A Line To Kill by Anthony Horowitz

A Line To Kill by Anthony Horowitz
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When Ex-Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, author Anthony Horowitz, are invited to an exclusive literary festival on Alderney, an idyllic island off the south coast of England, they don’t expect to find themselves in the middle of murder investigation—or to be trapped with a cold-blooded killer in a remote place with a murky, haunted past.

Arriving on Alderney, Hawthorne and Horowitz soon meet the festival’s other guests—an eccentric gathering that includes a bestselling children’s author, a French poet, a TV chef turned cookbook author, a blind psychic, and a war historian—along with a group of ornery locals embroiled in an escalating feud over a disruptive power line.

When a local grandee is found dead under mysterious circumstances, Hawthorne and Horowitz become embroiled in the case. The island is locked down, no one is allowed on or off, and it soon becomes horribly clear that a murderer lurks in their midst. But who?

Both a brilliant satire on the world of books and writers and an immensely enjoyable locked-room mystery, A Line to Kill is a triumph—a riddle of a story full of brilliant misdirection, beautifully set-out clues, and diabolically clever denouements.

Anthony Horowitz and Daniel Hawthorne have agreed to go to a literary festival on the Island of Alderney to talk about and start the PR for Horowitz’s first book featuring Hawthorne and one of his cases. Horowitz knows Hawthorne appears to have an ulterior motive for this unusual agreeableness but in many ways both men are still a mystery to each other. Horowitz figures nothing to drastic can happen on the small island, but he’s quickly proved wrong. One of the wealthy festival sponsors is found brutally murdered – the first murder ever to occur on the island. And with only a certain number of people on the island, it’s clear Hawthorne has a limited number of suspects to search amongst. When a second death occurs, only then to Horowitz and Hawthorne really begin to understand the level of danger there is.

This is the third book in this series and while with the plot and characters I strongly feel it can be read by itself I have to admit the writer’s style is a little unusual and I’m still getting used to it. The author actually is Anthony Horowitz, so having him write a story about himself as one of the main protagonists always feels quite jarring for me to read as he doesn’t really write in the first person in a manner I’m used to. I thoroughly enjoy the characters – though do admit Hawthorne can easily appear both arrogant and somewhat odd at times, which I’m sure in on purpose – and the plot is excellent with a number of twists and convoluted enough to keep most readers guessing. I think it’s just the tone and writing style that takes me, personally, a bit to get used to and I find it hard sometimes to really sink into the story because of how the author is so deeply immersed in the story. It just reads a little odd to me.

I have to admit the plotline itself was very well handled – believable and logical with a strong element of realism to it. While I might question or find jarring the two main characters and the way the tone/voice of the book is handled the plot and murder mystery and the set up around that part of the book is very believable to my mind and I feel readers who enjoy a different kind of murder mystery might find this book – and the two prior to this as well – highly enjoyable.

Readers who like a slightly different plot or characters who are a little outside of the box should find this an enjoyable and strong read.

Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938 by Stephen E. Ambrose and Douglas G. Brinkley

Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938 by Stephen E. Ambrose and Douglas G. Brinkley
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Non-fiction, Historical
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Since it first appeared in 1971, Rise to Globalism has sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The ninth edition of this classic survey, now updated through the administration of George W. Bush, offers a concise and informative overview of the evolution of American foreign policy from 1938 to the present, focusing on such pivotal events as World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, and 9/11. Examining everything from the Iran-Contra scandal to the rise of international terrorism, the authors analyze-in light of the enormous global power of the United States-how American economic aggressiveness, racism, and fear of Communism have shaped the nation’s evolving foreign policy.

What are some important events concerning other nations that every American should know? In Rise to Globalism, readers learn about foreign policy over the past several decades. These facts are presented to a general audience and are very enlightening.

The authors begin with the World War II era and take us through to the election of Obama. Presidents had some hard decisions to make. How did Americans at the time react to those decisions. How would you have reacted?

Each president’s positive and negative points are laid out for readers as they happened, giving people lots to think about. Many people will remember living through some of these things. Events will be clarified, and holes in knowledge will be filled in. Why not give this informative book a try?

A Question Of Guilt by Jorn Lier Horst

A Question Of Guilt by Jorn Lier Horst
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense//Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

In 1999, seventeen-year-old Tone Vaterland was killed on her way home from work.

Desperate for a conviction the police deemed the investigation an open-and-shut case and sent her spurned boyfriend, Danny Momrak, down for murder.

But twenty years later William Wisting receives a puzzling letter. It suggests the wrong man was convicted for Tone’s death.

And the real murderer is still out there.

Wisting is quickly thrown into a terrifying race against time where he must find the sender, decipher this mysterious letter and catch the real killer – before they strike again . . .

William Wisting is taking a well-earned break, staying home and getting some rest when an envelope arrives in his post. The letter inside only contains a single case-file number, one he has not seen before. Curious, Wisting finds it refers to a murder case back in 1999 of a young woman – one where the guilty party has already served his sentence of 17 years in jail. But then another envelope arrives, one that refers to a 2011 case Wisting himself was responsible for. Are the cases linked, and are they connected somehow to the current case where another woman has gone missing?

This is one of the latest novels in Jorn Lier Horst’s “William Wisting” series which I have enjoyed greatly over the years. A slightly slower paced, methodical police procedural mystery series set in Norway this Scandinavian crime series is quite exceptional. I love how it has a slightly different feel to American or British crime novels, a little more tense and slightly grittier the Scandinavian writing style is a bit of an acquired taste, but I really enjoy them.

Wisting is getting on in years – talking about retiring in a few more years – but what he lacks in youthful energy I really feel is made up for and very well writing with his seasoning and expertise. He can connect the dots faster in a case and since he’s been around the block more than a few times he can often make an intelligent guess where something is leading and show the younger officers how criminals often think and behave.

I thought this story was a good balance between the older cases and the current case being investigated. There is a bit of back-and-forth between the 1999 case and while I’d understand if some people didn’t like the time jumps, I feel they are very clearly explained and outlined and the facts and history explained in the earlier cases really helps show the bigger picture and how the current case is unequivocally tied to the previous cases – ones where innocent people have been sentenced and carried out jail terms. I thought the plotlines very well meshed, and the writing was crisp and gritty enough to really hold my attention.

An atmospheric murder mystery I found this to be an excellent book and a great addition to a series I really enjoy. Recommended.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Snowdrop

The true story of a couple who lost everything and embarked on a transformative journey walking the South West Coast Path in England

Just days after Raynor Winn learns that Moth, her husband of thirty-two years, is terminally ill, their house and farm are taken away, along with their livelihood. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, through Devon and Cornwall.

Carrying only the essentials for survival on their backs, they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea, and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter, and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable and life-affirming journey. Powerfully written and unflinchingly honest, The Salt Path is ultimately a portrayal of home—how it can be lost, rebuilt, and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways.

Do you think you could come to a point in your life where you lose your home? Could that happen? How could it be possible? Was it irresponsible? Could you just take off and wild camp with very few plans? For that matter is hiking and wild camping along the 630 mile coastal path near Cornwall even a plan?

Each of these thoughts were a few of those running through my mind when I began this memoir by Raynor Winn. The story seemed far-fetched to me. What couple, at fifty years of age, would decide to take off to hike a trail with very little money and backpacks on their backs. Packs that I’m sure I couldn’t even carry. Just take off and leave the area they had lived in, the familiarity of their surroundings, and their family.

But all the while this fog of questions was swirling around my head, the author snuck up on me. She snatched up my interest, and I was off and running with a book I couldn’t put down. I’m not even sure how to explain it to you. It’s well written and the reading flows well. It is not a descriptive account of the beautiful coastal path of Wales. There isn’t even a map in the book to give you an idea of the beautiful, rugged places and the quaint villages this National Trail passes. It is more the bare bones story of two people trying to hike a 630 mile path while knowing one of them is very sick and both hoping that a plan will come to them in the end. At times it seemed as if it couldn’t be non-fiction. I was on the edge of my seat, hanging on at every twist and turn. As sad as could be that they couldn’t afford a lovely cream tea in a small village. Horrified that they had to walk wet for days or couldn’t shower for weeks at a time.

This is an extraordinary book. It is an honest accounting of a search for “what’s next.” Sometimes we fall into trouble, and we aren’t sure what step to take. That’s what this book is about. It most certainly isn’t something I would decide to do, but I loved reading about the experience.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Non-fiction, history
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. “To repudiate his legacy,” Chernow writes, “is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.Historians have long told the story of America’s birth as the triumph of Jefferson’s democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton. Chernow presents an entirely different man, whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power. His is a Hamilton far more human than we’ve encountered before—from his shame about his birth to his fiery aspirations, from his intimate relationships with childhood friends to his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr, and from his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds to his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza. And never before has there been a more vivid account of Hamilton’s famous and mysterious death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July of 1804.
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Chernow’s biography is not just a portrait of Hamilton, but the story of America’s birth seen through its most central figure. At a critical time to look back to our roots, Alexander Hamilton will remind readers of the purpose of our institutions and our heritage as Americans.

There are many books out about Alexander Hamilton, and Ron Chernow’s is an engaging and informative one. It is a thick book, but it is an easy read, not a dry textbook. Readers follow Hamilton’s life from the beginning and learn about his humble beginnings. That puts his achievements in an even brighter light than one may have done before.

The settings are well drawn, and readers will be able to picture those places, from an island to New York etc. Details not only help us to see and feel the surroundings but also play a part in shaping Hamilton’s views. What he saw impacted him, and this would play a role in his activities later on.

Readers get to see other famous historical figures through Hamilton’s eyes, and this is particularly interesting if one has read about Hamilton’s opponents. The comparison is enlightening. Though the book is written with obvious admiration for Hamilton by the author, it is done fairly, as would be expected of such a respected historian. Readers will learn more than just Hamilton’s past; they will discover or review important events in the nation’s history. Some of those things will be familiar, but others will be new. This book is well worth the read whether or not you are a fan of Hamilton.

The Queen’s Man by Sharon Penman

The Queen’s Man by Sharon Penman
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Epiphany, 1193: the road out of Winchester was hidden by snow, and Justin de Quincy was making slow progress when he heard the first faint shout. It came again, louder and clearer, a cry for help. Spurring his stallion, de Quincy raced toward the source.

But he was already too late. As the two assailants fled, de Quincy cradled the dying man, straining to make out his whispered words. “They did not get it,” he rasped. “Promise me. You must deliver this letter to her. To the queen.”

Eleanor of Aquitaine sits on England’s throne. At seventy, she has outlived the husband with whom she had once scandalized the world. But has she also outlived her favorite, her first-born son? Richard Lionheart, England’s king, has been missing these last months. It is rumored that he is dead. Many think his youngest brother plots to steal the crown. Only Eleanor’s fierce will can keep John from acting on his greed. Only a letter, splattered with the blood of a dying man murdered on the Winchester road, can tell her if Richard still lives.

With the same sure touch she has brought to her historical fiction, Sharon Kay Penman turns to the mystery form. Setting her story in a period she captured brilliantly in earlier novels, she introduces Justin de Quincy. Bastard-born, de Quincy is the son of a high cleric who never acknowledged him, bestowing on the boy–in lieu of name or fortune–only an education. As it happens, it is a gift that will take young de Quincy into the very centers of power–and into the heart of danger, making him the Queen’s man.
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Moving from the royal chambers in the Tower of London to the alehouses and stews of Southwark, from the horrors of Newgate Gaol to the bustling streets of Winchester, de Quincy proves his mettle as he tracks a brutal and cunning murderer and uncovers the sinister intrigues of Eleanor’s court.

It’s Epiphany of 1193 and after learning some recent truths that shake up his whole life, Justin De Quincy is at a loss what to do. On the road, he is witness to a brutal killing in what he first assumes is a random robbery. Justin offers the dying man solace and aid – and is given a blood-soaked letter destined for Eleanor of Aquitaine, a missive that will change the course of Justin’s life forever. Now on a highly secret mission for the Queen, with no knowledge of who can be trusted or what path is safest to tread, Justin’s life careens onto a completely different course.

I need to admit up front I’m not a massive reader of Historical stories. Sure, I love some Regency romance (particularly Amanda Quick) when I’m in the mood, and I’ll dabble occasionally in other styles of historical fiction. But I’m usually not keen and find they miss the mark with me. The only other author I generally find an exception to this rule is Sharon Penman. Her epics (particularly the Plantagenet series and the Welsh Princes series) are enormous tomes and well, well worth the time and effort to read them through carefully. Here Be Dragons is still one of my favorite books ever.

All that gushing aside, Penman tends to write enormous books that take a large effort to read. Her Queen’s Man series (four regular sized novels) are a marked difference and in some instances a welcome relief. These stories are much more digestible, they’re a regular paperback length and best of all they are basically a regular Medieval Mystery style of story. For readers just wanting a spot of historical fiction they are ideal and an excellent way to be introduced to Penman’s excellent characterizations and writing style.

The historical setting and accuracy are still very strongly woven through the stories – readers wanting a clean, wholesome and “whitewashed” style of history setting won’t find that here. There are public hangings, lepers and beggars and plenty of treachery and political intrigue. Penman does not tone down her style or historical details just to make the story more palatable for readers wanting a sweet and happy reading escape – but neither does she dwell or give too much gruesome detail to this harsh and often uninviting time period. I feel she makes an excellent balance between what were the realities of the time and a reader wanting a good read.

The plot itself is fairly standard. The Queen charges Justin after reading the missive into investigating the death he witnessed and seeing if there was deeper treachery lurking behind the seemingly simple murder-robbery. The real joy – aside from the exceptional detail to history and day-to-day life and realities that the book shares – is in the vibrant cast of characters and how they all slot together. Penman has managed to condense the joy and addictive qualities of her enormous epics into a bite-sized regular paperback sized story and I love this series simply because it’s so much easier to access.

Readers looking for a realistic and exceptionally researched and detailed historical novel with a solid mystery and a slew of royal and political shenanigans should find this story exceptional. I also adored the strong cast of characters and found the plot – while not overly taxing – to be engaging and well paced. Recommended.

Dark Promises by Christine Feehan

Dark Promises by Christine Feehan
Publisher: Berkley/Penguin
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (316 pgs)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Gabrielle has had enough of battles, of wars, of seeing the man she’s engaged to nearly lose his life when it isn’t even his fight. Once Gary was a gentle and very human researcher. Now he’s a fearless and lethal Carpathian warrior with the blood of an ancient lineage coursing through his veins—a man Gabrielle still needs and dreams of with every breath she takes. All she wants is a life far away from the Carpathian mountains, far from vampires and the shadows cast by the crumbling monastery that hides so many terrible secrets. But Gabrielle soon learns that promises made in the dark can pierce the heart like a dagger.

And she isn’t the only one in search of answers in the corners of the unknown….

Trixie Joanes has come to the Carpathian mountains in search of her wayward granddaughter, fearing that she has been lured there by something unspeakable. Instead, Trixie has stumbled onto the path of a desperate woman on the run. And they’re all fated for the lair of a mysterious ancient with revenge in his soul and the undying power to make bad dreams come true.

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Aleksei is an ancient Carpathian and Ms. Feehan created her hero to be as deadly, dark and commanding as any she’s introduced readers to yet. The one element that is insidiously sensual is his dominance. All Carpathian men are control freaks due to their living in the time when men were warriors, but the author takes the hero to a new level. At first it is an extremely uncomfortable level especially when Gabrielle and Aleksei first meet. He’s wild, untamed, violent and uncontrollable. Fans of the series will understand what drives him and will more than probably accept his behavior with the understanding that he’s overwhelmed emotionally by all the feelings that bombard him all at once. Much of it comes from his misinterpretation of the situation. New readers might be turned off because his initial brutality is shocking; it was even for me, a longtime fan. Once the hero calms down and is able to listen, he slowly starts to figure out he was partly wrong. Never totally wrong, mind you, but certainly some.

Gabrielle is a hard heroine to completely like. She has her moments and I believe and agree with Aleksei’s understanding of her; she’s a submissive. How that revelation comes about needs to be read to understand why I agree. Submissive doesn’t mean ‘doormat’, it means she needs someone to lean on when she needs it and needs–here’s the big thing–to trust that the person will deliver, will be there for her and will understand her needs. When the heroine’s strength has to be counted upon, she comes through. Her character flowers under Aleksei’s care because he truly does ‘get’ her. One scene even dabbles with a little bit of light BDSM hence the mention of Gabrielle’s being submissive. I just didn’t like all the crying she did.

The flowering, so-to-speak comes from sex; lots of sex. I think Ms. Feehan basically shows how Gabrielle and Aleksei fall in love, come to terms with and learn about each other, through all the sex scenes that populate the book. In fact there is so much of it, page after page, that I was hard pressed to find an external conflict. There are a few token suspenseful moments but it goes right back to sex. Dark Promise is basically a hot, sexy romance with light paranormal drama to enhance the love story.

For me, what stole the limelight and the show away from the emotional drama that is the Gabrielle and Aleksei show was Trixie. When Trixie meets Fane, it was pure magic. I’m not sure how to describe their meeting but it was more romantic, fun and enjoyable than the main hero and heroine. I adored Trixie. I liked her sass, her moral compass and her dedication to family. I was thrilled with how Fane treated her, thought of her and talked with her. I felt happy, completely happy when they were on stage. As secondary characters finding their HEA, Ms. Feehan presented a winning combo. Fane and Trixie rock!

The book winds down with hooks for new books, new characters and Carpathian men to save. Certainly I want to read them because I never know just how the author is going to save the hero and what kind of woman is up to the job of taming her caveman Carpathian. That’s half the fun of this series – old fashioned warrior men versus strong-willed modern women.

Dark Promises does have a satisfying happy ever after and tells a good romance story. Many fans will enjoy it and for those that just love the sexy side of a Carpathian romance, those readers are probably going to be extremely happy.

The Ex-Factor by Laura Greaves

The Ex-Factor by Laura Greaves
Publisher: Destiny (Penguin)
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (285 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Quince

Talented, gorgeous and hopelessly in love, American movie star Mitchell Pyke and Brazilian supermodel Vida Torres were Hollywood’s most talked-about couple. They seemed destined for ‘happily ever after’ – until Vida left Mitchell for his best friend, and Mitchell publicly vowed he would never love again.

Sydney dog trainer Kitty Hayden has never even heard of Mitchell Pyke. Still reeling from the loss of her mother, Kitty is too busy cleaning up the various messes made by her indolent younger sister, Frankie, and trying to find a girlfriend for her terminally single best friend, Adam, to keep up with celebrity gossip.

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But as Kitty quickly discovers, when someone as famous as Mitchell Pyke tells the world he’ll never love again, the world listens. And the vindictive Vida is never far away. With constant reminders that she’s merely a consolation prize, how can Kitty compete with such a tenacious adversary – especially when she starts to suspect that Mitchell isn’t over Vida after all?

Ever since I saw Notting Hill, I like books, movies, and TV shows featuring romances between a celebrity and a non-celebrity. For that particular reason, I decided to read The Ex-Factor. It turns out The Ex-Factor is not so much a romance novel, but chick lit; which wouldn’t be a problem if the blurb indicated that (it sounded very much like a romance) or if more emphasis had been put on the relationship between hero and heroine.

The Ex-Factor is an interesting story about finding yourself and making the peace with your past. In some parts the story was very predictable, and the romantic part is too superficial for my taste, but taking everything into account i.e. characters, development of the story, writing, I enjoyed reading it.

The story started strong, with a slap on the movie set where hero and heroine met and in no time heroine was moving from Australia to the USA. Wow, talk about fast love. But what I missed from this fast love is how and why they fell in love. I didn’t feel the connection between Mitchell and Kitty. I think that a few more scenes and more dialogue between the two of them and the story would be perfect.

Speaking of Mitchell, he’s somewhere in the back of the story and not fully developed. I couldn’t say that he is the main character. The author did much better characterization of Kitty’s best friend Adam and her sister Frances; they are such great secondary characters. Also Kitty, oh Kitty, she is sweet and strong, and life has thrown her some serious punches. Once she got rid of the ghosts from the past she was able to live and love again. I was so happy that everything turned out just fine for her.

Readers who like chick lit that focuses more on a heroine’s trials and not so much on the romance should give this one a try.

Sisters Fate by Jessica Spotswood

Sisters Fate by Jessica Spotswood
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: YA, Paranormal, Alternate Reality
Length: Full Length (368 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rated: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

A fever ravages New London, but with the Brotherhood sending suspected witches straight to the gallows, the Sisters are powerless against the disease. They can’t help without revealing their powers—as Cate learns when a potent display of magic turns her into the most wanted witch in all of New England.

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In an alternate 1900s New England, suspected witches are sent to the gallows–although they are hardly the witches of olden days. No, these are gorgeous contemporary girls with lives, loves, and special powers. They’d use the power for good, if they could–like curing disease–but they are in a world where helping someone means putting themselves at risk.

Spotswood’s characters simply shine. The good in their hearts speaks louder than any special magic skills, readers can’t help admiring them and sympathizing with their plight. These are not the dark characters found in some tales: no, in fact, Cate’s specialty is healing magic. Tess, who can foretell, seems always the sweetest and most vulnerable of the sisters, Maura… oh, dear, Maura. Sisters can be sisters! In a family of remarkable closeness Cate and Maura have their differences – different approaches to try to achieve the same thing, only here, those differences might lead to disaster.

Cate struggles not to lose boyfriend Finn, who has no memory of her, while being true to her sisters. Finn is a simply wonderful, real, heartfelt character; readers will adore him.

Spotswood’s New England is both familiar and entirely strange: geographically the same and yet, a magical world that is scene to the struggles between powers.

Although part of a series, this can be read and understood as a stand-alone. Reading this makes me regret not starting at the beginning! Although a ‘paranormal,’ Sister’s Fate, so character-driven, will have a wide general appeal and might well draft a few new readers to the genre! Beautifully written.

Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville

Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville
Publisher: Penguin Imprint – Hamish Hamilton
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (358 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Daisy

A dark, distinctive and addictively compelling novel set in fin-de-siècle Vienna and Nazi Germany—with a dizzying final twist.

Vienna, 1899. Josef Breuer—celebrated psychoanalyst—is about to encounter his strangest case yet. Found by the lunatic asylum, thin, head shaved, she claims to have no name, no feelings—to be, in fact, not even human. Intrigued, Breuer determines to fathom the roots of her disturbance.

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Gretel and the Dark is a strange mixture of genres. Historical, fantastical and sometimes sadly romantic, it keeps the reader yearning for more details of its protagonist’s life, right up until the end. There are three distinct time periods which make up the narrative of the book. One is in the past, one the assumed present and one becomes the new, later, present towards the end of the book. It becomes apparent as the pages go by that these narratives are intertwined. Fairytale links help to support this, as well as the similarities in characters.

The protagonist in this book does not have an easy ride and this is not a traditional romance by any means. There are some romantic elements but these are often sad, seemingly impossible, or darkly one-sided. The main character faces paedophilia and cases where men much older are keen to be intimate with her. However, these implications are subtly done and not too graphic to read. They are along the lines of saying the man placed his hand on her bum and forgot to remove it or that he touched under her skirt where the woman said no man should. These instances are by no means present throughout the whole book but it is a recurring theme in light of the historical time period the main character experienced.

The novel covers the time period of Hitler, pre-Hitler and post genocide. The protagonist and her love interest are the main sweet romantic thread. They make it through horrific scenarios together and come out stronger but this is not a tale which ends in marriage and kids. The ending reminded me of the bitter-sweet movie PS I love you; even though it didn’t end in death, it made me tear up. This is not a feel-good novel.

The fantastical elements consist of the protagonist’s imaginings and fairytales or old wive’s tales remembered from her youth and threaded into the narrative. In one case this was used repetitively to imply the rape of the protagonist as a child by older men to avoid any graphic descriptions. However, this is also used to show the child’s shaky grip on reality and their need to escape it for a better world, where she can make a difference to the outcome of her life. The fairytales may be dark but they hold the determination of a strong woman, prepared to battle the monster behind her misfortunes.

I gave this book 4.5 stars because, despite all the strong thematical links and historical references, the beginning of the book was too full on. Too many fantastical references were thrown at the reader at once. I would have preferred a slower opening. I also found that I did not pick up on the historical links until much later in the book. Someone thinking along more historical lines would have made the connection a lot earlier but because nothing like this was mentioned in the prologue, I assumed this was merely a dark tale based upon a fairytale, with no real life, historical links.

However, I believe a reader will feel the emotional pulls of history through this book, following in the footsteps of a character full of hope, obstinance and determination to survive and have her own way. She can be too stroppy, as most children can, but she makes it through terrible times off her own back and, through her, I had a peep hole into history I could never have experienced first hand.