Monday, February 20, 2017

Review: K Street by M.A. Lawson

K Street (Agent Kay Hamilton, Book #3)
by M.A. Lawson
Release Date: January 17th 2017
2017 Blue Rider Press
Ebook Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0399573842
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

It’s been almost a year since Kay Hamilton was fired from the DEA for going rogue. Since then, she’s been employed by the Callahan Group, a covert intelligence agency based in Washington, D.C. Her job description is as dubious as the people she works for, and the undercover mission that nearly killed her in Viking Bay has Hamilton questioning the legitimacy of her employers.

When Hamilton arrives at the Callahan Group’s K Street office to tender her resignation, she unwittingly interrupts a deadly heist during which the robbers have stolen the company safe and left her boss gravely injured. She knows that Thomas Callahan doesn’t keep much cash in the safe—the men must have been after something other than money. But before Callahan slips into a coma, he whispers a name that will lead Kay to an organization even more secretive than the Callahan Group: the NSA.

My Thoughts
K Street is a great novel for those who new to suspense or to action as the chapters are relatively short and the action sequences aren't overly drawn out, and I liked the the plot, while fairly simple, still has some twists and turns to it.  To someone with an extensive reading knowledge in this genre, the plot might be quite simple compared to some of the novels and authors, but I liked that the action was clean and not too convoluted.  Sometimes it's nice to read one of these novels where my head isn't spinning throughout the whole novel, and I have to wait another two or three books to figure out what is happening, or there is so much going on even the author loses track of the main points.

For those who don't know, M.A. Lawson is the pen name for Mike Lawson (a former nuclear engineer in the US Navy), who also writes the Joe DeMarco series, of which House Reckoning is probably my favourite.  One of the things that Lawson excels at is making the reader feel empathy for the main character.  So while you may not necessarily agree with the choices Kay made (or Joe DeMarco for that matter), you still empathize with the character and understand why those choices were made.  And you root for them no matter what.  Kay is a tough, kick-ass character who is fun because she can be quite unpredictable.  While she didn't quite display those rogue, lone-wolf tendencies in this novel as much, there was still plenty of action to be found.  The last mission in which she was involved left Kay questioning the Callahan group and her part in the group, so she decides to quit the whole thing.  Right from the beginning though, Kay walks into a dire situation as the office is attacked and she has no idea of the reasons behind the attack.  Even though she decides to help, I liked how she questioned the investigation the entire time and didn't take anything at face value.  What she did discover will definitely have repercussions into the next book and I can't wait to find out how things will transpire as she discovered some pretty deep secrets as well as some government cover-ups that will leave ripples in many different areas.  I don't want to say too much and give away any details from the book, but it was fun to delve deeper into the government cover-ups and discover a bit more about the Callahan group.  There is definitely a lot more to learn however. 

Like I've already mentioned, the plot was quite simple, which is something I enjoyed as sometimes these action / suspense novels can get quite convoluted and complicated, but I believe this is a strength of this writer.  The chapters are told from different points of view, and while it's not always something that I enjoy, it definitely worked in this novel - plus some of the dialogue was witty and engaging, with some laugh-out-loud moments, to relieve tension  The characters are engaging, and we are slowly learning more about them, which is one of my frustrations, even if I understand the reasoning behind it; I would love to learn more about Kay's neighbour and see more of her in future novels.  The action is non-stop, with Kay dodging bullets, being chased, learning secrets, and pretty much just kicking it when she gets a chance - fun stuff.  

K Street continues the Kay Hamilton saga and her involvement with the Callahan group, deepening the mystery of their involvement in government secrets and cover-ups.  I found the writing to be engaging, and Kay to be a kick-ass heroine.  The plot was simple, but engaging, and I enjoyed the story very much.  I am looking forward to the next installment in the Kay Hamilton series.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen, Book #1)
by Alison Goodman
Release Date: January 26th 2016
2016 Viking Books for Young Readers
Hardcover Edition; 482 Pages
ISBN: 978-0670785476
ASIN: B00X5938K2
Genre: Fiction / YA / Historical / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

My Thoughts
The Dark Days Club was quite different than what I expected; the strong mystery, the paranormal element, the intrigue, the regency element, and the romance combined with a very strong-willed and interesting heroine make for intriguing and fun reading.  I was already a huge fan of her fantasy duology Eon: Dragoneye Reborn and Eona: The Last Dragoneye, so I was thrilled to receive the first two books in the Lady Helen trilogy in the mail.

First of all, what I really like about this author's books is the way she is able to blend the fantasy into her settings.  So our heroine, Lady Helen, was brought up in true Regency style, learning to become a proper young lady, destined to possibly marry a duke or an earl. With a very rigid moral code, she struggles to become the proper young lady her uncle and aunt demand of her, especially as she seems to have inherited this restless energy and wild side that cause her to do impetuous and impulsive things that get her in a lot of trouble.  When she learns what that restless energy actually means through a chance meeting with Lord Carlston, she struggles to deal with what her aunt and uncle want from her and what this more restless and exciting side of her wants to do.  As a modern woman, it is really hard to understand the constraints put upon young women during this time period, and I tend to really identify with Lady Helen's struggles; if she chooses to go against society, she could lose everything that is dear to her including her family and friends, but if she chooses to go with her heritage, she could lead an exciting if ultimately dangerous life.  I think it would be really hard for us modern women to really understand the struggles Lady Helen faced and how difficult the decision would have been. 

I really like the struggle that Lady Helen faced upon learning she may be destined for more than just marrying a duke or early and attending parties for the rest of her life.  There was a part of her that really liked the idea that there was something more in this life for her, and that perhaps her mother was something much more than what she was told.  What I especially liked in this story is that she was never forced into her role, she was always told she had a choice as to which role she wanted to accept.  And I liked her thinking as she made her decision as to which role she wanted and why; it just showed another level of maturity and intelligence to her character that I liked.  It didn't mean that I liked her choices, but I liked how methodical she was in making them. 

The author pays a lot of attention to detail, and although the book is a bit slow in the beginning, it really didn't bother me too much as the descriptions were really interesting; it is very evident she has put a lot of research into this book which made the Regency period feel very much alive.  She does the same thing with her characters, and I will admit a bit of frustration towards the end, but in a good way, as there were some things I just didn't understand, especially regarding Lord Carlston. The tension between them was fun and I can't wait to see how things turn out. Very little has been revealed about the man, and although we learn he is decent and good, there is a part of him that is hurting and struggling.  Naturally, there is always a third person involved and I am hoping we don't end up with a love triangle as I am not a big fan of those.

The Dark Days Club was quite original, and very different from what I was expecting.  The characters developed quite naturally, and while we learn quite a bit about each of them, it is just enough to be tantalizing, but not enough to totally satisfy. I found the plot to be quite engrossing, and I liked how Lady Helen was allowed to make her own decisions about her own involvement in things, even if I didn't necessarily agree with them.  I am looking forward to reading The Dark Days Pact, the second book in this trilogy, which I just got for review. 
Sunday, February 12, 2017

Review: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

The Fifth Petal (The Lace Reader, Book #2)
by Brunonia Barry
Release Date: January 24th 2017
2017 Crown
Ebook Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-1101905609
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Salem’s chief of police, John Rafferty, now married to gifted lace reader Towner Whitney, investigates a 25-year-old triple homicide dubbed “The Goddess Murders,” in which three young women, all descended from accused Salem witches, were slashed one Halloween night. Aided by Callie Cahill, the daughter of one of the victims who has returned to town, Rafferty begins to uncover a dark chapter in Salem’s past. Callie, who has always been gifted with premonitions, begins to struggle with visions she doesn’t quite understand and an attraction to a man who has unknown connections to her mother’s murder. Neither believes that the main suspect, Rose Whelan, respected local historian and sometime-aunt to Callie, is guilty of murder or witchcraft. But exonerating Rose might mean crossing paths with a dangerous force. Were the women victims of an all-too-human vengeance, or was the devil raised in Salem that night? And if they cannot discover what truly happened, will evil rise again?

My Thoughts
The Fifth Petal is the second book in the Lace Reader series, and although the author makes references to the first book, it is not necessary to have read it in order to enjoy this one.  I didn't read the first one, and didn't feel like I was missing anything from the story, although I will read it when I get a chance as I am curious as to what happened.  

I was drawn to this book because of the setting, no question.  I love anything to do with Salem, paranormal or not, as I am intrigued with its history and its development.  While I enjoyed the characters and the story line in this novel, I did find it somewhat drawn out, and I felt like the author lost sight of the actual murder investigation in lieu of the developing romance between Callie and the son of a prominent member of the town.  Although I did find the historical aspects of the story fascinating, including the search for more details on the original residents of Salem and those who were executed and how it relates to the current residents of Salem and surrounding areas, and the way the author just gave tidbits of information drawing the reader into the story so they could learn more as the story progressed, it just wasn't enough to make up for the drawn-out mystery.  I did enjoy the basic story, but I never felt truly engrossed into the story or in their lives.    

To be honest, I think part of the problem was there were too many story lines going on and I was never sure exactly which one was the main part of the story.  When Sheriff Rafferty began looking into a 25-year-old triple homicide, I thought it would be more a police procedural than it was, but there wasn't really a lot of investigating going on. For those of us who read police procedurals on a regular basis, it was a bit disappointing, to be honest. I liked the man, and I thought the author did a great job showing how people can panic and do silly things when scared, but I just felt like something was missing. Then you have Rose Whelan, a woman who was quite respected for her historical research into the Salem witch trial, now thought to be guilty of the homicide and talking to trees in search of the answers to the case. I really didn't know what to think about that, and it's not because I don't like the paranormal, it's just because it didn't seem to fit into the story very well.  Then there was all of the drama with Towner's aunt and the home for abused women on the island with all of its secrets. Then there was the feud between two founding members of the town, going on for centuries, with explanations that were not fully satisfactory.  While each of the story lines would be very interesting on their own, I am wondering if there was too much going on, and the author should have just focused on one or two for the novel, and left some of these brewing in the background for future novels.

The Fifth Petal, while interesting in its own way, was more a love story rather than a murder / mystery and I found this to be a bit disappointing.  I did like the characters however, and thought they were quirky enough to be interesting, and would like learn more about them.  There were huge aspects of the book that were quite irrelevant to the story, and were used as filler, but she is a good writer so I went along with them.  I definitely liked the historical tie-ins to the witch trials and although nothing new was really revealed, it was still interesting, and it is evident a lot of research went into it.  If you think you can plow through this one, then I would recommend it just for the writing and the historical research.  If you are looking for a murder / mystery, then I would pass.
Monday, January 30, 2017

Review: The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths

The Woman in Blue (Ruth Galloway, Book #8)
by Elly Griffiths
Release Date: May 3rd 2016
2016 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Ebook Edition; 358 Pages
ISBN: 978-0544417854
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Known as England’s Nazareth, the medieval town of Little Walsingham is famous for religious apparitions. So when Ruth Galloway’s druid friend Cathbad sees a woman in a white dress and a dark blue cloak standing alone in the local cemetery one night, he takes her as a vision of the Virgin Mary. But then a woman wrapped in blue cloth is found dead the next day, and Ruth’s old friend Hilary, an Anglican priest, receives a series of hateful, threatening letters. Could these crimes be connected? When one of Hilary’s fellow female priests is murdered just before Little Walsingham’s annual Good Friday Passion Play, Ruth, Cathbad, and DCI Harry Nelson must team up to find the killer before he strikes again.

My Thoughts
The Woman in Blue is the eighth entry in the Ruth Galloway series, and probably my least favourite. I was really looking forward to this book as this author is a favourite of mine, along with Billingham, and I couldn't wait to continue the adventures of Ruth, Harry, and Cathbad.  Unfortunately, there were some things that really set me on edge in this one, and I couldn't seem to get past them and just enjoy the story.

As always though, I liked the setting.  Set in an old medieval town, I liked the descriptions of the buildings and the surroundings; and since Little Walsingham is famous for its religious apparitions, it seemed like it had the perfect ambiance for a good little murder/mystery, with all of the political and religious wrangling that would entail.  What I didn't count on was the close-mindedness of both Harry's and Ruth's characters to the religious fanaticism and beliefs of others, and how annoying and irritating it was in this book.  To be honest, at times, Ruth's tone was pretty condescending, and it got old, fast.  I was almost ready to go back and listen to her whine about her weight again rather than listen to her put down those who believe.  And considering the mystery was about threats against female clergy and a murder that was connected to those threats, the anti-religion attitude got really annoying, and I would have just rather read about the investigation.  It's not that I'm against Ruth and Harry's beliefs, and the author has been very open in previous novels about them, but that's as far as it went, while in this novel the tone changed quite a bit, almost with a condemning voice.  Maybe I was just being more sensitive than usual, but I tend to think that if you're investigating a crime, you should always keep an open mind about someone else's beliefs.

The plot itself never really got off the ground the way the other books did, and I never got invested into the story.  Although there were a lot of twists and turns, it wasn't too difficult to pick out the murderer.  I wonder if the author got too caught up in trying to portray the religious fanaticism of some of the characters in this book while trying to ensure the reader that her main characters were not like them that the actual plot kind of got away from her.  That and trying to ensure that Cathbad retains his ever-present open mind, which I much preferred.  

The Woman in Blue is one of those books that I'm sure will have mixed reactions such as I had; either people will really love it or will question Ruth's annoying behaviour.  For die-hard fans of this series, I would recommend you skip it and wait until the next one comes out as will, of course, read it, as I'm not yet ready to give up on this series.  I usually enjoy the characters tremendously, and the plot enormously, but this one just didn't interest me like the others, which is a shame as I really liked the setting. 
Sunday, January 29, 2017

Review: Dead and Breakfast by Kate Kingsbury

Dead and Breakfast (Merry Ghost Inn, Book #1)
by Kate Kingsbury
Release Date: January 10th 2017
2017 Crooked Lane Books
Ebook Edition: 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-1683310099
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Melanie West is getting her life back on track after a messy divorce when her grandmother, Liza Harris, asks her to open a B&B with her. Together, Liza and Melanie purchase a purportedly haunted mansion on the Oregon coast and jump right into clearing out the cobwebs. But while attempting to remove wallpaper in an upstairs bedroom, the new B&B owners stumble upon a very real skeleton in their closet.

The police suspect the skeleton is that of the wife of the previous owner of the B&B, but no one in town seems to want to say much about her. As the inn owners try to juggle renovations with their own amateur investigations, their grand opening looms closer and closer--and a friendly ghost in their walls starts playing tricks. But it all comes crashing to a halt when a new body is found stabbed to death on the beach below the inn--the victim chillingly close in resemblance to Melanie herself.

It seems someone doesn't appreciate newcomers prying into the small town's past, and now it's up to Melanie and Liza to get to the bottom of these murders to save their business...and their lives.

My Thoughts
Dead and Breakfast is the first entry in a new series, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The story combined an old case with a new one, something that I have always liked, and the old house Melanie and her grandmother, Liza, are turning into a bread and breakfast has a ghost.  What else could you want? 

The plot starts off with a bang when the two women find a skeleton in a room hidden away in one of the bedrooms.  I liked how the action began immediately and I thought it amusing how the women reacted upon seeing the skeleton in the closet; it actually made me like them immediately.  What I especially liked is that the women weren't deliberately snoopy, but chose to investigate on the side because the police had put their case on the back burner as it was an old case, and they wouldn't be able to open their inn until the police could get to their investigation, which could take months, something that wasn't financially viable, especially after being turned down for a loan to see them through several months.  To me, there was actually a purpose behind the women's investigation and they didn't interfere with the police in any way, which has always been one of my beefs in other cozy mysteries.  The women always made sure they kept the police informed, and when they were told not to do something, they actually followed instructions.  This made the mystery a bit simpler than others, and definitely predictable, but I didn't mind in the least.  And there were some things that were left unresolved.  Having the setting be a huge house full of mystery and history is great and I can't wait to learn more about it; I think having Melanie and Liza hear the laughing ghost is setting us up for a future story and I can't wait to learn more.  It should be interesting.  And I couldn't help but laugh when Liza nicknamed the ghost 'Orville'.  All I craved when I heard the name was buttered popcorn, something I rarely eat.

I enjoyed the characters very much, especially spunky Liza, whose witty dialogue often cracked me up.  She is just one of those grandmothers everyone wished they had, spunky, fiery, but so loving and caring to Melanie all of the time.   I liked Melanie as well, but as with many of the characters in this book, there was little character development and very little background information on any of them. I am sure we will get to know many of them better in future books.

Dead and Breakfast is a fun first entry into the Merry Ghost Inn series.  While the mystery itself was kind of simply and easy to figure out, I enjoyed the characters and the setting very much.  There were several threads left unresolved, which didn't interfere with the conclusion of this novel, but it left you wondering where the author was heading next in the series, and I am looking forward to learning more about Melanie and Liza and the other characters around town.  I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series. 
Friday, January 27, 2017

Guest Post & Giveaway: Steele City Blues by Karen Greco

Steele City Blues
Hell’s Belle Series
Book 3
Karen Greco
Genre: urban fantasy/paranormal romance
Date of Publication: January 3, 2017
Word Count: 98,000
Formats available: epub, mobi, pdf
Cover Artist: Robin Ludwig

Book Description:
Blood Ops leader Dr. O is chained in the bowels of Steele City, the state’s maximum security prison, and the clock is ticking for Nina and Frankie to bust him out.

Now that supernatural creatures are out of the closet, Providence is descending into an Apocalyptic wasteland. With the abrupt shut down Blood Ops, Nina and Frankie are on their own to save Dr. O and the other supernatural prisoners from certain death. Not knowing where Demon Mayor Bertrand’s loyalties lie, they are forced to rely on some questionable allies to battle Leila, a powerful vampire/witch hybrid hell bent on creating an indestructible supernatural army. She also happens to be Nina’s mom.

Alliances are tested and relationships fractured as Nina and her band of supernatural crime fighting misfits are pushed to the breaking point.

A (Virtual) Tour through Hell’s Belle’s Providence

The city of Providence, RI is as much of a character in the Hell’s Belle books as Nina, Frankie, Babe, etc. Some of the places are figments of my imagination, but a number of them really do exist! Here’s a virtual walking tour of these locations.

Nina’s factory apartment
The apartment Nina lives in in Hell’s Belle is located in the Olneyville section in Providence. This is the old manufacturing hub in the state, with beautiful old factory buildings circling the main street. While the Olneyville that Nina inhabits is run down and desolate, the area is experiencing a bit of a resurgence with artist friendly policies that are turning these old gems into live/work spaces for creatives.

Venda Ravioli
A quick walk (or motorcycle ride) from Olneyville is Federal Hill, Providence’s Little Italy. This is where Nina and Max have coffee and we are introduced to Bertrand for the first time. Venda is a real place, it exists, and it’s something of an institution! You can buy prepared foods, fresh pasta, pastries and coffees. Go hungry, leave stuffed.

Biltmore Hotel
When I was growing up, the Biltmore was to Providence what the Plaza Hotel was to NYC. Over the years, a number of large hotel chains as well as charming boutique hotels have upped the competition for tourist and event dollars, but this Art Deco gem still cuts a striking appearance. In the Hell’s Belle world, this is ground zero for the city’s poltergeist problem, and serves as our demon mayor’s office away from City Hall (which is, in actuality, right across the street).

The Tunnel
The big battle in Tainted Blood happens in the long abandoned East Side Railroad Tunnel. When I was yound, the tunnel was easily accessible - some silly “no trespassing” signs were going to keep out a bunch of creative college kids eager to party. During the era of underground raves, this was a key spot for artsy-grunge parties. After a particularly rowdy party, tunnel was finally sealed over. But its legacy endures!

Babe’s On the Sunnyside
Lets head on over to Fox Point, where Babe’s On the Sunnyside still exists in the Hell’s Belle world. Babe’s was a real watering hole when I was growing up. The kind of neighborhood bar that served cheap beer and the only “small plates” served were the pickled eggs. The original proprietor was an old boxing trainer, and old pictures of fighters adorned the walls. I recently saw the place described as “an old punk rock hangout.” And I am not sure that moniker is entirely accurate, not for the Babe’s I knew from my younger days, nor from the Babe’s the exists in the Hell’s Belle world. It was a good, old fashioned bar where as long as you didn’t cause any problems, you were welcome. And that’s what Hell’s Belle Babe’s continues to be.

About the Author:

Karen Greco is originally from Rhode Island and loves hot wieners from New York System, but can't stand coffee milk. She studied playwriting in college (and won an award or two). After not writing plays for a long time, a life-long obsession with exorcists and Dracula drew her to urban fantasy, where she decapitates characters with impunity. Steele City Blues is the third book in the Hell’s Belle series, after Hell’s Belle (the first) and Tainted Blood (number two). She writes contemporary romance for a small press under the pen-name Jillian Sterling, and has a day job in entertainment publicity.

Tour giveaway
 10 copies of the book in Kindle or Epub format.

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