Mystery and Romance in The Liar by Nora Roberts

Although Nora Roberts (who also writes under the pseudonym JD Robb) is a best-selling author of more than 200 novels, I hadn’t read any of her work before The Liar. And, while mystery romances are not my usual genre, I have to say that I enjoyed this easy, pacy read.

The story begins about 2 months after gutsy heroine Shelby’s husband has disappeared. Shelby is left high and dry with a mountain of debt. Before long she is faced with the stark realisation that her erstwhile husband was a liar. Worse still, his nefarious activities could jeopardise Shelby and her daughter’s future.

When Shelby sets out to repay the debt, she uncovers more details of her former husband’s life.  The trail that he has left places her  in considerable danger. Luckily, she has a strong and supportive family. And, when she returns to her childhood home, it’s not long before love comes knocking at her door.

But despite the goodwill of the handsome Griff and her family connections, Shelby is determined to solve her own problems. She is resourceful and capable and which makes her a likeable and engaging heroine.

The Liar is a fast and satisfying read and should appeal to anyone who likes a strong story line with a bit of romance along the way.

[Disclosure: An advance copy was made available by the publisher via Netgalley for the purpose of this review.]

‘Bittersweet’ summer read by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

In Bittersweet, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore has created a novel based on the age-old theme of a stranger in paradise. Mabel Dagmar is an ordinary girl from a working class background. Her college roommate, Ev Winslow, invites Mabel to spend the summer on her family’s Vermont estate.  It seems like a dream come true. Mabel longs to experience the privileged world of her wealthy roommate almost as much as she wants to escape a summer with her own parents. So, they head to Bittersweet, a cottage on the estate.

Dark intrigue

Armed with a copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost which she plans to read over the holiday period, Mabel seems set for an idyllic summer. She quickly falls in love with the privileged world of the Winslows but she is an outsider in their paradise. Before long, it seems everyone wants to use Mabel for their own ends.Spurred on by curiosity about her host family, Mabel is drawn into a web of dark intrigue. The secrets she uncovers have devastating consequences.

Overall, I found Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore a good yarn and an enjoyable holiday read.

[Disclosure: An Advance Readers’ Copy (ARC) was provided by the publisher, Random House via Edelweis/Above the Treeline for the purpose of this review.]

Thoughtful and elegant debut novel makes Johanna Lane one to watch

Dulough, the Black Lake property, from which this novel takes its name, is a fictional rundown estate on the exposed northwest coast of Ireland that has been in the Campbell family for generations and is currently owned by John Campbell who lives in the house with his Dublin-born wife Marianne and their two children, Kate and Philip.

John’s family acquired Dulough when it was bought by his grandfather, Philip the first who developed the house with a certain austerity borne of his Presbyterian upbringing. Philip’s austere castle contrasts with the simple, evocative hut built by his great grandson and namesake on a remote island off the estate where the family’s graves are located.

If John and his family are the central characters in this novel, the castle and Philip’s hut are silent characters binding generations and relationships and perhaps outlasting all.

On Dulough’s third floor is a locked ballroom, supposedly left unfinished by the first Philip, but actually almost complete, its end wall beautifully decorated with a trompe l’oeil painting by the artist Geoffrey Rowe. The painting uses realistic imagery to create an illusion of the entire estate where everything looks as if it could move at any moment. When Kate touches the lake in this painting, her hand comes away blue as if the water were real and yet it is not the painting but rather the trompe l’oeil perspectives of the main characters that intrigue the reader in this short novel.

With the estate in financial trouble John has decided to enter a pact with the Irish government, opening the house to the public and moving himself and his family to a cottage on the estate. His decision and the subsequent loss of the house affect the family deeply — particularly Marianne and Philip — and when a tragic accident occurs its impact merges with the loss of to place additional strain on family relationships.

Black Lake begins slowly but as the story unfolds through the voices of John, Marianne and Philip the reader is increasingly drawn in. Philip is perhaps the most fully realised character and depicted to give a bittersweet insight into childhood.

Lane writes beautifully and tells a moving story and multi-layered story. This is her debut novel — perhaps not perfect, but thoughtful and elegant — and marks her as a name to watch for in future.

Black Lake by Johanna Lane is published by Little Brown & Co, a division of the Hachette Book Group. A free ARC was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.