Review: Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel

305093444 stars

Synopsis:

Five stories – Five Lives.
Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?


Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.


In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.


Many thanks to the author who contacted me via the website to introduce me to this book, and for the complimentary copy I now have the privilege of reviewing.
Psychology is something that fascinates me, but it’s so difficult to weave strong psychological traits into fiction without them being too on-the-nose.

I’m not going to lie, the first couple of stories in this book were, despite being really interesting, pretty blunt in the message and lacked the finesse I was hoping for but the last three? Absolutely amazing.

These stories cover a few unusual psychological behaviours, but each of them had a character with a narcissistic personality disorder – something that I’ve grown up alongside and have an interest in. It shows the variety of ways these people can worm their way into your life and make you do things that you wouldn’t ordinarily do without someone else’s overpowering influence coercing you.
What’s more – they’re realistic. These are the stories of very realistic people, living very ordinary lives when they’re disrupted by the behaviour of someone close to them.

For me, the style of writing settled into a comfortable groove as the book went on – so if you do pick this up and you find it a little bit too blatant: STICK WITH IT. Once the author embraces the art of subtlety, there really is no stopping her!

This book is a great balance of entertaining (not necessarily in a happy way) and educational, it highlights some of the warning signs you may experience if you find yourself in the company of a manipulator.

Review: The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief by Lisa Tuttle

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Published by Jo Fletcher Books

4 stars

Synopsis:

Should you find yourself in need of a discreet investigation into any sort of mystery, crime or puzzling circumstances, think of Jesperson and Lane .

For several years Miss Lane was companion, amanuensis, collaborator and friend to the lady known to the Psychical Society only as Miss X – until she discovered that Miss X was actually a fraud.

Now she works with Mr Jasper Jesperson as a consulting detective, but the cases are not as plentiful as they might be and money is getting tight – until a case that reaches across the entirety of London lands in their laps.

It concerns a somnambulist, the disappearance of several mediums, and a cat stuck up a tree . . . the links with the cat are negligible, but there is only one team that can investigate the seemingly supernatural disappearances of the psychics and defy the nefarious purpose behind them.

Jesperson and Lane, at your service.


 

Victorian era murder mystery, with a dash of psychic powers!
The author hasn’t quite perfected the knack of building tension, which is the only thing this book is lacking – it has everything else I could possibly want in a paranormal mystery. I think the reason for this is trying to get a balance between authentic Victorian writing style and keeping the story moving along, it was too slow paced by my liking but the writing style was perfect and whizzed me right back in time where social constraints are so charming to read about but I know I’d have been institutionalised immediately as I bore my ankle to the passing gentry.

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The characters are interesting if a little underdeveloped as this book is clearly the beginning of a series and the author has things in mind for them. You immediately get a sense of something being held back, ready to be unveiled in a later installment; I only hope it isn’t going to be a romance between the two main characters.

What made this book really stand out for me was that a man and a woman were working together as equals with no sexual tension between the two, they were just perfect working partners.
The paranormal element of this book was that mediumship is a real thing and that people with psychic powers exhibit their abilities in different ways. During a time that was fascinated with spiritualism, they often found themselves able to take advantage of their gifts and step into the limelight.
It hasn’t quite hit the Agatha Christie level of perfection for me yet but I know she’s going to hit that sweet spot soon, so I look forward to the next installment!

Review: The Beta Mum, Adventures in Alpha-Land by Isabella Davidson

The Beta Mum, Adventures in Alpha-Land

Published by SilverWood Books

4 stars

 

Synopsis: 

Here, it isn’t the battle of who has the Rolls-Royce of strollers…these children actually roll in Rolls-Royces!

When 33-year-old Sophie Bennett moves from a sleepy suburb of Toronto to glitzy West London, she doesn’t know where she has landed, Venus or Mars. By a stroke of good luck, her three-year-old daughter Kaya attends Cherry Blossoms Nursery, the most exclusive nursery in London – hence the world – where she meets a sea of Alpha mums: Super Successful, Super Skinny and Super Rich. There, not is all as it seems, and she has to fight against the lure of a cult, a two headed dragon and Mumsolini’s dictatorship.

When Sophie struggles to fit in and starts to feel deeply lonely, she starts an anonymous blog, The Beta Mum, dissecting the lives of the Alpha Mums, especially Kelly’s, the blonde, beautiful and bitchy class rep who constantly makes her feel like a second class citizen. When Sophie’s marriage starts to falter, she engages in an email relationship with one of her readers. But then, one of her blogs goes viral and her blog becomes more and more successful; how long will it be until they discover her true identity? Is her marriage strong enough to survive her reader’s advances? And will she ever fit in with the Alpha Mums?


 

This isn’t my usual genre of book, you’ll probably agree. I haven’t got any kids of my own at this point in time but I’m suddenly seeing the appeal of this mum-lit and what a way to be introduced to the genre!
This book was stunningly well written and had me hooked from the get-go. Sophie, a very ‘normal’ and middle of the road type of woman suddenly finds herself moving from her cosy home in Canada where she has a place carved for herself in the world, to the posh end of London where toddlers have tutors and bodyguards.

Understandably, she’s very lonely when she finds herself on the outside of a tribe of women she has absolutely nothing in common with. To try to ease the loneliness, she starts a blog and starts sharing some of the funny and outlandish things that these intimidating Alpha-mums do.

These Alpha-mum escapades are really entertaining to read, but there’s a tinge of alarm when you realise that there really are people out there who put this level of pressure on 3 year olds.

What I loved about this book apart from the liberally applied sense of humour, was the characters. All of them had more to them than at first glance, my favourite being that the author spent some time writing about mothers who work long hours to support their children and the horrible conflict they feel in doing so, as well as the super-driven women who have given up their work to spend more time with their children (who, let’s face it, aren’t the best conversationalists at age 3). There’s no judgement at all from the author on this point, which is nice to read.

Best yet, the protagonist isn’t a perfect mother or human being who is in a position to be judging all of these other women and they way they choose to raise their children. This book isn’t as fluffy as you’d expect from the cover and description, Sophie has some serious depth to her and is well worth following as a main character.
My only complaint is about the portrayal of her husband in this book. To me, he’s a dick. He spends all of his time working and barely even comes home to sleep and seems surprised that Sophie is unhappy with the situation. He gets angry and dismissive of her and everything she says, and she takes it with a ‘well, it is my fault’ attitude, personally I would rather this was either toned down or addressed for the deeply unhealthy relationship it is.
If you’re a chick lit fan, need a giggle or want to see how the other half live – please pick up this book! It’s opened me up to a whole new world of literature and I can’t wait to see how far down the rabbit hole I go!

Audiobook Review: Murder in Room 305 by Gary C. King /Narrated by Scott Bennett

130778944 stars

Synopsis: 

A shocking true story of sex, greed and cold-blooded murder! Veteran true crime author Gary C. King spins a gripping real-life tale of a woman caught in a deadly web of lust and violence…a riveting story of love gone horribly, tragically wrong.

Kathryn Ann Martini graduated from Yale with a bright future in the banking business. Young, beautiful and ambitious, she had everything going for her. Until she met Michael David Lissy, the sleazy proprietor of a scuba diving school who was a coke addict that consorted with pimps, prostitutes and other known criminals. Burned out and broke, he had nothing going for him. Then he met Kathryn…a match made in hell.

On July 6, 1984, the raped and mutilated body of Kathryn Martini Lissy was found at the Valley River Inn in Eugene, Oregon. Soon afterward, police arrested Michael David Lissy, Kathryn’s husband of one year. A few months earlier, Lissy had taken out a large insurance policy on Kathryn’s life, naming him as sole beneficiary. Then he hired an underworld assassin to stalk and kill his wife. After one of the most sensational trials in Eugene’s history, Lissy was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Notice to readers: This book was previously published as Web of Deceit.


This book covers the investigation into the murder of Kathryn Martini Lissy.

Gary C. King  has very meticulously gathered all the facts of the case, going into fine detail about the history of the man finally convicted of her murder. If you’re a fan of true crime novels, as I am, this kind of attention to detail is fascinating but I can understand that it might come across as a little dry for less morbidly nerdy reader.

The one thing that did strike me in this book, however, was the seeming lack of compassion for the victim by the author – I know that you have to remain objective when shoveling through so many sordid details but still, she certainly didn’t do anything to warrant being murdered so a little ‘poor lady’ wouldn’t have gone amiss.

J. Scott Bennett has done an excellent job of presenting this book, he really held my attention in what would certainly have been a difficult read if I’d had a print edition to had. He carefully balanced keeping it entertaining and engaging against the respect due to a book of this nature.

As true crime cases go, this isn’t the most gory or eventful, the bulk of the story here is the events leading to the killer doing the deed. His personality really is fascinating, with seemingly no qualms about getting rid of the people who stand between him and material gain.

In conclusion, if you’re a fan of detailed cases and abnormal psychology, this is well worth your time. I would certainly recommend the audio version of this book over the print copy simply because it’ll be easier to hold your attention to the very end.

Review: Sarah by Teri Polen

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Published by Black Rose Writing

4 stars

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old horror fan Cain Shannon thought helping a ghost find her killers would be the supernatural adventure of a lifetime. Now, he just hopes to survive long enough to protect his family and friends from her.

A bet between friends goes horribly wrong, resulting in Sarah’s death. When she returns to seek justice against those responsible, Cain agrees to help her. But when he discovers Sarah has been hijacking his body, he realizes she wants retribution instead of justice.

Terrified of what could have happened when he wasn’t in control, Cain commands Sarah to leave his house – but exorcising her isn’t that easy. She retaliates against her murderers in bloody, horrific ways, each death making her stronger, then sets her sights on Cain. With the help of friends, Cain fights to save himself and his loved ones and searches for a way to stop Sarah before she kills again.


This is a wonderful YA horror, I’m glad I gave it a chance despite my general aversion to YA titles.

It’s everything you could hope for in a teen haunting story – Cain, a likable highschool student. He’s a talented soccer (heh. American.) player, cares deeply for his family following the death of his father and is just trying to do the right thing while navigating this crazy world.
The last thing he needs is for a ghost girl to start walking down the stairs from the attic and make herself at home in his bedroom. Obviously, that’s exactly what happens and he has to figure out exactly what her story is and why she’s still wandering the earth.

The writing is really atmospheric and spooky, the tension definitely sends chills down your spine the closer you get to the end of the book – the beginning is a little bit tame so I was starting to wonder where the author was going to go with the second half… I needn’t have worried! It gets darker and hangs on to you tightly.
I loved the story – it was missing some of the really dark elements that you would have expected in an adult horror (like the nature of ghosts etc.) but sometimes you just have to enjoy something for what it is!
The only thing that did bother me was how teenage girls were portrayed, on one hand you had the vacuous, hideously selfish popularity queen who would go out with any boy who could enhance her social standing and then on the other side of the spectrum you had the ‘cool girl’. The one who enjoys sports, plays a classical instrument, is ‘different from all the other girls’ and automatically believes anything the boy has to say about ghosts haunting his bedroom. Given that Cain himself is so middle of the road, the author is capable of writing characters that aren’t just highschool stereotypes.
So, gender politics aside, this really is a book worth picking up if you’re a fan of ghost stories with a nasty edge.

Review: Boys Don’t Cry by Tim Grayburn

348929994 starsSynopsis:

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged 20-45 in the UK. Depression and undiagnosed mental illness are huge contributors to these deaths as they’re often more difficult to diagnose in men. And those men don’t tend to talk about the typical symptoms or visit their doctor.

Meet Tim.

For nearly a decade he kept his depression secret, it made him feel so weak and shameful he thought it would destroy his whole life if anyone found out.

And Tim is not alone.

After finally opening up he realised that mental illness was affecting many men around the globe – and he knew that wasn’t ok.

A brutally honest, wickedly warming and heart-breaking tale about what it really takes to be a ‘real man’, written by one who decided that he wanted to change the world by no longer being silent.

This is Tim’s story, but it could be yours too.


First off: I love the title. It pretty much sums up the entire book and my thoughts on why men struggle so much more with the stigma of mental illness. Boys don’t cry. Boys don’t don’t say they’re struggling. Boys kill themselves.

This is a tough book to review, as memoirs always are but especially so because this is about such a tricky subject matter. If you don’t 100%  enjoy/approve of a memoir, you feel like you’re casting judgement on the author’s life which is something that I just can’t do.

So let’s put this as delicately as possible…

The purpose of this book means so much to me, it’s about reaching out to younger men and telling them that it’s time to speak out about depression. Rather than keeping it to themselves and hating themselves for the feelings they’re having, talk to someone: a doctor, a stranger, a loved one, your dog…. Anyone! Say it out loud and you’re getting somewhere.
Depression is only made worse by not understanding it and by being ashamed of it. You wouldn’t be ashamed of a broken leg so don’t be ashamed of this.

The first three quarters of this book is Grayburn explaining how depression affected him – from before his diagnosis, to his problems with medication and finally being ‘outed’ when his girlfriend found his pills in his bag. This part is so necessary – a regular bloke talking about his regular life and how he felt knowing that depression was controlling his life, but not knowing that he could discuss it with people.
The last part of the book got a bit more philosophical and had ideas that I didn’t totally agree with, or rather, had elements missing. I personally believe that the author puts too much emphasis on communication and therapy as the cure for depression, I’m in the camp that sometimes depression really is just an imbalance of chemicals in the brain which leads to the mood problems and unwanted thoughts, which would explain the hereditary element (I’m biased on this point, I come from a family that struggles with depression – we all have different life experiences but most of us end up in the same dark place).

On that train of thought, I also think that current anti-depressant medications need some serious upgrading – with all the side-effects, they’re pretty much a blunt instrument for the most important organ we have.

Baaaaack to the book though, the writing style has a debut novel feel to it which I think is perfect in this case. The rawness of the writing is what makes you feel like you’re sat in the pub with a mate who’s telling you the story of his life and how he finally reached a happy point in his life. ‘Brutally honest’ is something I think we’ll be hearing a lot of when it comes to this book, Grayburn bears his soul – warts an’ all. He fesses up to things like being a bit put out that his wife wasn’t as enthused about their first tour once she found out she was pregnant- society demands that we immediately bring our hands to our faces and say ‘surely not!’ then you realise that you’d absolutely feel the same way if it was you. Nobody is that bloody selfless and the way you feel about things doesn’t change the second you find out you’re going to become a parent.

This book is probably the most important one I’ll read this year, I can’t recommend it enough for those lads out there who are pretending that they’re not struggling with depression or any kind of mental illness. You might be able to connect with this book in a way that you can’t with people you know, so please give it a go.

If you’re like me and you’re terrified that the doctor is going to tell you to man up, not believe you or just throw drugs at you and kick you out of the door: it’s not like that at all. It took me [an undisclosed and appalling number of] years to grab my lady balls in both hands and go to see my GP about my own depression, her response took my breath away. She was sympathetic, kind and listened to me when I said I wanted to try alternative therapies before anti-depressants. She didn’t push me to do anything or get all touchy feely, she was just… brilliant. The best thing she did was make sure that I didn’t just disappear after our appointment, she kept checking up on me so I couldn’t hide under my bed for the rest of my life. If your doctor does anything less: they’re crap and you should find a new one! The problem is with them, not you.

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https://www.mind.org.uk

If you’re ready to talk to someone but don’t know exactly how to have the conversation: call these guys. They’ll talk you through what to expect with your doctor, work etc and make sure you don’t get shafted – I can’t recommend them enough.

Review: Sin’s Daughter by Eve Silver (Sins series #0.5)

343945684 stars

Synopsis:

A Sins Series Novella!

Cursed with immortality, driven into a nomadic life on the fringes of society to escape those who hunt her, Amber Hale has learned the bitter lesson that she can never grow close to anyone. Never love.

Only once did she break her own rules. And her lover, Kai Warin, paid for her mistake with his life. For decades, she’s been numb with grief. Now, confronted by a soul reaper—an agent of one of the most powerful of the Underworld deities—with Kai’s face, she must acknowledge the likelihood that he betrayed her…to the Lord of Evil himself.

Forced into an uneasy alliance and plagued by the unwanted yearning between them, they must work together to elude the dark forces hunting them both…

For fans of J R Ward, Kim Harrison and Kelley Armstrong!

The books in the Sins Series are mature, gritty, dark, violent, sexy and straddle the line between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance.


This novella was exactly what I needed after dragging myself to the end of a long and dry political high fantasy novel.

Obviously, this book is shorter than the others in the series.  It doesn’t follow the main story arc, though it does follow the same format as the other books so far – brooding soul reaper meets hot superwoman and gets his alpha on, while soft porn music plays in your head. Bliss.

The soul reaper in question, Kai, is one of the supporting characters in book 3, Sins of the Flesh and it’s sweet to see that the single hunks of the Underworld are finally being paired off to their soulmates (oh the irony!),

The plot of this book is very fast moving and satisfying, the only thing that I would have wanted more of is the heroine’s relationship with her father. We’ve seen romantic and fraternal relationships so far in this series, it’s time to see the women relating with men who aren’t their lovers!

The perfect palette cleanser after reading something dry, with uninspired characters. Eve Silver wins the day again with her likable characters that you can instantly latch on to and share their feelings, this is the reason I can’t stop going back to her books time and time again! I’m less anxious than I would otherwise be, knowing that I’m almost at the end of the Sins series… for the sole reason that I know there are other series by Silver for me to sink my teeth into.

This is going to be a short review for a short book – I don’t think that you need to have read the rest of the series to fully enjoy this book. In fact, I think this installment might even be the perfect taster for readers new to the urban fantasy genre. If anything is going to sell you on the concept – this will be it!