Monday, March 31, 2014

A to Z Challenge: Begins Tomorrow

The next A to Z Challenge begins tomorrow!!!!
Check out the participant list if you are interested in joining.

My theme will be MY FAVOURITE THINGS!!!

The purpose of this challenge is to write 26 blog posts during the month of April, with Sunday off to rest and to prepare for the upcoming week.  You can either come up with a theme or you can just write random posts that begin each day with the letter of the alphabet that is indicated.  Tomorrow we start with the letter A, Wednesday is the letter B, and so on.  It should be a lot of fun, although I am questioning the wisdom of doing such a challenge during one of my busiest work months of the year.  Where was my head?  I know I love challenges, so I must have been really looking forward to a big one.

Review: Two Sisters by Mary Hogan

Two Sisters
by Mary Hogan
Release Date: March 4th, 2014
2014 William Morrow Paperbacks
Softcover Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062279934
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

The third child in a family that wanted only two, Muriel Sullivant has always been an outsider. Short, dark-haired and round, she worships her beautiful blonde sister, Pia, and envies the close bond she shares with their mother, Lidia. Growing up in their shadow, Muriel believes that if she keeps all their secrets—and she knows plenty, outsiders always do—they will love her, too.

But that was a long time ago. Now an adult, Muriel has accepted the disappointments in her life. With her fourth-floor walk-up apartment and entry-level New York City job, she never will measure up to Pia and her wealthy husband, their daughter, and their suburban Connecticut dream home. Muriel would like nothing better than to avoid her judgmental family altogether. One thing she does quite well.

Until the day Pia shows up to visit and share devastating news that Muriel knows she cannot tell—a secret that will force her to come to terms with the past and help her see her life and her family in unexpected new ways.

My Thoughts
Two Sisters is one of those books over which I have mixed feelings - first of all, I liked it because it was an easy read, and it definitely hit me on an emotional level, but on another level, I did find it somewhat predictable, and sometimes I thought the author was trying too hard to reason out, and explain, why Muriel felt so unloved rather than just let the reader figure it out themselves through the story.

The plot drew me in, and I found myself turning the pages rather quickly, reading the book in one sitting, although I can't, in hindsight, pinpoint exactly how and why.  Perhaps it's Muriel herself who drew me into her story as I just felt so sympathetic towards her and empathized with her so much. She was heartbroken and falling apart, but at the same time there was a will of iron to her that I rather liked and appreciated.  I enjoyed her development as a character, one who was no longer going to let her family control, and ruin, her life.  But at the same time, as she mentions so often, she couldn't just get rid of her family, they were bound to her through ties that were too deep and she needed to start to face those ties and those relationships in order for her to move on in life. As a teacher, you tend to see so much of the heart-wrenching side of families, and although I know that people don't want to believe that neglect happens in families, emotional neglect happens far too often. It was interesting to see the journey that Muriel would take in order to begin healing.

Muriel is the third child in a family that only wanted two children - the first is a perfect girl, the second is a perfect boy, one for mother and father.  Muriel is the intruder into this life, imperfect and always questioning everything, something that perplexes her mother and confuses her father.  I found the background to Lidia and Owen's (the parents) story to be quite interesting, and some of the stories of Muriel when she was a child were rather fascinating, as these shaped the person she has become today and gives the reader an insight into her family life and into her family members' personalities.  The stories are probably the only thing that prevents the book from being mundane in the first half, until the big bombshell news hits and Muriel's life is thrown upside down by yet another secret, this time from Pia.  It's the secrets that drove me nuts though.  This is the second book I've read where the big secret has been kept from everyone around them and I don't know what the big secret is, or why.  We are never given a plausible reason for the secret and I felt frustrated over the fact as I felt it diminished the book quite a bit. Perhaps it was leverage to start a big 'thing' with Muriel and her mom?  I'm not sure, but it made the second half of the book rather flat for me.  The only thing I liked was Muriel's meeting with a brother she hasn't seen in years.

Two Sisters is one of those books that makes you question your relationship with your sisters and makes you want to pick up the phone immediately and say, "Hi, Sis. What's up?"  It also makes you extremely grateful for the family you have, if you were lucky enough to grow up in a warm, loving household.  I liked how Muriel reflected over past scenarios and saw them through an adult's viewpoint in comparison to how she saw them as a child, and understood more about what she had seen and experienced.  I did find the first half of the book to be rather slow and thought the stories were the highlight of the first half, and the second half sort of meandered all over the place with no real direction other than a weak focus on forgiveness.  And where was the dad in all of this forgiveness?  I was satisfied by the ending, but it had nothing to do with her family relationships; it actually had to do with another scenario that I really liked and don't want to give away. 
Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review: Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty

Ghost Train to New Orleans (The Shambling Guides #2)
by Mur Lafferty
Release Date: March 4th, 2014
2014 Orbit Books
Softcover Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-316-22114-6
Genre: Fiction / Urban Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Zoe Norris writes travel guides for the undead. And she's good at it too—her new-found ability to talk to cities seems to help. After the success of The Shambling Guide to New York City, Zoe and her team are sent to New Orleans to write the sequel.

Work isn't all that brings Zoe to the Big Easy. The only person who can save her boyfriend from zombism is rumored to live in the city's swamps, but Zoe's out of her element in the wilderness. With her supernatural colleagues waiting to see her fail, and rumors of a new threat hunting city talkers, can Zoe stay alive long enough to finish her next book?

My Thoughts
Ghost Train to New Orleans is the second book in The Shambling Guides series, and while I enjoyed it to a point, I didn't quite enjoy it as much as the first book in the series, The Shambling Guide to New York City.  

One of the things I do like about this series is the interactions between the characters; the quips and jokes set the tone of the book, and I did find them quite humorous at times, and they were typically at Zoe's expense as a human.  And while some of the dialogue feels unnatural and stilted, it was easy to read.  The characters themselves are quite interesting and I'm glad to see that the coterie tend to pretty much stay true to their nature.  It is quite difficult to romanticize a zombie drinking a milk shake made up of human brains and other body parts and drinks that contain different types of blood, as well as some of the other food groups that were mentioned in this novel.  As soon as I tended to fall into the trap of a 'dead human' behaving normally, something would happen that would shake me out of that belief quite quickly, and I liked that about this book.

However, I do have to admit that the plot was rather weak in this novel, and to be honest, other than Zoe going to New Orleans to write a book for her company, and landing in quite a bit of trouble, I couldn't quite pinpoint exactly what the main problem was, other than finding a solution to so-called Arthur's zombie problem, which ended up being rather weak. Zoe's talent was explored in a bit more detail, although I am still unsure exactly what she can and will be able to do with this talent; I am sure that information will be forthcoming in future novels. I also think I was somewhat disappointed with the whole 'talent' thing though, as I thought it would be so much more fun for Zoe to remain a normal human trying to deal with a whole different world from what she was used to.  She also needed to develop a backbone and some spirit as her co-workers, her employees actually, tended to walk all over her, so I had a hard time picturing her as a possible future assassin.  Really?? I do have a problem with too much personality change in one book, so I hope it doesn't go down that road, and she doesn't become a 'Super Zoe'. I also found the constant interruption of information about Zoe's travel guide to be a distraction, and felt it didn't really have anything to do with the plot, other than to remind us that Zoe was actually in New Orleans to work.  It began to get irritating after awhile, but I think only because I was getting irritated with the book.  Zoe just seemed to go from one thing to another without there necessarily being a reason, naturally landing in a heap of trouble, and then the explanations were rather weak or not fully explained.  To be honest, it felt like the author skipped over some of the explanations because she either couldn't explain it herself (perhaps did not do enough research?) or thought the reader would not be interested.  I've been to New Orleans and would have liked to see more of the flavour of the city, including its history, come through.

Ghost Train to New Orleans was an easy, fun read, with a host of things happening - an interesting ride on a ghost train, including a ghost robbery; co-workers who would like nothing but to eat Zoe or drink her blood; organizations that want her to join with them; half-zombie boyfriends; demon dogs and cats; mysterious gods and goddesses; and an assortment of other interesting beings who do interesting things.  Personally, I would like to know more about the dragons as it's been a while since I read about that species.  Plot-wise, it was weak, but I love anything written about New Orleans, one of my favourite cities in the United States, but even thought the descriptions didn't quite live up to what I know of the city.  Would I recommend this novel?  Yes, to a point, simply because I really liked the first one.  And I would be willing to try the third novel especially as this novel sets up the scenario for book 3 and I am curious.
Saturday, March 29, 2014

Review: Eyes Closed Tight by Peter Leonard

Eyes Closed Tight
by Peter Leonard
Release Date: March 4th, 2014
2014 The Story Plant
Softcover Edition; 300 Pages
ISBN: 978-161188114-1
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

O'Clair is a former Detroit homicide investigator who now owns a motel in Pompano Beach, Florida in his retirement. He runs the place with his much younger girlfriend, Virginia, who's a knockout and can fix anything. One morning, he’s cleaning up after the previous night’s partiers when he sees a lovely young woman stretched out asleep on a lounge chair. He shakes her gently. Then he touches her neck and feels for a pulse. There isn't one. Her skin is cold, body starting to stiffen, definitely in the early stages of rigor.

When a second girl is murdered, O'Clair knows someone is trying to send him a message. The way the girls are killed reminds O'Clair of a case he investigated years earlier. Now convinced the Pompano murders are related, O'Clair returns to Detroit Police Homicide to review the murder file and try to figure out what he might have missed.

My Thoughts
Eyes Closed Tight is one of those novels that I thought was fun, and enjoyed it quite a bit, but as for thought-provoking and intense, this is where I found it to be somewhat lacking.  

First of all, I thought the writing was good and certainly had no qualms with the pace as it was quick and to the point.  The action moved along rather quickly, and some of the details were certainly interesting. I especially liked Virginia's interview with the escort agency as I thought it was rather fascinating, if a little scary.  Despite all of this, there were times when I found my mind wandering and I had to pull it back and focus on what was happening, and that made me think that perhaps something was lacking.  Okay, I am trying to be polite here, but it wasn't too hard to figure out what the big mystery was and why things were happening the way they were.  Perhaps I read too many mysteries and suspense novels, and I am getting rather too critical, it's hard to say, but I definitely like my novels to be ones where there are so many twists and turns that I get lost in them to the point where I can't figure what is happening. I crave that now.  And this novel didn't quite have those twists that I needed.

I definitely liked O'Clair but I was a bit skeptical as to how much information a retired homicide detective, one who wasn't asked back on a case, would be given, and if the non-retired police would cooperate the way they did.  Especially in a jurisdiction in which they have never worked as O'Clair is originally from Detroit and he now lives in Florida.  I have to admit there were times when I rolled my eyes and had to continue reading with a continued suspension of disbelief, but it's not that unusual in many novels, so readers just go with the punches, so to speak.  There was one event where I did smirk and it had to do with one situation in Detroit where someone important got shot, and I couldn't believe the author actually continued playing out the scene the way he did - unbelievable.  I just had to shake my head and almost stopped reading right then and there.  Despite this, I did like many of the other characters and it was nice to see a novel where the characters don't develop these super-spy abilities and are just regular people trying to survive in a difficult situation.  Even O'Clair, being a former detective, is a caring, thoughtful man, totally in love with his much younger girlfriend, and puts others before himself.  I really liked his character and thought he and Virginia were an interesting match.  

Eyes Closed Tight is one of those books I'd recommend for when you are looking for a light, quick read, perhaps something for the plane or on a beach, one which contains likeable characters and a light twisty plot.  While interesting, I didn't really feel the plot showed depth, nor was it very intricate.  I did like the characters and thought they had interesting lives to tell, things that were not yet necessarily revealed in this novel, and I am invested enough to want to know more.  I did have the pleasure of reading his Voices of the Dead and know how well Mr. Leonard can connect with his readers on an emotional level, and for that reason alone, I would probably read another book by this author.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review: The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

The Evolution of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer #2)
by Michelle Hodkin
Release Date: October 23rd, 2012)
2013 Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Hardcover Edition; 527 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-4424-2179-0
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Mara Dyer knows she isn't crazy. She knows that she can kill with her mind, and that Noah can heal with his. Mara also knows that somehow, Jude is not a hallucination. He is alive. Unfortunately, convincing her family and doctors that she's not unstable and doesn't need to be hospitalised isn't easy. The only person who actually believes her is Noah. But being with Noah is dangerous and Mara is in constant fear that she might hurt him. She needs to learn how to control her power, and fast! Together, Mara and Noah must try and figure out exactly how Jude survived when the asylum collapsed, and how he knows so much about her strange ability...before anyone else ends up dead.

My Thoughts
The Evolution of Mara Dyer is a good follow-up to The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and I did enjoy it and thought it was a fun read.  That being said however, there were parts that I thought were unnecessary, or rather repetitive, and I think I am one of the few people who is not a huge fan of Noah and his sexy, bad-boy, tormented-boy image.  In fact, his change of personality from the first book to this one was a bit off-putting as it felt like the author was trying to make changes to her characters in terms of fan feedback.

The creepy atmosphere of the first book was present in this one and it is something that I enjoyed quite a bit.  The sense of alienation, and the mix of fantasy and reality, gave the novel that out-worldly sense that 'all was not right with the world' feeling, and I liked the mood the author set quite early on in the novel.  Waking up in a mental institution set the tone right from the start, and you get the feeling the author is trying to make the reader unsure whether Mara's experiences are real of fantastical.  Unfortunately, I don't think it quite worked, and while I felt sorry for Mara during her experiences, the only time I really felt a connection to her was when she was trying to deal with her parents or her brothers, trying to make them understand that what was happening to her wasn't PTSD, but something else entirely.  And while I got that they were somewhat skeptical, I kept thinking that Mara's mother is a psychologist and aren't psychologists supposed to LISTEN, which is something that Mara's mother was lacking.  I understand she was upset, and probably not thinking objectively, but she is a trained psychologist.  

I did like the story, and thought the plot was interesting, but to be honest, I did find it somewhat repetitive.  I understood what the author was trying to achieve, but I think in her quest to make the reader question and be misled, the novel got a little convoluted for its purposes (not that I don't like a convoluted novel, as I do), and despite the twists and turns, the events sometimes seemed liked they happened over and over again (kind of like this sentence!!).  As for Noah, I probably should not even start.  Contrary to popular opinion, he was not one of my favourite characters.  Couldn't Mara even think for herself without calling Noah every twenty minutes or so?  And I don't find the 'damsel-in-distress and the hero saves the day' scenario that appealing.  Which is exactly how Noah was portrayed; even going so far as having a bit of a fit because he wasn't there to save her on every occasion.  Really?  I'm still unsure as to how I feel about his personality change from the first book to this one where he was more the 'bad-boy' figure to this more gentle, understanding type of character; it didn't quite ring true to me.  Don't get me wrong though, I didn't dislike Noah, but I do like a stronger female character who doesn't depend on her boyfriend for solving all of her problems, and I felt like the secrecy element was pushed too far.  Jamie and Daniel however, are a whole different story.  Can we please see more of them in book three?  Loved those characters, and would definitely like to see them more involved.  And can Mara at least have one female friend?  Now Jude I liked, for his sadistic tendencies, and his creepy behaviour, and I am dying to know more about his story.  

The Evolution of Mara Dyer is one of those novels that I felt didn't quite live up to the hype that it was given, but it certainly did have a lot of promise.  I felt like the author tried too hard to create a story that was complex and convoluted, to the point where it kind of got away from her, and real tidbits of information were not fed to the reader leading to frustration and disappointment.  We're going into book three without really knowing what we are dealing with, and only a little bit of background story.  I did like the setting and thought the creepiness matched the emotions in the story, and felt the author did a credible job trying to make Mara neurotic, yet sympathetic at the same time. I didn't like it as much as the first novel in this series, but still enjoyed it.  I am looking forward to the third novel, The Retribution of Mara Dyer, to be released November 4th, and hope that my many questions will finally be answered.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Review: A Dark and Stormy Knit by Anne Canadeo

A Dark and Stormy Knit (A Black Sheep Knitting Mystery, Book #6)
by Anne Canadeo
Release Date: January 14th, 2014
2014 Gallery Books
Softcover Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1451644807
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Knitting graffiti, in Plum Harbor? Maggie Messina doubts it could ever happen in her quiet village. Until the new parking meters on Main Street are found covered with cat-faced cozies. In the dark of night, the mysterious Knit Kats have struck again! The infamous gang of stitching graffiti artists are totally harmless, and their pranks all in good fun. Or so Maggie and her friends think. Until a yarn-covered corpse is discovered a few days later, the tangles identical to Knit Kat handiwork.

These threads of evidence should be easy to follow. But the clever Knit Kats hide behind a website and secret identities.  But when Maggie's assistant, Phoebe, becomes the prime suspect, the knitting friends know the police have dropped a few stitches. With no time to rest on their needles, the Black Sheep set out to unmask the crafty killer. 

My Thoughts 
A Dark and Stormy Knit is the sixth book in the Black Sheep Knitting Mystery series and while it kept my interest and I thought the ladies were quite fun, I did find it a bit slower than the previous novels in the series and the mystery was too easy to solve.  

As always, the ladies of the knitting club are at the center of the story and are quite fun.  I like learning more about their personal lives and their motivations and desires.  I did find Maggie a bit on the preachy side in this one, and thought it didn't quite fit her personality from the previous novels.  I really like her spunk and her willingness to lay down everything for her friends, her loyalty and faith in her friends.  This more grandma-like Maggie wasn't quite what I was expecting, but because I have read all the other novels in this series, I could get past that and feel like she was going through a phase.  The other characters didn't play as much of a role in this novel other than Phoebe whom I adore.  She is quirky and fun, and I like how she acts her age and behaves as a college student; she definitely added an air of lightheartedness despite the darker subject matter.

Because I have read all the other books in the series, I can't help but compare this one to the others and I felt this one was slower and not quite as interesting, mystery-wise, as the previous ones.  It's not that it was boring, as it certainly wasn't, but I just felt like there was something that was missing.  And I solved the mystery quite early on which left out a bit of the suspense for me, despite the nice twists and turns.  Perhaps I am biased as I have read too many mysteries and it takes a real twist to set me back and go, "Oh my, how did I miss that!"  The novel has a more dark side to it though, and I did like that aspect as sometimes I feel that cozy mysteries can be a bit too fluffy for my liking.  

One of the good things about this novel is that you don't have to have read the previous ones in order to understand this one.  You can jump right in as the series can be read out of order quite easily, and you will feel at home with any of the characters; the author has that ability to draw you in and make you feel like you've been part of the group all along, which is nice.  Knitters will also appreciate some of the information in the novel; I don't knit but I did learn some of the rudiments from my mom when I was young and understood the gist of what was being discussed, which I liked.  

A Dark and Stormy Knit is one of those books you read for fun, perhaps on the beach or on the plane, as it's a quick, fun read.  The characters are always interesting and quirky and it's probably the best part of the book.  I wasn't as crazy about the mystery aspect of the story this time, and felt there was something missing, perhaps a twist or two, that would have made it more difficult to solve.  I do plan on reading the next book in the series however, as there was a romance that began and I am curious to see where it leads, and I really enjoyed the previous novels. 
Thursday, March 20, 2014

Deborah Swift Book Blast and Giveaway

HF Virtual Book Tours is delighted to introduce you to historical novelist Deborah Swift! Deborah’s acclaimed novels are set in turbulent seventeenth century England and have been described as “brilliant” and “a must for all readers looking for something out of the ordinary but grippingly alive”. Her previous life as a scenographer and costume designer shine through as the settings are beautifully evoked, immersing the reader in the sights and smells of the time.

Deborah’s multi-layered and engrossing historical adventures will make perfect picks for reading groups. Reading Group Guides can be conveniently found in the back of each book and on her website.

Find more information on Deborah's novels below and enter to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card (£15 UK)!

The Lady's Slipper

The Lady's SlipperPublication Date: June 3, 2011
Pan MacMillan
Formats: Ebook, Paperback

England, 1660.

The King is back, but memories of the English Civil War still rankle. In rural Westmorland, artist Alice Ibbetson has become captivated by the rare Lady’s Slipper orchid. She is determined to capture it’s unique beauty for posterity, even if it means stealing the flower from the land of the recently converted Quaker, Richard Wheeler. Fired by his newfound faith, the former soldier Wheeler feels bound to track down the missing orchid. Meanwhile, others are eager to lay hands on the flower, and have their own powerful motives.

Margaret Poulter, a local medicine woman, is seduced by the orchid’s mysterious herbal powers, while Geoffrey Fisk, Alice’s patron and former comrade-in-arms of Wheeler, sees the valuable plant as a way to repair his ailing fortunes and cure his own agonizing illness. Fearing that Wheeler and his friends are planning revolution, Fisk sends his son Stephen to spy on the Quakers, only for the young man to find his loyalties divided as he befriends the group he has been sent to investigate.

Then, when Alice Ibbetson is implicated in a brutal murder, she is imprisoned along with the suspected anti-royalist Wheeler. As Fisk’s sanity grows ever more precarious, and Wheeler and Alice plot their escape, a storm begins to brew, from which no party will escape unscathed. Vivid, gripping and intensely atmospheric, The Lady’s Slipper is a novel about beauty, faith and loyalty.

Praise for The Lady's Slipper

"The novel grips from the opening lines and carries the interest throughout. The several plot-lines are seamlessly blended and come together in a wholly satisfying conclusion. Her characters are so real that they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf. Highly recommended." - Historical Novels Review Magazine

"Recommended for fans of Philippa Gregory and Rose Tremain, as well as students of the English Civil War." - Library Journal

“The intertwined stories of the orchid’s fate, the mounting problems between the Quakers and the King’s men, and Alice’s murder trial and its aftermath make for a riveting narrative.” - For the Love of Books Blog

The Gilded Lily

The Gilded Lily UK CoverPublication Date: September 13, 2012
Pan MacMillan
Formats: Ebook, Paperback

Westmorland, 1660.

Sadie Appleby has lived all her life in her small village. One night she is rudely awoken by her older and bolder sister, Ella, who has robbed her employer and is on the run. The girls flee their rural home of Westmorland to head for London, hoping to lose themselves in the teeming city. But the dead man’s relatives are in hot pursuit, and soon a game of cat and mouse begins.

Ella becomes obsessed with the glitter and glamour of city life and sets her sights on the flamboyant man-about-town, Jay Whitgift. But nothing is what it seems – even Jay Whitgift.

Can Sadie survive a fugitive’s life in the big city? But even more pressing, can she survive life with her older sister Ella?

Set in London’s atmospheric coffee houses, the rich mansions of Whitehall, and the pawnshops, slums and rookeries hidden from rich men’s view, The Gilded Lily is about beauty and desire, about the stories we tell ourselves, and about how sisterhood can be both a burden and a saving grace.

Praise for The Gilded Lily

"There is no greater compliment than ‘Give me more!’ A delight." - Susanna Gregory

"The Gilded Lily is impeccably written historical fiction. The detail is superb and life in London is so vividly depicted that the city seems to take on its own persona and become a lurking character in the story." - Let Them Read Books

"A heart-rending story of two sisters on the run, searching for a better life. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, the novel drew me straight into the teeming streets of Restoration London. An addictive, page-turning read." - Mary Sharratt

"Superb dialogue, steeped in contemporary language, adds credibility and atmosphere to this compelling tale which examines the ties that bind together siblings, the consequences of greed and ambition, the fickleness of fate and women’s constant battle to survive in a man’s world. The Gilded Lily is also a fast-paced adventure peopled with ruthless villains and feisty heroines whose exploits grab the imagination and add suspense and excitement to a historical gem." - Lancashire Evening Post

The Gilded Lily Book Trailer

A Divided Inheritance

A Divided InheritanceUK Publication Date: October 24, 2013
Pan MacMillan
Formats: Ebook, Paperback

London, 1609.

Elspet Leviston’s greatest ambition is to continue the success of her father Nathaniel’s lace business. But her simple dreams are thrown into turmoil with the arrival of her mysterious cousin Zachary Deane – who has his own designs on Leviston’s Lace. Zachary is a dedicated swordsman with a secret past that seems to invite trouble. So Nathaniel sends him on a Grand Tour, away from the distractions of Jacobean London. Elspet believes herself to be free of her hot-headed relation but when Nathaniel dies her fortunes change dramatically. She is forced to leave her beloved home and go in search of Zachary – determined to claim the inheritance that is rightfully hers.

In the searing heat of Seville, Elspet and Zachary become locked in a battle of wills. But these are dangerous times and they are soon embroiled in the roar and sweep of something far more threatening, sending them both on an unexpected journey of discovery and finally unlocking the true meaning of family.

Praise for A Divided Inheritance

"a true gem. It has a pacy storyline, the characters are complex, intriguing and often unexpected – and it is packed with fascinating historical fact" - Gabrielle Kimm, author of His Last Duchess

"Elegantly written, A Divided Inheritance brings the uncertainty of the seventeenth century gloriously to life in an engaging tale of determination, tenacity and family loyalty." - Flashlight Commentary Blog

"a multifaceted tale about the consequences of religious intolerance, the expiation of guilt, the importance of family, and the appearance of unexpected love. And swordplay! The action sequences are as sharp and dazzling as Zachary’s hand-forged blade." - Sarah Johnson, Reading the Past

Buy the Books

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository

Deborah Swift About the Author

Deborah Swift used to work in the theatre and at the BBC as a set and costume designer, before studying for an MA in Creative Writing in 2007. She lives in a beautiful area of Lancashire near the Lake District National Park. She is the author of The Lady’s Slipper and is a member of the Historical Writers Association, the Historical Novel Society, and the Romantic Novelists Association.

The Riddle of Writing Blog
Royalty Free Fiction Blog
English History Authors Blog


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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Guest Post: C. Elizabeth

About the Book:

Publisher: Wings ePress
Pages: 454
Genre: YA Paranormal
Format: Paperback, Kindle

“Lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil.”

Words that ring true for seventeen-year-old Saydi Gardiner upon discovering her ancestry.  But if she has doubts, further confirmation is forthcoming and it comes in the
form of a wickedly gorgeous Nathanael Braxton, when he steals her heart and cuddles into her sole – the last place the boy should be.

Nineteen-year-old Nathanael’s unrelenting good looks aren’t the only thing that make him dangerous – and he knows it!  However, his caring human side struggles with a loyalty – a loyalty that binds him to the hunt for the soul that will give his family the power they seek. There’s only one problem: When he finds her, Nathanael falls in love with his prey – Saydi.


Purchase your copy:


Discuss this book in our PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads by clicking HERE

                        You Never Know

Many readers have told me that they often wonder how a writer comes up with such ideas for a novel and how in the heck we can build character personality traits with pinpoint accuracy.  My response is always the same; to understand one needs to know a little about the source.

To watch a writer, published or not, go about their daily business, working, tending to family matters, running errands, you wouldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. There is no arrow above their head with red letters blinking “I’m a writer”, though I’m certain there are a few who wouldn’t mind such a display. No, outwardly they are just as normal as anyone else, except… there is one decidedly different twist that is concealed from you, the reader, until you hold the pages of their book in your hands.

What is it you ask? Well, it’s the ability to mentally multi-task.  As the writer is focused on regular everyday things, they are also focused on creating new worlds and people for you to eventually enjoy and you’d be surprised to learn that it isn’t extravagant, earth-shaking situations that produce those wonderful ideas; it’s usually the simplest of things such as an encounter with a stranger who reveals a goofy quirk or an infectious laugh or perhaps watching a tender moment between two people.  It is the smallest of things that the writer can take and bring to life, building places, times, cities, and most of all the beloved characters – unfolding the story so as to take you on a journey.

So remember while you are out, you may be in the presence of a writer and you’ll never know if something you do or say will end up forging a character or inspire a new world to live in.

About the Author
C. Elizabeth lives in St. Albert,  Alberta, Canada and during her short writing career she’s learned a lot about herself, sometimes to the point that she wonders how the heck she got this far in life and know so little about herself.

For the majority of her life she dabbled in many things, such as drawing, photography, sewing, only to find that after a while, she would lose interest, but writing is a different story — it found her and continues to be an addiction, as well as a most wonderful, incredible passion.

Not only does she write novels, but she does whatever she can to hone her craft.  Such as attending the New York Pitch Conference, seminars and the like, as well, she writes for online magazines on the topic of… you guessed it, writing.

Her latest book is the YA paranormal romance, Soul Control.
Visit her website at

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexandra

Tuscan Rose
by Belinda Alexandra
Release Date: November 19th, 2013
2013 Gallery Books (first published in 2010)
Softcover Edition; 583 Pages
ISBN: 978-1451679076
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

FLORENCE, 1914. A mysterious stranger known as The Wolf leaves an infant with the sisters of Santo Spirito. A tiny silver key hidden in her wrappings is the one clue to the child’s identity. . . . FIFTEEN YEARS LATER, young Rosa must leave the nuns, her only family, and become governess to the daughter of an aristocrat and his strange, frightening wife. Their house is elegant but cursed, and Rosa, blessed with gifts beyond her considerable musical talents, is torn between her desire to know the truth and her fear of its repercussions. All the while, the hand of Fascism curls around beautiful Italy, and no citizen is safe. Rosa faces unimaginable hardship: her only weapons her intelligence, intuition, and determination . . . and her extraordinary capacity for love.

My Thoughts
Tuscan Rose is one of those books that I somewhat enjoyed because I am a huge history buff and thought the descriptions of life during World War II in Italy were quite well done.  I thought the sentiments and feelings of the time period came through quite well, and the author did a credible job portraying the mixed emotions of people living under a dictatorship that was slowly rotting their country from the inside out.  And yet, despite all of this, I was somewhat disappointed in this novel for a variety of reasons.

First of all, the author made a big deal out of this special key that was left with Rosa as a baby which was supposed to be a clue to her identity.  This is exactly the kind of book I liked - secrets, mysterious background, clues, wealthy family, etc... Despite all of this building up around this key, it actually came to...nothing, and I was really disappointed as I felt kind of cheated.  And yet, the first part of the book is the best part of the book!  Rosa, who led a fairly sheltered life in the convent, was forced to deal with a very different way of life as the governess for a wealthy family, one with many secrets.  Rosa, who has a hint of the supernatural, tries to use her gifts to help her in a difficult situation, but finds herself trapped between conflicts she knows nothing about.  I sometimes wanted to strangle her though, as naivety can only be an excuse for so long sometimes.  With the education she got in the convent, I had a hard time believing she was quite as naive as portrayed in this novel.  But I still liked her and admired her spunk and her ability to try and work out her problems on her own.  I enjoyed the character development that I saw in Rosa and the author's skilled way of showing readers her blossoming awareness of what life was actually like for women outside of a sheltered house, women who were abused and abandoned, and her growing awareness that life is so much more complicated that she first thought.

The second half of the book is where I had the most problems with Rosa's character development.  Suddenly we have this woman who is confidant in her abilities and in her survival, one who is fairly politically astute, one who is very fashionable, and so on.  I couldn't relate to this more mature Rosa like I could the earlier one as the change was too sudden and there was no real explanation for it, other than she got married, and not to the man she really wanted to marry. And when the war began, and life became a matter of survival in order to protect her husband and children, Rosa changed yet again.  Now, this change I understood better as war changed pretty much everybody; where I had the difficulty is how Rosa was discussed like she was this ultra warrior and dangerous when I'm not certain how and where she received this so-called 'warrior-like' training.  

The plot itself had a number of loose ends in it, and could be fairly convoluted if you were not paying attention to the details.  What I found disappointing is that the entire story was somewhat predictable and few twists and turns existed to capture the reader's imagination.  Yes, the author did tie up all the loose ends, but by then I had them all figured out anyways, so there was no climax to any of the scenes.  Considering how often the author tried to mess up the reader at the beginning of the novel, where things were rather more interesting and fun, the ending left me feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.  It's too bad as the writing style was somewhat captivating (if you can overlook the continuous comments about meat-eaters, vegetarian anyone?, and the fact that I felt like I was being preached to as if I was twelve years old sometimes, even in the type of language used) and I enjoyed the setting very much. I teach history so this is right up my alley and I soaked in the historical details as much as possible.  I especially loved the scene with the dog, Fido.  

Tuscan Rose is one of those novels that I had mixed feelings about how much I really liked it.  At first, I was captivated by the descriptions of wartime Italy and the sentiments expressed by the Italian people and I just soaked it all in.  However, the plot was a bit convoluted, somewhat disconnected, and the ending left me feeling unsatisfied.  I found it too predictable and would have liked a few more twists and turns; great story lines, like the one about the key, were dropped or forgotten about over the course of the novel, and this was disappointing as I felt cheated.   I also know the message in the novel was supposed to be about mankind and peace, but the ending did little to credit that message so I'm not quite sure what to think about that.  If you like historical fiction, this novel may appeal to you as I did enjoy the discussions about Mussolini and the war, but then I am a war buff.  There is some romance, suspense, mystery, scandal, and betrayal that should appeal to other readers, but I was not really one of them.

Review: Ripper by Isabel Allende

by Isabel Allende
Release Date: January 28th, 2014
2014 Harper
Hardcopy Edition; 496 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062291400
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

The Jackson women, Indiana and Amanda, have always had each other. Yet, while their bond is strong, mother and daughter are as different as night and day. Indiana, a beautiful holistic healer, is a free-spirited bohemian. Long divorced from Amanda's father, she's reluctant to settle down with either of the men who want her-Alan, the wealthy scion of one of San Francisco's elite families, and Ryan, an enigmatic, scarred former Navy SEAL.

When a string of strange murders occurs across the city, Amanda plunges into her own investigation, discovering, before the police do, that the deaths may be connected. But the case becomes all too personal when Indiana suddenly vanishes. Could her mother's disappearance be linked to the serial killer? Now, with her mother's life on the line, the young detective must solve the most complex mystery she's ever faced before it's too late.

My Thoughts
Ripper is one of those books of which I had high expectations and was left sorely disappointed at the end.  Halfway through the book I was done, but I kept going, hoping that it would pick up, but it never really did.  Why I struggled through it is beyond me; perhaps being an Allende book is what made me do it.  

What I did like about the book is the background stories for the main and secondary characters.  If this was a contemporary fiction novel, those background stories would have a lot more meaning, if there had been a good plot, but in a mystery novel, they bogged down the story until it felt like the whole point of the novel was lost.  However, when you can't seem to discover exactly what the novel is about, you tend to look for something good in the novel, and this is what I drifted towards because as a mystery novel, the rest fell rather flat.  Pretty much as soon as something interesting happened, the author would start to discuss the background story of one or the other of the characters; and while I found this kind of quirky and interesting in the beginning, wondering where this was going, it didn't take long for this 'technique' to get on my nerves.  My thinking quickly turned to, "let's get on to the story, pleeeeease!!"

And that, my dear readers, is pretty much the only thing that endeared me to this novel.  With someone of Allende's talent, I was pretty disappointed in everything this novel had to offer.  Even the writing, which I usually love, felt choppy and the plot was all over the place, with thoughts and ideas that never really connected nor always made sense.  I didn't feel too much connection with the characters, except perhaps Ryan Miller, and even then, the way it was written didn't really allow the reader to empathize with any of them.  I didn't particularly care for Indiana's daughter Amanda, as I thought she was annoying and whiny, and the way she talked about this one guy she wanted to marry just got on my nerves - spoiled and bratty, as if the world should end just because she didn't get what she thought she should.  I am not one to usually write bad reviews as I don't often read past page 50 of a book I don't like, so I don't know what possessed me to do so in this case.  I find it interesting that even two days later, some of the characters were still getting on my nerves. 

The whole premise of the book is about a serial killer who eventually kidnaps Indiana. What follows is a race to identify the killer before Indiana is killed on Easter weekend.  To be honest, the murder aspect of the novel didn't really take a front seat until the very end of the novel as most of it was filled with background stories of the various characters, something which made it very easy to spot the killer right away, at least for me.  While this doesn't usually bother me, and it didn't really here either, so much time and energy was wasted trying to divert the reader in a way that didn't really work.  It just comes down to poor editing I would think.  

Ripper is the latest novel by an author I usually adore, but in this case it fell flat.  This was a novel I struggled to finish and didn't enjoy too much for a variety of reasons; poor editing in terms of plot, characters I wasn't too crazy about, a lack of mystery, and a lack of plot.  Allende, however, is a much better story writer than this, and although this one may not have had the intended effect, I am hoping future novels will have a more interesting story to tell.  While I would be quick to pick up a more contemporary novel from this author, it will be with some trepidation to reach for another of her attempts at a mystery novel.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book Blast: The Frost of Springtime by Rachel L. Demeter

The recent release of The Frost of Springtime, by debut author Rachel L. Demeter, transports readers to the war torn streets of nineteenth century Paris. Driven by paradoxical characters, steamy encounters, and a compelling storyline, it's a bittersweet tale of revolution, redemption, and the healing power of love. Described as "poignant," emotionally devastating,” and “beautiful," The Frost of Springtime is sure to please historical and romance readers alike. Available now in both eBook and paperback. Currently Amazon Prime members can read the Kindle edition for free!

The Frost of SpringtimePublication Date: February 14, 2014
Black Lyon Publishing
Formats: Paperback, Kindle eBook

Genre: Historical Romance/Historical Fiction

To rescue her was to rescue his own soul.

On a cold Parisian night, Vicomte Aleksender de Lefèvre forges an everlasting bond with a broken girl during her darkest hour, rescuing her from a life of abuse and misery. Tormented by his own demons, he finds his first bit of solace in sheltering little Sofia Rose.

But when Aleksender is drawn away by the Franco-Prussian war, the seasons pass. And in that long year, Sofia matures into a stunning young woman—a dancer with an understanding of devotion and redemption far surpassing her age.

Alongside his closest friend, Aleksender returns home to find that “home” is gone, replaced by revolution, bloodshed, betrayal—and a love always out of reach. Scarred inside and out, he’s thrust into a world of sensuality and violence—a world in which all his hours have now grown dark, and where only Sofia might bring an end to the winter in his heart.

Inspired by the 1871 Paris Commune, The Frost of Springtime is a poignant tale of revolution, redemption, and the healing power of love.

Read an Excerpt

The heat of their bodies mingled as one. With each breath, Aleksender drank in the sweet essence of his beloved ward. His mind swam with unorthodox visions and desires. He inclined his head, lost to the power of her nearness, entranced by everything that was Sofia.

“Alek, my Alek …”

Each word infused Aleksender with a delicious and undeniable warmth. Intoxicated by roses and wintertime, he found it difficult to speak, difficult to think. Breathless, he swallowed and met the haunting depths of her eyes.

“Please,” she dreamily murmured, “I want you to kiss me again…”


The Frost of Springtime

Watch the Book Trailer

Praise for The Frost of Springtime

“I am astonished at this being Rachel L. Demeter’s debut work, for in form and style, it is very much a tour de force. A riveting story of love and courage in the aftermath of a brutal war, the author brilliantly juxtaposes the hazing splendor of French nobility and the impassioned elegance of two people in love, despite all the world’s oppositions. The title is, in a sense, a representation of change: the beginning of a new spring with La Belle Époque and the transition into a new era, for the world and our protagonists. The wistful loveliness of the setting paints a picture of a crying France, blending in with the dynamic romance perfectly. Or rather, it does not merely blend in the background as much as glitters like the brightest jewel, shining with a vibrancy that makes one want to relieve the halcyon days of grand old Paris. I was captivated by the setting, the lush writing of Rachel L. Demeter, and the subtle expressiveness of the characters, which all compelled me to research more of the historical background, of the 1871 Paris Commune, through which this story is made more infinitely dearer.” – Buried Under Romance

“We are in awe. The Frost of Springtime is a MUST HAVE! Despite that we loved the true facts, we fell instantly in love with the story. It was dark, emotionally devastating, and sensual. The innocence between the two main characters was beautiful and their love grew so strong throughout the story with such grace. One of us even cried while reading The Frost of Springtime. We loved the cover, we loved the writing style, and we adored the characters. We fell in love, really hard." – Divas Book Blog

“This novel is intricately detailed and wonderfully written! Opening with a heartbreaking scene, I was immediately drawn to the story of Aleksender and his Sofia. Of course, as the story moved on, other enchanting characters helped to make this poignant book complete. The author has blended historical facts with fiction skillfully, and presented several narratives flawlessly. It’s beautiful! I loved it!” – Romancebookworm’s Reviews

“I absolutely love this book. The Frost of Springtime shows how love and tragedy go hand in hand and that love can actually be more powerful than anything. I have found that most books do not hit this point right on the nail like this one does. It’s a Historical Romance and let me just tell you this is one book I couldn’t put down.” – Magic Within The Pages

“WOW!! The Frost of Springtime is a powerful, epic love story unlike anything I’ve ever read before. The emotional and visual/sensory depth is astounding. I felt Aleksender and Sofia’s connection from beginning to end. Aleksender’s path to healing was at times breathtaking and heartbreaking. This is a hero who loves his woman with every last breath, every fiber of his being… and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for her. AMAZING cast of secondary characters as well… a 'villain' who actually leaves you morally torn! Beautifully written (loved the vivid imagery and descriptions!), dark, unusual, rich with history, epic scope, and a soul deep love that only comes once in a lifetime… Brava!!!” – Sivonna, an advanced reader

Buy the Book

Amazon (Kindle eBook) *Amazon Prime members can read the kindle edition for free!
Amazon (Paperback)
Barnes & Noble
Black Lyon Publishing

About the Author

Rachel L. Demeter lives in the beautiful hills of Anaheim, California with Teddy, her goofy lowland sheepdog, and high school sweetheart of ten years. She enjoys writing dark, edgy romances that challenge the reader’s emotions and examine the redeeming power of love. Imagining stories and characters has been Rachel’s passion for longer than she can remember. Before learning how to read or write, she would dictate stories while her mom would jot them down for her. She has a special affinity for the tortured hero and unconventional romances.

Whether sculpting the protagonist or antagonist, she always ensures that every character is given a soul. Rachel strives to intricately blend elements of romance, suspense, and horror. Some common themes her stories never stray too far from: forbidden romance, soul mates, the power of love to redeem, mend all wounds, and triumph over darkness.

Her dream is to move readers and leave an emotional impact through her words.

Get your e-book signed by Rachel L. Demeter

Author Links




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2 - Kindle Ebooks of THE FROST OF SPRINGTIME (open internationally)
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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review: Killer Image by Wendy Tyson

Killer Image (Allison Campbell Mystery Series, Book #1)
by Wendy Tyson
Release Date: October 1st, 2013
2013 Henery Press
Softcover Edition; 316 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-938383-60-1
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review Copy from Pump Up Your Book

3.5 / 5 Stars

As Philadelphia’s premier image consultant, Allison Campbell helps others reinvent themselves, but her most successful transformation was her own after a scandal nearly ruined her. Now she moves in a world of powerful executives, wealthy, eccentric ex-wives and twisted ethics.

When Allison’s latest Main Line client, the fifteen-year-old Goth daughter of a White House hopeful, is accused of the ritualistic murder of a local divorce attorney, Allison fights to prove her client’s innocence when no one else will. But unraveling the truth brings specters from her own past. And in a place where image is everything, the ability to distinguish what’s real from the façade may be the only thing that keeps Allison alive.

My Thoughts
Killer Image was an enjoyable first book in a new mystery series featuring Allison Campbell.  I thought the characters were rather interesting, and the plot kept the pages turning; all in all, this novel had all the elements of a light, fun mystery, something that I really need every once in a while.

Allison is one of those characters that I thought was quite fluffy at the beginning and wasn't too sure about, but as I continued into the novel, I found Allison was growing on me, and the more flawed she became, the more I liked her.  It was rather interesting to see how the author demonstrated that we are all flawed people underneath the veneer of looks and polish, and how that is by far the more interesting aspects of our personalities, not the package we show to the world.  I really liked this dichotomy and it made me think about how quick we are to judge people by how they look rather than by who they are.  Polish does, after a few years, develop cracks, and this is what makes things (and in this case, people) more interesting.  Once Allison began showing those cracks, I liked her more and more, although there were times I still found her shallow and unsympathetic.  But it was those moments when the polish cracked that I found the most interesting.  The scene with the dog comes to mind, although if I explained it, it would spoil it for you, so you will just have to read the book.  

When Allison takes on Maggie McBride, the difficult daughter of a congressman, in an attempt to polish her exterior, she takes on more than she can handle.  The congressman and his family are implicated in a series of murders, with Maggie at the center of the scandal, and Allison is forced to use her own sleuthing skills to save her reputation and her business.  I was somewhat disappointed in Maggie at the beginning as she seemed so stereotypical of many teens in so many novels - goth, moody, irritable, annoying, and displaying oppositional tendencies.   I also felt like her character didn't have a good background story, or that it wasn't well explained, despite her parents' deficiencies. It's probably just me who felt slighted as I felt like there was no reason given for some of her behaviours, although I'm sure they were justified.

They mystery itself, while enjoyable, was not really that difficult to figure out, probably because the author really didn't give the reader a chance to come to conclusions on their own, but pretty much led them by the nose to every clue.  I like a bit more 'mystery' to my mysteries, and dislike the obvious coincidences.  I enjoyed the storyline but not so much the mystery as it didn't take much thought to figure it out and I like to be able to think.  

Killer Image was an interesting debut in a new mystery series featuring Allison Campbell and I did enjoy the various characters, particularly Vaughn and Mia, two people I would like to learn more about in future novels.  I wasn't overly thrilled about the 'mystery' as I felt it was shallow, kind of like Allison at times, but there is so much potential in this series that I am hopeful for future novels to go a bit deeper and really allow readers a chance to figure out things on their own until the 'big reveal' at the end.  If you are interested in a mystery with an abundance of interesting characters, than this one is for you.  As for me, I will definitely be picking up the next book in this series and reading more about Allison's adventures in the field of image consulting.