Sunday, March 29, 2015

Another Great Adventure in History from Eric Larson

Dead Wake is as thrilling as any novel.
This past Christmas week I watched an amazing documentary series called Apocalypse:WWI and realized that I know so much less about the first world war than I do the second. And it's just as interesting! I've been reading bits and pieces since then, and put my name on the waiting list for Erik Larson's account of the sinking of the Lusitania.The 100th anniversary is approaching and it seems an appropriate time to read about it.

Dead Wake takes the events we've read about or watched in documentaries and puts them into a smoothly flowing narrative that  starts in New York City and ends off the coast of Ireland. It includes the American presidency, British code breakers of Room 40, German politics, u-boats, zeppelins, Ypres, the British Admiralty...I could go on and on. It's a lot of information, but Larson tells a logical story and all of the pieces fall into their proper places with ease.

The Lusitania pulling into New York Harbor

Passengers of the Lusitania are no longer an anonymous group. Rich details drawn from the letters and diaries of the dead and first person accounts from the survivors create a vivid picture of the voyage, surprisingly upbeat. Despite a published warning that vessels in British waters will be attacked, the passengers seem hearbreakingly unaware of their true danger.

Friday, March 27, 2015

New Teen Horror Release

5 stars

In Daryl Gregory's We Are All Completely Fine, we met Harrison Harrison, a man touched by The Other. It was dark and left me hungry for more Harrison.   In Harrison Squared,  we meet Harrison Harrison the boy. Definitely Lovecraftian in setting and style, but not an adult novel. I would classify it as preteen. Very high quality preteen, and I enjoyed reading it.

Harrison's horror begins when his mother, a research scientist, takes him to Dunnsmouth for a project.  I keep wanting to write Innsmouth or Dunwich, which is to say this town is as insane as anything Lovecraft dreamed up. Everything about this place is creepy. Harrison's new school, his new classmates, the police, the fishermen, are all seriously weird. There's a secret under life that Harrison can't stop poking.

When his mother's boat doesn't return from her second day out, Aunt Sel swoops in to take care of Harrison until he gives up looking for his mother. In any other tale, Aunt Sel would be the crazy one. Here, she's the closest thing to normal Harrison's got.

Harrison's search for his mom is exciting and scary, but again, entirely appropriate for the young reader. There's never a lull in the adventure. It's classic Lovecraft, with ancient evil creatures from beyond the veil, caves and underwater rescues,  everything happening at night. Harrison has to rely on his own wits, and help eventually comes from strange places. Twelve year old me would have read this book over and over again, and pushed it on my friends.

I'm still hungry for more of the grown up Harrison Harrison, though.  (Hint, hint Gregory).

Thank you NetGalley and Tor Books for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Disappointing New Release from Anne Perry

2 of 5 stars
My reading history with Anne Perry is limited to the first five William Monk books and the first book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series, so I had no experience with her recent output prior to reading this novel. I love the books I've read previously. Unfortunately, this novel does not meet my expectations from her.

The premise is an interesting one. A prominent young British woman starts life anew in Spain after rejecting an advantageous marriage proposal. After marrying a Spaniard, she experiences a religious transformation and picks up a group of followers. A decade later, 'Saint Sofia' has come to London under serious threat, ostensibly to bring her new religion to the British masses.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter

3.5 stars
The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter is the foundation novel for an alternate history series with light steampunk elements. Rod Duncan presents a future in which society is stuck in the Victorian Era, technological advances suppressed by the government in an attempt to keep peace in the world. Britain is divided into two territories as part of the treaty that ended the British Revolutionary War. The Anglo-Scottish Republic and the Kingdom of England and South Wales are just two of the territories under the jurisdiction of The International Patent Office, the agency responsible for eradicating morally and socially dangerous science.

Elizabeth Barnabus is in exile in the Republic, making a meager living as a private detective. Since women are prohibited from owning property or businesses in the Republic, she uses her carnival skills of illusion to create a male identity for trade purposes. Her 'twin brother' is able to sign contracts, buy property, and move freely in areas where Elizabeth is limited by her gender.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Harlan Coben's latest stand alone is a winner!

4 of 5 stars

Adam Price has a great life in suburban new Jersey. Beautiful wife Corinne and two active boys, lovely house, involved in his community. Then The Stranger approaches, and in a few short words he rips Adam's life into pieces. 
The Stranger is an excellent stand alone psychological thriller. Not only was it interesting and suspenseful, but it prompted me to examine the nature of secrets. Are they dangerous in and of themselves, or is the danger in the lengths we go to in order to keep them? Is the fallout after they're revealed the greatest danger of all?

There are multiple  twists and turns, expected and unexpected. Some plot points require a bit more suspension of disbelief than others, but are not so implausible that tension is broken. I was kept guessing about multiple things until nearly the end, and even then I wasn't sure exactly how it would play out. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thank you NetGalley and Penguin Group for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Weight of Blood from Laura McHugh

4 of 5 stars

A young teenaged girl disappears from a rural Ozark community and is hardly missed until her body turns up in pieces, lodged in the branches of a fallen tree on the river bank across from Henbane's local store. The murdered girl was Lucy's neighbor, and her disappearance a year earlier struck a chord with the young girl whose own mother disappeared 15 years ago just as mysteriously. 

Are these disappearances as connected as the ties that bind the people of Henbane? Lucy thinks so, and her exploration takes her on a dangerous journey. She'll find out what happened to them both, and discover in the process that nothing is as it seems.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

London like you've never seen it....

5 stars
I admit it, I am wowed by this book. It has so much of what I love, nothing that I don't, and it's put together amazingly well. This is a must-go-get-now kind of book. Science Fiction. Fantasy. Mythology. Conspiracies.

Our story begins after the death of Eiliff and Aedric Tenning. They leave three children behind in the care of Aedric's sister Arianne. Twins Eluned and Eleri Tenning are sixteen, younger brother Griff thirteen. All four believe the couple was murdered and an automaton, a secret commission, stolen. Arianne has to support the children financially and emotionally, which means helping them find out why their parents were killed. One of the few clues left behind leads her to Sheerside, the home of a powerful vampire. She plans to enter his service, no small commitment, in order to investigate and secure a place for her charges. It doesn't go at all as she planned.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

March 24 release date - Servants of Fate#2

3.5 Stars
Sarah Fine follows up her strong first entry in the Servants of Fate series, Marked, with Claimed. For a discussion of the Servants of Fate mythology, see my review of Marked .

Marked created a post-apocalyptic world of fantasy and science, and brought together Cacy Ferry and Eli Margolis. Claimed brings together their siblings - Galina Margolis and Declan Ferry.

Although Galina is being protected by the Kere, she watches helplessly as people around her die in an attempt to stop her research. Declan Ferry has admired her from a distance as the relationship between the Ferry and Margolis families grew, and now he must step in to protect her.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: Chimera

Chimera by Vaun Murphrey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Weaver Series, Book One

Cassandra is no ordinary thirteen year old girl. In captivity since the age of five, held in silence and isolation, yet she is unimaginably brilliant. She is a Weaver, an evolutionary advance in the human line. Miraculously rescued by an uncle she never knew existed, she must now learn to handle her still developing powers.

Is she a threat to the Weavers, or their salvation?

Possible spoilers below:

Review: Shame and the Captives: A Novel

Shame and the Captives: A Novel
4 Stars
Shame and the Captives: A Novel by Thomas Keneally

If you are at all interested in WWII, this book is a must read. Shame and the Captives is a fictionalized account of a Japanese POW camp breakout that occurred in Australia in 1944. I've read many fiction and non-fiction books set in that era without ever touching extensively upon Australia's history, mainly reading about Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. This was a very interesting and usual setting.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Review: Darkside

Darkside by Belinda Bauer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Published December 2010

Belinda Bauer's second volume in The Exmoor Trilogy is a psychological thriller even better than the first.

Four years after the events in Blacklands, Shipcott is shaken by the murder of an elderly invalid in her own home. Local constable Jonas Holly is pushed out of the investigation early on as DCI Marvel and his crack CID team arrive to take over.

Holly, whose wife Lucy suffers from advanced MS and needs his help, should be relieved. He is not, as he soon starts receiving intimidating notes, increasingly threatening, and is compelled to assert and insert himself in order to protect the village.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Review: Flesh and Blood

Flesh and Blood
Flesh and Blood by Patricia Cornwell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After giving Cornwell's most recent Scarpetta novel a dismal one star, I must be thoroughly impressed with this one as I've rated it three stars. Not so, but I do believe it's at least three times more likeable than the awful Dust.

The novel begins with the most important thing, Scarpetta rhapsodizing over the wondrous Benton and cooking him breakfast. Cornwell spends so much time on this that I thought it was of vital interest to the plot. I can't remember exactly what it was despite having read it only yesterday, but I'm sure it was something Italian and complicated and made with ingredients that you and I only see in Ina Garten's kitchen. (I always imagine Scarpetta using exaggerated Italian in these passage, much like Giada de Laurentiis makes 'spaghetti' sound like she's scolding her dog).

Scarpetta finds seven bright and shiny pennies, all with the same date, lined up perfectly on her back wall. These pennies will slowly but surely connect themselves to the murder that cancels Kay's and Benton's Miami vacation.

It's a day of no coincidences. Seemingly random victims are connected to Kay, and it appears that the cyber crimes she and her inner circle have been experiencing for the past few months are connected as well. Who could be doing this, and what is the ultimate goal? Who could hate them all this much?

Review: Trust No One

Trust No One
Trust No One by Jayne Ann Krentz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say first off that Romantic Suspense is not my thing. My sister loves it, though and raves about Jayne Ann Krentz. How could I not read this?

A short synopsis: Grace Elland finds her boss dead at his home one morning, and the scene takes her back to a horrific event that occurred when she was 16 years old. In fact, she still suffers from nightmares, mild claustrophobia, and panic attacks. Classic PTSD.

Also classic is the plot line. It's a tried and true formula, and works well in this genre. Wounded girl is rescued by the strong man, but in this tale he is also wounded and only she can heal him. What's not to like?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Blacklands

, Mysteries
Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Twelve year old Steven is obsessed with digging holes in the moor. He's been digging for three years now, because eighteen years ago his uncle Billy disappeared on the way home from the shops and his body has never been found. Billy's little boy room is still as he left it, a forbidden shrine to a life cut short. Arnold Avery confessed to the murder of six children whose bodies he buried on the moor, but Billy Peters wasn't one of the six. It's as if he vanished into thin air, with only his room to show he ever existed at all...

Monday, March 9, 2015

Review: Dreamwalker

Dreamwalker by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dreamwalker is the first book in The Red Dragon Academy fantasy series, written by mother/daughter team Rhys Bowen and C.M. Broyles for children grades 4 - 8. I am familiar with Bowen from her Constable Evans cozy mystery series.

Addy Walker is whisked off to boarding school in Wales after her mother dies, leaving her orphaned. The Red Dragon Academy is no ordinary, school, though. The school is a portal to a mirror world, a world both secret and dangerous.

Addy and her fellow students don't know about the mirror world or magic, and some of the students have their own secrets. As Addy settles in makes friends, bit by bit is revealed.

This isn't Harry Potter, but I don't believe it's supposed to be a Potter knock-off. At 284 pages, it's a much shorter book and both length and content are appropriate for new 'chapter book' readers. I would have absolutely loved this book at age 9 or 10. It's simple enough for the young reader but not silly.

My 4-star rating was given by my much younger self.

Thank you to NetGalley and Red Dragon Press for this free e-book in exchange for an honest review.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Review: The Three

The Three
The Three by Sarah Lotz

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm torn between giving this book two stars or three. While the overall message was something I agree with, it certainly took a long time getting there.

The basic storyline is that four plane crashes occur on the same day, scattered around the globe, and three children miraculously survive. Their survival becomes fodder for religious wingnuts and conspiracy theorists around the world.

Things I liked:

The epistolary format - Written in the form of interviews, emails, news articles, letters, etc. I've always like this style, but I this time the content was a little slow moving the story along.

The message - I can't say what anyone else got out of it, but what I got out of it basically agrees with some of my strongest beliefs. The masses are easily led by the media, with fear being the strongest emotion that draws people together. There's more, of course, but I don't want to give too much away.

Things I didn't like:

The pacing - It dragged. I kept reading because I thought, mistakenly, that surely something dramatic would eventually happen. I can imagine that this started out as a top-notch short story or novella that was expanded into a novel. At 476 pages, it's a pretty long horror novel where nothing singularly horrible happens. The horror is in the possibilities and eventualities.

The missed opportunity - This novel could have been a lot more. It could have been truly horrible, but the way I imagine that would preclude the epistolary format, probably. I imagine it with a bit of backstory, more action in the present, and moving further into the future. That's a story I would love to read.

I did finish it, but I wish I had spent those 476 pages on something else.

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Review: Snow Angels

Snow Angels
Snow Angels by James Thompson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although it's only 265 pages, this novel is packed full of everything I like in my noir. It's got graphic violence, great dialogue, a few red herrings, and a setting that is as much a part of the story as Inspector Kari Vaara. I don't want to go into any detail about the plot. It's tight, and the book starts with a bang.

James Thompson really made Finland come alive to me, and that was a critical part of the story. By the end of the book, I believed anything was possible during the Dark Season in Lapland; round the clock darkness and sub-zero temperatures would certainly make me crazy. The setting somehow managed to feel desolate, despite being a tourist town. I didn't just feel the cold, I could smell the cold.

Thompson's characters are very rich. If there was anyone for whom I didn't have any feelings, it would have to be his wife. She's the only character that felt flat to me, but perhaps I just didn't connect with her.

It's not impossible to guess the identity of the killer, but this book is about a lot more than just whodunnit. He sets up the foundation for the series in the book as well.

With James Thompson's premature death last year leaving us with so few of his novels, I'll have to pace myself carefully. No marathon reading session of the four Kari Vaara novels.

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: The Chessmen

The Chessmen
The Chessmen by Peter May

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Chessmen is the third novel in the Lewis Trilogy, and I strongly advise reading the books in order. This is especially important in this trilogy because the books are at least equal parts back stories and front stories and really really back stories and central mystery. Some of the importance of what is revealed about MC Fin Macleod (and others)just won't carry the same weight if you don't know the history.

If you've read the first two, you already know that there's never just one crime or mystery. And on the Isle of Lewis, everyone is connected to everyone else in some way. Peter May doesn't tell a linear story here. He starts with the discovery of a murder, rewinds to a couple of days earlier, then puts in an entirely new tape to tell the high school/uni stories.

I don't normally have a difficult time with all the time jumping, but I already struggle with the Gaelic words. There is a pronunciation guide in the back of the book, but I'm on my third book now and I can only remember that 'Dubh' is pronounced 'Doo'. I have to look up any words that I can't pronounce or don't know. Always have. So that slows me down a bit and makes keeping track of the two present/near-present timelines more difficult.

May's mysteries have a lot of parts and pieces but aren't difficult to figure out. The complexity of his characters and relationships is what draws me to his books. Although I didn't enjoy this one as much as the previous two, that may be due to my own deficits and not the novel's.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review: Infected

Infected by Scott Sigler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's a great blend of science fiction and horror.

Apparently normal people start going psychotic, murdering family or friends before mutilating and killing themselves, and their autopsies reveal previously unseen physiological changes. Soon the CIA and the CDC are involved in a secret mission to uncover what's happening.

Is it a human-engineered biological weapon? A naturally occurring parasite that's mutated to its current form? Or is it something more sinister?

The mission to locate and capture a living victim is a roller coaster ride that has just the right amount of scientific and military jargon to give it believability. Three-dimensional characters have just enough personality to engage the reader without bogging it down.

Parasite victim Perry's journey is nothing less than horrific. His physical and psychological struggle are equally gut-wrenching. I was so caught up in his experience that I didn't want the CIA to find him. I wanted to ride it out with him, even if it placed the mission in danger of failure.

I can't recommend it highly enough for lovers of sci-fi/horror cross-overs. The next book in the series, Contagious (Infected #2) has just moved up my TBR list.

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Thanks NetGalley & Delacorte Press!

I'm currently reading an ARC of the The Girl at Midnight, a young adult fantasy that I'm loving. Each chapter takes me about 15 minutes to read, so it's the perfect length to grab and read in those in between times.

Publication date April 28, 2015

Pre-order from
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Monday, March 2, 2015

Review: A Fine Summer's Day

A Fine Summer's Day
A Fine Summer's Day by Charles Todd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Somewhere in this house there's a copy of A Long Shadow, the 8th Inspector Ian Rutledge novel, 1/3 finished but probably missing its bookmark. I took a detour into Scotland, and I've since been reading a lot of Tartan Noir. It's great to be back in London, though, and being a little behind in the series is perfectly fine as A Fine Summer's Day is a prequel.

I've had a lot of questions about pre-war Rutledge, mostly centered around Jean. Did he believe she truly loved him? Did she love him? Did he only think he loved her, and the pain of the betrayal is worse than the loss of her companionship? I don't wonder how he could love a woman so shallow, as Ian seems to fall for women easily. As naturally suspicious as he is of everyone, he's entirely too trusting of attractive women.

I won't reveal any details about Ian and Jean and their engagement. The book is predominantly a mystery, a very good one, and the moments spent on Ian's personal life are precious. So too, are the appearances of friends whose names you'll recognize. Some will die in the war, but in this novel they're all untouched by grief and loss with the exception of Ian and Frances. Their parents' deaths are relatively recent, and the pain of it is still sharp.

This book is for those die-hard Rutledge fans as well as historical mystery fans entirely unfamiliar with this series and its characters.  Rutledge's last mystery before he leaves for the war takes him all over England, and 30 years into the past. It's a fascinating parallel to what this novel is accomplishing by taking us back into Ian's past, though it leaves it for us to see the impact of those pre-war relationships on the post-war detective.

Highly recommend for followers of the series and newcomers alike, but it will be more appreciated by those with a connection to Ian Rutledge already.

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Review: The Language of Flowers

The Language of Flowers
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book came to my attention via Goodreads and I subsequently checked it out from the library, still not knowing exactly what it was about. I hate reading the full blurb of a book. I usually read a meager paragragh, never clicking 'more' to read the full description. If one or two sentences haven't grabbed me, then I'm usually on to something else.

So what did I know about this book? A woman with a 'troubled past' uses the language of flowers to improve others' lives. Not much, but the language of flowers part sold me. And I thought it sounded a bit like a French movie, maybe Italian if she finds love too.

I wasn't prepared for Victoria, a traumatized orphan bounced from foster home to foster home until she's finally deemed unadoptable and lives in group homes until she's eighteen. She has no friends, no family, nothing except this obsession with flowers and their hidden language.

The flashbacks to her childhood are painful, but this isn't a novel of graphic physical or sexual abuse. It's about the trauma that lack of love and belonging produces, and about hope.

It could at times be difficult to believe in the faith placed in Victoria by seemingly random strangers, but this is set in San Francisco. I don't think this story would work in NYC. It also helps to believe that life isn't in any way random at all, and that the natural state of the human heart is love.

I've said before that I don't like romance, but that doesn't mean I don't like a great love story.

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Review: Seven Kinds of Hell

Seven Kinds of Hell
Seven Kinds of Hell by Dana Cameron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although I can't rate this full length book as highly as I rated the short story The Curious Case of Miss Amelia Vernet, it was a good read and I give it 3.5 stars.

 A short story is spare, with little space for repeated reviewing of past decisions and lost love, but this isn't not so true of a full length novel.  Zoe Miller, protagonist of Seven Kinds of Hell (Fangborn, #1), spends the first few days following her mother's death thinking about her past. It's a quick way to show her history without jumping back and forth in time, but it makes the beginning of the book drag a bit. This is a book about werewolves and vampires and I was anxious to see them. (Of course, Bram Stoker made us wait even longer and nobody holds that against him).

The pace improves when the action starts, and I didn't find the twists and turns too implausible. (What exactly constitutes 'implausible' in a vampire/werewolf plot, anyway?) The basic story of the Fangborn is simple and I like that. I'd rather the thriller part of the plot have the complexity.

I plan to continue reading the series. The next book in line is Pack of Strays

This book is currently available in the Kindle Unlimited program, with narration. I didn't listen to it so I can't rate that.

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A Fantasy short story set in Victorian England....

Perusing NetGalley yesterday I came across the third title in Dana Cameron's Fangborn series, Hellbender. I'm entirely unfamiliar with this series, but at this time there are two short stories available on Amazon in the Kindle Unlimited program.

The Curious Case of Miss Amelia Vernet is Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Miss Vernet is Holmes' 16 year old cousin, no less! Like all Conan Doyle admirers, I was both drawn to the story and a little hesitant. Some Sherlock Holmes pastiche is better left unread. This is definitely not the case here! I loved this story.
Even a brief outline would reveal too much of this 49 page story, but I will say that it does include a full cast of well-known Holmes characters and is a complete tale. I can almost believe Conan Doyle wrote it himself. 
I found the story very entertaining. I would read a full series of Fangborn books or stories set in the Holmes world,  but this is the only one at present. The full length novels are set in present times.

There is another short story set in 13th century England, The Serpent's Tale.

I look forward to reading the entire Fangborn series.