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 Move over Miss Marple!

 

[Image credit: (c) T. Hixson 2017]

In my last blog post here, my dog promised that I’d catch up on overdue book reviews en masse. I tried ignoring her, but she went into Underfoot Moping Mode and we both got tired of the sighing (and the tripping).

So…channeling my favorite crime/detective/thriller writers’ tropes, here are the first three reviews of some wonderful new additions to their genres. Please come back tomorrow for more reviews.


Review: 5 out of 5 stars for  Parallel Lies by Georgia Rose

Keep the lies you’re going to be telling parallel to the truth of the life you previously led.

Madeleine “Maddy” Ross has followed two of the three basic rules for assuming a new identity. First, she’s safe from the emotional pull of her old life because it holds nobody and nothing she wants to keep. Second, she’s built a backstory that holds enough truth to keep her from slipping up. But then there’s that third rule… the one about patterns. That rule says you should try to find a similar niche to inhabit, but change the details. Instead, Maddy moved to a completely different place, a small village where she can hide in plain sight. And most dangerous of all, she kept up her habit of going to a gym. When her old, deadly life reached out, breaking that third rule was the clue that gave her away.

‘My name is Madeleine, Madeleine Ross. It is a name chosen with thought and because it is classy, and that is what is needed here…’ Madeleine Ross has life exactly as she planned it. Cosy cottage, friendly village, satisfying job. Company… when she wants it. It’s an enviable existence for an independent young woman, and one she’s keen to protect. Enter Daniel – strong, dependable and a danger to everything she’s built. He’s not something she was looking for, but hearts can’t be controlled and maybe, just maybe he might be worth letting into hers. But, all is not what it seems. Because Madeleine is hiding a lifetime of secrets. Deep secrets. And they never stay buried for ever. Her darkest secret returns, like the proverbial bad penny. He is her first love, shadowy, dangerous, the baddest of bad boys. No matter how far she runs, or how well she hides, she can never escape him. Or her past. Here he is, on her doorstep, with a proposition she is powerless to resist but which could devastate the future she hoped to have.  Can Madeleine satisfy the old love while keeping the new?  You can’t always get what you want but, desperate to preserve the life she has worked so hard for, Madeleine is willing to risk everything to prove that she can.

Maddy’s story unfolds in author Georgia Rose’s trademark style—with deliciously rich character development, comprehensive world-building, and well-rounded supporting characters. Told primarily from Maddy’s point of view, we soon realize that she sees herself as completely opposite to “…the lovely girl and good person I’m expected to be…” That girl goes on bus trips with the WI (Womens Institute), has a boring job in the insurance industry, lives in a small cottage, and safeguards every aspect of the image she projects. But there’s another Maddy, one who substitutes meaningless sexual encounters for human contact, who applies the lessons of a lifetime of emotional and physical trauma to a unique and dangerous role, and one who fundamentally believes that she’s not worthy of love. “Because I know that’s what girls like me are for. To take up the slack, to fill in the gaps of what, men tell me, would otherwise be the totally fulfilling relationships they have elsewhere.”

When Maddy meets her new boss Daniel, she finds herself questioning all she’s built. But even as she takes the first tentative steps toward change, and considers letting him inside the perfect facade she’s constructed to hide the horrors of her past, that past is about to find her.

The contrast between Maddy’s old and new worlds couldn’t be more dramatic. Her childhood was a place where small children were victims, where those who should have offered protection and love could barely manage coexistence, and where it’s easy to mistake a predator’s grasp for care or even affection. While Maddy cautiously navigates the politics and gossip of her new existence in a small village, she slowly builds village relationships and even begins to respond to the determined advances of the stray kitten known unceremoniously as Cat.

The voice of Georgia Rose’s writing is a curious blend that I’ve seen very few other writers pull off. On one hand, the spirit of classic writers such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers is channeled in the almost timeless microcosm of an English country village, so that the mention of modern technology and settings almost comes as a shock. But then the action, initially slow-building, explodes in shocking emotional and physical violence.

Then there are those parallels. In addition to Maddy’s story, there are two shadow stories unfolding through the book. One is a fictional novel that her writer friend Chris tells her about in small snatches of pub chat. In his tale, a young woman’s mysterious past is affecting her ability to live in the present. Despite the resemblance to her own story, Maddy wonders if she would find the finished work “a little boring.” When she asks him about the ending, Chris tells her, “Everything will work out exactly the way it’s meant to.” Maddy is not impressed.

Unlike Chris’ tale that runs parallel to Maddy’s new life, there is the story of Kourtney, a teenager in whom Maddy sees her own younger self. But she views Kourtney as someone who still has a chance at her own life, a “resourceful and hard working” girl who is willing and able to accept the help and advice that will lead to a better life. Maddy doesn’t hesitate to offer practical assistance to the younger girl, even though it was something she herself never received.

And then there’s Sidney, the newsagent where Maddy buys her papers. Obviously, she could have gone anywhere for them, but she goes almost daily to Sidney’s grubby failing little shop which could have come straight from her old life. Although Sidney barely acknowledges her existence, Maddy returns over and over, greeting him, attempting conversation, and silently demanding that he see her.

There were so many things I enjoyed and admired in this book, from the layered parallel stories, to the well-rounded characters, the complex unfolding of Maddy’s story, and even the cameo appearance of a favorite character from her earlier Grayson Trilogy. Unfortunately, I thought Daniel came across as emotionally weak beside the battle-hardened Madeleine (although, to be fair, she was a tough act to follow). But I admired the way Maddy’s character continues to develop as she faces her life head on, making hard choices, and succeeding against all odds.

I do have to admit, though, that when I got to that dramatic ending I screamed “NOOOO!” at my Kindle. One of the things Georgia Rose spoiled readers with in her earlier thrillers was a long and thorough wrap up of all possible loose ends. But with the richly developed secondary characters and somewhat enigmatic ending, I found myself hoping for more. (And okay, I may have written to Georgia demanding more. Something. Anything. Don’t judge me…) For those who admire character-driven thrillers, who can handle brief but shocking violence, and who enjoy beautiful writing, I can’t recommend Parallel Lies enough.

  • Book Title: Parallel Lies
  • Author: Georgia Rose
  • Genre: Romantic Thriller
  • Length: 329 pages
  • Publisher:  Three Shires Publishing (September 12, 2017)
  • Purchase Links: Amazon

 

Review: 4 out of 5 stars for Suc

In September 1940 the German blitz began pounding England in preparation for invasion, and it looked for all the world as if mighty Britain would be the next European state to fall to Nazi Germany. Graduate student Grace Arundel, who recently ended a long engagement, finds herself suddenly alone in the middle of the war and her world is in complete turmoil. The crisis throws her together with historian John Perceval and a new relationship blossoms, and it is at that time that the incredible begins. Arthur, the once and future king, appears to Grace and tells her she is “important” to the unfolding conflict.
Shaped around actual WWII events, including the SS search for the Holy Grail, the story becomes a desperate race for the lost Grail, the mysterious but powerful key that will turn the war in favor of its possessor. Grace is caught up in the chase along with Arthur, John and the druid Merlin, and before it’s over she discovers the staggering secrets passed down from her ancestors that eventually make her the object of the race. The Korr Stigmata is an adventure, and it also has mystical elements. But at the core it is the story about Grace at the most pivotal point in her life, and what she has to do and learn and overcome in order to find out who she truly is.

 

Graduate student Grace Arundel’s family have lived in Stokehill in England for centuries but she’s the last of her line. The year is 1940, and England is bracing against the threat of invasion by the Germans, and reeling from their losses as the bombs fall. After Grace’s heartfelt prayer for help, she sees an oddly dressed man arrive in a small boat. When he retrieves a sword from an arm reaching out of a lake, she realizes that he is actually the legendary King Arthur, returned to help England in her darkest hour. Together with John, another student, they meet Merlin and the group races against time to find Korr Stigmata—symbols made up of five dots—that lead to the Holy Grail.

I’m sure I’m not alone in the iconic images that come to mind with the mention of King Arthur and Merlin. The legend that they will return at England’s darkest hour has seen many forms and interpretations. I enjoy a good alternate-history, but for me, The Korr Stigmata didn’t do justice to its subject. The setting and storyline seemed to be Indiana Jones meets Bedknobs & Broomsticks, their tagline “The Nazis awaken the Once and Future King.” Although both Arthur and Merlin are medieval figures, neither is particularly disoriented by the presence of cars and planes, let alone the rest of the modern world. Nor is there any point where people stop and say, “Hold on. What’s all this mixture of religious and magical legends got to do with the German invasion of England?” 

The rest of the adventure involves car chases, Nazi spies plotting to acquire the Grail, and a host of unlikely events. In addition to the plot issues, the characters were flat, with little development or change, while the romance between Grace and John is even less likely. “I know we’ve technically been on only one date, but…” Grace watched him stammer, “b-but I think I love you.” Sentences were short and choppy, with a number of unusual word choices. (“Palely” was constantly and painfully used, as characters look at each other “palely”.)

At its most basic level, The Korr Stigmata is a light adventure yarn perhaps best aimed at a young adult audience.

  • Book Title: The Korr Stigmata
  • Author: Tim Dugan
  • Genre: Alternative history thriller
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher:  Amazon (September 22, 2016)
  • Purchase Links: Amazon

 

Review: 4 out of 5 stars for Susurrus by B. Morris Allen

Susurrus:

  • a whispering, murmuring or rustling sound. —Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright © 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
  • A darkly fantastic story of magic, love, and suffering. —Susurrus by B. Morris Allen

Last week I visited several of the ancient stone circles that dot the Highlands of Scotland. One thing many had in common were special stones representing the pivotal roles of maiden/mother/crone. Ancient people knew—as we sometimes forget—that these roles were the glue that identified and ultimately protected their little communities against a frequently baffling and dangerous world. When we visited the stone circle called Easter Aquhorthies near Inverurie, we saw that one stone had elements of all three aspects: it was triangular (maiden), reddish (mother) and weathered (crone). I couldn’t help thinking of Susurrus, in which narrator Iskra comes to embody all three elements.

No evil sorceress is born evil.
Iskra wants magic and a home, but her magic keeps killing the people she loves. Just when happiness is finally within her grasp, another wizard intervenes. Now, she needs to choose: rebuild her life again, or channel her destructive power into bloody revenge.

 

In his new novel Susurrus, author B. Morris Allen shows us the path taken by one woman as she moves through these roles in search of the most elusive magic of all—love and peace. When we meet her, Iskra is a tiny child barely scraping out a living with her sick father. When he dies, she sets out on a journey that is to take many lifetimes and change a world. At first, she travels with Neris, an itinerant peddler who becomes her second father. He asks what she wants. Although she can’t pronounce the word sorceress, she knows her goal.

“I want to learn magic,” she answered. For he was part magician, and Father had told her stories of magic and its uses. “I want to be a soserrus.”

“A susurrus?” he asked, deliberately misunderstanding. “Not a creak? Not a thunder? Not a babble?”

But Neris tells her he doesn’t do magic, although he teaches her some sleight-of-hand tricks. Eventually, he brings her to his lover Frando, whose powerful wife Kiya has amassed the local birth magic. Kiya plans to use Iskra to produce babies, and eventually, harvest magic from their birth. Settling reluctantly into the relative safety of Kiya’s palace, Iskra realizes Neris has done his best for her. “That home was what you made it, and you made it from love. And in teaching her that lesson, he had taught her to do magic after all.”

But when she hears that Neris is near death, a pregnant Iskra forces Nando to buy her freedom and she races to try to save him. She harvests the magic as she gives birth, but it results in tragedy. As she moves through her life, Iskra accumulates different forms of magic in her search for purpose and love. She encompases the maiden looking for lover, the mother renewing life through birth magic, the eternally-young crone. But the magic inevitably turns on her, even as it builds her power. Each place Iskra goes has a different magical lesson to teach her, but each is a reminder that she doesn’t yet know what she really needs.

I love a character-driven tale, and Iskra’s life is just that. The world-building is breathtaking, the writing is sparely elegant, and the pace has the deliberate march of an epic. But this is a dark epic, a story of lost love and opportunity for happiness, a Gulliver forever looking for a way home. Iskra’s life journey moves onto an epic stage, but at the end she isn’t the Goddess or even the Empress. She’s the embodiment of the maiden, the mother, the crone. She’s a woman. And her story is magic.

  • Book Title: Susurrus
  • Author: B. Morris Allen
  • Genre: Dark fantasy
  • Length: 316 pages
  • Publisher:  Metaphorosis Books (June 1, 2017)
  • Purchase Links: Amazon

 

**I received the above books from their publishers and/or authors to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the books or the content of my reviews.**

 

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