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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-06-14 19:54
Not on my wish list
A Gift of Ghosts - Sarah Wynde

Disclosure -- I obtained the Kindle edition of this book when it was offered free on Amazon.  I do not know the author, nor have I ever had any communication with her about this book or any other matter.


Trigger warnings, just in case:

Deaths of children, child abuse, suicide, abortion

(spoiler show)


The book started out fine.  Akira Malone, physics professor, has jeopardized her academic standing with a paragraph in a research paper, in which she suggests ghosts may be a form of energy.  She's now looking for another job, and lands one with a bizarre research facility, General Directions, in the small town of Tassamara, Florida.


Tassamara is a "quirky" little town, where most of the residents are "quirky," too.


Akira's quirk is that she can see ghosts.  And there seem to be a lot of them in Tassamara.  There's one in the rental car, for crying out loud!


I thought this was going to be a light, fun read.  The writing was competent, if sometimes a little heavy on the telling and light on the showing, but it wasn't horrible.  Akira was a likable character, and she didn't do stupid things just for the sake of the story.


Her boss at GD is Zane Latimer, the usual gorgeous hunk.  He didn't seem quite as well developed at Akira, but I could live with that in a fluff book.


Unfortunately, A Gift of Ghosts didn't stay fluffy.


The ghost haunting Akira's rental car -- which she ends up leasing when she moves to Florida to take the job -- is of a 15-year-old boy.  I had a bad feeling about that right away. 


There are four more ghosts at the house she rents: an older man, a young woman who loves television and parties, and two little boys who play in the back yard.  I had more bad feelings about the boys.


General Directions is owned by Zane and his siblings and his father, Max.  Each of them has a "gift," too.  Akira sees ghosts, but Zane can find things; his older brother Lucas reads minds; one of his sisters can see the future; and so on.  Zane is frequently contacted by police and other investigative bodies to find missing things, like stolen property.  Sometimes he's asked to find missing people.


The whole book took a very dark turn when Zane takes on a case of a missing toddler and his father. 

Instead of his "gift" helping to resolve the mystery and return the boy to his grieving mother, Zane's inability to locate the boy suggests that the boy is dead, and points to the father as the killer.  Akira steps in because she can see the boy's ghost.  Well, at least it wasn't murder, but the father's death is suicide and the whole episode altered my whole attitude toward the book.

(spoiler show)

Of course the relationship between Akira and Zane becomes insta-lust, which didn't add anything to the story because there was no tension in the relationship.  No complications, no nothing.


About the time they started having super-duper sex, I realized there wasn't a whole lot of emotional development in the book.  There were plenty of opportunities for it, but the characters didn't seem to react appropriately to what seemed to be highly charged situations. 

For example, the ghost in the car, Dillon, is Zane's nephew, who died of a drug overdose, apparently.  But there doesn't seem to be much grieving or reaction, or even soul-searching about what went wrong.

(spoiler show)

  So when another of the many ghosts in the book --

Zane's mother, Dillon's grandmother, who died of a stroke after Dillon's death

(spoiler show)

-- went into emotional overdrive and threatened Akira's life, I went into eye-roll overdrive.


I also found the ghostly debate over whether or not someone who had aborted -- or at least tried to abort -- an unwanted pregnancy could be forgiven by God and go to heaven rather than burn in hell to be a completely unnecessary distraction.


So it was a good start that kind of went in a lot of wrong directions, at least for me.  I finished it, but I did skim quite a bit through about the last 20%.


BL-opoly Small town setting, 211 pages.  $3.00

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text 2017-06-11 19:19
Reading progress update: I've read 9%.
A Gift of Ghosts - Sarah Wynde

Light, pleasant, competent writing so that I'm not reaching for a red pen every half second.

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text 2017-06-11 19:14
BL-opoly - Mainstreet #10 - Takes place in a small town

I think this is the last of my Memorial Day week-end extra rolls.


One of my (many) Kindle freebies, A Gift of Ghosts is set in Tassamara, Florida, described as "a quirky little town."


So far, I know the main character, Dr. Akira Malone is a physics professor who sees ghosts.


I need something light after The Tunnels.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-12 22:18
Good Idea, Atrocious Execution
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe


The book has over 500 reviews on Amazon, with a 4.1 star average rating. The five-star ratings account for 41% of those, which is reasonably impressive.  My review isn't going to impact that very much, and that's not my intent.


This review will also be filled with spoilers. Consider yourself warned.


First major spoiler:  The dog is okay.  Nothing bad happens to him.  There's another spoiler about him later.


I finished the book, which is more than I do with many of the books I start.  Many of them don't hold me for two pages.  So there's that.


I liked the premise: Academic Connie Goodwin inherits her grandmother's old house in what was Salem Village, Massachusetts and goes on a search for a 300-year-old book with some connection to the Salem Witch Trials. 


The writing was competent, if a little heavy on the description.


That said, it wasn't long before I began to have problems even as I continued reading.


Connie is a young woman, in her early to mid 20s, and she has been in school virtually all her life.  The last few years in grad school have been by choice: she wants to continue to study and earn her PhD.  She doesn't come across, however, as a dedicated scholar.  Once she completes her oral exam and is cleared to begin her dissertation, she seems to forget all her academic training and lose all her scholarly motivation.  Is it because it's summer break?  It shouldn't be, because working on that dissertation should be her single primary focus now if she's truly dedicated to her scholarship.


However. . . .


She receives word from her mother Grace, a free spirit hippie type living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that the house that had belonged to Connie's grandmother, Sophia, needs to be prepared for sale after sitting vacant for 20 years since Sophia's death.  Since the house is in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and Connie is at Harvard in Cambridge, she is delegated to the task for the summer.  She heads there with her roommate Liz and her dog Arlo.


There's no real explanation for why the place wasn't sold when Sophia died or why it's being sold now.


It was at their arrival at the house that I lost my willing suspension of disbelief (WSOD).



The rest of the very lengthy review is at




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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-10-29 19:39
When the backstory IS the story. . . . . . . . .
The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

Disclosure:  I borrowed this book from my local public library.  I do not know the author nor have I ever had any communication with her about this book or any other matter  I am an author.


Quick review, then spoilers and discussion.


I can't speak for other authors, but for me, the backstory -- everything that happens before the action in the book itself starts on page 1 -- is crucial.  Sometimes bits of this backstory enter the actual narrative and sometimes revelation of the backstory becomes the objective of the narrative.  The novel's journey, then, becomes the uncovering of the backstory.


The Thirteenth Tale is essentially the development of the backstory for the ending.  As a writer, I found this interesting, because I expected it to show how the character's history served as a catalyst.  In this I was monumentally disappointed.


Vida Winter is England's most successful novelist and one of its most mysterious personages.  No one has written an "authorized" biography of her, and no one really knows anything about her before she became a bestselling author.  Now all of a sudden out of the blue, Miss Winter contacts Margaret Lea, the daughter of the owner of an antiquarian bookshop, to write her life story.  Margaret travels from her home in Cambridge to Miss Winter's estate in Yorkshire, where she spends hours listening to the writer tell her history, beginning with the background of her parents and grandparents.


The objective is to finally, because she knows she is dying, tell the truth about who and/or what, she is.


My problem as a reader -- and I can never read without also being a writer and analyzing how the other writer constructed the story -- was that I could never get away from the image of the elderly woman, in her wheelchair, dictating to the younger woman who then went to her room to transcribe her notes.  I kept thinking, okay, okay, okay, get on with it:  How did all this prepare you to be a writer and give you material for your stories?  And what were your stories?


That part of it never happened.  Never. I had reached the point almost halfway through where all of this morbid detail about Vida Winter's supposed childhood became boring.  I disliked most of the characters and felt they were weak and spineless.  Too much of what I've been reading lately is about weak and spineless or stupid characters, and I just didn't want to slog through another 200+ pages of it.  I continued only because Obsidian-Something ;-) prevailed upon me to do so.


And now for the spoiler.  It's long.



The story Vida tells Margaret is of growing up as a twin on a mouldering estate, Angelfield, not far from the Yorkshire estate where she now lives.  I was immediately reminded of Thomas Tryon's novel, The Other, which I read once back in the 1970s.  The good twin and the evil twin and not being able to tell them apart, and so on.  But where Tryon's twins were able to function more or less normally -- they could speak and interact with other people -- Adeline and Emmeline cannot.  They speak to each other in an invented language only they can understand.  They have virtually no supervision, no parenting.  Their mother married in haste and their father died somewhere around the time of their birth.  The mother is now in an asylum, and they are cared for, if you want to call it that, by an eccentric uncle and two loyal servants.


Emmeline is relatively docile, but Adeline is mean, cruel, destructive.  They are like animals.


They are about thirteen years of age when a governess is brought in.  Hester is appalled at the state of the house -- it is literally falling down around them and filthy dirty -- so she takes over the household and starts putting things to rights.  She also begins to work with the local doctor to find a way to train the twins to be, well, human.  Emmeline, the docile one, is sent off to live with the doctor and his wife, while Adeline is kept at Angelfield under Hester's supervision.


Here's the thing -- there's no time frame given for these events.  Given that Vida Winter is presumably in her 70s or 80s, were she and her twin children in the 1920s?  the 1940s?  We don't know.  And for me, this would have been crucial to understanding how this situation could have been allowed to exist.


Hester is caught kissing the doctor and leaves in disgrace.  The house falls back into disrepair and the twins, together again, continue to deteriorate as well.  Then the aged housekeeper dies, leaving only John the gardener to take care of the twins.


And suddenly the intelligence and capability of Adeline, the vicious and cruel twin, manifests itself so that she can partner with John to manage the household.


Although Setterfield had established a hint that Adeline might be hiding a normal intelligence behind her wild child behavior, the transformation was just too slick. As a reader, I was already one level removed from the story because I couldn't get away from that constant image of the old woman telling her story to the biographer.  Now my disbelief was being tested again.  If Adeline was so capable, why had she done nothing at all during the years of living in squalor, with unwashed dishes and poorly cooked food and a crazy uncle in the attic?


Then the crazy uncle dies, leaving the little "family" of Adeline, Emmeline, John the gardener and the boy he has hired for help.  Adeline connives with the family solicitor to keep the money flowing, at least for a while. 


But she never sets about fixing the house.  Although Hester, prior to her abrupt departure in disgrace, had hired workmen to repair the roof and fix other problems, the transformed Adeline never sets about to do this. 


One of the other things that put my suspicions on alert was that the "new" Adeline developed a taste and talent for topiary, which had been one of John the gardener's pastimes.  He had left it when the wild Adeline went on one of her rampages and destroyed all his work.  Now all of a sudden she wants to re-establish the topiary garden.  Hmmmmmm........


And then John dies, falling from a ladder under mysterious circumstances.


I had already been thinking about The Other.  Now another book came to mind -- it might have been a Phyllis A. Whitney novel, but I'm not sure -- in which twins had been used in some kind of deceptive scheme, but no one had counted on there being a triplet, a third girl/woman who looked exactly like the other two.  I have both Feather on the Moon and Rainbow in the Mist beside me, but I'm not going to read either of them right now to find out if it was one of those two books that contained that plot element.  It's enough to know that I remembered it.


So John is dead, and that leaves the twins -- the "new" Adeline and Emmeline, who may or may not be developmentally disabled -- on their own at the age of maybe fifteen.  Their only help comes from "the boy," the one hired by John to help with the gardening.


"The boy" has designs on Adeline, but she's not interested.  For whatever reason, he rapes Emmeline instead -- even if she consented, it's suggested that she wasn't capable of giving consent, so that makes it rape -- and she becomes pregnant.  The child is born, and Emmeline develops what appears to be a true maternal instinct for it.  And this enrages the "old" Adeline, who attempts to murder the infant by burning it in the library fireplace.


Her plan is thwarted by the "new" Adeline, who rescues the child but is unable to put out the fire, which consumes the mansion.  She is able, however, to save Emmeline, who is badly burned in the fire.


For in fact, the new Adeline is not the old Adeline at all, but a foundling who may or may not have been fathered on a village girl by the crazy uncle -- the crazy uncle who was also probably the father of the twins his sister bore.  ("Vice is nice, but incest is best.")  The old Adeline dies in the fire, no one being the wiser, and so the new Adeline goes on being the only Adeline.  Emmeline's infant is raised by a kindly neighbor -- apparently in the days when no one investigated things like that -- and so on and so forth.


And they all lived happily ever after?


That's just it.  That's where the story essentially ends.  A few loose ends are tied up -- such as Margaret's own lost twin, none of which made any sense to me and seemed contrived and melodramatic -- but the real story that held my interest was how Adeline became Vida the writer, and there wasn't a single word about it.  No clue as to how the new Adeline became Vida Winter.  Nothing about what happened in the years after the fire but before she wrote her first book of stories and became a best-selling author.  Nothing about how she managed to take care of Emmeline without anyone knowing where she was.  Setterfield tells us what happened to "the boy" who was the father of Emmeline's child, but not what happened to Emmeline in the interim.


And that's when I recalled the third book that this reminded me of -- my long-time favorite Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey.  A long-lost twin, thought to be a suicide at age thirteen, returns eight years later to claim his inheritance.  He is eventually unmasked as not the twin, but a probable cousin who has nonetheless an uncanny identical resemblance to the real twin brothers.


After I had finished reading it, I felt a niggling in my brain beyond all this:  How did Hester not know there was a third child involved, and how did Adeline/Vida keep the real Adeline under control?  Hester had suspicions, but never acted upon them, which seemed odd.  And Vida never revealed how John and the housekeeper kept her -- "protected" her -- for ten years or more without anyone ever knowing.


(spoiler show)


The book is well written and the details are carefully crafted into the mystery, but I felt a horrible, horrible letdown at the end.  Most readers, however, will probably love it.



Depending on how the rest of my week-end goes, I may use this for a Bingo square.  Not sure which one, as it could fit in several.




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