Book Review: The Ocean in Winter by Elizabeth de Veer—and a Giveaway! @BlackstoneAudio @TLCBookTours

The Ocean in Winter
Elizabeth de Veer
Blackstone Publishing, July 2021
ISBN 978-1-982674649
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The lives of the three Emery sisters were changed forever when Alex, eleven at the time, found their mother drowned in the bathtub of their home. After their mother’s suicide, the girls’ father shut down emotionally, leaving Alex responsible for caring for Colleen, then eight, and little Riley, just four. Now the girls are grown and navigating different directions. Alex, a nurse, has been traveling in India and grieving her struggle to have a child; Colleen is the devoted mother of preteens in denial that her marriage is ending; and Riley has been leading what her sisters imagine to be the dream life of a successful model in New York City. Decades may have passed, but the unresolved trauma of their mother’s death still looms over them creating distance between the sisters.

Then on a March night, a storm rages near the coast of northeastern Massachusetts. Alex sits alone in an old farmhouse she inherited from a stranger. The lights are out because of the storm; then, an unexpected knock at the door. When Alex opens it, her beautiful younger sister stands before her. Riley has long been estranged from their family, prompting Colleen to hire the private investigator from whom they’d been awaiting news. Comforted by her unexpected presence, Alex holds back her nagging questions: How had Riley found her? Wouldn’t the dirt roads have been impassable in the storm? Why did Riley insist on disappearing back into the night?

After her mysterious visitation, Alex and Colleen are determined to reconcile with Riley and to face their painful past, but the closer they come to finding their missing sister, the more they fear they’ll only be left with Riley’s secrets. An unforgettable story about grief, love, and what it means to be haunted, The Ocean in Winter marks the debut of a remarkable new voice in fiction.

Eleven-year-old Alex lost her childhood in an instant the moment she found her mother dead from suicide. Even that extremely traumatic event might have not been so overwhelming if only her father had been strong enough to step up to his duties but, no, he retreated. The three children were pretty much left on their own with Alex taking on the role of mother to Colleen and Riley.

The three girls promised to always be there for each other but life didn’t cooperate and they drifted apart, each on a very different path. Then certain circumstances bring them back into each other’s orbits again and the deep-seated love is still very evident.

This is a character-driven story with limited plot and, as such, the pacing is much slower than I usually like but there is no shortage of feeling. In fact, emotions run high and numerous themes come into play including some that might be considered triggers (suicide, depression, drug addiction, emotional abandonment, etc.). Ms. de Veer handles all of this with grace and compassion beyond her status as a debut author.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2021.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon 
Blackstone Publishing // Indiebound

”Do we choose our memories, or do our memories choose us?
That’s the central question for the three sisters in Elizabeth de Veer’s
emotionally rich, incandescent debut novel. Ocean in Winter is
a page-turner of a book with a family mystery at its core, and profoundly
explores the ways in which women struggle to rebuild their lives
after grief and trauma. You won’t want to put it down once you start.”
—Holly Robinson, author of Beach Plum Island and Chance Harbor

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An Excerpt from
The Ocean in Winter

I am hurtling through Massachusetts at a rate of speed I cannot understand; the wind blows my cheeks, but it does not feel cold. I know only generally where I am going: deep into the state’s north- east corner where small towns cluster at the coast like grapes, nestled by a fragile barrier island at the mouth of the Merrimack River. The towns, blanketed now in briny mist, go by these names: Rowley; Newbury; Newburyport; Salisbury; and, inland, the city of Amesbury, the rough-edged river-fed mill town where my sisters and I grew up, a place I left when I was eighteen and never returned to. The town was too small for me, I suppose, and too much had happened for me and Amesbury to pretend that we had ever been all that close.

A storm has been raging here all day, but now the rain has stopped. In this strange moment, I come to stand on the doorstep of a house in the town of Newbury that I have never seen before, an old farmhouse whose white paint and green trim are cracked and peeling, wooden beams rotted. Behind me, I leave no foot- prints in the cold mud.

What year is this? I think for a moment. Wait, how do I not know the answer immediately?

It’s 2014. The answer comes to mind like a vague memory, as though the question itself does not matter. The house belongs to my oldest sister, Alex. Time is confusing to me right now—how long has it been since I saw her? Years, I think. But how many? Four, five, six? More? Maybe seven. I pushed her away. I pushed everyone away, far away, all to protect my ugly little secrets. Regret lingers in my throat like bile; I’ve made so many mistakes.

I glance through the front window; the room beyond is pitch black. The electricity in this area is out and has been out for a couple of hours. How do I know this? I’m not sure. In the woods beyond this clearing, trees creak high and long like old rocking chairs, swaying slowly in one direction and then the other. The effect is eerie, ghostly.

Many secrets stand between me and my sisters, Alex and Colleen, but not all will be revealed tonight. Tomorrow, after dawn breaks, one of these secrets shall become known. Others will unfold in the days to follow. Far from here a little boy sleeps soundly in his bed in the city. My awareness of him is so intense, I can almost hear his soft steady breath. Goodbye, sweet Caleb. Mama loves you, though she never did a good job of showing it.

I stand for a moment at the threshold of this house and take a deep breath of damp, mossy air, while a chill wind presses against my neck and blows my hair in my face. Alex is inside alone. She is not waiting for me, in fact, she is not expecting my visit. I raise my fist to the door and rap my knuckles against it. One moment passes, and then another. Nothing happens, so I knock again. Finally, Alex opens the door a crack.

“Hello?” she whispers. “Is someone there? Colleen?”

“Alex, it’s me,” I say, pushing my hair away from my face. “Riley.”

“Riley?” she says, incredulous. Then she opens the door the rest of the way. She points her flashlight toward me; I squint in the light and raise my hand to shield my eyes. From the shadows Alex stares, her pale face wide-eyed with fear and surprise. Slowly her expression registers recognition and then she gasps.

“Riley!” She pulls me inside and slams the door to leave the wind and wildness behind us. She throws her arms around me and hugs me hard and long; I do the same. There is a damp towel over her shoulder. Her wool sweater smells dusty, and the air reeks of plaster and paint.

“Hi, Alex,” I say.

“Where have you been?” she says, touching my arm as though she does not believe that I am real. “We’ve been searching for you. Are you okay? Wait, how did you find me?”

“That’s a lot of questions,” I say.

“Let me look at you,” she says, and she holds my face in her hands. She’s shorter than I am, which is surprising because she is eight years older, and I remember her as tall, although I suppose the last time I saw her I was already over a head taller. In my childhood memories, she’s a grown-up, which I guess she has been since she was eleven, since the day she saw what she saw. In the pale shimmer from two utility candles in paper cups, her skin looks tired, her eyes sunken as though she has not been sleeping. Her eyes bear the beginnings of fine lines at the corners; she, too, has aged in these past years. The dark, curly waves of her hair are streaked with a few gray strands, tied back in a sloppy ponytail. She looks strong, like she’s someone who knows what she’s doing. The kind of person I always wished I were or would someday become.

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About the Author

Elizabeth de Veer has a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and has been admitted to writing residencies at the Jentel Artist Residency, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is a member of several writing groups, including Grub Street Writers’ Collective of Boston, the Newburyport Writers’ Group, Sisters in Crime New England, and the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. She lives in a small town in Northeast Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and labradoodle.

To learn more, check out her web site at elizabethdeveer.com.

Connect with Elizabeth
Website // Facebook // Instagram

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a print copy of
The Ocean in Winter, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
on the evening of Thursday, July 29th.
US entrants only.

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Book Review: Taking Notes on Murder by C.S. McDonald @CSMcDonald7 @iReadBookTours

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Welcome to one of the July 12th stops on the blog tour
for Maxed Out by C.S. McDonald with iRead Book Tours.
(Tour schedule linked.) There are multiple books being
reviewed on this tour and today’s post is my review
of Taking Notes on Murder. Be sure to follow the rest
of the tour for spotlights and reviews on all included
books, other bonus content, and a giveaway!
More on that at the end of this post.

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Taking Notes on Murder
A Fiona Quinn Mystery #9
C.S. McDonald
C.S. McDonald, September 2020
Narrated by Maren Swenson Waxenberg
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

Mysterious notes are showing up in Fiona’s kindergarten classroom, claiming a suicide from 2005 was actually a homicide. Detective Landry maintains the messages are too vague, possess no integrity, and do not warrant a review of the old case.

Fiona’s not convinced. She’s determined to find the author of the enigmatic notes and uncover the truth about a man who had many secrets and countless enemies, including Fiona’s mother and former suspect Nancy Quinn!

Can Fiona crack this cold case, and what will it take to get Detective Landry involved? Don’t miss taking notes on this murder!

Following their cruise in the last book, Fiona and Nathan are back home, keeping the secret that they got married. Fiona is once again in her kindergarten classroom and it isn’t long before she’s enticed into investigating another death, prompted by a series of notes claiming that a suicide from years ago was, in fact, not a suicide. Fiona needs nothing more to start snooping but her detective husband, Nathan, says the notes alone are not enough reason to re-open the case. Naturally, he changes his mind when Fiona herself is threatened.

As it turns out, high school teacher James Arnold was a most unlikeable man, a real creep, so there’s no shortage of suspects including his own family and colleagues. Fiona and Nathan have enough investigating to keep them busy but they also have to contend with the latest shenanigans of her unseen but present ghostly grandmother. Those interludes are refreshing and funny, helping to break the tension.

In my earlier review of the previous book, I mentioned that I was undecided as to whether I liked the narration of the audiobook. Unfortunately, this entry confirms my thought that the main character’s voice is really annoying—Fiona sounds like an overgrown version of one of those kindergartners she teaches. She plucks my last nerve but Ms. Waxenberg does a nice job with the other characters and maintains appropriate pacing so I was willing to overlook the distraction. All said, Taking Notes on Murder is a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2021.

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Purchase Links:
Audible // Amazon

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About the Author

For twenty-six years C.S. McDonald’s life whirled around a song and a dance. Classically trained at Pittsburgh Ballet Theater School, The Pittsburgh Dance Alloy, and many others, she became a professional dancer and choreographer. In 2011 she retired from her dance career to write. Under her real name, Cindy McDonald, she writes murder-suspense and romantic suspense novels. In 2014 she added the pen name, C.S. McDonald, to write children’s books for her grandchildren. In 2016 she added the Fiona Quinn Mysteries. Presently, the Fiona Quinn Mysteries has nine books.

Cindy’s newest venture is The Owl’s Nest Mysteries. Once again, she has set her cozy mystery in Pittsburgh. The Owl’s Next Mysteries has a little grit, a little time travel, a little romance, and a whole lot of cozy!

Cindy resides on her Thoroughbred farm known as Fly by Night Stables near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Bill, and her poorly behaved Cocker Spaniel, Allister.

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook

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About the Narrator

Ms. Waxenberg is a voice over artist and presentation coach.  She serves as a consultant to the Professional Development Company, Inc. teaching presentation and interview skills seminars to a variety of clients, Columbia MBA, and SIPA graduate students.  Maren has a 30-year background in special events, performing arts production and the entertainment industry.   In 1996, she founded Maren Productions which produces audio books, radio and television voice-overs, and podcasts.  Maren Productions also offers special event production and consultancy services. 

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Facebook

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

Autographed copy of MAXED OUT, plus
other gifts (USA only) (ends Jul 23)

Enter here.

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Book Review: The Survivors by Jane Harper @janeharperautho @Flatironbooks

The Survivors
Jane Harper
Flatiron Books, February 2021
ISBN 978-1-250-23242-7
Hardcover

Jane Harper, an Australian writer, has been making a name for herself in the past few years. Her first book, The Dry, received much acclaim, followed by Force of Nature, and The Lost Man. They are all stand-alones, set in Australia, and if you haven’t yet checked them out they are well worth a read.

The Survivors, her fourth Novel, is set in Tasmania, in a small coastal town called Evelyn Bay. It’s a popular summer resort favoured by divers who like to explore a shipwreck in the bay. Kieran, the protagonist, grew up in Evelyn Bay and has come home with his girlfriend Mia and their baby daughter Audrey to help his mother and father move to Hobart, where his father, Brian, who is suffering from dementia, will be admitted into a care facility.

Leaving baby Audrey with her grandmother, Kieran and Mia meet up with some friends at The Surf and Turf, a favourite watering hole they’d frequented in summer’s past.

The next morning, the body of a young woman is discovered on the beach. Shock reverberates through the small community stirring up memories of the time twelve years ago when a local girl had gone missing during a violent storm that hit the shores of Evelyn Bay, resulting in the drownings of several young men.

As snippets of information, together with secrets from the past, are slowly revealed the tension mounts, until it reaches its exciting conclusion.

Tasmania is a beautiful island and Evelyn Bay is a beautiful setting for this tangled but engrossing story. Past friendships are tested and as a parent now himself Kieran learns the truth of a past he’d never before come to terms with. Savour and enjoy this heart-wrenching story. You won’t regret it!

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, March 2021.

Book Review: He Started It by Samantha Downing @smariedowning @BerkleyPub

He Started It
Samantha Downing
Berkley, April 2021
ISBN 978-0-451-49176-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

From the twisted mind behind mega hit My Lovely Wife comes the story of a family—not unlike your own—just with a few more violent tendencies thrown in….

Beth, Portia, and Eddie Morgan haven’t all been together in years. And for very good reasons—we’ll get to those later. But when their wealthy grandfather dies and leaves a cryptic final message in his wake, the siblings and their respective partners must come together for a cross-country road trip to fulfill his final wish and—more importantly—secure their inheritance.

But time with your family can be tough. It is for everyone.

It’s even harder when you’re all keeping secrets and trying to forget a memory, a missing person, an act of revenge, the man in the black truck who won’t stop following your car—and especially when at least one of you is a killer and there’s a body in the trunk. Just to name a few reasons.

But money is a powerful motivator. It is for everyone.

Road trip! Those two words have differing connotations to many people but, to most of us, road trips from our past bring good memories, memories we like to savor. For me, they represent family vacations and occasional outings with college friends. There were also a few day trips with my best friend, sort of a high school Thelma and Louise kind of a thing…but without the cliff 😂

Such pleasant meanings don’t hold true for Beth, Portia and Eddie, though, as they’ve been coerced to take this particular road trip by greed and a demand from their deceased grandfather that they recreate a trek from years before. Trouble is, that long-ago journey wasn’t the nicest thing that ever happened to those kids and dear old Grandpa was the guy behind some very creepy pit stops. Now, if they want his millions, they have to recreate it and scatter his ashes but there are rules that have to be followed.

And then the REAL creepiness begins.

There are stories full of dark family secrets but Ms. Downing takes He Started It to a new level and I couldn’t help feeling truly sorry for the two spouses who had no idea what they were about to find out about the siblings and, of course, none of them could have expected the new craziness that was coming. I found myself enthralled with characters that I didn’t even like and had to keep reading to see what levels of awfulness they’d reach next. “Entertaining” is almost too mild a word to be used for this and, yet, it kind of fits if you’re entertained, as I am, by weirdly harrowing tales. If I have any quibbles at all, it’s because there’s more telling than showing here and that lessens the effect a bit, but I still recommend He Started It.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2021.

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“Wholly original. Scarily clever. Completely mesmerizing. You
will never look at family road trips the same way again.”
—Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author

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Credit Jacqueline Dallimore

Samantha Downing currently lives in New Orleans, where
she is furiously typing away on her next thrilling book.
Website // Facebook // Goodreads

Book Review: His and Hers by Alice Feeney @alicewriterland @Flatironbooks

His & Hers
Alice Feeney
Flatiron Books, July 2020
E-Book

The Title – His and Hers –  refers to the book’s two main characters.

Hers:  Anna Andrews, a newsreader, divorced and living and working in London, with a troubled past.

His:    Detective Chief Inspector Jack Harper who lives and works in the small English village of Blackdown where he grew up.

We are introduced to these two characters in separate chapters at the beginning and throughout this rather unusual and intriguing novel.

When the body of a young woman is found in Blackdown Woods, Detective Chief Inspector Jack Harper is called to the scene.

Anna Andrews, who has recently been taken off her job as newsreader, is asked to travel to Blackdown to cover the murder. She is somewhat reluctant to go.  Anna grew up in Blackdown, her mother still lives there, but Anna hasn’t seen her in months and the village holds no good memories for her.

The murder victim, Rachel Hopkins, is known to both Anna and Jack,  a fact neither wants revealed.  But as the investigation unfolds the reader is privy to both Anna’s and Jack’s take on the murder. It isn’t long before the connections between Jack and Rachel and Anna and Rachel  surface, casting suspicions on both of them.

This twisted tale is full of surprises and more victims before it reaches an exciting and dramatic climax.  But even there the tale isn’t quite over…

You’ll have to check this one out… You’ll be glad you did.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, November 2020.

Book Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles @skesliencharles @AtriaBooks

The Paris Library
Janet Skeslien Charles
Atria Books, February 2021 (delayed from June 2020)
ISBN 978-1-9821-3419-8
Hardcover

I started this book without high expectations. I’d already read one book set in Paris during the Nazi occupation, this year. It was a good book, well executed, well written, a good plot. Heart-rending, as most books on this subject are. What are the chances this one could compare?

Well, let me say right off, this one went directly onto my “Best Books Read This Year” list.

It’s 1939 in Paris. Young Odile Souchet, who is fluent in English, has gotten the job she always wanted at the American Library in Paris. She loves the people she works with, and after refusing a string of suitors her father presented as possible husband material, discovers true love at last. But then the Nazis occupy Paris and the American Library and their mixed bag of subscribers, including a good many Jews, are in dire danger. An American woman with whom Odile has become best friends takes a job at the library as well, hiding during the occupation in plain sight. But then she does the unthinkable and Odile’s anger and sense of betrayal knows no bounds.

Forty years later the reader discovers Odile has moved to a little town in Montana State, USA. There she befriends a girl who has lost her mother to cancer and is angry and bewildered when her father marries again after only a few months.

Together, Odile and Lily help each other grow and forgive and discover what makes a true family.

This is the best kind of book, one where you learn something and do it the easy way. By which I mean by becoming involved with the characters and absorbed in their stories. Especially with a story as meticulously researched, plotted, and executed as this one. You’ll find your emotions, your intellect, and your heart involved. And it doesn’t hurt a bit that you’ll learn some important history along the way.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: Hello, Summer by Mary Kay Andrews—and a Giveaway! @mkayandrews @StMartinsPress

Hello, Summer
Mary Kay Andrews
St. Martin’s Press, May 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-25692-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s a new season…

Conley Hawkins left her family’s small town newspaper, The Silver Bay Beacon, in the rearview mirror years ago. Now a star reporter for a big-city paper, Conley is exactly where she wants to be and is about to take a fancy new position in Washington, D.C. Or so she thinks.

For small town scandals…

When the new job goes up in smoke, Conley finds herself right back where she started, working for her sister, who is trying to keep The Silver Bay Beacon afloat―and she doesn’t exactly have warm feelings for Conley. Soon she is given the unenviable task of overseeing the local gossip column, “Hello, Summer.”

And big-time secrets.

Then Conley witnesses an accident that ends in the death of a local congressman―a beloved war hero with a shady past. The more she digs into the story, the more dangerous it gets. As an old heartbreaker causes trouble and a new flame ignites, it soon looks like their sleepy beach town is the most scandalous hotspot of the summer.

Big city journalist stuck writing a gossip column on a small town newspaper—what could possibly go wrong? Conley’s grateful her sister, Grayson, made room for her on the family paper after her ignominious exit from Atlanta but getting used to being back in her coastal Florida hometown is hard enough without having to ferret out the local tattling and innuendos. Before long, though, life takes a different turn and Conley starts sniffing around a real story, a suspicious death of a politician.

That’s not all, though, as it seems Silver Bay is a hotbed of scandals and secrets involving a plethora of folks, including her own family, not to mention a potential reconnection with a crush from earlier times. Throw in G’mama, the quintessential grande dame of Southern small towns, and her opinionated housekeeper, Winnie, and you’ve got the makings of a great beach read—a bit too long for my taste but, all in all, a winner.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2020.

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To enter the drawing for a
hardcover copy of Hello, Summer,
leave a comment below. The
winning name will be drawn on
Thursday evening, September 3rd.
Open to the US and Canada.