Book Review: Shadow Music by Helaine Mario @oceanviewpub

Shadow Music
A Maggie O’Shea Mystery #3
Helaine Mario
Oceanview Publishing, September 2021
ISBN 978-1-60809-450-9
Hardcover

Third in Helaine Mario’s Maggie O’Shea series, Shadow Music, is a thrilling and complex novel of art, music, love, betrayal, and murder.  As the novel begins, in 1985, two women are attempting to escape from Communist controlled Hungary into Austria taking with them the infant daughter of one of them, and a priceless Van Gogh painting which has been rumored to exist for many years but which few have actually seen.  Nearly across the border they are seen by soldiers who fire at them, hitting one woman.  The other escapes with the baby.  The story then moves to present day where renowned pianist Maggie O’Shea is playing for guests of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  As she ends her concert, she is approached by Yuri Belankov who introduces himself as an ex-violinist from St. Petersburg, Russia and asks Maggie to solo with a friend’s orchestra which is a Russian project to give Russian musicians their chance to play professionally along with musicians from other countries.  Making no commitment, Maggie agrees to meet the orchestra’s conductor in London to discuss the matter.

In London Maggie meets the conductor, Valentin Zharkov, and agrees to think about his invitation.  Shortly after their meeting Maggie, whose husband died shortly after he interviewed a nun who supposedly had information about the lost Van Gogh, begins to experience problems – her shop is ransacked, and she is sure she is being followed which is terrifying.  She then travels to a cabin in a remote location where her new lover, a retired Colonel, runs a ranch where disabled and injured soldiers can go to live and work with horses and dogs as they recover from their war wounds – both physical and emotional.  Meanwhile, the Colonel (Michael Beckett) has taken on the task of finding the teenage grandson of his best friend who died in war and whose daughter was recently murdered, apparently because the two Russians later joined by a third, Nikolai Kirov, believed she knew the location of the lost Van Gogh but wouldn’t give it up.  Having found the grandson Michael tries to convince him to go to Michael’s ranch where he will be safe, but the teenager is not willing, though he does agree to go temporarily.

The rest of the novel focuses on the people involved in either trying to obtain or protect the Van Gogh.  The action is nearly non-stop, there are several surprises some of which are truly not obvious, and which will draw you in and not let you go.  The novel is written in short chapters which explore the point of view of several characters.  My one (minor) complaint about this novel is that the way some of the characters speak often does not sound the way people actually speak but that is a small quibble.  I liked this novel a lot and I recommend it highly.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, October 2021.

Book Review: Emma Brown by Clare Boylan

Emma Brown
A novel from the unfinished manuscript by Charlotte Bronte
Clare Boylan
Viking, April 2004
ISBN 978-0-670-03297-6
Hardcover

If you are a fan of Charlotte Brontë, a book inspired by and the first two chapters written by the lady herself, will be right up your alley.

Although the book’s main point-of-view character is a Mrs. Chalfont, the story is also told by several other people, including a young girl variously known as Matilda Fitzgibbon, then as Emma Brown—the last being her own selection, taken from a woman who sold her into what miraculously allows the girl to escape becoming a sexual slave. Her real surname remains a mystery until the last, and it takes this lengthy tale to discover it. For one thing, Emma does not remember her name, not even her first name until late in the novel, which, among other things, investigates the role of women and girls of that era.

Beautifully written, the story considers relationships whether familial or romantic. Whether those ties are forged by love or by honor and blood; within the upper class, the lower class and even the dregs of society. Action and danger come in the search for Emma when she disappears while attempting to discover these answers on her own. It seemed almost impossible our investigators would ever discover Emma or from whence she came, but dogged determination, time, and some money prevail in the end.

An intriguing and inspiring story, read it with care to gain all the nuances.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2021.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Six Dancing Damsels: A China Bohannon Mystery

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: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner @sl_penner @parkrowbooks

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Title: The Lost Apothecary
Author: Sarah Penner
Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Genres: Mystery, Historical

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Apple Books // Amazon
Google Play // Indiebound // Bookshop.org
Books-A-Million // Audible // Target // Libro.fm

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The Lost Apothecary
Sarah Penner
Park Row Books, March 2021
ISBN 978-0-7783-1101-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Pitched as Kate Morton meets The Miniaturist, The Lost Apothecary is a bold work of historical fiction with a rebellious twist that heralds the coming of an explosive new talent.

A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

Just imagine if a woman could go to her local pharmacist and ask for a “special” medication to give to a particular man in her life, a man who has done her wrong in some way. Then take it a step further and imagine that this woman lives in a time when there were very few protections for women who were controlled in every meaningful way by a husband, a father, a suitor, a banker, a lawyer, essentially any male figure. Such is the the premise of this wonderfully creative story and it’s made even better by having the perspective of a modern-day woman as well as those from the 18th century.

This is a tale of three women—Nella, the apothecary in 1791, the young maid, Eliza, and Caroline, a modern woman who is at an important crossroads in her life—and all three come to vivid life in the author’s talented hands. Most intriguing to me was delving into how Nella turned to the dark side of what had been a respected profession and the visibly damaging effect her actions had on her physically as well as psychologically with each succeeding client.

Mystery fans will find much to chew on here and one suspenseful thread after another certainly kept me engaged till deep in the night. Well done, Ms. Penner!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2021.

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An Excerpt from The Lost Apothecary

Nella

February 3, 1791

She would come at daybreak—the woman whose letter I held in my hands, the woman whose name I did not yet know.

I knew neither her age nor where she lived. I did not know her rank in society nor the dark things of which she dreamed when night fell. She could be a victim or a transgressor. A new wife or a vengeful widow. A nursemaid or a courtesan.

But despite all that I did not know, I understood this: the woman knew exactly who she wanted dead.

I lifted the blush-colored paper, illuminated by the dying flame of a single rush wick candle. I ran my fingers over the ink of her words, imagining what despair brought the woman to seek out someone like me. Not just an apothecary, but a murderer. A master of disguise.

Her request was simple and straightforward. For my mistress’s husband, with his breakfast. Daybreak, 4 Feb. At once, I drew to mind a middle-aged housemaid, called to do the bidding of her mistress. And with an instinct perfected over the last two decades, I knew immediately the remedy most suited to this request: a chicken egg laced with nux vomica.

The preparation would take mere minutes; the poison was within reach. But for a reason yet unknown to me, something about the letter left me unsettled. It was not the subtle, woodsy odor of the parchment or the way the lower left corner curled forward slightly, as though once damp with tears. Instead, the disquiet brewed inside of me. An intuitive understanding that something must be avoided.

But what unwritten warning could reside on a single sheet of parchment, shrouded beneath pen strokes? None at all, I assured myself; this letter was no omen. My troubling thoughts were merely the result of my fatigue—the hour was late—and the persistent discomfort in my joints.

I drew my attention to my calfskin register on the table in front of me. My precious register was a record of life and death; an inventory of the many women who sought potions from here, the darkest of apothecary shops.

In the front pages of my register, the ink was soft, written with a lighter hand, void of grief and resistance. These faded, worn entries belonged to my mother. This apothecary shop for women’s maladies, situated at 3 Back Alley, was hers long before it was mine.

On occasion I read her entries—23 Mar 1767, Mrs. R. Ranford, Yarrow Milfoil 15 dr. 3x—and the words evoked memories of her: the way her hair fell against the back of her neck as she ground the yarrow stem with the pestle, or the taut, papery skin of her hand as she plucked seeds from the flower’s head. But my mother had not disguised her shop behind a false wall, and she had not slipped her remedies into vessels of dark red wine. She’d had no need to hide. The tinctures she dispensed were meant only for good: soothing the raw, tender parts of a new mother, or bringing menses upon a barren wife. Thus, she filled her register pages with the most benign of herbal remedies. They would raise no suspicion.

On my register pages, I wrote things such as nettle and hyssop and amaranth, yes, but also remedies more sinister: nightshade and hellebore and arsenic. Beneath the ink strokes of my register hid betrayal, anguish…and dark secrets.

Secrets about the vigorous young man who suffered an ailing heart on the eve of his wedding, or how it came to pass that a healthy new father fell victim to a sudden fever. My register laid it all bare: these were not weak hearts and fevers at all, but thorn apple juice and nightshade slipped into wines and pies by cunning women whose names now stained my register.

Oh, but if only the register told my own secret, the truth about how this all began. For I had documented every victim in these pages, all but one: Frederick. The sharp, black lines of his name defaced only my sullen heart, my scarred womb.

I gently closed the register, for I had no use of it tonight, and returned my attention to the letter. What worried me so? The edge of the parchment continued to catch my eye, as though something crawled beneath it. And the longer I remained at my table, the more my belly ached and my fingers trembled. In the distance, beyond the walls of the shop, the bells on a carriage sounded frighteningly similar to the chains on a constable’s belt. But I assured myself that the bailiffs would not come tonight, just as they had not come for the last two decades. My shop, like my poisons, was too cleverly disguised. No man would find this place; it was buried deep behind a cupboard wall at the base of a twisted alleyway in the darkest depths of London.

I drew my eyes to the soot-stained wall that I had not the heart, nor the strength, to scrub clean. An empty bottle on a shelf caught my reflection. My eyes, once bright green like my mother’s, now held little life within them. My cheeks, too, once flushed with vitality, were sallow and sunken. I had the appearance of a ghost, much older than my forty-one years of age.

Tenderly, I began to rub the round bone in my left wrist, swollen with heat like a stone left in the fire and forgotten. The discomfort in my joints had crawled through my body for years; it had grown so severe, I lived not a waking hour without pain. Every poison I dispensed brought a new wave of it upon me; some evenings, my fingers were so distended and stiff, I felt sure the skin would split open and expose what lay underneath.

Killing and secret-keeping had done this to me. It had begun to rot me from the inside out, and something inside meant to tear me open.

At once, the air grew stagnant, and smoke began to curl into the low stone ceiling of my hidden room. The candle was nearly spent, and soon the laudanum drops would wrap me in their heavy warmth. Night had long ago fallen, and she would arrive in just a few hours: the woman whose name I would add to my register and whose mystery I would begin to unravel, no matter the unease it brewed inside of me.

Excerpted from The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Penner. Published by Park Row Books.

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About the Author

Credit Laura Foote

Sarah Penner is the debut author of The Lost Apothecary, to be translated in eleven languages worldwide. She works full-time in finance and is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She and her husband live in St. Petersburg, Florida, with their miniature dachshund, Zoe. To learn more, visit slpenner.com

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.sarahpenner.com/

Facebook: @SarahPennerAuthor

Instagram: @sarah_penner_author

Twitter: @sl_penner

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**A copy of this book was provided by the publisher
via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Book Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff @PamJenoff @parkrowbooks

The Lost Girls of Paris
Pam Jenoff
Park Row Books, January 2019
ISBN:978-0-7783-3027-1
Trade Paperback

A history of the world will be written one day with particular emphasis on the dangerous decade of the 1940s. A monstrous world war, the development of Atomic weapons and missile warfare, and a realignment of national priorities across the world. And there we began to see shifts in social structure.

In America, the public beginnings of greater gender equality became noticeable as women assumed a variety of jobs in manufacturing and other business traditionally held by men. Women pilots became a crucial link in getting replacement fighters and bombers to forward bases to continue the war effort. Rosie the Riveter became a recruitment poster. In England, women filled many roles heretofore reserved for men and that gradually included the world of spying and espionage, which brings us to this enthralling historical novel.

In 1940, British authorities established the Special Operations Executive, a clandestine agency designed to pass disinformation, arms, munitions and agents into occupied Europe. The novel focuses on the difficulties of incorporating a significant cadre of women agents, even though it was acknowledged that women moved around France more freely than could men. Eventually, due to persistence and grim determination, the head of F section was allowed to recruit and train a group of young talented women to operate in German-occupied Europe. This story tells the emotional and often tragic tales of the director of the unit, Eleanor Trigg, and several of the women agents.

The novel is a well-researched and very well written book. It is important, however, to recognize that this is a historical novel, based and well-rooted in reality, but is, in fact, fiction. Two agents who were flown to France in 1944 are the main characters and the story follows them from training through their adventures in tension-filled France and the post-war time.

The novel is saturated with the voices and unique perspectives of the women, including that of Grace Healey, a young woman living and working in Manhattan when the novel opens in 1946. Passing through Grand Central Station, she almost inadvertently acquires some pictures of former agents of the SOE. Notes intrigue her and she begins an odyssey to find and return the pictures to their rightful owners.

Now the scene shifts to London in 1943. Readers will discover that the structure of the novel shifts by chapter from place to place and from year to year. The structure is very well handled, the events are carefully and logically written to weave an emotional, tension-filled story fabric that will grasp and hold all but the most jaded readers through to the surprising and very well-conceived resolution. Just a fine, fine novel in all aspects.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Now I See You by Shannon Work @TheWorkFamily @SDSXXTours

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Title: Now I See You
Series: Mountain Resort Mystery Series, Book 1
Author: Shannon Work
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Suspense

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Amazon // Indiebound

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Now I See You
Mountain Resort Mystery Series, Book 1
Shannon Work
Shannon Work, September 2020
ISBN 978-1-7354353-0-5
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Two murders. A terrified mountain resort. Can a daring reporter help stop an avalanche of dead bodies?

Celebrity TV anchor Georgia Glass wants out of Denver and far away from her obsessed fan. Set to host her own investigative crime show in LA, she’s surprised to inherit a Victorian house in Aspen from a mysterious uncle she never knew. But while exploring the gothic property, she discovers the frozen corpse of a missing heiress.

Georgia’s journalist instincts kick in and she is determined to help police track down the killer. But by investigating the murder, has she made herself the killer’s next target?

Can Georgia help solve the case before she becomes the next victim? Or will the stalker that followed her to Aspen get her first?

Now I See You is a fast-paced whodunit set amidst the spectacular scenery of Aspen, Colorado, and the first book in the suspenseful Mountain Resort Mystery series.

Georgia Glass is an interesting woman and I was particularly struck by a random thought she has, that she has “vague memories” of her visits to Aspen after just ten years. That makes her seem rather shallow but I actually think it might be a kind of commentary on so many people today whose lives are so filled with information flooding their brains from all directions. TV journalists especially may find their attention and focus driven from one story to the next, causing memories to be more fleeting than in less frenetic times. Hmm…something I’ll want to think more about.

Besides finding a body in her newly inherited property, Georgia is also recovering from the stress of having a devoted fan who turned into a stalker. That situation seems to be under control but no journalist worthy of the name could resist looking into the presence of a dead body practically at her feet. She’s new in town but makes connections quickly, including with a local police detective and it isn’t long before she comes to the attention of a serial killer who already has committed several murders.

I figured out most of the salient facts faster than I expect to in a true whodunnit, as this has been billed, but the author has crafted a nicely suspenseful story. Detective Jack Martin will be back in the next book, set in Vail, and I’m looking forward to seeing him again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2020.

About the Author

Shannon Work grew up in Del Rio, a border town in the dusty wilds of West Texas. When she graduated from high school, she moved east to College Station and graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a master’s degree in Land Economics and Real Estate.

Most of her working life has been spent developing real estate, earning a national Best in America Living Award for one of her developments. After two failed starts at writing a novel while raising three kids and working, she retired to pursue her dream of writing mystery novels full time.

Shannon and her husband are recent empty nesters and split their time between Houston, Texas and Telluride, Colorado. Always with their laptops and dogs in tow.

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * Bookbub * Amazon * Goodreads

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Book Review: Endangered by Lamar Giles @LRGiles @harperteen

Endangered
Lamar Giles
HarperTeen, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-229757-0
Trade Paperback

Once again, I’ve found a book that ‘my’ students will want to read. I know this because I borrowed Endangered by Lamar Giles from their classroom library. This copy is clearly well-read.

Panda (it makes me so happy when a name and title go together better than peanut-butter and chocolate) has mastered the art of blending-in-until-invisible. A skill she’s particularly proud of. Imperative for tailing someone and snapping a series of not-so-secret photos. Handy for hiding in the hallways between classes.

What began as one, well-deserved, public humiliation has taken on a life of its own. Panda anonymously prowls to expose the not-so-great traits of seemingly superb human beings. Her photo-blog, Gray Scales, is incredibly popular. Her best friend, Mei, is a true fan. But even Mei has no idea that Panda is the person purportedly balancing the scales.

Things change the night that Panda sees so much more than she ever expected. Which happens to be the very night she, the original school-spy, was spotted. And photographed. Sadly, Panda remains unaware of her shadow until her latest sordid shots are available for all eyes on Gray Scales.

While disconcerting, Panda did not find it to be particularly worrisome. At first. She was absolutely not prepared for the murderous rage that soon follows. She’ll need to do her very best detective working to identify the culprit. Her life, and Mei’s, depend on it.

Endangered by Lamar Giles is a YA Suspense novel, in that the main characters are in high-school; but the plot pulled me in entirely. I stayed up stupid-late one night just because I had to know how it ended.

Oh-and when I later read a nature article that referenced a “camera trap”, I knew what that was because I’d read this book.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2020.