The Little Book of Lost Hearts – Valerie-Anne Baglietto

The Little Book Of Lost Hearts

Publisher: Novelistas Ink Press

From Amazon:

Christmas in Fools Castle hasn’t always been this magical…

Nothing much happens around here, but that suits Antoinette Ellis perfectly. She wants the cocoon the village provides. Fate has taken too many of her loved ones, and all she has left is her brother, and their late sister’s daughter, Tabitha. Antoinette gave up her future to look after her young niece, but her sacrifice hasn’t gone unnoticed.

When a stranger called Rufus moves into the grim, grey house opposite her cottage, odd things start to happen in Fools Castle. He admits he’s not the person he appears to be, but he won’t reveal who he really is. And what secrets lie within that little old book of his, which no one is allowed to look inside?

A miracle is long overdue, but the season for miracles is just around the corner.

My thoughts:
 
 
I really enjoyed this novella and it had my attention from the first page – it’s perfect to get you in the mood for Christmas with an engaging cast of characters and a magical feel to the story.

Antoinette lives in a cottage in Fools Castle, with her young niece Tabitha, following the sudden death of Tabitha’s parents. She has put her own life and dreams aside to make sure that Tabitha feels safe and secure but when a mysterious stranger, Rufus, moves into the rented cottage opposite, events force Antoinette to review her life and she has to decide whether she wants to continue to play it safe or take a chance.

Besides Tabitha, Antoinette’s only other remaining family is her older brother Sawyer, who lives in Fools Castle with his two step children. Sawyer could be a bit of a grump and his natural instinct to protect his sister, often put the two of them into conflict however I liked the way that Antoinette stood up to him when he tried to interfere. Although this a short read, there is still enough of a story and background to make it interesting with well-drawn characters.

The village of Fools Castle – and a few of its inhabitants – will be appearing in the author’s next full-length work, due for release in 2014. I will certainly be looking out for this one.

I was pleased to discover that I had another book by this author on my Kindle, Once Upon a Winter, purchased earlier this year, which I look forward to reading.

My thanks to Valerie-Anne for sending the digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

Author website:  http://www.valerie-annebaglietto.com

Someone to Watch Over Me – Madeleine Reiss

Someone to Watch Over Me

Publisher: Harper Collins

From Amazon:

A haunting and compelling debut novel that will appeal to readers who loved Sister by Rosamund Lupton and Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson.

She closed her eyes and he was gone – who is watching him now?

When Carrie’s five-year old son, Charlie, disappeared on a Norfolk beach, her world was destroyed. Now, three years on, she is persuaded by her mother to visit a local medium. Initially sceptical, Carrie is blown away when he appears to reveal something about Charlie’s disappearance; something that nobody could ever have known except herself.

Single mum, Molly, is worried about her young son, Max, who has been having more of his little ‘accidents’ at school and has recently starting talking again to his imaginary friend.

Molly knows that Max’s problems stem from his very real anxieties about his father – a violent and unstable man – who they are now in hiding from.

Little do the women know that their worlds are about to converge – and both of them will have to face the thing they fear the most. But could the truth destroy them?

My thoughts:

I was completely gripped by this story from the start. We know early on that Carrie and Damian’s young son Charlie has vanished from a Norfolk beach – what we don’t know is why and how.

The story then goes forward by 3 years and life has slowly moved forward for both Carrie and Damian. Sadly their marriage didn’t survive Charlie’s disappearance and therefore currently single, Carrie and her old friend Jen, are preparing to open their gift shop “Trove”. Carrie is thankful to have the shop to keep her busy. She is still grieving for the loss of her son and the guilt over the events of that day still holds firm as she has never forgiven herself for briefly falling asleep that day on the beach when Charlie disappeared.

Running along Carrie’s story is a separate strand concerning Molly and her young son Max. The connection between the two women is that Molly and Max were on the beach that very same day and Charlie played with Max for a while. The only time that Carrie and Molly met was when Carrie was frantically searching the beach looking for Charlie. However the lives of the two women are about to become entwined in a deadly manner that nobody could foresee.

Not only does this story deal with the devastation of the loss of a child but also with such issues as domestic abuse and violence. The story has a supernatural element and depending on your own individual views, you may have to suspend belief slightly at the turn that the book takes however this does nothing to diminish the suspense and tension throughout the pages.

The characterisation is excellent. Carrie’s feelings of guilt and grief are so realistic and we see her conflicting emotions as she receives possible news of Charlie and the ensuing consequences. Her love life becomes quite complicated as she slowly allows herself to start to feel again after having shut down for so long.

Molly and, in particular, her son Max were both convincing characters and my heart broke at times for Max. Molly’s desperate attempts to protect her son were almost too painful to read. Max is a lonely child and when he keeps referring to his friend Charlie, his voice is dismissed as that of a young child having an imaginary friend.

I thought I knew where the story was going, especially when Jen’s new boyfriend suddenly appeared however I was proved wrong. I’m still not quite sure why he was such a big part of the story, other than to provide a love interest for Jen.

There were some parts of the book that were lighter and verging on comedy – especially the scenes with Carrie’s mother, the characters around the shop and Carrie’s musical neighbours! However the overall tone was that of a thriller and it certainly had me turning the pages.

This debut novel gets top marks from me and I would love to read more by Madeleine Reiss. 

This book was provided by the Amazon Vine programme in exchange for an honest review

About the author:

Madeleine Reiss was born in Athens. She worked for some years in an agency for street performers and comedians and then as a journalist and publicist. She has two sons and lives in Cambridge with her husband and her younger son. Someone To Watch Over Me is her first novel.

You can follow Madeleine Reiss on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/MadeleineReiss

Something Borrowed, Someone Dead – M C Beaton


Publisher: C & R Crime

Published Date: 3 October 2013

From Amazon


Incomer Gloria French is at first welcomed in the Cotswold village of Piddlebury. She seems like a do-gooder par excellence, raising funds for the church and caring for the elderly. But she has a bad habit of borrowing things and not giving them back, so when she is discovered dead, poisoned by a bottle of elderberry wine, folk in the village don’t mourn her passing too intently.

Parish councillor Jerry Tarrant hires Agatha Raisin to track down the murderer. But the village is creepy and secretive and the residents don’t seem to want Agatha to find who the murderer is, and Agatha’s investigations are hampered by the emotional upset of finding her ex, James Lacey, has fallen in love with young detective Toni Gilmour.

And now the murderer is targeting Agatha! 

My thoughts:

I have to admit that the Agatha Raisin series is somewhat of a guilty pleasure. Over the years I’ve read all the books from the first one, The Quiche of Death and this is now book 24. They are completely over the top in terms of characters and plot lines but I just have to keep reading the series and have become surprisingly addicted to the grumpy private detective.

In Agatha’s latest adventure, the body count doesn’t seem to be quite as high as normal – in many of the stories, the Cotswold countryside is normally littered with bodies. Agatha is still like a bull in a china shop in her manner although, in this story, she seems a little more subdued and dare I say it, a teeny bit more tactful, and less interfering, particularly where Toni is concerned.

One of the things I like about this series is the Cotswold setting. I adore the Cotswolds and its somewhere I would love to live, although in Agatha Raisin’s world, it’s rather a dangerous place. The latest adventure is set in the village of Piddlebury, with the murder victim being Gloria French. Gloria is fairly new to the village and seemingly is a pillar of the community – she helps by raising funds for church repairs, reads to the elderly and does their shopping. However she has a fault – she has a habit of ‘borrowing’ things – anything from flour to a valuable antique chest of drawers and then refuses to return them. It’s inevitable that she is going to gain some enemies – and any one of the good folk of Piddlebury could be a killer.  

When Agatha is asked to investigate and find the killer, she adopts her usual bullish style and gets people’s backs up around the village – however little does she know that she is in the killer’s sights! She has her work cut out here as the villagers close ranks and try to chase away outsiders interfering in their affairs.

Agatha Raisin is never going to be a cuddly Miss Marple character. She’s bossy, prone to extreme jealousy, is extremely vain, has an acid tongue and is addicted to publicity, however this is part of her attraction. The usual cast of characters appear including Sir Charles Fraith – Agatha’s on and off lover/friend, her ex-husband James Lacey, and the wise and kind Mrs Bloxby, the vicar’s wife. Toni Gilmour, Agatha’s young colleague, features more heavily in this book however even her character seems rather lacklustre in comparison to previous stories. Of course there always has to be a love interest for Agatha to obsess over and, basically, stalk, and this time it’s the turn of a fellow guest at the Inn in Piddlebury where Agatha is staying. Unhappily for Agatha, her interest is not reciprocated!

All the stories follow the same formula and the ending is of course predictable. The author does seem to think of increasingly bizarre ways to kill people off – poisonous elderberry wine being the latest weapon of choice. I found this story a little bit darker and the villagers creepier than usual, with blackmail and talk of witchcraft. 

If you’re looking for a serious crime fiction read, then you may be disappointed. If however you want a quick read that’s easy and uncomplicated then this series is ideal.

 

The Room Beyond – Stephanie Elmas

The Room Beyond

From Amazon

When Serena begins a new life working for the Hartreve family at 36 Marguerite Avenue she falls in love, not just with its eccentric and alluring inhabitants and their world, but with the house itself. Number 36 is a beautiful Victorian London mansion that has remained in the family for generations. Serena feels that by being here she has escaped the ghosts of her own sad childhood and found a true home, but she soon discovers that behind its gleaming surfaces Marguerite Avenue is plagued by secrets and mystery. Why does such a beautiful tranquil street seem sometimes to shimmer with menace? Is everyone in the family quite who they appear to be? And just what is it that the family is trying to hide from her?

It is 1892. On a hot summer night scented with jasmine, Miranda Whitestone hosts a dinner party at 34 Marguerite Avenue. Watching helplessly as her husband is seduced by her glamorous neighbour Lucinda Eden, she can have no idea of the consequences the evening will have.

For the history of Marguerite Avenue is more chilling than Serena could have imagined, and the fates of two women – the beautiful renegade Lucinda and the ‘good wife’ Miranda – will reach out from the past to cast a shadow over Serena’s own future.

The Room Beyond is a thriller that delves beneath the romance and grandeur of a London house and finds a family haunted by the legacy of past wrongdoings. As the suspense grows and the fog thickens, will Serena be able to give up all that she has come to love? Will she ever escape?

My thoughts:

The story takes place over two time periods. We firstly meet Serena in the present day. A young artist, Serena has arrived at the door of 36 Marguerite Avenue, for an interview as a nanny for 4 year old Beth Hartreve. Surprisingly, she is hired on the spot and thus begins her association with the eccentric Hartreve family.

We then meet Miranda Whitestone at number 34 Marguerite Avenue. It is 1892 and newly married Miranda is desperately trying to please her husband Tristan. It was a marriage for love for Miranda but one of convenience for Tristan and in truth he despises his young wife. When Miranda invites the glamorous but reclusive next door neighbour, Lucinda Eden, to join them at a dinner party, she can have no idea of the consequences that will follow.

I really enjoyed this book and the two storylines, over a century apart, were perfectly woven together. When Serena first moves into no. 36, she falls in love not only with the beautiful Victorian mansion with its sumptuous rooms and air of faded glamour but also with Sebastian, a long-time friend of the family. However, there are undercurrents within the family, making her feel very uncomfortable. Why do they see her as a threat and what are the secrets that they are so desperate to hide?

There are some wonderful characters, including Miranda – who changes from the meek person we first meet to a much stronger woman, fighting to save not only her own life, but the lives of others. There is also the unpredictable Lucinda Eden (neé Hartreve), abandoned by her husband Alfonso. The enigmatic mystic Water Balanchine, with his strange costumes and hypnotic manner was an inspired addition to the story. Young Beth can a precocious child and seems very much older than her years. Can she really hear the ghostly cries of a woman in her bedroom or is it just her imagination?

With alternate chapters telling the stories of both Serena and Miranda, what could be just another romance story is turned into a tension filled, dark supernatural thriller where evil forces threaten the living. I certainly didn’t see the twists and turns coming towards the end.

This was a perfect atmospheric and gothic ghostly read which I am sure you will not be able to put down – I couldn’t, and I can’t wait to read the next book due in 2014 which I understand will be a prequel featuring Walter Balanchine and his life in the poor Victorian East End of London.

My thanks to the author for the digital copy for review.

About the Author:

 

Stephanie Elmas was born in Hong Kong to an English father and Czech mother but spent most of her childhood in Bristol, England UK. She studied English at university in London. She has worked as a head hunter, taught English in Japan and returned to university to complete a Masters in Victorian fiction. It was here that she developed her interest in the dark dangerous world of Victorian sensation writing. Stephanie now lives in a chaotic house in Surrey, England UK, with her husband and three highly energetic but wonderful children.

The
Room Beyond took SEVEN years to write, an enormous labour of love!
Stephanie gave up her PhD to complete it and had three children and
renovated two houses in the meantime. Most of the writing happened
during her children’s sleep times and whenever she could catch a free
moment.

Website: http://www.stephanieelmas.com

You can contact Stephanie on Twitter: @StephanieElmas


The Dead Wife’s Handbook – Hannah Beckerman

The Dead Wife's Handbook

Publisher: Penguin

Description:

When Rachel dies suddenly at the age of 36, leaving behind her wonderful husband Max and beautiful daughter, Ellie, the last thing she expected was to have to watch helplessly as they mourn her death.

Its meant to be the bereaved who go through the seven stages of grief from denial to acceptance, but as Max and Ellie work through their grief, Rachel too struggles to come to terms with her death and all that means – especially when her husband starts to to date again, and she realises that one day he will find love, and that Ellie will have a new mother figure in her life.

My thoughts:

“…..I wonder, too, whether it’s more distressing to watch your family in mourning for you or whether it will be worse when, one day, they stop grieving and start living painlessly without me”. 




We know from the very first page that Rachel has died unexpectedly, after a celebratory evening out with her husband Max, and is now completely alone, somewhere in the afterworld.  Every so often she is briefly granted access to view moments with Max and/or Ellie and we experience with her, her grief and anger that she is no longer with them to offer reassurance and comfort.

This afterworld is not a happy place where families are reunited in death, but is bleak and lonely for Rachel and her time spent watching her loved ones are times of both happiness and agony as she sees them grieving and feels helpless in being unable to make them aware of her presence. We see her frustration and jealousy as Max starts to date again and her worries that she will be forgotten and that her memory will be slowly erased from their lives.

This is a compelling and beautifully written account of Rachel’s transition through the grieving process and watching others live the life that she will never have. Unusually, we see the aftermath of a death through the eyes of the deceased and it presents a powerful image.   Having been through the grieving process myself I could identify with Rachel’s feelings of loss. The writing was perceptive and warm with some amusing moments, especially with Max’s first attempts at dating!

Despite being an incredibly poignant and sad story, this is not a morbid book by any means. The characters are a joy to spend time with, especially 6 year old Ellie, and Max’s devotion to her was lovely to see. The book isn’t all about Rachel and certainly the main characters in Rachel’s life are rounded and believable. I really felt for Max when well meaning friends and family tried to persuade him to “move on”. At the end of each stage of the grieving process, Rachel learns something about herself and it is this journey of realisation that adds an extra element to the story.

I found this an emotional and yet uplifting read and I became completely engrossed in the lives, and death, of Rachel and her family. This is an excellent debut novel which I would have no hesitation in recommending. Just one tip – make sure you have some tissues handy!

 
My thanks to Real Readers and the publisher, Penguin, for the review copy of this book.  I certainly look forward to reading further books by Ms Beckerman.

The Dead Wife’s Handbook will be published by Penguin in February 2014

Hannah Beckerman is a former TV executive and Commissioning Editor. She
has worked in the UK, Bangladesh and the US, where she worked for the
Discovery Channel. Her work has been shown at the Sundance film
festival, played in cinemas worldwide, and won numerous international
awards. The Dead Wife’s Handbook is her first novel.

Author website: http://www.hannahbeckerman.com
 
You can follow Hannah on Twitter here