Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Review: Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

Journey to Munich (Maisie Dobbs, Book #12)
by Jacqueline Winspear
Release Date: March 29th 2016
2016 Harper
Ebook ARC Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062220622
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher / TLC Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

It’s early 1938, and Maisie Dobbs is back in England. On a fine yet chilly morning, as she walks towards Fitzroy Square—a place of many memories—she is intercepted by Brian Huntley and Robert MacFarlane of the Secret Service. The German government has agreed to release a British subject from prison, but only if he is handed over to a family member. Because the man’s wife is bedridden and his daughter has been killed in an accident, the Secret Service wants Maisie—who bears a striking resemblance to the daughter—to retrieve the man from Dachau, on the outskirts of Munich.

The British government is not alone in its interest in Maisie’s travel plans. Her nemesis—the man she holds responsible for her husband’s death—has learned of her journey, and is also desperate for her help.

Traveling into the heart of Nazi Germany, Maisie encounters unexpected dangers—and finds herself questioning whether it’s time to return to the work she loved. But the Secret Service may have other ideas. . . .

My Thoughts
Journey to Munich is the twelfth book in the Maisie Dobbs series, and Maisie continued to develop as an interesting and complex character.  Just when I think I had her figured out and thought I knew what she was going to do next, she surprised me and did something entirely different.  Having no permanent home in London, and continuing to deal with the tragedies that befell her in Canada, she accepts a job that will take her into the heart of Munich in 1938, just before the Anschluss. Having a history background, and teaching WWII, this is the part of the book that I found the most interesting.

First of all, I really enjoyed the descriptions of Munich in March 1938; Maisie's discomfort at having to salute, her avoidance of the statues in the park, the different types of soldiers she saw, the harassment by the soldiers, her visit to Dachau, her visits to Nazi headquarters (including her brief but memorable meeting with Hitler himself), the tension in the city, and the descriptions of the people themselves.  I really felt the author captured the flavour of the city during this time period quite well and the reader got a really good feel for the underlying tension and fear that existed.  People were leery of each other, and tended to avoid questions, often walking with their heads down. As often as I've tried to picture it, I still can not imagine what it would have been like to live like this, knowing your neighbours have been disappearing,  hearing about Dachau, and seeing some of the atrocities being committed.  Especially memorable for me was Maisie's meeting with the two little girls, one Christian, one Jewish, who had to sneak away in order to play together. Reading the description about them was heartbreaking, and I could just feel Maisie's emotions as she watched them walk away hand in hand, knowing she would never see that moment again, foreshadowing the future, perhaps Kristallnacht, in November 1938.

The actual plot, while I enjoyed it quite a bit, did make me raise my eyebrows a couple of times however.  While it was nice to see Maisie go undercover again and use some of the skills she had learned, there were some plot points that did stretch the imagination quite a bit.  I also would have thought that being a British citizen, she would have been followed a bit more than she was.  I did like the fact that she was more assertive than her usual self, but this has been building for quite a while; with all of the personal tragedies she has suffered, and some of the things she has done, she can't help but change from the person she was.  I like her more now than I did before.  I'm still not convinced that I see her as a spy, but anything can happen and we are entering some really interesting times for Daisy and her friends.  Maisie couldn't tell her friend everything about Munich though, as her friend is the mother of sons and she didn't have the heart to tell her that war is on the horizon.  That broke my heart.

Journey to Munich was more about the horrors of living in Hitler's Germany and about building one's life after living through personal tragedy than the actual spying and espionage.  While I really enjoyed seeing Munich through Maisie's eyes, I did feel that spending so much time in Maisie's head as she coped with her tragedies was kind of limiting to the plot and to Maisie herself.  Because the mystery was a bit limited in scope and imagination, I just couldn't give this a five-star rating, but the atmosphere was layered and quite thick with intrigue; I just wish it was used more in the plot.  I am looking forward to some interesting things happening as Maisie and her friends head into WWII.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Review: Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor

Into the Dim (Into the Dim, Book #1)
by Janet B. Taylor
Release Date: March 1st 2016
2016 HMH Books for Young Readers
Ebook Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-0544602007
ASIN: B011H55S2G
Genre: Fiction / YA / Time Travel
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. Trapped in the twelfth century in the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Along the way, her path collides with that of a mysterious boy who could be vital to her mission . . . or the key to Hope’s undoing.

My Thoughts
Into the Dim was an okay book if you didn't take it too seriously and especially if you didn't compare it to Outlander.  I am really starting to dislike those who compare books to other books as I really think it does a disservice to both the author and the book.  There is no comparison to Outlander, which I loved, and while I absolutely think a YA novel can be fantastic and complicated, it simply can't be like Outlander.  I don't think it's fair to the author entering a novel with that mindset as you are already going to be looking for criticisms and weaknesses.  

First of all, I enjoyed Into the Dim quite a bit.  As always, the mystery of Hope's past and ancestry was quite interesting and I liked how everything was revealed to her.  I am always up for secrecy and history, so I was quite happy to follow along and see how everything fell into place.  Naturally, the majority of the setting took place in Scotland; where else would an author set a time-travel mystery?  So many of these time travel things happen in Scotland and Great Britain, but as I love the history, I don't actually mind.  I think my love with anything Scotland has to do with my discovery of Gothic literature when I was very young and the mysteriousness of the land has sort of stuck in my head as something awesome, which is why I return to these novels, any genre now, time and again.  

The time-traveling aspect of the novel was a bit complicated and I actually prefer the more simpler versions of it, like accidentally touching a stone and poof! in the twelfth century.  This whole Tesla concept was a bit much, or maybe I just found it a bit boring and didn't really pay attention to it as much as I should have; I just thought the concept was a bit forced, and the use of opals a bit much.  

I didn't mind the plot too much, but I definitely didn't read it and compare it to Outlander. I actually prefer it when authors use modern language in their speech as sometimes it comes off as fake when they try to incorporate speech from the twelfth century.  Aside from books, we really have no way of knowing the common every day speech patterns, and as the language was so different from the modern language we use today, I think it is actually easier to stay with the modern.  I am French-speaking, but having read texts from the time period, I know I would have trouble with twelfth century French.  As far as the plot went however, it was fairly predictable, but enjoyable, and I liked the descriptions from the twelfth century.  

I did have a problem relating to Hope for quite a bit of the novel however.  I found her to be whiny, annoying, impatient, and a snob.  There were many negative comments about other girls and I didn't really appreciate them as it made her seem shallow, and whereas I think the author was trying to evoke pity from the reader, it only failed in my opinion. I get the author was trying to show Hope's level of intelligence by doing this, but it just made her look snotty and whiny; I'm sure there could have been another way to do it without putting other groups of girls down.  I also felt that Hope's anxiety was a bit forced, and used more as a plot point rather than an actual ailment.  When she needed something to happen, like a crisis, let's just use Hope's claustrophobia and panic attacks as a reason to create drama.  Being familiar with panic attacks, it just didn't work for me and left a bad feeling in my mouth.  

Into the Dim is the first book in a new series about time-travel, but for me it was just an okay book.  I did enjoy it, but I also had some issues with the characters and the plot.  I really didn't see a lot of development on the part of the characters, and thought the plot was a bit predictable, romance and all. The slower start to the book didn't really bother me too much, and I definitely enjoyed the actual travel in the twelfth century as I thought it was fun meeting the characters from that time period.  This is one where you will have to decide for yourself what you think.  I will probably read the second book in the series as I am curious to see what happens next. 
Saturday, March 19, 2016

Review: The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum by Kirsten Weiss

The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum
by Kirsten Weiss
Release Date: March 8th 2016
2016 Midnight Ink
Ebook Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-0738747514
Genre: Fiction / Cozy / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

When Maddie Kosloski’s career flatlines, she retreats to her wine-country hometown for solace and cheap rent. Railroaded into managing the local paranormal museum, she’s certain the rumors of its haunting are greatly exaggerated. But a new ghost may be on the loose. A fresh corpse in the museum embroils Maddie in murders past and present.

With her high school bully as one of the officers in charge, Maddie doubts justice will be served. When one of her best friends is arrested, she’s certain it won’t be.

Maddie grapples with ghost hunters, obsessed taxidermists, and the sexy motorcyclist next door as outside forces threaten. And as she juggles spectral shenanigans with the hunt for a killer, she discovers there truly is no place like home.

My Thoughts 
The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum was a light and fun cozy mystery and I was drawn to it because I was intrigued by the title.  Okay, anything with the work paranormal in it tends to draw me in, but I loved the idea of a "proper paranormal museum" - and wondered what that was all about. I never used to pay attention to cover pages and titles, but having a friend who draws them, I've become a lot more interested in the process and in the artwork.  
Drawn to the paranormal, I love all types of ghost stories including hard-core horror down to the lighter cozy mystery of which this one belongs.  You've got your room temperatures changes, mysterious happenings, mysterious sounds, and of course, the GD, the ghost detecting cat.  There was also the elusive hint here and there that there is much more to the museum than meets the eye, although that was not really apparent in this book.  Being the first in what I presume will be a new series however, I am not surprised by this, and not overly disappointed by the lack of paranormal activity that occurred.  So while this is labelled paranormal mystery, I actually think it falls more under the cozy mystery genre at this point. Definitely a lot of hinting as to events that could happen in the future though, with Maddie, and I was definitely interested considering the conversation in which those hints occurred. 

I thought Maddie was a lot of fun and I enjoyed her character quite a bit. Back in her hometown after losing her job, she was trying to figure out her life when running the paranormal museum sort of feel into her lap.  I enjoyed her personal reflections on her life as they were light and fun, and her relationships with her brother and her mom.  I couldn't quite figure out her relationship with her mom though, as that seemed a bit muddled and confusing but I'm hoping future novels will sort that out.  A lot of the secondary characters were quirky and interesting, although their actual relationships and connections to Maddie were not always clear, one of the things that happens in a novel that is more light and fun, rather than deep in nature.

There is definitely a romance in the works, but it didn't really happen in this book.  Mason, a hunky bike shop owner, is clearly the front-runner, but there could also be another one in the works as well as Maddie clearly had a connection with Detective Slate, although I'm not entirely sure if the connection was romantic or paranormal.  Time will tell.  

The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum was enjoyable and quite fun.  An easy-to-read entry in the cozy genre, with a historical mystery, a quirky and unusual museum, interesting secondary characters, and a cat that I adored, this is definitely a good entry into the paranormal / cozy world.   I did think the mystery was rather easy to figure out though; a few more twists and turns might have raised the intrigue just a notch.  I am very glad the author did not spend a lot of time on the romance and focused more on Maddie's journal to self-discovery although I do think this is one of the things that did hinder the mystery.  For those of you who like a light-hearted cozy mystery, then I highly recommend this one for you.  I'm not sure when the next book in the series will be released, but I do know there are several other cozies by this author coming up and I can't wait to read them. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Review: City of Light by Keri Arthur

City of Light (Outcast, Book #1)
by Keri Arthur
Release Date: January 5th 2016
2016 Signet
Ebook Edition; 343 Pages
ISBN: 978-0451473509
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal / Urban Fantasy / Dystopian
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between this world and the next, they allowed entry to the Others—demons, wraiths, and death spirits who turned the shadows into their hunting grounds. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay....

As a d├ęchet—a breed of humanoid super-soldiers almost eradicated by the war—Tiger has spent her life in hiding. But when she risks her life to save a little girl on the outskirts of Central City, she discovers that the child is one of many abducted in broad daylight by a wraith-like being—an impossibility with dangerous implications for everyone on earth.

Because if the light is no longer enough to protect them, nowhere is safe...

My Thoughts
City of Light is the first book in a new series by this author, and the first I have read in a very long time.   While I haven't really read a lot of urban fantasy these past few years, I was very intrigued by the shifters and the bio-engineered soldiers that were created in this one.  I also really enjoyed the world-building, even if it was a bit slow and confusing at first.  

First of all, the world building was quite good and I enjoyed the slow development and layers as they unfolded; although it was a bit slow, I do think that was needed to avoid a lot of confusion for the reader and for me, it worked rather well.  It gave me time to absorb the world and the characters that filled it as well as imagine what it looked like.  What particularly intrigued me was the war that occurred over one hundred years ago, but only tantalizing bits were revealed throughout the novel. It actually gave me incentive to read further and try to decode the mystery of the enmity that existed between the shifters and the dechet, a breed of super-soldiers created for the war, and almost completely wiped out.   This is definitely not paranormal romance, although there is sex in it, but not what you would expect; it really made me happy though, as the sex/lust scenario was one of the reasons I stopped reading urban fantasy. I just couldn't buy into the insta-love, insta-lust stuff any longer, and too much of it was starting to slide into the erotica zone for me.

It took me quite a while to really feel a connection to Tiger (love her name!!!) though, as I was spending too much time trying to figure out exactly what she was rather than who she was in the beginning.  A dechet soldier, half vampire, half shifter, with the ability to hear and see ghosts, she was very intriguing, right from the beginning.  In fact, it was her ability to communicate with ghosts that actually made her human side come out the best and I really enjoyed the scenes she shared with her ghost children.  She was fierce and vulnerable, and I could definitely connect with the vulnerability I detected.  It made her awesome powers less awesome, and made her seem more human.  For a woman who was born to seduce, and used those powers almost instinctively, I was glad they were put on the back burner for most of the book.  I did think her ability to kill using poisons was quite fascinating, if a little bit creepy.  

While I definitely enjoyed the world-building, the second half of the book takes you on a wild ride, the action never stopping, never letting go.  While there was definitely hints as to a future romance, it wasn't really there in this book; it actually made it far more interesting and created a lot of possibilities in my mind for the future.  I really have no idea who Jones is or what his purpose is; the glimpses we get as to what he may have been and done are intriguing, and it did leave you hanging and wishing for more information, which we didn't get.   The interplay between Tiger and Jones was very suspenseful and I can't wait to learn more about the two of them.  

City of Light was definitely not what I was expecting, and I loved it!!  It had all the right combinations in it that kept me reading; intrigue, mystery, suspense, action, and the paranormal, of course.  The fact that I didn't have to deal with a potential love triangle, Tiger being strong enough to send the men in her life packing, was quite enjoyable.  I wasn't overly crazy about the secondary characters in this novel, except for the ghosts, and I sincerely hope the author develops more interesting ones in the next installment, or takes down the superiority complex these ones have as, except for maybe Jones, I didn't actually find too many of them interesting.  That being said however, I really enjoyed the world-building and the plot, and look forward to the next installment, Winter Halo, when it releases November 2016.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Book Blitz: Hunted by Shalini Boland

by Shalini Boland
Series: Marchwood Vampire Series, Book 3
Genre: Paranormal
Tour Dates: March 8, 2016

A dark and suspenseful vampire adventure that spans the centuries from modern-day England to the wilds of ancient Scythia.

Maddy and Alex are running scared. The Cappadocian vampires are closing in. But Alex is so busy worrying about the vampires, he can’t see the terrible threat right under his nose…

Something else is hunting Alexandre. Something ancient and powerful.
Be swept away in this heart-pounding tale of ancient legend, star-crossed love and nail-biting supernatural adventure. This is the climatic finale of The Marchwood Vampire Series.

Author Information
Shalini Boland lives in Dorset, England with her husband and two noisy boys. Before kids, she was signed to Universal Music Publishing as a singer/songwriter, but now she spends her days writing dark adventures (in between doing the school run and hanging out endless baskets of laundry).

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