“Controlled explosions” by Claire McGowan (a novella)

A prequel novella, “Controlled explosions” introduces readers to Claire McGowan’s Paula Maguire series. When I read that Ken Bruen proclaimed her to be ‘Ireland’s answer to Ruth Rendell, I knew I had to check this series out.
Paula Maguire, the series protagonist is a forensic psychologist who was born in a border town in Northern Ireland. She is the daughter of a Catholic policeman in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and a mother who was suspected to have been ‘taken’ by the IRA.

In “Controlled explosions” we visit Paula when she is in her last year of school. Five years ago, her mother disappeared when Paula was just thirteen.  She was rumoured to be a ‘tout‘ (a word used to describe informers in Northern Ireland). Her father, busy with his high stress job, is of little aid to her when she is relentlessly bullied at school. She feels so alone – somehow apart from the other teenagers with their teenage pursuits. We learn of her first crush, and her aspirations for her future.  She wants to attend university and get as far away as she can, thus escaping her little Irish border town.

Set in 1998, the novella gives readers a glimpse of Paula’s family life at the same time providing a snapshot of the senseless ‘troubles and how the Irish people were impacted by the years of strife.  The “Good Friday Agreement” was just signed, and the Irish were wary of how this will further impact their country and their lives…

I enjoyed the writing and plan to pursue the series.  I must ascertain if Ken Bruen’s comparison to Ruth Rendell stands true after all.  I imagine that folks who have already read the series would like to go back and read of Paula Maguire as a teenage girl.  If, like me, you haven’t yet read the series, you will also enjoy this early glimpse into the life of the series’ protagonist.  

I purchased this novella in Kindle format because I was curious about the Paula Maguire series – and because I wanted it to be one of my “Reading Ireland Month” entries.

You can purchase “Controlled Explosions” at the following retail booksellers (it was FREE today when I created these links)


Born in Northern Ireland in 1981, Claire’s debut standalone novel, The Fall, was published in early 2012. She swiftly followed up with The Lost, the first in a devastating news series featuring forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, and Claire soon gained a strong following. The Dead Ground was career defining and led Ken Bruen to proclaim her as ‘Ireland’s answer to Ruth Rendell’. In 2015 she published her debut e-short, Controlled Explosions, in anticipation of the release of The Silent Dead, the third exciting novel in the Paula Maguire series. Now she follows up with A Savage Hunger.

Claire studied in Oxford then lived overseas in France and China. She was the first Director of the Crime Writers’ Association and is now Senior Lecturer in Crime Thriller Writing at City University London. For more information about Claire look at her website ink-stains.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @inkstainsclaire.

She also writes women’s fiction under the name Eva Woods.

Posted in Mystery fiction, Novellas, Series order | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

“The beautiful dead” by Belinda Bauer

When you read a lot of thrillers like I do, reading that a book features a serial killer is almost to be expected.  However, if you think THIS novel is just another serial killer novel, you would be sadly underestimating it.  It was written by Belinda Bauer – therefore it is brilliant!

Eve Singer is twenty-nine years old and makes her living off of other’s people’s traumas. She is a television journalist working what her colleagues call the ‘meat beat’.  Accidents and murders are standard fare, the bloodier the better.  That’s what the viewers crave. She is ambitious, but at what cost?

As if her working life wasn’t enough to jade her perspective, her home life would do it for sure. She lives with her Dad who is in his mid-fifties and suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. She has a carer to sit with him whilst she is at work, but evenings and weekends are all on her.  It is an arduous, soul-wrenching, and thankless endeavor.  He seldom knows who she is.

Because of her circumstances, Eve is a loner.  She doesn’t want anyone to know just how dismal her life has become. Not even her work partner, her cameraman, knows the true extent of her misery and disheartenment.  Three years his elder, she is quite fond of Joe, but won’t open herself up to him thinking she is too old and jaded for him.

Eve’s next door neighbour is an odd old duck.  Mr. Elias is a widower who keeps his property and environs in a fastidious manner.  He has always seemed disapproving to Eve – who imagines him to be a ‘dirty old man’.  He is not. Lonely and misunderstood, he cleans the neighbourhood red phone box, making it the pride of the street.  He made me think of ‘Norris Cole’ on Coronation Street.  He will prove to be a valuable ally for Eve.

The story, which takes place in the weeks leading up to Christmas, goes back and forth from Eve’s point of view to that of the ‘killer’.  He is a tragic and twisted figure to be sure.  When he was just a child he had a serious surgery. Hearing a grown-up comment that he was living on ‘borrowed time‘, he took the comment literally. Now, in his perverse brain, he believes that by killing other people he will live longer. He anticipates the death of others believing that their time that is cut short will be added on to his time.

When Eve covers one of his crimes he notices her – and follows her home!  Terrified, as only a woman alone on a street at night can be when she hears footsteps behind her, Eve does the unexpected.  She turns around, confronts him, and asks him to walk her home.  The killer is so taken aback that someone actually trusts him, he spares Eve’s life.  Then he feels that they are connected in some way – that she understands his needs.

He makes Eve privy to his plans, the result of which she witnesses a grisly killing in a busy London underground station.

William Stafford Vandenberg lives alone in a mansion flat.  Empty now because he has either sold or burned all of its contents. ‘Psycho‘-like, his mother lies in a bed upstairs.  She has been dead for years…  His crimes escalate.  Each time he kills someone he gives advance warning in the form of a ‘flyer’.  This fact is discovered by Eve, who gives the information to the police.  When Eve’s life is threatened, the police supply her with a bodyguard.  What a joke she thinks! Her ‘bodyguard’ is a five-foot tall, one hundred pound woman!  But, Emily Aguda is a force to be reckoned with – as Eve soon finds out.  The fact that people underestimate Emily Aguda is in fact her greatest strength.

The novel is fast paced throughout, but the final chapters whiz by as the tension ratchets up even more.  When Eve’s father is threatened and abducted by Vandenberg, she tries to take back control of her life – to her peril.

I thoroughly enjoyed “The beautiful dead“.  Bauer’s writing is of high caliber and her pacing and characterization is top notch.  Highly recommended to all who love suspense fiction.  If you think it is something you would enjoy, add it to your Goodreads TBR.

You can purchase “The beautiful dead” at the following retail book outlets:

 

 

 

Thanks to Grove Atlantic via NetGalley, who provided me with a digital copy of this novel in the understanding that I might write a review. Belinda Bauer grew up in England and South Africa and now lives in Wales. She worked as a journalist and a screenwriter before finally writing a book to appease her nagging mother. With her debut, Blacklands, Belinda was awarded the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the Year. She went on to win the CWA Dagger in the Library for her body of work in 2013. Her fourth novel Rubbernecker was voted 2014 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Her books have been translated into 21 languages.

Posted in book reviews, NetGalley title, Page turners, Psychological thrillers, Suspense | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Cover Love: Part 20 – Birdcages

The covers of novels entice the reader to enter a different world. Covers are, after all, the way the publisher ‘hooks’ the reader into choosing one book over countless others.

In this, my twentieth installment of ‘Cover Love‘, I’d like to show you books that feature birdcages on their covers.
Some I’ve already read, some are on my ‘to read’ list,
and some I chose only for their covers.

Some, perhaps, will now be on your TBR!

The covers displaying birdcages cover many genres of fiction: historical fiction, horror, women’s fiction, mystery, romance, etc.

Just click on the cover to read the book’s synopsis from  Goodreads.

You might just find your next favorite book!

Stay tuned for Cover Love Part 21:

“Frames”

or… revisit any of the first nineteen installments of Cover Love – some of which I’ve updated

#1  In Red Walking Away

#2  Windows

#3  Gates

#4  Doors

#5  Lakes

#6  Jars

#7  Piers

#8  Lighthouses

#9  Umbrellas

#10  Looking up at treetops

#11  Autumn leaves

#12 Crows and ravens

#13 Seeing double

#14  Keys

#15  Letters

#16  Walking in snow

#17  Chairs

#18  Hearts

#19  Cupped hands

I hope you enjoy my Cover Love series.  What is your favorite ‘Cover Love‘ series post so far?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Posted in Cover Love series, Dustjackets | Tagged | 10 Comments

“Out of the blue” by Gretta Mulrooney

“Love is the most selfish of all the passions” ~ Alexandre Dumas

Blurb: 
When Liv Callaghan inherits her grandmother’s cottage in Ireland, it offers escape from London and her marriage to her alcoholic husband Douglas. She travels back to the beautiful place where she spent idyllic childhood summer holidays. She learns to enjoy the challenge of living in the rustic cottage, which is without electricity or running water. But looming over her is a family secret that curtailed the summer visits of her youth.

Unexpectedly she meets her first love, Aidan. But he’s married now and lives locally with his family. Twenty years ago he broke her heart, so what happens when they get the chance to rekindle their relationship? Can you ever go back and what are the consequences for those close to you?

Liv Callaghan works as a librarian in London.  She is married to Douglas, a doctor – and a drunk.  Douglas drains all the love out of their marriage by his drinking.  She is fed up of the humiliations, excuses, disappointments, and despair that his drinking has generated.  When she receives word that she has inherited her grandmother’s rustic cottage in south-west Ireland, she views the bequest as serendipity.  A perfect chance to escape Douglas – a time to clear her mind and think.

“There were always the words you spoke, concealing the ones you swallowed, those words that sank down to your chest and lay there sullenly.”

When she arrives, crossing the quaint, hump-backed bridge, the cottage is exactly as she remembers from her childhood.  Glenkeen is rustic and magical.  The rustic is comprised of no electricity or running water.  The magical is the serene surroundings, the bracing fresh air, the silence, and the marvelous waters from the old well.

Liv discovers an Uncle Owen she had all but forgotten.  They get along famously and she is delighted to have a relationship with him.  It is from Owen that she learns some long hidden family secrets.

“She feels lighter, unburdened.
There are time when she finds herself smiling for no reason.”

Just when Liv is settling in nicely, getting her head together by new routines in a simpler life, she meets her first love, Aiden.  Somehow it seems right.  Right time, right place. Though they are both married to other people, their love seems unchanged from their university days.  Who would have thought she would rediscover him again HERE?

“Memory lane is an enticing place but not necessarily pleasant.”

Aiden left his stressful computer-related career in England to move here to Ireland with his wife Maeve and their wee daughter, Carmel.  He uprooted his family to become a market farmer.  He relishes his work tending his garden and then selling his produce at the market stalls in Castlegrey.  He adores Carmel, who is a precocious old soul in a child’s body.

Liv and Aiden know that by rekindling their love, they are heading for trouble.  Now other people are involved.  People who will suffer greatly by their treasured happiness.  When the inevitable happens, and their love is discovered, what will become of them?

I read this novel in two sittings.  I WAS Liv.  I WAS living in that Irish cottage.  It takes skillful writing to so immerse the reader in the written word.  This is not a romance novel. The love is somehow more mature, the ending not necessarily happy…  Would I recommend this novel?  For sure!  I loved it!

I requested this novel from NetGalley on the strength of a previous novel by the same author that I really enjoyed.  “The lady vanished“, a mystery, was a favorite as well.  Guess I’ve found another favorite author!

I was provided with a digital copy of this novel by Joffe Books via NetGalley.  After reading this wonderful novel, I wanted to write a review.

Gretta Mulrooney was born and educated in London, of Irish parents. She studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Ulster, Magee college in Derry. She has worked in education and social care.

She started writing in her thirties and is the author of five literary fiction novels. She has had several short stories commissioned by the BBC and read on Radio Four.

Always an avid reader of crime fiction and psychological thrillers, she has started a series of crime novels featuring charismatic private detective Tyrone Swift. (See my review of the first novel in this great new series)

 

Posted in book reviews, Favorite books, Love stories, NetGalley title, Women's fiction | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“This is your life, Harriet Chance” by Jonathan Evison

Life is made up of long stretches of unmemorable periods, interspersed with memories of such clarity that those memories seem to define us.  It is these memories that feature in Jonathan Evison’s novel, “This is your life, Harriet Chance!“.

Harriet is seventy-eight years of age. She lost her husband recently and is finding widowhood daunting, though somewhat of a relief as she was the sole caregiver of Bernard, who had Alzheimer’s.

The novel is comprised of myriad flashbacks that examine different stages in Harriet’s life. Her childhood (she was very quiet), her adolescence, her young adulthood. Harriet Nathan, as she was then, was the daughter of a prominent attorney and local dignitary.

As a young woman she had a career as a legal assistant – a job that she was very proficient at, and that she enjoyed immensely.  It is while working that she meets her future husband, Bernard Chance in 1957.  Bernard, reliable, steady, and predictable as they come. They go on to have two children, a boy and a girl.  The girl coming along at a time when Harriet has reentered the work force and is filled with ambition.  Poor timing… in more ways than one.  And perhaps her attitude toward Caroline is to blame for her daughter’s less than stellar life choices, her unhappiness and her disillusionment with her life.

The story tells of Harriet’s lifelong friend, Mildred. A friend who was always there for her when she needed to vent her most private thoughts and frustrations.  Another way Harriet ‘vents’ is through the bottom of a wine glass. 

Harriet’s life is put under a microscope and is at times found wanting.  She reflects on all the slights, regrets, and miscommunications of her past. The unrealized dreams and expectations.  The ‘what-ifs‘.

“At some point, you just get tired of hanging on.
All those memories.
All that junk.”

But life hasn’t been all bad.  Harriet loves her house, a cedar ‘one-of-a-kind’ with views of the North Olympics.

window view of the Olympic Mountains and Hurricane Ridge (as I imagined the view from Harriet’s house would look)

It is with no little trepidation that Harriet finds that her late husband has won a trip for two for an Alaskan cruise.  She asks her friend Mildred to accompany her, as the thought of travelling alone is daunting.  Mildred – who lives in a nursing home – agrees, only to back out at the last minute. Against her over-protective son’s wishes, Harriet sets out on the trip alone.

the scene of Harriet trying to navigate her meal of crab legs was one I thoroughly enjoyed!

Her trip gave me opportunity to laugh with Harriet (never laughing at her), commiserate with her failing physical stamina, and reel from unexpected shocks she sustains while aboard. She is a ‘tough old bird’. But is she tough enough?

Juneau, Alaska (port showing several cruise ships)

Though I’m not as old as Harriet Chance, many passages in the book resonated with me. A bittersweet novel with writing that was honest and true. I enjoyed Harriet’s company.  I’m sorry she is no longer in my life.  Highly recommended!

I was pleased to see that “This is your life, Harriet Chance” is soon to made into a movie! (Focus Features) I was picturing who would play the parts in such a movie the entire time I was reading it.

 

 

 

I was provided a free digital copy of the novel by Algonquin Books via NetGalley. I was only to happy to write this review.

This would be a great choice for a book club.  The author has generously provided some questions for discussion in this Reader’s Guide.


Jonathan Evison is an American writer best known for his novels All About Lulu, West of Here, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving and This is Your Life Harriet Chance!  His work is often distinguished by its emotional resonance and offbeat humor.

Read an interview with Jonathan Evison.

 

Posted in book reviews, Fiction, Literary fiction, NetGalley title, Women's fiction | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

“Wilde Lake” by Laura Lippman

An African-American man accused of rape by a humiliated girl.  A vengeful father.  A courageous attorney.  A worshipful daughter.  Think you know this story?  Think again. 

Wilde Lake  is a stand-alone novel by the author of the Tess Monaghan mystery series. The setting, Wilde Lake, is a man-made town that surrounds a manufactured lake in Columbia, Maryland, midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

map featuring Columbia, Maryland

The book is told from the point of view of Luisa Brant, a forty-five year-old state’s attorney. She is widowed and the mother of nine-year old twins.  She and her children live with her father in the house she grew up in.  Her father, himself a former state’s attorney, was also a single parent.  Her mother died just a week after giving birth to Luisa.  Her brother, AJ was eight years old.  She of course has no memory of her mother. AJ says she looked like Norma Talmadge.

“AJ had a mother for eight years. I had one for eight days.”

Each chapter takes place in a different time period.  One in the present, one in the past, and so on. We learn of Luisa’s life as a child in a household where there was little female influence.  We learn that she was always fiercely competitive and remarkably intelligent.  She adored her big brother AJ and his friends.  She seemingly had no friends of her own…

“I learned to ride a bike well and fearlessly that summer I was six years old because I was trying to keep up with two fourteen-year-olds.”

The night of her brother, AJ’s high school graduation was memorable in that one of his best-friends, Davy, was stabbed and rendered a paraplegic.  The teens were partying on Wilde Lake after the graduation ceremony.  bonfireDavy was African American. One of the girls from school accused him of raping her. Her brothers sought revenge.

Luisa’s first case as State’s Attorney involves a brutal murder.  A woman was attacked in her apartment.  The accused is a homeless man.  Luisa feels certain that she will win the case as the evidence against the accused is compelling.

Her personal life she keeps strictly compartmentalized, with her busy career kept completely separate from her home life with her father and children.  She has affairs, but they are only to satisfy her physical needs.  Her husband was the love of her life and since his death of a heart attack, she feels no need to replace him.

This novel is steady paced, not a page-turner by any means.  It slowly flips back and forth from past to present and back again until the reader slowly begins to form an accurate picture of just HOW Luisa’s past – and the case she is working on now –  overlap.

It is this ‘overlap’ that  impacts everything she once believed to be true.  The 20-20 vision of the present, when shone on past events and memories, bring about a clarity that is both disturbing and significant.  This is a novel which questions the accuracy of memory.  Are childhood memories to be trusted?  Without them, what do we have?

“Our minds shape our memories to be something we can bear.”

blind-justice

Slowly, chapter by chapter, the story unfolds. The revelations divulged in the final chapters of the book highlight the writing skill of the author.  Anyone who enjoys articulate, character-rich novels that are a cross between legal thriller and mystery will love “Wilde Lake“.  Family secrets and deceptions abound.  The sins of the past can cast a long shadow indeed.  Recommended!f-4-star

Though the hardcover edition of “Wilde Lake” was available in May of 2016 from William Morrow, the paperback edition has recently been released and is available now.

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I am taking part in the TLC Book Tour for this title.

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Tuesday, February 21st: The many thoughts of a reader

Wednesday, February 22nd: 5 Minutes For Books

Thursday, February 23rd: Joyfully Retired

Monday, February 27th: Readaholic Zone

Tuesday, February 28th: Books and Bindings

Wednesday, March 1st: Booked on a Feeling

Thursday, March 2nd: Mockingbird Hill Cottage

Friday, March 3rd: Stephany Writes

Monday, March 6th: Fictionophile

Tuesday, March 7th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, March 8th: Book by Book

Wednesday, March 8th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Thursday, March 9th: Helen’s Book Blog

Friday, March 10th: Chaos is a Friend of Mine

I am grateful to William Morrow via Edelweiss for providing me with a copy of this novel.

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lauraLaura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working full-time and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001.

Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards.

Since Laura Lippman’s debut, she has won multiple awards and critical acclaim for provocative, timely crime novels set in her beloved hometown of Baltimore. Laura has been nominated for more than 50 awards for crime fiction and won almost 20, including the Edgar. Her books have been translated into over twenty languages. Now a perennial New York Times bestselling author, she lives in Baltimore and New Orleans with her family.

Posted in book reviews, Edelweiss title, Legal thrillers, Suspense, TLC Book Tours title | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Book bloggers, blog rolls, etc.

On sunny days I like to do my housekeeping.  The real kind – shaking mats, washing windows, hanging out clothes, etc.  On foggy, overcast days like today I thought I’d do a little BLOG housekeeping.

Since I recently added this graphic to Fictionophilebsb

I thought I should go through my ‘blogroll‘ and see if any links needed updating.  What an eye-opener that was!  I’ve been blogging for a few years now and to my surprise some of my links to other book bloggers had not been updated since I first put them up!  Some excellent book blogs are now defunct!  Some blogs were left mid-stride, with no explanation as to why their last post was in late 2015.  Some links were just GONE.  The blogs had vanished…. poof

That led me to wonder…. When a blogger tires of blogging, do they just leave their blog stranded in the WWW limbo?  What is the protocol? Is there a protocol?  Should the blogger remove the blog if they’ve not updated it for over a year?blogroll

I’ve added some book blogs and deleted some.  I hope I have included most of the wonderful bloggers who have been so supportive of this blog, if I’ve forgotten yours, just send me a reminder.  We bloggers must stick together!

In a perfect world, support is reciprocal.  I’d love to be included on YOUR blogroll.

If you don’t have a blogroll, you should create one – but remember, they have to be maintained (as I learned the hard way).

mutual support

mutual support

Apologies to all the great bloggers that I follow who are not included in my blogroll.  I have made the decision to only include ‘book‘ blogs at present.  I have created another blogroll for ‘non-book’ blogs called “Other blogs I support”.

Posted in Book bloggers, Fictionophile report | Tagged , | 52 Comments