The Bellingham Bloodbath by Gregory Harris

The Bellingham Bloodbath (Colin Pendragon Mysteries, #2)The Bellingham Bloodbath by Gregory Harris

After a captain in Her Majesty’s Guard and his young wife are brutally murdered in their flat, master sleuth Colin Pendragon and his partner Ethan Pruitt are summoned to Buckingham Palace. Major Hampstead demands discretion at all costs to preserve the repuration of the Guard and insists Pendragon participate in the cover-up by misleading the press. In response, Pendragon makes the bold claim that he will solve the case in no more than three days’ time or he will oblige the major and compromise himself.

Racing against the clock – and thwarted at every turn by their Scotland Yard nemesis Inspector Emmett Varcoe – Pendragon and Pruitt begin to assemble the clues around the grisly homicide, probing into private lives and uncovering closely guarded secrets. As the minutes tick away, the pressure – and the danger – mounts as Pendragon’s integrity is on the line and a cold-blooded killer remains on the streets…

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gregory Harris quickly became one of my favourite authors when I read the first book in this series. This book reinforced why I love his work, although I did find the lack of his dealings with the apparition of Sherlock in this book mildly disappointing. I thought the connections he made to the famous sleuth in the first one gave it a special quality that this one did not possess. Also, I missed Oscar.

Still, that being said, this was another witty, engaging romp through a dual mystery that kept me smiling and curious as I read. I love that he used pugs as the central stars of one mystery–my favourite dog breed.

The murder mystery (and the crime itself) was more detailed this time than the first go and I felt like the author was more comfortable in his skin. The homosexual angle of the book is still mild, although more prominent in this book and I think his two main characters work really well together and have the type of dynamic you want in a long term partnership–both professional and personal.

The thing that makes me love these books so much is the wit and charm of the characters. Ethan is full of wry observations and often makes me laugh out loud. Colin, seen mostly through Ethan’s eyes, is daring and crass, and often seems to pull clues out of thin air and make them work, and together they are an unstoppable force.

The mysteries are always intriguing and have lots of possible culprits at the heart of them, so it take a while to draw a conclusion. Overall, I just really like these books.

If you like mysteries that follow the Victorian England rules of proper gentleman and high society mischief, you can’t go wrong with these novels.

Recommended.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

A Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of the Allen House by Mark Spencer

A Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of the Allen HouseA Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of the Allen House by Mark Spencer

When Mark Spencer and his family moved into the beautiful old Allen House in Monticello, Arkansas, they were aware of its notorious reputation for being haunted. According to local lore, the troubled spirit of society belle Ladell Allen, who had mysteriously committed suicide in the master bedroom in 1948, still roamed the grand historic mansion. Yet, Mark remained skeptical–until he and his family began encountering faceless phantoms, a doppelganger spirit, and other paranormal phenomena. Ensuing ghost investigations offered convincing evidence that six spirits, including Ladell, inhabited their home. But the most shocking event occurred the day Mark followed a strange urge to explore the attic and found, crammed under a floorboard, secret love letters that touchingly depict Ladell Allen’s forbidden, heart-searing romance–and shed light on her tragic end. This haunting true ghost story includes several photographs of the Allen House.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Me thinketh thou doth protest too much–about people wanting to see your house and find out if it is really haunted. What an intrusion. Wait we could do ghost tours! Opinion stated. Okay, I’m done. Now on to the review.

Mark Spencer has written an interesting book with a lot of answers to questions the locals of Monticello, Arkansas have harboured for years. There is no doubt that many of the facts he relayed have quieted curious minds in the area.

I didn’t think this was a bad book at all. I appreciated that the author did not embellish everything to the tenth power and make the “hauntings” so unbelievable that the book seemed silly. I felt he was pretty down to earth about their various experiences there and really got the impression that he cared about the lives of the former owners as well.

The book is written in an easy going and conversational style that made it a quick and rather enjoyable read. His filling in of the gaps in between the letters between Ladell and her love interest were handled with charm.

What I did find, whilst reading this book, was that the author seemed to lose himself in his own feelings for the house and the past tenants occasionally, perhaps forgetting that we are not all in the same situation. Often times, the letters and his impressions of them came up a bit dry. I also thought it was interesting that he added his own speculation to the reason for the suicide of Ladell. The letters did not exactly confirm her reasoning and I found it a bit of a jump for the author to do so.

I felt closer to this tale than some others, as much of the letters have to do with being separated from someone you love, a feeling I know well.

Overall I thought this was good writing and an interesting inside look at one of “the most haunted houses” in America. If you enjoy ghost stories and are looking for something that will offer a glimpse of history at the same time, this would be a good one to pick up.

View all my reviews

The Summoning: Mary, book 1 by Hillary Monahan

MARY: The Summoning (Bloody Mary, #1)MARY: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan

There is a right way and a wrong way to summon her.

Jess had done the research. Success requires precision: a dark room, a mirror, a candle, salt, and four teenage girls. Each of them–Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna–must link hands, follow the rules . . . and never let go.

A thrilling fear spins around the room the first time Jess calls her name: “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. BLOODY MARY.” A ripple of terror follows when a shadowy silhouette emerges through the fog, a specter trapped behind the mirror.

Once is not enough, though–at least not for Jess. Mary is called again. And again. But when their summoning circle is broken, Bloody Mary slips through the glass with a taste for revenge on her lips. As the girls struggle to escape Mary’s wrath, loyalties are questioned, friendships are torn apart, and lives are forever altered.

A haunting trail of clues leads Shauna on a desperate search to uncover the legacy of Mary Worth. What she finds will change everything, but will it be enough to stop Mary–and Jess–before it’s too late?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book initially creeped me out a lot. If you have ever played this game as a child then you will instantly be reminded of the terror of the unknown and that feeling of suspense waiting for the image to appear in the mirror.

What I loved about this book was that the author didn’t wait forever for the excitement to begin. She did a good job of building an interesting story with believable characters and yet kept the suspense level high. There were some spots in this book that made me question my everyday activities. I don’t recommend reading this book late at night and then going to take a solo shower. Yikes.

If you love books where the drama and tension never cease and you have that fearful feeling (the one all good horror books and films give you) then this is a book you will probably enjoy.

I liked the main character and a couple of the secondary characters quite a lot, but I wish that the story of Mary herself would have been focused upon more, especially during the end. She is mean, vengeful and filled with hatred, but the reasons why are not 100 percent clear. Yes, she was mistreated, but there seems to be a missing element between that and her nature as a ghost.

This was a fun book with a lot of shivers and unexpected events. I think anyone who likes horror would have fun with this, regardless of whether they are young adult or older.

Definitely worth a recommendation and a read.

*Note to self. Buy salt.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley.

Mirror Interview: Graeme Cumming

Graeme Cumming is the author of Ravens Gathering, a dark fantasy thriller that twists and… Well, you get the idea.

Graeme CummingRavens Gathering is listed on Amazon as Dark Fantasy. Is that how you’d describe it?

If it has to be pigeon-holed, then yes, but that’s how booksellers and publishers categorise things. In a sense, it actually crosses several genres, which was the best way to tell the story.

What gave you the idea?

I was driving and spotted a group of birds at the side of the road. More flew down to join them and I commented on the ravens gathering. As soon as I said it I thought, “That’d be a great title for a book.” So the title came first and it lent itself to the creepy stuff followed naturally.

Do you normally come up with titles first?

No, though it’s not unheard of. I remember challenging school friends to give me any title and I’d create a story line. Someone said “Solid Gold”, and within 24 hours I had a plot involving the simultaneous hijacking of two gold bullion shipments and the shady dealings of a US President. (The arrogance of youth…) Thirty-five years later, it’s still waiting to be written, but now the bit’s between my teeth I’m confident it will – though the title needs changing!

Thirty-five years? Why did it take so long to write your first novel?

I’ve written stories since I was a child. One of my English teachers was once heard to say that she’d eat her hat if I wasn’t a published writer by the time I was 25. She’s had time to work her way through the stock of a large milliners since then, so I hope she likes a high fibre diet. The bottom line, though, is that I’ve not been sufficiently driven. It’s what I always wanted to do, but there were always other more pressing things that distracted me. In the early days it was rock concerts, girls and alcohol, but later it became about having to support my family.

So what changed?

I realised time was running out. In my mind I’d developed a fixed idea that I had to write “properly”, which meant doing it consistently every day, which I found difficult with young children, work and an inclination for idleness. So for long stretches of time I didn’t bother because, if I couldn’t do it properly, there was no point in doing it at all. But, as I hit my early forties, I realised I was depriving myself of the pleasure of writing – creating characters, places and situations I found entertaining. So I decided to just write when I could – and, after around six years, I finished the first draft of a novel.

Ravens Gathering?

Good God, no! After five years and long gaps between writing, I had the makings of a novel, but it needed a lot doing to it. And having lived with that one for so long, I needed a change.

So…?

So, yes, then I wrote Ravens Gathering. But I’d learnt a lot from the first novel, and I’d steadily become more focused. The first draft took about eight months. A year later it was ready to publish.

And you self-published.

In part it was about wanting to retain control, but it was also to speed the process up. I was fast approaching 50, so I had an increased sense of time passing. I know I probably should have more patience, but didn’t want to waste any more time than I already had.

So presumably you’ve been writing constantly since and must have another book due out?

Ah… Okay, I walked into that one, didn’t I? No, there’s no second book imminent. I went back to the first one – Carrion – and spent a long time editing that, but still wasn’t happy with it. In the mean time, my business began to take over my life and I haven’t written much at all in the last year. But that’s been a wake-up call, and I’ve spent a lot of the last 6 months re-structuring the business to give myself more time. In the next month or so the writing can begin again.

Completion of Carrion?

I’m hesitating over that at the moment, but probably. It’s about time it was given a wider audience than the limited number who’ve read a version of it so far. On the other hand, there are a number of others I’m just desperate to get out of my head and on to paper (or a screen).

It sounds like you could be busy, then. Will it be more Dark Fantasy?

Some of it will, but I just want to entertain. So, whatever I write, you can expect suspense, action, a little humour in places and a few twists along the way. It’s been gratifying that readers have said: “I didn’t see that coming” about aspects of Ravens Gathering.

You’re just trying to tempt us in now, aren’t you?

Of course I am. It’s not often I get the chance to make people aware of the book, so I need to take every opportunity to get them to read it – or at least try the sample on Amazon.

Do you want to provide the link, then?

Thought you’d never ask…

Ravens Gathering Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For my home market, it’s:

www.amazon.co.uk/Ravens-Gathering-Graeme-Cumming-ebook/dp/B00AGIDQA2/

Otherwise, the best starting point is:

www.amazon.com/Ravens-Gathering-Graeme-Cumming-ebook/dp/B00AGIDQA2/

You can also find my website at: www.graemecumming.net. Keep an eye on it. There will be changes soon.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Like most things, books are mainly sold on personal recommendations. So if you enjoy any book you read, take a few minutes to write a review on Amazon – and then tell all your friends.

Thanks for reading.

 

Thank you Graeme! This interview had such a great flow and was so much fun! If you’d like to do an interview of your own for the Wednesday Mirror Interview feature, feel free to email me from the contact page. :) Keep writing–it’s the thing to do.

Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

Of Monsters and MadnessOf Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

A romantic, historical retelling of classic Gothic horror featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee, from a New York Times best-selling author.

Summoned to her father’s home in 1820’s Philadelphia, a girl finds herself in the midst of a rash of gruesome murders in which he might be implicated. She is torn romantically between her father’s assistants-one kind and proper, one mysterious and brooding-who share a dark secret and may have more to do with the violent events than they’re letting on.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

Right away, if you love Edgar Allan Poe, you may find yourself doing a bit of a head-scratcher at this novel. The basis of this book is interesting. There is a bit of Jekyll and Hyde, a feeling of Frankenstein in the sections that deal with reanimation, and a love story of sorts in between. The unusual main character which has a very mixed cultural background brought a lot to this story, in my opinion, making in unique in yet another way.

Impressive descriptions of the city and the especially the shops led the way to interesting connections with the family at the centre of this novel. I particularly liked the good vs. evil feeling of a character more or less struggling to gain control over their own demons.

I did feel that this book had steep drop offs where the every day actions of the characters took over the story for pages at a time. The novel redeemed itself whenever something exciting would happen, but there are some rather long stretches where nothing much is going on.

The author does a good job of painting a background for her characters that is both believable and enticing. She raises questions about them throughout this novel, never answering them all at the end. There is definitely room for another book, if one has not been written already.

Some liberties were certainly taken with the rearranging of facts and dates to accommodate the needs of the writer, but I think for the most part it worked pretty well.

Overall, I thought this was an intriguing story and a book that fans of Gothic literature will be happy to check out for themselves.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from Netgalley and the publisher.

Guest post and review: Maggie Anton’s Enchantress, A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter

Today, I am so pleased to welcome Maggie Anton to Readful Things for a guest post. The topic is an interesting one for authors and audiences alike. The border between fiction and non-fiction–how real is too real? The check below the guest post for a review of Enchantress. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the guest post topic, so feel free to drop a line with your opinion.

How real is too real?

Because the heroines in my Rashi’s Daughters trilogy [11th-century France] and Rav Hisda’s Daughter duo [4th-century Babylonia] are historical figures, I tried to write so they behave like real women in their times. This entailed months of research to ensure that I described them and their world as accurately as possible. And because I am a stickler about not closing the doors on my characters, it meant that they use the privy, menstruate, suffer in childbirth, and see children die young.

 

I admit that I seem to be a rarity among historical novelists in this regard, as only rarely does one even mention when a girl starts her period. Yet this is a significant point in any woman’s life, and if she is a Jewish woman, it will be a central part of her marital relationship for years to come. I’ve also read plenty of historical romances that take place centuries before modern medicine, when average life expectancy was less than forty years and 40% of children didn’t reach their tenth birthday, yet none of the characters, even minor ones, catch so much as a cold, let alone suffer a serious illness or injury.

 

Still I drew the line at too much reality. Rashi, the great Jewish scholar from whose commentaries I learned a great deal, describes six kinds of fleas and lice, but I decided to leave that out. Apparently nearly everyone lost teeth as they aged, so a large portion of adults had none or only a few. I left that out too.

 

On a positive note, real married women have sex, mostly with their husbands. Since I only write kosher sex scenes, my heroines only sleep with their husbands, and that is after they get married. To keep things real, not all my heroes are good in bed, at least not at the beginning, and sometimes my heroines are sexually frustrated. As may be surmised, I don’t like to close the door on my characters, and that included the bedroom door. In other words, I left little to the reader’s imagination.

 

I make an effort to describe my characters’ meals, clothes, and dwellings in detail. This not only makes my historical novels come to life, but readers are usually more fascinated than bored by this glimpse into the past.

 

But sometimes the author shouldn’t make things too real. If characters in a novel spoke like people really do, with all the “uh’s,” pauses, and “you know’s,” readers would close the book in a minute, if not sooner. Real everyday speech often includes blather about neighbors, relatives, and coworkers. But dialogue in a novel must set the scene, elucidate character, or advance the plot – and if it does more than one of these at a time, even better. Which means no inconsequential conversations like real people have.

 

Another difference between a fiction and reality is that in real life we meet all sorts of people who pass though our lives without making an impact. Indeed these are the majority of individuals we interact with each day. But every character in a book, even minor nameless ones, should serve a purpose. In early drafts of my first novel I created a horde of secondary characters for my hero and heroine to encounter in the course of their daily activities. My editor made me either delete them or at least leave them nameless, for otherwise my readers would expect them to turn up again or have some important role, and be sorely annoyed when they didn’t.

 

Thomas Hobbes penned a well-known saying, “Life is poor, nasty, brutish and short.” True as that may be, if historical novelists focused on characters whose lives fit that description, we would have few readers. Readers want a happy, or at least satisfying ending. When characters die, other than of old age or in their lover’s arms, it should be a redeeming sacrifice or to show the antagonist’s malevolence. In the third volume of Rashi’s Daughters, I created a scene detailing the massacre of Rhineland Jews during the First Crusade. I used a description from a primary source, an “eye witness” account, but the carnage was too strong for my editors, who had me tone it down. Reality was indeed too real to put in my novel.

 

The well-written historical novel includes just enough reality to take readers on a mental vacation to a time and place they could never experience otherwise, all from the comfort of their climate-controlled homes equipped with indoor plumbing and well-stocked medicine chests.

 

Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda's Daughter

Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter by Maggie Anton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Initially I was afraid that taking this book under my review wing would be a little scary. The amount of knowledge I had prior to reading this novel when it came to Jewish history could have been held in a shot glass. Even so, through Maggie Anton’s magical abilities as a storyteller, I found myself immediately immersed in a world of long ago with characters so rich and vibrant that they dance off the pages.

The way this author interweaves her story with historical threads and uses such beautiful imagery and wonderful word choices kept me up late at night turning pages. She not only has a gift for making you see the world of her characters through words, but also has a real talent for making her characters vulnerable and human at the core level. Reading her writing is a journey, and one that you will want to repeat again.

I loved that the story took unexpected turns and that there was no way to know what was coming next. What I thought at first, would be a rather difficult book to read, instead turned out to be exciting, compelling and a fine example of literary genius.

My only stumbling block along the way was the difficulty of keeping certain characters straight. There is a guide in the beginning to help with that, so the troubles were really more my fault than that of the author (difficult to keep checking back on a Kindle ereader.)

Overall this is a beautifully crafted novel with plenty of reasons to make me recommend it. A great book from a very talented author.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and distributed through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

The Fourteenth GoldfishThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What if someone truly discovered the fountain of youth? What if you could go backward in age and live life over again? It is these questions and many more that this book focuses on. That and fuzzy slippers. Can’t forget those.

I enjoyed this. There are a lot of unique and interesting concepts in the middle grade fiction genre, and this book explores them well. I liked the voice of the narrator and her views on life. I also appreciated the way the author approached the situation with the grandfather. This is written in such a way that it is almost believable that these things could really happen.

Jennifer L. Holm did a good job finding and pointing out the things that make us young and giving a direct comparison to those things which show our age. The way she explored the differences between the two was fascinating and often times laugh out loud funny.

The story flow was relaxed but the pace wasn’t slow. I enjoyed the humour throughout this title and think kids would have a lot of fun with it. There are few times when I read a book and then burn with curiosity about what happens to the characters after, but I hope, in this case we get to find out.

I’d definitely recommend this book and not just to kids.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.