Book Review: Charlotte’s Story by Laura Benedict—and a Giveaway!

Charlotte's StoryCharlotte’s Story
A Bliss House Novel #2
Laura Benedict
Pegasus Crime, October 2015
ISBN 978-1605988788
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The fall of 1957 was a seemingly idyllic, even prosperous, time down in southern Virginia. A young housewife, Charlotte Bliss, lives with her husband, “Press” Bliss, and their two young children, Eva Grace and Michael, in the gorgeous Bliss family home. On the surface, theirs seems a calm, picturesque life, but soon tragedy befalls them: four deaths, with seemingly simple explanations.

But nothing is simple if Bliss House is involved.

Charlotte, nearly crippled with grief, feels more and more isolated from everyone around her. The only thing that brings her solace is going through the old photos and curiosities left behind by her mother-in-law. Then she makes a startling discovery that points not to tragedy, but to murder. How far will Charlotte go to discover the truth? And how far will she get without knowing who her real enemy is?

Not for the faint of heart, or those disturbed by sexual situations and violence, Charlotte‘s Story injects new levels of horror into the classic Southern gothic.

When I was first offered the opportunity to review Charlotte’s Story, I jumped right on it. I was unfamiliar with Laura Benedict or the first book in the trilogy, Bliss House, but I was immediately captivated by the notion that the setting for the house in question is Virginia, my home state. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed 😉

Melding a ghost story with a mystery and a far-reaching, torturous family dynamic is pretty much the essence of a Southern gothic and Ms. Benedict does this quite well. Almost from the first page, there’s an aura of creepiness rather than fright and, as the word indicates, the feeling creeps up on the reader more and more as time goes on till you find yourself mired in a sense of doom and total sympathy for Charlotte, a woman being driven to madness. There’s also a lot of sadness here, not only with multiple deaths but also in the downward spiral of love and trust.

I did feel that the story is too slow to develop and I put the book down a couple of times. Still, I couldn’t just walk away from it and I’m glad I stuck with it. The pace does pick up and, long before I reached the very unexpected ending, I was madly turning pages to see what would happen next. Appropriately, Ms. Benedict left me wishing the third book, The Abandoned Heart, was ready to read but, alas, I’ll have to wait a while.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.

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Purchase Links:

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About the Author

Laura BenedictLaura Benedict is the author of Charlotte‘s Story and Bliss House, the first two novels in the Bliss House trilogy, as well as several other novels of dark suspense. Her work has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. She lives with her family in Southern Illinois. Visit laurabenedict.com.

Connect with Laura on Facebook and Twitter.

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Follow the tour here.

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Leave a comment below to enter
the drawing
for a print or ebook
copy, winner’s choice, of the first

novel in the trilogy, Bliss House by
Laura Benedict. The winning name
will be
drawn on Saturday evening,
November 21st. Print is
open to residents
of the US, ebook is open internationally.

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“Expertly paced revelations help build a sense of encroaching horror.
A satisfyingly creepy tale for a rainy night.”—Publishers Weekly

“An evocative, frightening and flawless gothic, Charlotte’s Story 
is guaranteed to send a delicious chill down your spine. Nobody
does more for the modern southern gothic than Laura Benedict.” 
—J.T. Ellison, New York Times bestselling author of What Lies Behind

“Laura Benedict spins an ever-shifting web of shadow and light.
A thrilling read. Benedict writes with passion and authority. 
Charlotte‘s Story is not to be missed.” —Carolyn Haines, author
of the Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries, and The Seeker

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TLC Book Tours Button

Book Reviews: Agent X by Noah Boyd, Little Girl Lost by Brian McGilloway, The Devil’s Edge by Stephen Booth, Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel, and Where All the Dead Lie by J.T. Ellison

Agent X
Noah Boyd
Harper, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-182703-7
Mass Market Paperback

Kate Bannon, the Assistant Director of the FBI who readers, and ex-FBI Agent Steve Vail, first met in this author’s The Bricklayer, returns, in fact, in the first sentence on the first page of this, the second in the series.  And a most welcome return it is, of those protags and the series itself. I am delighted to report that all the taut writing, suspense and wonderful characters of the initial book in the series are abundantly present in Agent X as well.

Vail, a maverick who can’t/won’t confirm to rules, was fired by the FBI five years previously.  He has since then been working at least nominally as a bricklayer [thus the title of the first book] and had met Kate in LA when they worked together on a case which had a successful conclusion, mostly due to his efforts.  [He was an ‘independent contractor’ of sorts in that instance for the FBI.]  They had dated for a while, until Kate broke it off.  Beyond the delightful banter, the two make for a terrific team as the FBI persuades Vail to head up their investigation into finding a number of agents to whom vital US secrets are just a commodity to be bartered.  As if that weren’t enough, Steve is asked by an agent who had been Vail’s partner several years back to assist with a case involving the disappearance of a female intelligence analyst.  As the tale unfolds, one thing becomes clear:  Very little is as it seems.

The Vail/Bannon relationship is an ambivalent one.  As is the Vail/FBI deal.  Bannon tells Vail:  “You have advanced degrees.  The director has offered you complete autonomy if you’ll come back to the Bureau, but instead you choose physical labor just so you won’t have to take orders. . . Not everyone who takes orders for a living is a mortal enemy of Steven Vail.”  The cleverly constructed sleuthing [which was a challenge at times for this reader, I must admit], and the occasional philosophical ruminations, make for a fascinating read.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Little Girl Lost
Brian McGilloway
Macmillan, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-230-75336-5
Trade Paperback

[This title is presently only available in/through the UK,  not yet available in the US or Canada]

D.S. Lucy Black, of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the daughter of police officers, in the midst of a search for a young girl, Kate McLaughlin, whose father is a prominent businessman, stumbles [almost literally] upon another young girl, wandering in what is termed an ‘ancient woodland,’ suffering severe hypothermia among other things due to her prolonged exposure to the elements in the brutal winter cold and snow.   The latter child is unidentified, and remains so despite pleas to the public and circulation through print media and televised press conferences of her information and photograph.  The only one to achieve any response from the girl, and that very limited, is Lucy.

Chief Superintendent Travers, of the CID, transfers Lucy, despite her desire for a post in the CID, to the Public Protection Unit “for the foreseeable future,” and assigns her to the case of the unidentified child.  Her position is made more complex than it otherwise might be by virtue of the fact that her mother is the Assistant Chief Constable.  Only in the division a month, Lucy has taken pains to keep that information hidden, made easier by the fact that her mother reverted to her own name when her parents divorced 14 years earlier.  The two investigations proceed side by side, the lines at times crossing from one to the other.  As the tale goes one, the heart-tugging stories of more than one other Little Girls Lost arise.

Lucy’s personal life intrudes on her work:  She had requested her present assignment because her father, an ex-cop for over twenty years, is now increasingly suffering from dementia, if not actually Alzheimer’s, and she has moved back to Derry after many years away.  Her relationship with both her parents is strained, to say the least, and becomes more so as the novel proceeds.  Derry is cited as “the birthplace of The Troubles,” and however long ago that era was, perhaps inevitably its presence is still very much a force in the lives of those who lived through it.  A fascinating novel, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Devil’s Edge
Stephen Booth
Sphere, April 2011
ISBN: 978-1-84744-479-0
Hardcover

[This book is presently available only in/through the UK/CA, not yet available in the US]

Devil’s Edge is a fairly insular world, defined, geographically at least, by the cliff edges which surround it.  This book is, in a similar way, equally circumscribed.  As the reader is told on the opening page, “It was one of the drawbacks of living in the countryside.  Too much of the outside world intruding.  Too many things it was impossible to keep out.”  In this novel, the outside world, and the aspects of it one would most like to keep out, intrudes in the worst way.  On the eastern fringe of the Peak District, in the village of Riddings, in rural Derbyshire, there has been a rash of break-ins.  The burglars have been dubbed The Savages by the press. The newest incidents escalate the anxiety when they suddenly turn deadly.  The author speaks of the residents having sought sanctuary in the rural haven, noting, however, that “everyone had monsters in their lives.”  Suspicion turns from looking for an outside group of burglars to someone from within the community, targeting the victims, for reasons far more personal. Recently promoted D.S. Ben Cooper is assigned the investigation.  He, particularly, believes it is not the work of The Savages, being much more meticulously planned and leaving no trace of the culprit[s].

D.S. Diane Fry, formerly with the West Midlands Police “in the days before she transferred to yokel land,” is brought back into the squad to take over the investigation after an almost unimaginable turn of events changes Ben Cooper’s life forever.  Despite the past ambivalence of their relationship, where they were both vying for the same promotion, their usually well-concealed respect for each other is here on display.

The author’s descriptions bring the land to palpable life, e.g., “the distant rocky outcrops seemed to change shape.  They slid slowly sideways, merged and divided, their outlines shifting from smooth to jagged to a distinctive silhouette.  It was all the effect of altering angle and perspective.  With each step, a transformation took place inthe landscape, a gradual reveal like the slow drawing aside of a curtain.  At a point halfway across the flats, a split rock he hadn’t noticed before came into view.  As it emerged from behind a larger boulder, its two halves slowly parted and turned, like the hands of a clock creeping past noon.”  Simply gorgeous.  [The landscape, and the writing, that is.]

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Call Me Princess
Sara Blaedel
Pegasus Crime, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60598-251-9
Hardcover

Though Sara Blaedel is the author of several books, and her novels are apparently consistently on the bestseller lists in her native Denmark and elsewhere, this book represents her American debut.  And an auspicious one it is.

Assistant Detective Louise Rick, of the Copenhagen Police Department, is assigned the case of a 32-year-old woman who was raped and brutally attacked.  When the body of another young woman is found, having been similarly brutalized but hadn’t escaped with her life, the police believe they have a serial criminal on the loose.  Other women with similar stories of brutal rapes over the past couple of years are soon linked to the same man.  The only common thread is that the women all apparently met their attackers online.

Louise has been with the homicide division for the past four years. Her best friend, Camilla Lind, is a reporter who has the Copenhagen crime beat at a local newspaper, and that turns out to be both a blessing and a curse, because the help of the newspaper in getting the description of the man the police are hunting out to the public can be a good thing, but too close an involvement with the latest victim by a reporter not so much, and Louise finds it hard to keep a professional distance.

Louise ultimately needs to familiarize herself with the world of online dating.  Her six-year-long relationship with the man she’s been living with has become rocky, and she is ambivalent about the research she needs to do.  The suspense mounts as she tries to identify the rapist.  The author explores the devastating effects on his victims, and I found it hard to keep reading at times, but harder to put the book down.  The author’s next book, Only One Life, is due out in July of 2012 from Pegasus, and I for one can’t wait.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Where All the Dead Lie
J.T. Ellison
MIRA Books, October 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7783-1268-0
Trade Paperback

As this newest entry in the Taylor Jackson series opens, although the serial killer whose death ended the last book, So Close the Hand of Death, is no longer around to continue his terror campaign, his legacy is very much alive:  Both Nashville homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson and her closest friend, medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens Loughley [“Sam”] are still traumatized by the events which led to his death at Taylor’s hand, one month earlier.  [The two women’s jobs are described by the author thusly:  “Taylor protected the living inhabitants of Nashville; Sam uncovered the secrets of its dead.”] Taylor suffers from a combination of PTSD and guilt, in addition to the aftermath of the gunshot to the head which she sustained, following which she was put in a medically induced coma and then didn’t waken for another week; Sam had been horribly tormented and brutalized.

The series should probably be read in order, as there are a lot of backstory references and characters: The mysterious man known as Atlantic, the whole history of The Pretender [the aforementioned serial killer], etc.  This book has an unexpected change of venue, from Taylor’s native city to the UK, when her erstwhile suitor, James “Memphis” Highsmythe, the Viscount Dulsie, invites her to spend the holidays in his castle [yes, ‘castle!’], to help her recover from her emotional, physical and psychic wounds.  Since she is experiencing some unexpected ambivalence in her relationship with Dr. John Baldwin, to whom she is now engaged – –  some friction has developed over an issue having to do with his son, another part of that backstory – – she decides to accept his invitation.

Once Taylor arrives in Edinburgh, she finds that Memphis, a Detective Inspector with the Metropolitan Police, is in the midst of investigating a series of disappearances:  three teenage girls have gone missing in London, and he is in charge of the case.  Much of the rest of the tale deals with that investigation, as well as Taylor’s attempts at recovery and the complications caused by her relationship with Memphis, a recently widowed man equally mired in grief over his wife’s somewhat mysterious death as with his passion for Taylor.

Another well-written and engrossing entry in a terrific series, this one is also recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

Book Reviews: Agent X by Noah Boyd, Little Girl Lost by Brian McGilloway, The Devil's Edge by Stephen Booth, Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel, and Where All the Dead Lie by J.T. Ellison

Agent X
Noah Boyd
Harper, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-182703-7
Mass Market Paperback

Kate Bannon, the Assistant Director of the FBI who readers, and ex-FBI Agent Steve Vail, first met in this author’s The Bricklayer, returns, in fact, in the first sentence on the first page of this, the second in the series.  And a most welcome return it is, of those protags and the series itself. I am delighted to report that all the taut writing, suspense and wonderful characters of the initial book in the series are abundantly present in Agent X as well.

Vail, a maverick who can’t/won’t confirm to rules, was fired by the FBI five years previously.  He has since then been working at least nominally as a bricklayer [thus the title of the first book] and had met Kate in LA when they worked together on a case which had a successful conclusion, mostly due to his efforts.  [He was an ‘independent contractor’ of sorts in that instance for the FBI.]  They had dated for a while, until Kate broke it off.  Beyond the delightful banter, the two make for a terrific team as the FBI persuades Vail to head up their investigation into finding a number of agents to whom vital US secrets are just a commodity to be bartered.  As if that weren’t enough, Steve is asked by an agent who had been Vail’s partner several years back to assist with a case involving the disappearance of a female intelligence analyst.  As the tale unfolds, one thing becomes clear:  Very little is as it seems.

The Vail/Bannon relationship is an ambivalent one.  As is the Vail/FBI deal.  Bannon tells Vail:  “You have advanced degrees.  The director has offered you complete autonomy if you’ll come back to the Bureau, but instead you choose physical labor just so you won’t have to take orders. . . Not everyone who takes orders for a living is a mortal enemy of Steven Vail.”  The cleverly constructed sleuthing [which was a challenge at times for this reader, I must admit], and the occasional philosophical ruminations, make for a fascinating read.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Little Girl Lost
Brian McGilloway
Macmillan, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-230-75336-5
Trade Paperback

[This title is presently only available in/through the UK,  not yet available in the US or Canada]

D.S. Lucy Black, of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the daughter of police officers, in the midst of a search for a young girl, Kate McLaughlin, whose father is a prominent businessman, stumbles [almost literally] upon another young girl, wandering in what is termed an ‘ancient woodland,’ suffering severe hypothermia among other things due to her prolonged exposure to the elements in the brutal winter cold and snow.   The latter child is unidentified, and remains so despite pleas to the public and circulation through print media and televised press conferences of her information and photograph.  The only one to achieve any response from the girl, and that very limited, is Lucy.

Chief Superintendent Travers, of the CID, transfers Lucy, despite her desire for a post in the CID, to the Public Protection Unit “for the foreseeable future,” and assigns her to the case of the unidentified child.  Her position is made more complex than it otherwise might be by virtue of the fact that her mother is the Assistant Chief Constable.  Only in the division a month, Lucy has taken pains to keep that information hidden, made easier by the fact that her mother reverted to her own name when her parents divorced 14 years earlier.  The two investigations proceed side by side, the lines at times crossing from one to the other.  As the tale goes one, the heart-tugging stories of more than one other Little Girls Lost arise.

Lucy’s personal life intrudes on her work:  She had requested her present assignment because her father, an ex-cop for over twenty years, is now increasingly suffering from dementia, if not actually Alzheimer’s, and she has moved back to Derry after many years away.  Her relationship with both her parents is strained, to say the least, and becomes more so as the novel proceeds.  Derry is cited as “the birthplace of The Troubles,” and however long ago that era was, perhaps inevitably its presence is still very much a force in the lives of those who lived through it.  A fascinating novel, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Devil’s Edge
Stephen Booth
Sphere, April 2011
ISBN: 978-1-84744-479-0
Hardcover

[This book is presently available only in/through the UK/CA, not yet available in the US]

Devil’s Edge is a fairly insular world, defined, geographically at least, by the cliff edges which surround it.  This book is, in a similar way, equally circumscribed.  As the reader is told on the opening page, “It was one of the drawbacks of living in the countryside.  Too much of the outside world intruding.  Too many things it was impossible to keep out.”  In this novel, the outside world, and the aspects of it one would most like to keep out, intrudes in the worst way.  On the eastern fringe of the Peak District, in the village of Riddings, in rural Derbyshire, there has been a rash of break-ins.  The burglars have been dubbed The Savages by the press. The newest incidents escalate the anxiety when they suddenly turn deadly.  The author speaks of the residents having sought sanctuary in the rural haven, noting, however, that “everyone had monsters in their lives.”  Suspicion turns from looking for an outside group of burglars to someone from within the community, targeting the victims, for reasons far more personal. Recently promoted D.S. Ben Cooper is assigned the investigation.  He, particularly, believes it is not the work of The Savages, being much more meticulously planned and leaving no trace of the culprit[s].

D.S. Diane Fry, formerly with the West Midlands Police “in the days before she transferred to yokel land,” is brought back into the squad to take over the investigation after an almost unimaginable turn of events changes Ben Cooper’s life forever.  Despite the past ambivalence of their relationship, where they were both vying for the same promotion, their usually well-concealed respect for each other is here on display.

The author’s descriptions bring the land to palpable life, e.g., “the distant rocky outcrops seemed to change shape.  They slid slowly sideways, merged and divided, their outlines shifting from smooth to jagged to a distinctive silhouette.  It was all the effect of altering angle and perspective.  With each step, a transformation took place inthe landscape, a gradual reveal like the slow drawing aside of a curtain.  At a point halfway across the flats, a split rock he hadn’t noticed before came into view.  As it emerged from behind a larger boulder, its two halves slowly parted and turned, like the hands of a clock creeping past noon.”  Simply gorgeous.  [The landscape, and the writing, that is.]

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Call Me Princess
Sara Blaedel
Pegasus Crime, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60598-251-9
Hardcover

Though Sara Blaedel is the author of several books, and her novels are apparently consistently on the bestseller lists in her native Denmark and elsewhere, this book represents her American debut.  And an auspicious one it is.

Assistant Detective Louise Rick, of the Copenhagen Police Department, is assigned the case of a 32-year-old woman who was raped and brutally attacked.  When the body of another young woman is found, having been similarly brutalized but hadn’t escaped with her life, the police believe they have a serial criminal on the loose.  Other women with similar stories of brutal rapes over the past couple of years are soon linked to the same man.  The only common thread is that the women all apparently met their attackers online.

Louise has been with the homicide division for the past four years. Her best friend, Camilla Lind, is a reporter who has the Copenhagen crime beat at a local newspaper, and that turns out to be both a blessing and a curse, because the help of the newspaper in getting the description of the man the police are hunting out to the public can be a good thing, but too close an involvement with the latest victim by a reporter not so much, and Louise finds it hard to keep a professional distance.

Louise ultimately needs to familiarize herself with the world of online dating.  Her six-year-long relationship with the man she’s been living with has become rocky, and she is ambivalent about the research she needs to do.  The suspense mounts as she tries to identify the rapist.  The author explores the devastating effects on his victims, and I found it hard to keep reading at times, but harder to put the book down.  The author’s next book, Only One Life, is due out in July of 2012 from Pegasus, and I for one can’t wait.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Where All the Dead Lie
J.T. Ellison
MIRA Books, October 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7783-1268-0
Trade Paperback

As this newest entry in the Taylor Jackson series opens, although the serial killer whose death ended the last book, So Close the Hand of Death, is no longer around to continue his terror campaign, his legacy is very much alive:  Both Nashville homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson and her closest friend, medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens Loughley [“Sam”] are still traumatized by the events which led to his death at Taylor’s hand, one month earlier.  [The two women’s jobs are described by the author thusly:  “Taylor protected the living inhabitants of Nashville; Sam uncovered the secrets of its dead.”] Taylor suffers from a combination of PTSD and guilt, in addition to the aftermath of the gunshot to the head which she sustained, following which she was put in a medically induced coma and then didn’t waken for another week; Sam had been horribly tormented and brutalized.

The series should probably be read in order, as there are a lot of backstory references and characters: The mysterious man known as Atlantic, the whole history of The Pretender [the aforementioned serial killer], etc.  This book has an unexpected change of venue, from Taylor’s native city to the UK, when her erstwhile suitor, James “Memphis” Highsmythe, the Viscount Dulsie, invites her to spend the holidays in his castle [yes, ‘castle!’], to help her recover from her emotional, physical and psychic wounds.  Since she is experiencing some unexpected ambivalence in her relationship with Dr. John Baldwin, to whom she is now engaged – –  some friction has developed over an issue having to do with his son, another part of that backstory – – she decides to accept his invitation.

Once Taylor arrives in Edinburgh, she finds that Memphis, a Detective Inspector with the Metropolitan Police, is in the midst of investigating a series of disappearances:  three teenage girls have gone missing in London, and he is in charge of the case.  Much of the rest of the tale deals with that investigation, as well as Taylor’s attempts at recovery and the complications caused by her relationship with Memphis, a recently widowed man equally mired in grief over his wife’s somewhat mysterious death as with his passion for Taylor.

Another well-written and engrossing entry in a terrific series, this one is also recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.