Saturday, October 31, 2015

Review: Blood Red by Wendy Corsi Staub

Blood Red (Mundy's Landing, Book #1)
by Wendy Corsi Staub
Release Date: September 29th 2015
2015 William Morrow
Ebook Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062349736
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

The razor's gleaming blade slices effortlessly through skin and tendon, and he relishes the final anguished moments of his prey. There's only one thing he prizes more: their long, silken strands of red hair. But these women are merely stand-ins . . . a prelude to his ultimate victim.

Nestled in New York's Hudson Valley, Mundy's Landing is famous for its picturesque setting—and for a century-old string of gruesome unsolved murders. Rowan returned to her hometown years ago, fleeing a momentary mistake that could have destroyed her family. Life is good here. Peaceful. Until an anonymous gift brings Rowan's fears to life again.

The town's violent history was just the beginning. Soon everyone in Mundy's Landing will know that the past cannot be forgotten or forgiven—not until every sin has been paid for, in blood.

My Thoughts
Blood Red is one of those books that had some really interesting moments in it, but it had to do more with the family relationships than to do with the actual suspense of the story.  I thought the relationship the main character Rowan had with various members of her family, and how it all developed over the years, to be quite fascinating, but to be honest, lost interest quite quickly in the chapters devoted to the suspense as I thought they tended to drag on and weren't all that interesting.

What I really did enjoy in this novel is the relationship between Rowan and her son, Mick, and the relationship between Rowan and her sister.  It was interesting to watch the ongoing development of the relationship between Rowan and her son, especially as they share the same medical condition, ADHD.  While a bit of the medical condition was discussed in this novel, it was more about Mick's obsession with an older girl in school and how he dealt with that situation - and I use the term obsession rather loosely here as some of his behaviour was a bit alarming and kind of bordered on the stalking edge of obsession, especially to a girl to whom he barely speaks.  While it's totally normal to want to see a girl you like at school and to even change one's schedule as to how one gets to class just to get a glimpse of that girl, it is not normal to fight with your friends because they mention things about that girl that you don't like, as in she's got a boyfriend.  So, I found the dialogue between Rowan and Mick quite interesting.  I also don't think the problem was resolved in this novel.

The relationship between Rowan and her sister, Noreen, was also quite interesting, more in what was left unsaid than how they behaved.  Rowan's sister bordered on OCD, I think, the compete opposite of Rowan, so I wish more was revealed about their childhoods than just the glimpses we got of older sister constantly picking up the pieces of younger sister's disasters, the younger one being Rowan.  To know what the relationship was between their parents and how this affected them would have been helpful, but not very much was revealed.  

I liked the setting of the novel, and how the story was interwoven around gruesome murders from a long time ago and more recent killings. I did expect something to come out of it though, but was left hanging at the end as the parallel stories went nowhere at this point.  As it is the start of a series, perhaps more will be revealed in future books?  I hope so as I felt a bit cheated at this and would like to know a bit more.  While I enjoyed the relationships among the characters, I still thought the mystery was the weakest point of the novel.  Too much information was revealed as the story jumped from alternating viewpoints and for long-time mystery fans, the red herring didn't work very well, and it was quite easy to figure out the murderer.  I don't usually mind alternating viewpoints, but in this novel, they didn't work very well, and I kind of skimmed through the murderer's chapters as I didn't really find them interesting and they revealed too much, giving away all the suspense to the story.

Blood Red is one of those novels where I liked certain aspects, but wasn't overly crazy about the mystery or the suspense.  I usually tend to love Wendy Corsi Staub novels, but this wasn't necessarily one of them as I thought the ending didn't really conclude all that well; the fact that this is the first novel in a series doesn't really make a difference to me as this is a mystery novel and should have some type of conclusion with the current story as we move into the next one, even if some things are left open, such as what happened to Noreen. I also thought the novel was a bit lacking in the suspense areas as the characters spent a bit too much time ruminating on their thought processes as opposed to getting on with the action and it did take away from the suspense of the novel quite a bit.  Again, I loved the bits and pieces of lore we were given about the town's past and thought that was well done, but the overall tone of the novel was undermined by the way it was written; too much information and not enough suspense. 
Monday, October 26, 2015

Book Spotlight & Giveaway: Unleashed by Shadows by Nancy Gideon

By Moonlight
Book 10
Nancy Gideon

Genre: dark paranormal
Date of Publication: 10-26-15
ISBN: 9781517777852 
ISBN: 157777852
Number of pages:  326
Word Count:  105,000
Cover Artist:  Patricia Lazarus

He feared no man, no foe, no obstacle or challenge . . .

Burdened by the weight of his secrets and his father’s sins, the need for redemption pulls Cale Terriot from his duty to his clan and the arms of his new mate into deadly intrigues in a rival territory.  His dangerous masquerade in a high-stakes Shifter fight club is about to be exposed to those who would show no mercy – if he can survive in the ring.

How to protect a prince turned king made pawn?

Fearing she’ll lose her soulmate to the darkness he carries inside, Kendra Terriot, newly made queen in the Shape-shifter House of Terriot, must provide him with an heir in order to save his life . . . and his soul.  But first she must risk all to coax him back from the edge of violence inherited with his crown.

Can her love tear him from an unbreakable vow that can only end in death?

Amazon    Kobo

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
by Mitch Albom
Release Date: November 10th 2015
2015 Harper
Softcover Edition; 512 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062294418
ASIN: B00U1T43Y4
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from TLC Book Tours

5 / 5 Stars

Frankie, born in a burning church, abandoned as an infant, and raised by a music teacher in a small Spanish town, until war rips his life apart. At nine years old, he is sent to America in the bottom of a boat. His only possession is an old guitar and six precious strings. His amazing journey weaves him through the musical landscape of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, with his stunning playing and singing talent affecting numerous stars (Duke Ellington, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley) until, as if predestined, he becomes a pop star himself.

He makes records. He is adored. But Frankie Presto’s gift is also his burden, as he realizes the power of the strings his teacher gave him, and how, through his music, he can actually affect people’s lives. At the height of his popularity, tortured by his biggest mistake, he vanishes. His legend grows. Only decades later, having finally healed his heart, does Frankie reappearjust before his spectacular death—to change one last life. With the Spirit of Music as our guide, we glimpse into the lives that were changed by one man whose strings could touch the music—and the magic—in each of us.

My Thoughts
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is one of those books that drew me in and made me reflect on a lot of things in my own life as I was going through Frankie's life with him.  It was poignant and uplifting, with characters whom I adored even if I didn't always understand them, combining  fictional characters with actual people and events into a book that was literally magical.

The narrator of the story was Music, something that captured my attention from the start and gave me a different perspective on talent and its use.  Interspersed with the Musical interludes are Frankie's story, jumping from past to present, along with tales related by a number of musicians who share memorable moments about Frankie as they were rushing towards his funeral.  This way of presenting Frankie's life story actually added to the element of suspense and many twists and turns were sneaked into the story whenever I thought I had a grasp on how things were progressing.  There were many times when I was wondering how in the world Frankie ever ended up where he did, and how, but the key was to be patient as everything was revealed piece by agonizing piece, often in ways I did not expect.  I loved the slow unveiling of Frankie's story and I really enjoyed how the book was presented, almost to the point where I couldn't read it if I had only a few minutes as I knew I couldn't put it down again. 

At first I had no idea how the title related to this story but as it progressed I began to understand and I loved that little touch to the story; it was all about coming full circle and facing your fears and demons.  The strings would actually glow blue as a major event happened in Frankie's life and then one by one they would snap.  The guitar played such an important role in Frankie's life, going with him everywhere, having been given to him by his beloved music teacher when he was young.  It almost became as much a symbol of his life as his music and there were times when I was afraid something was going to happen to it; I would have been as devastated as Frankie if this were the case.  This shows the power of the author's writing that you can empathize with a character quite strongly even if you don't necessarily hear their thoughts or feel their emotions.  Frankie's life was quite a difficult one and I agonized with him over every part of it; being abandoned by the person we thought was his mother, being taken in by a lonely old man who in his heart becomes his father, losing his beloved teacher and father, being betrayed, and falling in love.  There were also times when I would have liked to give him a good kick in the pants over some of his choices as you agonized over that too. Frankie was not the greatest person at dealing with issues as he was used to just leaving when things got tough; not choices I liked, but I understood them in relation to his life.  Have I mentioned how much I loved this book yet?

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto was a fantastic book and I enjoyed the way it was presented very much.  Music tends to be universally adored as it is and shares a common ground with a lot of people so I am sure this will resonate with many as Frankie goes through his musical career and crosses paths with many famous people.  I thought the novel was wrapped up quite neatly, with all questions answered, and in such a way that left you feeling really good.  It almost (almost) made me want to take up piano again to see what I could do.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Review: Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne

Everything She Forgot
by Lisa Ballantyne
Release Date: October 6th 2015
2015 William Morrow
Ebook Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062391483
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

They’re calling it the worst pile-up in London history. Driving home, Margaret Holloway has her mind elsewhere—on a troubled student, her daughter’s acting class, the next day’s meeting—when she’s rear-ended and trapped in the wreckage. Just as she begins to panic, a disfigured stranger pulls her from the car just seconds before it’s engulfed in flames. Then he simply disappears.

Though she escapes with minor injuries, Margaret feels that something’s wrong. She’s having trouble concentrating. Her emotions are running wild. More than that, flashbacks to the crash are also dredging up lost associations from her childhood, fragments of events that were wiped from her memory. Whatever happened, she didn’t merely forget—she chose to forget. And somehow, Margaret knows deep down that it’s got something to do with the man who saved her life.

My Thoughts
Everything She Forgot is one of those books where I am having a difficult time deciding exactly how I feel about it.  It is being released as a suspense / mystery novel and I don't really feel it measures up to that category at all as I didn't really find it suspenseful or mysterious; to be honest, I thought quite a bit of it was a dull and predictable.  On the other hand, I did enjoy the development of the relationship between Moll and George, and if you look at the novel as an exploration of relationships and traumatic events and the impact those events have on various lives, the novel is definitely worth a look. 

For whatever reason, I developed a deep empathy for George, or Georgie was he was called by friends and family.  There was something sweet and naive about the man, despite some of the things he had done to survive, that really touched me. For him to survive his very abusive childhood and develop into a man who was compassionate and caring shows strength of character and a strong personality, one who can face many challenges and succeed.  His family situation actually made me sick to my stomach and I had a hard time reading some of the scenes; while some of them were very descriptive, it's what was left to the imagination that was even more disturbing.  Even though George made many mistakes, it was easy to forgive him because he was likable. I also liked how he was with his daughter Molly; he was kind and loving and because of that, she developed a bond with him that was lovely and easygoing.  She also taught him that he could learn to read and write which gave him the strength to continue on his own afterwards; I've met a few strict nuns in my life, although none like the one in this novel thank goodness, but I did have to stand with my nose in the corner a couple of times.  It's strange to think that even in 1985 children were still being told that being left-handed was wrong and being punished for it; this happened to my dad when he was in school, but that was in the late 1930s, not 1985.

The plot was a bit of a challenge to get into simply because it was not what I was expecting. I thought it would be more suspenseful and as it turned out, there was more of a focus on relationships and trauma.  That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when you are expecting a suspense novel, it can be somewhat frustrating; I think presenting it differently would have made a huge difference in how I approached it.  However, it is worth reading simply because of the relationships between the characters and how the effects of the trauma were presented; I did enjoy that aspect to this novel.  I also liked how Angus added to the effect, but did feel like I was back in the 1950s instead of 1985 as his thinking was so negative. You would think a journalist would be less judgmental, but he sneered and looked down at everybody; I would have been interested to know how his story ended though. I do have to admit however, that his part of the story was my least favourite as some of the things he did were a bit upsetting; it was not easy to read the thoughts of an abuser who quoted Bible passages at the person he was abusing, justifying what he was doing.

Everything She Forgot is more a story about families, trauma, secrets, abuse, and choices rather than being a suspense novel.  While the alternating story lines are interesting, I was disappointed at the lack of suspense as this was how the novel was presented.  The end was not quite what I expected although it was interesting, and I would have liked a bit more follow-up on some of the other characters as there was no mention of them in the end.  I did care rather strongly for some of the characters and empathized quite a bit with their situation, but I disliked other characters just as strongly and had a hard time reading their story lines, which made it more difficult to get through.  It was fairly predictable, but if you go into it expecting a story about family, you will enjoy it a lot more.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Review: The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

The Sisters of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy Book #1)
by Sally Christie
Release Date: September 1st 2015
2015 Atria Books
Ebook Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-1501102967
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from HFVBT

4 / 5 Stars

Goodness, but sisters are a thing to fear.

Set against the lavish backdrop of the French Court in the early years of the 18th century, The Sisters of Versailles is the extraordinary tale of the five Nesle sisters: Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne, four of whom became mistresses to King Louis XV. Their scandalous story is stranger than fiction but true in every shocking, amusing, and heartbreaking detail.

Court intriguers are beginning to sense that young King Louis XV, after seven years of marriage, is tiring of his Polish wife. The race is on to find a mistress for the royal bed as various factions put their best foot - and women - forward. The King's scheming ministers push Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, the four sisters:sweet, naive Louise; ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne, will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power.

My Thoughts
The Sisters of Versailles is the first book in a planned trilogy about the mistresses of Versailles, or more specifically, the mistresses of King Louis XV.  As this is more of an area of specialty for me, especially the French Revolution, I was curious as to how the scheming sisters and their various intrigues would be dealt with in this book.  While it took a bit to get into it, due in large part to Louise who was quite an insipid character, as well as the lack of dialogue, I did enjoy the descriptions of Versailles and the various characters that surrounded the sisters and king.  And to be honest, I was intrigued enough by the concept of four sisters being seduced by the king to keep me reading.

First of all, it's a shame that Louise is the first sister to become the mistress of the king as her character is the one that annoyed me the most; while very much the nurturing sister, her naivete amidst the decadence and immorality that surrounded her was not an attractive trait.  Constantly the butt of insults and jokes, and known for not speaking her mind and defending herself, Louise just kind of floats through the world accepting it for what it was; she had been taught from a young age that one does not show emotion in front of others, but it serene and peaceful, even amonst catty courtiers and those constantly making her the receiving end of petty jokes and schemes.  She could have been such an interesting character if she had just grown a backbone.  It doesn't surprise me at all that the king would have grown tired of her; the mothering and pampering would have driven anyone crazy after a while.  Even in her letters she lived in a world of fantasy where everything was good and perfect, at least on the outside.

In all fairness, I'm not really sure I liked Pauline any better than Louise, although she was much more interesting.  If you have to be the king's mistress due to others' political manoeuvrings, you should at least be compensated for it and Pauline at least expected to receive gifts and benefits, including a title, unlike Louise who left with pretty much nothing on her back, despite her good marriage. Pauline interfered in politics and was interested in many topics, while Louise preferred to ignore anything that was bad, much like the king.  Pauline sort of forced the king, as much as she was able, to face the good and the bad of his rule.  Although it is still very controversial, there are some scholars who credit Pauline with forcing the king to begin making his own decisions rather than relying on Parliament or on his Prime Minister.  The king's rule is very controversial to begin with, as only several years after his death was the beginning of the French Revolution, not something that can be blamed simply on Louis XIV.  

Mary-Anne is one of the sisters with whom I did not really relate at all, although there was some hope at the beginning.  While I understood her actions, when it came to her sisters, it went a bit too far for me and my liking for her went straight downhill.  Mind you, I am looking at things from a modern perspective and not from the eighteenth century perspective when things were extremely different and women were very vulnerable.  Furthermore, people were starving in the streets due to famine and cold winters which made levels of tolerance for the elite that much less; the decadence and the waste was excessive and I can understand how things led to the Revolution and the path they did. This is probably the only time in the novel where I enjoyed Louise's character as she realized where her own immorality and decadence had gotten her and she began doing a lot of charity work; the reader got more of an idea as to the suffering of the people, but it wasn't enough.  While I enjoyed the descriptions of court life, I would have also liked more descriptions of regular life and the vast differences between the nobility and the lower classes.

Diane was just foolish and a follower and I can't believe she did what she did because one of her sisters asked her to.  I know this sentence sounds kind of obscure but I don't want to give everything away.  I was hoping Diane would develop some sense once she spent time at court, but nope, that didn't happen.  And Hortense, she spent so much time admonishing others and spouting Bible verses at them that she was kind of boring, almost as if her purity elevated her to a degree above the others that she felt free to spout her opinions to anyone who cared to listen, which no one really did.  

The Sisters of Versailles is an interesting read about five sisters whose lives are changed due to four sisters having a relationship with the King of France.  While I enjoyed the different viewpoints of the sisters as you got a sense as to how each of them fit into Versailles, it was the King's development in which I was really interested and how each of them manipulated him to their own means.  King Louis XV was not the strongest king and I like how you got a sense of how he was led by his advisers and those around him, but also how everyone also waited to see how the king would react before they would dare to do anything.  Very few people would stick up for themselves, which is why I liked Pauline the best of them all, and that's saying a lot, and I have always liked Richelieu, whom we see a little bit here.  The king was also not very aware of how others were feeling, not really caring, as long as it didn't affect him, an attitude that is not unusual during this time period.  People were very isolated unto themselves, constantly scheming in order to better themselves, and it must have been a very lonely world as you couldn't trust anybody, including your own family members.  Definitely understandable how a world such a this could not survive. 
Friday, October 9, 2015

Book Spotlight: Bold Seduction by Karyn Gerrard and My Lady Faye by Sarah Hegger


Title: Bold Seduction 
Author: Karyn Gerrard 
Release Date: September 1, 2015
  Publisher: Lyrical Press 
Genre: Historical Romance 
Format: Ebook/Paperback 

An Intriguing Proposition
Passion. Seduction. Pleasure. These are the qualities of any courtesan worth her salt. As owner of The Starling Club, London’s most notorious house of ill-repute, Madame Philomena McGrattan has seen it all, heard it all, done it all. There is little that surprises her anymore, and even less that excites her. So when she is presented a chance at an irresistible seduction, she can’t help but rise to the challenge.

A Dangerous Game

Studiousness. Practicality. Discipline. Such are the attributes of a good scholar, and such are the principles Lord Spencer Hornsby has built his life around. Alone in the Welsh countryside, with only his wolfhounds for company, Spencer has thrown himself into his work. There is little time for the pleasures of society, not even to think of the joys of the fairer sex. But when an unexpected guest arrives at his isolated hunting lodge, Spencer cannot help but be baffled by the presence of this dangerously beautiful woman. And when he discovers the reason for her arrival, and the pleasures she promises, he cannot help but find himself irresistibly intrigued . . .

Monday, October 5, 2015

Review: The Search for the Stone of Excalibur by Fiona Ingram

The Search for the Stone of Excalibur (The Chronicles of the Stone, Book 2)
by Fiona Ingram
Release Date: October 2nd 2014
2014 Biblio Publishing
Ebook Edition; 378 Pages
ISBN: 978-1622492183
ASIN: B00O97QG94
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile
Source: Review copy from Pump up Your Book

4 / 5 Stars

Continuing the adventure that began in Egypt a few months prior in The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, cousins Adam and Justin Sinclair are hot on the trail of the second Stone of Power, one of seven ancient stones lost centuries ago. This stone might be embedded in the hilt of a newly discovered sword that archeologists believe belonged to King Arthur: Excalibur.

However, their long-standing enemy, Dr. Khalid, is following them as they travel to Scotland to investigate an old castle. Little do they know there is another deadly force, the Eaters of Poison, who have their own mission to complete. Time is running out as the confluence of the planets draws closer. Can Justin and Adam find the second Stone of Power and survive? And why did Aunt Isabel send a girl with them?

Join Justin and Adam as they search not only for the second Stone of Power, but also for the Scroll of the Ancients, a mysterious document that holds important clues to the Seven Stones of Power. As their adventure unfolds, they learn many things and face dangers that make even their perils in Egypt look tame. And how annoying for them that their tag-along companion, Kim, seems to have such good ideas when they are stumped.

My Thoughts
The Search for the Stone of Excalibur is an exciting, action-packed novel, quite similar in style to Tony Abbott's The Copernicus Legacy, and I am a huge fan of those books.  And while this is the second book in the series, and I had not yet read the first one, I never felt like I was missing out, or was lost, because I was reading these books out of order.  The author made it very easy to catch up on what was happening, and also made this book entirely its own, and I liked that.

One of the things I really, really liked as an adult reader was the way the author managed to weave the historical details into the modern thriller.  First of all, we have these children who are trying to discover the ancient stones of power as well as trying to keep these evil men away from them.  Naturally, there were all sorts of trouble that awaited the children, some of which was a bit more risky and dangerous and I rather liked that as the men would do anything to retrieve the stones, which did put everyone in some rather difficult situations; it made it much more realistic in some ways.  It also kept up the suspense ratio for those younger readers who like the adventure and the action.  Even though I found it somewhat predictable, I still found the action to be suspenseful and this was definitely due to the author's writing ability as it kept me turning the pages even though I could guess what would happen next.  

The historical details surrounding the legend of King Arthur were quite interesting, and although I know quite a bit about the legends, I still found myself quite drawn to the story.  I liked how the author focused more on the man himself, rather than just on the legend, displaying her solid research skills, using both archaeological sources and sources from literature.  The dream sequences gave the reader a good idea of how Arthur may have appeared during that time period, and the author notes at the back also give insight to the time period.  

The novel is a bit on the long side for a younger reader, and is very rich in historical details which didn't really interest my twelve-year-old daughter, but really fascinated my fifteen-year-old son;  both of them really enjoyed the action sequences, as did I, and there is really nothing inappropriate anywhere in the book for readers of any age. I asked them to read the novel as I wanted their perspective on it as it was difficult to separate the adult part of me who loves and teaches history from someone who has little knowledge of King Arthur and the legends.  The adults in the novel also take on a secondary role and really have no depth or development to them, but it really doesn't matter as the focus was on Adam, Justin, and Kim, which seems right to me.  I really liked Kim as she was quite feisty and hope she appears again in future novels. 

The Search for the Stone of Excalibur was an enjoyable, fun tale that will keep a juvenile reader interested as it contains a lot of action and a twisty, if predictable, plot.  The writing is superb, keeping the reader interested in the story; there are a lot of threads to this story, some of which are not answered in this novel, but it does wrap up nicely where it counts.  I did think the conclusion was a bit lengthy and drawn-out, although the historical facts were interesting, as always, and I was looking forward to the clue to where they were heading next.