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review 2019-11-16 11:55
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine - Alex Brunkhorst

Family secrets. Forbidden love. And the true price of wealth.

The story begins with a dinner party invitation… When young journalist Thomas Cleary is sent to dig up quotes for the obituary of a legendary film producer, the man's eccentric daughter offers him access to the exclusive upper echelons of Hollywood society. As Thomas enters a world of private jets and sprawling mansions, his life and career take off beyond his wildest dreams.
Then he meets Matilda Duplaine.
Beautiful and mysterious, Matilda has spent her entire life within the walls of her powerful father's Bel-Air estate. Thomas is entranced, and the two begin a secret love affair. But the more he learns about the mysterious woman's identity, the more he realizes that privilege always comes with a price.





Thomas Cleary, a young Midwestern man with a Harvard degree under his belt, is now working as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, after losing his job (amidst scandal) at the Wall Street Journal. Thomas' boss assigns him the task of writing the obituary piece for recently passed legendary Hollywood producer Joel Goldman. After becoming acquainted with his daughter, Lily, she invites him to a party expected to have a roster full of entertainment industry heavy-hitters. Though he's working on a tight deadline, Thomas calls in to his boss to tell him of the offer. Without hesitation, his boss tells him to most definitely accept... and take mental notes for future stories!



The world of Lily Goldman was full of presents, and I couldn't help but wonder if there were strings attached to every last one of them.


At this party, Thomas meets studio executive David Duplaine, considered to be one of the most powerful men in the world, in general. Everyone finds Thomas' quiet, polite demeanor charming and refreshing in a town full of brown-nosing. Within a month of this party, Thomas is drowning in invites to parties and lunches all over town. Attending as many as he can manage, he's flattered and curious at all the sudden attention, but his journalist nose also begins to suspect and sniff out the secrets under the glittery facade of this world. At one such party, actress Carol Patridge gives him some advice, quietly disguising a warning:


"Be careful. I know all this can be very intoxicating, but everything has its price, Thomas. You'll get charged without knowing it, and you won't know the price until the bill comes in the mail."

"Are you saying I can't afford it?"

"I make twenty million a picture and I can't afford it."


Fate deals a hand on the day Thomas sets out to attend a party being hosted by David Duplaine. Upon arrival, Thomas is surprised to find no one on the property... or so he thinks. Climbing a tree to have a look around, he spots a young woman on David's tennis court. To Thomas' knowledge, David was living the life of a confirmed bachelor workaholic with no children... so who is this? It's not hard to guess, as by this point in the book the reader is nearly 100 pages in and the title character has yet to be introduced to Thomas. Yep, he's just had an unexpected run-in with the mysterious Matilda Duplaine.

Thomas is instantly charmed by her, but he must know the whole story --- Why is she not allowed to leave the Duplaine estate? Why does everything involving Matilda have to be arranged in such a clandestine fashion?What's this great misfortune she hints will befall them if they continue to see each other? Later on in the story, I was confused as to why Matilda runs so hot & cold with Thomas after he risks everything to try to get her her freedom. She does make an attempt to explain, but I don't know if I buy what basically amounts to "please excuse my daddy issues."




Though the story is set in modern times, there is still a noticeable Old Hollywood vibe to the whole thing. Touches of Great Gatsby inspo here and there (the feel / era, not necessarily the plot). The detail in the world building is rich to the point of the reader having no trouble imagining these antique-heavy mansions that Thomas finds himself rotating through. You can virtually feel the furniture, smell the luxury cigarettes, hear the clink of barware.... that aspect made sense once I saw that Brunkhorst's author bio mentions her day job as being a real estate agent specializing in multi-million dollar estates. She clearly knows this world!


There's also a brief interlude of sorts where a few of the characters temporarily move the setting to Hawaii.


The characters were all unique --- there was something about Lily I just loved, wanted to know more of the story there --- and the relationships between them made for fun reading, I'd just wish there was more oompf or tension to the mystery of the Duplaine backstory.

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review 2019-08-27 10:01
Mirror Image by Michael Scott & Melanie Ruth Rose
Mirror Image: A Novel - Michael Scott
A mirror that feeds on human souls wreaks destruction on those around it in Mirror Image, the new novel from internationally bestselling author Michael Scott and Melanie Ruth Rose. In an auction house in London, there is a mirror no one will buy. Standing seven feet tall and reaching four feet across, its size makes it unusual. Its horrific powers make it extraordinary. For centuries, the mirror has fed off of the lives of humans, giving them agonizing deaths and sucking their souls into its hellish world. When Jonathan Frazer, the wealthy owner of a furniture and antiques shop in Los Angeles, buys the mirror at an auction, he believes he is getting the bargain of a lifetime. With its age and size, it is easily worth eight times what he paid for it. At this point, the mirror has sat dormant for years. But within days of Jonathan's purchase, the deaths begin again. One employee is crushed when the mirror falls on top of him. A few days later, the corpse of another is found in front of the mirror, brutally stabbed. A third is burned beyond all recognition. All the while, an enormous man with a scarred face is following Jonathan, demanding that he give him the mirror and killing any police officer that gets in his way.
The police are becoming desperate. As the death toll rises, Jonathan himself becomes a suspect. He knows there is something wrong with the mirror. He knows it's dangerous. But he cannot bring himself to get rid of it. Everyday he becomes more captivated by the mirror. For the mirror is awakening, and its powers are resurfacing.
Los Angeles antiques dealer Jonathan Frazer attends an auction in London, England where he ends up seeing this giant standing mirror he suspects is several centuries old. The mirror is not particularly pretty, but is eye-catching in its sheer size, not to mention Jonathan feeling a strange, strong pull toward the piece. Figuring he can make a decent profit on it back home, he buys it for a song and has it shipped back to California. 
Though the mirror gave no hint of its evil secrets back in London, once the piece is in Frazer's workshop things start to turn weird almost instantly. In less than 10 chapters, we already have what... three deaths, I think it was? And not normal, sad but understandable freak accident kind of deaths... oh no, this story is full of total Final Destination-style candle snuffings. 
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*Note to animal lovers: one of the deaths sadly involves the gruesome execution of a K-9 dog. I'm still bothered by that part. Yep, I'm one of those people who can watch / read horror and be disturbed but also quickly okay again with human characters being killed off... for some reason, my mind can say "it's just a story" in that scenario... but when the author does something to an innocent animal in the name of plot points... ugh, that messes me up for ages after I finish the story. 
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After the first death, that of Jonathan's close friend and antiques restorer, Tony Farren, a tall, noticeably disfigured man starts making visits to Jonathan, insisting that the mirror belongs to him, but Jonathan absolutely refuses to sell. The story later explains that this disfigured man is Edmund Talbott, a descendant of the family who has been guarding the mirror, keeping it out of the public eye, for centuries. Edmund is positive the evil power trapped within the mirror is responsible for the deaths of his wife and young son. Though he doesn't understand how the mirror came to fall out of the family's possession, he just wants to get it back under lock and key before any more people have to suffer. Tired of the death and destruction the mirror seems to incite, Edmund is hoping he can convince Jonathan to hand it back over before the pull becomes too strong for Frazer himself to resist.  Edmund's arrival may be too little too late. Jonathan has already spotted the face of a beautiful woman behind the glass. Once he catches this glimpse, he begins to slowly go mad with the need to free her. The night he discovers the mirror's response to blood sacrifices is the moment the plot truly takes a spiraling dive into dark, dark places of paranormal fiction. 
Image result for creepy mirror
Though paranormal fiction is one of my favorite genres, I'll admit I've not spent a lot of time with the horror genre in quite awhile, so my brain was a little unprepared for where this story was headed. To say the story gets weird doesn't even begin to cover it, but man, it was a fun ride! I found myself doing all the book version reactions of classic horror movie viewing: gasping, cringing, OMG-ing, covering my mouth but still frantically reading... the works! 
The writing style reminded me of classic Stephen King seasoned with a little CSI / Law & Order. Periodically, the plot will do a throwback chapter to a piece of the mirror's Elizabethan-era origin story, presented in the form of Jonathan's fevered dreams (the reader is typically informed that it was a dream in the following chapter). Essentially these dreams tell us that the mirror is old even in the Elizabethan era. John Dee, an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, comes into possession of the mirror. Though he's not fully informed regarding its provenance, he does learn that the mirror has the means to foretell futures --- either possible or definitive --- through the use of intense human emotions experienced in its presence or bodily fluids rubbed over the glass surface. In short: intense anger, sadness, orgasms, blood, sperm, sweat... any of these will cause the mirror to share its secrets. But the offerings are brief and it quickly becomes evident the mirror needs constant "feedings" if one is to get any information from it. 
In addition to the paranormal elements, this story also incorporates the topics of remote viewing, scrying, and astral projection. The author's note at the end mentions that the novel was inspired by a bizarre true story involving Queen Elizabeth, John Dee, and a mirror she refused to look at unless he agreed to have it moved to his garden. 
Because of the legend developed around the mirror that it --- whatever "it" is that was put inside the mirror --- feeds off high human emotion and bodily fluid, yes, sex is mentioned in this story. OFTEN. And it's often in weird scenarios... sometimes a tad rapey, sometimes ending in murder as some of our MCs get further off the deep end under the influence of the mirror. I'm warning you now, it gets especially graphic and gruesome in the later chapters.... but even so, the writing itself is very well-written, gripping, creepy, and just plain GOOD. 
I don't know that I loved the ending though... and the very last line left me confused and with questions... but wow, it certainly made me interested to get into more of Michael Scott's work in the future!
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-05-18 10:25
Timekeeper (Timeless #2) by Alexandra Monir
Timekeeper - Alexandra Monir

When Philip Walker appears as a new student in Michele Windsor's high school class, she is floored. He is the love she thought she lost forever when they said goodbye during her time travels last century. Overjoyed that they can resume the relationship they had a lifetime ago, Michele eagerly approaches him and discovers the unthinkable: he doesn't remember her. In fact, he doesn't seem to remember anything about the Philip Walker of 1910. Michele then finds her father's journals, which tell stories of his time-traveling past. As she digs deeper, she learns about his entanglement with a mysterious and powerful organization called the Time Society and his dealings with a vengeful Windsor ancestor. Michele soon finds herself at the center of a rift over 120 years in the making, one whose resolution will have life-or-death consequences.




Just when Michele thought it impossible for she and Philip to exist in the same era long term, in walks this new Philip Walker registering as a new student at her high school. He not only shares a name with Michele's love, but he also looks identical to the Edwardian PW and even wears the family signet ring, the very ring Philip gave Michele (which she later lost somewhere during her time travels). Problem is, he has zero recollection of who Michele is, or this other Philip she keeps talking about, or even their past history together, here or in any other time.


As heartbreaking as this is for Michele, she's got bigger problems. Rebecca Windsor, long thought dead, shows up at the Windsor mansion in her former teenage body, threatening a startled Walter and Dorothy with a dark ultimatum: Either they kill their granddaughter in seven days or she will. 


Walter and Dorothy aren't psychopaths. Naturally, they have no intention of killing Michele. They want to take her back to LA to hide her til things blow over, but Michele feels she's better off just facing Rebecca straight on. While waiting for her doomsday to come, Michele comes across journals belonging to her father, documenting his own time traveling adventures and his involvement with the Time Society. Taking in the information from these notebooks, and continuing to work on Philip (trying to restore his memory), she eventually makes progress and begins to formulate a plan on how to bring down revenge-fueled Rebecca once and for all. Michele also meets with Elizabeth, a childhood friend of her mother's, now working as a psychic medium. Elizabeth offers to use hypnosis on Michele to see if they can unlock anything in her mind in terms of past life regression.


"Any traveler who leaves his or her present lives like a ghost, only seen by Timekeepers and those few humans with the Gift of Sight, until they've been in another time for seven days.... Timekeepers weren't meant to stay in a different time long enough to impact it. Even the smallest actions from an outsider resulted in serious consequences. A well-meaning Timekeeper who attempted to reverse a loved one's death or ill fortune found an even ghastlier outcome... the time traveler's role was only to observe, learn, and protect the natural Timeline. 


 The Gift of Sight is the ability for ordinary human beings, those with no powers, to see and interact with spirits and time travelers. Sometimes known as mediums, many of the people who posess the Gift, believe they are seeing ghosts. In actuality, the appararitions they see are not ghosts but time travelers who have not yet reached Visibility or their full physical form in the alternate time.


 We have found that the Gift of Sight runs in families. As of this entry in 1880, our experiments show that 5% of families in the US carry the Gift. This means we Timekeepers must always be on alert. Our actions in the past and future can be seen.


Before you proceed, it is crucial to know and understand your gift --- a gift that, depending on how it is used, can lead to either great fortune or terrible tragedy. "


 * The Handbook of the Time Society




Everything in Timekeeper is just all around BETTER than the earlier books... just as a sequel should be! The historical environment is every bit as details as earlier in the series, the romance better developed, the specifics of the Time Society well plotted out. The relationship between Philip and Michele has more developed angst, yet there is a really cool friendship between them now that wasn't as rich in the first book. It's especially noticeable in the scenes where Michele (always in her current age) has talks with an aging Philip as they reunite through various points in time. I confess, I like the older installment of Philip more than either of the eighteen year old editions. But while it's great to see one side of the equation work out, it is still a little sad to have it drift away on the other end. 

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review 2019-05-18 07:21
Secrets of the Time Society (Timeless #1.5) by Alexandra Monir
Secrets of the Time Society - Alexandra Monir


There exists a secret society where one's ability to travel through time is "gifted" to members only by blood. Those who try to enter the society quickly come to realize that time is a force not to be reckoned with.  Alexandra Monir's short story exclusive ebook, Secrets of the Time Society, sheds light upon the world created in her novel Timeless and forecasts the fate that lies ahead for its protagonist, Michele Windsor. Now that Michele is gifted, there are some who will do anything to take that power away.





Winter 1888, NYC: Seventeen year old Rebecca Windsor receives a visit from the mysterious Millicent August, who hands Rebecca a book titled Handbook of the Time Society, insisting she read it. Millicent goes on to explain that she is the founder and president of the Time Society, an organization dedicated to bringing together individuals born with genes that gift them the ability to time travel. Millicent also has a team of Detectors, those who can spot out of place time travelers, who identified Rebecca in NYC in 1918. 


Rebecca came by her time traveling abilities through mildly criminal means. Coming clean about it could affect a certain relationship of hers she hopes to steer in a romantic direction. Though she doesn't want to lose the guy, she also becomes power hungry to "have it all". 


Fast-forwarding from 1888 to 1910, the pivotal year of TIMELESS, Rebecca is now a spinster, nearly 40 years of age, aunt to Violet (the girl Philip is engaged to when he first meets Michele). Rebecca actually witnesses that initial meeting of TIMELESS's two main characters, unbeknownst to them. She puts facts together and realizes the likely secret of Michele's lineage. Once it's made clear, Rebecca becomes consumed with reversing history, regardless of consequences.


"Behaving out of line with the time you are in has had disastrous consequences for several Timekeepers, so it's important to assimilate."


So yes, we learn a little extra of Michele's lineage, namely the secrets surrounding the father she's never known and what might be the real story behind his disappearance. But mostly it's a rundown of Time Society framework: how the all-important necklace came to have its time jumping properties, the setup, hierarchy, and ground rules for membership in the Time Society, as well as an introduction to Time Society HQ, based in San Diego, CA. Being born and raised in San Diego myself, reading the hotel described as a building disguised as a seaside hotel, "a beautiful porcelain castle with its gleaming white lattice work and turreted red roofs", I can't help but think author Alexandra Monir was inspired by the Hotel Del Coronado (technically on Coronado Island, off the coast of San Diego, but still pretty much considered to be part of the area). I also have to wonder if she perhaps read Richard Matheson's Somewhere In Time (or at least watched the film adaptation) --- another time traveling novel also based at Hotel Del. It was interesting to read that all time leaps within the Time Society have to fall between 1492 - 1991.


 Hotel Del Coronado, image © Rick Avena Photography


This 23 page short story serves as a little bridge between Timeless and Timekeeper.  It was originally offered as an ebook exclusive, but I've since read that a short story was included in the paperback edition of Timekeeper... I'm assuming it is the print version of this ebook (I read from the hardback edition, which does not have it). If that is indeed what the publisher did, I'm happy with that. For how short this book is, to previously make it available only through e-format felt like something of a cheap money grab. But the story itself is good and definitely entices readers to jump right into TIMEKEEPER.


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review 2019-05-10 17:12
Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel by James Markert
Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel - James Markert

For years, guests of the Tuscany Hotel could leave their pasts behind and live among fellow artists. Now guests of a different sort fill the rooms, searching for their memories—no matter the cost. Run by renowned sculptor Robert Gandy and his wife and muse, Magdalena, the Tuscany Hotel hosted guests of a certain kind—artists, actors, scientists, and engineers who left their worries behind so that they could create their latest masterpieces. Surrounded by lore, the hotel was rumored to free the mind and inspire artists’ gifts. But tragic circumstances force Robert and his family to move.

After thirteen months at war, Vittorio Gandy is haunted by memories, and his former life is unrecognizable. Once a gifted painter, now he can’t bear the vivid, bleeding colors on a canvas. His young son doesn’t remember him, and his wife, Valerie, is scared of him. But the most disconcerting change is in Vitto’s father, Robert Gandy, who has fallen from being a larger-than-life sculptor to a man whose mind has been taken by Alzheimer’s. 

When Robert steals away in the night, Valerie, Vitto, and his new acquaintance and fellow veteran John go to the only place Robert might remember—the now-abandoned Tuscany Hotel. When they find him there, Robert’s mind is sound and his memories are intact. Before long, word gets out that drinking from the fountain at the hotel can restore the memories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. The rooms once again fill up with guests—not artists this time, but people seeking control over their memories and lives. Vitto desperately wants to clear his own mind, but as he learns more about his mother’s life and her tragic death, he begins to wonder whether drinking the water comes at a price. A story of father and son, memories lost and found, artists and their muses, Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel explores the mysteries of the mind, the truth behind lore, and the miracle of inspiration.






At just twenty four years old, Vittorio Gandy has already established himself as a talented painter, but with the start of World War II he is shipped overseas to fight. While over there, he receives letters from wife Valerie gently explaining that the family fortune has all but dried up and she's had to take up miscellaneous work to make ends meet --- everything from selling war bonds to growing a victory garden and even taking a part time job at a local factory. 


Vittorio's father, Robert, grows up an only child and heir to an oil fortune as well as a rock quarry. As a young man, Robert travels to Italy to study and practice his work as a sculptor. It is there he meets the beautiful Magdalena. Immediately smitten, he convinces her to come away with him and start a life together. Magdalena, not only having fallen in love with Robert but also needing to flee an abusive guardian, travels with Robert to California, settling in an area that would soon become the town of Gandy. There Robert uses his fortune to buy the land the town is built on and gets to work building the Tuscany Hotel. The Tuscany will honor his wife's heritage and encourage a modern day Renaissance where artists, writers, actors, and painters can come and feel inspired. 


It's years later now when we meet son Vittorio as a young enlisted man. The hotel has long been shuddered up and abandoned and Robert is battling Alzheimer's. Vittorio returns home but keeps the day of his arrival a surprise. Naturally his family is delighted to see him at first, but it's not long before Vitto's PTSD begins to rear its head. Thanks to the horrific images he brought back from war and stored in his mind, he can't bring himself to paint anymore. He's a stranger to his young son and Valerie grows increasingly more uncomfortable in his presence. She begins to pull away as Vitto's behavior becomes more and more combative, the last straw being the night when he becomes confused during a hallucination and nearly strangles her to death. 




Vitto checks himself into an in-patient therapy program for veterans at the hospital, but when Robert goes missing one night after an earthquake, Vitto goes back home to help track him down...though everyone can guess where Robert went. Sure enough, Valerie and Vitto find him at the abandoned Tuscany Hotel. The courtyard fountain is running again, Robert is sculpting like no time has passed at all, and his mind seems to have been restored! 


"Time can be a tenuous dancing partner, Mr. Gandy. And memory the devil. Sometimes the wounds we can't see leave the worst scars, unless they're tended to."


By the next day, Vitto's discovered that his father has plans to re-open the Tuscany and already has an ad in the newspapers. John, a fellow veteran Vitto met in the therapy program -- cheery, tender-hearted, and perpetually curious -- signs on as the hotel's new chef. Before long, word spreads of the hotel fountain's healing powers against mind crippling conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's and people come from far and wide desperately hoping to help their loved ones. 


New life is breathed back into the property and even Valerie finds herself gravitating back towards her husband rather than away. Even so, Vitto has his hesitations about all these new developments. For one, he's always been plagued by the death of his mother and whether there was any truth to the rumors about it possibly being a suicide. Will all this new attention to the hotel stir up those old stories as well as feelings he may not be ready to face? Then there's the fountain itself. Even though people praise the restorative properties the fountain water seems to have on them, Vitto begins to fear there may be a dark price to pay for the remedy.  He resists drinking the water himself until the day his son asks him to drink, hoping that drinking the water in front of his son will be just the act of trust they need to restore the father-son bond. 


Don't drink it, Vitto wanted to say, unsure why. Because every day has its night. Because what goes up must come down. Because memories can cut as much as they cure. And because he'd learned through the war that life too often was fool's gold. Rays of a beautiful sunrise led to rivers of blood. Under lush canopies of evergreen forest, combat stained the silent snow cherry red. Craters and limbs pocked fields and countryside. Last words traveled on breezes choked with smoke and death. 


Periodically, there are chapters where we get snippets of the mysterious life story of Magdalena, who has no long term memory of her own but seems to possess the memories of famous artists throughout history, such as da Vinci or Mozart. There's also a few throwbacks to how Valerie and Vitto met as children, growing up together as best friends before eventually becoming romantically involved. 


I've read all but two of Markert's books at this point and I'd say this is one of his grittiest to date, in terms of subject matter. Readers are not only presented themes of depression (sometimes to the point of suicidal thought) and PTSD, but also graphic imagery of war, namely in-depth, uncomfortable descriptions of executed Jews. The setting is post-Depression era, like several of Markert's stories, and the writing is lyrical as ever... yet, something didn't fully click with this reader to make it a homerun read. Some passages moved a bit slow, others ran on a little long. While I liked the setting and characters well enough --- I especially loved the conversations between John and Vitto, their banter reminded me a bit of Teddy and Bob from Bob's Burgers --- there were times when my interest waned and the reading began to feel a bit like a chore. The light touch of magical realism Markert tends to weave in his novels was pretty faint here as well, compared to the earlier works. But it's also one of those books where if you push through during the down periods, there is payoff later on. 



"Your mother.... the horrors she lived through... it wasn't that much different from what you... what your army doctor called battle fatigue? Combat exhaustion? Hell doesn't always require a war, Vittorio."


Discussion questions guide available at the back of the book for reading groups interested in making this a possible book club pick.


FTC DISCLAIMER: BookLookBloggers and Thomas Nelson Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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