rating them individually. Tonight and Always was about 2 stars, A Matter of Choice was maybe 3, and Endings and Beginnings was 4 stars.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2015-11-07 03:02
Antiques St. Nicked by Barbara Allan
Antiques St. Nicked (A Trash 'n' Treasures Mystery) - Barbara Allan

I gave this Christmasy Cozy a 4.5. It was a fast moving cozy and was very pleasant until they found a body. Mother and daughter did their snopping and still got ready for Christmas. If only I could be that organized. It was a fun Christmas read, not overly long. I'll need to read more of this author's work.

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