Tuesday, January 22, 2019

A Hangman for Ghosts by Andrei Baltakmens - HFVBT Review - Jan. 22


Publication Date: July 1, 2018
Top Five Books
Paperback & eBook; 288 Pages

Genre: Historical Mystery
The Publisher's Summary
“We are transported. We are consigned to the ends of the Earth. And we are therefore as good as dead to the realm and its judges. There can be no hope of reprieve…”
Gabriel Carver, the convict hangman of Sydney Prison, knows that none of his kind may depart Australia’s penal colony without the system’s leave. Then three people are murdered, seemingly to protect the “Rats’ Line,” an illicit path to freedom that exists only in the fevered imaginations of transported felons. But why kill to protect something that doesn’t exist?
When an innocent woman from Carver’s past is charged with one of the murders and faces execution at his hands, she threatens to reveal anincriminating secret of his own unless he helps her. So Carver must try to unmask the killer among the convicts, soldiers, sailors, and fallen women roaming 1829 Sydney. If he can find the murderer, he may discover who is defying the system under its very nose. His search will take him back to the scene of his ruin—to London and a past he can never remake nor ever escape, not even at the edge of the world.
“Baltakmens (The Raven’s Seal, 2012), echoing the voices of 19th-century masters like Conrad and Melville, combines adventure and mystery in a high-stakes tale of class, morality, and justice.” –Kirkus Reviews
“With rich historical details that evoke Australia’s early colonial days, this is a wonderful, traditional novel.…Folding in vivid details, bright characters, and compelling dialogue, the story is a page-turner, a savory treat to be devoured.” – Foreward Reviews
Purchase Links


My Perspective

I loved this book. 

Not only is the historical fiction interesting, but Baltakmens writing is such that you feel transported back to 1850's Australia, penal colonies, and London. The descriptions reminded me so much of Dickens. 

The mystery is solid, and the links all fit but are not at all obvious. There's even a really nice little surprise about 3/4 of the way in that made me me say, "Ahhhhhhhhhha" out loud while sitting at my desk.  Very nice touch.
Carver figured out who the murderer was before I did.  I may have even said, "How the heck did he know?" outloud again. *rolling my eyes at myself here*
I also appreciated the female roles and their very important placements in the narrative.  Survivors, each of them, in her own way.  I felt saddest for young Nan Tucker who was swallowed whole by the system right when she was beginning to find her way and was most impressed by Ruth Tremaine...yep, Ruth...she worked the system for her own agenda and left more than a few men in her wake.

I also love historical fiction that schools me (in a nice way) on a topic I knew nothing about. I felt for these characters...truly, each of them, in his or her own way, was damaged. For survival sake, looking out for #1 was vital, no matter the cost or who you have to throw under the bus on the way. And, even though that sounds negative, it's really not. The way Baltakmens tells this story, you can even see why the criminals acted the way they did. 

These were hard times (see what I did there?). Most of the world didn't live in homes full of servants who kept the fires lit and food on the table. Most of the world had to scrap and steal and sell just to keep themselves or their families fed. Many children had to survive on their own.  On the other side of the river, the convicts are banished and live even worse lives than you can imagine for the very same reasons.  And the rich get richer off the backs of the poorest.

 That's the world of A Hangman for Ghosts, and if you like that kind of ride, this one's for you.

The Cast of Characters

Gabriel Carver, convict hangman, executioner to the warder of Sydney Gaol
The surgeon, Peter Moynihan
The overseer, Ralph Devers
Meg Harper - young woman falsely accused of murder - formerly Carver's "wife"
Matthew Staines - the emancipist
Ruth Tremaine- Staines' runaway wife
Nan Tucker or Whistling Nan - a very young prostitute who gets caught in the middle
Mother O'Doul and her son Callum
Captain Pryor - the soldier who abandons his troops
Sidmouthe - opium addicted clerk to the magistrate Foyle
Constable Ellington - the policeman assigned to Carver
Mrs. Antonia Fitchett - wife (of convenience) of the police magistrate
Archibald Fitchett - the police magistrate
Jankle and Sons - cargo business, convict transport
Oliver Kempe, convict, secretary 
Sergeant Hardacre - evil guard on board one of the hulks

Golden Lines

Full daylight spread over Sydney Town.  No shadows remained.  No relief from the sun in the vastness of this continent rendered prison, a Golgotha of the spirit. (12)

"The problem with common sense is that every man's common sense conforms to his prejudices," said Carver. (36)

"There are but two ways a convict can return to England. Serve out the sentence, or get an absolute pardon from the governor himself.  Any other escape to an English or Irish port is but a passage to the gallows." (71)

"And to survive here, and prosper, I begin to see, you must perforce still the whispers of the past in your head.  We should all need a sort of slaughterman for memories, a hangman for ghosts." (73)

"I have a convict maid, a convict cook, convicts to water my garden.  I have heard the children playing at games of lashing and shackling.  I have known babes that threaten their convict nursemaids with execution.  I am as familiar with transportation and assignment, the whole grand and awful design, as you.  I am a magistrate's wife, and I am as close confined by that as any felon." (92)

Death and the Lady, thought the colonel, closing his teeth on the end of his pipe.  There is our subject this evening, assuredly: death and the lady. (103)

"The question is, will you stand by, mewling about your misfortune in Sydney Gaol, while the old woman hobbles about and makes her own trouble, or will you take a man's part and set to?" (152)

"Whether you return or no, there will be no further contact with my wife, in word or thought or deed, or I will not forbear to avoid her ruin, or yours." (155)

Eleven men, bearded, lean, and haggard - for to feed a man on the hulks was to cut into their profit - resembling so many goblins gathered in a ruined palace. (179)

The hulk groaned and dead water shivered in its bowels, like a leviathan of the deep with poisoned dreams. (182)

"There's a dog that hears his master's voice even when the master ain't near. Let's see where he runs." (220)

"Nothing will come of nothing." (234) from King Lear

A company of ghosts, therefore.  The ghosts of pride, and rage, and longing, of drunkenness, of gentleness, of boldness, determination, guile, thrift, and labour, thievery and despair, banishment and home-longing, sent back to haunt the shores they had quit under the weight of crime and judgement. (244)

The great city sighed as evening closed in, and the church bells, from Westminster to the slums and rookeries of Limehouse and Rotherhithe, began their tolling for evensong and repentance. (252)

Historical "stuff" I've been Googling

Macquarie Harbor - Hell's gate
The Female Factory
The Rats' Line as it applies to convicts/prisons - first time I Googled this, I saw wayyyyy more rats than I ever wanted to...y'all, some of those rats were bigger than housecats!

penal colonies
free convicts

The Rum Rebellion

Resurrection Men
Anatomy Act

the hulks (prison ships)

The Author

Andrei Baltakmens was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, of Latvian descent. He has a Ph.D. in English literature, focused on Charles Dickens and Victorian urban mysteries.
His first novel, The Battleship Regal, was published in New Zealand in 1996. His short fiction has appeared in various literary journals, and his first historical mystery, The Raven’s Seal, was published in 2012.
Since 2004, he has lived in Ithaca, New York and Brisbane, Australia, where he recently completed a doctorate in Creative Writing at The University of Queensland. He now lives in Palo Alto, California, with his wife and son, and works for Stanford University as an instructional designer.

The Blog Review Tour

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, December 18
Feature at Tar Heel Reader

Wednesday, December 19
Feature at Donna’s Book Blog

Friday, December 21
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Thursday, December 27
Interview at Passages to the Past

Friday, December 28

Thursday, January 3
Interview at Bookish Rantings

Monday, January 7
Review at Broken Teepee

Thursday, January 10

Monday, January 14
Review at A Book Geek

Tuesday, January 15
Review at Coffee and Ink

Wednesday, January 16

Monday, January 21

Tuesday, January 22

Monday, January 21, 2019

Something Worth Saving by Sandi Ward - TLC Book Tours - Jan. 21

• Paperback: 304 Pages

• Publisher: Kensington (December 18, 2018)

From the Publisher

Sandi Ward’s shrewdly observed, funny, and wonderfully touching novel tells of a fractured family, a teenage boy, and a remarkable cat whose loyalty knows no bounds . . .
A boy and his cat. It’s an unconventional friendship, perhaps, but for Charlie and Lily, it works beautifully. It was Charlie who chose Lily from among all the cats in the shelter. He didn’t frown, the way other humans did, when he saw her injured back leg, the legacy of a cruel previous owner. Instead, Charlie insisted on rescuing her. Now Lily wants to do the same for Charlie.
She’s the only one who’s seen the bruises on Charlie’s body. If she knew who was hurting him, she’d scratch their eyes out. But she can’t fix this by herself. Lily needs to get the rest of the family to focus on Charlie—not easy when they’re wrapped up in their own problems. Charlie’s mother kicked his father out weeks ago and has a new boyfriend who seems charming, but is still a stranger. Oldest son Kevin misses his father desperately. Victoria, Charlie’s sister, also has someone new in her life, and Lily is decidedly suspicious. Even Charlie’s father, who Lily loves dearly, is behaving strangely.
Lily knows what it’s like to feel helpless. But she also knows that you don’t always have to be the biggest or the strongest to fight fiercely for the ones you love . . .

Purchase Links

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

My Perspective

Charlie, Kevin, Victoria, Jeremy, Kate, Lily, and Gretel are a family in distress.
Victor, Mark, and Ronaldo enter their lives, and things get even more complicated. 
This family has more issues to deal with than than most families, I think...I hope...but families are complicated, and there's no getting around that.  Some of the issues covered in Something Worth Saving are: 

prescription drug addiction
dysfunctional families
mental health issues
identity questions
adult friendships and relationships
retired police dogs
family relationships with pets
cat personality and behavior

Something Worth Saving is told from Charlie's cat, Lily's perspective.  I'm pretty on top of these kinds of stories because I love dogs and cats already, so you can probably imagine why I volunteered to read this in the first place.  I do think it helps the reader to have affection for animals to really understand the nuances of the story...especially Lily's narration

Lily, whose full name is Lily J. Potter (love this) truly cares about her family...like only a cat can.  Lily and retired police dog, Gretel have somewhat of a symbiotic relationship within the household.  They don't necessarily love each other, but they realize that each existence benefits the other, especially if they work together.  As much as I loved Lily's voice and personality, Gretel also tugged at my heartstrings.  I'm a German Shepherd mama myself so I could see Gretel's downtrodden face as Jeremy leaves her behind.  I could see her waiting for him, and I've literally seen that confusion and distress that occurs when the dog is unsure what she did wrong...even if she's done nothing wrong.  

Dealing with the range of emotions the family goes through (as evidenced by the list above), it's hard not to feel like you are part of the family...not really one of them...but you know them so well that you want what's best for all of them.
Yes, the list of struggles is long, but Ward weaves them together so that it doesn't seem like they are just thrown in.  They overlap and mingle...one leading to another, some consequences of others.  The sins of the parents and all that...

One issue that I felt Ward did a really nice job of was Charlie's coming to terms with his gender identity.  Ward doesn't present this as a major family problem, and even though everyone is not thrilled about the prospect, most are cautiously supportive.  This is just the beginning for Charlie, so nothing is hashed out completely, nor did I think it should be.

I don't think this family's problems are over, but I don't think Ward misleads you into thinking this is happily ever after story.  

I enjoyed this story and have put Ward's first novel, The Astonishing Thing on my Amazon Wishlist to read soon. 

Golden Lines

There must be a way Gretel and I could work together to repair this family.  There is something worth saving in this family - a love that connects all of us and binds us together.  I include Dad in this even though he has moved out, and Mark even though he is new.  Like raindrops plunking onto the river, causing overlapping circles of waves, each member of our family impacts the next.  (243)

Sometimes the one who receives our love is a very good baby who does not live long.  Sometimes, it is a strange man who shows up to build a bookshelf.  And sometimes, it is an absolutely gorgeous cat with a funny limp who fits right into the crook of your arm.  (302)

The Author

Sandi Ward

Sandi Ward writes books about love, family, forgiveness…and cats.

Sandi grew up in Manchester-by-the-sea, Massachusetts, and received her MA in Creative Writing at New York University. She’s the author of book club novels published by Kensington Books, stories of dysfunctional families told from the point of view of the family cat. She’s also a medical copywriter at an advertising agency. She lives on the Jersey Shore with her husband, teenagers, dog and a large black cat named Winnie.
On December 18, 2018 her latest novel, SOMETHING WORTH SAVING, will be on sale (available now for pre-order) in trade paperback, e-book and audio book.
Find out more about Sandi at her website, and connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Friday, December 21, 2018

From Across the Room by Gina L. Mulligan - HFVBT Book Review and GIVEAWAY


Publication Date: September 15, 2016
Five Star Publications
Hardcover & eBook; 271 Pages
Genre: Historical/Epistolary

Publisher's Summary  
Self-indulgent young writer Thomas Gadwell has traveled from Boston to the new Hotel Del Coronado in California to at last finish his novel when he meets the clever and headstrong Miss Mary Harting. At once Thomas tosses aside his literary pursuits for a charmed summer of romance that ends with the happy couple making future plans. However, Mary Harting is the only unmarried daughter of notorious railroad tycoon Charles Harting, and he has no intention of letting a useless wordsmith derail his own critical plans for Mary. The couple must continue a clandestine courtship, but Thomas’ ingenuity has unexpected repercussions and he unwittingly uncovers a sinister plot of deception, greed, and blackmail. Guided by mentor Henry James, to win Mary, Thomas must step from the pages of the world he creates to explore his own insecurities, battle against worldly corruption, and expose family demons.
Told through a series of clever, heartfelt, and engaging letters, From Across the Room is a voyeuristic escapade that delights at every twist. Reflecting back to a time when letters were saved in the imagination of the reader, the lost art of letter writing brings to life the opulent Gilded Age and unfolds the universal passions of love, ambition, and the resilient bonds of family.
Purchase Links


Praise for From Across the Room

“A passionate love story set in a brilliantly recreated Gilded Age, this intimate epistolary novel takes the reader from a wide-open California to the salons of literary and industrial New York. Colorful and indelible characters stride across the pages of this exceptionally vivid historical novel that brings the past stirringly to life.” -Diana Birchall, Bestselling Author of Mr. Darcy’s Dilemma
“Gina Mulligan’s impeccable prose, engaging characters, and original style reminds us all why we love to read.” -Reza Kahlili, 2010 National Best Books winner for A Time to Betray
“The characters have richly defined voices and fascinating lives that sparkle against a transcontinental history of America at the beginning of the twentieth century.” -Jessica Klein, Award-winning Writer/Producer of Northern Exposure, Beverly Hills 90210, Gabriel’s Fire and other popular TV series.
My Take
Ahhh...the epistolary style...I've read enough books in my lifetime to really appreciate one that uses something a little different to tell a story.  Nothing turns me off more than reading the same ole same ole all the time.  Seriously. Who has time for that?
From Across the Room is told entirely via letters from the main character Thomas Gadwell to a variety of other characters, including his love interest, Mary Harting.   When I first began reading From Across the Room, I thought the story was going to be more romancey, and I wondered if I had made a mistake in agreeing to read it...I'm not usually a romance fan.  
I quickly realized that there was so much more involved in this story.  
Mulligan weaves in family and societal issues from the Gilded Age as well as description that is so vivid, I could see the action.  Here's where the letters are perfectly situated.  In a world very different from the world we live in today, the words on the page were IT.  There were no visuals to click on, no immediate opportunity to ask a question if the reader didn't understand something, and no smart phones to send SnapChats and Selfies.  To communicate, the writer HAD to choose words carefully.  The writer got one shot...and then might have to wait two weeks to find out how the recipient interpreted the letter or felt about it because that's how long it took for the letter to arrive, be read, responded to, and the response sent.  In today's time, I know a lot of people who would go crazy waiting that long for anything :)

I loved that Thomas Gadwell's mentor was Henry James :) I'm an English teacher so the author and writing aspect of From Across the Room interested me a great deal...the publishing industry, Thomas's agent, etc. were also interesting tidbits.

Abigail Winchester is the character that jumped out to me...I think Mulligan could write an entirely new novel about this very eccentric lady :):) 

I wasn't entirely sure about the ending.  At first, it made me a little mad...but the more I sit with it, the more I think I do actually like it...from the author, publishing viewpoint.  If you like a sneaky little read, you'll like this turn of events as well.

About the Author

Gina L. Mulligan is a veteran freelance journalist for numerous national magazines and the author of the award-winning novel, REMEMBER THE LADIES and FROM ACROSS THE ROOM. After her own diagnosis, Gina founded Girls Love Mail, a charity that collects handwritten letters of encouragement for women with breast cancer. She was honored for her charitable work on the nationally syndicated television talk show The Steve Harvey Show, People.com, and TODAY.com.


Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, November 26
Review at Creating Herstory

Tuesday, November 27
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Wednesday, November 28
Review at Jathan & Heather

Thursday, November 29
Review at Tar Heel Reader

Friday, November 30
Review at A Holland Reads

Saturday, December 1
Review & Guest Post at Clarissa Reads it All

Monday, December 3
Review at A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, December 4

Wednesday, December 5
Interview at Passages to the Past

Thursday, December 6
Review at Peppermint Ph.D.

Friday, December 7
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story

Monday, December 10
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Tuesday, December 11

Wednesday, December 12
Review at Laura’s Interests

Friday, December 14
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Monday, December 17
Review & Excerpt at Locks, Hooks and Books

Tuesday, December 18
Feature at Broken Teepee

Wednesday, December 19
Review & Excerpt at The Book Junkie Reads

Thursday, December 20
Review at Bri’s Book Nook

Friday, December 21
Review at The Book Mind
Guest Post and Excerpt at Confessions of an Avid Reader


During the Blog Tour we will be giving away 3 copies of From Across the Room & Stationary! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.
Giveaway Rules
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on December 21st. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

From Across the Room

A Hangman for Ghosts by Andrei Baltakmens - HFVBT Review - Jan. 22

A   HANGMAN  FOR  GHOSTS   BY ANDREI BALTAKMENS Publication Date: July 1, 2018 Top Five Books Paperback & eBook; 288 Pag...