Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb


From New York Times bestselling author Sharyn McCrumb comes a finely wrought novel set in nineteenth-century West Virginia, based on the true story of one of the strangest murder trials in American history—the case of the Greenbrier Ghost.

Lakin, West Virginia, 1930
Following a suicide attempt and consigned to a segregated insane asylum, attorney James P. D. Gardner finds himself under the care of Dr. James Boozer. Fresh out of medical school, Dr. Boozer is eager to try the new talking cure for insanity, and encourages his elderly patient to reminisce about his experiences as the first black attorney to practice law in nineteenth-century West Virginia. Gardner's most memorable case was the one in which he helped to defend a white man on trial for the murder of his young bride—a case that the prosecution based on the testimony of a ghost.

Greenbrier, West Virginia, 1897
Beautiful, willful Zona Heaster has always lived in the mountains of West Virginia. Despite her mother’s misgivings, Zona marries Erasmus Trout Shue, the handsome blacksmith who has recently come to Greenbrier County. After weeks of silence from the newlyweds, riders come to the Heasters’ place to tell them that Zona has died from a fall, attributed to a recent illness. Mary Jane is determined to get justice for her daughter. A month after the funeral, she informs the county prosecutor that Zona’s ghost appeared to her, saying that she had been murdered. An autopsy, ordered by the reluctant prosecutor, confirms her claim.

The Greenbrier Ghost is renowned in American folklore, but Sharyn McCrumb is the first author to look beneath the legend to unearth the facts. Using a century of genealogical material and other historical documents, McCrumb reveals new information about the story and brings to life the personalities in the trial: the prosecutor, a former Confederate cavalryman; the defense attorney, a pro-Union bridgeburner, who nevertheless had owned slaves; and the mother of the murdered woman, who doggedly sticks to her ghost story—all seen through the eyes of a young black lawyer on the cusp of a new century, with his own tragedies yet to come.

With its unique blend of masterful research and mesmerizing folklore, illuminating the story’s fascinating and complex characters, The Unquiet Grave confirms Sharyn McCrumb’s place among the finest Southern writers at work today.

REVIEW


Sharyn McCrumb returns with a haunting tale based upon actual true life events. It is about the murder of a young wife and the subsequent trial of the accused, her husband. What makes the tale fascinating is the convicting testimony came from the victim's mother who gave evidence that her daughter's ghost led her to discover the death was actually a murder. This resulted in the exhumation of the corpse and the subsequent charges and trial. 

Set in the late 1800's, the novel explores the victim, accused, and family. In addition, time is spent on the backgrounds of the prosecutor and defence lawyers. Known as the case of the Greenbriar Ghost, the author has researched the case in great detail, drawing on photos, maps, and legal certificates of those involved. Another historical fact is that the defence lawyer was the first black attorney in Virginia. 

The first half of the book is fast paced and gripping. A bit of momentum is lost in the second half as the conversation between the defence lawyer and his psychiatric doctor in the mental institution revealing details of the case dragged a bit.

Nevertheless, the story and characters kept me enthralled to the end. A nice mix of mystery and folk tale! Definitely recommended.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Trust by Ronald H Balson


The newest novel from Ronald H. Balson, the international bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers, finds private investigator Liam Taggart returning to his childhood home for an uncle's funeral, only to discover his death might not have been natural.


When his uncle dies, Liam Taggart reluctantly returns to his childhood home in Northern Ireland for the funeral—a home he left years ago after a bitter confrontation with his family, never to look back. But when he arrives, Liam learns that not only was his uncle shot to death, but that he’d anticipated his own murder: In an astonishing last will and testament, Uncle Fergus has left his entire estate to a secret trust, directing that no distributions be made to any person until the killer is found. Did Fergus know, but refuse to name, his killer? Was this a crime of revenge, a vendetta leftover from Northern Ireland’s bloody sectarian war? After all, the Taggarts were deeply involved in the IRA. Or is it possible that the killer is a family member seeking Fergus’s estate? Otherwise, why postpone distributions to the heirs? Most menacingly, does the killer now have his sights on other family members?

As his investigation draws Liam farther and farther into the past he has abandoned, he realises he is forced to reopen doors long ago shut and locked. Now, accepting the appointment as sole trustee of the Fergus Taggart Trust, Liam realises he has stepped into the center of a firestorm.

REVIEW

When Liam Taggart receives an ominous phone call to return to Ireland for the funeral of an estranged uncle, he knows his life will be forever altered. Regretting the problems that divided him from his Irish family, he returns only to learn his uncle has been murdered. During the reading of the will, he learns he has been made sole trustee and all inheritances to family members must be kept secret until he is able to discover who the murderer is. This sets him at odds with his uncles, aunts, and cousins. True to his word, Liam begins to investigate, but soon learns other family members, including himself and his wife and child in American are targeted and being threatened. 

This novel is definitely a page turner. With its intricately fascinating plot and its many twists and turns, and the fascinating cast of characters, this book consumed me. I read far into the night, unable to put it down, eager to read on. If you like a good whodunnit, then this is a brilliantly written one! Definitely a great choice and highly recommended! I truly loved it. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Twelve Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep



A mysterious invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home may bring danger...and love?

England, 1851: When Clara Chapman receives an intriguing invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home, she is hesitant yet feels compelled to attend—for if she remains the duration of the twelve-day celebration, she is promised a sum of five hundred pounds.

But is she walking into danger? It appears so, especially when she comes face to face with one of the other guests—her former fiancĂ©, Benjamin Lane.

Imprisoned unjustly, Ben wants revenge on whoever stole his honor. When he’s given the chance to gain his freedom, he jumps at it—and is faced with the anger of the woman he stood up at the altar. Brought together under mysterious circumstances, Clara and Ben discover that what they’ve been striving for isn’t what ultimately matters.

What matters most is what Christmas is all about . . . love.

Pour a cup of tea and settle in for Book 1 of the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series--a page-turning Victorian-era holiday tale--by Michelle Griep, a reader and critic favorite.

REVIEW

What a great, clever little read! Twelve Days at Bleakly Manor is best described as a mix between Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie. The story is told through the point of view of Clara and Ben, former lovers who were separated at the altar before taking their vows and each one blaming the other for being abandoned. They, and along with other fascinating and quirky characters, receive secret invitations to spend the twelve days of Christmas at Bleakly Manor with a reward for them if they are able to remain there the full twelve days. What transpires are mysterious happenings, life threatening accidents, and a great deal of intrigue and mystery.

A splendid whodunnit with plenty of surprises and a great love story intertwined! Definitely worth reading at any time of the year! 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Silk Weaver's Wife by Debbie Rix



A heart-wrenching and unforgettable story of two women – centuries apart – linked by the hidden secrets of a beautiful woman in a Venetian painting. 

Venice 1704: Anastasia is desperate to escape her controlling father and plans to marry her childhood sweetheart. But instead of the life she has always dreamed of, she finds herself trapped in Venice, the unwilling wife of a silk weaver.

Anastasia seeks comfort in painting and draws strength from her talents. Despite her circumstances, two women reach out to her and give Anastasia a reason to hope. And together they make a momentous decision which will change all of their lives…

London 2017: Millie wants more from her relationship and more from her life. So when her boss Max abruptly ends their affair, she takes the opportunity to write a feature in Italy.

Staying in a gorgeous villa, Millie unexpectedly falls in love with the owner, Lorenzo. Together they begin to unravel an incredible story, passed down through generations of women. 

And Millie finds herself compelled to discover the identity of a mysterious woman in a portrait…

A richly evocative and utterly page-turning story about lost secrets, family heirlooms and love against all odds. The Silk Weaver’s Wife is perfect for readers who enjoyed Island of Secrets, The Secret Wife and Amy Snow.

REVIEW

The Silk Weaver's Wife by Debbie Rix is a novel about two women who lived 300 years apart in Venice. 

In 1700 Veneto, Anastasia Balzarelli's father forces her to abandon Marco. the man she attempted to elope with in order to wed a wealthy man in the silk industry. He takes her to his home in Venice and locks her up an upper bedroom for months. Each night he rapes her, hoping to beget a child. Deprived of her freedom, she spends long hours each day drawing insects. 

In contemporary times, Millie is a journalist in love with a married man who has just dumped her to return to his wife. Heartbroken she is sent from her home in the UK to Italy to report on the country's silk industry. She is booked into a beautiful country villa near Venice and is escorted about by the handsome owner, Lorenzo. Millie finds joy and contentment - that is until her ex-lover shows up repentant and ready to lay claim to her again. An old portrait of a beautiful young woman haunts Millie and she sets off to discover who she was and how her portrait came to hang in Lorenzo's villas. 

Both of the women's stories kept me enthralled and turning pages. The novel is rich with plot twists, secrets, and ever evolving characters who intrigued me. Author Debbie Rix has done a great job in researching the Veneto region (my family's own roots) with accurate descriptions that lent a great deal of atmosphere to the story's setting. Definitely a must read!

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Cardinal's Man by M.G. Sinclair


With enemies advancing on all sides and Cardinal Richelieu's health failing, France is at breaking point. Yet salvation may arrive in the most unlikely form...

Born into poverty and with terrible deformities, Sebastian Morra is a dwarf with the wit of Tyrion Lannister and three foot, four inches of brazen pluck. Through a mixture of brains and luck, he has travelled far from his village to become a jester at the royal court. And with a talent for making enemies, he is soon drawn into the twilight world of Cardinal Richelieu, where he discovers he might just be the only man with the talents to save France from her deadliest foes.
'Intelligent, cunning and occasionally reckless, Sebastian Morra lights up The Cardinal's Man with his zest for survival. The excesses and squalor of 17th century France are brought viscerally and vividly to life in this engaging, beautifully researched novel'
VICTORIA BLAKE, author of The Return of the Courtesan

REVIEW

I love a good book where the underdog not only survives, but triumphs. This is one such book. At the heart of the story is Sebastian, a dwarf. He is bullied, beaten, cheated, cast out, and struggles to survive. With is cunning wit and wily courage, he is able to survive the depths of poverty when he is forced to live on the streets. It is there that he learns how to dodge trouble or face it with true grit. 

His life turns around when he finds himself as a dwarf entertainer in King Louis' court. Now with his own room and plenty of food and clothes, he finds a sense of contentment. But despite his comforts, he is not immune the the treacheries and machinations of the French court. His path crosses one of the most diabolical, hard men King Louis trusts - the Bishop Richelieu. It is then he is forced into working for the dangerous cleric. 

Sebastian was utterly charming and totally likeable, despite the fact he is flawed not only in looks but in character. It is this that makes him so fascinating. Wit, humour, cunning, and sarcasm are his weapons and he wields them throughout the many perils and twists and turns of the story.

Crisp, creative dialogue pepper each scene, as do the stories many villains and heroes. I found the historical detail intriguing and well researched so it felt as if I was truly in 17th century France with all its turmoil and terror.

This is one of the best books I've ever read of this particular era of history. I truly and highly recommend it! There is much to laud for all readers.