What I’m Reading: The Widow by Fiona Barton

The Widow

Fiona Barton

Berkeley Publishing Group

February 2016

DISCLAIMER: I received a free e-galley from Berkeley Publishing (via Net Galley) in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 
The WidowCV-v3

I was invited to participate in a blog book tour for the February 2016 release of The Widow by Fiona Barton. Here’s my review for this stop on the tour.

The Widow, by Fiona Barton, is a pretty interesting read. Set in the United Kingdom, it follows Jean Taylor, the recent widow of accused child kidnapper (and possible murderer) Glen Taylor. The story opens as Jean is still reeling from the sudden death of her husband after being hit by a bus. Glen had never been formally charged with the kidnapping of Bella Elliott, though he’d been questioned heavily after her disappearance. The interference of the police alienated the Taylors, particularly Jean, from their neighbors and forced them to rely on each other even more for support and camaraderie. The police, as well as reporters, had always suspected that Jean knew more about Bella’s disappearance than she said. With Glen’s death, Jean was free from any obligations that she may have had to her husband while he was alive. And Jean decided to start talking.

Barton did a very good job of building suspense throughout the novel. What I especially liked was the eventual humanization of Jean’s character. At first, she came across as somewhat of an caricatured automaton, a mousy wife who was completely controlled by her psychologically abusive husband. As the book progresses, we see the layers of Jean, alluded to by the character herself as “Jean” versus “Jeanie”. These hidden facets belied a keen cleverness and mastery of subtle manipulation, and I as a reader became hooked by Jean’s character as each layer was revealed.

Barton did another good job in the character of Kate Waters, the ambitious reporter who eventually scores a coveted interview with Jean. This was another case of a cookie-cutter character who becomes more than meets the eye. No apologies are made for Kate’s ambition or methodology, and there is no moral undertone to her success in the vein of “everything has a price.” Still, the character manages to garner sympathy as she manages to outwit her competition to garner an interview with perhaps the most famous widow in recent times, and strain her relationships with those who helped her get to Jean.

Unfortunately for Barton, she did rely on clichés with her male characters, particularly Detective Inspector Bob Sparkes. Sparkes became the quintessential over-obsessed law enforcement official who pursues a case to the detriment of his personal and professional lives. Sparkes’s boss, was the superior who wanted to make the headlines, even at the cost of those who worked under him. Likewise, Glen Taylor becomes just another garden-variety pedophile and narcissist; his behavior and personality are textbook, and leave little to the imagination. Perhaps this is because Barton wanted the women in the book–Jean, Kate, and Bella’s mother Dawn Elliott–to be the focus of the story. Indeed, the entire story is very female-centric and a statement on how women are actually the complicated creatures we are often made out to be, and are usually not how we appear to be.

The ending of the book was a bit anticlimactic, which marred an otherwise gripping story. There was also an issue with changing points of view near the end of the book, especially with Detective Zara Salmond. Her POV seemed abrupt and out of place, and Barton would have been better served sticking to those of the primary characters in the story–Jean, Kate, and Sparkes–and relegating Salmond to the background with the other characters.

Others have compared The Widow to the novel The Girl On the Train, which is a bit of a disservice since I found the latter to be underwhelming and not deserving of the hype surrounding it.   The Widow is much better, and a psychological thriller worth trying.

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What I’m Reading: The Alchemists of Kush

alchemists of kush minister faust originalAlchemists of Kush cover

 

Critically acclaimed author Minister Faust returns with his fourth novel, The Alchemists of Kush.  Set in both modern-day Edmonton and ancient Sudan, this speculative fiction novel follows the path of two boys who must harness ancient knowledge in order to combat a great evil.

Raphael “Rap” Deng Garang was just your average seventeen year-old war refugee hanging on the streets of Edmonton, Canada. Half-Sudanese and half-Somali, he had one foot in both worlds but truly belonged in neither, especially in the close-knit Somali community in which he lived with his mother. A joy ride in a stolen car with a good friend led Rap down a path of self-knowledge that transformed him into Supreme Raptor, the “conscious rap” sensation.

Hru was a child soldier in ancient Sudan, helping the other children of his village survive when raiders destroyed their village. Forced to rely on rudimentary fighting  skills, Hru and the other child soliders manage to eke out an existence in the forest until they arrived at the ocean, in which the Great Devourer of Souls resided. Hru becomes the sole survivor of an attack by the Devourer, which leads him on a quest to find his mother and claim a birthright he didn’t know he had—as Horus, the son of Osiris.

Faust does a riveting job in alternating between modern-day Canada and ancient Sudan by way of Kush; the book is divided into four parts, and each part has two divisions: The Book of Then (which takes place in ancient times) and the Book of Now (which takes place in modern-day Edmonton.  The title of each of the four parts is key to the occurrences in that particular part, and takes on a greater sense of importance as the story progresses. As readers follow Rap’s path from an errant teenage refugee  to a young community leader, they are treated to a parallel course in history in the guise of the Egyptian myth of Isis and Osiris. Indeed, the final portion of the book is the text of the Book of the Golden Falcon, which is the seminal text from which Rap and his cohorts are taught to elevate and expand themselves. The Alchemists of Kush is heavy on allegory, and readers would do well to take this into account while delving into this novel.  Faust has managed to make history cool, and the Book of the Golden Falcon gives a lesson not commonly found in neither public nor private educational institutions in any country. The underlying message of the novel is one of self-improvement, self-sufficiency, and elevating others to their best selves; while this message is imprinted upon the teenagers in the novel, it can be applied by all ages. Even better, you can read all of the Books of Then or the Books of Now in order, for a different yet equally entertaining reading experience which puts an entirely different spin on the novel.  Fans of Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes, and Charles Saunders would enjoy The Alchemists of Kush.

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Be S.U.R.E. in 2016 (by Mattieologie)

I subscribed to the Mattiologie newsletter a few months ago. While sometimes the content doesn’t move me, overall it’s a good contribution to my inbox. 🙂

Anyway, the latest installment came today, in which Mattie James (the owner/founder/raison d’etre of Mattiologie) explains why she hasn’t been feeling New Year’s “resolutions” for quite some time, and why being S.U.R.E. is a better bet. Email text copied & pasted below–it’s worth your time to read it (and she’s not trying to sell anything!). Thanks for stopping by.

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The whole “resolutions” schtick is not really my ministry. In the past it was, but nothing ever got done. They sounded good in January, got further away from me in February and by summer were completely obsolete. Honestly, there’s a little bit too much hype on resolutions because of the year changed. If you want something resolved, RESOLVE it.

When you really want to, you will.

For my past resolutions, I always talked how I wanted to get in shape in the past or wake up earlier. “Oh, this year I’m going to get my body together. Let me buy this gym membership.” “I need to wake up earlier. I’m going to make sure I set my alarm every night.”

I never got in shape or woke up earlier. One year, I paid for a gym membership for the entire year and probably went about 3 times. I set the alarm only to condition myself to turn it off at 6:30a immediately once it went off.

Which brings me to my case in point today.

The one habit you need to break in 2016 is being vague.

It is singlehandedly why you you never keep your resolutions or stay consistent. Your goals lack specifics that are necessary to succeed.

If I really wanted to get in shape, instead of just saying it generally I would’ve made the goal of “strength training every Monday, Wednesday & Thursday and doing cardio on Saturday while being on a vegetarian diet to maintain my pre-pregnancy weight.” It’s specific and clear while creating guidelines towards reaching my goals.

But Mattie, how can I stop being vague? I’m glad you asked, friend. The opposite of being vague is being SURE. Here’s how to keep your new habits – not resolutions – SURE for 2016.

S – Speak It Into Existence

I really believe in the power of the tongue. We do speak things into existence. Good habits included. It’s important that we say what we want, because you shouldn’t expect it if you don’t express it. This is certainly the “what” aspect of creating a new habit. Declare what it is you want and say it in the mirror to yourself every morning if you need to. Write it down. I would even share with a handful of your closest friends and family so they hold you accountable. It’s okay to talk about what you want as long as you do more walking than talking. When you say it, you hear it & when you hear it, hopefully you’ll believe it enough to bring to fruition.

U – Understand Why You’re Doing It

The problem with us being vague is that a lot of us are setting “goals” that we think we should be making. You have got to be clear on why you’re doing something to do it on purpose and with purpose. Losing weight to lose weight isn’t enough incentive to follow through. If you’re losing weight because you know that your 10 year high school reunion is coming up and you want to slay, then that’s a real reason to get your butt in the gym. Again, I didn’t say your why had to be deep, just clear.

R – Repeat To Create Consistency

Repetition is your friend when you want to make something a habit. The problem is that when we make these “resolutions” we do them for one or two weeks when it’s easy or convenient. We easily stray when we have to sacrifice sleep, time or money. But if you can repeatedly work towards a goal during inconvenience, it becomes a habit. Something like second nature. It becomes engrained in you. Repetition isn’t glamorous and most times it isn’t “fun” but it always delivers results. Just ask the girl who lost 50 lbs last year because she committed to her organic diet and ran 5 days a week in the last 12 months.

E – Elevate

So, you know what you want to do and have spoken it into existence. You’re clear on why you’re doing it. And you’ve even committed to repeatedly executing to create a habit. So you’re all good, right? Not exactly. You want to get better. And you should. Elevating is part of the success process. You don’t want to be how good you were 12 months ago. Not even 6 months ago if I’m being honest. Always get better. If you wake up at 6a everyday for a year and need more time as you work your 9 to 5 while building your side business, then wake up at 5am. Once you hit a certain milestone, it is your duty to set a new goal and reach it. You don’t get credit for staying the same even if consistent. Complacency looks like consistency. Results will expose the difference.

Hopefully I’ve helped your realize why you need to create habits vs. make resolutions for 2016. I can’t tell you what it is, but I just know it’s going to be a big year for you. Just be SURE whenever you make new goals and habits.

Marvelously,

Mattie

P.S. – I know the site has been looking a bit funky in the last 24 hours. I’m transitioning to Squarespace. We should be back in business in a day or so. Thanks for your patience!

Reflections on the Old Year

On New Year’s Eve 2014, I wrote a list of goals that I wanted to achieve in 2015. It totaled over forty items, spanning four sheets (single-side) from a small, ruled notebook. I sealed that list in an envelope and scrawled “TO BE OPENED ON DEC. 31, 2015” across the front and the seal of the envelope. I tucked the sealed list in a journal and went about my business.

Yesterday, I opened that envelope and went through the list, checking off those things that I accomplished and making notes otherwise (e.g., maybe I accomplished part of a goal, or the goal needed to be modified during the year). Sadly, I didn’t check off most of my list, though I was proud of those things I did (the year wasn’t a total wash!). Among those was:

–Established a business banking account
–Found an accountant that specialized in small businesses
–Set up my author website
–Did book signings at independent bookstores
–Guest blogged on a site
–Got new glasses & a fresh supply of contact lenses
–Regularly exercised 3 times/week
–Wrote more handwritten letters, which of course led to
–Getting new stationery 🙂
–Got a new winter coat (not that I’ve had much occasion to wear it, what with temperatures being in the 60s & 70s for most of November and December 2015)
–Got more involved in my college alumni association and local chapter of the alumni club.

I also achieved some goals that I hadn’t listed, such as having my sports articles published in major, national publications such as Sports Illustrated (via The Cauldron on Medium) and Ms. magazine, and other articles published elsewhere around the web WOOT!  I was fortunate to make some cool connections with some like-minded folks in both the same and different industries, and I’m looking forward to our collaborations in the upcoming year.

I tried some new things and failed (applied for writing grants and submitted short stories to two publications), but got positive, valuable feedback that will set me up for success when I try again (and I was actually encouraged by The Powers That Be at each organization and publication to try again. How cool is that?).

Even those goals that weren’t accomplished were valuable. For some, they were only partially completed (I wanted to publish four books last year, but only did two: The Bastille Family Chronicles: Dominic and Stormbringer. That’s still better than zero. I also released BFC: Dominic and a previous book, Blizzard, in mass market paperback formats.).

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This a speculative fiction novel (a new genre for me!), written under the pen name Tai Daniels

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This is the second installment in the Bastille Family Chronicles series

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Now avaolable in mass market paperback, only on my website, tiffscribes.com

For others, they gave me an insight as to the work that was still to be done in order to check them off my list. Some goals were too vague, and some were too specific and didn’t allow for the twists and turns of life.

Still others became no longer relevant in retrospect, and these uncompleted goals are the ones to which I’m paying more attention. Their lack of relevancy to my life is forcing me to closeer inspect them and discover alternate routes that may be better suited to my needs.

Oprah Winfrey is often quoted as saying “Man’s rejection is God’s protection.” While some of my goals weren’t reached due to personal error, others weren’t due to circumstances beyond my control. There may be a reason for this, and that reason may be that Goal X isn’t what I really need–or, upon reexamination, what I really want. Not reaching those goals may have been a divine form of protection, and it’s up to me to figure out if this is true, and the way forward if it is indeed true. And for those unrealized goals that were my fault, having a long, hard look at some harsh truths is the best way to garner progress. As the Twelve Steppers say, admitting a problem is the first step. 🙂

Though 2015 didn’t shape up to be all that I hoped it would, the year ended up a lot better than 2014 was, for which I am truly grateful. I’m excited and optimistic for 2016, and I’m looking forward to opening the sealed envelope of goals that is now inscribed, “TO BE OPENED ON DEC. 31, 2016”.

Happy New Year, all, and thanks for stopping by.

CYBER WEEK SALE: 50% off ERRYTHANG!

AAAAAAGGGHHHHH! This was supposed to have been sent on MONDAY, but when I switched from “draft” to “publish” on the WordPress app, I guess the app/phone interface didn’t get the memo. Grrrr…

Anyway, here is the original post that SHOULD have gotten to you a few days ago. *sigh*

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Hi all,

I haven’t blogged in a long while because I was dealing with an ill family member, NaNoWriMo, Thanksgiving, and the imminent publication of my fourth book.

Well, the family member is better, I didn’t finish NaNoWriMo this year (only got to 27K words), T-Day is over, and my fourth novel, Stormbringer, is out as of today. WOOT!

Since it’s that time of the year where everyone and their grandmother is offering a sale, I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon. 🙂

Here ya go: my biggest. sale. EVER.

50% off (yeah, I said it), all titles through my website. Yes, that includes my newest book, Stormbringer.  Enter code CYBERTIFF at checkout.

You can find details in the latest email that went out to my mailing list (and if you aren’t on my mailing list, then what are you waiting for?)

http://eepurl.com/bHIIdL

This sale is going on all week through Saturday, 12/5. Free U.S. shipping on all orders of $10 & up. How cool is that?

For those of you who wanted to try my books but were frugally conscious, now’s your chance! And did I mention that I now offer the mass market versions of The Bastille Family Chronicles: Dominic and Blizzard: A Sebastian Scott novel? The regular price for those is $8.00 each; if you buy them this week, you can get them for $4 each.  That’s two for the price of one, which is a pretty good incentive to buy both. 😀 And the larger paperbacks, which are $14.95 each, can now be had for about $7.50! At this price, you can get all the titles and stock up for your holiday reading.

Oh, what a bargain! What a bargain for you!

And did I also mention that the books come autographed? And that they make great gifts? Just saying.

The offer is only good through my website, and ends at 11:59 pm ET on Saturday, December 5. Remember to use the code CYBERTIFF at checkout. Come through and gitchu a piece.

Thanks for stopping by.

Advance Notice: Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Hi, all! “Advance Notice” is a new section where I review the galleys (advance reading copies) I received via Net Galley and other sources. Most of these books are near their public publication date, so consider this a spoiler alert!

Crimson Shore

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: November 10, 2015

Crimson Shore pendergast Lincoln Child

I usually try to alternate between fiction and nonfiction books when I post what I’m reading, but this time I had to jump into Crimson Shore when I was recently approved to read the galley by Net Galley. And yes, there were other galleys that had earlier publication dates, but I was in a Pendergast kind of mood.

I have been a longtime Preston/Child/Pendergast fan since Relic, which introduced the irreverently unorthodox FBI Special Agent Aloysius X.L. Pendergast, of the New Orleans Pendergasts, in 2007. I first picked up Relic at a used book sale for fifty cents, and was hooked. I even read some of the separately written books by both Preston (I recommend The Codex) and Child (Deep Storm was good).

Crimson Shore is the fifteenth installment in the Pendergast series. This book has Pendergast taking on what appears to be a routine wine theft on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts, except that the wine overlooked by the thieves was of an extremely rare vintage. Pendergast, being a great oenophile, took the case on the condition that he would receive a bottle of the wine as payment (no small gesture, as one bottle was worth at least $10,000). He also saw this as an opportunity to further socialize his ward and quasi-forbidden love interest Constance Greene, in an attempt to re-cage the savagery she exhibited in Blue Labyrinth. Pendergast navigates the abusive power of the local police chief, and utilizes the assistance of the deputy chief–who comes from one of the town’s prominent families–when the wine theft reveals roots in the town’s dark history regarding a local shipwreck in the 1700s. Bizarre deaths lead a gruesome trail to an unexpected ending, which may finally use up the last of Pendergast’s seemingly nine lives.

Preston and Child still deliver excitement in Crimson Shore, but I can’t say that I’m that enamored of Constance as a more prominent character. Her role has grown in each book since The Cabinet of Curiousities, but I rather liked her when she was confined to an enclosed space, be it Pendergast’s Riverside Drive home; a cruise ship; or a mental institution (she was actually at her best there). Constance on the loose in society, and struggling to acclimate herself to modern public ways, was an incongruous note in an otherwise harmonious book.  I’m also on the fence about Pendergast’s obvious feet of clay since Fever Dream; while humanizing his character (Pendergast driving a Porsche? Really?), the razor-sharp investigative skills and abrasive, yet genteel Southern charm that put him on the public map seem to be eroding since that book; this becomes more evident in Crimson Shore. Still, Pendergast fans will enjoy his latest adventure, and the cliffhanger, while surprising, will not cause too much worry among the Pendergast fan club. There is also a recipe of sorts for preparing Sole a la Pendergast, a fillet of fish with a wine-based, creamy mushroom sauce.

Crimson Shore is available for pre-order at a discount; the book will be released on November 10, 2015, at full price.

RETRO READS: Dark Paradise by Tami Hoag

Hi all!  Welcome to Retro Reads, where I talk about my favorite books that were published at least ten years ago. You can still find most of them online, though sometimes they have been re-released with a different cover and/or title. I will let you know if a book is out of print and/or otherwise unavailable.

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Original paperback cover

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Re-release paperback cover

Dark Paradise
Tami Hoag
Mystery/Suspense
Publication date: 1994
Status: In print/Available

Yesterday, I noticed that some neighbors a few houses down have llamas in their front yard. Being that I live in the city part of Atlanta, I was a bit taken aback; wildlife of that magnitude isn’t usually seen around here (although the Mennonite church a few blocks down has sheep, which are available for rent to chew up rogue shrubbery, but I digress).

Seeing the llamas reminded me of Dark Paradise, the first Tami Hoag novel I ever read. The novel is set in Montana and tells the story of Marilee Jennings, a court reporter in California who takes a leave of absence from her job to pay a much-needed visit to her friend Lucy. Lucy was a fellow court reporter who came into a mysterious inheritance and ditched her job to live in Montana a year prior. When Marilee (“Mari”) arrives on Lucy’s doorstep, she finds Lucy’s expensive-looking house ransacked and learns the news of Lucy’s allegedly accidental death–and that Lucy left everything to her, including the llamas in the spacious backyard. Mari soon figures out that Lucy’s death wasn’t an accident and someone took the fall for it.  Her quest to bring the true killer to justice almost gets her put in a grave next to Lucy–even as she fends off the pressure from John “JD” Rafferty, the attractive owner of the neighboring ranch who wants her to sell Lucy’s land to him, to further his own agenda.

Dark Paradise has the right balance of suspense and romance; indeed, the character development is as enjoyable as the plot–which doesn’t have a stereotypical “happily ever after” ending. . What I like best about the characters are their flaws; Hoag makes them truly human, questionable decisions and all. The plot is an interesting commentary on gentrification and how it is furthered in areas considered playgrounds for the wealthy, and the ripple effect on long-term area citizens. This book was written back in 1994, before gentrification became so prevalent here in America, yet the message still resonates today.

I’ve gone on to read and enjoy other books written by Hoag, but Dark Paradise remains my favorite. It’s an engaging read that is worth the trip.

Thanks for stopping by.

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