Sunday, September 25, 2016

Review: Little Boy Blue by M. J. Arlidge

Little Boy Blue (Helen Grace, Book #5)
by M.J. Arlidge
Release Date: October 4th 2016
2016 Berkley
Ebook Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-1101991374
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Detective Inspector Helen Grace is no stranger to tragedy. But when a body is found in a Southampton nightclub, the death cuts too close to the bone. Hiding her personal connection to the victim - and a double-life which must remain secret at all costs - Helen becomes a woman possessed, working her team around the clock to chase down every lead. As the killer strikes again, the investigation takes its toll not only on Helen but also her senior officers. Tempers flare, friendships fray and Helen faces an impossible choice. Confess her sins and lose control of the case? Or keep living a lie, protecting her darkest secrets, and risk getting trapped in this tangled web? But whatever she does, this killer will not stop until the truth is revealed: there are some fates worse than death . . . 

My Thoughts
Little Boy Blue is the fifth book in the Detective Helen Grace series and this one becomes very personal.  Investigating the death of a friend, one that she needs to keep secret, takes up every ounce of investigative power that Helen has in order to stay on the case before her inner-most secrets are discovered.  While I did find the beginning of this novel to be somewhat slow, then last third definitely makes up for the slower than normal start.  

I have read all of the books in this series and I will admit that I am no closer to understanding Helen now than I was before.  Helen has a big secret that she keeps from everyone around her, and I won't even pretend to understand that world or why she needs it so desperately.  This novel closes in on that world as a close associate is murdered and suddenly, Helen is faced with a devastating choice - reveal her dual life to those with whom she works or lie.  Again, I didn't really understand her choice as I could see it as one of betrayal and lies, and I could definitely see why her colleagues would react the way that they did.  I do admire Helen quite a bit however, as she is strong, very intelligent, and doesn't let others put her or anyone else down.  I love it when she gets all tough on others who think they can take advantage of her, and I am definitely looking forward to some revenge scenarios in the next book once people find out they put their loyalties in the wrong corner. There is going to be some serious butt-kicking happening!!! She is very complex, and the author continues to do her character justice with her character development. 

While I admire Helen, I do have to admit some of the other characters were a bit annoying in this one. What happened to Charlie?  All she and Sanderson did was whine and argue pretty much the entire book, and it got old, fast.  And is it possible to have a novel where a senior office doesn't have a fixation on a junior officer in order to create drama?  That too gets old.  I like it when characters have flaws and negative attitudes and attributes, but I wasn't overly impressed with the way some of  these characters behaved in this one.  

While the novel develops slowly, I did find the research into the world of S&M to be quite fascinating; I have no way of knowing how accurate the portrayal was though as I have no knowledge of that world, but Arlidge definitely did a good job portraying the characters and some of the ways people could be involved, both openly and secretly.  I liked how the author portrayed both the dangerous side of this world, the sadistic people involved in this world and the tortures that are involved, as well as the way the rest of the world sees this type of behaviour through some of the prejudices and reactions of the characters, like parents.  There were many twists and turns in this one, and headed towards a result I was fervently hoping wasn't going where I thought it was going, but did.  While I wasn't surprised by the ending, I still found it shocking. Know what I mean?

Little Boy Blue is a fascinating journey through the S&M world, and particularly through Helen's as we learn more about her.  As always, I found this novel easy to read, with a somewhat slower start than usual, but it certainly picks up towards the end.  I did find some of the secondary characters to be somewhat annoying in this one; I would have liked to have seen somewhat stronger female leads without resorting to in-fighting all the time.  I do recommend that you begin with the first novel in the series however, if you have not read any of these before.  I am definitely looking forward to the next novel in this series.
Saturday, September 24, 2016

Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library, Book #1)
by Genevieve Cogman
Release Date: January 15th 2015
2015 Tor
Ebook Edition; 329 Pages
ISBN: 978-1447256236
Genre: Fiction / YA / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she's posted to an alternative London. Their mission - to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it's already been stolen. London's underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested - the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene's new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she's up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option - the nature of reality itself is at stake.

My Thoughts
The Invisible Library is one of those books where I feel the author tried really hard to include some really cool concepts which would have probably worked better if less effort was involved.  By this I mean we've got a library that exists outside of time, time travelling librarians, dragons, magic, mysteries, drama, intrigue, and of course, the rivalry between librarians.  It all sounds pretty cool, and it is, but it almost felt like the author was trying to pack in too much in order to make it interesting, which wasn't really necessary.

First of all, I loved the concept of the Invisible Library, one that exists outside of time, one that works very hard to keep the balance of the other worlds through the preservation of books.  Upon reflection though, the concept itself is a bit flawed as the characters were being sent to different worlds to steal books, even if sometimes they bought them, and return them to the library.  But don't they belong to the original worlds?  These kinds of ideas were swirling through my head as I read and I had to shut them down or I wouldn't have enjoyed the book as much as I did.  

I did like Irene and Kai as main characters and thought they were interesting.  I like the chemistry between them and am curious as to where their relationship might be heading in the future. Both of them had interesting backgrounds and I look forward to learning more about Kai's in future installments.  Irene had an ongoing rivalry with another librarian which wasn't fully explained but it did add some interesting elements to the story even if they were a bit confusing for the reader because they were not fully understood.   I am a little confused as to why such junior librarians would have been sent on a mission like this one, knowing it could be quite dangerous, knowing who the possible enemy could be. It was another of things I just had to let go if I was going to enjoy this story.

I really enjoyed Vale as a character, but his character really pointed out the flaws in the whole dimension and chaos thing as he was the one who asked the important questions about the Invisible Library that Irene couldn't, or wouldn't, answer.  Their interaction really made it clear that Irene's mission was about the book, and not about anything else. Somewhat disappointing in a way.

The Invisible Library was an interesting book in that it was packed full of action, and there were definitely moments when I enjoyed the story and the characters very much.  It did however, raise a lot of questions that were not fully explained or led to dialogue that really wasn't necessary and interrupted the flow of the story, and made some of the characters seem bland and robotic and predictable.  If you are looking for a light, interesting read, then I do recommend this one for you.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Guest Post: Storm Wolf by Stephen Morris

Storm Wolf
Stephen Morris

Genre: fantasy/historical fantasy
Date of Publication: September 1, 2016
ISBN: ebook 978-0-9847731-0-
ISBN: Paperback 978-0-9847731-8-3
Number of pages: 392
Word Count: 116049
Cover Artist: Elliot Kreloff

Book Description:
"LIBAHUNT!" Alexei breaks the terms of the wolf-magic he inherited from his grandfather and loses the ability to control the shapeshifting. His grandfather's magical wolf-pelt was meant to protect their rural village in 1880s Estonia by fighting the terrible storms in the sky but instead, it drives Alexei to kill, slaughtering his neighbors, his friends —even his family.

Heartbroken, Alexei flees his home in search of an enchanter to free him from this hideous curse.  Wandering through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Bohemia, he encounters the Master of Wolves, who forces Alexei to terrorize and murder the local farmers, and the infamous Frau Bertha who traps all those who anger her by turning them into wolves. Will Alexei find a sorcerer who can free him?

 What Reviewers Are Saying About Storm Wolf

"Morris' werewolf isn't a fur-coated romantic, but a refreshingly murky protagonist who's both flawed and sympathetic; he kills innocents, but never intentionally. There are quite a few werewolf onslaughts, which the author unflinchingly portrays as bloody and brutal.... A dark supernatural outing, featuring indelible characters as sharp as wolves' teeth." -- Kirkus Reviews

"...a unique weaving together and retelling of central and eastern European werewolf folk tales. Set in 1890, when such tales were still being told, Storm Wolf stands apart from contemporary myth and legend retellings... The magic--Alexei's battles with storm creatures, the conjuring of a snake demon from pipe smoke, a witch's talisman of skin stripped from a sailor--is extraordinarily well imagined and described here. Dollops of regional history and glimpses of customs and legends are fascinating." -- Blue Ink Review

Monday, September 19, 2016

Book Blast: Dandelion Dead by Chrystle Fiedler

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Dandelion Dead by Chrystle Fiedler

Cozy Mystery Pocket Books (September 27, 2016)  
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages   
ISBN-13: 978-1476748931  



In a cozy mystery filled with natural cures and edible plants that you will love, an organic winery becomes the backdrop for murder! Fortunately, solving crimes comes naturally to charmingly unconventional amateur sleuth and holistic doctor, Willow McQuade, as she looks for clues that will reveal a killer’s true vintage.

Business is blooming at Nature’s Way Market & CafĂ©, and shop owner, holistic doctor, and amateur sleuth, Willow McQuade has never been happier. Her new medicinal herb garden is a hit, so is her new book, she’s in love with ex-cop and animal rescuer Jackson Spade, and enjoying teaching seminars about edible plants and natural remedies.

But everything changes when Willow’s old boyfriend and TV producer, Simon Lewis, winemaker David Farmer, and his wife Ivy, ask her to cater a party at Pure, their new organic vineyard, to kick off North Fork’s Uncorked! week and the competition for Wine Lovers magazine’s $200,000 prize. Pure’s entry, Falling Leaves, is the favorite to win, and the wine flows freely until after Simon’s toast when smiles give way to looks of horror. Ivy’s twin sister, Amy has been murdered! Turns out, the poison that killed her was actually meant for David. But who wants him dead? A rival vintner? Or someone closer to home? This time the truth may be a bitter vintage to swallow.

About the Author

Chrystle-Fiedler-and-Wallander-her-Detective-Dachshund-11CHRYSTLE FIEDLER is a freelance journalist specializing in natural remedies, alternative medicine and holistic health and healing, and is the author of the Natural Remedies Mysteries series. Her many consumer magazine articles have appeared in USA Today’s Green Living, Natural Health, Remedy, Mother Earth Living, Spirituality & Health, and Prevention. She is also the author/co-author of seven non-fiction health titles including the Country Almanac of Home Remedies with herbalist Brigitte Mars, and The Compassionate Chick’s Guide to DIY Beauty with Vegan Beauty Review founder, Sunny Subramanian. Chrystle lives on the East End of Long Island, NY in a cozy cottage by the sea. 

Author Links Website link:
Twitter: @ChrystleFiedler

Purchase Links: AmazonB&N - IndieBound

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Review: Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Fool Me Once
by Harlan Cohen
Release Date: March 22nd 2016
2016 Dutton
Ebook Edition; 392 Pages
ISBN: 978-0525955092
ASIN: B0141ZP33S
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Former special ops pilot Maya, home from the war, sees an unthinkable image captured by her nanny cam while she is at work: her two-year-old daughter playing with Maya’s husband, Joe—who had been brutally murdered two weeks earlier. The provocative question at the heart of the mystery: Can you believe everything you see with your own eyes, even when you desperately want to? To find the answer, Maya must finally come to terms with deep secrets and deceit in her own past before she can face the unbelievable truth about her husband—and herself.

My Thoughts
Fool Me Once is one of those books that I thought started off very well, but as I kept reading, I began to lose interest quite quickly.  I decided just to enjoy the ride, enjoy the convoluted mess, accept the unacceptable, and try to find something to like in Maya.

I tried really hard to like Maya, the main character, but I just couldn't. And while I totally understood her troubles with PTSD, she just seemed too cold and calculating for me, and I really couldn't dredge up a lot of empathy for her.  And even though the author tried to add warmth to her character through her interactions with her daughter, it didn't actually come across as warm, but more as something she felt she needed to do as a mom and part of her daily duties.  And it doesn't have anything to do with being a soldier as I live with a soldier and my husband is definitely not like Maya.  I am glad to see the troubles with PTSD however, and exposure needs to be given to this serious issue as don't think the government is doing enough to help our soldiers deal with it, but that is a rant for another time and post.   

While the novel was convoluted, it wasn't hard to discover who did the crimes; the real question was discovering the motive and this is what really kept me reading to the end.  I was interested in finding out the 'why'.  Overlooking a few questionable methods and some unlikely scenarios, the author kept the pace moving rather quickly.  I lost interest because once I figured out the 'who', going through the paces of the novel made me roll my eyes several times; it was just a way to try to keep the characters busy and to try to throw in some red herrings, but anyone who reads mystery novels a lot could have figured it out quite easily.   Once I just went along with it for the ride, it went a lot smoother for me as a reader and I just amused myself trying to see what the author would do next, without rolling my eyes.  And it was much more fun to read that way.  But did I find it riveting, couldn't put it down? No, definitely not. Read at least two other books while reading this one.

Fool Me Once is not Coben at his best, and I really wasn't crazy about either Maya or Shane.  I just thought they were lacking in depth and I didn't feel any empathy towards either of them.  I should have felt something at the end, but I didn't.  I also wasn't crazy about the Epilogue and could have done without it.  And while I typically love Coben's writing style, I felt like it was a bit off in this one whereby the humour and sense of style was somewhat missing.  Has this turned me off Coben's books altogether?  No, not yet.  I've got an ARC of Home waiting for me so we'll see how that goes. 
Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review: The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

The Blackthorn Key (The Blackthorn Key, Book #1)
by Kevin Sands
Release Date: September 1st 2015
2015 by Aladdin
Ebook Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1481446518
Genre: Fiction / Children / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

5 / 5 Stars

“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”

Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn—with maybe an explosion or two along the way.

But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart.

My Thoughts
The Blackthorn Key is the first book in a series, and it was a lot of fun to read.  A fast-paced historical mystery, with a great deal of attention to historical detail, it was a novel full of mystery, puzzles, action, and delight.  I especially liked the themes of loyalty and friendship that ran through these pages with nary a romantic triangle in sight.  

Christopher is an interesting character and I liked him quite a bit.  His inquisitiveness got him and his best friend in trouble quite a bit, but it was this ability to question that also saved his life on numerous occasions.  And the ability to solve problems.  Having apprenticed to Benedict Blackthorn these many years, Christopher had learned many unusual things such as potions, healing herbs, explosives, and secret remedies.  I found Christopher to be a typical boy whereby curiosity often got the better of him, blowing up various items in his master's shop as a result, creating some very humourous scenes.  It was something I could actually picture my own son doing if the right conditions existed so I did think it was funny.  I thought the author had a good grasp of boys and some of the ways they think and act; I can't imagine it was that different 500 years ago if the situation was right.  Give boys explosive devices and free time to explore them, and I imagine chaos would erupt no matter the century. 

I really liked the exploration of the themes of friendship and loyalty that were explored in this book.  Too often we see books where the main characters fight or do not get along so it was nice to see a book where the friends actually supported one another and helped each other no matter the odds.  I really liked the bond between Christopher and Thomas, and really liked Thomas' sisters as well.  I also liked how the author explored the time period through the action and not through long-winded descriptions, so the young reader would get an appreciation of how difficult life could be for those who were somewhat disadvantaged.  He didn't sugar-coat anything, but it wasn't overly graphic either which was nice.  It was just how things were through Christopher's eyes.   The author has a nice sense of writing style which keeps you interested in the action without downplaying the descriptions.  As a historical fiction fan, and someone who teaches history, I did have to constantly remind myself that I was reading a children's novel as I would have liked a bit more exploration of the time period.  It did not however, detract from the novel at all.   

The Blackthorn Key was a pleasant surprise and one that I enjoyed tremendously.  If I have anything negative to say about this book it would be about the lack of female characters; a couple would round off the story nicely.  That is only just a wish however, as Christopher's world probably would not have had many females in it, particularly since alchemy was a male-dominated area.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for something fun and refreshing to read.  Plain and simple, it was just simply fun to read.   

Guest Post & Giveaway: The King of Evil by Josh Stricklin

The King of Evil
Josh Stricklin

Genre: Horror, Occult, Voodoo
Publisher: Silver Leaf Books
Date of Publication: September 1
ISBN: 978-1609751753
Number of pages: 334
Word Count: 80,000
Cover Artist: Paul Tynes

Book Description:
After a horrific accident, graphic artist Jack Simmons and his wife, Cindy, have lost all sense of a normal life. With their marriage in pieces, their only hope in setting things back is by starting over. The two pack their lives in boxes and migrate to the Big Easy. Upon arrival, Jack and Cindy fall into the jobs of their dreams. The new start they were hoping for seemed to have been waiting for them in New Orleans, after all. But something followed them. Something Evil.

Jack is commissioned to create the artwork for a graphic novel about a voodoo king, The King of Evil. As Jack works diligently to create a masterpiece, drawing the images back and forth between paper and his computer, he starts seeing things. Images of his King appear in the corners of his vision. They spring up just as Jack falls asleep. Always only inches out of plain sight.

The King grows more powerful, and soon he unleashes his power on Jack, Cindy, and the people in their lives. The King slowly destroys everyone around them, showing the newly rekindled couple what it's like to be evil for evil's sake. Jack and Cindy will need help from the King's past victims to stop him.

The King of Evil is a heart-pounding, supernatural thriller. Its vibrant characters and intense action is certain to keep its audience reading well into the night.

About the Author:
Josh Stricklin is an American author and musician with degrees in English literature and advertising from the University of Southern Mississippi. His first novel, Those Who Are Left, is available online and in person. The King of Evil is his first terrifying novel with Silver Leaf Books. He's currently hard at work finishing his first series…or more likely reading comic books and wearing a Seahawks jersey.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: Treachery at Lancaster Gate by Anne Perry

Treachery at Lancaster Gate (Charlotte & Thomas Pitt, Book #31)
by Anne Perry
Release Date: March 22nd 2016
2016 Ballantine Books
Ebook Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1101886328
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

When an explosion in London kills two policemen and seriously injures three more, many believe that anarchists are the culprits. But Thomas Pitt, commander of Special Branch, knows the city’s radical groups well enough to suspect otherwise: that someone with decidedly more personal motives lit the deadly fuse. As he investigates the source of the fatal blast, he’s stunned to discover the bombing was a calculated strike against the ranks of law enforcement.

But still more shocking revelations await, as Pitt’s inquiries lead him to a member of Parliament hoping for a lucrative business deal, a high-ranking police officer with secrets to keep, and an aristocratic opium addict seeking murderous revenge. As he pursues each increasingly threatening lead, Pitt finds himself impeded at every turn by the barriers put in place to protect the rich and powerful—barriers which, as they start to crumble, threaten to bury him alive.

My Thoughts
The Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series is one that I have followed faithfully since the first book was published those many years ago, and although I continue to read them, I really feel like a lot of the suspense and the thrill of the earlier books has been missing in the later books, including this one.  While I did have some serious hope around one-third of the way in, I felt a bit disappointed by the end as I don't think the author quite lived up to the expectations she set up. This definitely had the potential to be quite explosive, and put Pitt and those he loves in quite a position, but it didn't quite find its mark.  

First of all, I have always felt that the author is quite good at character development, and have always enjoyed seeing these characters grow throughout the novels.  And while I did enjoy the inner dialogues of the various characters, and I will always adore Gracie, I am still not a big fan of Jack, although I do understand him.  I do think the second-guessing went a bit far in this one and was a bit much - time to get on with the story.  

I do like the political climate and wish a bit more had been explained with regards to that - we are entering the time of the Boer War after all, the Mahdist War was coming to an end, and things were very unsettled in Europe.  And while I was expecting some big international conspiracy, especially as Pitt was involved, it was not quite what I expected, and I was quite happy for Tellman to take on a more central role.  I really liked the position in which Tellman and Pitt found themselves as I think it was quite relevant especially considering some of the things that are happening in our modern world.  I do wish the author had delved a bit deeper into the scenario however, as I felt she was holding back a bit thinking it would be too controversial or something, but I liked where it was headed.  And I definitely found it interesting.  It is really hard to discuss it without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that there was little mystery in this one, rather more like Pitt trying to deal with political machinations due to the bombing, uncovering stuff he would rather not have know about, and trying to figure out what to do about it.  It was this investigation where things got a little murky, and people started questioning themselves over and over again, and I started becoming impatient.  Too much inner dialogue and not enough action.  And too little Charlotte, again. 

Treachery at Lancaster Gate was rather interesting because I liked the political aspect of this book and where it was going.  I do wish the author had gone a bit deeper into the machinations behind the betrayal and the corruption, but maybe it will be explored in further books.  I also felt the ending was a bit abrupt and the trial didn't really feel like a trial, although this is nothing new to this series; I guess I was hoping for something more like the Monk series in that regards.  Overall, it wasn't a bad book, and I did enjoy it, but it was far from my favourite.