Category: Guest Post

Sophia Rose Review: A Quiet Life in the Country by T.E. Kinsey, Narrated by Elizabeth Knowelden

Posted March 22, 2019 by Lily B in Guest Post, Reviews / 10 Comments

Sophia Rose Review: A Quiet Life in the Country by T.E. Kinsey, Narrated by Elizabeth KnoweldenA Quiet Life in the Country by T E Kinsey, Elizabeth Knowelden
Narrator: Elizabeth Knowelden
Length: 7 hours 43 minutes
Series: Lady Hardcastle Mysteries #1
Published by Brilliance Audio on October 4, 2016
Genres: Historical Mystery
Format: Audiobook
Source: Bought
Buy on Amazon
Rating:4 Stars

7 hours and 43 minutes
A Lady Hardcastle Mystery, Book 1
Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they've just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life.
But it is not long before Lady Hardcastle is forced out of her self-imposed retirement. There's a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation...
As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country.
©2016 T E Kinsey. (P)2016 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved.
Listening Length: 7 hours and 43 minutes

I started with book three in this series, progressed forward, and finally took the opportunity to go back and get the first book in the series. The cozy mystery paired with historical Edwardian setting was light and whimsical.

Actually, when I started listening, I realized that the first book introduced Lady Hardcastle and her ladies’ maid, Florence Armstrong along with their new home and the other regular characters, in such a way that it didn’t feel like the first book so much as the first of the stories that had been recorded. There are hints of their unusual, dangerous work abroad and no big explanation why the pair happened to be set upon ‘a quiet life in the country’ or why Lady Hardcastle and Florence have a relationship that is nearly family rather than an employer and servant from separate classes. The author trickles out the details and the reader/listener must catch them and piece them together as they go. Because I had experienced later books, those pieces stuck out easily to me. The meeting with Inspector Sunderland and the local villagers and neighborhood was fun. I do enjoy the amusing banter between the two women and hints of darker matters and sorrow from their shared past.

There are two murder mysteries that have interesting crossover people and facts. One seems to involve a dead man from the village cricket team whose death was meant to appear like a suicide and then later, the death of a rag-time band trumpeteer that played at the engagement party of the local squire’s daughter. A theft is tossed in for good measure.

I figured out one of the murders and part of the theft and the second murder, but the ultimate solution took me by surprise. Loved seeing the intrepid Flo able to get in some of her martial arts ability, use her cache of being a member of the serving class to get their help and take on things, and spend time trailing along as her ladyship teased out the solution alongside Inspector Sunderland using old fashioned detection methods.

Elizabeth Knowelden is an absolute gem of a narrator and the voice of this series for me. She laid out the Edwardian country village world, the variety of genders and accents, and kept the pace and tone for this series just right.

All in all, I thought this first entry was as fabulous as the later books and do not hesitate to put it out there as a good bet for historical cozy mystery lovers.

About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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Sophia Rose Review: There Will Be Sun by Dana Reinhardt

Posted March 12, 2019 by Lily B in Guest Post, Reviews / 14 Comments

Sophia Rose Review: There Will Be Sun by Dana ReinhardtTomorrow There Will Be Sun by Dana Reinhardt
Series: standalone
Published by Pamela Dorman Books on March 12, 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Rating:3 Stars

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A private Mexican villa is the backdrop to this smart, absorbing story of a milestone vacation in a tropical paradise gone wrong, wrong, wrong.
Two families arrive in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. Jenna has organized the trip to celebrate her husband's fiftieth birthday--she's been looking forward to it for months. She's sure everything is going to be just perfect--and the margarita refills delivered by the house staff certainly don't hurt, either. What could go wrong?
Yet as the families settle into their vacation routines, their best friends suddenly seem like annoying strangers, and even Jenna's reliable husband, Peter, is sharing clandestine phone calls with someone--but who? Jenna's teenage daughter, Clem, is spending an awful lot of time with Malcolm, whose questionable rep got him expelled from school. Jenna's dream of the ultimate celebration begins to crack and eventually crumbles completely, leaving her wondering whom she can trust, and whether her privileged life is about to be changed forever.
Readers of Emma Straub, Meg Wolitzer and Delia Ephron will love this sharply funny novel. Whether you're putting it in your carry-on to read on the beach or looking to escape the dead-of-winter blues, Tomorrow There Will Be Sun is the perfect companion.

Once in a while, I get in the mood for something far outside my usual reading habits.  This general fiction piece about two families of friends sharing a vacation villa in Puerta Vallarta and showcases that a truly horrid vacation story might be the one you never tell and never leaves you the same.

 

Jenna is the narrator of this story and she turns out to be an everyday, average middle-aged woman who has a penchant for needing control over everything, lots of worrying, and a confidence of being settled and satisfied in her life.  Okay, so she wished her husband, Peter, would be a little more assertive when it came to Solly getting his way and she wished she had a closer relationship with her daughter in the form of friendship, but nothing really beyond what she could handle in all that.  Unlike one of her good friend’s, Solly’s first wife, her husband isn’t planning to leave her for a younger model and her daughter wasn’t caught dealing drugs in school.

 

Yep, anyone can tell that poor Jenna, who has her faults though not dastardly ones, is being set up and this vacation trip is when it all starts to unravel.

 

The blurb might make this sound like a thriller or that it might be a humorous comedy of vacation errors.  Um, no, not even. Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple funny bits and there some real excitement happening that reminds me why I’ve shied away from this sort of vacation. The exciting stuff comes late and ends up in the background of what starts to happen in Jenna’s personal life.  That, my friends, is where the tension and crisis hits.

 

The reader goes through a long set up, getting to know the characters as the vacation gets rolling, and a lot of a middle-aged woman’s introspection to get there.  I won’t say its boring since the author writes in a way that kept me reading. I wasn’t exactly bored, but I wasn’t riveted, either, and I did get impatient. I was only so-so about Jenna or any of the characters for that matter.  They’re just… people. Nothing extraordinary. That is their appeal, but also not something that will keep ones interest indefinitely, as a result.

 

I think the part that struck me and probably will make this story stay in my mind longer than I thought when I was reading it, was the choice for the ending.  After all that came before it, the ending is open-ended though the reader can make an educated guess what will come after. Jenna has to decide what she wants to do with what she now knows about herself and about the others.

 

So, this was gently-paced, mostly introspective story of a middle-aged woman who goes on vacation thinking one thing about her life and comes back quite different.  An easy read with sunny setting turned out to be an engaging fiction that I can recommend to those who reach for slow and easy character-driven books.

 

My thanks to Pamela Dorman/Viking for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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Sophia Rose Review: Offstage in Nuala by Harriet Steel, narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies

Posted February 28, 2019 by Lily B in Guest Post, Reviews / 10 Comments

Sophia Rose Review: Offstage in Nuala by Harriet Steel, narrated by Matthew Lloyd DaviesOffstage in Nuala by Harriet Steel
Narrator: Matthew Lloyd Davies
Length: 5 hours 44 minutes
Series: The Inspector de Silva Mysteries #3
Published by Tantor Audio on October 24, 2017
Genres: Historical, Cozy Mystery
Pages: 224
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Rating:4 Stars

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

In this third instalment of The Inspector de Silva Mysteries, there’s great excitement when a professional theatre company comes to Nuala. However matters take a dark turn when the company’s actor manager is murdered. Inspector de Silva has a new case to solve and he has to consider some very unpalatable motives for the crime. He will need all his persistence, coupled with his wife, Jane’s, invaluable help to unmask the villain of the piece. Set on the exotic island of Ceylon in the 1930s, The Inspector de Silva Mysteries provide a colourful and relaxing read spiced with humour and an engaging cast of characters.

Shanti de Silva takes his wife Jane to the newly opened playhouse in Nuala when a traveling Shakespearean theater troupe arrive in town. It is not long before Hamlet is enacted in real life and Inspector de Silva must work out who brought the final curtain down on the lead actor.

This is the third of the Inspector de Silva mysteries set in 1930’s Ceylon with a Sinhalese detective who must always do a balancing act between the Colonial British government and the local peoples of whom he is one as he solves crime in Ceylon mountain city in the heart of tea plantation country. Shanti is a progressive and intellectual man who chose to marry warmhearted former governess, Jane. They share a tender and friendly loving relationship along with an interest in crime-solving, but also must deal with the nuances to their marriage that come from being an interracial couple.

Each of these historical cozy mysteries are a delight for the details of the 1930’s world of Ceylon and having the main character being non-British. This aids and hinders his work in turn.

The mysteries are not devilishly twisting, but they are not too easy to figure out, either. I enjoy seeing Shanti gather the facts here and there, consult Jane’s take, engage in other daily affairs, and then have an intense action-packed final scene when he exposes the killer.

The narrator, Matthew Lloyd Davies, does a stellar job of voicing gender, age, many international accents, and bringing out nuances in the story with a good handle on pacing and tone. I get lost in his storytelling each time I listen in to this series.

In summary, these are a wonderful escape to the past and an exotic setting with a clever murder and engaging characters. Definitely recommend to those who enjoy this genre.

My thanks to Tantor Audio for the opportunity to listen to this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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Guest Review: The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley, Narrated by Jayne Entwistle

Posted February 12, 2019 by Lily B in Guest Post, Reviews / 18 Comments

Guest Review: The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley, Narrated by Jayne EntwistleThe Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
Length: 9 hours 50 minutes
Series: Flavia de Luce, #2
Published by Random House Audio on March 9, 2010
Genres: Historical Mystery
Pages: 10
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Rating:4 Stars

From Dagger Award–winning and internationally bestselling author Alan Bradley comes this utterly beguiling mystery starring one of fiction’s most remarkable sleuths: Flavia de Luce, a dangerously brilliant eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders. This time, Flavia finds herself untangling two deaths—separated by time but linked by the unlikeliest of threads.
Flavia thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacy are over—and then Rupert Porson has an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. The beloved puppeteer has had his own strings sizzled, but who’d do such a thing and why? For Flavia, the questions are intriguing enough to make her put aside her chemistry experiments and schemes of vengeance against her insufferable big sisters. Astride Gladys, her trusty bicycle, Flavia sets out from the de Luces’ crumbling family mansion in search of Bishop’s Lacey’s deadliest secrets.
Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What of the vicar’s odd ministrations to the catatonic woman in the dovecote? Then there’s a German pilot obsessed with the Brontë sisters, a reproachful spinster aunt, and even a box of poisoned chocolates. Most troubling of all is Porson’s assistant, the charming but erratic Nialla. All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head? 
From the Hardcover edition.

Another whimsical and captivating entry in the Flavia de Luce series pits eleven year old amateur detective Flavia against a new puzzling murder and a long ago death of a young boy that may have a bearing on the famous puppeteer’s demise.

Flavia is not just precocious, but rather a child protégé when it comes to chemistry, particularly poisons, and puzzling out a mystery. The de Luce household is somewhat ramshackle and eccentric both the estate and the family. It is a pleasure to slip into Flavia’s English countryside and village 1950-era world. She is both a terror and an engaging girl with a mind that observes and analyzes beyond the average adult.

I enjoyed this gently paced historical mystery. The author’s carefully painted historical setting, dialogues, and characters make the book just sparkle. It may have a child detective, but this is very much an adult level series with themes and elements aimed at an adult audience. That said, Flavia is written so that the reader/listener is convinced of her age while also finding her abilities and deductions equally believable. It is fun how one moment she is clever and cunning when on the hunt to solving the mystery and the other she is cat-fighting and pulling pranks on her older obnoxious sisters while avoiding the stern censure of her father. She understands so much about facts, but finds adults act in unfathomable ways at times. I about died laughing when she went to her father’s manservant to explain what was involved in ‘having an affair’ because she deduced he was likely to be her best bet for an answer. Poor old Dogger!

I will say that this book/series are more of an acquired taste in that I don’t think this will have universal appeal. It will depend on if the reader/listener likes a story that takes its time and also has a mischievous eleven year old as the principle character.

Jayne Entwistle continues to deliver a brilliant performance as the narrator. She voices all the characters so well even the added voice of a male German accented voice along with Flavia’s girl exuberance. There is something that she does to make it feel like the right era, too.

All in all, I had a great time and even burst into laughter several times over Flavia’s antics. Dogger the family handyman continues to be a favorite character as he fights his post-war stress demons and takes care of the family and particularly Flavia. I can’t wait for more from this unique historical mystery series that makes me think of Sherlock Holmes mashed with Addams’ Family.

About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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Guest Review: Pride, Prejudice, and Jasmin Field by Melissa Nathan

Posted February 8, 2019 by Lily B in Guest Post, Reviews / 16 Comments

Guest Review: Pride, Prejudice, and Jasmin Field by Melissa NathanPride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field by Melissa Nathan
Series: standalone
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on April 24, 2001
Genres: Chick-Lit, Womens Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Buy on Amazon
Rating:3.5 Stars

It starts as a lark for Jasmin Field, the charming, acerbically witty columnist for a national women's magazine.  She joins a host of celebraties gathering in London to audition for the season's most dazzling charity event:  a one-night only stage production of Jane Austen's immortal Pride and Prejudice, directed by and starring the Academy Award -- winning Hollywood heartthrob Harry Noble.  And nobody is more surprised than Jasmin herself when she lands the lead of handsome Harry's love interest, Elizabeth Bennet.  But things start to go very wrong very quickly.  Ms. Field's delicious contempt for the arrogant, overbearing Harry Noble goes from being wicked fun to infuriating.  Her brief moment of theatrical glory looks as if it's going to be overshadowed by the betrayal of her best friend, the disintegration of her family and the implosion of her career. And suddenly she can't remember a single one of her lines.  But, worst of all, Harry Noble -- who, incidentally, looks amazing in tight breeches -- has started to stare hard at Jazz with that sort of a glimmer in his eyes...
Fresh, wild, wonderfully romantic and absolutely hilarious, Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field is Jane Austen as the great lady herself never imagined it.

 

So, Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field, a classic retelling within a modern retelling. Yes! We have a play adaption of Jane Austen’s P&P acted for a charity event with the players’ lives mimicking art in this one.

It is set in London and follows the life of women’s column journalist, Jasmin Field as she plays the part of impertinent Elizabeth Bennet across from top rated actor in the country, Harry Noble who set Jazz’s back up long before their first bad meeting.

Things progress in a marvelous comedy of errors type story as Jasmin is set in hate-mode toward Harry and it doesn’t help that she lets herself believe a charmer with lies on his lips. Harry got on her bad side so she has no trouble believing the worst. It is the shy, friendly side that startles her and throws her for a loop. Meanwhile, her sister falls for the cutie nice guy actor and her flat mate plays the role of the pragmatic friend who settles for what she can get.

But, it wasn’t just comedy. There were some deeper elements that came out: abuse, gaslighting, integrity in journalism, feminism in these fields of industry, and the downside of the entertainment world beside all the glitter and glam.

I had a good time with this one, particularly since I’m an American enjoying the completely British flavor of this one even down to the slang. There was some sparks flying and some memorable funny moments along with some good character growth and decisive moments.

I will say that while I had fun with the overall story; I was not as enamored with Jasmin as the main character. I found her character crossed the line from snarky into angry-bitter which wasn’t attractive. It did make her big ‘aha’ moment bigger, and it was great watching her work through her thoughts and choices after that. I didn’t have much respect for her and Harry at times until later- then I was rooting them on.

All in all, it was a fast and engaging retelling with some sparkle and shine to it.

 

Sophia Sophia 

About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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Guest Review + Giveaway: The Winters by Lisa Gabriele

Posted November 7, 2018 by Lily B in Guest Post, Interview, Reviews / 32 Comments

Guest Review + Giveaway: The Winters by Lisa GabrieleThe Winters by Lisa Gabriele
Series: standalone
Published by Viking on October 16, 2018
Genres: Thriller
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Rating:4 Stars

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“From the brilliant first line to the shattering conclusion, The Winters will draw you in and leave you breathless. . . . A must read.” —Liv Constantine, author of The Last Mrs. Parrish
Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, a spellbindingly suspenseful novel set in the moneyed world of the Hamptons, about secrets that refuse to remain buried and consequences that can’t be escaped

After a whirlwind romance, a young woman returns to the opulent, secluded Long Island mansion of her new fiancé Max Winter—a wealthy politician and recent widower—and a life of luxury she’s never known. But all is not as it appears at the Asherley estate. The house is steeped in the memory of Max’s beautiful first wife Rebekah, who haunts the young woman’s imagination and feeds her uncertainties, while his very alive teenage daughter Dani makes her life a living hell. She soon realizes there is no clear place for her in this twisted little family: Max and Dani circle each other like cats, a dynamic that both repels and fascinates her, and he harbors political ambitions with which he will allow no woman—alive or dead—to interfere.
As the soon-to-be second Mrs. Winter grows more in love with Max, and more afraid of Dani, she is drawn deeper into the family’s dark secrets—the kind of secrets that could kill her, too. The Winters is a riveting story about what happens when a family’s ghosts resurface and threaten to upend everything.

How could I resist the lure of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca revisited in an all new take on a gothic thriller that is still keeping readers riveted to the pages. Naturally, there was a great deal of curiosity to see a modern variation on the classic, a little trepidation, but also so much anticipation.

The Winters introduces a young unnamed woman, average and good, who has known poverty and her fair share of loss, working a job for a charter boat business in the Cayman Islands. She is bowled over by the older, debonair Max Winters’ charm. She’s living the fairytale until she leaves her island for his family home on a little island just off Long Island, NY. There she faces the challenge of living down his dead wife’s ghost in the lives of all who live on the estate and in the heart of the dead Rebecca’s bitter, spiteful teenage daughter who resents her mother’s replacement. But, slowly this young woman uncovers the secrets of Asherley and the Winters taking a dark twisting journey to the truth.

“Last night, Rebecca tried to murder me again.”

The opening line is as startling as the many lines after it take their time to build the story. The story is told framed by the present around the past. The narrator is telling the reader her story and she goes back to describe who she was before Max came, why she was susceptible to his charm and the safety of what he offered, and then why she was inadequately prepared to enter his world and the life at Asherley. Naive and woefully unprepared. The introductions to the main players take place including the ghostly woman who is at the heart of it all. I thought the author did an excellent job building her story and the suspense. She carried over the gothic tones that were so prevalent into this modern version well.

Now, its been many years since I read Rebecca and I’m actually thinking that is a good thing. It wasn’t fresh enough in my mind to draw as many comparisons. I felt the flavor of the classic, of course, but I’m pretty sure that this was very much the author’s original creation. I could give The Winters its due and not slighting it for not being Rebecca. I say this because I felt the connection, but really I just read and enjoyed the book for what it gave me.

I found myself considering Dani, Max and Rebecca’s teenage daughter, as someone I couldn’t pin down about how I felt, but she kept my attention the most even over the unnamed heroine. Dani was so multi-faceted and unpredictable. I loved how she was written. Actually, I was well pleased with how everyone and the background was developed. My only niggle was that this did move along ponderously for me in the first bit. That was where I think I missed the older version that got me wound up in the atmosphere a lot sooner. But, this one eventually got rolling and it had me flipping pages rapidly in the end.

So, for those who have not read Rebecca and also for those who have, I think readers will find this a worthy novel of modern gothic suspense that will leave them breathless in the end.

My thanks to Penguin Viking for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

And, now, an extra treat for our Night Owl Book Café readers!

Read on for a Q&A with the author and a giveaway hosted by the publisher, Viking.

A Conversation with Lisa Gabriele

Author of The Winters

1.       The Winters begins like a lot of books, with a handsome man sweeping a young woman off her feet. But at its heart, this is a story about women—our unnamed heroine, plucked out of her quiet existence; Rebekah, the dead first wife who haunts her dreams; and Dani, Rebekah’s vengeful teenage daughter. Did you set out to write a story about female relationships, power, and sexuality?

 

Yes. I’m obsessed with female relationships, sex, and power, and how they intersect. These are my favorite things to read and write about. The genesis of this book began with me thinking about the women in Rebecca, and all the ways modern female characters and a new setting would completely change their relationship with each other. Suddenly The Winters became an exercise in demonstrating how much women have changed in contemporary times, and how some men, especially rich and powerful ones, really have not. I mean, think about all the different ways patriarchy still shapes and molds our lives as women. My narrator certainly has agency, she has a job of her own that she’s quite good at, and a potential role model of a single working woman, but despite this, she’s still deeply susceptible to the lure of a “happily ever after.” And with Max’s daughter Dani, I got to play around with some of my worst fears around young women and social media, on the difficulty of getting your new boyfriend’s kid to accept you, and about feminism’s so-called generational divide. Dani is 15 going on 40, an heiress with a chauffeur, a tutor, and thirty thousand Instagram followers. She isn’t going to make life easy for her new stepmother-to-be. And what better wedge for her to use than the memory of her dead (perfect) mother, Rebekah? The relationship between her and the narrator was explosively fun to write. But this time, the primary question that hovers over the narrator’s image of the dead Rebekah isn’t about her sexuality, but rather her role as a mother—a much more loaded question these days.

 

2.      The Winters is inspired in part by Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel, Rebecca—an instant bestseller, first published in 1938, that has never gone out of print, reportedly selling 50,000 copies a year. And it’s obvious you’re a fan. What do you love about it, and what made you use it as the launching point for your novel?

 

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of Rebecca. My mother, who died almost twenty years ago, introduced me to Alfred Hitchcock’s movie first, and whenever I miss her I reach for it. In the fall of 2016, in the despairing days of the U.S. election, I bought some ice cream and threw in the DVD to drown out the bad news. But this time, instead of comforted, it left me feeling deeply uneasy. I had to remind myself that in Daphne du Maurier’s book Maxim de Winter killed his sexually rebellious first wife, a fact that Hitchcock, due to Production Codes at the time, erased. I suddenly felt this strong desire to avenge Rebecca and punish Maxim. So I guess you could say nostalgia inspired me to reread the book,but anger drove me to write mine.

 

3.      Much of The Winters is set at Asherley, Max Winter’s opulent estate in the Hamptons. Why did you choose that setting?

 

I’ve always been fascinated with Long Island’s moneyed elite; a couple of my favorite books are set there. I loved the storied Gold Coast ofThe Great Gatsby, and the deceptively serene town in The Amityville Horror. I needed a place that combined history and horror and the Hamptons seemed like a natural choice. However, to pull off the violent conclusion, I also needed a location that wasn’t only private, but remote. In the research stage, I visited the Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead and read about Gardiner’s Island. It’s one of the biggest swaths of privately owned land in America, purchased by Lion Gardiner from the Montaukett Indians in the 1600s, in exchange for a large black dog and some Dutch blankets. Today it’s worth more than $125 million dollars so keeping the island in the family has driven generations of Gardiners to sometimes concoct nefarious plots. So Winter’s Island was born, as was a motive for murder. I changed some geographic details, but the rest of its history and topography, its dense forests, the old ruins, the private beach and thick, marshy shores, are the same. Then there’s the mansion. I love a looming turret, so I made Asherley a Queen Anne Victorian—spookier, in my opinion, than the typical center hall design from the Gilded Age. Entering the house, with its paneled walls, oak and marble floors and mullioned windows, the reader falls back in time. The only modern touch is a dramatic, star-shaped greenhouse, Rebekah’s pride and joy, lodged, incongruously and a little violently, against the house, a constant reminder that this was once her domain. 

 

4.      As our narrator spends more time at Asherley and begins to discover her new family’s dark secrets, The Winters becomes a gripping slow-burn thriller. What are your tricks for building suspense and keeping the reader on the edge of their seat?   

 

E.L. Doctorow said, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” With The Winters I never set out to “write a thriller.” I just metaphorically made my headlights a little dimmer and the road ahead a little snakier, but kept the speed the same, (barely) avoiding smashing through the guardrails. Also the whole story is told from one POV. The narrator’s. We are only in her head. We only know what she knows. And she’s fed different versions of the same stories. So who to trust? You can also use short staccato sentences. They ratchet up the tension. Sometimes.

 

5.      Like many fictional politicians—from House of Cards’ Frank Underwood to the Senator in Joyce Carol Oates’ Black Water—Max Winter is powerful, charismatic, and fiercely ambitious. Why did you choose politics for Max’s career, and what made you want to dip into that world? 

 

As I mentioned above, the 2016 U.S. election consumed me, and the subsequent presidency has upended all norms. It’s been a struggle to keep up with the controversies, the news being, for this former journalist, a constant distraction. But it’s also a source of inspiration. So I stopped fighting it. Since I couldn’t get away from the news, I folded some of my current fixations into my book. I didn’t want to date the book, or bog it down in current affairs, but divisive politics, and the corrosive effects of both social media and (questionable) Russian money on modern American life all make cameos. Presciently I finished the book at the start of the #metoo movement, which, like my book, demonstrates how important it is to believe women.

 

6.      You’ve been a journalist and an award-winning producer, in both radio and TV, for more than twenty years. When (and how) does your journalism background seep into your novels?

 

It always does, sometimes subtly and sometimes more obviously, but I am first and foremost a journalist. The books I write require research to get the settings, tone, and era right, but it’s my favorite part of the job. And for me it’s unavoidable. My characters tend to arrive almost fully formed. So when the unnamed narrator of The Winters insisted she worked on boats, and Max decided to run for reelection in Suffolk County, I had some research to do. Learning about politics at the state level and proper boat terminology was interesting and fun. But I also consult experts. I reached out to a PhD in mortuary archeology to confirm how many years it would take for a body buried in a shallow grave to completely turn to skin and bones. And, thankfully, one of my best friends is a family lawyer, so I ran by her all the details about conservatorships and inheritances. The hardest part was trying to understand the murderous lengths to which some people will go to maintain their wealth and privilege, but one need only turn on CNN these days for that kind of research.

 

7.      The Winters takes many of its cues from classic novels—a plain unassuming heroine; a dashing older gentleman; a lavish estate; an inconvenient first wife. But the ending is decidedly more modern—even feminist. Without giving too much away, can you speak to how you went about crafting a contemporary version of these kinds of novels?

 

Writing a modern book that that still pays tribute to a beloved classic is a tricky balancing act. I am a huge fan of the ones done well: Jane Smiley’s King Lear redux, A Thousand Acres, Jean Rhys’ The Wide Sargasso Sea (which is actually a prequel to Jane Eyre, which du Maurier herself retold with Rebecca), Curtis Sittenfeld’sEligible (a hilarious retelling of Pride and Prejudice), and Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility. The best ones preserve the original’s landmarks, though the terrain is completely different. They’re written in a contemporary style, though a sharp-eyed reader will spot my own iambic hexameter. And while the characters feel familiar, they’re not facsimiles. No character embodies all of these ideas more than Dani Winter, a 15-year old girl with all the traits of the average Millenial, minus any disadvantages. She has everything a girl her age could want, plus total freedom and the run of the house. She plays with her mother’s clothes and makeup, and the stories she tells about her run completely counter to her father’s. This presents a very current dilemma for our narrator. Does she believe the man she loves or his bratty kid? Dani becomes, then, a reminder that we longer live in an era where stories men tell about women take primacy over the ones they tell about themselves, as the #metoo movement is proving. Women just aren’t having that anymore. I know Dani’s generation isn’t.

 

8.      Finally, considering the evocative setting of The Winters, where do you think is the best place to read a book like this?

 

You should read The Winters at one of my favorite hotels, The Chequit Inn, on Shelter Island. You should be sitting on the deep front porch that overlooks the Peconic River, sipping sweet tea. Funny enough, in a very early draft I wrote a scene where our teary, breathless narrator, running for her life, bursts into the lobby of The Chequit Inn demanding to use their phone. They let her. They get her a glass of water and calm her down. They offer her a chair. In the end, the incredible staff at even my imaginary Chequit Inn sucked the tension right out of the scene, so I had to redirect.

GIVEAWAY OPPORTUNITY FOR U.S. RESIDENTS

One print copy of The Winters by Lisa Gabriele will be given away to a lucky commenter on this post. The giveaway will be open for one week following postdate and the winner will be a random pick from the comments. Winner must have a US postal address and the address will be forwarded to publisher. Penguin-Viking will handle the actual giveaway. Good Luck!

 

About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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Guest Review: A Deadly Brew by Lynn Cahoon

Posted October 23, 2018 by Lily B in Guest Post, Reviews / 12 Comments

Guest Review: A Deadly Brew by Lynn CahoonA Deadly Brew by Lynn Cahoon
Series: A Tourist Trap Mystery #9.5
Published by Lyrical Press on August 4, 2018
Genres: Cozy Mystery, Paranormal
Pages: 67
Format: Kindle Edition
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

As Halloween approaches South Cove, California, four couples get into the spirit of the holiday by conjuring up spirits. . .
The house has sat empty for fifteen years, taking up prime real estate along the picturesque coastline. Built by one of the founders of South Cove, its last known owner, Maryanne Demerit, vanished without a trace. Now her home will be demolished for a condo development, but until then, it’s the perfect spot for a Halloween haunted house.
Jill Gardner, owner of Coffee, Books, and More, her boyfriend, and three other couples are spending the weekend in the Demerit home. But what begins as an all-in-good-fun fright fest turns into a mystery begging to be solved as Jill is contacted by the ghost of Maryanne . . .

A light spooky cozy mystery from the Tourist Trap mystery series caught my eye when I was hunting for an Autumn seasonal read. It was my first time with author and series and it was a great experience that has me eager to return for more.

A Deadly Brew is book 9.5 in the A Tourist Trap Mystery series. It probably wasn’t the best place to start as it was obvious that the heroine and those in her circle had prior experiences together, but, that said, I had no trouble diving in because the author gave a brief intro to the characters and setting as it appeared in the story.

This was a quick read novella that falls between the usual novel-length mysteries. It was a lock in haunted house weekend for four couples. They wanted to explore the old house by the sea that would be torn down for developments and have a nice weekend getaway. But, strange things start to happen and Jill Gardner, local bookshop owner and amateur sleuth, begins to wonder if the ghost of the long time missing owner is trying to help her discover the truth of what happened back in the past.

The four couples were a fun group together and I liked the cold case and spooky manifestations. I thought their time at the old spooky place was fun and entertaining. The backstory and descriptions of the world and setting were minimal and things moved along swiftly with the mystery, but it worked just fine for an afternoon quick read. The heroine Jill was engaging enough and I liked the time with her boyfriend the town police detective, her friends and neighbor. It did have a nice twist or two even if it was a light-weight story.

I think those looking for a fun, light cozy mystery that would be perfect for Halloween would find this one a good bet.

About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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Guest Review: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Posted October 7, 2018 by Lily B in Guest Post, Reviews / 22 Comments

Guest Review: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth WareThe Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Series: standalone
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on July 19, 2016
Genres: Psychological Thriller
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Won
Buy on Amazon
Rating:3 Stars

In this tightly wound, enthralling story reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s works, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

I took one look at the quote on the back cover “if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie…” and read a few of my favorite book bloggers talking this one up and I just had to read it. I was unfamiliar with the author until this book released so I was eager to give her a try.

Well, I really wanted to say I loved this one and I was riveted, but that turned out not to be the case. I think I went in with incredibly high expectations and an expectation of a Christie whodunnit when this wasn’t Christie and it wasn’t fair to give it such a high standard to reach. This one was by no means lousy and the writing was strong and good. The setting of a cruise off the coast of Norway and the assembled group of high flyers and travelers was a nice International Intrigue feeling. There is a sense of wondering if the narrator is reliable or not which I do love. I liked the ‘did it really happen that way? Was it even real?” Quite a clever premise and set up.

But, when it came down to it, The Woman in Cabin 10 turned out to be a so-so read for me until the last third when it finally grabbed me. If I hadn’t seen others I trust loving on it, I might very well have stopped reading early on.

I didn’t connect with the female protagonist, Lo. I didn’t hate her, but I didn’t exactly like her or admire her either. She’s not a nice person and she drinks enough to destroy her liver and is definitely an alcoholic which is nuts since she’s got an anxiety disorder and is on medication. I think I was meant to be wary of connecting with her and wondering about her part in all this.

No, what almost had me it setting aside was me impatiently waiting for something to happen between little blips of action or suspense. I found the action-suspense points good, but the slow built to each one had me drifting as I flipped pages waiting for the next intense moment. I didn’t feel like there was a point to much of it like it was treading water until the next momentous event could occur and I spent a lot of time in Lo’s head which wasn’t interesting to me and was frankly annoying because she dwells on stuff and leaps with her logic. To be fair, I might not have been in the right frame of mind for this style of psychological thriller. I think I was looking for a more pounding pace which is why the last portion was when I finally clicked with this book. It just took off like a rocket and left me breathless and twitching for what would come next.

So, in the end, I was glad to have read this one and I do want to read more of the author’s books, but now I know what to expect and I think that will make all the difference in the world.

About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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Guest Audio review: A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain, Lucy Rayner

Posted September 28, 2018 by Lily B in Audio, Guest Post, Reviews / 22 Comments

Guest Audio review: A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain,  Lucy RaynerA Twist in Time by Julie McElwain
Narrator: Lucy Rayner
Length: 16 hours 54 minutes
Series: Kendra Donovan, #2
Published by Tantor Audio on April 4, 2017
Genres: Time-Travel
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Rating:4 Stars

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Former FBI agent Kendra Donovan's attempts to return to the twenty-first century have failed, leaving her stuck at Aldridge Castle in 1815. And her problems have just begun: in London, the Duke of Aldridge's nephew Alec-Kendra's confidante and lover-has come under suspicion for murdering his former mistress, Lady Dover, who was found viciously stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved up in a bizarre and brutal way. Lady Dover had plenty of secrets, and her past wasn't quite what she'd made it out to be. Nor is it entirely in the past-which becomes frighteningly clear when a crime lord emerges from London's seamy underbelly to threaten Alec. Joining forces with Bow Street Runner Sam Kelly, Kendra must navigate the treacherous nineteenth century while she picks through the strands of Lady Dover's life. As the noose tightens around Alec's neck, Kendra will do anything to save him, including following every twist and turn through London's glittering ballrooms, where deception is the norm-and any attempt to uncover the truth will get someone killed.

Following close on the heels of the first book, A Murder in Time’s adventures, A Twist in Time takes modern woman and tough FBI agent, Kendra Donovan to the bright lights and society of Regency London to solve a murder that hits close to home.

This is a wonderfully unique mash up of time travel and historical mystery with a dash of romance. Kendra is a 21st woman with excellent profiling skills and FBI training who inexplicably ends up in 19th century England. She’s fortunate enough to have landed in the Duke of Aldrige’s castle and that he is something of a Renaissance man who can handle her odd quirks from the start. Kendra becomes romantically entangled with his nephew the Marquis of Sutcliffe, friends with a Bow Street Runner and a lady with feminist leanings. She is torn between her sense of not belonging where women are still second class citizens and her skills make her an oddity and knowing that this is the first time she has ever been around people who like and yes, love her.

Kendra has to set all that aside when Alec, Lord Sutcliffe, gets accused of a brutal murder of his former mistress. The clues lead Kendra through the balls and soirees of London Society to the darker alleys of Cheapside. Lady Dover’s life held secrets and one of them was enough to make someone not only kill her, but mutilate her face. Kendra’s detection skills paired with the forensics and policing of that day along with her companions’ knowledge of Regency norm all come together to bring this enchanting whodunnit.

As with the first book, I was most taken with how a modern person gets along more than two hundred years in the past. It was fascinating to see her do police work when modern method and tech aren’t there to help and she is bucking an all-male system all the way.

Kendra has abandonment issues from her parents and issues because of things that happened in her own time so she struggles to accept Alec’s love and wishes that she be with him. I confess that I wanted to shake her after a while. I get it, but it really does all come down to her own fear and need to trust someone and little to do with anything in her own time waiting for her. Alec is being punished because her parents turned their backs on her. At least she is starting to realize this in this one. I’ll look forward to where this romance thread goes in future books.

Also, her ‘I am woman hear me roar’ bit of ‘I can take care of myself’ was driving me nuts. She goes racing into the London slums alone to prove to herself and others something when it’s just stupid not to take back up. Even in modern times, she would have a partner or back up. She’s also constantly ragging on the times even though some of it is her own preferences and prejudices rather than something was necessarily wrong (which yes, it gets old when she compares things to modern times and overlooks that it’s not some great Utopia in our day and age). I get it, a woman’s lot really sucked back then as did the class system, but she chooses to toss it all out rather than see that some things were actually good if not better). This is part of her modern arrogance that because she knows the future that she knows better- you’d think she would have learned after what happened in the last book. But, at the same time, I find that the struggles Kendra goes through are a wise move on the author’s part to show that adjusting to a time travel situation would never be easy. The author did her homework on the historical setting and social mores of Regency times and brings those out through Kendra’s eyes.

The narration by Lucy Rayner continues to have me on the fence. I love aspects of her work like her accepts and ability to vocalize genders and tone. But, she gets a sing-song pattern and I feel that her Kendra voice (which is the primary one) gets whiny or snippy which might be influencing some of my issues with Kendra. I don’t dislike her work, but I don’t love it, either and had to get used to it all over again when I started this book.

Still, it was another great installment in a series that I think historical murder mystery fans and time travel lovers would enjoy.

My thanks to Tantor Audio for the opportunity to listen to this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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Guest Review: The Whale: A Love Story by Mark Beauregard

Posted September 8, 2018 by Lily B in Guest Post, Reviews / 6 Comments

Guest Review: The Whale: A Love Story by Mark BeauregardThe Whale: A Love Story by Mark Beauregard
Series: standalone
Published by Penguin Books on June 26, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Rating:3 Stars

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A rich and captivating novel set amid the witty, high-spirited literary society of 1850s New England, offering a new window on Herman Melville's emotionally charged relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne and how it transformed his masterpiece, Moby-Dick
In the summer of 1850, Herman Melville finds himself hounded by creditors and afraid his writing career might be coming to an end--his last three novels have been commercial failures and the critics have turned against him. In despair, Melville takes his family for a vacation to his cousin's farm in the Berkshires, where he meets Nathaniel Hawthorne at a picnic--and his life turns upside down.
The Whale chronicles the fervent love affair that grows out of that serendipitous afternoon. Already in debt, Melville recklessly borrows money to purchase a local farm in order to remain near Hawthorne, his newfound muse. The two develop a deep connection marked by tensions and estrangements, and feelings both shared and suppressed.
Melville dedicated Moby-Dick to Hawthorne, and Mark Beauregard's novel fills in the story behind that dedication with historical accuracy and exquisite emotional precision, reflecting his nuanced reading of the real letters and journals of Melville, Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and others. An exuberant tale of longing and passion, The Whale captures not only a transformative relationship--long the subject of speculation--between two of our most enduring authors, but also their exhilarating moment in history, when a community of high-spirited and ambitious writers was creating truly American literature for the first time.

Earlier this year, I enjoyed an author taking two famous authors and writing their stories side by side. So, when I was introduced to this book not only telling of two famous American author stories, but showing their friendship, their work, and a little something more, I was all in. It read like a love story tucked inside a historical fiction.

The Whale: A Love Story didn’t exactly grab me like I was hoping it would. I’ve read books by both authors: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, House of Seven Gables and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. After being exposed to their writing and studying them a bit in college lit class, I was eager to learn more about the men behind the books. I was all kinds of curious about the suggestion that they were gay and had a love affair. I was open to not only buying in to even a whiff of it, but enjoying it even if it was just a very loose fictional story. Unfortunately, I got lost in the author’s writing style and couldn’t really like the Melville portrayed in this book (to be fair, he was something of a romanticist in real life) or get on board with the romance. He says and does idiotish things and being inside his head was torturous or mind-numbing in turn for me.

It wasn’t all a slog. I did enjoy the letters and I felt the author got the details of the time period down. Melville drove me nuts the way he got himself into trouble with his family, with entanglements, and all bumbling over his crush on Hawthorne, his muse. I liked the friendship between Hawthorne and Melville. I got a better feel for both men which is what I wanted.

I think I would recommend this for historical fiction fans who are open to broader interpretations of the characters and don’t mind an awkward romance at the heart of the story.

My thanks to Penguin-Random House for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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