Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: The Shoppe of Spells by Shanon Grey

The Shoppe of Spells (The Gatekeeper Series, Book #1)
by Shanon Grey
Release Date: November 23, 2011
2011 Turquoise Morning Press
Ebook Edition; 244 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

When is a whole more than the sum of its parts? When it has ties to the quaint little town of Ruthorford, GA, as Morgan Briscoe discovers when a cryptic message threatens to change her life forever.

Morgan's relatively normal life is turned on its ear when she learns not only that she is adopted, but her birth parents are dead and she now holds half-interest in a business with their ward, Dorian Drake, who, despite his riveting good looks, can barely conceal his hostility toward his new partner.

Morgan discovers that she is more than she seems and together she and Dorian have the ability to control a portal to another dimension. Unable to control their growing attraction, Morgan and Dorian dance around their desires and her burgeoning abilities, until danger forces them to face their destiny.

My Thoughts
The Shoppe of Spells had a very interesting and unique story line to it that I quite enjoyed.  From the moment I was introduced to Morgan and her cat, Mrs. T., I was intrigued by the secrets that were set in motion almost from the beginning of the novel when a letter from a mysterious lawyer arrived for her in the mail.  Secrets, mysteries, old family traditions - all of these things are always a draw for me and often keep me reading until I discover the things I want to know.

Some of these secrets lure Morgan to a charming town where she discovers she is now half-owner of a shop and bounteous gardens, something she has always wanted and longs in her heart to keep forever.  She also discovers the other owner is a sexy male and finds herself completely smitten right from the beginning.  I thought the growing relationship between Dorian and Morgan was cute and fun, although I like the fact that trust was not always forthcoming as it made their relationship seem more real and believable.  There were times I would have liked to have shaken Dorian however, as his habit of withholding information was sometimes annoying and seemed more like it was for the sake of the moving the plot along rather than for relationship purposes.  There was sometimes a false ring to these revelations when he spoke to others and it sometimes drove me crazy.  While the author tried really hard to show the physical attraction between the two of them, there were times when I felt like Ms. Grey was trying a tad too hard to push the believability of the attraction and I didn't buy it.  However, I did enjoy the scene in the grotto, and for those romance lovers out there, who don't want  too much detail, but still want some romance and love, I think you will really enjoy this scene. 

The plot itself, while it had some intriguing twists and turns, was somewhat slow in sections, and the whole villain thing didn't work in my estimation.  While what happened to Jasmine was truly horrible, it felt wrong and out of place in the novel, not because of the incident, but because it didn't really seem to fit in the plotline very well.  I couldn't really grasp Rob's importance in the grand scheme of things, and yes, I know he worked for Iain, but to turn so horrible so quickly made little sense to me.  I also felt the creatures and their purpose was not explained very well, nor were the portals and it left me with far more questions that were not answered; this was sort of frustrating as a reader.  There were quite a few secondary characters involved in the novel, some I am absolutely certain we will see in future novels (hopefully!!!), and I really enjoyed their quirky personalities.  Meadow was a delight and a treat, and I really hope there will be a novel devoted to Morgan's BFF, Jenni, as I adored her character. I was totally surprised by Jasmine as I was prepared to hate her character as the scheming and jealous ex-girlfriend, and she ended up being anything but that.  Love those twists!! These characters also played pivotal roles in this novel, roles which are not totally clear at this point.  Hopefully more answers will be forthcoming in future novels to the many questions I have.

The Shoppe of Spells is the first novel in the Gatekeeper Series and is a fun, lighthearted read.  While I thought it was somewhat lacking in regards to suspense and I did find it fairly predictable, there were enough other delights, especially through some of the quirky secondary characters, to keep me interested.  This series is off to an interesting start, and I am looking forward to learning more about Jasmine and her abilities in the next book in this series.

Author Biography
Shanon Grey weaves romance and suspense with threads of the paranormal. THE SHOPPE OF SPELLS is the first in her series, THE GATEKEEPERS. Shanon spent her life on coasts, both the beautiful Atlantic and the balmy Gulf. Hurricane Katrina taught her the fragility of life and the strength of friendship, family and starting over. She currently lives in northern Georgia, trading the familiarity of the coast for the lush beauty and wonder of the mountains, where her husband fulfilled her lifelong dream—to live in a cottage in the woods. There, she garners inspiration from horses grazing on rolling pastures and deer that wander by to tease her beloved dog.

You can join her on Facebook at, follow her on Twitter at and visit her website at Contact her at She would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: Something Witchy This Way Comes by Veronica Blade

Something Witchy This Way Comes (Something Witchy, Book #1)
by Veronica Blade
Release Date: November 30th, 2011
2011 Crush Publishing
Softcover Edition; 394 Pages
ISBN: 978-0979886942
Genre: Young Adult / Paranormal
Source: Review Copy from Pump Up Your Book

4.5 / 5 Stars

Brainiac Tessa McClean’s newly discovered magical powers give her an escape from her self-absorbed parents. But the thrill of being a witch fades when she learns of a rival coven and begins to suspect her own coven’s motives. Evidence tells Tessa to trust one side, but instinct drives her toward the other. When the school’s scrumptious delinquent, Hayden Anders, offers Tessa self-defense lessons in exchange for tutoring, his timing couldn’t be better. Although hanging out with him is a necessary evil in Tessa’s fight to stay alive, resisting a bad-boy she secretly yearns for might be more than she can manage. Together, Tessa and Hayden work to unravel the mysteries behind the two covens to discover why they’ll stop at nothing to lure Tessa to their side. She must form an alliance with one of the covens before it’s too late. But the wrong decision could cost Tessa the lives of all who she holds dear — including Hayden.

My Thoughts
Something Witchy This Way Comes is a fascinating look at two young adults, who also happen to be inbedded full of supernatural talent, deal with mainstream issues such as neglect, abuse, peer pressure, relationship issues, future-plan issues, and bullying, as well as supernatural issues such as power, control, trust, abuse of power, and making right choices.  A novel that is fun and engaging, with a lot of romance thrown into the mixture for those with a romantic soul, Something Witchy This Way Comes has that wonderful blend of everything that makes a novel so intriguing to read.

The spark between Tessa and Hayden is evident almost from the beginning and I really enjoyed watching the fireworks play out between them as the contest of wills was fun to read about. Opposites in personality and every other way possible, Hayden is rich and gorgeous, and girls just throw themselves at him; known as a bully and often in trouble, he carries a huge weight on his shoulders, a weight he will never share with anyone.  Tess is the clean-cut quiet girl who has an enviable GPA, a beauty who is not quite invited to all of the glittering parties and doesn't quite fit in the with the 'in' crowd.  Having Hayden as her protector completely changed her life as she was introduced to a world completely different from her own quiet one, a world she prefers to the wild party life that Hayden lives.  And yet, watching the scenes develop and seeing that element of trust grow was interesting and I've often wondered why the element of opposites attracting always exists in these novels.  While there were some steamy scenes between them, I liked how Tessa held her ground and held to her morals and was very insistent that Hayden follow the ground rules that were laid out.  While not a fan of novels where characters are blindly in love right from the beginning, I'm glad the novel didn't exactly follow that route, and the principal characters had their difficulties and their problems or I wouldn't have bought into their relationship.  As the two worked through their problems however, family secrets that had long been hidden came to light and both Tessa and Hayden discovered things about themselves and their families that have been kept hidden.  I love secrets and finding out hidden things is something I enjoy reading; woven deftly throughout the novel, it grabbed my attention and didn't let go until the end.

One of the things I really enjoyed in this novel were the many themes interwoven among the plot.  Themes such as neglect and abuse flowed throughout the pages and I watched as Tessa had to struggle to make grown-ups decisions, decisions such as staying home rather than going away to college and checking on the babysitter to make sure she was doing her job, in order to give her little sister a semblance of a happy home as her parents didn't shower either of them with love or affection or pay attention to them.  While I was reading these scenes, all I wanted to do was go hug my own children and sit down with them and tell them how much I loved them; it was quite sad at times.  I found myself quite connected to both of the main characters, and the differing POV's certainly helped, as the author switched back and forth between Tessa and Hayden and I enjoyed reading about the two viewpoints.  It also showed the reader how complicated both of these main characters were and how easily things can be misconstrued in a situation if people are not completely honest with each other.   Some of the other themes dealt with in this novel included bullying, peer pressure, sexual relationships, future decisions, and responsibility.

Something Witchy This Way Comes is a novel full of twists and turns, and blends the paranormal with suspense and high school angst in such a way that makes it a real page turner.  While some parts can be somewhat predictable, there is so much to enjoy in this novel that it really doesn't matter, and the secondary characters are as fun and interesting as the main characters.  And because I still have some unanswered questions, I am really hoping (please, Ms. Blade!!!) that a sequel is coming soon. 

Check out my giveaway for Something Witchy This Way Comes HERE.

I also apologize for this post not appearing yesterday when it was supposed to post.  I really don't know what went wrong, but my pre-scheduled posting did not work (yet again) and this post, which should have appeared yesterday, did not show up.  Again, my sincerest apologies to Dorothy and her team.

Guest Post: Crystal Connor

Curling Up By The Fire would like to welcome Crystal Connor, author of The Darkness, a science-fiction /  horror novel that is sure to produce some chills. Selected as a two time Award-Winning Finalist in the 2011 International Book Awards in the fiction categories of Cross Genre Fiction and Multicultural Fiction, The Darkness tells the story of two women, one who practices alchemy and one who practices witchcraft, as they each share the responsibility of raising a child with tremendous powers, one who was bred and born for a purpose of which the scientists who created him are aware. 

Artemisia, a scientist who also practices alchemy, is wealthy beyond imagination. She is one of the founding members of the Skyward Group, a privately funded, secret, research facility conducting experiments that erase what tradition has established as the boundaries separating the realm of man from the realm of God. Artemisia has everything she wants – money, fame, knowledge and power – except for a child. Inanna is a powerful and dangerous witch, also wealthy beyond imagination. Her powers are greater and more deadly than any in the long tradition before her. Inanna has everything she wants – money, knowledge and God-like power – except for a child. The Child has nothing. At three months of age, he knows only what he has experienced through the bars of his locked cage. He has nothing. He doesn’t have a mommy. He doesn’t have a daddy. He doesn’t have a name. The scientists who created him do not handle him, because they know The Child is dangerous.

In The Darkness, Two women clash in a vicious battle that has been fought since the days of King Solomon – the fight over a child. One woman unleashes the nightmarish arsenal of modern science while the other dispatches the weaponries of witchcraft. And as The Child grows up, his love for one and resentment for the other will change the fate of both these women, forever.

Early Works of Crystal Connor
by Crystal Connor

The reason I started blogging is because I used to belong to a writing group called Author’s Anonymous. What attracted me to the group was the fact that the founder gave us all writing assignments, and we posted them to our blogs so that other we could read, critique and comment on our fellow members stories. It was an amazing group but as we, as writers, spent more and more time with our own writing goals and deadlines we just didn’t have the time to commit to our group.

I am going to share two of my “early works” that I posted while a member of Author’s Anonymous with you today. I hope you enjoy them.

Coaches instructions: If you had to describe yourself as a color, which would you choose and why?

So I was going to skip this assignment to work on the next one (which seems so kick ass, totally fun with a ton of room to maneuver…and that's right up my alley)

This drill seemed a little challenging and I couldn’t find a way not to incorporate race and clearly that’s not what’s she’s asking, but it’s the 1st thing that came to mind and the only thing that stayed there.

Because I sooo do not want to do this assignment I’ve decided to do it twice…two different stories. If you wanna wear daisy dukes you gotta do your squats & lunges there is just no way around it.

My Story Colors Part 1 follows:
“What color we’re you?”

The little girl asked me what color I was and the question caught me completely off guard and ushered in a flood of memories that I had tried for ten years to forget.

Once I was alone and had more time to think about her question I realized I could no longer remember my native planet. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to breath relatively clean air or enjoy the warmth of the sun beneath the protective barrier of an ozone layer. That was a long time ago and Earth is no longer there.

This planet was different. The landscape was harsh and colorless, the weather was openly hostile and it was as if the sun was trying to use the cleaning power of fire to rid her 5th planet of disease.

It’s surprising how quickly the human body can adapt and evolve but I guess we can thank Monarch Pharmaceuticals for that because God had nothing to do with this.

Out of the 758,459 of us who had won the lottery to escape the Garden of Eden that God had given man in the form of Planet Earth, only twenty-eight of us were still alive. In this sector there were only two of us but that wouldn’t be the count for long because Eric was dying.

This planet already had a population in the billions and the girl who asked the question was a 3rd generation native and that was why she had asked the question in the 1st place.

In just 10 years I had become known as a settler. I was an immigrant, a relic from the “old country,” with an outdated language, ancient customs, and conservative ways and I am only forty.

Thanks to Monarch Pharms, to deal with the combative environment of the brave new world, I no longer had skin but scales. I was still humanoid in form and so were the natives…sort of.

I guess you can say us settlers were like the Cardassian race from Star Trek; and like the lizards of the deserts of our old planet, our genetic manipulation allowed us to live on this one and it was our genetic manipulation that was also killing us.

You could still see that I had once been beautiful and I think that is why the youth of this planet got themselves “scaled” despite the fact that their shinny chromed skin was more than capable of dealing with the proximity of a sun that never set. Like the young of planet earth, who in emulated African body modification by stretching their ears without fully understanding the culture or significance behind the act. Some things never change.

I closed my eyes and let my memory recall the green rolling hills, red desert sands, and canyons carved from lakes, and deep blue-green seas that had once been my home. In my minds eye I saw the girl and heard her question asked and asked again…

“What color we’re you?”

I didn’t answer her question because I couldn’t. Tears breached past my closed reptilian eyes and flowed down my cheeks as I cried myself to sleep. I didn’t answer her question because I couldn’t…because I didn’t remember what color I had been.

And here is my 2nd attempt. It’s not a short story it’s a poem and I was so incredibly blown away by how this piece turned and the amount of feedback that I got from it I used it as the dedication it to my mom in The Darkness

Colors Part 2:
As you know I did not want to do this drill. It’s still just as challenging as when I wrote the 1st Color and I still couldn’t find a way not to incorporate race.

Well like I promised I gave it another shot.

I am the color of the Red Sands of African a land where my roots were 1st planted.

I am the color of Oxidized Iron, from shackles that bound my predecessors in the storage hold.

I am the color of the green, brown, and white cotton fields and I am the color red from the blood that ran down the fingers that picked them.

I am the blue color of the Civil War Union uniform.

I am the white hot color of rage, I am the iridescent color of tears, I am every color on the spectrum from orange to red in outrage and am the bottomless color of black by the betrayal that the Choctaw people felt when being removed from lands that been held since antiquity.

I am the Silver-Blue color of The Rio Grande that “Los Mojado’s”, the wet ones, risked their lives to cross in order to make a better life for their heirs.

I am the color of fire that burned bras in the 60’s.

I am all the bright colors of the arrogant peacock, because I am the color of my ancestors.

Thank you again, for inviting me to your blog!
For anyone interested in finding out more about Crystal Connor or her book The Darkness feel free to hop on over to one of her websites:

Crystal's Website:

Crystal's Facebook:

And than you Crystal for being a guest on Curling Up By The Fire today, and sharing your stories with us.  Good luck with the rest of your tour, and with the release of your next novel, Artifical Light.

WOW: Dead Bolt & Ghoul Interrupted

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine.  Today I would like to focus on some of the cozy mysteries I am looking forward to reading as I am kind of going through a cozy mystery phase at the moment.  I can't explain it except that reading one of these books makes me want to curl up in front of a fire (pardon the pun!), grab a cup of hot chocolate, snuggle under my blanket, and just read until the wee hours of the morning, like I did when I was a little girl, with no worries or cares to weigh me down. 

Dead Bolt (A Haunted Home Renovation Mystery #2)
by Juliet Blackwell
Release Date: December 6, 2011

Turner Construction's latest restoration project is a historic Queen Anne Victorian in San Francisco. This time general contractor Mel Turner has to work around the owners who insist on sticking around- along with some ghosts that insist in their own way that the work stops...

The ghosts aren't the only ones standing in the way of the renovations. A crotchety neighbor, Emile Blunt, secretly wants this house, and could be behind some of the disturbances. But when Emile is found dead, it's Mel who appears guilty. Now she must restore the building-and her reputation-before it's too late.

Ghoul Interrupted (A Ghost Hunter Mystery, Book 6)
by Victoria Laurie
Release Date: December 27th, 2011

M.J. Holliday and her crew interrupt the frantic schedule of their reality TV show, Ghoul Getters, and hotfoot it to New Mexico, where a dreadful demon is waging tribal warfare. Same Whitefeather- M.J.'s spirit guide-urgently needs her help to stop this evil spirit from wiping out the descendants of his tribe. It doesn't take a psychic to predict that M.J.'s going to have a devil of a time making New Mexico a demon-free zone.

I love this series and can't wait to read this one!!
Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: The Darkness by Crystal Connor

The Darkness
by Crystal Connor
Release Date: December 1st, 2010
2010 Bennett & Hastings Publishing
Softcover Edition; 266 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-934733-37-0
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal / Speculative
Source: Review copy from Pump Up Your Book

4 / 5 Stars

Artemisia, a scientist who also practices alchemy, is wealthy beyond imagination. She is one of the founding members of the Skyward Group, a privately funded, secret, research facility conducting experiments that erase what tradition has established as the boundaries separating the realm of man from the realm of God. Artemisia has everything she wants - money, fame, knowledge and power - except for a child. Inanna is a powerful and dangerous witch, also wealthy beyond imagination. Her powers are greater and more deadly than any in the long tradition before her. Inanna has everything she wants - money, knowledge and God-like power - except for a child.

The Child has nothing. At three months of age, he knows only what he has experienced through the bars of his locked cage. He has nothing. He doesn't have a mommy. He doesn't have a daddy. He doesn't have a name. The scientists who created him do not handle him, because they know The Child is dangerous. 

Two women clash in a vicious battle that has been fought since the days of King Solomon - the fight over a child. One woman unleashes the nightmarish arsenal of modern science while the other dispatches the weaponries of witchcraft. And as The Child grows up, his love for one and resentment for the other will change the fate of both these women, forever.

My Thoughts
The Darkness, Crystal Connor's debut novel, is an intriguing blend of speculative fiction, mixed with horror, suspense, science fiction, mystery, and a bit of urban paranormal; and yet, it really does not fit into any of these traditional genre categories as it tends to eschew the normal trappings of femininity and power in a way that was unique and different.

Even though it took me awhile to get into the rhythm of the story, especially as I didn't grasp the different POV's right away nor did I quite pick up on the different time eras as they jumped around quite a bit, until several chapters in, I found the eerie atmostphere of the story to be intriguing.  There is this grown-up child, already a dangerous character, thrown at you without rhyme or reason, just these delicious tidbits given to you, something that sends deep chills and fear into one of the main characters and sends her world upside down.  And you want to know right then and there what is going on, who this character is, and why this character is spreading such deep fear into a team of scientists known for their audacity and their foray into projects that other scientiest wouldn't dare touch. 

While you have your basic good witch/bad witch story, the twists and turns to it are so amazing that everything you think and everything you believe get turned upside down.  You have Artemesia on one side, an alchemist and very powerful scientist who is addicted to the sight, touch, and feel of gold; she is also someone who will do everything in her power to keep, and get more of, her precious jewels.  And then there is Inanna, an extremely powerful witch who mixes with demons and other dark creatures in order to get what she wants from life.  When I thought I had everything straight in my mind, the two worlds of these women slowly collided and everything I thought I believed got turned upside down, and the ones I thought were evil were not, and the ones I thought were good were actually evil.  And the conclusion?  Can I say I was shocked?  Oh, yes, completely shocked, and it's still reeling through my head.  Wow!  And the best part is the author warns you in the novel how the novel will probably end, but I won't spoil it by telling you how, and I just glossed over it as if it meant nothing.  I have got to stop taking things for granted and start paying attention!!

And Adam, the poor baby who gets rescued twice in this novel, the telekinetic child with amazing capabilities, is manipulated all of his life, but who is really his true mother? I felt sorry for what he was going through, and yet, I even hated him at times for some of the things he did.  I felt sympathy for Artemesia when I should have been paying attention to what was said 'between the lines', and perhaps been more sympathetic towards Adam.  I have to give a lot of credit to Ms. Connor and her writing ability as she was certainly able to manipulate me very well.  (But it won't happen again, I hope?!?!)   Again, I was surprised by what I read as it was not what I was expecting, but that made it so much better.  And I loved Grandee, the modern-day Merlin, and wished I could have learned more about his character as he seemed to interesting and powerful. I felt far more connected to Inanna and Adam than I did to Artemesia and I am not sure if that was done deliberately was an aspect of her colder personality, while Inanna is actually a more loving and more nurturing person.  It's hard to say, but it did leave something wanting for me with regards to Artemesia as I felt like I didn't get to know her or the people in her life as well I as I could have. 

The Darkness is an enjoyable novel with many twists and turns.  The blend of genres helped keep the plot suspenseful as it drew on many different aspects such as history, magic, suspense, science fiction, mystery, and even murder.  I am looking forward to reading the sequel to this novel, Artificial Light, when it is released.

Tuesday's First Paragraph Teaser

First Chapter First Paragraph is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where we share the first paragraph of our current reads to see if it grabs anyone else's attention.  For myself, it's not usually the blurb on the back of the book that hooks me in, it's often the first few paragraphs, and if I have trouble putting it down, I buy it.  That would be why I tend to avoid the bookstore!!

I came across Daniel Palmer last year when I was asked to review his debut thriller Delirious, and I enjoyed it so much that I jumped at the chance to review his second thriller, Helpless, when asked.  Let me know what you think!

Release Date: February 1st, 2012

Love can make you do surprising things.  Lindsey Wells flashed on that thought as she unbuttoned her black sweater.  Her racing heart knew she was crossing a line she'd never crossed before.  The blond hairs of her arms stood on end, as tough they, too, were anxious about this unfamiliar but exciting experience.  Keep going, Lindsey urged herself.  She smiled and released yet another button from its hole.  There wasn't any little voice inside her head screaming "No" or "Don't".  So Lindsey continued - undeterred, unashamed, and never in her fifteen years feeling more turned on. 

Lindsey, known for her cheerfulness, enviable GPA, and deft tackling skills on the soccer field, tilted her head to the right, pinning her cell phone between her shoulder blade and ear.  Through the phone's compact receiver, Lindsey listened to Tanner Farnsworth's hard breathing.  Her body tingled with these strange feelings.  She knew what she was doing was a little bit crazy.  On occasion, her mind would flash a warning that something wasn't right with this.  Even so, she ignored those nagging worries because that was part of the fun.  It was what made her feel so exhilarated.

Screwing UP and Contest Time!

I don't know how I managed to do it, but I screwed up big time.  Oh, yes, my friends are laughing now, as perfectionistic me, who prides herself on micro-managing, has somehow managed to mess up the dates of a blog tour BIG TIME.  Have I said that enough times yet?  BIG TIME.  At least I am not so small small that I can't admit it.  So, what is a poor girl to do who hates to admit when she messes up to do?  Well, have a giveaway of course.  That way, people will forget about the screw-up and focus only on the gifts at hand, hopefully???

Giveaway:  One lucky reader will receive a print copy of Veronica Blade's Something Witchy This Way Comes.

Brainiac Tessa McClean’s newly discovered magical powers give her an escape from her self-absorbed parents. But the thrill of being a witch fades when she learns of a rival coven and begins to suspect her own coven’s motives. Evidence tells Tessa to trust one side, but instinct drives her toward the other. When the school’s scrumptious delinquent, Hayden Anders, offers Tessa self-defense lessons in exchange for tutoring, his timing couldn’t be better. Although hanging out with him is a necessary evil in Tessa’s fight to stay alive, resisting a bad-boy she secretly yearns for might be more than she can manage. Together, Tessa and Hayden work to unravel the mysteries behind the two covens to discover why they’ll stop at nothing to lure Tessa to their side. She must form an alliance with one of the covens before it’s too late. But the wrong decision could cost Tessa the lives of all who she holds dear — including Hayden.

*** Open to residents of Canada and the U.S.
*** Must leave a comment with your email address in order to be entered.
*** Contest runs to 4th December 2011.

Plus, I will throw in one extra book as a surprise for the lucky winner.

Good luck everyone!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: The Diva Haunts the House by Krista Davis

The Diva Haunts the House (A Domestic Diva Mystery #5)
by Krista Davis
Release Date: September 6, 2011
2011 Berkley Prime Crime
Trade Paperback Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-425-24378-7
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review Copy from Penguin Canada

4 / 5 Stars

Domestic diva Sophie Winston is getting into the Halloween spirit- her decorations for a community haunted house are so good, it's scary. Not to be outdone, rival domestic diva Natasha is throwing a spooktacular Halloween party at her house. But when Sophie arrives, she discovers one of Natasha's guests dead in a Halloween display, and a pale, fanged partygoer fleeing the scene.

The cause of death is not immediately apparent, but the victim does have two puncture wounds on his neck.  While Sophie's boyfriend, homicide detective Wolf, investigates, rumors start flying faster than witches on broomsticks. Could the killer be a real vampire-the same one rumored to have lived in Sophie's haunted house back when it was a boardinghouse? Good thing a domestic diva never runs out of garlic...

My Thoughts
The Diva Haunts the House, the fifth in the Domestic Diva Series, was a fun, delightful mystery, full of quirky and interesting characters and full of interesting Halloween tidbits and decorating tips that can be useful when planning one's own Halloween party or for upping the decorations on one's house. 

As usual, Sophie is a quirky domestic diva whom I can envy to no end.  Whipping up sumptuous meals and fabulous treats at a moment's notice, she certainly is a diva in the kitchen; under a lot of stress, cooking meals for others is her way of relaxing and de-stressing.  It certainly makes for some entertaining and homey kitchen scenes and I loved the descriptions of her kitchen, especially when the author went to such great pains to contrast Sophie's kitchen with Natasha's.  I laughed hysterically when Sophie left her fingerprints deliberately over Natasha's sparkling clean kitchen just because she could; it would certainly have been something I would have done.  I'm not sure I really enjoyed Natasha as much in this book as in the previous books however, as she seemed more peevish rather than just plain nasty.  I like the nasty Natasha much better and I hope she returns in future books.  What I do like is the constant rivalry between the two women, Sophie and Natasha, more on Natasha's part I think than Sophie's, and the dialogue can be very witty and clever. 

There were a lot of characters in this novel and it took me a while to keep everyone straight.  I took a great liking to Maggie, but I always like the really eccentric ones anyways, and her condition added some pretty interesting moments to the novel.  I also liked the addition of the pre-adolescents to the story as Sophie was babysitting her niece and a friend, which added some twists and turns to the story that were different.  I was not overly impressed with how everyone brushed off the interactions of twelve-year olds kissing however, as something that is common and I didn't like how that was not addressed.  I have a son who is approaching that age-group and I don't think I would have been so laid-back in that situation, seeing twelve-year olds with their lipsticks smudged and knowing what was going on and not really addressing it.  Perhaps it's just me, but really, twelve-year olds?

The plot of this book felt like one big Halloween party after another, and some of the things reminded me of my own childhood pranks and things that I had done and been part of.  I enjoyed the scenes at the haunted house as I love haunted houses and explore them whenever I can, whether they are made up or are houses that have elements of 'hauntings' to them.  The whole setting to the story is an autumnal treat; you can just smell the roasting fires, hear the leaves blowing down the street, see the orange twinkling lights of all the pumpkins, hear the children's screams as they see something spooky, and feel the cold breeze whistling through the air.  Although this series doesn't usually revolve arount the supernatural, I did wonder for a while if that was where this was heading, as there was a lot of talk about vampires and ghosts, and even the addition of a medium in one scene made me wonder what was going on.  And there is Aunt Faye living in Sophie's house too, of course.  Don't get me wrong as I love the supernatural, it's just not an element that is usual in this series.  I found there were enough characters and enough twists and turns to keep me interested, and I really enjoyed the plot.  I did find the ending to be somewhat abrupt, but abrupt in the sense that you know another book is on the way.  And yes, I did enjoy the ending as it made me think, even for a moment, that maybe the supernatural does exist. 

The Diva Haunts the House
was a worthy addition to the series and introduced a couple of new characters as well.  I found the plot to be interesting; the mystery itself was simple but with enough twists and turns to make it convoluted as the many characters did make it difficult to muddle through, and the addition of Halloween did allow for that 'creep' factor.  I am definitely looking forward to reading the next book in this series and learning more recipes and decorating tips from our favourite domestic diva.
Friday, November 18, 2011

150 Book Reading Challenge for 2012

I participated in a 100+ book challenge in 2011 and I set myself the goal of reading 140 books, which is not a staggering amount of books for me in a year.  With the usual interferences that go along with daily life, 2011 was probably one of my worst years when it came to meeting personal reading goals, so I really need to up the ante this year.  Hosted by My Overstuffed Bookshelf, this should be a fun challenge to work towards in 2012

** You need to read 150 or more books.
** Provided the book has an ISBN number, it counts.  EXCEPTION: Individual short stories or individual books in the Bible and comic books are not permitted.

** You do not need to list your books in advance.   Crossovers from other reading challenges are permitted.

** Challenge run 1st January, 2012 to 31 December, 2012. You can join at any time.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: Two and a Half Dead Men by Jason Krumbine

Two and a Half Dead Men (The Grym Brothers, Book #1)
by Jason Krumbine
Release Date: April 24th, 2011
2011 One Stray Word Books
Ebook Edition; 270 KB
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal
Source: Review Copy from Pump Up Your Books

2.5 / 5

People die every day. But not all of the souls can or want to move onto the afterlife. That’s where the brothers Thane and Mort Grym come in.

Thane and Mort are bounty hunters for dead souls. They inherited the job from their father and they’re two of the best in town.  But when there’s a double homicide at the Kirkland Motel the Grym brothers end up with more than they bargained for. In a world without vampires, zombies or the undead, one of their bounties might not be as dead as he’s supposed to be.

My Thoughts
Two and a Half Dead Men had a great premise for a novel and did keep my interest for the majority of the time. And while there is a lot of potential in this novel and in this series, and I liked the main characters Thane and Mort and their interactions with each other, the choppy writing style, the weak storyline, and abrupt ending did leave me feeling let down and disappointed at the end of the novel.

I like the two brothers, Thane and Mort, and I will admit that I liked Mort a little bit more than Thane simply because he was the more interesting character: Mort had a lot of issues with women, drinking, and gambling, but he was more down to earth, while Thane seemed colder, more serious, and someone who would be far more difficult to get to know.   While both of these characters need quite a bit more in terms of character development, I did enjoy the banter and quick wit between them, except for the parts about who is mom and dad's favourite son as that line wore out pretty fast, and the comments about the homosexual man and having to search his bedroom, and I liked how they looked out for each other. I don't personally think I would like Mort if I saw him, and I doubt I would trust him if I saw him, as the story did continuously point out his poor hygiene habits, and his poor dating habits, and the fact he was dating a stripper named Jeanie, whose phone number he couldn't seem to remember. And I definitely would not let him in my front door if her knocked, but so be it.  I also wish that more information had been included on Thane's girlfriend as there seemed to be some interesting potential there, but it didn't seem to go anywhere other than she bandaged the men up and wasn't very sympathetic towards them, as if this was a common occurence.  I sense a backstory there that wasn't fully explained, but perhaps in the next novel? 

The plotline itself was weak, and ended quite abruptly.  To be honest, I'm not quite sure exactly what the villains did in order to incur such wrath, and many of the other story elements weren't as clear as they could have been.  I wish that the story had been more developed and that things hadn't been introduced suddenly, without explanation, like the sticks having this sudden potential of which only one brother was aware. I also found the reading experience to be marred by many editing and proofreading errors, and I'd find myself jolted out of the story on occasion, something which actually proved to be annoying.  It's frustrating as I can sense the potential in the story, but I just couldn't get past some of the issues while I was reading.  The point of view was fine, although the lack of description from the character's viewpoint did limit the reading experience and did limit character and plot development as the majority of the story was dialogue based.

Two and a Half Dead Men had its interesting moments and definitely held a lot of potential, which unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to.  The lack of depth to the storyline, the abrupt ending, and the undeveloped characters limited the novel and the reading experience for me, but with proper editing and some good polishing, there is potential here as the basic ideas are good and intriguing.  The story itself is quite short and includes an excerpt from the second novel in this series, The Dead Couple

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: The Queen's Lady by Eve Edwards

The Queen's Lady (The Lacey Chronicles, Book #2)
by Eve Edwards
Release Date: February 1st, 2011
2011 Razorbill
Softcover Edition; 324 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-141-32733-4
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Young Adult
Source: Review Copy from Penguin Canada

4 / 5 Stars

1584 – Surrey, England  When Lady Jane Rievaulx begins service to the Queen at Richmond Palace, she is thrilled at the court’s newest arrival . . . Master James Lacey. Despite her previous courtship with his older brother, James is the man she truly loves. And for his part, he cannot deny his fascination with her. However, James is setting sail on a treacherous journey to the Americas, seeking absolution for what he sees as past sins. But when Lady Jane is forced into a terrible situation by her own family, there is only one man to save her. Will Master James return to his lady ­- before it’s too late?

My Thoughts
The Queen's Lady is the second book in the Lacy Chronicles and tells the story of James Lacy and Lady Jane, two characters to which we are introduced in The Other Countess, the first novel in the series.  Having read the first novel, I was pleasantly surprised by the The Queen's Lady as I was glad to see the further development of Jane's character as she was by far one of my favourite characters in The Other Countess.  I actually thought she displayed the most possibility for being a unique and enjoyable character, and her antics in the first novel are what made it so interesting.  While she was far tamer in the second book, having undergone a transformation while in exile and during her marriage, it seemed like her vitality was just simmering below the surface and the fire she displayed in the first novel was just waiting to come out. 

One of the things I really enjoyed about this novel is the conflict that women often faced during this time period, regardless of how strong a character you have or how much money you may have.  Despite finally winning freedom from her awful and controlling family, Jane quickly finds herself under their wing as their machinations and betrayals force her hand into a foreign marriage that she does not want.  I read Jane's struggles with interest as it really showed how desperate women were, especially those who waited on the Queen, despite the money, power, and position they may have held, and how they could be easily tricked into following their family's wishes.  I really felt for Jane in her predicament, but with the Queen backing her family, and the threat of insanity hovering over her head, there was little she could do.  I couldn't imagine feeling that powerless and although I felt for Jane in her predicament, being a woman of the modern world, it really is hard to imagine what that would be like as we have so much freedom.  The fact that she has to rely so heavily on other people to get her out of her predicaments must really weigh heavily on her, and she was lucky to have had that help as to many others did not.

I enjoyed the further development of Jane's character in this novel, but she had changed so much from the first novel that it was difficult, at times, to reconcile her as being the same person.  I liked especially when she was rebellious or did something that went against decorum as she seemed so much more likeable and personable that way, and she often got herself into a lot of trouble too.  Her temper tantrums made her seem more normal, and although she alienated her maids on occasion, they were fun to read about.   James was a much more serious character in this novel than in the first, but he had spent time in the Low Countries and had seen some atricious things while serving there.  He was suffering from a form of PTSD and needed some help to overcome his anxiety and nightmares, something of which Jane could not understand.  I thought the voyage to America was too pat in healing his anxiety and stress disorder, but swallowed it for the sake of the novel.  Milly and Diego were favourites of mine, and I wish the author had spent more time delving into their relationship and the difficulties they would have faced during this time period.  This is another area I thought was dealt with a little too succintly, but perhaps there will be more in the third novel.

The Queen's Lady is an enjoyable and quick read, with characters that are interesting and fun.  If you are looking for something that is really deep and involved, you will not find that in these novels, as they tend to be more on the lighter side of historical fiction.  The great attention to detail, and the polish that many of the great historical novels have is missing, but The Queen's Lady has a charm of its own that makes it whimsical.  I am looking forward to reading The Rogue's Princess, the next novel in this series, about James and Will Lacey's half-brother Christopher Turner.

2012 Dystopia Challenge

Bookish Ardour is running The Dystopia 2012 Challenge and I have decided to sign up once again. I have always loved this genre, but didn't really push myself in 2011 as much as I wanted, so this year I am challenging myself and am going for the Contagion Level of 15 books with the option of moving up to Soldier, 30 books.

•Running Dates: 1st of January – 31st of December 2012
•You can sign up to the last two weeks of December!
•Crossover Genres: Our Dystopia challenge also includes Post-Apocalypse and Ecotopia (environmentally dystopian).

There are extra challenges in which to participate as well which look like a lot of fun.
Friday, November 11, 2011

Guest Post: Jason Krumbine on the Needs of a Grim Reaper

Curling Up By The Fire would like to welcome Jason Krumbine, author of Two and a Half Dead Men, The Dead Couple, and Better Off Dead, an urban/fantasy/paranormal/crime series entitled The Grym Brothers Series.  Thane and Mort, bounty hunters for dead souls, are the heroes in these novels and you can follow their adventures as they help those souls who are not too certain they want to head into the afterlife.  Also, make sure you read the details on how you can win your own copies of these novels found at the end of the post. 

5 Things Every Grim Reaper Needs

by Jason Krumbine

Because this was probably keeping you up all night, I give you, in no particular order, the five things every grim reaper needs:

Good Hygiene
Being a grim reaper takes you to all sorts of interesting places and allows you to meet all sorts of fascinating people. Unfortunately, it can also take you to a lot of disgusting places and you can meet a lot of disgusting dead people. Eventually you’ll get used to the smell(occupational hazard). Other people won’t. Be a good friend and make sure you keep a solid supply of pleasant smelling soaps and shower after every reaping. Also, brush your teeth twice a day, not because you’re a grim reaper, but because it keeps your breath minty fresh.

A Cool Car
Some might say it’s not cool to be seen driving a dead granny to the afterlife, but that’s an easily solved problem: Get a cool car. It doesn’t matter what dead soul you’ve got in that backseat, everything looks better when it’s riding in a classic. Convertibles highly recommended.

A Good Sense of Timing
You don’t want to show up too soon or too late. How awkward would it be if you arrived to pick up Sarah’s soul and Sarah’s not dead yet? Egg on your face. Or what if you miss grabbing that dead guy at the nursing home and he ends up haunting the place for several hours before you finally get there? Newsflash: old people are easily scared to death. You’re supposed to be gathering the dead, not making more of them.

A Sense of Style
Don’t walk around in a hooded robe. Just don’t. You’re perpetuating an ancient stereotype. Plus, it’s tacky. The grim reapers of today don’t wear robes. They dress in fine suits and snazzy outfits. Remember, you’re representing Death, you need to look sharp.

Easily the most important thing on this list. Seriously, you’re going to be touching more than a few dead bodies: Everyone from the old guy who passed away peacefully in his sleep, to the knucklehead who accidentally cut off his own head. Dead bodies might be icky, but it’s part of the job. Also, do you know how many diseases they carry? You’re a grim reaper, not candidate to get reaped. Glove it up.

So, there you have it. Five things every grim reaper needs. All you need now is to get trained by a licensed Grim Reaper, signed off by the Council of Reapers and you’re good to go! Let’s get out there and start reaping!

About Jason Krumbine
Jason Krumbine is the author behind the pulse pounding, wisecracking Alex Cheradon Series, the dead soul hunting Grym Brothers Series (including Two and a Half Dead Men, The Dead Couple and Better Off Dead), and the tongue-in-cheek paranormal romance “A Graveyard Romance.”

You can visit his website at or visit him at Twitter at and Facebook at

You can also email him at

About The Grym Brothers Series

People die every day.

But not all of the souls can or want to move onto the afterlife.

That’s where the brothers Thane and Mort Grym come in.

Thane and Mort are bounty hunters for dead souls. They inherited the job from their father and they’re two of the best in town.

But when there’s a double homicide at the Kirkland Motel the Grym brothers end up with more than they bargained for. In a world without vampires, zombies or the undead, one of their bounties might not be as dead as he’s supposed to be.

Jack and Cindy were a happily married couple. She was an elementary school teacher. He was an aspiring children’s book author. They had the perfect life together, until the day they decided to kill themselves.

Suicides, by their very nature, tend to head directly into the afterlife.

Jack and Cindy’s souls never arrived.

Grim Reapers are real. They are governed by the Council of Reapers. Reapers are responsible for the capture and containment of dead souls that refuse to or cannot move on to the afterlife.

Thane and Mort Grym are two such reapers.

They say dead men tell no tales, but that’s just because they’ve never worked as a Grim Reaper.

Grim Reapers are real. They are governed by the Council of Reapers. Reapers are responsible for the capture and containment of dead souls that refuse to or cannot move on to the afterlife.

Lori Standford’s mother died six months ago. Now she’s back, haunting Lori out of her home. Lori turns to her close friend, Emma Grym, mother of Thane and Mort Grym, for help.

Now Thane and Mort find themselves embroiled in a mystery of dead men that stretches all the way to the top.

Giveaways, Contests & Prizes!
Join Jason Krumbine at the Pump Up Your Book Live! November Author Chat / Book Giveaway Party on Friday, November 18 starting at 8 p.m. eastern!

Jason will be giving away three e-copies of his books in The Grym Brothers Series! You could win a copy of Two and a Half Dead, The Dead Couple and Better Off Dead simply by attending the chat and asking Jason a question. All there is to it!

For details on chat, visit the official chat page for the November authors at Pump Up Your Book Live!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Love Your E-reader??

QuestionE-readers like the Kindle and iPad are sweeping the nation … do you have one? Do you like it? Do you find it changes your reading/buying habits? If you don’t have one, do you plan to?

I was one of the biggest skeptics concerning e-readers, but I caved in because I was getting so many review requests that were being sent electronically.  (And I also received enough Chapters GC one Christmas that I let myself indulge.)  And I am the biggest convert as I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my Kobo ereader.  It's so easy to use and I download things other than just books, like newspapers and magazine subscriptions.  It makes me feel a lot better about the environment knowing I can just read my favourite magazines on my reader at any time. 

The device is like my daughter's stuffed "Biggy Bear" in that it comes everywhere with me, and I don't like anyone else handling it because it has so many books on it now.  I have to make sure everything is backed up on the computer as I accidentally did an update the wrong way once and all the books that I downloaded got erased, so I had to put them all back on.  Luckily I had everything backed up!!  Apparently this can happen to any ereader, according to a techy friend of mine (and most cellphones) so be careful with those updates. 

I enjoy mine so much I'm thinking of getting one for my daughter too as she loves to read off the thing.  She's not crazy about books like my son and I, but she will sit down anytime and read off the ereader, so if it works who am I to play around with that.   

I am an ereader addict!! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Guest Post: Laura Bickle on the Price of Power

Curling Up By The Fire is pleased to welcome Laura Bickle, author of Embers and Sparks, the first two novels in the Anya Kalinczyk series.  Her heroine is a woman who spends her days as an arson investigator, and her nights pursuing malicious spirits.  Laura is here today to discuss the price of power, but first let's take a closer look at her novels.

Unemployment, despair, anger--visible and invisible unrest feed the undercurrent of Detroit's unease. A city increasingly invaded by phantoms now faces a malevolent force that further stokes fear and chaos throughout the city.

Anya Kalinczyk spends her days as an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department, and her nights pursuing malicious spirits with a team of eccentric ghost hunters. Anya--who is the rarest type of psychic medium, a Lantern--suspects a supernatural arsonist is setting blazes to summon a fiery ancient entity that will leave the city in cinders. By Devil's Night, the spell will be complete, unless Anya--with the help of her salamander familiar and the paranormal investigating team --can stop it.

Anya's accustomed to danger and believes herself inured to loneliness and loss. But this time she's risking everything: her city, her soul, and a man who sees and accepts her for everything she is. Keeping all three safe will be the biggest challenge she's ever faced.

EMBERS is available now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Read an excerpt at


Anya Kalinczyk is the rarest type of psychic medium, a Lantern, who holds down a day job as an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department—while working 24/7 to exterminate malicious spirits haunting a city plagued by unemployment and despair. Along with her inseparable salamander familiar, Sparky, Anya has seen, and even survived, all manner of fiery hell—but her newest case sparks suspicions of a bizarre phenomenon that no one but her eccentric team of ghost hunters might believe: spontaneous human combustion.

After fire consumes the home of elderly Jasper Bernard, Anya is stunned to discover his remains—or, more precisely, a lack of them; even the fiercest fires leave some trace of their victims—and she is sure this was no naturally occurring blaze. Soon she’s unearthed a connection to a celebrity psychic who preys on Detroit’s poor, promising miracles for money. But Hope Solomon wants more—she’s collecting spirits, and in a frantic race against time, Anya will face down an evil adversary who threatens her fragile relationship with her lover, her beloved Sparky’s freshly hatched newts, and the wandering souls of the entire city.

SPARKS is available for pre-order from Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Read an excerpt at

The Price of Power
by Laura Bickle

For me, the most exciting thing about urban fantasy is the idea of magic intertwined with the everyday world. Imagining that there’s a secret supernatural world thriving just beneath the skin of our mundane existence leads to a rich world of “what if’s.” What if humans could bend the elements to their will? What if ghosts wandered, unseen, through hospital corridors? What if oracles can tell the future by looking into a flame or shuffling a deck of cards?

I especially love the idea of magic, of humans being able to touch and manipulate unseen powers. But wielding power would make our heroes and heroines gods, unless the magic has a price. Most epic fantasy literature requires that the exercise of unnatural power has a cost to the user, and that idea has permeated urban fantasy, as well.

Vampires, for example, are given immortality. But they sacrifice the day, and must submit to the bestial act of taking blood from another to gain that power (most of them, anyway). Werewolves fall sway to the unreasoning spell of the beast in moonlight, in exchange for physical power and healing. These costs apply to nonhuman creatures, and we’re familiar with that trading of life and magic.

But what about human heroes and heroines? Does bending the fabric of reality to suit their goals also bring suffering upon them? What do they trade to be able to work magic?

I think that human protagonists must also make a trade; there’s no free lunch in the universe. Even if a magical heritage is forced on them, and not something sought out willingly.

With that in mind, I created my heroines with an ambivalent relationship toward their magical powers. In EMBERS, Anya Kalinczyk is the rarest kind of psychic medium, a Lantern. Where other mediums allow spirits to use their hands and voices to communicate, Anya devours ghosts. It’s a talent she had no choice in - she’s always been a Lantern. And it comes in handy in her nocturnal work as a ghost hunter. But she wrestles with the costs.

The first cost is physical. Devouring a spirit leaves a burn, a scar, on her body. The second is psychological - Anya feels apart from ordinary humans, and can’t make a connection with her fellow ghost hunters. And the last one is spiritual. Anya wrestles with the idea of what happens to a ghost after she incinerates it. Does it go forward into an Afterworld? Or has she killed it entirely?

In DARK ORACLE (which I write under my Alayna Williams pseudonym) Tara Sheridan has a more subtle magical ability, but it’s brought her more pain. Tara is an oracle, a criminal profiler who uses Tarot cards to solve crimes. Like Anya, she had no choice in it - it’s a gift given to her by her mother. While pursuing a serial killer with her talents, she was attacked and left for dead. Tara survived, but she was scarred for life and left barren - a very dear physical cost. She exiled herself from society, swore of the cards, and seeks tranquility in swearing off magic - until duty comes knocking. A scientist working with dark matter has gone missing, and the society of oracles to which she belonged desperately needs her help to locate him. Tara must decide whether to pick up the mantle of magic again, to assume the role of oracle, and endure further costs.

Without a price to magic, our heroes and heroines would be gods, immune from the consequences of their actions. We’d all like to think that we’d embrace the reins of power willingly. But I don’t think it would be that simple. By adding a bit of magical karma and conflict to the story, their humanity shines through more clearly.

Question for readers: If you could choose a magical power, what would it be? Would you foresee any costs to having a hidden power in your own life?

Author Bio:
Laura Bickle has an MA in sociology-criminology (research interests: fear of crime and victimology) and a BA in criminology. She has worked in and around criminal justice since 1997. Although she does read Tarot cards, she's never used them in criminal profiling or to locate lost scientists. She recently took up astronomy, but for the most part her primary role in studying constellations and dark matter is to follow her amateur astronomer-husband around central Ohio toting the telescope tripod and various lenses.

Writing as Laura Bickle, she's the author of EMBERS and SPARKS for Pocket - Juno Books. Writing as Alayna Williams, she's the author of DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE.

More info on her urban fantasy and general nerdiness is here:


She’s a proud member of Word Whores.
She’s at Facebook, and Fangs, Fur, and Fey.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Review: Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Russian Winter: A Novel
by Daphne Kalotay
Release Date: April 5, 2011 (Paperback)
2011 Harper Perennial
Paperback Edition; 466 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-196217-2
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

4 / 5 Stars

When she decides to auction her remarkable jewelry collection, Nina Revskaya, once a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet, believes she has finally drawn a curtain on her past. Instead, the former ballerina finds herself overwhelmed by memories of her homeland and of the events, both glorious and heartbreaking, that changed the course of her life half a century ago.

Nina has kept her secrets for half a lifetime. But two people will not let the past rest: Drew Brooks, an inquisitive young associate at a Boston auction house, and Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian who believes that a unique set of jewels may hold the key to his own ambiguous past. Together these unlikely partners begin to unravel a mystery surrounding a love letter, a poem, and a necklace of unknown provenance, setting in motion a series of revelations that will have life-altering consequences for them all.

My Thougths
Russian Winter: A Novel was an interesting blend of Russian history in the 1940s and early 1950s Stalinist era and modern day Boston where a former Bolshoi dancer is currently living out her retirement and learning to live with many past regrets and betrayals.  I am fascinated with the ballet, and although the novel started somewhat slowly, it didn't matter in the slightest as I savoured each word, each nuance, and just soaked up the atmosphere in Stalinist Russia.  To be honest, I preferred Nina and Viktor's story to the present-day story of Drew and Grigori and often rushed through the modern-day scenes in order to return to the past.

The novel's plotline was quite complex and intricate; I found myself having to pay close attention to events and dialogue, sometimes even re-reading things because I missed something important.  I loved how the author really respected the reader's intelligence and didn't put eveything in front of you all of the time; many of the concepts were nuanced through comments, thoughts, puns, similes, and personifications and I found myself pausing quite often to think about things as events unfolded.  And I loved the ending; it really made me think about how one action, one thought can change your world forever, and leave a chain reaction effect in your wake that can destroy many people around you, even your own life.  I loved the startling truth and the way it was revealed to Nina and the reader, not overtly, but through inferences, images, thoughts, and regrets. 

As a writer of literary fiction, Ms. Kalotay certainly does justice to this novel.  It is full of beautiful descriptive language that made me feel as if I was there in Russia, living through the trials and tribulations of the people during the Stalin regime.  The details that went into every aspect of this novel were quite amazing and I was transported back in time to a world that I can now envision quite clearly in my mind; the Bolshoi theatre, the crumbling buildings, the dasha in summer, the parties, Gersh's apartment with the spyholes drilled in the corners, and the tenseness, coldness, and alertness that bled into every aspect of their daily lives.  The people had to be so cautious all the time of what they spoke of, to whom they spoke, of whom they spoke, and it must wear on your soul after a while to be so wary all of the time.  It's a dreariness that seemed to soak into every aspect of the novel without taking anything away from the plot.  At the same time, the glory of the arts, such as music and poetry and dance, were celebrated and artists could earn a lot of extra freedoms by becoming famous.  And yet, creative expression was frowned upon and many artists struggled with the limitations imposed on the creations and the exhorbitant censorship that went into their work. 

Because of this coldness and wariness, I never felt like I developed a relationship with the characters.  It's not that I didn't care what happened to them, but I wasn't empathetic to them, if you understand what I mean.  Was this a ploy by the author to demonstrate another aspect of the Stalin regime?  I'm not sure, but I definitely liked the younger Nina to the older Nina; the younger one at least had moments where she demonstrated tenderness and pity towards others, whereby the older Nina was shaped by a country that fed fear into its citizens.  The modern day Drew and Grigori certainly had a lot going for them; I thought Drew was a more rounded out and fleshy character than some of the others and I just adored Grigori.  There was nothing heroic about him in the sense that we know heroes, but there is something compassionate and warm about him, something that touches you, and you can't help but feel as he goes through his introspection as he learns more about his real birth parents. 

Russian Winter: A Novel was a novel about betrayal and regret, and the sudden clarity that one has when one realizes that one has made a huge mistake in the past.  Beautifully written, I found the early story to be much more dramatic than the more modern one, but the jump between storylines was seamless nonetheless.  Exploring the suppression of expression in both art and words, Russian Winter explores how misunderstandings and arguments can lead to tragic consequences that affect everyone around you.  I recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in exploring things Russian, in a novel about petty jealousy, the ballet world, and love.