Roses & Thorns

Roses & Thorns

Sunday, September 25, 2016

All These Perfect Strangers by Aiofe Clifford


“This is about three deaths. Actually more, if you go back far enough. I say deaths but perhaps all of them were murders. It’s a grey area. Murder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”

Within six months of her arrival at a university campus, three of Penelope Sheppard’s new friends are dead. And only Pen knows why. This isn’t Pen’s first encounter with violence, and she’s an expert at keeping secrets—especially ones as dark and dangerous as her own.

Reputations have a way of haunting you—they’re easy to make, hard to shake. After Pen leaves her isolated hometown to escape the judgmental stares of her neighbors and carve out a new identity for herself, she’s free from the stigma of her past mistakes. At school, Pen is anonymous, surrounded by an eclectic collection of perfect strangers. But when someone begins to uncover the deadly secrets she thought she’d left behind, how far will Pen go to protect her new life?

Six months later, Pen is back home, the victim of a violent trauma and a pariah once again. Now, reluctantly, she must recount her story from start to finish: to her shrink, to the police, even to herself. Because until she tells the whole truth, there will be no escaping the past.

About the Author:

Aoife Clifford is the author of the novel All These Perfect Strangers, published in Australia (March 2016) and the United Kingdom (August 2016) by Simon & Schuster. It will be published by Penguin Random House in the United States (July 2016). It is available as an audiobook from Bolinda Audio.

Born in London of Irish parents, Aoife grew up in New South Wales, studied Arts/Law at the Australian National University, Canberra, and now lives in Melbourne.

She has won two premier short story prizes for crime fiction in Australia—the Scarlet Stiletto (2007) and the S.D. Harvey Ned Kelly Award in 2012, among other prizes. She has also been short listed for the UK Crime Association’s Debut Dagger. In 2014 she was awarded an Australian Society of Authors mentorship for her novel, All These Perfect Strangers.


I couldn’t quite decide whether or not I trusted Penelope Sheppard, and therefore, I couldn’t quite decide whether I liked her. She was a troubled child from a troubled home, who got into trouble with her best friend that culminated with the death of a cop, and the suicide of her friend. Then, when she arrives at university, people start dying around her. I was fairly certain Pen was not involved in the murders, but still, it took a long time for the whole story to unravel.

I think that’s the problem with All These Perfect Strangers. It takes place over a semester of school, partly as told to Pen’s shrink, partly as she remembers it, and it’s mixed with memories of the events leading up to the demise of the cop and her best friend’s suicide. And, it seemed to take that long to read it.

Furthermore, Ms. Clifford did not make it clear from the beginning the book took place in Australia. There was no hint in the blurb, and I was halfway through the book when she mentioned it was getting cold in April. I did a double-take, and went back a few pages to be sure I’d read right. Prior to that, I thought the book took place in England. A couple of chapters later, Ms. Clifford mentioned eucalyptus trees, and that confirmed it was in Australia. It would have helped to know what continent the book was on—indeed, what hemisphere it was in, much earlier.

Despite the somewhat slow pacing, not being sure of the heroine, and not realizing for half the book that it was in Australia rather than England, All These Perfect Strangers still held my attention. I did figure out much of what happened back home before Ms. Clifford revealed it, but I was surprised by “who dunnit” at school, and a couple of the details at home.

Just pick up the pace a bit, Ms. Clifford, and let people know where they are sooner. The blurb could maybe say, “…isolated outback town…” or “…isolated Australian town…,” and maybe the bus could travel through the outback, or New South Wales, or Queensland, or when she got to school maybe “the shrimp could have been gone from the barbie.” Something those of us reading up north could have identified with. Otherwise, All These Perfect Strangers is a pretty good read.

Heat Rating:  R for Violence
Length:  416 Pages
Digital Price:  $3.99

Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Four Weddings and a Fiasco: The Wedding Day by Sharon Kleve


Cora Henley doesn’t believe in love at first sight. In her personal experience love never lasts. Her parents’ nasty divorce and her ex-boyfriend’s betrayal have her convinced long-term relationships don’t work.

Kane Price is finally ready to settle down, get married and have a family. When he falls head-over-heels for Cora, she makes it clear she’s not interested in a serious relationship. He’s come up against difficult obstacles before and never gives up until he gets what he wants. And he wants Cora.

If Cora can just trust her heart to Kane they both might find their happily-ever-after.

About the Author:

Sharon Kleve was born and raised in Washington and currently lives on the Olympic Peninsula with her husband.

Sharon is a multi-published author of contemporary romance. She loves romance. She loves reading romance, living romance, and especially loves writing about romance. She gets no greater feeling than watching her characters come alive in each other’s arms. Most of all, she loves giving her characters the happily ever after they deserve—with a few bumps and bruises along the way.

One of her favorite things to do is pick up a new book and sink into the story, immersing herself in the emotions between the characters. She hopes to inspire her readers the same way her favorite authors have inspired her.

When not writing, she can usually be found either curled up in her recliner with her cat and a good book, or in the kitchen baking sourdough bread or bagels.


Cora Henley is a wedding planner who doesn’t believe in love. Still, being detail-oriented and extremely organized, she’s beyond good at her job. Her clients don’t need to know she doesn’t believe their marriages will last. They just need to know their special days will run smoothly, and with Cora at the helm, they most certainly will. Until Kane Price shows up.

Kane disturbs Cora in ways she refuses to acknowledge, and he refuses to go away. He’s a distraction she certainly does not need. To make matters worse, he wants to get married and have a family. After her parents’ divorce, marriage and family are the last things on Cora’s mind.

“Four Weddings and a Fiasco: The Wedding Day” was a fun romp. It’s a novella one can read easily in one sitting, but unfortunately, it was marred by a lack of editing. I like Ms. Kleve. I would love to be able to give her book five roses instead of four, but she really needs to spend a few dollars on a good editor. If you’re not a grammar stickler like me, you’ll love it. If you are, you’ll be a bit bugged, but you’ll still like it.

Heat Rating:  PG-13
Length:  96 Pages
Digital Price:  $1.99

Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva


Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense.

She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.

It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.

But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.

About the Author:

Alexandra Oliva was born and raised in upstate New York. She has a BA in history from Yale University and an MFA in creative writing from The New School. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband. The Last One is her first novel.


When you mostly review romance novels, they can get kind of boring. You know when you pick up the book the couple will have a happily-ever-after, and you pretty much know from page-to-page what’s going to happen next. Sometimes I want to write, “It’s a romance. You know how it goes,” and just award roses based on the quality (or lack thereof) of the editing. Rarely does a book come along that is completely different. That surprises you. Knocks your socks off. Horrifies you. And fascinates you.

“Zoo” is a veterinarian participating in a survivalist reality program. I avoid these shows. For one thing, my idea of roughing it is a hotel with no Jacuzzi. For another, I hate programs where people get voted off. At least on Zoo’s show, people are eliminated by being the last ones to complete various “challenges.” But even Zoo and the members of her team challenge are disgusted when the “lost and injured hiker” they’ve been tracking stumbles over the side of a cliff when they get there because they were ten minutes late. The sexy bimbo (thrown in by the producers for eye candy) stubbed her toe and spent fifteen minutes sitting on a rock crying. What the viewers don’t know is that the team can see a cable secured from the top of the cliff and the battered and bloody dead body at the bottom is a dummy. The “brains” are cottage cheese and food coloring, and the “blood” is colored corn syrup.

So when Zoo finds herself alone on a challenge and comes across a house with balloons in her signature blue color with a mat that says “Home Sweet Home,” it’s easy to delude herself into believing the challenge is to make her way home following the rules of the game. And to believe the dead bodies in the house are more props. As are the rest of the ones she encounters on her journey.

I’m not normally drawn to apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic books, but Zoo’s journey—her absolute inability to accept reality, the way she rationalizes the things that happen to her, made The Last One truly one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in quite awhile. You have to read it yourself.

Heat Rating:  R—Graphic Violence
Length:  305 Pages
Digital:  $12.99
Hardcover:  $18.25
Audible:  28.46

Thanks for visiting.