Friday, July 31, 2015

Review: The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

The Ghost Fields (Ruth Galloway, Book #7)
by Elly Griffiths
Release Date: May 19th 2015
2015 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Ebook Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0544330146
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Norfolk is suffering from record summer heat when a construction crew unearths a macabre discovery—a downed World War II plane with the pilot still inside. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway quickly realizes that the skeleton couldn’t possibly be the pilot, and DNA tests identify the man as Fred Blackstock, a local aristocrat who had been reported dead at sea. When the remaining members of the Blackstock family learn about the discovery, they seem strangely frightened by the news.

Events are further complicated by a TV company that wants to make a film about Norfolk’s deserted air force bases, the so-called Ghost Fields, which have been partially converted into a pig farm run by one of the younger Blackstocks. As production begins, Ruth notices a mysterious man lurking on the outskirts of Fred Blackstock’s memorial service. Then human bones are found on the family’s pig farm. Can the team outrace a looming flood to find a killer?

My Thoughts
The Ghost Fields is the seventh book in the series and continues two years from the events of the last book, so Ruth's daughter is now five years old.  As usual, Nelson continues to be a mainstay in their lives, and Kate now knows that he is her father; however, he is a little possessive over their lives for my liking considering he is still married to his wife, Michelle, and really should have no say in what Ruth chooses to do, or not do.  Ruth continues to consult for the police, so she is constantly thrown in Nelson's path as it is which makes it difficult and challenging for both of them; I will admit however, that these are the scenes that interest me considerably as you can just feel the tension between them and I am always curious as to where the author will take this drama.

I always love the setting in these novels, and this one is just as interesting, having been set in the midst of a fierce storm, which historically happened.  What I really like is how the descriptions are given through the action and the dialogue and not through actual lengthy descriptions.  You can actually get a feel for the strength of the wind and the pounding of the rain through the characters and their reactions. Having set the last scene at the Blackstock Manor also gave it somewhat of a gothic feel, which is a bit different for this author.   

This novel investigates the discovery of a skeleton found inside a downed WWII plane, but Ruth soon realizes that the body and the plane don't match.  Considering the body had a bullet hole in his head, the investigation becomes partly cold case file / partly murder investigation and the case soon turns towards the Blackstock family.  I really enjoyed the historical discussions about the ghost fields and the numerous deserted air force bases that exist in the area, especially since this is an area of interest for me.  I thought the author did a really good job exploring the concept without being preachy, making the information really interesting.  Exploring the political intrigues was quite interesting as an American company decided to film the event from a human interest perspective; so many liberties were taken with the actual truth and blended with legends that it makes me wonder how often that is actually done on television today.  Is it worth actually watching documentaries, or are they as mangled as what is shown in this novel?  

The Ghost Fields continues the intriguing drama between Ruth and Nelson, and continues to explore some interesting archaeological pursuits for Ruth. While I really enjoyed the atmosphere in this novel and liked exploring the history of the deserted air force bases, I did think the actually mystery was a bit thin and lacked the usual flair I'm used to seeing from these novels.  I think it is easy to overlook however, as there is so much going on otherwise, but this novel is a crime novel and I can't lose that perspective either.  I do like that it takes time to investigate these crimes and that months go by as it curdles my stomach when a crime is solved in several hours using all of this forensic analysis when I am not even sure how they even managed to ship it to a lab in those few hours.  This is much more realistic in terms of an investigation.  Ruth continues to be one of my favourite characters and I was so glad that she wasn't complaining about her weight and her looks so much in this one; it made her that much more likeable.  I am definitely looking forward to book 8 when it is released.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Lamentation by C.J. Sansom

Lamentation (Matthew Shardlake, Book #6)
by C.J. Sansom
Release Date: February 24th 2015
2015 Mulholland Books
Ebook Edition; 642 Pages
ISBN: 978-0316254960
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

Autumn, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councillors prepare for a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. The Catholics decide to focus their attack on Henry's sixth wife, the Protestant Queen Catherine Parr. As Catherine begins to lose the King's favour, she turns to the shrewd, hunchbacked lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, to contain a potentially fatal secret.

The Queen has written a confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner, a memoir so radical that if it came to the King's attention, it could bring her and her courtly sympathizers to ruination. The London printer into whose hands she entrusted the manuscript has been murdered, the book nowhere to be found.

Shardlake's investigations take him down a trail that begins among printshops in the filthy backstreets of London, but leads him once more to the labyrinthine world of court politics, where Protestant friends can be as dangerous as Catholic enemies, and those who will support either side to further their ambition are the most dangerous of all.

My Thoughts
Lamentation is the sixth book in the Matthew Shardlake series, and once again Sansom does not disappoint in bringing the sixteenth century vividly to life.  This time, the author focuses on the end of Henry VIII's life as the fight between radicalism and conservatism continues its heavy toll on the populace of England. Considering the opening scene of this novel is the vivid and descriptive burning of Anne Askew, the only woman known to have been tortured in the Tower of London, it definitely sets the tone for what is to follow.  Soon after this, Matthew is summoned to court by Queen Catherine to search for a missing manuscript, "Lamentation of a Sinner." The theft of the manuscript is actually fictional, but the manuscript does exist and was published after Henry's death.

As always, the descriptions about everything regarding Tudor England are detailed and very vivid. When I read a Sansom novel I always feel like I am right there and can see through Matthew's eyes; it is one of the great things about this novel. You get a real sense of the daily fear that people lived with during this time period through the actions of the characters and how easily beliefs could change from day to day; one day being secure in one's religious beliefs while the next can send you to the gallows or the Tower.  

This novel is definitely much more of a political thriller than a mystery novel, and I really enjoyed that aspect to it.  I tend to read a lot of crime novels and I find the political machinations to be quite thrilling and gripping; seeing the fine interplay between the characters was quite thrilling, the historical as well as the fictional. To try to understand the deadly games that were played at court on a daily basis is quite interesting, but I can't understand how stressful that much have been to live your life always in fear of being back stabbed or to be constantly in fear of your life and for your family. To have to play a living game of chess all of  the time.  All of Henry's children appear in this novel though, and I began to wonder where the author was taking us throughout the novel; my suspicions were definitely confirmed at the end, and I definitely can't wait until the next installment to see what happens next.  Historically, we all know what happens to poor Edward and I will be holding my breath through the Mary years, but there should be some interesting times ahead.

That being said, while I thoroughly enjoyed the plot, at over 600 pages it is definitely a long novel, and one which doesn't really have much of a clear mystery to it, like the previous novels.  This one is much more convoluted and may annoy some readers as Matthew is not only searching for the missing manuscript, but also has to deal with the investigation into Anne Askew's torture as well as a dispute between a feuding brother and sister which has dire consequences for Matthew.  There is also quite a bit of focus on Matthew's personal relationships, both with his close friends and his 'enemies' at court, one of whom is Richard Rich, with whom he has a history.  I do think the whole thing could be a bit much, especially if you are not already familiar with the characters and the books.

Lamentation is a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed, but one that is quite convoluted; it is more of a political thriller as I really felt like the mysteries took a back seat to the political machinations and intrigues. While I am always shocked at some of the developments and at some of the actions taken by the characters, it definitely reflects the time period, and I like that immensely.  This was definitely a time period that was very challenging for people as they had to survive Henry's whims and I have to admire how the author brought that out in his novel.  I am a huge fan of this series and I definitely can't wait to see what happens to Matthew next.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: Bone Box by Jay Amberg

Bone Box
by Jay Amberg
Release Date: March 14th 2015
2015 Amika Press
Ebook Edition; 247 Pages
ISBN: 978-1937484279
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from HFVBT

3.5 / 5 Stars

On a hill overlooking the Aegean Sea in Turkey, an international team of archaeologists discovers a stone box that first-century Jews used to rebury their dead. The box’s Aramaic inscription: Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Sophia Altay, the beautiful French-Turkish archaeological who heads the team, tries to keep the discovery secret until she can authenticate the ossuary. She knows that people will kill to obtain the relics—and to suppress the box’s other contents, documents that could alter Western history.

Joseph Travers, an American sent to Turkey to evaluate the archaeological dig, soon finds himself pulled into the web of betrayal, reprisal, and violence. In his journey through Istanbul’s mosques and palaces, the archaeological sites around ancient Ephesus, and, ultimately, the strange and mystical terrain of Cappadocia, he comes to understand the epochal meaning of the bone box.

My Thoughts
Bone Box is one of those novels that presents some rather intriguing ideas, one of which is the reaction of various religious groups to the discovery of an ossuary containing the bones of Jesus along with some documents that could change thousands of years of perception about certain religious beliefs.  I did think the story was quite interesting, pitting character against character until I didn't know who to believe or who to trust, but I do have to admit there were times when the going was a bit slow and I found my thoughts wandering.

First of all, while I enjoyed the characters, I don't think I fully appreciated exactly the role Joseph was to play in Turkey. Joseph is one of those brooding types, still reeling over the death of his son, and blaming himself for the way things have gone in his life, forcing him to take long walks in order to calm himself.  While I appreciate those walks, it's always during those walks that he seems to get into trouble; you would think after a while that he would learn to perhaps stay in his hotel for a while until the dust settles, so to speak.  I am also not sure why he got into so much trouble all of the time; yes, I get the scapegoat thing, but I really feel it was used a bit too much in this novel and it got mundane.  I actually thought Sophia was the most interesting character of them all and liked her more fiery personality as she seemed to have more life and vigour. She had a lot of secrets which were rather intriguing although perhaps a bit too many of her activities were left for the reader to figure out so it does get a bit muddled sometimes.  Her passion, and through her, the author's, passion for archaeology definitely shows and I really enjoyed the descriptions of the various sites around Turkey.  I've always wanted to visit Istanbul and Ephesus; now I've just added a few more places to my bucket list.  

Bone Box is a novel that definitely had its interesting moments and the author was able to describe a lot of Turkey's culture through the actions of his characters and his descriptions of the area, which were quite enjoyable.  The concepts in this novel were also quite intriguing and I did spend some time pondering how such a discovery would affect religious and political affiliations around the world, but it's so hard to anticipate such an event.  The shorter chapters helped increase the tension surrounding the action, but I did feel that Joseph and many of the other characters simply went through the motions, some of which were predictable, without much character development.  It's not that I didn't like the characters, I just didn't really connect with them, and that is important to me.  The ending was not very clear cut however, so I am wondering if a sequel is being planned, something I would definitely read if it came out.  


About the Author
Jay Amberg is the author of eleven books. He received a BA from Georgetown University and a PhD
from Northwestern University. He has taught high school and college students since 1972. His latest book, Bone Box, is now available from Amika Press. Amberg has also published Cycle, America’s Fool, Whale Song, and compiled 52 Poems for Men. Cycle, a novel giving unique voice to the world’s environmental crisis, is the winner of a 2013 Independent Publisher Living Now Book Award.

Prior to Amika Press, Amberg published thriller novels Doubloon (Forge), Blackbird Singing (Forge) and Deep Gold (Warner Books).

Among his books on teaching are School Smarts and The Study Skills Handbook, published by Good Year. Amberg wrote The Creative Writing Handbook (Good Year) with Mark Henry Larson and Verbal Review and Workbook for the SAT (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) with Robert S Boone.

For more information and to contact Jay Amberg, please visit his website.
You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Review: Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor

Miss Emily
by Nuala O'Connor
Release Date: July 14th 2015
2015 Penguin Books
Ebook Edition; 256 Pages
ISBN: 978-0423126751
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Eighteen-year-old Ada Concannon has just been hired by the respected but eccentric Dickinson family of Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite their difference in age and the upstairs-downstairs divide, Ada strikes up a deep friendship with Miss Emily, the gifted elder daughter living a spinster’s life at home. But Emily’s passion for words begins to dominate her life. She will wear only white and avoids the world outside the Dickinson homestead. When Ada’s safety and reputation are threatened, however, Emily must face down her own demons in order to help her friend, with shocking consequences.

My Thoughts

Miss Emily is a thought-provoking novel about social standing, immigration, friendship, prejudice, and loyalty set in the nineteenth century.  Based partly on the life of Emily Dickinson and partly on the challenges faced by Ada, a young Irish immigrant trying to forge a new life in Massachusetts, the novel alternates point of view between the two women as they navigate through society and face difficulties in a world that frowns on a friendship between them.  I actually enjoyed the story very much, but was disappointed in the lack of discussion on Emily's poetry and thought the story focused much more on Ada's life than on Emily's.  

What I really enjoyed in this novel was the emotional pull I felt from the two main characters as they narrated their stories.  Despite the fact that each woman grew up in quite different circumstances, they complemented each other rather well, and became quite good friends through contemplation and hard work.  I am not wholly familiar with Emily's biographical details, so I found it quite interesting that she liked to bake and often sneaked into the kitchen looking for sweets.  Feeling quite isolated from society, due to a variety of reasons the book did not really make clear, Emily bonded with Ada as they shared stories and tales and traditions; Emily was quite sensitive to others and understood Ada's feelings of isolation in a society that treated her differently because she is an Irish immigrant. In fact, there were quite a few references by Emily's brother Austin as to how the upper classes felt towards immigrants, in general, and the comments were a bit derogatory in nature.  I found it quite interesting that they maintained a type of friendship despite all of the negativity that surrounded them, and even that Emily would be open to such a friendship.  It just made me more curious about her, and I am looking forward to reading some biographical material about her life.

What I did find interesting was the references to Emily's sexuality and the idea that she had feelings for her sister-in-law.  In the novel it was quite clear of its existence as I don't think even women of the nineteenth century behaved that way towards one another.  To me, it makes no difference whatsoever as I really like her poetry, and that is what matters to me, I just thought it was interesting; the 19th century code of conduct is so different from ours that behaviour is difficult to interpret as it is hard to separate our century from the world in which Emily inhabits.  And this is where historical fiction can be so challenging as most of the characters we see in this novel were real people with documented facts, but the thoughts and feelings are the writer's so it is difficult to keep a balance.  I do feel the author did a great job making the characters seem real without compromising the integrity of what we know about them; the only thing I would have liked is to have learned more about Emily's poetry (copyright issue?) and a bit more about her life, which this novel did not deliver.  

I do feel like the plot was a bit weak, in the sense that it was mostly about Ada.  If you took out the chapters that were in Emily's POV, I don't think it would change the novel too much, other than you would miss a couple of pieces of information.  It was also not hard to see where things with Patrick were going and I was sad to see this happen.  I do understand it was to point out that women were often blamed for things that were not their fault, and the situation was definitely handled quite realistically, I also felt like it was trite and too easy as a solution as well.  I have to admire Ada as it would take a lot of courage to deal with the situation the way she did, and I really liked how Emily dealt with it too; two very different women handling a situation from two different social standings.  I just couldn't help but question the whole thing as I was reading.  

Miss Emily was interesting to read as you get two viewpoints from two different social standings happening in the same household.  I do feel like Emily was treated as some type of frailer person, and was quite happy to see her stand up for herself and for others as I can't believe someone who wrote all of that poetry could be so meek and mild.  She seemed to have a good grasp on society and her place in it, and I quite liked that.  I did feel quite strongly that the plot followed Ada and her exploits however, leaving Emily's chapters more for contemplation and brooding.  The atmosphere of the time period was quite good, and I definitely enjoyed immersing myself in the setting; as for the plot, well-written, but thought it was lacking a little something.
Thursday, July 9, 2015

Guest Post by Amber Khan: Guilt Free Motherhood

About the Book:
Title: Guilt Free Motherhood: A 5-Step Guide to Reclaiming Your Time, Health & Well-Being
Author: Amber Khan
Publisher: Rethink Press
Pages: 156
Genre: Nonfiction/Parenting/Motherhood
Format: Paperback/Kindle

“Own your happiness. Reclaim your well-being. Make a guilt-free lifestyle, your choice of living!
          Do you think being a 'super mum' is your only option?
          Do you neglect your own health while caring for others?
          Do you struggle to maintain a happy work/life balance?
          Do you often feel stressed and burnt-out? Then you may be suffering from 'Mummy Guilt'.

Guilt Free Motherhood will guide you to:
          Ignite your passion to bring balance to your life;
          Take practical steps towards self-care;
          De-clutter your space, schedules and relationships;
          Let go of the 'super mum' and the 'control freak' inside of you;
          Practical ways of recharging your batteries.

A mother's journey should not be, and need not be, a GUILT trip. Guilt Free Motherhood gives you the tools you need to start living a more contented, healthy and energised lifestyle today - right in the midst of motherhood.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Review: The Shadow Cartel by Layton Green

The Shadow Cartel (Dominic Grey, Book #4)
by Layton Green
Release Day: May 1st 2015
2015 Thomas & Mercer
Ebook Edition; 417 Pages
ISBN: 978-1477827819
ASIN: B00)4FK868
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

5 / 5 Stars

Called upon by a former love to look into the death of a family friend in Miami, veteran investigator Dominic Grey is sucked into the darkest reaches of international narcotics trafficking. The murders of multiple drug dealers during a bizarre religious ceremony, combined with the appearance of a mythical assassin, take DEA agent Federico Hernandez and CIA operative Lana Valenciano down the same deadly path.

Lying in wait is an enemy known only as the General: a criminal mastermind whose uncanny ability to avoid detection while cowing even the most ruthless of rival cartels has made him a legend.

Thrown together on a covert manhunt, Grey and the two government agents race across the Americas to unearth a dark chapter in the history of the CIA that has spilled into the present—and put them in the crosshairs of an underworld puppeteer with a frightening reach.

My Thoughts
The Shadow Cartel is the fourth book in the Dominic Grey series and like his previous novels, this one definitely did not disappoint.  The book was well-written, fast-paced, well-researched, containing all of the elements that I enjoyed in previous Green novels, including great character development and a good plot.  And Dominic, I enjoy this character so much.  He is just such a complex, intriguing character that the more I learn about him, the more I want to know.  He recognizes his strengths and his weaknesses, and owns up to his mistakes when he makes them.  I am also fascinated by the use of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Jujutsu in these books as well, especially as my son studies both forms.  While he can be really tough when the situation demands, there is also a softer side to him, one who helps troubled kids learn martial arts to help them get off the streets.

One of the things I have always loved about these novels is the way Green has been able to combine history, culture, and the current political situation with a really good plot and great characters.  His descriptions of Miami made me feel like I was really there and I felt like I was soaking up the culture just through Grey and Valenciano's eyes. When Grey is asked to look into the death of a family friend in Miami by a former love, it throws him deeper into the Miami underground of drugs and to his disbelief, cults, something for which he needs help from his partner, Viktor Radek, who is forced to help from the sidelines only. (Those of you who have read the previous novel will understand the reasons why this is the case (spoiler)).  This time though, the author brilliantly joins together politics (the drug cartels and other political organizations) with various cults to give us something different and something new, and something quite terrifying.  Throwing in flashbacks of the mastermind behind the cults and drug cartels only gives that added edge to the plot.  The leader of the cartels acts as a phantom, someone not known to anyone except his closest retainers, who flits from group to group, but who keeps an iron-fisted control on groups around the world using mind-bending techniques through cult control, and possibly drug use.  

The author continues the development of his two main characters, Dominic Grey and Viktor Radek, although Viktor plays a more minor role in this novel.  Dealing with Grey's disturbing past and his anger issues have been a central theme of all of Green's novels, a theme which definitely continues in this one, even more so towards the end.  I am probably not the only one who was surprised and dismayed at the events that unfolded towards the conclusion to this novel, and are now wondering what is in store for our hero.  I also really liked the new characters that were introduced in this one and hope to see some of them again. I especially liked Lana; even if she seems so tough, there is definitely a soft side to her that I would like to see explored in further novels.  And she definitely has more story to tell; there are a lot of secrets squirreled away in that head that would be interesting to discover.

The Shadow Cartel continues to deliver a good, powerful story in the Dominic Grey Series.  One of the things I like about these novels is the careful attention to character development; the plot doesn't rule the novel like some of the thrillers out there.  At the same time, the plot delivers; it's an excellent thriller with enough action, mystery, suspense, and secrets to satisfy.  While each novel could be read as a stand-alone, my suggestion would be to start at the beginning with The Summoner, as you will get a much broader description of the characters and the work with which they are involved.  As far as this one goes, it's a winner in my book, as yet again, Green manages to enlighten the reader about religion and cults without getting preachy.  It's an intelligent thriller with interesting characters, and I can't wait to see what's in store for our hero, Dominic Grey, in the future.
Friday, July 3, 2015

Blitz and Giveaway: More Than Words by Susan Behon


Welcome to Madison Falls, where love is in the air and gossip is ripe on the vine.

Tracy King, the cupcake queen, has given up on getting her prince charming to notice her.
After over a year of coming to her bakery, Ben Carrington, tall, dark, and … quiet, has yet to ask her out. Ben likes sampling her cupcakes, but little does she know that his real craving is for a taste of Tracy. 

A leaky roof on a rainy night leaves Tracy swamped, literally. Ben brings her home with him, knowing that actions speak louder than words. Tempting Tracy into romance is easier said than done when secrets from her past come back to Madison Falls with a vengeance.

Ben has a secret of his own but can’t let it keep him from protecting his lady love. Will he finally tell her his true feelings or will he be silenced for good? 

Buy Links:

About the Author:

Susan Behon, author of the Madison Falls series, enjoys creating a world that brings readers love, laughter, and a healthy dose of sexiness. Susan graduated summa cum laude with a B. A. in English from Norfolk State University. She currently lives in Ohio with her very own romance hero of a husband and their two wonderful daughters.

Author Links: