Slip (The Slip Trilogy Book 1) by David Estes

slipBlurb:  Someone must die before another can be born…

As sea levels rise and liveable landmasses shrink, the Reorganized United States of America has instituted population control measures to ensure there are sufficient resources and food to sustain the growing population. Birth authorization must be paid for and obtained prior to having a child. Someone must die before another can be born, keeping the country in a population neutral position at what experts consider to be the optimal population. The new laws are enforced by a ruthless government organization known as Pop Con, responsible for terminating any children resulting from unauthorized births, and any illegals who manage to survive past their second birthday, at which point they are designated a national security threat and given the name Slip.

But what if one child slipped through the cracks? What if someone knew all the loopholes and how to exploit them? Would it change anything? Would the delicate resource balance be thrown into a tailspin, threatening the lives of everyone?

And how far would the government go to find and terminate the Slip?

In a gripping story of a family torn apart by a single choice, Slip is a reminder of the sanctity of a single life and the value of the lives we so often take for granted.

This is terrific start to a YA trilogy.   Don’t let the slightly choppy opening chapters put you off.  It takes a little while to fall into place, but once you get the gist of it, it compels you to keep reading.

We see the world initially through the eyes of a boy who starts life nameless, except for Son or Child.  Isolated yet cared for with love by his father and his ‘nanny’, his six year old self is already beginning to question his isolation and his identity.  It is, of course, only a matter of time before he is cast brutally into the outside world to survive as best he might.

This is a well realised futuristic dystopian vision that retains a human heart.  The impact of the population laws on the individuals we meet in the story gives the book quite a bit of power.

I found the survival instinct (without being feral) of the outcast teenagers reasonably believable – I would like to think that is how many adolescents might react in such a situation.  I never liked Lord of the Flies.   In fact I think that one of the really fine insights in the book is the teenagers’ matter-of-fact acceptance of their plight and their need to work outside the rules but within the system. Survival drives them to subvert the system to their own needs, but that is a far cry from the deep felt outrage and rebellion that leads to the violent action practised by the out and out rebels against the system. This  distinction gives added pathos to the teens’ story and generates a great deal of sympathy for them.

The characters are well drawn, especially the principals. The dilemma of the parents and their suffering is quite excruciatingly revealed as the story progresses. The development of Benson Mack’s character is particularly well done and really does drive the story forward to its conclusion.  Some great light and shade and just enough grey to stop it being simplistic while avoiding over-sophistication.  It is very well targeted to a young adult audience, I feel.

The author writes well enough to sometimes scratch in harsh prose and other times to paint with a delicate touch, evoking vivid and unexpectedly lovely images and sensitive observations that both ameliorate and highlight the hardness of the story.

The notion that ultimately everyone is a victim of repressive laws is a strongly made point too.  As well as being a suspenseful mystery, this book will make you ask yourself questions and maybe make you attempt to answer them as well.

Absolutely worth a read, recommended.

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Exile’s Return Guardians of the Crown Book 3 by Alison Stuart

Exile's returnBlurb:  England, 1659: Following the death of Cromwell, a new king is poised to ascend the throne of England. One by one, those once loyal to the crown begin to return …

Imprisoned, exiled and tortured, fugitive Daniel Lovell returns to England, determined to kill the man who murdered his father. But his plans for revenge must wait, as the King has one last mission for him.

Agnes Fletcher’s lover is dead, and when his two orphaned children are torn from her care by their scheming guardian, she finds herself alone and devastated by the loss. Unwilling to give up, Agnes desperately seeks anyone willing to accompany her on a perilous journey to save the children and return them to her care. She didn’t plan on meeting the infamous Daniel Lovell. She didn’t plan on falling in love.

Thrown together with separate quests – and competing obligations – Daniel and Agnes make their way from London to the English countryside, danger at every turn. When they are finally given the opportunity to seize everything they ever hoped for, will they find the peace they crave, or will their fledgling love be a final casualty of war?

I reviewed book 1 and book 2 of this excellent trilogy here.  And I have to say that book 3 does not disappoint.  Another moving and compelling tale of loyalty, loss and love in the dangerous and uncertain times of mid 17th century England.

Ms Stuart once again hauntingly evokes the tension and uncertainty of the times.  Again plot and counter plot entwine themselves about the hapless characters.  Even more strongly, she conveys the utter helplessness of a woman alone and the even greater helplessness of a woman with two orphaned children in her care.  What might be called these days ‘collateral damage’, Agnes Fletcher is just another victim of the fall-out of the political battle between Commonwealth and King that ran over twenty-odd years.

The final book brings together the threads of the previous two, and we find Jonathan and Kate Thornton from book 1 and Kit and Thamsine Lovell from book 2 drawn into the danger and daring of the final audacious act.

In a revealing little interlude between Agnes and Daniel, the author touches the heart of the enduring fascination with the doggedly loyal Royalists. Hope requires a lot more courage than despair in dark times. The laconic awareness with which the protagonists approach the final mad venture, is deeply moving.  There is hard-nosed and hard-won realism behind the all-or-nothing attitude that speaks of immense moral and physical courage.  I think Ms Stuart has conveyed this beautifully throughout the three books of this trilogy.  The Royalists weren’t just romantic fools, they were intelligent and talented men – and often subtle and devious withal – with a great deal to lose, knowing clearly what they were putting on the line for their belief in the rightful claim of their monarch.

No wonder we swoon at the thought of the Royalists giving their all for their beloved King.  Charles must have been quite a guy to inspire such love and loyalty for so many lean years.  Yes, there were some in it for what they felt they could get, and a shrewd recognition of the consummate political and negotiating talent Charles II displayed.  Nevertheless, much courage was still required to be exiled and poor for so long.

The ending coincides with the Restoration and is satisfying and credible, with a hopeful future inevitably shadowed but not shaped by a tragic past.

This trilogy as a satisfying, well written  historical romance of the English Civil War.  There is  a sufficiently realistic feel for the times and an excellent balance of adventure and romance.  The characters are wonderfully appealing and stay with you after the book is done.  In short,  a splendidly entertaining read.  Recommended.

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Books That Transport One

Sharing the love. This is a delightful piece from TJ, written with his usual whimsical humour. The thumbnails of his favourite books are top-notch. Enjoy!

Life is too short to drink bad wine

books3 (Large) A grab-bag of reading delights. Scum of the Seas and the Crippled Lady of Peribonka alone will keep you guessing till the end.

La duchesse d’Erat’s Great Book of List this week asks us to list books that transport us. Delighted to see that the Duchesse shares some of my favorites (Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights  in particular) these are my other “go to books” when I want to escape from reality.

As you can tell from my list I prefer older books. I love the 18th century for its rollicking stories, wit and bravura, the 19th century for its drama and intensity and the early 20th for its quaint daring and champagne cork vitality.

Old Books What is the Mystery of the Pink Stud? Perhaps we had better not know.

The picture is of a few books in my collection of little academic merit but bought because I…

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The Spookshow Book 1 by Tim McGregor

spookshowBlurb:  Life used to be drab for Billie Culpepper but all that changed after an accident left her in a coma for three days. That’s when the spookshow really began, when Billie realized that she could see the dead.

And the dead could see her.

Now, they won’t leave her alone.

Accompanying two friends through a haunted house, Billie uncovers a terrible secret that brings, not only the police, but the homicide detective responsible for putting her into the hospital in the first place. He’s also the one man she sworn to stay away from.

This was a highly entertaining and very gripping quick read.  And I LOVE the cover.  Very minimalist and classy, really suitable for the story.

Though I can understand some reviewers commenting that it is like a book 2, for me it was the quintessential teaser, very well pitched, with many interesting avenues to develop. It has sufficient contextual and background information to make it perfectly comprehensible whilst whetting the appetite for more.  It immediately piqued my interest with a tense and very spooky opening.

I began to notice a preponderance of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ towards the end of the exposition in the early pages.  My critic’s hat was in my hand but did not reach my head because the author stopped JUST IN TIME and resumed with some cracking, super-compelling ‘showing’!    In light of the difficulty of conveying enough information to make a teaser comprehensible, McGregor manages to get away with an authorial no-no pretty well on the whole.

The central characters of Billie (Sybil) Culpepper and Detective Ray Mockler are great, very appealing.  Their reluctant working relationship is subtly yet clearly conveyed, and I am anticipating many a delightful frisson to be gained from further development.  Secondary characters are sufficiently developed for a teaser. The back story revealed was super-intriguing and certainly more than enough to warrant signing up to the author newsletter to get the second book free.

It is hard to part me from my reading dollars, but this series I think will do so eventually, if the second book is as good as this. Just downloaded and really looking forward to reading it.  I’ll let you know if the author reels me in.

Alison Stuart – Her Rebel Heart and other books

her rebel heartI recently picked up Her Rebel Heart by Australian author Alison Stuart as a freebie from somewhere.  The tale of sisters Deliverance and Penitence, daughters of Cromwell supporters who, in the absence of their father, valiantly defend the family estate during brief ascendancy of Prince Rupert and the royalist cause during the English Civil War.

This was an extremely well put together story.  The historical feel was excellent, without being intrusive. It was very well written, and I was charmed by the prickly little Deliverance, courageous and learned in the theory of warfare, and highly indignant at the patronising young commander who is sent to take over the military defence.

The development of their romance amidst the grittiness of preparation for and defence throughout the siege was very well done.  However, the intimate scenes were a little too graphic for my taste.  Somehow I can never see the need to describe body parts and where they go when we all know very well.

So my Puritan self that doesn’t like graphic sex did toss up whether to buy another book by this author.  However, I liked the rest of the story so much that I gave Ms Stuart the benefit of the doubt and bought  By the Sword.  Now I am buying the sequel, The King’s Man. That speaks for itself really.  These are quality historical/romantic fiction stories.

I am a fast reader, and they were each long enough to occupy an afternoon/evening of sustained reading but not long enough to become tedious.  Having some knowledge of the era, I found each book to have a good feel for the times and a fine touch in crossing the cultural divide between then and now, with both the language and the social mores.  The events are placed in their historical context adroitly with minimum authorial intrusion and historical scene-setting .  The romance develops within, almost despite, compelling and dramatic events.

Each book could be read as a stand-alone, though there is a bit of a hook at the end of The King’s Man.  The third of the trilogy is not out yet.

by the swordBy the Sword Guardians of the Crown book 1  

Blurb:  England 1650. In the aftermath of the execution of the King, England totters once more on the brink of civil war. The country will be divided and lives lost as Charles II makes a last bid to regain his throne.
Kate Ashley finds her loyalty to the Parliamentary cause tested when she inherits responsibility for the estate of the Royalist Thornton family. To protect the people she cares about, she will need all her wits to restore its fortunes and fend off the ever-present threat of greedy neighbours. 
Jonathan Thornton, exiled and hunted for his loyalty to the King’s cause now returns to England to garner support for the cause of the young King. Haunted by the demons of his past, Jonathan risks death at every turn and brings danger to those who love him. Finding Kate in his family home, he sees in her the hope for his future, and a chance at a life he doesn’t deserve.
In the aftermath of the Battle of Worcester, Jonathan must face his nemesis, and in turn, learn the secret that will change his life forever. But love is fragile in the face of history, and their lives are manipulated by events out of their control. What hope can one soldier and one woman hold in times like these?

Quite simply, this is a great read.  Interesting, well-developed and very believable characters with flaws and weaknesses but absolutely charming nevertheless.  Great dialogue (some modernisms creep in, but more than forgivable I think as overall the tone and sentiments are very authentic), well-paced story, lovely romance with consummation delicately conveyed (ie: no graphic sex), polished writing.

The plot is well-conceived and executed plot and seamlessly weaves the history of the time into the personal stories of the protagonists.  The author manages to capture the strange times of the English civil war where brother could be against brother and the fluid political changes made it a precarious time to be alive whether you were an active player or a bystander unwittingly caught up in the action.

The brief but eloquent portrayal of the Prince, Charles Stuart, as very young man caught up in a tangled and corrupt political web that he is only just learning to manipulate to his advantage is a very nice touch that helps bring history alive.  It is so easy to forget that his fate lay in the balance for a very long time during which he learned a great deal about survival.  A less energetic, charismatic and clever man would not have survived the vicissitudes of his early life, let alone been able to inspire the continued loyalty of his dedicated supporters for so long.

Well, I finished this, and immediately purchased the second book in the trilogy.

the king's manThe King’s Man Guardians of the Crown book 2

Blurb: London 1654: Kit Lovell is one of the King’s men, a disillusioned Royalist who passes his time cheating at cards, living off his wealthy and attractive mistress and plotting the death of Oliver Cromwell.
Penniless and friendless, Thamsine Granville has lost everything.  Terrified, in pain and alone, she hurls a piece of brick at the coach of Oliver Cromwell and earns herself an immediate death sentence. Only the quick thinking of a stranger saves her. 
Far from the bored, benevolent rescuer that he seems, Kit plunges Thamsine into his world of espionage and betrayal – a world that has no room for falling in love.
Torn between Thamsine and loyalty to his master and King, Kit’s carefully constructed web of lies begins to unravel. He must make one last desperate gamble – the cost of which might be his life.

This was a surprisingly powerful story, rather darker than the previous two.  The vicissitudes of Kit’s life being on the losing side in a continuing atmosphere of hair trigger politics are very well delineated.  Without long and turgid descriptions we are yet very conscious of a tenuous existence in the shadows, the danger and the loneliness that stalk the apparently cynical, insouciant wild liver and user of women.

There is added tension in the unrelenting presence of John Thurloe, Cromwell’s spy-master, ruthlessly manipulating all around him with a cold and calculated calm that is positively chilling.  As the plot thickens, Thamsine falls into the hands of Thurloe and is made to work against her will for him.  Psychological violence descends into physical torture as the plot and counter-plot are begun in the intricate game of survival.

The author manages to give a real sense of absolute desperation to both Kit and Thamsine.  She makes this pair of anti-heroes highly sympathetic and likeable, whilst not varnishing their less admirable aspects.  I found myself desperately hoping there was a highly compelling and ultimately noble reason for apparently despicable actions … but no spoilers, you will have to read it and see for yourself.

The story is worked through with good pacing and many tense moments.  The drama of the romance that is born slowly and somewhat tortuously between the two is well played.  There is one intimate scene that I found too long and too clearly described for my liking – though it was a wedding night …

The ending is well balanced, finishing the central story thread of this book and leading into the next and final book.

The final book of the trilogy is due out in February 2016 and I am hooked – I will be buying.

Review – A House of Her Own by Patricia Dusenbury

a house of her own

Having thoroughly enjoyed the first two novels of this series, following Claire Marshall’s evolution from grief-numbed widow to sassy and independent businesswoman, I was really looking forward to the third.  It certainly did not disappoint.

Claire, in addition to coming to terms with her own emotional trauma, has had to deal with being framed for murder while being pursued by the real killers in A Perfect Victim.  In Secrets, Lies and Homicide, she is is drawn into a sordid tale of old murder and investigation of a recent murder, as well as possibly being betrayed by her own heart.

In this third book, she has to deal with a possibly haunted house that she buys on whim, hoping to renovate and sell on for a large profit. The shadows of past and present unhappiness that seem to live in the house blight all aspects of Claire’s life and work as she seeks to uncover the mystery of the notorious ‘haint’.  The more she investigates it, the more harrowing become the possible reasons for an unquiet spirit remaining in the house.

She also has to face increasingly bold threats from ruthless gang members terrorising the neighbourhood.  These hoodlums begin stalking her as they believe she may have incriminating evidence that can put them away for murder.  She once again comes into conflict with the local police as they pursue an investigation that involves her. And she still has to deal with her own ghosts from the past and with jealousy, doubt and indecision about her romantic future with glamorous playboy racecar driver Tony.

Once again the author writes with a sure and elegant hand, and handles complex intertwining plot threads with aplomb. The harrowingly dark possible reasons for the haunting, and the overarching, very uncomfortable feelings of dread and claustrophobia – in Claire’s work project and in her personal life – in are marvellously evoked by the author.  One can enter into Claire’s heart-searchings and frustrating doubts very thoroughly and sympathetically.  The sense of being on the edge of another, shadowy world just beyond our ken is also very cleverly sustained. The New Orleans backdrop with hints of ancient and exotic supernatural rituals and a certain air of decayed grandeur is used to great effect. The pacing is great, never a dull moment.

There is resolution to all plot threads – though there are surprises aplenty and I have to admit to a secret wish for a different outcome on a couple of counts.  However, as in life, so in fiction – everything does not end neatly and predictably.  A compellingly readable story that is hard to put down, and a very satisfying end to a great trilogy, with twists and surprises to the last page.

Coming Soon … and I can’t wait!

rogueRogue (Relentless Book 3)

by Karen Lynch

I have to ‘fess up to actually pre-ordering the final instalment of this top-notch YA paranormal series.

The author has been posting teasers now and then, and I am looking forward to a fabulous finish to this fine series.

Here is a link to my review of the first book Relentless (permafree on Amazon last time I looked), and the second book Refuge.  I recently re-read them to get refresh my memory for the third one.  All I can say was that a third (yes, I admit it) reading was even more enjoyable than the first and second.

Roll on October and the release date!

Review – Heart by Paula Hayes

heartHeart, by Paula Hayes (free on Smashwords)

From the blurb:  Sixteen-year-old Anna Grey has the personality of an online encyclopedia crossed with a leashed mini bulldog. Anna is about to discover that she has a special gift. The ‘gift’ doesn’t compute well and her orderly little world is about to be turned upside down. Anna is about to discover that she can see the dead …speak to the dead and crush (blush) on the dead.

With her two mismatched best friends by her side, drag queenish Dylan Ray and fragile butterfly lady Jacqui Van Eden, Anna inadvertently summons Leo the ghost of an Australian WW1 teenage soldier. Leo is confused and stuck. He is pining for a love lost and is a little on the nose.

This is a different style of read from the run of the mill YA, but all the better for that, I think.  With the ANZAC Centenary this year which is very significant for Australians, it is a very timely topic to be addressing in such an approachable and appealing way.  It is the little stories that always pack the most punch when well told, as this one is.

This is indeed a book with lots of heart, about growing up, friendship, and learning how to deal with life, love and loss.  While bubbling with humour and the day to day wackiness of chaotic family life, it also pulses with echoes of tragedy and loss, both old and recent.   And it has a wonderful feeling of place, too, very recognisable to fellow Australians!

Young Leo, despite being dead for so long, is larger than life, humorous, daring and cheeky, but there is aching sadness also in the lonely lostness of the forgotten young soldier, and in his fear that he will just fade completely away.   The sadness of the grieving relatives and lovers left behind after WWI (or any war for that matter) is delicately evoked also and provides a lot of pauses for thought.  The young soldier’s questions are oddly similar to the ones that Anna, Jacqui and Dylan, who rouse him, are also asking themselves.  The present tension between Anna’s pregnant sister and the rest of the family – and with her boyfriend – is worked through in the background in a touching way and ties in gently with Leo’s story.  Anna, Dylan and Jacqui also come to terms with difficulties in their lives during the story.  All the threads are finely dealt with and woven into the story as it moves along.

The young soldier’s story was deeply moving and sensitively told.  There is a lovely wistful charm that weaves through the revelation of the early lives of Anna’s relatives who she has only known as crusty old people.  Amidst the ridiculous, rambunctious and earthy day to day family life that comes to life on the pages, there is a delicacy of feeling and many beautifully rendered scenes of growing understanding and unflagging affection despite difficulties and misunderstandings.  The two threads weave in and out, making a well put together story that can be read on many levels.

This is a very heartfelt coming of age tale, and reminds one of the truth that the experience of growing up seems to remain constant – the questions and doubts remain the same, only the milieu in which the different generations of teens have to find their answers changes.

TJ’s Household Haiku Challenge – Piano

This is a great picture = very suggestive of so many metaphors for life. Delicious food for thought!

Kate Martyn ... author

I loved thepicture prompt from TJ this week.  The idea of an abandoned, broken piano in an abandoned, forbidding old prison was rather sad but was also a rather more optimistic metaphor for life in general sometimes …

pianoPrison Piano Duet

Though trapped and broken

We still sing with the right touch

The spirit roams free

Imprisoned by age

We still sing with the right touch

Though old and broken

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