Sunday, December 9, 2018

Review: Shadow of the Exile by Mitchell Hogan

Shadow of the Exile (The Infernal Guardian, Book 1)
by Mitchell Hogan
Release Date: October 9th 2018
2018 47North
Kindle Edition; 491 Pages
ISBN: 978-1503903227
ASIN: B07C24FVL9
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
Outcast and exiled, the demon Tarrik Nal-Valim has long been forgotten by the world of humans. At least, so he thinks.

But when he is summoned as a last resort by a desperate sorcerer, it seems as though his past has caught up with him. Because the sorcerer is Serenity “Ren” Branwen, the daughter of Tarrik’s former master—and friend. Though she seems cold, driven, and ruthless, Tarrik can tell that Ren has her back against the wall, and he is compelled by ferocious powers to obey her.

As their world sinks into a terrifying maelstrom of murder, intrigue, and insurrection, Tarrik is forced to serve Ren’s arcane designs; plans that, if they were to succeed, would resurrect unimaginable power, and could destroy Tarrik’s entire race.

My Thoughts

Shadow of the Exile was an action-packed and fun novel from an author who is quickly becoming one of my favourites on the fantasy scene.  A bit snarky with a little bit of the popular grimdark thrown in without being a grimdark novel, this one kept me up much later than I should have been up but it was so much fun to read.  And best of all, no love triangle in sight!!!

Tarrick is an exiled demon trying to find his way back into the demon world when he is suddenly summoned by a desperate sorcerer who just happens to be the daughter of his previous master.  Tarrick was definitely not happy to be summoned, and definitely not happy to learn that his previous master, with whom he actually developed a friendship, had written down some of the things he promised never to reveal, ever.  I loved Tarrick's character; he was so much fun to follow in this novel as he spent half the book saving Ren's life and half trying to figure out how to kill her so he could return to the demon world.  With a constantly evolving character (man, the character development for his character was sooo good), Tarrick had to figure out what was safe for him and what was going on in this war between sorcerers.  What he did discover made even his demon blood run cold.  This shift between him and Ren as enemies to him and Ren fighting together was so subtle and I enjoyed following their partnership throughout the book.  It would have devastated me if their relationship had turned into a love relationship as it just didn't fit the tone of the book, at least for now.  Maybe later.  

I wasn't overly sympathetic to Ren at the beginning, but having read some of this author's other work, I understood how he wrote and I was willing to be patient.  That patience definitely won as Ren's backstory was slowly revealed and while you really had to read between the lines, I am so glad it was done this way as her story was pretty horrific.  I definitely became a fan of hers towards the end.  It made their relationship so much more interesting throughout the book and I loved the give and take that happened.  Both Tarrick and Ren were so interesting as characters and I enjoyed them both.

The plot moved quickly from event to event but what I really enjoyed was the well-thought out magic system.  It wasn't in your face and a lot was explained as you read along but I enjoyed it and thought it was kind of neat.  I have always enjoyed the way this author wrote and this book was no different; he has a way of drawing you in and I definitely stayed up way too late finishing this book.  There were lots of witty and snarky moments and I enjoyed them as much as the fight and magic scenes.  

Verdict
Shadow of the Exile was a pleasure to read and I am so happy to learn there will be a sequel, Dawn of the Exile, releasing March 19th 2019.  Tarrick and Ren had an interesting relationship and I enjoyed how we only hear Tarrick's thoughts about the events as the book was written from his point of view which made it even more interesting.   Full of interesting details with a fascinating magic system, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interesting in fantasy with magic and demons.
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Review: Wildfell by London Clarke

Wildfell
by London Clarke
Release Date: April 27th 2018
2018 Carfax Abbey Publishing
Kindle Edition; 301 Pages
ISBN: 978-1386621218
ASIN: B07BNSBJ4W
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
After a traumatic experience with her graduate school professor, Anne Fleming disposes of all her possessions, boards a plane, and plans to check out of life. But a chance meeting on an international flight leads her to Wildfell, a gothic mansion north of London. At first glance, Wildfell seems like the perfect place to hide out, and Anne is intrigued by its strange atmosphere and history of disappearances and deaths. But echoing voices, ghostly mists, a mute girl with a sketchbook full of murders, and a possessive landlady force her to confront her deepest fears.


Anne's budding romance with gorgeous Irish actor Bain Tierney holds her to the house. But when Wildfell tenants begin disappearing and dying, Anne must decide if she trusts Bain. Is anyone in the house who they claim to be? Or are there are other forces at work inside Wildfell? And will they ever let her leave?


My Thoughts
Wildfell is one of those books I chose to read simply because of its cover. I'm not typically a cover girl but I have to admit I have an addiction to covers (and stories) about big scary houses and stories about them - probably stems from my childhood and then my growing fascinating with Gothic fiction in my teens.  Whatever the case, loved the house on the cover; however, the story, while somewhat interesting, didn't quite live up to that cover.

The main character, Anne Fleming, impulsively leaves her life behind after a traumatic experience with her college professor and heads to England, without a plan or a place to stay.  I never really questioned her reasons for leaving as everyone has a reason to want to hide once in a while, but I did question the amount of money she had on her in which to survive.  I've been to London and know how expensive that city is, and after all the purchases she made, what in the world did she live on?  Anne was a bit naive when it came to living in London even though she'd been on her own in college which kind of surprised me.  She was also very trusting, almost too much (part of the naivety I guess). She gets lucky when she is able to rent a room in a spooky old house at a very low fee.  Then strange things start to happen around her and residents begin to disappear.

The actual plot line was very enjoyable and I liked the spookiness of the story.  Even the background was interesting and left a lot to the imagination which is something I like.  I hate it when the author goes on for pages explaining every little thing as if the readers can't figure things out for themselves. This one hinted quite a bit and when you got the story, you had to piece it together. Love that. And dang, I still love spooky old houses.  It would have been nice to see Anne do some more of her own research as being a grad student you would have thought she'd be all over that so the author had to rely more on other characters to relate the information.  While it was an interesting way for Anne to have conversations with other characters so we could get to know them, I also felt it did a disservice to Anne and made her seem lazy and unwilling to figure out the truth herself even when she is given information with which to work by others.  

So while I did enjoy the fast plot and the interesting characters that were in this book, my main issue was with Anne herself.  Like I'd already mentioned above, she did seem a bit selfish and naive throughout the book.  And I just couldn't get past her leaving the U.S. without a plan, without lodgings, and without a lot of money.  It is London after all.  I also had a problem with the fact that we saw little character development in her character as a lot of her reflections were on her past and what sent her to London, including the way she left things there which didn't really help me like her a whole lot.  Without giving away too many spoilers, I really had a hard time imagining that she would dump all of her belongings in a dumpster and head to London, during winter, without proper clothing and a proper coat forcing her to buy the stuff here, spending her meager amount of money.  Makes no sense whatsoever.  I also had a problem with her stay - immigration would definitely have given her a harder time than they did coming over from the U.S. without a return ticket.  It would have been possible, but very difficult.  And she would have had to prove she had the money to purchase a return ticket as well as afford to stay during the time period.  And she definitely would not be able to work.  Get where I'm going with this?  I know I'm being fussy, but I've traveled extensively and I just couldn't get past it.

Verdict
Wildfell could have been so much more than it was.  I loved the setting, the house was really interesting and definitely spooky enough for me, with enough interesting moments to catch my attention.  I really wish that some of the other characters and their stories had been explored a bit more as it would have added to the tension and drama; I could glimpse it but never really caught it.  It would have been so fascinating to really involve the others, and how these characters with these issues, were all drawn together in this place.  Anne's inner monologues really got on my nerves after a while, and I was drawn to the others for some relief so it would have been nice to really learn more about them.  A good read, and basically a good story, I think those with an interest in Gothic fiction would be interested in this one, but for me, it left me somewhat dissatisfied.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Review & Giveaway: The Monastery Murders by E.M. Powell


The Monastery Murders (Stanton & Barling, Book #2)
by E.M. Powell
Release Date: September 27th 2018
2018 Thomas & Mercer
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-1503903241
ASIN: B07C3R9LCX
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from HF Virtual Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
Christmas Eve, 1176. Brother Maurice, monk of Fairmore Abbey, awaits the night prayer bell. But there is only silence. Cursing his fellow brother Cuthbert’s idleness, he seeks him out—and in the darkness, finds him brutally murdered.

Summoned from London to the isolated monastery on the Yorkshire Moors, Aelred Barling, clerk to the King’s justices, and his messenger Hugo Stanton, set about investigating the horrific crime. They quickly discover that this is far from a quiet monastic house. Instead, it seethes with bitter feuds, rivalries and resentments. But no sooner do they arrive than the killer strikes again—and again.

When Barling discovers a pattern to these atrocities, it becomes apparent that the murderer’s rampage is far from over. With everyone, including the investigators, now fearing for their lives, can Barling and Stanton unmask the culprit before more blood is spilled?


My Thoughts
The Monastery Murders is the second book in the Stanton & Barling medieval murder mystery series and I liked it just as much as the first book, but for very different reasons.  What I really liked in this novel were the characters and the rich historical depictions of life in a monastery during 12th century England.  The way the author describes events during this time period makes you understand the characters a bit better, but also serves to remind you of the century in which the story takes place, something a reader needs to keep firmly in their head as justice and the law are so, so, so different from today.

Fairmore Abbey is a monastery of the Cistercian Order and is where most of the action takes place. As most of the monasteries during this time place tend to be somewhat isolated, the author blends the history of several real monasteries together to create this fictional one in order to give the reader an idea of what a real monastery was like during this time period.  Personally, I have always been fascinated by life in one and the discipline it requires to actually be a monk, and this monastery is no exception.  Aelred Barling, and his assistant Hugo Stanton, head to the monastery to help the Abbot deal with a horrific murder, but they encounter much more than that.

I really liked Stanton's feelings with regards to life in the monastery simply because it seemed to mirror my own.  While I understand the reasons for wanting that kind of life, I did tend to wonder about those men who didn't have a choice about being there, and this eventually became one of the themes of this novel.  What I really enjoyed however, was the defining relationship between Stanton and Barling as they grew to respect each other, not just as co-workers, but as men as well, learning more about each other is such a confined space.  Their characters are so different from each other, but they also tend to compliment each other, with their strengths and weaknesses balancing each other out.  I also enjoyed the slight thawing in behaviour of Barling towards Stanton, with him even giving the younger man some praise now and again.  While I am glad to see them getting along much better, their somewhat prickly relationship and their bantering does make them more fun to read so I hope it doesn't change too much.  

The monastery is set in quite a harsh and unforgiving land and the author wrote about it in such a way that I felt like I was right there, could feel the cold drafts and the welcoming heat from the fires. The murders were somewhat grizzly but I really liked the premise of them, although I did feel at times I was reading a horror book and not a historical mystery novel.  I did figure out who it was quite early on simply because it made the most sense, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book.  I often got caught up in the daily lives of these men, their reluctance to get up in the freezing cold to perform their duties, the lack of sleep, the days fill with labour and prayer.  So well researched.  

Verdict
The Monastery Murders is a fascinating medieval murder mystery set in quite a bleak land, one that made me reach for my blanket and snuggle deep as I was reading, grateful for my warmth.  I thought the author did a fantastic job describing the medieval nature of the abbey, the men's lives, and what it would have possibly been like to live during that time.  And while I enjoyed the mystery, I did feel like the murders were too much at one point, taking away from the lovely mystery the author had set up making me feel like I was in a horror novel instead.  I thoroughly enjoyed the developing relationship between Stanton and Barling and look forward to more adventures featuring these two men.  I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves medieval history with a twist.  

Giveaway

The Monastery Murders
Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar

Auschwitz Lullaby
by Mario Escobar
Release Date: August 7th 2018 (First published January 1st 2016)
2018 Nelson
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0785219958
ASIN: B077CWKDYR
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary

In 1943 Germany, Helene is just about to wake up her children to go to school when a group of policemen break into her house. The policemen want to haul away her gypsy husband and their five children. The police tell Helene that as a German she does not have to go with them, but she decides to share the fate of her family. After convincing her children that they are going off to a vacation place, so as to calm them, the entire family is deported to Auschwitz.

For being German, they are settled in the first barracks of the Gypsy Camp. The living conditions are extremely harsh, but at least she is with her five children. A few days after their arrival, Doctor Mengele comes to pay her a visit, having noticed on her entry card that she is a nurse. He proposes that she direct the camp’s nursery. The facilities would be set up in Barrack 29 and Barrack 31, one of which would be the nursery for newborn infants and the other for children over six years old.

Helene, with the help of two Polish Jewish prisoners and four gypsy mothers, organizes the buildings. Though Mengele provides them with swings, Disney movies, school supplies, and food, the people are living in crowded conditions under extreme conditions. And less than 400 yards away, two gas chambers are exterminating thousands of people daily.

My Thoughts
Auschwitz Lullaby is largely based on the true story of Helene Hannemann, a German woman married to a Roma, something that became illegal under the Nazi regime. As a German citizen, she didn't have to go to this camp she refuses to leave her five children and her husband and decides to go with them.  And while this is a book about concentration camps, Auschwitz in particular, it is also a book about the propaganda machine that was the Nazi regime, and how influential they were in convincing people these camps were a "good thing", despite the stories. 

Helene is a warm generous person who had to learn to survive very quickly in some very difficult conditions.  To say she was naive was generous and if it wasn't for the help of some of the other women, she would have died very early on in her stay.  Starving and losing weight, freezing, being attacked, she really had little understanding of the real danger she was in, always demanding things she felt every citizen should receive. And I'm not really sure she fully understood the danger she was in even when whole barracks were being killed because a couple of people had typhoid.  Enter Mengele (just the name gives me shivers). As a nurse Helene was recruited to work for him and had to develop a children's nursery.  Considering the many works I have read about the Holocaust and about Mengele, this is the first that really focuses on the nursery.  And I have to admit, my heart shrank a little bit at some of the horrors I was imagining I would read about.  But it was more about Helene's efforts to give the children some comfort and some hope; it was not really a story about Mengele except in regards to Helene's interactions with him as she ran the nursery. So, while there are some horrifying things in this book, it's nowhere near as graphic as some of the other books about the Holocaust have been, when I have had to put the book down after each chapter because I just couldn't go on. Thankfully, Mengele and his graphic experiments, for the most part, are not really mentioned in here. But like I said, it is a book about Auschwitz, so there is going to be some graphic scenes, it is unavoidable. 

Helene's story is definitely one that should be shared as with all other Holocaust stories, as difficult as they are to read, so that we never forget what happened.  I am one who never gets tired of reading books about the Holocaust; the number of people involved means so many different stories to tell and so many different perspectives to share.  And for those of us whose families have been affected by the war, it is important to learn about it.  What is particularly horrible about this book is knowing what Mengele was doing just down the road while he gave movies and toys to Helene's little nursery for propaganda purposes, for the big guns to see that everything was going according to plan.  Helene's interactions with Mengele were chilling, and you can feel Helene's fear of him right through the pages.  Even when she learned a bit about what was happening to the children, I have to admire her bravery in facing him and asking for more food and more clothing.  I would have been scared to death of him.  And when she learned about the twin experiments, having twins of her own, I can't even imagine what was going through her mind.  I think I would have hidden my kids. 

The book sheds more light about the Romani people and what they suffered during the Holocaust.  The writing is simple, but horrifying in its simplicity, leaving much to the imagination (and I can imagine plenty, thank you very much).  The characters were what made this book so enjoyable; there were no pages of horrifying descriptions, just scenes as they happened, which were horrifying enough.  I really liked this author's way of writing.  My only flaw with the novel, which is why I gave it the rating I did, is the beginning and end.  I don't want to spoil it so you'll have to see for yourself, but I don't think it was necessary. Helene's story was powerful enough.

Verdict
Auschwitz Lullaby is one of those stories that grips you and makes you hope for a different ending.  I think part of it is because the focus was on Helene and her desperate situation to save her five children.  Because of this, she took risks, took on those in authority, all to protect not just her children, but as many children as she could.  As a German citizen she was entitled to certain things but that would have meant being separated from her children and she wasn't willing to do that.  I highly recommend this book to those who have an interest in reading about the Holocaust.  It is definitely a worthwhile entry to the genre, and reminds us that all life is precious.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Giveaway: House of Ashes by Loretta Marion


House of Ashes: A Haunted Bluffs Mystery by Loretta Marion



Supernatural Mystery 1st in Series 
Crooked Lane Books (November 13, 2018)  
Hardcover, 336 pages 
ISBN-10: 1683318439  
ISBN-13: 978-1683318439  
Digital Details Coming Soon
 

A family patriarch’s dying proclamation, an enigmatic disappearance, and a century-old curse converge in the shadows of a majestic home on Cape Cod’s craggy coast.
Thirty-seven-year-old painter Cassandra Mitchell is fourth-generation to live in the majestic Battersea Bluffs, a brooding Queen Anne home originally built by her great-grandparents, Percy and Celeste Mitchell, and still standing despite tragedies that have swept the generations. Local lore has it that there was a curse placed on the family and the house is haunted, though opinions are divided on whether it's by malicious or benevolent spirits. Cassie believes the latter―but now she stands to lose her beloved home to mounting debt and the machinations of her dream-weaving ex-husband.

Salvation seems to arrive when a nomadic young couple wanders onto the property with the promise of companionship and much-needed help―until they vanish without a trace, leaving behind no clue to their identities. Cassie is devastated, but determined to discover what's happened to the young couple...even as digging into their disappearance starts to uncover family secrets of her own. Despite warnings from her childhood friend, now the local Chief of Police―as well as an FBI agent who pushes the boundaries of professionalism―Cassie can't help following the trail of clues (and eerie signals from the old house itself) to unravel the mystery. But can she do so before her family's dark curse destroys everything in its path?

About the Author

An author of fiction, Loretta Marion’s writing bridges the genres of mystery and suspense and women’s fiction, always with hints of romance and humor, sometimes delving into the psychological and paranormal. She creates strong but flawed and struggling characters as appealing as the rich atmospheric settings in which the stories take place.

Loretta is a true bibliophile and has loved reading and creating with words since she was a young girl. And that affection for the written word followed her like a shadow throughout her life as she put pen to paper crafting marketing and advertising copy, educational brochures, and newsletters. But her passion for writing fiction evolved from the unlikely world of hospice. As a volunteer, she set out to establish a Legacy Story program to honor and preserve the rich heritage of the fascinating people who were soon to leave this world. The meaningful experience inspired her to create her own interesting characters and stories. Her debut novel, The Fool's Truth, was a twisty and suspenseful mystery with whispers of romance. Her newest novel, HOUSE OF ASHES – A Haunted Bluffs Mystery, is the first in a series published by Crooked Lane Books.

Though born and raised in the Midwest, Loretta fell in love with New England and has made it the setting for much of her writing. When not whipping out words on her laptop, she is traveling, enjoying outdoor pursuits, or is curled up with a delicious new book. Loretta lives in Rhode Island with her husband, Geoffrey, and their beloved Mr. Peabody, a sweet, devoted and amusing “Corgador” (Corgi-Labrador cross). (www.LorettaMarion.com)


EXCERPT 1:
Eighty years ago ~ Whale Rock, Massachusetts ~ Cape Cod Bay Friday, December 13th

     Percival Mitchell balled up the tele gram and threw it into the blazing tavern fire. It had arrived that morning, but he’d yet to share the devastating news with his wife. He needed some Dutch courage before he found the words to tell Celeste that now the last of their three boys had been killed. “A shot of Old Crow, Lloyd,” he said to the barkeep, then downed it, glad for the punishing burn in his throat. He’d loved all his sons, but the youngest, Ambrose, had been most like him, with a love of the sea and a desire to see the world.  They’d struck a deal: Ambrose would enlist in the Navy, but after three years’ time he would return to Whale Rock and assume his rightful place at the helm of the family business. Yet only weeks later, while Ambrose was stationed in China on the USS Panay, there’d been a surprise attack by the Japanese on his ship. The attack was allegedly a mistake, and the USS Panay just an unfortunate target— but what consolation would that be to Celeste, who had already lost her other two sons? 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Review: The Birthday by Carol Wyer

The Birthday (Detective Natalie Ward, Book #1)
by Carol Wyer
Release Date: September 27th 2018
2018 Bookouture
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1786815378
ASIN: B07F4BB3RV
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
When five-year-old Ava Sawyer goes missing from a birthday party at a local garden centre, the police are bewildered by the lack of leads. That is until two years later, when Ava's body is found and another little girl, Audrey Briggs, goes missing. Audrey also attended that party ...

Leading the investigation is Detective Natalie Ward. A mother of two teenagers, this case chills her to the bone, and is a disturbing reminder of the last job she worked on. One that ended very badly.

Natalie soon discovers that Ava's mother has some worrying gaps in her alibi and as she digs deeper, she's sure Ava's father is not telling the full story. And what did the owner of the garden centre Elsa see that day? Something that she's not telling Natalie ...

Just as Natalie is facing up to the grim possibility that Ava and Audrey were killed by someone close to home, another little girl from the party doesn't come home from her ballet lesson. Can Natalie find a way to stop this killer before more innocent lives are taken?


My Thoughts
The Birthday is the first book in the Natalie Ward series and I enjoyed it tremendously.  With an amazing amount of twists and turns, I had to work really hard trying to figure out who the culprit was, and I enjoyed the events and journey along the way.  I am a huge fan of this author and was happy to see a new series featuring a woman detective, one with two teenage children, working hard at keeping her marriage together yet dealing with a demanding job that keeps her away from her not quite so understanding family.  

I usually stay away from murder cases involving children, but having read books by this author before, I knew she would treat the material with sensitivity, and she definitely did.  Unfortunately, Natalie joins the force just as little Ava's body was discovered, after having been missing for two years, when a local construction company digs up her remains during an expansion.  Natalie was still recovering from her previous case which didn't go very well, so finding the remains of a little girl threw all of her guards she had built around her up in the air.  I really loved her character; she was approachable, but still tough as the lead detective, trying to balance a family life and work, with a husband who was suffering with a complex after being laid off from his own job.  Working with a team that actually gets along (quite refreshing), she put a lot of pressure on herself to find the killer before he struck again.  Her fear of failure kept her going day after day as she didn't want a repeat of the previous case, one of which we only get a glimpse.  

I have always liked this author's writing, and this book is no exception, gripping the reader right from the beginning.  Trying to figure out the killer was not my primary objective as I was too interested in Natalie's story, how she worked and how she interacted with her colleagues.  I was quite impressed with Natalie and I have to give the author kudos for creating a complete package character, one who is strong and intelligent, but is still flawed.  The book moved quickly from scene to scene, quite cohesively, and I definitely liked all of the members of the team.  

Verdict
The Birthday is a good start to this new series and I am looking forward to seeing what Detective Natalie is confronted with next.  As with any first book in a series, we have just been introduced to a variety of characters so I am looking forward to some character development and seeing where the author takes them as I enjoyed the people on Natalie's team and would love to see more of them. The story is fast-paced and well-structured with an interesting little story line about the killer.  Highly recommended. 

 
Sunday, November 4, 2018

Review & Giveaway: Drop Dead Ornaments by Lois Winston



Drop Dead Ornaments (An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Book 7)
by Lois Winston
Release Date: October 22nd 2018
2018 Self published
Kindle Edition; 209 Pages
ISBN: 978-1940795447
ASIN: B07GMZ2H4B
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from Great Escapes Book Tours

3.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
Anastasia Pollack’s son Alex is dating Sophie Lambert, the new kid in town. For their community service project, the high school seniors have chosen to raise money for the county food bank. Anastasia taps her craft industry contacts to donate materials for the students to make Christmas ornaments they’ll sell at the town’s annual Holiday Crafts Fair.

At the fair Anastasia meets Sophie’s father, Shane Lambert, who strikes her as a man with secrets. She also notices a woman eavesdropping on their conversation. Later that evening when the woman turns up dead, Sophie’s father is arrested for her murder.

Alex and Sophie beg Anastasia to find the real killer, but Anastasia has had her fill of dead bodies. She’s also not convinced of Shane’s innocence. Besides, she’s promised younger son Nick she’ll stop risking her life. But how can she say no to Alex? 


My Thoughts
Drop Dead Ornaments is the seventh book in the Anastasia Pollack Mystery Series and while it was a fun read, and I enjoyed it, I don't actually think it was the strongest book in the series.  This one pretty much picks up after the last book as Anastasia heads home from the hospital after her encounter with Virginia Owens and finds a bunch of teenagers in her house decorating tree ornaments.  Anastasia's son is dating Sophie, one of the teens creating ornaments for charity, which is how Anastasia and company meet the central figures involved in this book and the events that occur. Sophie's dad is the one who is arrested for murder and Anastasia wanted to help her son and his new girlfriend so she quietly started investigating despite wanting to stay uninvolved.  While I wasn't crazy about the mystery itself, I do have to agree with Anastasia's reasons for getting involved as I would have felt the same way if it was my son and his girlfriend.

The book is a light-hearted cozy mystery with lots of energy and definitely lots of action and interaction between characters.  Because I have read all the previous books, I was familiar with the backstories, but I am not sure if a reader should actually start with this one as you might be missing quite a bit of the back stories.  The author does a great job of filling you in on Anastasia's current situation and highlighting some of what is going on in her life, but there is important stuff missing.  Anastasia was still struggling with commitment issues, and her sons were finally dealing with their anger issues towards their dad, but if you haven't read the previous books, the full reasons for all of that might not be fully clear.  It also makes it difficult to fully appreciate how far Anastasia has come since the first book and her relationship with Zack is one of the things I enjoy reading about in this series.  I love her inner demons about whether Zack is really a spy or not, and now I am starting to wonder myself.  There is a secret part of me that hopes he is and his story line will make an appearance in future books.  And I am still not crazy about her mother-in-law and would love to see her gone from the books, but in a spectacular way.  I don't even find her character interesting, to say the least.  Ira though, is interesting, and I wonder what the author has in store for him.

In this book we sort of have two mysteries, both of which are rather weak in my opinion, but there you have it.  There is the murder that involved Shane, Sophie's father, and while I understood Sophie's anger, I was not impressed with her behaviour as she sounded like a brat, even after the murder was sort of, kind of, solved.  To be honest, there really wasn't a whole lot of investigating around the murder, and I was somewhat disappointed at how everything turned out, and the result was not really satisfying.  I like my mystery stories to have a bit more meat to them and this one just...didn't.  The other mystery involved Lucille, the mother-in-law, and her disappearance.  Not really interesting in my book.  And I'm not sure how it fit into the story.  Luckily, the engaging characters and the witty dialogue saved the book.  I enjoyed their antics, even if I wasn't crazy about the mystery story line and was looking for more, and I have always enjoyed their interactions. The pacing of the book was quick and I do have to admit the author went out of her way to try to have some twists and turns to engage the reader.  

Verdict
Drop Dead Ornaments had its usual cast of engaging characters and lively dialogue as well as some interesting moments, but for me, the mystery portion of the book was lacking.  I like it when there is a more active investigation and while I liked the repartee between Anastasia and the cops, there really wasn't much of a mystery with which to work, and it was kind of pushing the edge of believability when Shane didn't even recognize the person who died because they had changed that much.  I am willing to push the boundaries, but only so much.  However, that being said, I loved the other books a lot so I do highly recommend you give this series a try, and even if this book wasn't the strongest book in it, it was still a fun read.  


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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Review: Killed on Blueberry Hill by Sharon Farrow

Killed on Blueberry Hill (A Berry Basket Mystery, Book #3)
by Sharon Farrow
Release Date: October 30th 2018
2018 Kensington
ARC Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-1496704900
ASIN: B079KSR4VL
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from author

5 / 5 Stars

Summary
The Blueberry Blow Out festival has begun and it's time for Marlee Jacob, owner of The Berry Basket, to shine. Unfortunately it's also bringing out the worst in her fiance Ryan Zeller. Ryan's rivalry with Porter Gale, owner of Blueberry Hill Farm, spills over into a very public and very ugly fight. And after they compete in the pie-eating contest and a raucous tug of war, their orchard blood feud takes a deadly turn . . .

The death of the king of Blueberry Hill is a shock but not too surprising--he was a diabetic whose last pig out meal was deliciously fatal. But when authorities discover that someone tampered with Porter's insulin, a tragic accident is looking like murder--and Ryan is the key ingredient. Now Marlee's investigation to clear his name is taking her deep into the Gale family secrets, and she's being shadowed every step of the way by a killer whose sweet revenge is just beginning . . .
Includes Berry Recipes!


My Thoughts
Killed on Blueberry Hill is the third installment in the A Berry Basket Mystery series and so far, is my favourite.  In this one, Marlee and the gang are dealing with another festival, this one being the Blueberry Blow Out, and it seemed to be affecting her fiance Ryan in a very negative way.  I wasn't overly fond of him before, but right from the beginning he drove me nuts with his commanding ways and his superior attitude.  It didn't help matters that the festival featured blueberry competitions, and Ryan's family and their arch-nemesis, Porter Gale, were at the center of everything.  For that matter, the first scene in the book was a pie-eating contest in which Marlee was roped and the pressure was on for her to win.  Having seen a few pie-eating contests myself, they are quite comical, and I enjoyed the author's descriptions of the scene.  It definitely set up this book for quite a ride, and I enjoyed it tremendously.

Generally, I read cozy mysteries as a break between heavier fantasy tomes and the historical novels of which I am so fond.  They tend to be lighter in tone and often can be quite hilarious, something desperately needed.  While the novel definitely dealt with some serious undertones, there was a lighter touch which made it easy to read and the characters are so likeable that you just can't help but laugh at their antics.  I love Marlee and how she was able to see right through what people were saying.  Yes, she could be a bit naive, certainly when it came to Ryan, but he was quite manipulative and deceptive, anyone would have missed the signs too.  I liked how she listened to her emotions and her little inner voice saying something was seriously wrong and didn't rush headlong into stupid things and situations.  She also didn't condescend those professionals looking into the murder and didn't go out of her way to search for clues.  The only reason she was trying to help was because the situation got personal, but she didn't go up to people and ask them all sorts of weird questions with that person answering them as if that was perfectly normal.  Things just seemed to happen naturally which kept the flow of the book moving nicely and kept Marlee moving and associating with some characters from previous books that I wanted her to meet.  So glad she did so I could find out what was happening with them. And if you love parrots, well, there's one in here too; Minnie is a hoot.

The events moved along quite quickly, with quite a few twists and turns, and I have to admit I didn't quite figure out everything in the end which kind of surprised me, as I thought I knew who the murderer was, but I was only partly right.  I love that I got surprised, and looking back, I realized the clues were there but I missed them.  Awesome when that happens.  I actually read the book in one sitting as I couldn't put it down, staying up way too late.  There were so many interesting themes running through this book that it was quite fascinating: relationships, theft, drug use, addiction, ambition, and secrets. Even when the murderer was discovered, there was so much more to the story.  What I really liked though, is how everything was not quite wrapped up as nicely as most books, where we might have to wait until the next book to really see how things ended and I am okay with that. In the real world, that's how it works too.

Verdict
Killed on Blueberry Hill was a really interesting novel and I think anyone who enjoys cozy mysteries will love this book.  Even though it's the third book of the series, you could read it as a stand-alone as the author does a great job filling in some background information without giving away too much from previous books.  I have read the previous books and didn't find it repetitive at all.  It also helps if you love blueberries as there are so many foods mentioned with berries in them, you will probably be salivating.  Luckily, the book comes with some blueberry recipes for you to try.  Enjoy!! 
 
Monday, October 29, 2018

Review: Dracul by Dacre Stoker & J.D. Barker

Dracul
by Dacre Stoker & J.D. Barker
Release Date: October 2nd 2018
2018 Putnam
Kindle Edition; 512 Pages
ISBN: 978-0735219366
ASIN: B079WNXNXS
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

5 / 5 Stars

Summary
It is 1868, and a twenty-one-year-old Bram Stoker waits in a desolate tower to face an indescribable evil. Armed only with crucifixes, holy water, and a rifle, he prays to survive a single night, the longest of his life. Desperate to record what he has witnessed, Bram scribbles down the events that led him here...

A sickly child, Bram spent his early days bedridden in his parents' Dublin home, tended to by his caretaker, a young woman named Ellen Crone. When a string of strange deaths occur in a nearby town, Bram and his sister Matilda detect a pattern of bizarre behavior by Ellen -- a mystery that deepens chillingly until Ellen vanishes suddenly from their lives. Years later, Matilda returns from studying in Paris to tell Bram the news that she has seen Ellen -- and that the nightmare they've thought long ended is only beginning.


My Thoughts 
As a kid, Dracula was the first real horror book that I read at eight years old and for years I wondered where and how he would have been inspired to write such a thing.  What you have here is a prequel, written by a descendant of Bram Stoker no less, told in multiple POVs, one of which is Bram Stoker himself, both as a child and as an adult, in order to tell us what inspired the events in his signature novel, Dracula. I have to say I was very reluctant to read this as I remember the magic of Dracula, but I am SO GLAD I DID.  This story is written using Bram Stoker's original papers as the first 100 pages of his original Dracula were removed from the story and although no one is sure what was actually in those pages, they did use his original journals and other papers to create this story.  So the basics of this story do lie within Bram Stoker's original work and I loved learning that fact.

This is definitely a fine piece of gothic literature and I enjoyed it tremendously.  Although told in multiple POVs, the one I preferred was Bram's, and we first meet him as a child of seven years old suffering from a disease that has kept him bed-ridden for most of his young life.  The story is set in Ireland, where Bram and his family lived, and the authors tried to remain as true to his original background as possible,  I kept looking up facts on the Internet as I didn't really know a lot about Bram Stoker's life before reading this and almost all of the incidents that surrounded his family had been documented.  I loved all of the characters and enjoyed reading about them and although I liked Bram's POV the best, the others, mainly his sister and later his older brother, were quite interesting as well.  I kept making comparisons to the original Dracula (I couldn't help myself) and the links between this novel and the original were amazing.  

I have always loved Barker's writing, which is really what drew me to this novel, and although I wasn't sure about Stoker, the two together wrote one amazing book.  I love gothic novels and when well done, are quite fascinating.  The atmosphere and the setting in this novel raises it to a whole new level, capturing the reader and never letting go until the end.  I was actually disappointed when I got to the end as I didn't want to stop reading.  The tale is superb and the build-up is fantastic.  I could almost see the interwoven laces of the tale being woven throughout the novel as I read and I have nothing but admiration for the authors who could pull off something like this.   I can't even imagine what the editing process would have been like.  Throughout the story there is this chill that is woven throughout the narrative that you can feel but can't quite put a finger on which is perfect for gothic literature.  It's in the atmosphere, the characters, their actions, the weather, their secrets, their words, all woven together to create a suspense that makes you wonder what will actually happen.  When you have scenes in run-down old castles, in dark forests, and in morgues, you are being set up for something quite interesting.  I loved it all!

Verdict
Dracul is one of those novels that succeeded on every level. Bram is one precocious child who is very curious about the world and wants answers to questions about things he doesn't understand.  So faced with a mysterious nanny who does mysterious things, he set out to discover her secret, only discovering far more that he bargained for, which shaped his life and his future.  The authors did a great job with Bram and the other characters, and you can see his progression throughout the story, where he would get his ideas for his future works of literature.  The story was impressively strong, kept me enthralled throughout and I began to wonder what was fact and what was fiction.  Luckily, the authors sorted that out in the end in the Author's Note, but even there much can be left to speculation.  I liked how the novel was written from different POVs as well as through the use of journals and letters as it all flowed seamlessly together.  I have to give credit to both of these authors for creating something that really remained true to the original work, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loved Dracula as much as I did.



Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Child of Love and Water by D.K. Marley

Child of Love and Water by D.K. Marley

Publication Date: October 19, 2018 The White Rabbit Publishing eBook; 291 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

The year is 1722. A child is born on the isolated island of Ospo off the Georgia coast. In the midst of General Oglethorpe's vision for this new land, and the emerging townships of Frederica and Savannah, four lives entwine together on this island like the woven fronds in a sea-grass basket - the orphaned Irish girl born free of hate or prejudice, a war-ravaged British soldier seeking forgiveness and absolution, a runaway Gullah slave girl desperate for a word of kindness on the wind, and a Creek Indian warrior searching for answers about this intrusion onto his homeland. What they learn from this wild innocent girl, and from each other, will change their lives forever. A new birth, a new country, and the elements - Water, Wind, Fire, and Earth - entwine to teach one thing: Love conquers all. Love sees beyond borders. There is no ignorance in love.

Available on Amazon

About the Author

D. K. Marley is a historical fiction writer specializing in Shakespearean themes. Her grandmother, an English Literature teacher, gave her a volume of Shakespeare's plays when she was eleven, inspiring DK to delve further into the rich Elizabethan language. Eleven years ago she began the research leading to the publication of her first novel "Blood and Ink," an epic tale of lost dreams, spurned love, jealousy and deception in Tudor England as the two men, William Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe, fight for one name and the famous works now known as the Shakespeare Folio.She is an avid Shakespearean / Marlowan, a member of the Marlowe Society, the Shakespeare Fellowship and a signer of the Declaration of Intent for the Shakespeare Authorship Debate. She has traveled to England three times for intensive research and debate workshops, and is a graduate of the intense training workshop "The Writer's Retreat Workshop" founded by Gary Provost and hosted by Jason Sitzes.She lives in Georgia with her husband and a Scottish Terriers named Maggie and Buster. For more information, please visit D.K. Marley's website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Book Blast Schedule

Friday, October 19 Passages to the Past  
Saturday, October 20 A Darn Good Read Donna's Book Blog  
Monday, October 22 A Book Geek  
Tuesday, October 23 Curling up by the Fire
Wednesday, October 24 Bri's Book Nook
Thursday, October 25 Pursuing Stacie
Friday, October 26 The Book Junkie Reads What Is That Book About View from the Birdhouse

Monday, October 29 Book Nerd Clarissa Reads it All
 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Review: The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan

The Christmas Sisters
by Sarah Morgan
Release Date: September 25th 2018
2018 HQN Books
Kindle Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-1335946478
ASIN: B0787NYS3K
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
In the snowy Highlands of Scotland, Suzanne McBride is dreaming of the perfect cozy Christmas. Her three adopted daughters are coming home for the holidays and she can’t wait to see them. But tensions are running high…

Workaholic Hannah knows she can’t avoid spending the holidays with her family two years in a row. But it’s not the weight of their expectations that’s panicking her—it’s the life-changing secret she’s hiding. Stay-at-home mom Beth is having a personal crisis. All she wants for Christmas is time to decide if she’s ready to return to work—seeing everyone was supposed to help her stress levels, not increase them! Posy isn’t sure she’s living her best life, but with her parents depending on her, making a change seems risky. But not as risky as falling for gorgeous new neighbor Luke…

As Suzanne’s dreams of the perfect McBride Christmas unravel, she must rely on the magic of the season to bring her daughters together. But will this new togetherness teach the sisters that their close-knit bond is strong enough to withstand anything—including a family Christmas?


My Thoughts
The Christmas Sisters is one those warm Christmas stories that you just can help but love. Drawn to the story just by the words "snowy Highlands of Scotland" myself, I couldn't wait to be treated to large fires, hot chocolate, cozy nights, and of course, the snow storms. It is what drew me to this book in the first place and I wasn't disappointed at all.  Basically, it's an escapist story for me, far different from the usual fare I read, but Sarah Morgan is so good at writing escapist stories that just make you want to read another one and another one.  Take family trauma, sisters who love each other but struggle to really understand one another, an adoptive mother with some secrets, and a location that is just made for Christmas, and you have a story just waiting to be told. Curling up in from the fire on a rainy day and reading this was just an added bonus.

For twenty-five years, the family has avoided discussing what really happened the night the girls' parents died in an ice climbing accident on Mount Rainier just days before Christmas.  However, the tragedy left scars on all three of the girls and on Suzanne, the woman who survived the avalanche and who took in the girls after the accident.  Coming together this Christmas would set off a chain of events that would force everyone to look at past events and confront their fears and what actually happened that night and afterwards.  I don't want to say more as it would spoil the story but I loved how it all came together and how it was all revealed.  First of all, you have Suzanne, suffering from nightmares all these years of the event, trying to block it all out and raise the girls the best to her ability.  Hannah's development is the one I loved the most as she learned to show emotion and not always be so perfect all of the time; I thought the author dealt with her character the best of them all.  Beth, wanting to go back to work but taking a path that was not greatly conducive to her or her family; watching her struggle through this and seeing her husband support her was wonderful.  And then there was Posy, who never really left home, but who was looking for adventures of her own and was afraid to reveal her plans to her family.  Having two sisters of my own, I could relate to a lot of the scenarios that were going on in this story, even laughing out loud a few times as I could picture it in my own house so easily.  

When Suzanne came down with a nasty flu right before Christmas, it was up to the girls to pick up the tasks and try to keep Christmas from flying apart.  Through all of the commotion, the girls were able to discuss their lives and work through some of their issues and really talk for the first time in ages.  I enjoyed the humour and witty situations that occurred throughout these discussions, especially the scenes with Hannah and her nieces, so fun; the aftermath and her sister's reaction to some of the things her sisters did with her kids was fun too as I remember my own grand-father being like that and telling everyone to relax.  It brought back a lot of my own memories and the fun times I had at my grandparents when I was young.

Verdict
The Christmas Sisters was an engaging story that was a bit deceptive in its presentation.  While presenting as a fun Christmas story, there were deeper elements that were addressed in this book like acceptance, forgiveness,, communicating, and embracing the future.  The writing just draws you in, makes you feel like part of the family, and within the plot, are many unexpected subplots that I enjoyed tremendously, all of which flowed together at the end.  I have always enjoyed Sarah Morgan's books, and this one is no exception.  If you are looking for a fun, engaging Christmas read, then I highly recommend this one.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review: Storm Glass by Jeff Wheeler

Storm Glass (Harbinger, Book #1)
by Jeff Wheeler
Release Date: June 19th 2018
2018 47North
Kindle Edition; 353 Pages
ISBN: 978-1503902329
ASIN: B077D62HN7
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary

Cettie Pratt is a waif doomed to the world below, until an admiral attempts to adopt her. But in her new home in the clouds, not everyone treats her as one of the family.

Sera Fitzempress is a princess born into power. She yearns to meet the orphan girl she has heard so much about, but her father deems the girl unworthy of his daughter’s curiosity.

Neither girl feels that she belongs. Each seeks to break free of imposed rules. Now, as Cettie dreams of living above and as Sera is drawn to the world below, they will follow the paths of their own choosing.
But both girls will be needed for the coming storm that threatens to overturn both their worlds.

My Thoughts
Storm Glass is the first novel is the Harbinger series, a planned five book series, and I really enjoyed it. The author has mentioned in some of his posts that he tried to create a more Dickensian world in this novel, and I think he has succeeded quite well.  What you have are the incredibly wealthy living on these suspended cities using some type of magic called the 'mysteries', while the rest of the population live in "The Fells', cities felled by incredible pollution and disease whereby most children don't survive to adulthood.  The entire world-building was quite incredible and I enjoyed it tremendously.

I am very familiar with Jeff Wheeler's work and he is very fastidious when it comes to world-building, often leaving the development of his characters and story until later books.  That's not to say there isn't any development in the first books of his series, it just doesn't seem to be a priority and I am okay with that as the world development is so great.  What you get are bits and pieces at a time and it is up to you to put them all together and that is something that I really like.  I can't stand it when an author goes on and on about stuff as if you can't figure things out on your own.  That being said, having read the Covenant of Muirwood series helped as well as I was familiar with certain things that I think readers who have not read those books might struggle with a bit.

The story is told in alternating story lines, one from Sera's and one from Cettie's.  I liked both of these characters, for different reasons, but I really loved their independence and their spunk.  Even though oth of these girls had difficulties in their lives, they kept plugging on and kept fighting.  Sera, the heir to the throne, struggled against a jealous father who wanted to be the only heir to the throne and saw Sera as a threat, keeping her a prisoner.  Cettie, raised in 'The Fells' and brought to the sky to live with an admiral's family, lived in constant fear of being sent back through no fault of her own.  Although these girls do not actually meet in this story, you know they eventually will, and the how and why was its own anticipation.  

Even though the character development was not overly strong, there was enough there to get a good sense of them; there was a great variety and I liked all of them, even the quirky and odd ones.  You even met a few odd ones for a few minutes knowing they will probably play greater roles in future books and I can't wait to see how some of those secondary plot lines will unfold.  There was a lot of interesting subplots going on and you really had to pay attention to catch them all.

The author writes with a light, engaging manner that quickly draws you in; I pretty much read the whole book in one sitting.  I've learned as I've read his books not to discount any trivial detail as it usually means something later on so I pay close attention to everything now. 

Verdict
Storm Glass is a great entry to a new series and I am so glad I had the chance to read this.  The world-building was very interesting and I am so glad there is a connection to previous series.  I enjoyed the characters and look forward to seeing how they develop and what they do.  Another intricately woven book, and highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Review: The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller by Cleo Coyle



The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller (Haunted Bookshop Mystery, Book #6)
by Cleo Coyle
Release Date: September 25th 2018
2018 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0425237458
ASIN: B078VX9SNF
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher / Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours

4/5 Stars

Summary
Bookshop owner Penelope Thornton-McClure didn't believe in ghosts, until she was haunted by the hard-boiled spirit of 1940s private investigator Jack Shepard. Now Jack is back on the job, and Pen is eternally grateful...

After an elegant new customer has a breakdown in her shop, Penelope suspects there is something bogus behind the biggest bestseller of the year. This popular potboiler is so hot that folks in her tiny Rhode Island town are dying to read it--literally. First one customer turns up dead, followed by another mysterious fatality connected to the book, which Pen discovers is more than just fiction. Now, with the help of her gumshoe ghost, Pen must solve the real-life cold case behind the bogus bestseller before the killer closes the book on her.


My Thoughts
The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller is the sixth book in the Haunted Bookshop Mystery series, and is quite a long-anticipated book considering the last one came out around 2009. I had been a big fan of the series, but admittedly lost interest when I saw there was no further book in sight so I literally jumped at the chance to read this when I saw it.  Then I wondered if I had to read the other ones again in order to remind myself of the characters and events, slightly panicked as I really did not have the time, but once I started the book, realized I didn't have to do that.  The author made it really easy to slip back into Penny and Sadie's world and I truly enjoyed that fact and the book.

Penelope, Sadie, Jack, Spencer, Seymour, and Eddie are definitely back for another great adventure and I really felt like I slipped into their world so easily, despite it being almost ten years.  Jack, by the way, is a ghost who is attached to Penelope (a tale told in another book) and I have always loved his 1940s slang and way of looking at things.  I always imagined he has this really sexy voice to go with his looks (he is able to take Pen to his time in her dreams), and love the scenes when he is around. He also has a unique perspective which helps her look at things differently from how she would see them.  I often wondered what the author would do with Jack though if and when Pen finds someone and develops a new relationship.  I think it would be awkward to have Jack in the background making comments during the more intimate moments, you know?  What I really enjoy about the characters however, is the way they treat each other.  It's not one of those novels where the police are put down or seen as not doing their jobs and I rather like that, but I could have done without the cliche Chief Ciders.  There is little sneaking into things, but people finding out information through random events which make it seem more realistic.  I definitely enjoyed Seymour a lot more in this one and thought his character was funny and interesting.  I would love to see a lot more development for him as I think there is a lot going for him.

I really enjoyed the events in this novel, even if I found the mystery easy to solve and pretty much knew who the murderer was almost from the beginning.  But it was definitely fun watching Pen and Seymour sort through the clues trying to figure out who the author of the bogus bestseller was as well as who was the murderer.  The author has such an engaging writing style that knowing who did it didn't really matter (which is why I love her Coffeehouse Mystery series so much); I was just along for the ride and the entertainment.  That being said, I don't want to downplay the mystery as it was complex and full of twists and turns. I also liked how Jack's past cases connected with the current one - so neatly done.  

Verdict
The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller was a great new addition to the series and I really hope there are more coming our way and we don't have to wait almost ten years before the next one.  Because it's been so long between books, I don't think it really matters if you've read the previous books or not, although you might want to read them just because.  I like the relationship Penelope has with Jack and love the trick of Pen carrying a token from Jack's past which enables him to leave the bookshop with her.  It's a neat little twist that opens so many doors and continues to make this series so successful.

About the Author

 Cleo Coyle is a pseudonym for Alice Alfonsi, writing in collaboration with her husband, Marc Cerasini. Both are New York Times bestselling authors of the Coffeehouse Mysteries–now celebrating nearly fifteen years in print. They also write the nationally bestselling Haunted Bookshop Mysteries, which were originally published under their second pseudonym, Alice Kimberly (The Ghost and Mrs. McClureThe Ghost and the Dead DebThe Ghost and the Dead Man’s LibraryThe Ghost and the Femme FataleThe Ghost and the Haunted Mansion). Alice has worked as a journalist in Washington, DC, and New York, and has written popular fiction for adults and children. A former magazine editor, Marc has authored espionage thrillers and nonfiction for adults and children. Alice and Marc are also bestselling media tie-in writers who have penned properties for Lucasfilm, NBC, Fox, Disney, Imagine, and MGM. They live and work in New York City, where they write independently and together. You can learn more about Cleo, her husband, and the books they write by visiting www.CoffeehouseMystery.com.

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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Review: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

An Unwanted Guest
by Shari Lapena
Release Date: August 7th 2018
2018 Pamela Dorman Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978- 0525557623

Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
It's winter in the Catskills and Mitchell's Inn, nestled deep in the woods, is the perfect setting for a relaxing--maybe even romantic--weekend away. It boasts spacious old rooms with huge woodburning fireplaces, a well-stocked wine cellar, and opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just curling up with a good murder mystery.

So when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and a blizzard cuts off the electricity--and all contact with the outside world--the guests settle in for the long haul.

Soon, though, one of the guests turns up dead--it looks like an accident. But when a second guest dies, they start to panic.

Within the snowed-in paradise, something--or someone--is picking off the guests one by one. And there's nothing they can do but hunker down and hope they can survive the storm.


My Thoughts
An Unwanted Guest is one of those books that I tried really, really, really hard to like, and it did have some good elements to it, but in the end, just didn't. I stuck with it because I was curious to see if I was correct with regards to the ending, but I kind of wished I had chosen another book to read instead of this one.

What attracted me to the book was the setting.  I tend to be a sucker for story lines set in conditions such as this: snow storm, isolated hotel, guests who are supposed to be strangers, mystery, secrets, and complications.  And because I have read so many books with this premise, I think I expect a lot from an author - the premier book obviously being that by Agatha Christie, whom I think the author tried to emulate.  Unfortunately, I don't think anyone should try to emulate Christie as they just won't succeed; they need to find their own formula and make it work for them.  And this author tried to make it 'Christie'-like and it just didn't work.  

The guests start dropping off one by one and with the power off, no one can call the police or ask for intervention of any kind.  Soon the guests realize (hello?) that it must be one of them so they decide they must stick together in order to prevent the murderer from having an opportunity and to prevent anyone else from dying.  Naturally, they all become quite bored staying in the living room as there's nothing to do other than drink and talk, but how do you talk to someone you think may be a killer?  

The biggest problem for me with this book was the multiple POVs.  Typically, I don't tend to have a problem with that, but it just didn't seem to work in this one and made everyone so removed from each other, and from the reader.  I got to the point where I didn't care who died and who didn't.  In fact, I didn't really care for any of the characters, except maybe David, as he was the most interesting one, and even that is stretching it.  Beverly and Henry? I just wanted to bang my head against the wall every time their POV came up.  And Riley? It made me seriously wonder how much the author knew about people with PTSD. I feel bad but I just couldn't feel anything for any of these characters and I really feel that it was because of the way the book was written. 

There was a lot of internal monologue from the different characters and you did get to find out some of their backstories because of this but I'm not really sure I liked the way it was done, not in a murder mystery story.  Not enough time was spent on the actual mystery and I feel like so much time was spent on the author trying to give us these backstories so we could figure out who the murderer was but all it did was distract from the story.  And I didn't care for the ending at all. Not one bit.

Verdict
An Unwanted Guest is one of those books that should have been right up my alley but really didn't do anything for me.  I actually grew frustrated as I read and thought about giving up about three-quarters of the way in.  I should have.  It was a quick read though, for which I'm grateful, but I just didn't like the story or the characters and I definitely didn't like the ending.  I really wish it could have been otherwise as I love stuff like this and the atmosphere was great.  I really feel that you should judge this one for yourself though. This is the second book I've read by this author and neither book has been favourable for me so I don't think I would read another one by this author.  I feel badly about it, but that's the way it is. I am really glad that so many other people enjoyed this novel and appreciated it, but I am not one of them.



Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review: Letters From the Dead by Steve Robinson

Letters From the Dead (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery, Book #7)
by Steve Robinson
Release Date: August 14th 2018
2018 Thomas & Mercer
Kindle Edition; 348 Pages
ISBN: 978-1503903104
ASIN: B079L5GZXK
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary

When genealogist Jefferson Tayte is hired to prove the identity of a black sheep in his client’s family tree, he unwillingly finds himself drawn into a murder investigation with nothing more to go on than a 150-year-old letter and a connection to a legendary ruby that has been missing for generations.

As more letters are mysteriously left for him, Tayte becomes immersed in a centuries-old tale of greed, murder and forbidden love that takes his research from the wilds of the Scottish Highlands to the colour and heat of colonial India.

A dark secret is buried in Jaipur, steeped in treachery and scandal. But why is it having such deadly repercussions in the present? Can Tayte find the ruby and prevent the past from repeating itself before it’s too late?

My Thoughts
Letters From the Dead is the seventh book in the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery series and is rather intriguing; Tayte accepts an invitation to research the lineage of a client's patriarchal line, but must go to Scotland and reside in an old castle in order to do so as all of the family's papers and research history resides there.  Naturally, put the words 'old castle' and 'mystery' together and you've already got me hooked as I love that kind of thing.

The story is actually told in two alternating story lines; one in the present featuring Tayte, his research, and the current mystery and then you have the second story line taking place in the early 1800s in India, the story behind the letters that Tayte kept receiving in order to help with his research.  I love alternating story lines, if they're done well, and these two meshed seamlessly, woven into the story quite brilliantly.  I don't want to mention how as it is part of the mystery of the story, but it worked rather well and I enjoyed the way it was done.  While the story line from India was rather predictable and easy to figure out, it was still enjoyable.  It was the present story line, featuring Tayte, that I thought was predictable, but turned out to have one rather huge twist that actually caught me off guard, pleasantly so.  I love it when an author can do that to a reader.  

As always, Tayte is a favourite of mine and I have enjoyed his personality and character through all of the books, including this one.  He is married now, with a child, which adds a different element to his life, although neither really featured much in this novel.  Sinclair, the owner of the castle, was a bit mysterious, but was an enjoyable character, one I had a hard time figuring out.  But it was Murray, the live-in companion/helper/do-it-all person to Sinclair that I really enjoyed.  He was mysterious, but in a nice way, and I really enjoyed his personality and his quirks.  I understood how Tayte became suspicious of both of them during his investigation, and became rather guarded in the information he shared; he did have to protect himself, after all.  It just added another element to the story and made it that much more interesting.  After all, who do you trust when there is a big ruby in the mix of the investigation and people keep getting murdered around you?  I think I would have felt the same way as Tayte.

Verdict
Letters From the Dead was another enjoyable entry to this series.  The book was dramatic, there was a rather intriguing puzzle to solve with clues left for Tayte in rather mysterious circumstances, intriguing and likeable characters, and a double story line that I rather liked. As always, the author has a way of drawing you in to the story and I stayed up way too late finishing this book.  To be honest though, compared to the other books in the series, I did think it was one of the weaker ones, but that didn't make it less enjoyable.  And while it could be read on its own, I do recommend you start at the beginning just to get an idea of why Tayte is in the position he is in as it is not explained but assumed.  I recommend the series to anyone who is interested in genealogical mysteries.