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Poison Heartbeats by Temple Emmet Williams is a contemporary fiction novel about a terrorist plot that deals with real-world entities including the US Department of Homeland Security and ISIL. An introductory passage by the author lets us know that for the most part, his fictitious interpretations of these entities are accurate, although he has taken some liberties by extending the sphere of influence of the Department of Homeland Security. It becomes clear within the first few chapters that this is a book that is well-researched, and the author’s use of real-world facts compliments the ambitious adventure we are brought on. We are also told before the story begins that this book is the second in the Heartbeat series (Wrinkled Heartbeats being the first, which AI gave 4.5/5 Stars) but that they are standalone novels and can be read independently of one-another. A number of sharply-written characters cross paths throughout the narrative, and special mention needs to be made of the author’s use of space and setting. The author takes the reader on a globe-trotting tour that highlights both the differences and parallels of each environ. This is a book that paints a thrilling picture with its words, which is only slightly dampened by some odd structural choices.
Each chapter is named and comes with an image and a short statement that sets the stage for what is about to happen. In some of the chapters, these pictorial clues and scene settings help the reader visualize what is happening, but on a whole seem unnecessary for such a well-written and descriptive novel. While reading, I couldn’t help but wonder if seeing the characters and environments of the story in a picture didn’t ruin my own imagining of them when they were described to me a few pages later. Some of the images and introductory clauses are also redundant. This is a minor negative in a magnificent story, and it’s hard for me to fault an author for giving the reader something extra, but this is a story that can easily rest on its own skillful story-telling, rather than on pictures. Aside from this unnecessary distraction, the book is well-structured, well-paced, and often hard to pull yourself away from.
As mentioned earlier, this is a book that deals with a number of characters and presents the reader with many different viewpoints. The book is not guilty of head-hopping, though, and while you get a number of perspectives, the author weaves them into and out of the story easily, and when things culminate in an epic final act, each storyline is satisfied in one way or another. The ending of the book is fantastic and drums up the action leading to a thrilling climax. It’s a fun journey that is at times reflective and poignant and at others gritty and tense. There is humor and romance alongside the grim depiction of modern terrorism. While, at the end, the story lines are all satisfied, not all of them come to an ultimate coda, leaving the door open for some future adventures for some of our key players. The author’s follow-up, African Heartbeats has already been announced and the Heartbeats series itself will comprise of six novels total when finished. I recommend Poison Heartbeats to fans of contemporary fiction who enjoy action, suspense, and the kind of story that could easily take place in our current political climate. 4.5/5 Stars.
Great book, beautifully written and a perfect read for anyone in the publishing industry. It’s written with a light touch while having a deadly serious plot. The story revolves around murders in the publishing industry and a reporter trying to catch the murderer without the kind of support a detective or PI would have. Highly recommended for authors, publishers and anyone who likes a good mystery. 5 stars!
The cover, with a simple sepia photograph of a woman from the era of the 1920s is effective and evocative. It sums up the story and the main character’s motivation without giving away the plot.
The story starts off a bit on the slow side, with a description of Cameron Coelho’s attraction to the woman in the photograph, and background information on his work on a PhD thesis about the social life in Middle America during the Roaring Twenties. The time travel aspect is introduced through his discovery in Candice Bell’s notes and diary (sold to him by her elderly niece) of references to a mysterious cave that holds the secret to time travel. It’s difficult to know which motivates him more, his attraction to Candice’s beauty or his fascination with the prospect of time travel being real. The author goes into more detail than absolutely necessary as Cameron takes action to find more information—details of him moving through a room, sitting, or taking a drink, don’t really add to the story.
This tendency to map out a character’s every move lessens significantly as Cameron meets the ‘time traveling’ expert, Geoffrey Bell, and travels from 2017 to 1925. A seemingly impossible task is set our hero; he knows that Candice will be murdered, and he is forbidden to try and prevent it because doing so might irreparably change the future, in particular the fact that Geoffrey Bell is the great-grandson of her cousin, who, distraught after her murder, wanders into a destitute part of town where he finds the woman he will marry, and who is Geoffrey’s great-grandmother.
From Cameron’s arrival in 1925, the story picks up the pace. The reader is introduced to all of the major supporting characters, including Tom, the black custodian at the newspaper where Candice worked as a social page reporter, who was wrongly accused of her murder and executed.
The story from the point that Cameron knows that he’s in love with Candice and that there are evil, corrupt men in the small Indiana town where she lives and works, is the strongest section of the book. The author skillfully plants clues and the tension mounts as he has to choose between fulfilling his commitment to Geoffrey Bell or saving innocents from death. While a few of the resolutions felt a bit contrived or were not explained to full satisfaction; such as how the town’s major drug dealer was finally caught and convicted, or what happened to the crooked lawyer who was Candice’s former fiancé, these are minor issues.
The author makes references to previous time travelers that Geoffrey Bell has sent into the past, including a father and son who traveled to Texas, which was the subject of an earlier novel. At one point, reference is made to ‘numerous’ travelers, but it’s never explained.
Finally, Cameron finds a way to avoid tempering with the timeline, things are set on the proper path, and the reader is treated to the news that Cameron is somehow related by blood to Geoffrey’s wife—but, this is also never explained in any detail.
The denouement is, except for the aforementioned unanswered questions, satisfactory. Justice prevails and true love overcomes insurmountable obstacles.
With the exception of the previously mentioned excessive detailed descriptions of character actions, and the few unanswered questions, this is a solidly plotted novel. Action (in a thematic sense) moves forward, characters encounter obstacles and overcome them, and this reader at least was left with the feeling that things worked out the way they should.
I give this book four stars.
Worlds Within Worlds was one of the most unique novels I’ve ever read. The story of Prunella Smith continues in The Locksmith’s Secret, and while not as unique as the first book, this novel adds a new depth of Ella’s character while exploring themes of trauma, womanhood, and the need to confront evil.
While reading Worlds Within Worlds will help readers to understand this book (and I highly recommend it), The Locksmith’s Secret can be read on its own. You’ll still enjoy the rich tapestry of interconnecting narratives weaving together to form a multifaceted whole. This time the fantasy element comes in the form of a steampunk novel Ella is writing. We also explore her past as a stripper, her past lives, and the mysterious background of her boyfriend, Jamie, who might be too good to be true.
A solid follow-up to an exceptional novel.
Editor-Author Prunella Smith seems to be getting her life back together. She feels that things are going well with her boyfriend, Jamie, until the death of his older brother in England draws him back home and into the clutches of a demanding, manipulative mother. While coping with this unexpected separation, Prunella is drawn into writing a steampunk novel about Nell, an intrepid investigative reporter on the trail of a vicious killer who also happens to be an esteemed member of the upper class, and enmeshed in the ‘dream’ life of Daniela, a young woman about to become a nun, who is caught between trying to get away from her abusive past and the decidedly earthly feelings she has for the convent gardener. While all this is happening, Prunella is also experiencing waking dreams about a mysterious locksmith who seems to hold the key to everything she needs to understand to get her world back into balance.
The Locksmith’s Secret by Tahlia Newland is, to use a word coined by Prunella, a multi-genre story that combines all the best traits of sci-fi, thriller, steampunk, and a few other genres in a tale that grabs your imagination in a vice-like grip and refuses to let go until you breathlessly reach the last page. This is an exploration of the mind that takes up where the author’s World Within Worlds left off, but stands on its own as a story that will make you question everything you thought you knew about the universe. Most importantly, though, it will entertain you in the way that well-told stories are meant to entertain.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.
A Rich Narrative Tapestry
By Dream Beast VINE VOICE on April 8, 2016
In The Locksmith’s Secret, Tahlia Newland has woven several narratives into a complex story about the joys and pitfalls of love and the enduring power of the imagination.
Writer Prunella Smith, whom readers may remember from Newland’s last book, Worlds Within Worlds, has found love with Jamie Claypole, an English transplant to Australia. The two are happy together, but Ella knows little about Jamie’s past. The gaps in her knowledge become apparent when Jamie is summoned home after his brother’s sudden death. All at once he becomes secretive about his family and where they live and how long he intends to stay with them.
The other narratives reiterate in various ways the problem Ella faces: whether to pursue Jamie and uncover his secrets or to reclaim the solitude she lost when he came to live with her.
Memories of unhappy past experience with a lover who abandoned her overshadow Ella’s hope for happiness with Jamie. Ella had been a ballerina with a promising career until a back injury forced her to give up ballet. Her lover, who was also her onstage partner, promptly discarded her once they could no longer dance together.
A Buddhist, Ella mediates regularly, and during meditation she’s transported into the world of Daniela, an Italian nun. On the brink of taking her final vows, Daniela finds herself attracted to the man who tends the nunnery’s garden. Like Ella, she faces an unexpected choice about the direction her life will take.
In addition, Ella has a recurring dream featuring a locksmith who may or may not be Jamie and who holds the secret to unlocking doors into countless other worlds, a metaphor for the creative and spiritual freedom that she seeks. She pursues the locksmith, but he seems always just out of reach.
Although troubled by Jamie’s secretiveness, Ella keeps writing fiction. Woven into The Lockman’s Secret is a steampunk novel that has taken hold of her imagination. The chapters appear as she writes them, and the story of intrepid reporter Nell and her efforts to uncover the villainy of Lord Burnett generates as much suspense as the main narrative. Like Ella, Nell values her independence and strives to prove her worth in the professional world. She worries that marriage to her employer’s son will mean the end of her career.
Newland interweaves all of these threads with consummate skill. Not once do they get tangled. Not once does the suspense flag, which is especially impressive in a contemplative novel like The Locksmith’s Secret. The credit goes to Newland’s mastery of narrative structure, to her concise and transparent prose that is eloquent without ever drawing attention to itself, and to her wonderfully varied and complex characters.
The worlds of Prunella Smith have a clarity and power that you won’t soon forget.
Tahlia Newland writes with beautiful simplicity – making this book a joy to read. Never do you feel lost, or wondering who is who or what is going in. Which is quite an achievement – because there are at least four completely separate stories in here, interwoven yet happening in different times, places and even realities.
The core story is set in our world, our times and is a good old-fashioned romance – with twists for sure and interesting interplay between cultures and value systems. It revolves around a man and a woman making choices about where and how to live their lives, who to share them with, and what can and should be compromised. If you love a place and you love a person and the two don’t necessarily mesh – how hard is it to choose? It’s a dilemma many of us have faced or will face at some point in our lives.
The other stories possess interesting parallels to the main tale – for example, the medieval nun wondering whether to stay in her order, or forsake it for the love of the local gardener. She too has to choose between one life and another and never does Newland make the choices look or feel easy.
The interweaving of these stories is accomplished with great skill and even humour. I’m sure there’s much more to come from these characters, and l look forward to reading more of the series.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
This was an interesting book for me. Well-written and pacy, I read it at a fair lick yet I wasn’t always sure exactly what was going on. The core story is a classic romance. The main character, Australian author Prunella Smith, has an English boyfriend. Things are going well; he is kind and attentive and the sex is great. Then he is called home when his brother dies to sort out the ancestral home and deal with a difficult, domineering mother. The question is, will he come back?
So far, so good. But three other stories, spread over time and other worlds, are inter-woven with the main plot. Prunella is writing a steampunk novel about Nell, a reporter investigating murders in a Victorian Australian city. Daniela, a novice nun in medieval times, is torn between her ambition to escape an abusive past and become a nun and her attraction for the convent gardener. Prunella is a Buddhist and, during her meditations, she has waking dreams in which she wanders through an empty city in search of a mysterious locksmith, who she glimpses but cannot reach. These dreams are quite disturbing, almost Freudian.
Despite this complexity, all the stories inter-weave and work with each other to create a satisfying novel.
Personally, I would have liked the characters in the main story to be playing for higher stakes but then that’s probably just me.
This book will appeal to fans of steampunk, romance, magic realism and fantasy. That’s a few genres to be going on with!
Wendy Percival’s Blood-Tied is a mystery centered on family origins. Esme Quintin rushes to the hospital where her sister, Elizabeth, lies in a coma after being attacked in a park. Witnesses had seen Elizabeth arguing with a man beforehand. The police return Elizabeth’s locket to Esme, and inside are photos of two strangers. Esme, a researcher with unquenchable curiosity, sets out to discover who they are and who put her sister in hospital. She soon learns that Elizabeth is her adopted sister and Elizabeth’s true origin might have everything to do with the attack.
Percival creates some distinctive characters. Esme intrigues me with her quiet determination and unexplained scar. Polly, an old woman whom Elizabeth had been helping, is altogether believable in her fright and anguish. The villain is a nasty piece of work; anyone involved in a disputed inheritance will recognize his type. Other characters could be more fully developed. Esme’s niece, Gemma, comes off as a sulky whiner whose behavior can be excused only because she’s under stress. The story requires that I care what happens to her, but I don’t.
The plot holds together well but occasionally seems contrived. At times Gemma’s opposition to her aunt appears to have no motive other than creating another complication. The police return Elizabeth’s locket and handbag to her sister, who was most likely attacked and now lies in a comma. Wouldn’t they keep the items as evidence and test them for fingerprints? No, because Esme must find the photos in the locket and the keys inside the bag.
Percival’s prose is economical and unpretentious, and she writes effective dialogue. I just wish she trusted her writing more. She inserts explanations as if afraid readers wouldn’t get the story otherwise. I cringe at statements like this: “For Esme it was the first step on what would prove to be a strange and bewildering journey.” Even though the story has only begun, Percival has done her work well enough that I already suspect that Esme will encounter things strange and bewildering. I don’t have to be told. When Esme goes to interview a witness, Percival writes: “He gave no indication as to whether her second visit in such a short time was an imposition. He received her well enough.” The preliminary summary undermines the drama of the scene that follows.
Quite a few mystery readers ought to enjoy Blood-Tied despite its flaws. The backstory of Elizabeth’s birth family is engrossing, and the story culminates in an exciting scene that won’t distress anyone with graphic violence.