Monday, April 20, 2015

5 Stars for The Girl at Midnight

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of The Girl at Midnight about six weeks ago, and it's definitely one of my favorite YA Fantasy novels of the year. It's due out April 28. I suggest pre-ordering!

From Goodreads:

For readers of Cassandra Clare's City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, The Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

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I can't comment on the similarities between  The Girl at Midnight and City of Bones because I haven't read it. (I know, I know, I'm probably the only one that hasn't read it yet). Of course there are similarities with Shadow and Bone as well as with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and probably many other YA fantasies with female protagonists. It's a ubiquitous plot in adult fantasy as well. A human girl or woman is uniquely placed to become part of the hidden magical world, destined to become the crux of a war/battle/disagreement between factions of magical creatures. The difference is in the details. I don't think that's a bad thing. I make at least 10 dishes that all start out with a roux, onions, celery, bell peppers, and garlic. The magic is in what goes in next.

The Girl at Midnight stands out because Echo is a girl, and she acts exactly like a teenager that's in over her head would act. She has doubts, fears, and struggles. She's nothing like Karou of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, who is unlike any 17 year old I've ever known. I also find the cast of secondary characters compelling. Although it starts out as a very Echo-centered novel, I was just as interested in the entire group by the end. I expect (hope) that in the next book the secondary characters will all be primary ones.

I look forward to reading this book again, as I surely will just before the second book comes out!

Thank you NetGalley and Delacorte Press for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Debut novel from Brendan Duffy is Beautiful and Unsettling.

April 14 New Release
I may as well confess. I love being scared. It's exhilarating. But not a lot scares me. I have to believe it could happen to me. That the horror is real. In House of Echoes,  Brendan Duffy has written my kind of story. 

Ben Tierney travels to upstate New York to settle his grandmother's estate. While he was out viewing the ramshackle home, he spots The Crofts- a grand home settled in between two mountains on a thousand acres overlooking the town of Swannhaven. And it's for sale. 

Ben immediately thinks of the possibilities.  The place could be a magnificent inn. He can work on his stalled novel, maybe get some ideas from the area. Claudia can focus on renovations instead of  her failed bank and struggles with Bipolar Disorder.  Charlie will have a safe place to play, an important thing for the bullied eight year old. It's a great plan. But The Crofts and Swannhaven are much more than they appear.

 As Ben uncovers the tragic history of the town, he scraps his unfinished novel and starts a new one. The story of the Swanns, the founding family of Swannhaven. There's a big story there, but one piece of it eludes him and he's getting the feeling that it's not only important to his novel, but to his family. Ben Teirney is descended from one of The Winter Families, which is a very big deal in Swannhaven. What it means to him and his family, Ben doesn't know.

The setting of the story may be the best character in the book. Duffy slowly but surely builds a perfect picture of impending doom. The partially renovated grand estate, a mysterious presence in the deep woods,fires, a nor'easter that dumps two feet of snow and closes the road to The Crofts. Nothing missing, nothing extra, just right.

This novel has the usual Gothic setting and themes, but the naive and beautiful young girl lured into a dangerous liaison with evil has been replaced by - I shouldn't say. Spoilers, you know. 

I give Duffy's debut novel 5 stars, for a beautifully written horror/suspense novel that  impressed me with its plausibility. By the end, I had forgotten the Tierney's weren't real people. I was afraid for them, afraid of Swannhaven. At the end of the novel, I thought back to it's first lines:

            "It is over now, sister, but for how long?"

I wonder that, too.

Thank you NetGalley and Random House/Ballantine for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Alan Cumming: Not My Father's Son

This is not a celebrity tell-all. You won't find any graphic sex scenes or lurid details of secret affairs. Alan's sexuality isn't the subject of this memoir. This is about a child, and the man he grew up to be healing from his experiences. It's about surviving.
If you lived your childhood in fear, you need to read this book. Alan puts into words the feelings many adult survivors of childhood abuse struggle to identify.

Traumatic childhood memories are intermixed with the filming of an episode about Alan for the BBC series 'Who Do You Think You Are?'. The story, and the actual program, are fascinating. There's a third thread woven in there and it's a great big, thick, red one. I won't reveal it here, but it ups the ante certainly.

This story touched me. I went to Alan Cumming's website and watched the episode of Who Do You Think You Are? after. I don't recommend watching it prior to reading the book. Watching the tv program doesn't reveal what Alan was going through at that time, but it is so surreal watching it after reading his story. I kept looking for signs of all that he was dealing with during the filming. It's incredible to imagine all the pressure that he was under at that time.

Link to Who Do You Think You Are? episode

I've heard good things about the audiobook. I love his voice, and he's a terrific narrator, so you can't go wrong there.

5 stars - a short but powerful and empowering read.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Hayes' New Series Starts Out Strong!

Until You're Mine is the first novel in a new British crime series from Samantha Hayes, and an excellent psychological thriller.  I was drawn in from the very first page, and its twists and turns kept me enthralled til the end. 

Claudia is pregnant, stepmother to twin boys, and her Navy husband James is away more than he's at home. She also loves her job, investigating homes for signs of child abuse or neglect - sometimes removing children from the homes when the situation is bad enough. Luckily, the family is able to afford a live-in nanny. James first wife came from money, and when she died he was left the house and her share of the family fortune.

Enter Zoe - on the face of it she's the perfect nanny. My first impression is that she's barking mad. And when someone starts attacking pregnant women, slicing them open and attempting to remove their babies, I was afraid for Claudia. 

DCI Lorraine Fisher has never seen anything as horrific as this series of murders. There are very few clues, and they seem to run  the police round in circles. Add on to that the stress of being partnered with her husband, whose infidelity she's still trying to come to turns with. 

The story is revealed through multiple POVs but is clear and very understandable. Strong characters, and quite believable. Even as the big reveal was unfolding, I wasn't certain who the murderer would be. Of course I had my suspicions, but the layers of the story were so well put down that I could never be sure. 

This novel is especially scary because we all place ourselves in situations that make us vulnerable, necessarily if we have young children. The only time I questioned the plausibility of any part is the partnership of the two married detectives. I don't believe for a moment that any department would allow a married couple to work in the same division, as partners, with one technically the others supervisor. No way. But I don't know much about English police so maybe that can and does happen. Still seems unlikely. However, DCI Fisher's personal storyline doesn't detract from the mystery in any way.

Until You're Mine has the best last line I've ever read. I strongly recommend. 

The second novel in the DCI Lorraine Fisher series, What You Left Behind, is due out April 14, 2015. 

Thank you NetGalley and Crown Publishing for a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Inside the O'Briens - New Release from Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova's new novel tackles Huntington's Disease (HD), a hereditary neurodegenerative disease that is 100% fatal. Physical symptoms usually begin in the mid-30s to mid-40s, but personality changes and cognitive problems occur before any of the physical signs are present. My first patient in my second year nursing clinicals was a woman in the end stages of Huntington's, and it is still one of the most harrowing experiences of my career.

The O'Briens are an Irish Catholic family living in Charlestown, Boston. Joe , Rose, and their four adult children live in the same house Joe grew up in. Joe's a Boston cop, proud of it and proud of his family.  JJ is a fireman, and he and his wife Colleen are trying to get pregnant. Meghan is a ballerina, the pride of Charlestown. Katie teaches yoga, and dreams of having her own studio. Patrick is still finding his way, but they have faith. Rosie is Joe's heart, and she's every Irish Catholic mother I've ever known. Everyone still gets together for Sunday dinners, no exceptions.

When Joe's symptoms begin, he thinks he's aggravated an old knee injury or is overly tired. He has no reason to believe he has a fatal and progressive illness. His mother died young, but she had been institutionalized for years because of her drinking. Or so Joe was told.

Joe's diagnosis is devastating. It means he can't be cop, can't take care of Rosie like he had planned. Everything he is, all that defines him, is taken away by Huntington's. And the devastation continues as they realize that the children may have this gene and develop the disease.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Welcome to Louisiana!

Erica Spindler's newest release (February 2015) is set in my neck of the woods. I confess, that's why I read it. Romantic suspense isn't really my genre. Having said that, this is the second 'sweep me off my feet and kill me' book I've read this past month. At least I have something to compare it to now.

Bailey Browne is in the Caribbean recovering from her mother's death when she meets Logan Abbott, the man of her dreams. In just a few days, they're married and she's traveling to his southeast Louisiana horse farm to meet friends and family. What little of them are left. 

Tragedy has made itself at home on the Abbott farm. The most recent loss is the mysterious disappearance of Logan's first wife True. And True isn't the only woman in the small village of Wholesome to vanish. (Spindler changed the name of a local village named Folsom to Wholesome. This bugged me throughout the entire novel).

Once I got past the whirlwind romance and got into the mystery, I liked it. A little predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless. The characters were well developed, the pacing was great, I found Bailey's reactions consistent throughout, and none of the plot was implausible. Except the insta-love, but I expected that. I do wish she had set the novel in warmer weather. I'd love to see Bailey at her first crawfish boil.

I give it 3.5 stars, which is an exceptional rating for a romantic suspense from me. I imagine fans of the genre would rate it much higher. I'm definitely recommending it to my sister, who used to live down here too. She'll get a big kick out of reading the name of our hometown in the book.

I appreciate Spindler's writing style. I'm putting two of her novels on my immediate TBR pile: Bone Cold and See Jane Die. Is it possible I'm becoming a Romantic Suspense fan? Maybe I just needed to read the right author!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Thomas De Quincey is Back!

4 of 5 stars

I'm always excited when some of my favorite things are brought together: Victorian London, murder and conspiracy, Scotland Yard, sexy red-headed Irishmen, and women pushing societal boundaries. Granted, all these things were in the first Thomas De Quincey book and the mystery was better, but this one is still a strong 4 stars. 

We first met Thomas De Quincey, aka The Opium-Eater, in Murder as a Fine Art. The series is based on the life of an actual person. Fictional elements are blended with real-life events and people for the highest level of authenticity. I'm not a scholar of the era, but I've been knocked right out of the story in novels where fact and fiction clash. This never happens in this series. 

Just as they're leaving London, opium addict De Quincey and his daughter/caretaker Emily are drawn into yet another series of murders setting London and the Yard on their ears. It's important to note that De Quincey is not an ersatz Sherlock Holmes and Emily his Watson.  Although Holmes and De Quincey both see the world from a perspective most of us never attain, they are standing across from one another rather than side by side.

I'm giving very limited plot details: the murder victims are aristocrats, and there are hints at a conspiracy that may place Queen Victoria in danger. 

Although second in a series, there's no reason this book can't be read as a standalone.  Any required character history is given by the author in the forward. 

I highly recommend!