Book Reviews: The Favourite by S. V. Berlin and Kyle Finds Her Way by Susie Salom

The Favourite
S. V. Berlin
Myriad Editions, July 2018
ISBN 978-0-9935633-8-6
Trade Paperback (UK)

The Favourite is an atypical read for me. Generally speaking, I seek out a sensational catalyst to kick off a story. I delightfully devour those, but the novels that nestle into my mind and reappear arbitrarily and often—even long after I’ve finished the book—are the quiet ones that sneak in.

A sad situation brings Isobel from her beloved New York City, back to her childhood home in England. Although the trip isn’t uncommon, the fact that she will see—and be required to speak with—Edward is unique. The siblings have been estranged for so long that she fears there won’t be the faintest familiarity.

Often, a rift occurs when two people simply cannot agree. Occasionally though, there is a third party involved. Perhaps not the problem, but absolutely invested in ensuring there’s no solution. This conflict comes from within the tiny, tightly-contained family and it is infinitesimally larger.

For Isobel, England had too little to offer and it was all spread too widely. A classic American film introduced New York and she knew that’s where she belonged. With the apparent support of her mum and brother, she set off and absolutely made her way. In that she was happy.

A job she enjoyed covered her rent. Absolutely anything she would ever want was found only a few steps or a subway ride away. And yet, in spite of her satisfaction, friends here furrowed their brows and worried about why she wasn’t climbing a corporate ladder.

Laughable, really. In England she was strange for following a dream; selfish to want more than a steady job and stable life. Isobel meant only to do her own thing and truly not be a bother to anyone. In doing just that, she instead seemed to frustrate and disappoint everyone. She seems sweet and confused.

Edward appears angry. Frustrated by an accident, furious with himself for not being where he truly should have been and freaked-out by the very fact that this whole mess means he’s forced to face his sister. It’s difficult to see why Isobel ever admired her brother and it is almost impossible to understand why Jules is his girlfriend. A bit mousy and oddly eager to please Edward, she could just about blend into the background, except that she’s clearly keeping a secret from both Isobel and Edward.

While not fast-paced in a frenzied way, finite time together and a fast-approaching departure date moves the narrative quicker than I’d expect. Even without being categorized as Young Adult, it is nevertheless perfect for me to share with ‘my’ students. The stark and the subtle differences between American English and English—both in speaking and in spelling will be something that will amuse and delight them. Most importantly, I want them to understand early in life that sometimes, when someone seems disappointed in you, they may actually be disappointed in themselves for not being more like you.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2018.

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Kyle Finds Her Way
Susie Salom
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-85266-1
Hardcover

Kyle had no doubt that her first day of middle school would be somewhat daunting, especially without her twin brother by her side. Principal-issued-discipline or deliberately boarding the wrong bus at the end of the day had not made her worse-case-scenario list though, so there were some surprises. Initially charming, Kyle’s child-like creative imagination becomes just short of concerning quickly. For her sake, I want to watch her grow and mature; but for the good vibes, I hoped she wouldn’t change at all. Ms. Salom deftly dealt with my dilemma.

Georgia O’Keefe Middle is a bit more progressive than my middle school was. Instead of dodge-ball in a stinky gym, these students study t’ai chi. When Kyle’s punishment is issued, it isn’t so surprising to hear the head of the school tell her that he hopes it “…sparks your imagination…actually I hope it engages your crusading spirit.”

Obligatory grumbling about the forced placement on the school’s NAVS team is slowly replaced by a growing fascination with the competition’s challenge. Kyle finds herself fitting in with the team and feeling a desire to contribute. Of course, maturity isn’t an overnight accomplishment. Kyle allows herself accolades for making strides in one area as she attempts to convince herself that she isn’t actually lying to her parents or being dishonest with her best friend in other ‘opportunities for improvement’ parts of her life.

It seems to me that today, students are bombarded with ‘right or wrong’, ‘black or white’ when real life is generally just groovy shades of grey. Peppering “typical” teen dialect with profound statements such as “…some people bring out different sides of you that don’t exist when they’re not around,” Kyle Finds Her Way proves that all things are not crystal clear. This is an honest and hopeful story that I’m so excited to be sharing my favorite middle-grade readers.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2017

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Book Reviews: A Casualty of War by Charles Todd and The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd

A Casualty of War
A Bess Crawford Mystery #9
Charles Todd
William Morrow, September 2017
ISBN: 978-0-0626-7878-2
Hardcover

In the waning days of WWI, Bess Crawford was stationed at a forward medical base close to the fighting when a Captain was brought in with a head wound.  It turned out that the bullet merely scraped his scalp and he returned to his men the next day, but he claimed he was shot by a British lieutenant resembling his great grandfather, perhaps his cousin, Lieutenant James Travis. A few days later, he was returned to the facility, shot in the back.  Again he told Bess the same man shot him.  Bess got to know the Captain and believed his story.

The Armistice soon took place, and Bess was asked to accompany a convoy of wounded back to England and was granted a week’s leave.  Instead of visiting home in Somerset, accompanied by Sgt. Major Brandon, she traveled to a hospital in Wiltshire where the Captain was being treated.   She was appalled to find him strapped to his bed under horrible conditions (the medical staff thought him mad because of his outbursts regarding his claim to have been shot by a relative, attributing his condition to his head wound).  Strengthening the diagnosis was the fact that James was killed a year before.  Bess insisted he be unshackled and permitted to enjoy fresh air.

She then traveled to Sussex, James’ home, to determine the accuracy of James’ death, discovering even more complications, including the fact that after a brief meeting in Paris earlier in the war, James named the Captain his heir.   Meanwhile, the Captain escapes from the Wiltshire hospital when taken for a walk.  And the story goes on as the complications of the plot unfolds.  The Bess Crawford mysteries, of which this is the ninth, artfully weave the agonies of war with the crimes Bess attempts to solve. With the end of the war on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, where will the series now go?  It deserves to continue in peace, as well!

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.

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The Gate Keeper
An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery #20
Charles Todd
William Morrow, February 2018
ISBN: 978-0-0626-7871-3
Hardcover

Charles Todd, the mother-son writing team, offers two different series:  The Gate Keeper is from the Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series (the other is the Bess Crawford novels).  Both series take place in a similar time frame, during or after World War I, and are based in England (or France, of course, in the trenches).  Rutledge served as a Captain and saw bloody action and was responsible for the execution of his Corporal, Hamish McCleod, who refused orders to lead his men into another futile charge over the top.  Hamish still haunts Rutledge, and his memory serves as sort of assistant to the Inspector by offering observations and warnings when warranted.

As a result of shell shock, Rutledge was, for a time, treated for his mental condition, but now serves as a Scotland Yard detective.  Since his release from the hospital, he has been living in the family home with his sister, who is married at the start of this novel.  Returning from the wedding, he is unable to sleep and decides to go for a drive, ending up far away from his London apartment, where he finds himself witness to a murder.  He insists on taking over the investigation and when another murder occurs, it becomes more important to uncover the reason for each.  Rutledge learns of a third murder far away that might be related to the two he is working on, but it is assigned to another Scotland Yard detective.

The plot is fairly simple, but the solution is a lot more complicated and unexpected.  Rutledge plods on until he finds a common thread to all three murders, then has to turn his attention to the question of who has actually performed the murders.  And this he does with smoothness in this, the 20th novel in the series.  On to the 21st.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.

Book Review: Judgment of Murder by C.S. Challinor

Judgment of Murder
A Rex Graves Mystery #8
C.S. Challinor
Midnight Ink, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-5009-5
Trade paperback

For a mystery, this British entry into the field is so low key that I think even I might have a more exciting life. Scottish barrister Rex Graves’ old mentor, Lord Murgatroyd–also known as Judge Murder, has passed away. Phoebe, his daughter, thinks he may have been murdered, although the evidence is flimsy. An unlocked window? A not very valuable stamp album gone missing? None of it seems very convincing, but Rex travels from Edinburgh to Canterbury upon her invitation to see what he makes of the situation.

Not much, as it turns out. But he makes a few phone calls when he gets back to Edinburgh, and oddly enough, is put in danger by a man the judge had put in prison, but who has been released.

Meanwhile, a schoolgirl from the area has been kidnapped and is feared dead. It happened not far from the judge’s house, and is a subplot that runs through the story. Actually, it’s the most interesting part, as the characters in this story did not intrigue me, nor were they particularly sympathetic. The most interesting is Rex’s pal Alistair, who also has the most action. Turns out the judge’s daughter is a tippler and a would-be man eater, not that that sort of thing works on a man like Rex.

The dialogue seemed mundane to me, and old-fashioned in the extreme for people who carry mobile phones and drive a Jaguar, but it does get the job done. In the climax, all the ends are tied, the plot holes explained, and everyone gets their due.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Call to Arms by Rachel Amphlett

Continue reading

Book Review: Hell to Pay by Rachel Amphlett

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Title: Hell to Pay
Series: A Detective Kay Hunter Novel #4
Author: Rachel Amphlett
Narrator: Alison Campbell
Publisher: Saxon Publishing
Publication Date: January 2018

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Purchase Links:
The Author // Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Hell to Pay
A Detective Kay Hunter Novel #4
Rachel Amphlett
Narrated by Alison Campbell
Saxon Publishing, January 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

When a road traffic accident on a dark autumn night uncovers a disturbing conspiracy, Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter’s investigation exposes a ruthless serial killer exploiting vulnerable young women.

With her enemies unmasked and her career spiraling out of control, Kay’s determination to seek vengeance for the victims brings her dangerously close to those who want to silence her.

Undeterred, she uncovers the real reason behind a plot to destroy her career and sets in motion a terrifying chain of events.

When Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter is called out late at night by DI Devon Sharp, she wonders why a car accident requires their presence but then Sharp shows her the arm dangling out of the boot. Clearly, the owner of the arm didn’t belong there and the detectives soon learn that the young woman may have been dead when she was put in the boot or may have died in the accident. Whichever it is, something is definitely offkilter but they have no idea where their investigation will take them.

Two years earlier, Kay had been accused of causing the police to have to release a dangerous criminal and, ever since, she has been trying to find out who set her up and has been determined to bring Jozef Demiri to justice. As the current case heats up, she and her colleagues discover some very ugly activities including sex trafficking and murder but also what appears to be corruption within the police, all somehow connected to Demiri. At the same time, Kay becomes painfully aware that she herself is being spied upon but she has no idea who could be doing that and the answers may not come before it’s too late.

In the three previous Kay Hunter books, there is a level of intensity that keeps those stories moving at a rapid pace. That same intensity is here in Hell to Pay but it’s heightened by a deep emotional current running throughout, affecting more than just Kay. Still, Kay is the one who made me sniffle a time or two and I really sympathized with her roiling feelings, especially regarding her lost baby.

Narrator Alison Campbell gets better and better with each book and her easy tone and near-perfect voices make these terrific stories a pleasure to listen to.

I’m sorry this four book tour is coming to an end now; I’ve come to think of these characters as old friends, friends I would like to know in reality. Kay is a warmhearted and trusting person who has had that trust damaged but she never loses sight of her responsibilities and her desire to make things right in the world. I’ll miss her and her husband, Adam, as well as her colleagues—Sharp, Barnes, Carys, Gavin—but wait! I don’t have to say goodbye just yet as the fifth book, Call to Arms, came out last month and I can hardly wait to start.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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About the Author

Before turning to writing, Rachel Amphlett played guitar in bands, worked as a TV and film extra, dabbled in radio as a presenter and freelance producer for the BBC, and worked in publishing as a sub-editor and editorial assistant.

She now wields a pen instead of a plectrum and writes crime fiction and spy novels, including the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the Detective Kay Hunter series.

Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel cites her writing influences as Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Robert Ludlum. She’s also a huge fan of Peter James, Val McDermid, Robert Crais, Stuart MacBride, and many more.

She’s a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint, and the first four books in the Dan Taylor espionage series contracted to Germany’s Luzifer Verlag.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads // Instagram

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About the Narrator

I’m a Bristol-based actress who trained at Bretton Hall and the University of Leeds. I’ve been involved with a huge range of projects and love a bit of variety of life!

I’m lucky to be a verstile performer – think everything  from Shakespeare, to  interactive theatre, comedy, solo shows and a whole host of different voice work.

I’m experienced in devising, improvisation, multi-roleing, immersive theatre and voice acting,

​I have a lot of fun performing across the UK and round the world with the award-winning Natural Theatre, specialising in immersive, interactive theatre in surprising places.

​I also teach youth theatre, facilitate theatre workshops and am experienced in corporate roleplay and presenting.

​I’m represented by Louise Alexander at BAM Associates.

Website

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: One to Watch by Rachel Amphlett

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Title: One to Watch
Series: A Detective Kay Hunter Novel #3
Author: Rachel Amphlett
Narrator: Alison Campbell
Publisher: Saxon Publishing
Publication Date: October 3, 2017

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Purchase Links:
The Author // Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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One to Watch
A Detective Kay Hunter Novel #3
Rachel Amphlett
Narrated by Alison Campbell
Saxon Publishing, October 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

Sophie Whittaker shared a terrifying secret. Hours later, she was dead.

Detective Kay Hunter and her colleagues are shocked by the vicious murder of a teenage girl at a private party in the Kentish countryside.

A tangled web of dark secrets is exposed as twisted motives point to a history of greed and corruption within the tight-knit community.

Confronted by a growing number of suspects and her own enemies who are waging a vendetta against her, Kay makes a shocking discovery that will make her question her trust in everyone she knows.

At a large country estate in Kent, a teenaged girl is murdered at a private party and Detective Kay Hunter and her colleagues are shocked at the brutality of the crime and at the reactions of the people involved. Sophie was the daughter of a snooty British aristocrat and her more mild-mannered husband and the party was intended to celebrate a rather odd ceremony for Sophie, one of purity. Some of the tenets of this purity pledge carried their own very creepy tones, not least of which is the idea that the teen girl must be chaste until marriage but the teen boy is forgiven all his behavior once they marry.

This particular crime is a lot more difficult to investigate than some because of the roadblocks put in the team’s way due to the wealth and position of the various parties. DI Sharp assigns Kay and Barnes to follow certain leads while other detectives look into different aspects of the murder but each path brings them to confusing tangents that introduce ever more urgent questions. All the while, DCI Larch seems to be bent on protecting the sensibilities of Sophie’s family as well as another family whose American money apparently make them off limits.

It soon becomes obvious that this is no “routine” killing and an ultra-conservative religious program is in the mix along with greed on all sides while two very different young men are devastated by Sophie’s death…or are they? Could a major secret have been the impetus for the crime and just who was Sophie, anyway? Meanwhile, Kay is still trying to conduct her own investigation into why someone wants to destroy her career and she and her husband, Adam, begin to see that this could ultimately be much more dangerous than they initially thought.

All the characters I’ve come to like so much, and even one or two I don’t like so much, are back in this series entry and I really enjoyed the time I spent with them and the investigative efforts needed to solve this awful murder, sunk in a bog of corruption that is as unpleasant and distasteful as can be.

Once again, narrator Alison Campbell pulled me in with her outstanding work and she is fast becoming one of my favorite audiobook readers. It doesn’t hurt that she had such a good story to work with and the entire series so far has kept me riveted. For anyone looking for a British police procedural series on audio, you cannot do better than this one 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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About the Author

Before turning to writing, Rachel Amphlett played guitar in bands, worked as a TV and film extra, dabbled in radio as a presenter and freelance producer for the BBC, and worked in publishing as a sub-editor and editorial assistant.

She now wields a pen instead of a plectrum and writes crime fiction and spy novels, including the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the Detective Kay Hunter series.

Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel cites her writing influences as Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Robert Ludlum. She’s also a huge fan of Peter James, Val McDermid, Robert Crais, Stuart MacBride, and many more.

She’s a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint, and the first four books in the Dan Taylor espionage series contracted to Germany’s Luzifer Verlag.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads // Instagram

************

About the Narrator

I’m a Bristol-based actress who trained at Bretton Hall and the University of Leeds. I’ve been involved with a huge range of projects and love a bit of variety of life!

I’m lucky to be a verstile performer – think everything  from Shakespeare, to  interactive theatre, comedy, solo shows and a whole host of different voice work.

I’m experienced in devising, improvisation, multi-roleing, immersive theatre and voice acting,

I have a lot of fun performing across the UK and round the world with the award-winning Natural Theatre, specialising in immersive, interactive theatre in surprising places.

I also teach youth theatre, facilitate theatre workshops and am experienced in corporate roleplay and presenting.

I’m represented by Louise Alexander at BAM Associates

Website

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: Will to Live by Rachel Amphlett

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Title: Will to Live
Series: A Detective Kay Hunter Novel #2
Author: Rachel Amphlett
Narrator: Alison Campbell
Publisher: Saxon Publishing
Publication Date: October 3, 2017

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Purchase Links:
The Author // Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Will to Live
A Detective Kay Hunter Novel #2
Rachel Amphlett
Narrated by Alison Campbell
Saxon Publishing, October 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

Reputation is everything.

When a packed commuter train runs over a body on a stretch of track known to locals as “Suicide Mile”, it soon transpires that the man was a victim of a calculated murder.

As the investigation evolves and a pattern of murders is uncovered, Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter realizes the railway’s recent reputation may be the work of a brutal serial killer.

With a backlog of cold cases to investigate and attempting to uncover who is behind a professional vendetta against her, Kay must keep one step ahead of both the killer and her own adversaries.

When a second murder takes place within a week of the first, she realizes the killer’s timetable has changed, and she’s running out of time to stop him….

Will to Live is the second book in a new crime thriller series featuring Kay Hunter – a detective with a hidden past and an uncertain future….

When a man is found murdered in one of the most frightening ways possible, Kay Hunter and her colleagues have a very difficult task to stop the killer before he…or she…strikes again but this person seems to always be several steps ahead. It doesn’t make things easier that a superior is less than helpful when he doesn’t believe Kay has sufficient reason for her requests but finding that nebulous connection between victims seems to be just out of reach. The deeper the team gets into the case, the more they begin to recognize that there is a very emotional element to the killer’s behavior as one murder after another piles up. The reader gets occasional glimpses into the murderer’s point of view, adding to the tension.

At the same time, Kay is well into an investigation of her own, trying to find out who is sabotaging her career, and the things she’s learning are alarming. When a colleague, Gavin, is attacked, Kay is sure the assault is linked to her activities and she and Adam, her very supportive husband, have to acknowledge that the stakes are higher than she thought. Should she let it rest or does she become even more determined to find out the truth?

Once again, Alison Campbell does a fine job with her narration and she certainly added to my enjoyment of the story and its various characters. I especially like that each voice is distinctive and clearly enunciated, even when deep emotions are at play.

Next up, Book #2, One to Watch, and I’m more than ready to jump in.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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About the Author

Before turning to writing, Rachel Amphlett played guitar in bands, worked as a TV and film extra, dabbled in radio as a presenter and freelance producer for the BBC, and worked in publishing as a sub-editor and editorial assistant.

She now wields a pen instead of a plectrum and writes crime fiction and spy novels, including the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the Detective Kay Hunter series.

Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel cites her writing influences as Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Robert Ludlum. She’s also a huge fan of Peter James, Val McDermid, Robert Crais, Stuart MacBride, and many more.

She’s a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint, and the first four books in the Dan Taylor espionage series contracted to Germany’s Luzifer Verlag.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads // Instagram

************

About the Narrator

I’m a Bristol-based actress who trained at Bretton Hall and the University of Leeds. I’ve been involved with a huge range of projects and love a bit of variety of life!

I’m lucky to be a verstile performer – think everything  from Shakespeare, to  interactive theatre, comedy, solo shows and a whole host of different voice work.

I’m experienced in devising, improvisation, multi-roleing, immersive theatre and voice acting,

I have a lot of fun performing across the UK and round the world with the award-winning Natural Theatre, specialising in immersive, interactive theatre in surprising places.

I also teach youth theatre, facilitate theatre workshops and am experienced in corporate roleplay and presenting.

I’m represented by Louise Alexander at BAM Associates

Website

************

Play an excerpt here.

************

Follow the tour here.

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