Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Spotlight and Giveaway: Stolen Dreams by Christine Amsden

Stolen Dreams
Cassie Scot
Book 4
Christine Amsden

Genre: Urban fantasy, mystery, romance, paranormal, new adult
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Date of Publication: June 25, 2014 (ebook)
October 15, 2014 (paperback)
ISBN:  978-1-60619-281-8
ASIN: Coming soon
Number of pages: 260
Word Count: 84,000
Cover Artist: Ural Akyutz

Book Description:
Edward Scot and Victor Blackwood have despised one another for nearly a quarter of a century, but now their simmering hatred is about to erupt.

When Cassie Scot returns home from her sojourn in Pennsylvania, she finds that her family has taken a hostage. Desperate to end the fighting before someone dies, Cassie seeks help from local seer Abigail Hastings, Evan Blackwood’s grandmother. But Abigail has seen her own death, and when it comes at the hand of Cassie’s father, Victor Blackwood kills Edward Scot.

But things may not be precisely as they appear.

Evan persuades Cassie to help him learn the truth, teaming them up once again in their darkest hour. New revelations about Evan and his family make it difficult for Cassie to cling to a shield of anger, but can Evan and Cassie stop a feud that has taken on a life of its own?

Conclusion to the Cassie Scot series.

About the Author:
Christine Amsden has been writing fantasy and science fiction for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and relationships, and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.

At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that effects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams.

In addition to writing, Christine teaches workshops on writing at Savvy Authors. She also does some freelance editing work.

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children.

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 $100 Amazon gift card from July 15-October 15.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: The Bone Church by Victoria Dougherty

The Bone Church
by Victoria Dougherty
Release Date: April 15th, 2014
2014 Pier's Court Press
Ebook Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0615980522
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from Virtual Book Tour

3.5 / 5 Stars

In the surreal and paranoid underworld of wartime Prague, fugitive lovers Felix Andel and Magdalena Ruza make some dubious alliances – with a mysterious Roman Catholic cardinal, a reckless sculptor intent on making a big political statement, and a gypsy with a risky sex life. As one by one their chances for fleeing the country collapse, the two join a plot to assassinate Hitler’s nefarious Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Josef Goebbels. But the assassination attempt goes wildly wrong, propelling the lovers in separate directions. 

Felix’s destiny is sealed at the Bone Church, a mystical pilgrimage site on the outskirts of Prague, while Magdalena is thrust even deeper into the bowels of a city that betrayed her and a homeland soon to be swallowed by the Soviets. As they emerge from the shadowy fog of World War II, and stagger into the foul haze of the Cold War, Felix and Magdalena must confront the past, and a dangerous, uncertain future.

My Thoughts
The Bone Church is one of those novels where I really struggled over how to write this review.  It's one of those novels that I really wanted to love, but the fact is, I didn't.  It's not that I didn't like, as there were many elements in it that I thoroughly enjoyed, but overall, when I liked at how it pieced itself together, I just couldn't admit to myself that I was satisfied with it.

There were a lot of great elements to The Bone Church though.  This is an area I know very well as I teach it in secondary school so I was quite happy to immerse myself in the historical details and the atmosphere of the times and just let the novel take me where it was going to take me.  The novel was well-written and it definitely gave the reader a good sense of the oppression the Czechoslovakian people faced both during and after World War II, by differing countries.  I liked the innuendos made by the author to the Resistance groups that existed and to the illegal trade markets that were happening as well as to the sneaky way she had of mentioning these things.  I'm not sure if someone who was unfamiliar with this time period though, would have picked up on these double entendres and innuendos as someone who is very familiar them.  The author did have a tendency to assume that the reader was well-versed with certain aspects of the time period as well as with a lot of Catholic traditions, both of which I am, but I'm not sure someone without that knowledge would have understood some of it.  On the other hand, coming right out and talking about it would have taken away from the atmosphere of the times; the fear of betrayal, the oppression, the fear of one's neighbour, and so on.  Just the downright fear that existed during this time period.  

The story did move rather quickly, and there was a lot of action, both of which had their good points and their not so good points.  I did find the beginning rather confusing and I had to re-read the first two chapters in order to get a sense of the style of writing before continuing on with the novel.  After that it was fine, and the two differing story lines, at differing times, didn't bother me too much. It was pretty clear when and where things were happening.  What I did find confusing was the why.  So much was going on, and although I grasped the main reason for all of this, I kept thinking there was going to be some major twist somewhere as to the real reason all of this action was happening and it never did.  And I felt somewhat let down.  And while I felt emotionally invested in the characters during the World War II part of the novel, I didn't feel the same way about them later so their later problems didn't affect me the same way and I was kind of indifferent to the resolution of the novel, which I thought was a let down anyways.  And I have to admit that the supernatural element was never really explained and just didn't belong in this novel, or if it was because of what I think it should have been (spoiler if I talk about it), there definitely should have been more build up of that aspect of the Catholic church and the role it plays in the Czechoslovakian people's life.  I'll leave it at that.  

The Bone Church was a decent novel about the Czechoslovakian people during World War II and the after-effects when the Russians moved in to take control.  I thought the descriptions of the time period and the atmosphere were very well-researched and were great, showing an oppressed and desperate people hiding a lively, fighting spirit.  I did feel that some of the innuendos behind some of the things were too much for people not familiar with the time period, especially those to do with the Infant Jesus of Prague (Church of Our Lady of Victory), where thousands come every year for hope and healing.  I did feel somewhat cheated as I felt liked the novel came up short in some areas; for example, I would have liked to have learned more about the lives of Felix and Magdalena after they were separated and how they came to be where they were and doing what they were doing.  Only little hints and vague remarks were given.  I did feel like there were major gaps and I really wanted to know what was going on.  However, that being said, I would definitely read another novel by this author as I enjoyed the characters, and her descriptions were very well done.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane by Sheila Roberts

The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane (Life in Icicle Falls #5)
by Sheila Roberts
Release Date: June 24th, 2014
2014 Harlequin Mira
Paperback Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778316183
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from Pump up Your Book

3.5 / 5 Stars

When it comes to men, sisters don't share!

After a fake food poisoning incident in L.A., Bailey Sterling's dreams of becoming a caterer to the stars collapse faster than a soufflé. Now Bailey's face is in all the gossip rags and her business is in ruins. But the Sterling women close ranks and bring her back to Icicle Falls, where she'll stay with her sister Cecily.

All goes well between the sisters until Bailey comes up with a new business idea—a tea shop on a charming street called Lavender Lane. She's going into partnership with Todd Black, who—it turns out—is the man Cecily's started dating. It looks to Cecily as if there's more than tea brewing in that cute little shop. And she's not pleased.

Wait! Isn't Cecily seeing Luke Goodman? He's a widower with an adorable little girl, and yes, Cecily does care about him. But Todd's the one who sends her zing-o-meter off the charts. So now what? Should you have to choose between your sister and the man you love (or think you love)?

My Thoughts
The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane is one of those books that I enjoyed because it was fun and entertaining, but didn't really have a lot of depth to it.  The atmosphere and setting of a small town reminds me of when I lived in a small town when I was in my teens, a place where everybody knows everybody and everybody's business; they also tend to remember everything you did when you were young, including all the memorable ones that you would rather forget.  I've always thought of Sheila Roberts book in the same vein as Heather Graham, ones that I come back to time and again just for the sheer enjoyment of them, but definitely not because I am looking for anything complex or in-depth, and that's okay.  

I rather enjoyed the first half of this novel much more than the second half as I liked Cecily's dilemma and rather slow romance with Todd Black.  The chemistry was quite believable and I liked the interplay between them very much - to the point where I was quite hoping they would end up together in the end.  When Bailey comes back to Icicle Falls, under circumstances that I didn't quite buy into but decided not to question too much - isn't the United States known for their lawsuits? are you kidding me? a woman fakes a poisoning and you just sit back and take it and let it ruin your business? - and decided to enjoy the ride.  To be honest, I didn't enjoy this half of the novel quite as much.  Bailey was rather annoying as a character, a bit whiny and the klutziness kind of drove me batty as it just seemed so fabricated.  And up to this point, where I was really enjoying Cecily's character the most, she turned into this annoying person who began doing the whole-world-is-against-me thing and I found it annoying too.  Sisters argue, yes - I have two of them so I do know a bit about that - and I know that a lot of things that happened during childhood doesn't necessarily mend itself during adulthood, and I did find that part rather interesting.  Aren't throwbacks during an argument fun?  I also liked how Cecily and Bailey had different viewpoints about their life growing up; for example, Bailey loved sharing a room with Cecily and didn't see a problem with it while Cecily felt that her space was constantly being violated by her younger sister but refrained from saying anything, even as an adult.  Fun stuff!!  What I did like in this novel is the author's portrayal of family and the characters' loyalty to each other.  There was a lot of support for other family members, respect, and love, and I really loved how the girls were treated by mom - so funny to know that mom can still rule to roost even when the girls have fled.  

I did have a problem with the love stories though.  I had a difficult time making the transition from Cecily and Todd to Bailey and Todd and then trying to buy into Cecily and Luke.  It just didn't work for me, and I wasn't overly crazy about the ending.  I would have liked to see Bailey with somebody else.  I think things just happened too quickly over such a short time, especially when there was such a nice development between Todd and Cecily.  Or I could be completed biased and just didn't like where the author wanted me to go.  I understood Cecily's behaviour, even though I thought she was acting childish, and thought the other family members could have been a bit more understanding of her situation.  

The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane is one of those books that I read because I love the people in Icicle Falls and going there is like visiting old friends.  And while I didn't really like the second half of this novel very much, I did like the characters and thought they were quite developed; it's the love stories I didn't like and didn't overly much enjoy.  The tea shop is one I would visit myself and I am planning on trying the scones this weekend on my friends to see what they think (love those recipes at the back of the book).  Now with all that being said, the next book in this series, The Lodge on Holly Road, comes out in October, and I will definitely be reading that one.  Who can resist Christmas at the Lodge?

About the Author

Sheila Roberts lives in the Pacific Northwest. She's happily married and has three children.  

Writing since 1989, Sheila’s books have been printed in several different languages and have been chosen for book clubs such as Doubleday as well as for Readers Digest Condensed books. Her best-selling novel ON STRIKE FOR CHRISTMAS was made into a movie and appeared on the Lifetime Movie Network, and her novel THE NINE LIVES OF CHRISTMAS has just been optioned for film and is slated to be a Hallmark movie later this year. Her novel ANGEL LANE was named one of Amazon’s Top Ten Romances for 2009.
When she's not making public appearances or playing with her friends, she can be found writing about those things near and dear to women's hearts: family, friends, and chocolate. You can visit Sheila at her website,

Her latest book is the women’s fiction/romance, The Teashop on Lavendar Lane.

For More Information

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: House of Ivy and Sorrow by Natalie Whipple

House of Ivy & Sorrow 
by Natalie Whipple
Release Date: April 15th, 2014
2014 HarperTeen
Softcover Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 9780062120182

Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Josephine Hemlock has spent the last 10 years hiding from the Curse that killed her mother. But when a mysterious man arrives at her ivy-covered, magic-fortified home, it’s clear her mother’s killer has finally come to destroy the rest of the Hemlock bloodline. Before Jo can even think about fighting back, she must figure out who she’s fighting in the first place. The more truth Jo uncovers, the deeper she falls into witchcraft darker than she ever imagined. Trapped and running out of time, she begins to wonder if the very Curse that killed her mother is the only way to save everyone she loves.

My Thoughts
House of Ivy & Sorrow is one of those books that had a really good premise, and I was a bit excited to delve into because I thought it would be interesting and fun.  And while I enjoyed the ride, and thought it entertaining, I felt it didn't quite live up to its hype or its premise.

I really liked the humour and the relationship between the three friends, Jo, Kat, and, Gwen. The novel did tend towards the silly at times, but once I got over my initial shock that the novel wasn't going to be the deep, gothic type of reading that I was expecting, and was being advertised, I enjoyed the humour between the characters and liked the silliness.  I also thought the premise was interesting and thought the sacrificial part of being a witch was a nice touch as it really made you think about the kinds of things a witch should be doing with her magic.  If every time you brew a potion you have to sacrifice something of yourself, you might think twice about what you are about to do as you can die if you have to give too much of yourself.  

I thought Jo was an interesting enough character, but to be honest, there was nothing really memorable about her, other than the many references to how much prettier she's gotten over the years.  Really?  That's important?  Jo and her friends were nice and friendly, but there was nothing edgy about them, nothing about their personalities that would make them want to take risks or go on serious adventures.  They were just your typical down-to-earth girls and while I liked the relationship between them, I was a bit disappointed by the character development and the lack of 'oomph' that would make them stand out as characters.  A month from now, I would probably go, "Jo?"  "From Little Women?"  Forgotten about, not memorable.  It's too bad really, as there was definitely a lot of potential in this novel for something really exciting to happen, and I kept waiting for it, only to be disappointed.  

I mentioned that I liked the witchy aspect, and I definitely enjoyed some of the more unique aspects to witch lore that were in this novel.  I wish they had been developed a bit more as I felt they were simplified too much and were for much younger readers.  I get that this is a YA novel, but it was too simple, even for a YA novel.  My eleven year-old daughter really enjoyed this book, but my soon to be fourteen year-old didn't so I'm wondering if it might be more appropriate for the twelve and younger age group rather than a teen novel.  I just felt that things moved along very slowly, and then all of sudden, we've got all of this action packed into the last third of the novel, but things are too easily solved and too pat to be quite believable.

House of Ivy & Sorrow had a lot of potential, but didn't quite live up to it from what I could see.  There were interesting characters, but not a lot of development; the plot was too simple and things were concluded in a way that didn't quite seem believable, at least to me; and lastly, I just felt that it was too simple to classified as a YA novel.  There were a couple of scenes that could questionable for a younger reader, but I'm sure a few of you are familiar with Goosebumps and Darren Shan too, both of whom are listed as children's horror writers, and I don't think this novel compares with some of those books.  What bothered me more about the scenes was the lack of seriousness involved, and the joking that took place while it was going on, something I had to discuss with my own child, so this has me concerned more than the actual content.  Would I read another book by this author? Yes, I think so, but I would like to see something darker and more serious from her when it comes to something like this as I think the potential for a lot more depth is evident in the parts that were well-done. 
Friday, July 4, 2014

Review: If You Were Here by Alafair Burke

If You Were Here
by Alafair Burke
Release Date: June 4th 2013
2013 Harper
Hardcover Edition;
ISBN: 9780062208354
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Magazine journalist McKenna Wright is chasing the latest urban folktale-the story of an unidentified woman who heroically pulled a teenaged boy from the subway tracks, seconds before an oncoming train. When McKenna locates a short video snippet that purportedly captures part of the incident, she thinks she has an edge on the competition scrambling to identify the mystery heroine.

She is shocked to discover that the woman in the video bears a strong resemblance to Susan Hauptmann, a close friend who disappeared without a trace a decade earlier. What would have been a short-lived metro story sends McKenna on a dangerous search for the missing woman, a twisting journey through New York City that will force her to unearth long-buried truths much closer to home-to her own husband, who seems to know much more about Susan than McKenna could have ever imagined...

My Thoughts
If You Were Here is one of those novels where I thought the writing was good, but the plot sort of fell flat for me.  I have read many of this author's previous novels and to be perfectly honest, I kind of feel the same thing about all of her books, the best being All Day and A Night (review forthcoming). They tend to be very plot-driven, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but when the character development gets left behind, it can leave a novel feeling flat which has little effect on the reader.

The central character in this one is McKenna Jordan, a former District Attorney who left her job for exposing a corrupt police officer and who is now working as a journalist, who discovers a picture of a friend who went missing over ten years ago while perusing a video of young kid saved during a subway incident.  The plot centers around this woman, Susan, and the ongoing investigation of tracking her whereabouts after she disappears off the grid ten years earlier.  To be honest, the more I learned about Susan, the more I was willing to leave her alone as I didn't really empathize a whole lot with her situation and her problems.  This I blame on the writing as constant repetitions and various ambiguities kind of turned me off of Susan and her issues throughout the novel and I found myself in a position where I didn't really care too much if they found her.  I also found the situation between Patrick, McKenna's husband, and Susan to be slightly ridiculous, and found myself shaking my head.  I think the author was trying to make the novel too convoluted and didn't know what to do with some of the threads once they were spun, making some aspects of the novel a bit silly.  

If You Were Here is one of those novels I'm not sure I would recommend to other readers.  I would suggest reading some of her Ellie Hatcher novels first and then maybe tackle this one as you may not be willing to read another novel by Burke again.  I thought the plot was somewhat silly, although the writing was good, and I liked some of the introspections McKenna allowed herself as she came to some deep realizations about herself, her relationship with Patrick, and her relationship with some of the police officers and lawyers she had to work with.  I did feel some aspects of the novel were too drawn out, and I thought the ending went on forever.  Would I read another novel by this author?  I already did, so look for my review of All Day and a Night, coming soon.  It's just not necessarily this one I would recommend.