The Secret Santa by Trish Harteniaux @TrishHarnetiaux @rachel90kennedy #Bookreview

I am delighted to share my thoughts today on The Secret Santa by Trish Harteniaux. My thanks to Rachel at Penguin Random House for my spot on the Blog Tour and for arranging my e-copy of the book.

THIS YEAR YOU’LL GET WHAT YOU DESERVE…

When an international pop starlet rolls into town looking to buy the most expensive house on the market, struggling real estate agents and husband and wife duo Claudine and Henry think their terrible luck has finally turned.

The mysterious mansion has hidden secrets, and Claudine and Henry’s survival depends on no one finding out the truth about what really happened there. In a desperate move to secure the sale, Claudine decides to bury the house’s dark past and show it at its best – by inviting the singer to a lavish holiday party hosted inside the majestic mountainside mansion.

But when a murder weapon turns up as part of the party’s game of Secret Santa, Claudine’s carefully curated lie and the lives of all the party goers is threatened as they race to find the killer before they can strike again.

How far will Claudine go to protect her secrets? Is she prepared to kill to make a killing, or will she fall prey herself?

The synopsis does a good job of letting you know a little bit about this murder mystery story. A of seeing a stunning property means a change of location for Henry and Claudine’s staff Christmas do. The party will be moved to the remote property so that it can be shown off at its best for a potential buyer. Part of the party is the Secret Santa, a game of exchanging presents has been something that has increased over the years and everyone tries to out-do each other, however this year one of the gifts has a catch!

This is a murder mystery read that is about revenge for something that was done in the past. The truth is not revealed until far later in the story and it is where all the answers are suddenly revealed.

The story is told in quick chapters from the perspective of different characters, Claudine, Henry and Zara as well as a mystery italicised chapters! I like this style as it gave me a chance to get inside the heads of various people, see their thoughts and some of what they really think.

The story is well paced and definitely kept me guessing, gradually introducing me to everyone involved and also drawing me further into the story. The setting is good though not overwhelming, there are several good mentions about it and it does sound idyllic, isolated, remote and scenic. The focus is more on the people.

This is a murder mystery that has drama and suspense rather than blood and guts. Its not a thriller or police procedural and would suit cosy mystery readers. It is one I would recommend.

The Secret Santa is Trish Harnetiaux’s debut novel. She is a Brooklyn-based playwright whose published works includeTin Cat Shoes, How To Get Into Buildings, and If You Can Get To Buffalo
Follow her on Twitter @TrishHarnetiaux #TheSecretSanta

See what other Book Bloggers think by following the tour…

Many thanks for reading my post, a like or share would be wonderful 🙂 xx

KULT by Stefan Malmstrom @kpstefan @silvertailbooks #BOTBSPublicity #Bookreview

I am delighted to share my review for Kult by Stefan Malmstrom. My huge thanks to Sarah at Book On The Bright Side Publicity for the invite and for arranging a copy of this fantastic book.

Let me show you what the book is all about…

THE PAST WILL NEVER LET YOU GO…


When a four-year-old girl and her father are found dead in the Swedish city of Karlskrona, the police quickly conclude it was a murder-suicide, a tragedy requiring no further investigation.


But Luke Bergmann, a reformed criminal still haunted by his violent past, believes they are wrong. The dead man, Viktor, was his best friend, and Luke knows he would never commit such a horrific crime.


When more bodies turn up, Luke is certain the same killer has struck again. Alone, he embarks on an investigation which reaches back through decades to his friend’s involvement with a sinister cult and dark secrets are exposed as Luke struggles to keep his own long-buried demons hidden away.


And when Luke finds himself in a killer’s sights, his search for the truth becomes the fight of his life.


Can Luke get justice for Viktor and his daughter and prove his best friend was not a murderer, or will the shadows of the past overwhelm him?


Fans of The Killing, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jo Nesbø and Will Dean will love this dark and gripping début thriller.


There is an Authors Note that I am also going to share with you…

KULT is a crime thriller but it’s based on a true story. The author, Stefan Malmstrom, was in the Church of Scientology in Sweden for a few years in his early twenties (about thirty years ago now), a relatively short time but which had a profound and damaging effect on his life. Part of the story of KULT is told in flashbacks which are accurate representations of both Stefan’s experiences in Scientology in Sweden (including digging for a spaceship – no joke) and the death of Lisa McPherson in the US in 1995. The present-day plot – the hunt for a serial killer – is entirely fictitious. The book is aimed at a general crime readership (Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo fans among others) as well as the many people who read books about Scientology, such as Going Clear by Lawrence Wright and Troublemaker by Leah Remini. You may not know but Silvertail is the only publisher in the UK willing to put out books critical of Scientology – over the years we’ve had serious legal threats, all of which have been seen off with no problems.” KULT is the first time we’ve done a Scientology novel, and hopefully this aspect makes it a little more interesting than if it were pure fiction.

The synopsis and the authors note were the things that really made me stop and take a serious look at this book. It’s not often I read the synopsis immediately prior to reading for a book, I usually wait until I have finished it. but this item, something caught my eye and I read it and the authors note prior to reading the book and I think it gave such an extra element to the reading experience.

So, what to say about the book… WOW! springs to mind. This is such a strong and dark story and knowing that some of it is based on actual events makes it for seriously tense read.

The story is actually 3 strands that the author flits back and forth between, they are seemingly unconnected until the tweaking and pulling together begins. Then suddenly things link and then I started to get an idea of where this was heading, call it the start of seeing the bigger picture if you like. Because of this seemingly randomness to the threads I was unable to really work things out until the author was ready for me to.

The title of the book, KULT, is an indicator as to the content, it is one of the threads and is set in the past and adds insight as the other stories start to merge. The main focus is the death of Viktor and his daughter Agnes, Luke a close friend does not believe it was suicide and begins to dig around for the answers himself. Then the third thread, wow this is evil and dark, it will not appeal to some readers as it deals with a hard to read subject, the author however does not go into details. I am now reading back through this paragraph and I have realised how obscure and random it is. I did think of changing it but, I am not one to let spoilers out so I have decided to leave it obscure!

This is such a fabulous read, it is dark and deals with tough subjects. The author has used his own experiences to create a story that is a mix of actual facts as well as a fictionalised story. I cannot imagine living within a cult, but I could see how manipulative cult members could be as I read this book. Knowing that the author personally knew what the cult was all about and then using that information adds a believably creepy and horrifying element to the story.

This story did take me a few chapters to get into and took me a while to understand and get to grips with the flow. Once I found my feet with the characters and the time changes I found it extremely addictive.

If you like dark, disturbing, chilling, manipulative, creepy and controlling crime thriller reads then this is one that may well appeal. KULT is a book I would definitely recommend and I look forward with interest to see what this author comes up with next.

I also have to mention the absolutely seamless translation from Swedish into English by Suzanne Martin Cheadle, without her work I would have unable to read such a fascinating book.

Stefan Malmström is a former news journalist who has worked for Sveriges Radio and Swedish TV4. Today he works as a consultant, lecturer and author. At a young age, Stefan was manipulated into the Church of Scientology in Hässleholm, a small town in southern Sweden. KULT, his first book, is based on his experiences in the cult. Stefan lives in Karlskrona in Sweden with his family.  

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The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames #Bookreview

I am absolutely delighted to share my thoughts on The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames. This book surprised me as the title made me think it would be more of a mystery read, while there was a mysterious element to it, it was actually a historical fiction and I loved it.

Before I get too carried away, let me share the synopsis with you…

Hundred-year-old Stella Fortuna sits alone in her house in Wethersfield, Connecticut, crocheting blankets and angrily ignoring her sister, Tina, who lives across the street. The sisters, once the best of friends, have not spoken for thirty years, not since The Accident—the eighth time Stella nearly died.

But what unspeakable betrayal made Stella turn on her sister? Born in a mountaintop village in southern Italy, Stella and Tina had grown up in abject poverty in the years between the two World Wars, abandoned by their father, who had left to seek his fortune in L’America, and forced to drop out of school after first grade to work in the olive groves. Tough, vivacious, and fiercely loyal, the inseparable sisters were foils for each other, Stella precocious and charismatic, Tina obedient and hard-working. But as Stella suffered ever more serious near-death experiences—beginning in their childhood with the time she was burned by frying oil (“the eggplant attack”)—the girls’ beloved mother, Assunta, became convinced her eldest daughter was cursed, a victim of the Evil Eye or a malevolent ghost. But what was really trying to kill Stella Fortuna, eight (or maybe seven) different times?

Now, after a century of trauma, Stella has turned on those who she once thought loved her most. It is up to the family historian to unravel the life and deaths of Stella Fortuna and to connect the inexplicable dots in her dramatic story—to suggest, finally, a redemption of the battle-scarred and misunderstood woman known now to the family as “crazy Stella.” 

The synopsis does a brilliant job of explaining what to expect from this wonderful book.

As I began reading I was reminded of another book I read many years ago, that was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in that book there was a repetition of family names being handed down to the next generation. While The Seven or Eight Deaths also has a similar naming tradition it was not as confusing as Marquez’s.

The author depicts a very simple life for the Fortuna family in the small remote Italian village that they call home. It is simple but also a very hard life. The main focus is on Stella and her sister Tina and their parents Assunta and Antonio. It is the females of this story that are the strength and I think their hard lifestyle in Italy has helped them in their strength and determination as the book proceeds further with their story.

Antonio is a father who has not spent a lot of time with the family, he goes off to work and eventually ends up in America where he then sends for the rest of his family to join him. I have to say I really did not like him, he is very much a “do as I say because I am your husband” character. It is typical of the traditional family dynamic of the time. As much as it really grated it was right for the story.

Because the author has used a time span of 100 hundred years there is a lot of world history things that could have been included, the author has picked out a couple of key events and this makes the reading very fluid and relevant to the females in the Fortuna family. I very much enjoyed their arrival in America and witnessing Stella and Tina’s reaction to the American way of life, the social differences made me smile. But life as a recently arrived immigrant is not all smiles and roses and the women have to work hard.

The author has a wonderful style of writing that made it so easy for me to disappear into the pages for 2-3 hours at a time. She showed the differences in the way of life for the family from a cultural as well as a social point of view. I liked how she touched on traditional local dishes that Assunta would have made, then being Americanised. It is little touches like this that appealed to me, it is a way of seeing the subtle changes and adaptations in culture and society.

The Seven or Eight deaths of Stella are explained throughout the story, and also the disagreements that gradually cause a rift between the sisters. The deaths part of the story does have a slight spookiness to it and this is why it is also listed in horror/occult and I, I do hope that does not put people off because for me this was just a small part of a bigger story. As I mentioned earlier, the women of the story are strong and determined and so I can see why the rift had been caused. The women are fabulously developed characters that grow and evolve with the story, they are joined at intervals by various other relatives and friends.

This is an emotional story but also one that I did not feel emotional about as I was reading it. This sounds a rather odd thing to say, as yes the story is emotional but the characters have a very firm and solid outlook on life. They do show emotion as such but as they are such strong characters they are more able to hold it in, although there are times when the dam breaks for them.

This is such a wonderful story that is set through the 1900’s, it gives a century of family history and at times has a literary fiction style to it. I found it to be very addictive reading and when I wasn’t reading I did often find myself thinking about it.

This is one that I think other historical fiction readers would really enjoy. It is heartwarming and also heartbreaking but without being overly emotional and does have some hard reading moments, it is about family and new starts and also tipping a nod to the past. I would definitely recommend.


Many thanks for reading my post, a like or share is always appreciated 🙂 xx