Review: Deborah Calling by Avraham Azrieli

Review: Deborah Calling by Avraham AzrieliDeborah Calling: A Novel Inspired by the Bible by Avraham Azrieli
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 432
Published by HarperLegend on January 2nd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The author of the bestselling Deborah Rising continues the fascinating story of the biblical prophetess Deborah in this entrancing work of visionary fiction—a tale of danger, mysticism, intrigue, and daring.

Deborah’s father dreamed that, one day, she would become a prophet—a seemingly impossible dream for a woman in a patriarchal society. To see this wish come true, Deborah made the cunning decision to become a man by seeking out a mysterious elixirist who could turn women into men.

Under the elixirist Kassite’s tutelage and training, Deborah learns the essential traits of masculinity and steadily grows stronger, building muscle and willpower. But Kassite requests something in return: he needs Deborah’s help to escape enslavement and return to his homeland. It is the beginning of another thrilling adventure through the desert—a cat-and-mouse chase between Deborah and her violent fiancé who still hunts her, a chance meeting with an ancient healer who has a prophetic message, and a revelatory spiritual experience in an abandoned cave.

As she continues on the path God has laid before her, Deborah witnesses the darkness that can take hold in the hearts and souls of men—evil that causes her to reflect on the wisdom, insight, and inspiration she has gained from the women in her life. Will becoming a man truly help her become a prophetess, or might there be another path? Visionary dreams, a mysterious eagle, and an extraordinary band of ex-slaves will help Deborah find the answer . . . and ultimately her calling.

A riveting adventure tale derived from traditional biblical fiction, Deborah Calling imagines the life of one of the most famous figures from the Old Testament as she continues on her path to becoming a prophetess.

My Review:

Deborah Calling picks up right where Deborah Rising left off. But for readers who haven’t read the stories back to back, or who don’t feel like reading Deborah Rising but want to jump into a book where the protagonist gets to be proactive instead of always reactive, Deborah Calling does an excellent job of bringing readers up to speed.

Deborah in the Bible was a Judge and a prophet. In this story, although she is still very young she is already having prophetic dreams. The clever way that the author brings readers up to date is for Deborah to have a remembering dream where she dreams the events of her life to the point where this story begins.

As this story begins, Deborah is well on her way to fulfilling her quest to become a man. She is one third of the way through the transformation process dictated by the Elixirist, a great potion maker from the neighboring kingdom of Moab. He is famous for turning 3,000 Moabite women into men in order to stave off an Egyptian invasion of his homeland. Or so the story goes.

Deborah wants to become a man because being a woman has brought her nothing but pain and injustice. As a woman, she cannot inherit her father’s land. She can’t testify in court against the man who killed her sister. She can’t even testify in court against the man who attempted to kill her. And as he is also her husband, as the man responsible for her only he can testify on her behalf. We can all guess how well that goes.

Murdering her isn’t even a crime, because she is female. Being a man may not be easy, but it has to be better than the treatment she’s received as a woman. And as only men can inherit, it is only by returning to her homeland as a man that she can take back the land that was stolen from her family.

As portrayed in this story, the land of Israel was hardly a “land of milk and honey”. Judges could be capricious and cruel, and for women especially, life could be very gruesome, as Deborah’s story reveals.

But the road to becoming a man is difficult. It has led her from being a chattel in the Judge’s household to being a slave in a tannery far away. But a slave who is disguised as a boy, the first part of her transformation.

She has two quests. One is to become a man, return to her homeland, and become the Judge and prophet that her father dreamed she would be. But to get there she has to fulfill a different quest first. To find and free two Moabite slaves from two different masters so that they can return to their own homeland before they die. One of those old slaves is the famous Elixirist who will provide the means for her transformation.

And they are both lying to her through whatever teeth they have left. Which does not stop Deborah from becoming, if not a man, at least from becoming the proactive, even-tempered, adventurous and logical person she was meant to be – male or female

Escape Rating B: The Deborah in Deborah Calling has considerably more agency than she did in Deborah Rising. In the first book, she was a person that things mostly happened TO, and then she reacted to what happened to her. Until something even worse happened, and then she reacted to that – if any reactions were open to her other than to take the whipping or whatever other terrible thing was about to be visited upon her. Not that she didn’t have an admittedly cockeyed plan, but most of the time, she was passive or defensive or on the run or all of the above.

The difference in Deborah Calling is that she becomes the lead actor in her own life. While bad things still continue to happen to her, she definitely spends more of the story acting before she is acted upon, and planning for future events (even bad ones) than she did in the previous book. She goes from being a follower, and sometimes a seemingly hapless one, to being a leader.

It may be obvious to the reader (it certainly was to this reader) that Sallan and Kassite are using Deborah for their own ends, not that fulfilling their purpose does not also help her. And it was equally obvious to this reader which of the two of them was actually the Elixirist. But it does make sense that Deborah herself could not figure it out – as Deborah Calling ends she is just barely 15, not nearly experienced enough to have the cynicism required to figure their particular charade out.

There is still a villain in this piece, throughout the story, Deborah is pursued by the thoroughly evil Seesya, who is also her husband. Again, this is one of the many reasons why Deborah wants to become male. As a woman, she had no right to refuse to marry Seesya – even though he had just had her sister stoned to death for a crime she did not commit.

But over the course of the two books, Seesya continues to read more like a bogeyman, like a caricature of evil or even an embodiment of an evil being than he does like a villainous but human man. His personality is so completely warped that there is nothing there but malice, and it makes him seem almost supernatural, certainly to Deborah but sometimes even to the reader. He has also survived so many near-death experiences that one does start to wonder.

Speaking of wondering, Deborah’s story is not over. As Deborah Calling ends she has decided to return to her homeland as she is, but the story of how she gets back and what happens to change her into the Judge and prophet that we know she becomes from the Bible, is in a book yet to be written.

As a reader who was expecting the story to conclude at the end of Deborah Calling, this was a disappointment. I hope that the next book, and the conclusion of Deborah’s story, comes soon! I still want to see Seesya get what’s coming to him.

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Review: The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron + Giveaway

Review: The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron + GiveawayThe Lost Castle (The Lost Castle #1) by Kristy Cambron
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Series: Lost Castle #1
Pages: 384
Published by Thomas Nelson on February 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Launching a brand-new series, Kristy Cambron explores the collision of past and present as she discovers the ruins of a French castle, long lost to history.

A thirteenth century castle, Chateau de Doux Reves, has been forgotten for generations, left to ruin in a storybook forest nestled deep in France's picturesque Loire Valley. It survived a sacking in the French Revolution, was brought back to life and fashioned into a storybook chateau in the Gilded Age, and was eventually felled and deserted after a disastrous fire in the 1930s.

As Ellie Carver sits by her grandmother's bedside, she hears stories of a castle . . . of lost love and a hidden chapel that played host to a secret fight in the World War II French resistance. But her grandmother is quickly slipping into the locked-down world of Alzheimer's, and Ellie must act fast if she wants to uncover the truth of her family's history.

Sparked by the discovery of a long forgotten family heirloom, Ellie embarks on a journey to French wine country to uncover the mystery surrounding The Sleeping Beauty--the castle so named for Charles Perrault's beloved fairy tale--and unearth its secrets before they're finally silenced by time.

Set in three different time periods--the French Revolution, World War II, and present day--The Lost Castle is a story of loves won and lost, of battles waged, and an enchanted castle that inspired the epic fairy tales time left behind.

My Review:

Instead of a mystery wrapped in an enigma (not that the reference to Enigma doesn’t turn out to be appropriate) this is a fairy tale wrapped in a war story tied up in a romance. Also not that there isn’t romance throughout – just different romances.

Because this lovely story is a “timeslip” tale that is spread over three very different time periods; the French Revolution, World War II, and the present day. And if the reference to the French Revolution wasn’t enough of a clue, most of the story takes place in France during those periods, specifically in the Loire Valley wine region.

And there’s plenty of wine involved and not just by drinking it. The fates of three very different women are tied together by the wines, the vines, and the castle that hides in the middle of it all.

Timeslip stories, as the sub-genre is now termed, are stories that “slip” between multiple time periods. Sometimes by having one of the characters themselves slip between those periods, but sometimes by having the narrative simply move between the periods for reasons that become clear at some point in the story.

The Lost Castle is one of the latter types. We follow three women in the same place but at three different time periods. We begin by meeting Ellie Carver, whose beloved grandmother has slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s, and is now also slipping away physically. Lady Vi raised Ellie after her parents died, and Ellie feels like her grandmother is all that she has in the world. She is heartbroken and scrambling. Also emotionally scrambled.

Lady Vi’s fog lifts just enough to send Ellie scrabbling through her grandmother’s books to discover a WWII vintage photo of her grandmother, showing her that in the midst of the life that Ellie knew of her grandmother, there is at least one chapter that she was never told. Lady Vi seems to be looking for closure for this part of her life, and in a mad quest to do something, anything, Ellie hares off to the site of the picture, the “Sleeping Beauty” castle tucked away in the Loire Valley in France.

As the story continues we follow Ellie in the Loire, as she discovers the site of the photo, and unearths the history of when it was taken. We also follow Lady Vi’s history as a semi-trained British Intelligence operative who finds herself on the run from the Nazis in the Loire Valley in 1944. When Lady Vi is rescued by the local Resistance, she finds relative safety, purpose, and love.

We also see glimpses of an earlier history of the area, during the French Revolution, through the eyes of Aveline, a French aristocrat for whom the most famous wine of the region comes to be named.

All three women become integral to the past, and the future, of this storied place. And as Ellie uncovers the truth, we learn why. And it is bittersweet, but as delicious as the wine.

Escape Rating A-: Before I say anything else, let me say again that this is a truly lovely book. If you enjoy timeslip stories, I think you’ll really love this one.

As I read The Lost Castle, I did wonder how Aveline was connected to Vi and Ellie. It’s obvious from the beginning that it isn’t a matter of ancestors and descendants – there’s definitely no relation. And it’s not that Aveline’s story isn’t either interesting or important, it’s just that we don’t discover why and how until the very end.

I haven’t read a lot of timeslip stories, at least not under that label, so I’m not sure whether this is a bug or a feature, but neither Aveline’s nor Vi’s stories are told in chronological order. The chapter headings do say where and when each bit takes place, but the slipping forward and backwards within each of their times always took a paragraph or two to adjust to. This was particularly true with Aveline’s story, as we start in the middle and then work both backwards and forwards from that point, sometimes almost at random. The same thing happens with Vi’s story, but she doesn’t flash backwards nearly as much, and proceeds in a straight line from that middle, except for the flashbacks.

All three women are in the midst of great change, and that’s what makes each of their stories so fascinating. Aveline is an aristocrat during the Revolution, but she is a woman who is already uncomfortable with the life that she is supposed to lead. The Revolution provides her with an opportunity to forge a new path for herself, and she takes it.

Vi’s story takes place during World War II. We only get glimpses of her wartime exploits before she reaches the Loire, but they are enough to chill the bones. We do get a fairly complete portrait of her life in the French Resistance, and that comes at a critical time – it is 1944 and the Allied invasion is rumored and imminent, while the Nazis are desperate to hold onto France at all costs, with Vi, her new found friends and the Loire Valley itself caught in the terrible crossfire.

These are also all romances, and the romances are tied together not through the women, but through the place and the family that occupies it, through the men. The Vivay family owns and operates the winery that makes the region famous. Their signature wine, developed by Robert Vivay in Aveline’s time, is named for her. During Vi’s time, it is Julien Vivay who protects the land and is master of the vineyard, using that same signature product to keep the Nazis at bay. And it is Titus Vivay who lived to remember it all, and his grandson who leads Ellie to the answers that she is seeking.

Although the blurbs for this book talk about a “legacy of faith” and as this book is published by Thomas Nelson, a publisher who specializes in Christian faith-based works, one might think that the “faith” being mentioned in those blurbs is religious faith and of a specific type. But it isn’t, or at least it doesn’t seem to be to a reader who is not looking for such. Instead, the faith at the heart of this story seems more like faith in the land and faith in its people. In all three time periods, its the way that the people pull together to defend their lives, but more importantly the lives of those they love, and to defend the land and the work that sustains them, than it is about any belief in a diety.

Your mileage on this subject may definitely vary, but as someone who does not read books that are marketed as “inspirational” fiction this book does not read like part of that tradition.

It reads like excellent historical fiction, because that’s what it is.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

There is a giveaway for a copy of The Lost Castle and a signed tote bag over at @tnzfiction  on Instagram.

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Review: The Upside by Abdel Sellou

Review: The Upside by Abdel SellouThe Upside (You Changed My Life) by Abdel Sellou, Caroline Andrieu
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: autobiography
Pages: 224
Published by Hachette Books on February 6th 2018
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The true story of a charismatic Algerian con-man whose friendship with a disabled French aristocrat inspired the record-breaking hit movie The Intouchables (American remake, The Upside, starting Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, coming March 2018).


The story of Abdel Sellou's surprising friendship with aristocrat Philippe Pozzo di Borgo has been told and retold around the world-most recently in the major motion picture The Upside, with comedian and movie star Kevin Hart portraying Abdel and his edgy charm. In this appealing memoir, Sellou shows us the real man behind Kevin Hart's smiling face. The book takes us from his childhood spent stealing candy from the local grocery store, to his career as a pickpocket and scam artist, to his unexpected employment as a companion for a quadriplegic. Sellou tells his story with a stunning amount of talent, humor, style, and-though he denies that he has any-humility.

My Review:

The original title of this book was You Changed My Life, and that’s probably a more accurate description of the contents than the new title. The ways of marketing are clearly mysterious to behold.

No matter what the title, this book is kind of a cross between a buddy-movie and a bromance. It’s already been a movie, The Intouchables, filmed in France where the real story takes place. And it will be again – the American version is titled The Upside and seems to have been filmed in 2017, although I’m not sure it was ever in theaters. Considering that the movie was supposed to have come out in October of 2017 as the Harvey Weinstein scandal was breaking, and that the movie was produced by his company and the new edition of the book was supposed to be published by his publishing company, it’s not really a surprise that things got a bit, let’s call it delayed.

However, the story existed long before either the movie or the scandal. But this true story was originally told by only one of the partners in this bromance. This version, the one that I read, is told by the other. And it isn’t quite as fictionalized as the original movie seems to have been.

Not that the author doesn’t tell plenty of stories on himself, because he certainly does. And he is not the most reliable narrator, not even of his own life. Perhaps especially of his own life.

In 1993, French businessman (and noble) Philippe Pozzo di Borgo was severely injured in a paragliding accident, becoming a quadriplegic. In 1995 he hired Abdel Sellou, the author of this book, as his “life auxiliary” or caregiver.

Sellou was an Algerian immigrant to France, having been given by his Algerian parents to his aunt and uncle in Paris when he was a child. A child who was young enough to adapt but old enough to remember where he came from. And he was given to people who had never been parents and seem to have no idea of how to be parents. Or perhaps its that Abdel had no idea that rules or limits ever applied to him.

By his own account, Sellou grew up fairly wild on the streets of Paris, becoming a thief and a con artist. He saw himself as the king of his little corner of the world, and felt like nothing could stop him, not even jail. As he was always a completely nonviolent offender, jail mostly seemed like a bit of a vacation. The rules never applied to him.

He met “Pozzo” when he was basically scamming the unemployment office. He came to pretend to apply for that job as Pozzo’s life auxiliary. He ended up staying for over ten years in a job he never expected to take, and remained as Pozzo’s unpaid caregiver thereafter.

All of Pozzo’s rich friends were certain that the conman was there to take Pozzo for a ride, and bilk him out of all the money he could manage to scam. It never happened.

Instead, they formed an unlikely but life altering and life sustaining friendship. This is the story of that friendship from Sellou’s point of view (as Pozzo has already told his version of the story in A Second Wind)

Reality Rating B: The Upside, by whatever title, is a surprisingly quick read. It’s also not a very deep one, because the author skims over the surface of his life, and never seems willing to dive deeply into his thoughts or feelings.

The story that we’re left with is still interesting. Sellou seems to have grown up without a care in the world, or perhaps a better way of describing it would be not caring much about the world or anyone else in it.

It’s also clear that this story couldn’t be told until the statute of limitations had run out on his youthful crime spree, which seems to have lasted into his 20s. Mostly Sellou was a thief and even a bit of a shakedown artist. He was also a successful small-time conman. His goal never seems to have been to get rich, just to get enough to last until the next day. He saw the world as free for the taking, and if he got caught, well, jail seems to have been mostly a vacation.

There have to have been darker parts to this part of the story, but the author never dwells on them. He seems to be a character who always looks on the bright side, and does not worry much if at all about tomorrow.

Going to work for Pozzo was a life-altering event for both of them. Sellou’s ability to always find a bright side seems to have been just what Pozzo needed to keep him going. It’s not that Sellou wasn’t all-too-well acquainted with everything that did not work in Pozzo’s paralyzed body. It’s that Sellou never seems to have let it stop him from pushing whatever boundaries could be pushed so that Pozzo was able to get outside of himself as much as possible, which turned out to often be a surprising amount.

It’s also obvious from the story that the two men moved relatively quickly from an employer-employee relationship to a friendship to a partnership – even if most of Pozzo’s family and friends never fully come to trust Sellou even after years of being there for Pozzo at every hour of the day and night.

That Sellou seems to feel no bitterness at that lack of distrust is surprising. Or it may be part of his ability to always see the sunnier side of every situation, even the terrible ones.

I find myself wondering how some aspects of the story that seem particularly French are going to translate to American audiences. Perhaps I’ll find out if the movie ever shows up on Netflix.

Review: Smooth Talking Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: Smooth Talking Cowboy by Maisey Yates + GiveawaySmooth-Talking Cowboy (Gold Valley, #1) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Gold Valley #1
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on February 20th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to Gold Valley, Oregon, where a rough-and-tumble rancher and the girl next door are about to learn that opposites attract

Olivia Logan has a plan: win back her ex by making him see what he’s missing. But first she needs to find a man who’s willing to play along. With his laid-back cowboy charm and knack for getting under her skin, Luke Hollister is an unlikely hero—but he wants her help convincing her father to sell him land, which means he needs her as much as she needs him.

Luke likes his life—and his women—uncomplicated. So why does good girl Olivia heat his blood like no one else? She’s always been off-limits, but the more time they spend as Gold Valley’s hottest new “couple,” the more real it’s starting to feel. Luke was supposed to help her win back another man…not keep her in his arms. But now that he has her there, he’s not sure he’ll ever let go.

My Review:

It’s not so much that Luke Hollister is a particularly smooth talker – it’s more like Olivia Logan is particularly susceptible to his brand of cowboy charm – even if she can’t admit it, not even to herself.

But then, Olivia has a long and sad history of not admitting what’s important to her to herself or to anyone else. She has become so invested in being a “good girl” for so many sad and bad reasons that falling for Luke’s charm is the furthest thing from her mind.

Until after it happens, and she’s forced to realize, at least in the privacy of her own mind, that he’s just what she’s been waiting for all along – even when she was pining away for someone else entirely.

This author has a knack for getting her heroine’s into really angsty situations, and Olivia Logan is no exception, even if some of her angst, or at least the layers on top, are mostly of her own making.

In the Copper Ridge series, which takes place just down the road from Gold Valley, Olivia Logan was one of the secondary characters. As her friends and co-workers met and fell in love with the men of their dreams, Olivia was absolutely certain that she had already found the man she was destined to spend the rest of her life with.

The fact that it was obvious to everyone that Olivia Logan and Bennett Dodge had absolutely zero chemistry didn’t seem to matter to Olivia. She had convinced herself that Bennett was the perfect man for her. And it turned out that Olivia’s father had convinced Bennett that Olivia was the right woman for him.

This is not the stuff of which dreams are made. Occasionally it IS the stuff of which nightmares are made.

After a year of extremely tepid dating, Olivia expected a ring. Bennett wasn’t ready. It’s dubious whether Bennett would ever be ready, but Olivia wasn’t ready to admit that. She broke up with Bennett in the hopes that her absence would make him realize just what he was missing.

Instead, Olivia discovered exactly what she was missing, in the person of Luke Hollister – a man who delighted in getting her just a little bit riled up every time they met. Sort of like the way that little boys tease the girls they like but don’t know what to do with yet.

Luke wasn’t interested in relationships, and Olivia wasn’t interested in anything but. But without Bennett to fill in the empty spaces, Olivia discovered that being a good girl was kind of a strait-jacket, and that Luke was the perfect person to help her out of it. And everything else she might possibly have on.

If she’s willing to take a risk on not being perfect, on getting hurt, and on saying (and doing) what’s really in her heart.

Escape Rating B+: As I said earlier, Olivia has been one of the secondary characters in Copper Ridge, and in the author’s Copper Ridge series. She has not been one of the more likeable characters, but up until now, we didn’t really know why.

What we do know is that she’s just a bit socially awkward, and not for any of the usual reasons. Olivia has been so invested in being the “good girl” that her parents expect her to be that she has done her best to live a completely disciplined life and remove any and all temptations to stray from the straight and narrow. And she’s pretty judgemental about anyone who does stray from that straight and narrow.

Olivia is a twin, but her twin sister is not in the picture. Vanessa didn’t just stray from the straight and narrow, she ran headlong away from it, into sex and booze and eventually drugs. As happens in so many families, the more that Vanessa turned toward the “dark side”, the more that Olivia felt obligated to become her opposite, the “good girl”. And now that Vanessa is who-knows-where doing who-knows-what, Olivia is kind of stuck in her role. Not only does the entire town expect it, but so do her smothering, overprotective parents who are desperate to hover over the child they still have in their lives.

Marrying Bennett Dodge was part of the life that Olivia was expected to have. It’s only once Bennett is out of her life that she’s able to look at what she really wants – even when she herself doesn’t want to see it.

Not that Luke is much more self-aware. Just as the loss of her twin is at the heart of so much of Olivia’s behavior, and so much of her internal conflict, Luke Hollister is also hiding a deep loss that he hasn’t been able to get past. It’s their traumas that finally bring them together, and nearly tear them apart.

The lesson at the end of the story is both sad and beautiful. You’ll see.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

Review: The Atomic City Girls by Janet BeardThe Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on February 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes a riveting novel of the everyday women who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II

“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”

In November 1944, eighteen-year-old June Walker boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge, Tennessee has sprung up in a matter of months—a town of trailers and segregated houses, 24-hour cafeterias, and constant security checks. There, June joins hundreds of other young girls operating massive machines whose purpose is never explained. They know they are helping to win the war, but must ask no questions and reveal nothing to outsiders.

The girls spend their evenings socializing and flirting with soldiers, scientists, and workmen at dances and movies, bowling alleys and canteens. June longs to know more about their top-secret assignment and begins an affair with Sam Cantor, the young Jewish physicist from New York who oversees the lab where she works and understands the end goal only too well, while her beautiful roommate Cici is on her own mission: to find a wealthy husband and escape her sharecropper roots. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe Brewer knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family behind, at least for now. But a breach in security will intertwine his fate with June’s search for answers.

When the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth about Oak Ridge into devastating focus, June must confront her ideals about loyalty, patriotism, and war itself.

My Review:

The Atomic City Girls straddles the line between pure historical fiction and a genre perhaps best described as “fictionalized history”. Historical fiction takes known historical events or periods and slides fictional characters into them. World War II is a popular time period, but far from the only one.

Fictionalized history, on the other hand, is sometimes referred to “history with conversation”, where all the characters are real historical figures and the author weaves a story either around parts of their lives and history that were less well illuminated but still fit within what is known, or adds gloss to private moments that were naturally not recorded – going into what they might have felt behind what it is known they did.

The Atomic City Girls sits rather uncomfortable on top of that dividing line, as straddles often do.

The author follows the story of three separate individuals at Oak Ridge Tennessee during its years as the secret manufacturing city for the Manhattan Project in World War II. While the individuals featured did not exist, they are intended as composites of many people who were part of Oak Ridge during those years.

One is a young local woman, barely 18, whose grandfather owned some of the land that was purchased by the U.S. to build Oak Ridge. June Walker comes to Oak Ridge as one of many young women who become factory workers, watching the dials on machines whose purpose she is not intended to know and which it  is not expected she would understand if she did know. And for anyone to tell her what those machines do is a violation of the extremely strict security that surrounds the place.

Sam Cantor, actually Dr. Sam Cantor, is one of the nuclear physicists who is responsible for the development of the process used to extract Uranium 235 from ordinary uranium. He knows exactly what Oak Ridge is all about, both in the scientific sense and in the sense of the war. Sam’s family emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in the 1920s. They are Jews, and have lost touch with any family left behind, fearing, rightfully so, that anyone left in Germany has died in the concentration camps.

Sam is also fully aware of Oak Ridge’s scientific implications in another sense. While he wants to be sure that the U.S. wins the war, and that they develop a nuclear bomb before Hitler, once Germany surrenders he is increasing weighed down by the moral and ethical implications of dropping an atomic bomb on a civilian population – any civilian population – as many of the scientists were. The nuclear genie is one that once let out of its bottle, will have untold consequences for everyone, and they know it.

Last, is Joe Brewer, an African-American construction worker who is treated like a second-class citizen at every turn. But Joe is in his early-40s, and his treatment is the life that he has always known. He also knows it’s wrong, but he is certain that he can’t change it. And that he is earning the best money he has ever made in his life. All he wants is for things to get just better enough that his wife can get a job at Oak Ridge too, and that they can bring their family back together. Part of that second-class treatment means that while white workers are permitted to bring their wives and families to Oak Ridge, black workers are not until very late in the war.

So, although the title is The Atomic City Girls, the story is only partly about June and her part of the work. Instead, we watch as young June and disaffected and often drunk Sam drift into a relationship that at first improves life for both of them, but is, in the end, unsustainable.

Sam never recovers from his experiences at Oak Ridge, while June builds on her chance to escape her restricted upbringing for a better life outside of rural Tennessee and a stellar career as a teacher.

Joe, after the tragedy of seeing the younger black workers suffer for their attempts to create better working conditions for their people, survives and flourishes in Oak Ridge as the post-war years go by. His dreams are for his children, and they come true.

Escape Rating B: Each of the stories was individually interesting, but there were just too many of them. The author is attempting to show life and work in Oak Ridge through the eyes of characters of very different perspectives, but the action switches between them too often and we don’t get to invest as much in any of the stories as we would have if she had followed one (or two in the case of June and Sam) exclusively.

I enjoyed reading the individual stories, but they just didn’t gel into a whole, at least not for me. Joe’s story may be the most fascinating, and it feels like the least known, but it’s also the one we follow the least. The primary focus is on June and Sam, and Joe only intersects with them tangentially, which is not surprising in this context. (Whether or not things should have been different, the historical fact is that they were not).

One of the contrasts that was pivotal was between June and her roommate Cici. In the end, both June and Cici were able to use their experiences in Oak Ridge to leave behind the life they would otherwise have had. Both were from rural Tennessee, from similar tiny towns with similarly proscribed lives to look dubiously forward to. But Cici came to Oak Ridge pretending to be an upper class Nashville belle. She lived a lie, and used that lie to snag a rich husband. In the end, she had the life she dreamed of but was not happy. June, on the other hand, never pretended to be anything she wasn’t, so she was able to build on her experience in a positive way.

Because the story ended up focusing on June’s fateful relationship with Sam, we really don’t get the slice-of-Oak-Ridge life that I was initially expecting. In the end, while I ended up interested enough in each of the individuals to want to know more about their story, The Atomic City Girls didn’t build up to quite what I was hoping for.

For a completely non-fictional but quite readable take on this same period, check out The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan.

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Review: Midsummer Delights by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Midsummer Delights by Eloisa James + GiveawayMidsummer Delights: A Short Story Collection by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance, short stories
Pages: 96
Published by Avon Impulse on February 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads


A Midsummer Night's Disgrace
​Eloisa revisits the ​scintillating world of the Essex Sisters with a story featuring a young lady, Cecilia Bellingworth, who has decided she would rather ruin her reputation than endure further speculation about whether her children will be "silly," like her brother, Billy.​ ​After two failed seasons, ​Cecilia ​decides she ​will dress as she likes​ (in a scandalous red dress!)​ and flirt outrageously​ (with a scandalous pianist!)​. Fortunately, a gorgeous musician at the Duchess of Ormond's house party presents the perfect candidate for scandal…

​Previously published in the Essex Sisters Official Companion Guide (e only).


At Midnight
​Elias Hempleworth-Gray has one thing and one thing only of value—his title, Earl of Leyton. Determined to leave England and the scandal of his gambler father behind, Elias hopes to turn his fortunes around and come back a respectable man to claim the only woman for him, Miss Penelope White. But Penny has other plans for the man she has loved all her life…plans that include a masquerade, a stolen kiss and a lost shoe.

Previously published in the Fairy Tale sampler (print only).


Ever After
When she was sixteen, Miss Violet Leighton spent one blissful month romping around her family estate with Rothwell Talcott…thirty days of shared kisses, culminating in a very illicit afternoon in a berry patch. As Rothwell leaves for his grand tour, he gives his word of honor that he will return for her. Four years and seven refused proposals later, Violet is about to give up and marry when he finally returns. Now the Duke of Cambridge, Rothwell wants to make her his duchess. But how can Violet trust the man who stole her virtue—and then broke her heart?

Previously published in The Ugly Duchess (print only).

My Review:

This will be a short and sweet review of three short and very sweet (also slightly naughty) historical romances.

All three of these stories have been published before, but in separate collections. And while they all hearken back to earlier series, all three also have something in common.

The stories in this collection are very short. In fact, very, very short. If you are looking for a quick romantic getaway, the individual stories in this collection can probably each be read over a cup of coffee – or certainly over a quick lunch.

One of the dilemmas of romances in short stories is that they can easily smack of insta-love – especially if one is hoping for a happily ever after. In the case of these three stories, the author has worked around that problem by making these, not exactly second chances at love, but returns to, or reveals of, an existing love that is quickly re-established in the course of the story.

In A Midsummer Night’s Disgrace, the heroine has had enough of pretending to be the perfect debutante. While not exactly on the shelf yet, she really wants to be relegated to that shelf, so she can retire to the country and pursue her musical studies. If she had been born male, she would be able to take lessons and possibly even be a musician, but it is deemed unladylike and inappropriate for her female self.

She plans on seducing, or being seduced by, the marvelous and utterly gorgeous piano player at the house party she is attending, only to discover that the mysterious pianist is actually the very well grown up version of the boy who used to put grasshoppers down her dress when they were children. And that he can give her all the music her heart desires.

At Midnight is the story of a young man with a prestigious title and pockets to let, courtesy of a father who gambled away just about everything else the family owned. He loves the young woman whose father bought his former patrimony, but is unwilling to ask for her hand and let it be said that he is only marrying her for the land he once called home. It takes the contrivance of their friends, along with the seeming anonymity of a masquerade ball, for the course of true love to find its way.

Ever After, like A Midsummer Night’s Disgrace, is also the story of a young woman who has turned down all her suitors. But in this case, it’s because none of them measure up to the young man she fell in love with when she was 16. At the time, she believed that he loved her in return, but he has been out of the country for four years and she has received only two letters in all that time. She’s sure he’s moved on, and equally sure that no one else will ever replace him in her heart. Then he arrives, in the middle of a ton ball where she is dodging yet more suitors, and literally carries her off to plead his case. She shouldn’t forgive him, but of course she does.

Escape Rating B: These stories are all, as I said at the top, short and sweet, with just a touch of naughty. In spite of their brief length, each one does a fairly good job of establishing its characters and the connection between them without making it feel like insta-love.

For readers who are familiar with the series from which each story came, I’m sure that it is an extra treat to see familiar characters in the background. But for those who are not, as I am, each story is surprisingly complete within itself, especially considering their brevity.

In addition to these little confections, the book also includes a teaser first chapter for the next book in the Wildes of Ludlow Castle series, Too Wilde to Wed. This teaser is a real tease! I loved the first book in the series, Wilde in Love, and was already looking forward to the next book. Having read the first chapter, now I know that May is much too far away. I want it now!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

LINK: https://goo.gl/gfG1vy
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. Two winners will each receive a paperback copy of A Kiss At Midnight by Eloisa James. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 2/10/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Valentine’s Day Blog Tour – Guest Post from Kristan Higgins

Today I’d like to welcome Kristan Higgins, the author of the recent Now That You Mention It as well as the absolutely marvelous Blue Heron series. (Anything for You was my personal favorite).As this is a Blog Tour for Valentine’s Day recommendations, Kristan is here to tell us her favorite Valentine’s tradition. And don’t we all remember the dread of having to give Valentine’s to every kid in the class?

Pizza, Books & Valentine’s Day
by Kristan Higgins

Here’s a little secret I’m somewhat loath to admit—I hate Valentine’s Day. When I was a kid, we’d have to give every single one of our classmates a card, and I’ll confess: Joey L. did not deserve a Valentine from me, no sir. Nor did Kate M., who was always mean.

Even then. the holiday smacked of forced good cheer. When I was in college, the poor lad I dated would give me a gas station rose, or worse, write me a poem and then read it to me, and I’d sit, twitching, waiting for the recitation to end.

As a young married couple, McIrish and I once made a Valentine’s Day reservation at a lovely Italian restaurant. That night, the servers were harried and forgetful, and the restaurant was mobbed with couples feeling the pressure to be romantic. No one was proposed to, though I’m pretty sure one young woman was waiting, because she got more and more tense as the night went on (eavesdropping is one of my great gifts). The food, which was usually so good, was mediocre, and McIrish and I decided not to go out anymore. These days, I usually draw McIrish, my sainted husband, a cartoon of the two of us. Some grown-up snuggling may ensue. Sometimes I make him pudding or crème brulée in the heart-shaped ramekins we got as a wedding gift.

Truthfully, the best Valentine’s Day I can remember was when I was living alone, working in a strange city, no friends. A bouquet of flowers arrived at my workplace, signed “From Your Secret Admirer.” I immediately called my dad to thank him, and, bless his heart, he played dumb.

When I got out of work, I went home to my little apartment, got a pizza from the restaurant below, and read a book. A romance novel, of course. No pressure, no expectations… just me with two of the great loves of my life: pizza and a good book.

About Now That You Mention It

One step forward. Two steps back. The Tufts scholarship that put Nora Stuart on the path to becoming a Boston medical specialist was a step forward. Being hit by a car and then overhearing her boyfriend hit on another doctor when she thought she was dying? Two major steps back.

Injured in more ways than one, Nora feels her carefully built life cracking at the edges. There’s only one place to land: home. But the tiny Maine community she left fifteen years ago doesn’t necessarily want her. At every turn, someone holds the prodigal daughter of Scupper Island responsible for small-town drama and big-time disappointments.

With a tough islander mother who’s always been distant and a wild-child sister in jail, unable to raise her daughter–a withdrawn teen as eager to ditch the island as Nora once was–Nora has her work cut out for her if she’s going to take what might be her last chance to mend the family.

But as some relationships crumble around her, others unexpectedly strengthen. Balancing loss and opportunity, a dark event from her past with hope for the future, Nora will discover that tackling old pain makes room for promise…and the chance to begin again.

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Review: Deborah Rising by Avraham Azrieli

Review: Deborah Rising by Avraham AzrieliDeborah Rising by Avraham Azrieli
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 224
Published by HarperLegend on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In the tradition of The Red Tent, The Fifth Mountain, and The Mists of Avalon comes this absorbing historical novel that reimagines the life of one of the Bible's most revered women, the prophetess Deborah, and her epic journey to fulfill her destiny.

Deborah's father dreamed that his daughter would one day become a prophet of the God of the Israelites. But the social and religious mores of her time dictated that a woman must marry—even against her will—and obey her husband. When Deborah is forced into an engagement with the violent son of her local judge, the young Hebrew woman rebels, determined to forge a new path.

Captivated by the notion of transforming herself into a man to escape the arranged marriage and fulfill her father's dream, Deborah embarks upon an epic journey across the desert to find a mysterious elixirist rumored to be blessed with the gift of turning women into men. It is a journey that proves increasingly perilous—filled with wild beasts, lustful men, unscrupulous priests, and warring tribesmen. Yet Deborah discovers that she is not alone; an unlikely coterie of lepers, slaves, Moabite traders, and even a dead tiger come to her aid and defense along the way.

Part traditional biblical fiction, part adventure, Deborah Rising is a captivating tale about the early life of one of the most famous figures from the Old Testament—a woman of courage and spirit whose battle to overcome discrimination, sexism, and paternalism speaks to women's lives today.

My Review:

The story in Deborah Rising is the very (possibly very, very) fictionalized account of the early life of the Biblical Prophet Deborah. Deborah was the only female judge mentioned in the Bible, and one of very few female prophets.

Based on this story, one also gets the feeling that Deborah lives up to a saying from The Notebooks of Lazarus Long, the one that goes, “A fake fortune teller can be tolerated. But an authentic soothsayer should be shot on sight. Cassandra did not get half the kicking around she deserved.” In this story of her early life, Deborah certainly suffers from all the kicking around that Long would have wished – and she hasn’t even started to prophesy yet.

Then again, when the story ends she’s only 14. She has time yet. And another whole book (Deborah Calling) in which to start speaking truth to power. And speaking with the power of truth.

But for the course of this book, she is also an unfortunate example of “when bad things happen to good people” and just how those good people react. Not that Deborah’s life wasn’t good for most of her childhood, because it was. But a year before the opening of the story, disaster struck.

Her parents were murdered, supposedly by raiders from another tribe. She and her sister were taken in by the local Judge (read ruler) of their town. Not out of the goodness of his heart, because I don’t think he has any. Rather, because the land their parents owned included a cistern – not merely a well but an underground protected water source. Water is worth more than gold in the dry land of Canaan.

Deborah and Tamar have no brothers. They each inherit a half share in the land, but can’t really inherit it. Their half-shares pass to their husbands when they marry. The Judge has a 20 year old son, and the Judge expects that he will obtain the land by marrying first one sister, then the other – whether they want to marry him or not.

The Judge’s son, Seesya, will let absolutely nothing stand in his way. Not poor Tamar, not Deborah, not the law and not the commandments. He takes what he wants, when he wants and how he wants, with as much cruelty as he desires. And he seems to desire endless amounts of it.

All Deborah wants is to escape. She will do anything to escape. Even, if she can, become a man.

Escape Rating B: In the end, this turned out to be a wow! I felt compelled to keep reading, and could not stop until the end.

But as much as I was riveted to the pages, there were some things that bothered me, often quite a lot.

The comparison is being made between Deborah Rising and The Red Tent. I read The Red Tent many years ago, and enjoyed it, but I do not remember it being quite this grim. Every circumstance is against Deborah all the time. The circumstance that she is female means that she has no power of any kind, and is only supposed to endure every terrible thing that happens to her. While that may have been true, we see nothing but terrible things happen to her. At times it makes for hard reading.

The story of Deborah the Judge may end in triumph, but we do not see any of that here, only one catastrophe after another. For every step forward she makes, she seems to take three steps back, and all of those steps over a bed of nails.

Part of what motivates Deborah in her quest is the Judge’s son Seesya. He makes perversely good motivation, because he seems to be evil for evil’s sake. To survive, Deborah must evade him at every turn, because if he catches up to her she will die.

That Seesya and his father want the land makes sense. That cistern represents untold wealth in the right hands – hands like the Judge’s, that will exploit the precious resource in every possible way.

But Seesya’s pursuit of Deborah isn’t just about the land. It’s personal. He hated her sister, he hates her, and he wants to kill every single person with whom she has contact. As a character, he is so sick and twisted that we can only see the twistedness – we don’t understand why. He’d be scarier if we knew what was motivating him.

One of the interesting twists in the story is Deborah’s quest to become a man. It is not about gender identity as we understand it today. Instead, it is a response to her circumstances. If she had been born male, she could have inherited the land from her parents and protected her sister from marriage to Seesya. She could learn to read and write. She could become the prophet that her parents hoped that she would become. Life as a man, in her time and place, would give her at least power over her own body and her own life. She could testify in court, and she has plenty to say. She could fight back.

Her desire to become male makes sense under her circumstances. However, it feels as if every single person involved in her quest is lying to her in some way, quite possibly for what they believe is her own good, but lying nonetheless. And she is too naive to realize it, or at least to realize it yet.

The story in Deborah Rising does not feel complete – only because it isn’t. As this book ends, Deborah’s quest has just barely begun, and there is no certainty within the story that she will succeed. Also, it doesn’t really feel like it ended at a natural point in the story, which continues in Deborah Calling.

I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of how the author fleshed out this Biblical story. And I want to see Seesya get his just desserts. Or even just see him dead in the desert.

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Review: Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery

Review: Sisters Like Us by Susan MallerySisters Like Us (Mischief Bay, #4) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Mischief Bay #4
Pages: 432
Published by Mira Books on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The grass is always greener on your sister’s side of the fence…

Divorce left Harper Szymanski with a name no one can spell, a house she can’t afford and a teenage daughter who’s pulling away. With her fledgeling virtual-assistant business, she’s scrambling to maintain her overbearing mother’s ridiculous Susie Homemaker standards and still pay the bills, thanks to clients like Lucas, the annoying playboy cop who claims he hangs around for Harper’s fresh-baked cookies.

Spending half her life in school hasn’t prepared Dr. Stacey Bloom for her most daunting challenge—motherhood. She didn’t inherit the nurturing gene like Harper and is in deep denial that a baby is coming. Worse, her mother will be horrified to learn that Stacey’s husband plans to be a stay-at-home dad…assuming Stacey can first find the courage to tell Mom she’s already six months pregnant.

Separately they may be a mess, but together Harper and Stacey can survive anything—their indomitable mother, overwhelming maternity stores and ex’s weddings. Sisters Like Us is a delightful look at sisters, mothers and daughters in today’s fast-paced world, told with Susan Mallery’s trademark warmth and humor.

My Review:

This story is quintessentially women’s fiction. The story revolves around the women of the Bloom family; sisters Harper and Stacey, Harper’s daughter Becca, Stacey’s soon-to-be-born daughter Joule, and their mother Bunny. Definitely their mother Bunny. OMG Bunny.

The men in this story revolve around the women. One of the men definitely believes that he’s a planetary body in his own right, and that some of the Bloom women are his satellites, but he is so, so wrong.

This one is all about the relationships between the women, especially the relationship between the sisters in the title, Harper and Stacey.

Harper and Stacey are in their late-30s, and they are certainly opposites. But then, they always have been. Harper became the perfect Ms. Susie Homemaker, just as their mother Bunny wanted. But Harper can’t please her hypercritical mother, no matter how much she overdoes.

And it’s overdoing that she no longer has time for. Harper’s marriage failed, leaving her to raise her daughter Becca mostly alone. With no training for any regular job, Harper has turned her super-organized, super-crafty, super-creative energies into her own Virtual Assistant company – but it isn’t quite working. She needs a not-so-virtual assistant of her own to manage her over-scheduled time and keep her from undercutting her own worth.

She already has her mother for that.

Stacey, on the other hand, is happily married, six months pregnant, and scared to death to tell her mother. If Bunny has been hypercritical of Harper’s perfect Ms. Susie Homemaker personality, she has been even more censorious of Stacey’s success as a molecular biologist. As far as Bunny is concerned, there is something wrong with Stacey and her laser-focus on her career. Actually, as far as Bunny is concerned, Stacey is just not normal and she’s not shy about letting Stacey know that at every opportunity.

But Stacey and Harper have always supported each other, possibly as a result of being united against the common enemy – their mother.

As this story unfolds, they both need all the help they can get. Stacey, faces her impending motherhood absolutely certain that she will be unable to bond with her child. Harper faces Becca’s junior year in high school feeling that she’s lost touch with her daughter, and feeling that she is a failure in her business, her life, and her relationship with her daughter.

Standing together, just like they always have, helps them both find a way forward. With just a little help from their friends.

Escape Rating B: I absolutely adored Stacey. I completely understood her focus on her career, her fascination with her work, and her extreme social awkwardness. She was a character I could really relate to.

At the same time, while Harper’s Ms. Susie Homemaker shtick would drive me crazy, her courage at starting her own business and the way that the desire to please that had been ingrained in her (by her mother) kept holding her back, also felt very familiar.

And I totally envied Stacey her close relationship with her grandfather the astronaut, and how that relationship didn’t just change but absolutely made her life. (I have a thing about the space program)

Even Becca’s trials and tribulations felt real and familiar, even though it has been a very long time since I was a teenager.

This is, of course, leading up to a great big BUT. I hated Bunny. She set up both of her daughters for failure, and continued to reinforce those feelings of failure at every turn. Whenever she appeared in the story I wanted to cringe. The terrible mother seems to be a stock character in women’s fiction, and it’s not a stock character I ever enjoy seeing.

(Yes, Bunny reminds me of my own mother, and right now I have enough unresolved feelings in that direction to fill my own book. Seeing those feelings reflected in fiction was a bit cathartic, but also quite annoying the longer it went on. Your reading mileage may vary.)

Harper and Stacey’s stories, while complicated by Bunny, also do a marvelous job of showing a range of women’s choices and how they can go both right and wrong. But mostly right. Stacey’s husband Kit in particular is a real gem of a husband and a great character. As is Harper’s business partner Dean.

Harper’s ex-husband is more than a bit of a tool, not surprising. But so is Lucas, the man she finally falls for. The difference is that Lucas gets better – even if he doesn’t grovel nearly enough. Still I liked the way that their romance does not become the focus of the story, and that Lucas forges a friendship with Becca separate from whatever relationship he does or does not have with Harper.

In the end, a good time was had by all, and I liked both Harper and Stacey and really enjoyed seeing them both figure out their lives.

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Review: Sunday Silence by Nicci French

Review: Sunday Silence by Nicci FrenchSunday Silence (Frieda Klein, #7) by Nicci French
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Frieda Klein #7
Pages: 416
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on January 9th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It started with
Monday
. But it doesn't end with
Sunday
.

Read
Sunday Silence
, the new novel in the series that LOUISE PENNY calls "fabulous, unsettling, and riveting" and brace yourself for the breathtaking series finale in summer 2018.

Lover of London, gifted psychologist, frequent police consultant Frieda Klein is many things. And now she's a person of interest in a murder case. A body has been discovered in the most unlikely and horrifying of places: beneath the floorboards of Frieda's house.

The corpse is only months old, but the chief suspect appears to have died more than seven years ago. Except as Frieda knows all too well, he's alive and well and living in secret. And it seems he's inspired a copycat...

As the days pass and the body count rises, Frieda finds herself caught in a fatal tug-of-war between two killers: one who won't let her go, and another who can't let her live. 

Crackling with suspense, packed with emotion, Sunday Silence is a psychological thriller perfect for fans of Elizabeth George and Paula Hawkins.

My Review:

I’ve been doing a lot of comfort reading recently, but Sunday Silence is not a comfortable book. It’s very definitely a good book, but the Frieda Klein series has never made for comfortable reading. Compelling, absorbing, taut, and frequently chilling, but never comfortable.

The story in Sunday Silence picks up where Dark Saturday left off. Frieda has just discovered a dead body under the floorboards of her house. The late Bruce Sterling was left under her floorboards as a message from the dead-but-not-dead serial killer Dean Reeve. Frieda had sent Sterling to investigate Reeve’s current whereabouts, because Frieda is the only person who has never believed that Reeve was dead.

Sterling’s corpse was clearly a message to Frieda to not send anyone else after him, lest they share the same fate. It was also a rather pointed message to the police, that Frieda had been right all along, and that they had been rather spectacularly wrong.

The newly resurrected investigation into Dean Reeve will cause heads to roll at Scotland Yard, but Frieda is much too preoccupied to say “I told you so”. Because someone is targeting her friends and family-of-choice, and it isn’t Dean Reeve. Not that he’s not capable of the violence, but that these particular instances are not his style.

And he sends Frieda a rather pointed message to that effect. It seems that both Dean Reeve and Frieda Klein now share a sick admirer. Or someone is copying Dean’s methods to get Frieda’s attention. Or someone is circling around Frieda to get Dean’s attention. Or both.

But the police are baffled as one after another of the people in Frieda’s close orbit suffer. Her niece is kidnapped and drugged. Two of her friends are severely beaten. One of her psychotherapy patients is murdered. One friend’s child is kidnapped. And another friend is missing.

Once Dean Reeve is conclusively eliminated, or as conclusively as he can be for such a shadowy figure, both the police and Frieda are left wondering who done it? And more importantly why?
As the attacks escalate, Frieda and her friends draw together for protection and support, Frieda holds herself just a bit apart, as she usually does, trying to figure out which person on the fringes of her life has become a killer, hiding in plain sight.

Even if they are clever enough to fool the police, no one is smart enough to fool Frieda for very long once she zeroes in on the perpetrator. Whether she can either convince the police, or prove her suspicions, is a race to the finish. And very nearly Frieda’s.

Escape Rating A-: The Frieda Klein series are mysteries of the psychological thriller school, or at least that’s how they feel. There’s not a lot of derring-do, instead the story consists of ratcheting terror, dogged but often wrong-headed investigation by the police, and leaps of intuition from Frieda, a psychotherapist who has been forced to turn amateur detective by the circumstances that have taken over her life.

Dean Reeve has been both pursuing Frieda and watching over her for a number of years. She’s always known that he faked his own death, but has been unable to prove it to the satisfaction of the police. Reeve has become a perverse bodyguard in that he doesn’t let anyone threaten Frieda except himself. A fact that his copycat manages to forget.

As long a shadow as Reeve has cast over Frieda’s life, this particular entry in the series is not about him, except very, very indirectly. The threat here is from the copycat, and it is as severe a threat as Reeve has ever mounted, but much more impulsive and much less organized.

The killer does an excellent job of hiding in plain sight for a very long time, keeping Frieda baffled, the police confused, and the reader totally in the dark for more than half of the story. Once his identity is revealed, the tug-of-war between the killer and Frieda becomes the focus of the rest of the book.

While it is edge-of-the-seat tense from beginning to end, an element of the chill was lost with the reveal of the copycat. He’s much more impressive when we are only able to see his actions and their consequences and not hear his internal gloating about his own cleverness. Especially as once we know who it is, we are also able to see that he has been more lucky than clever.
And still extremely dangerous.

Frieda is a difficult character to get a handle on. Her entire career revolves around being the dispassionate observer, and her nature doesn’t change even when the disaster she is observing is that of her own life. She cares, and she’s scared, but she still feels a bit distant.

The emotional investment in the story comes from the people who surround her. It’s them that we feel for, because we see so much more of their emotions than we do hers. As a result, I’m not sure how a reader would be coming into the series at this point. While the suspenseful element would still be present, without having read at least some of the previous books, the emotional connection to the characters would feel as distant as Frieda’s, and I think it would lose something.

This series is not quite over. It looks like the final volume, and Frieda’s final confrontation with Dean Reeve, is coming later this year in what I expect is the entirely appropriately titled The Day of the Dead. And I can’t wait to read it – with the lights on.

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