Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

Someone is kidnapping women in London and, because a connection to the Split Worlds is suspected, it's Max's job as an Arbiter to find out who. 

Meanwhile, Cathy, a resident of Aquae Sulis who has been hiding out in Mundanus, has been caught and forced to return in time to take part in the new season. It's here that her signed and sealed engagement will be announced, as long as her family can keep her recent rebellion under wraps. 

Max would normally never deign to work with someone from Aquae Sulis but when it's discovered that the Master of Ceremonies, Cathy's own uncle, has gone missing, he may not have a choice. Corruption and conspiracy in Exilium seems to be spreading into the Nether and is beginning to leach out into Mundanus, something Max and Cathy both have an interest in stopping as soon as possible. 

Between Two Thorns introduced readers to Emman Newman's Split Worlds series with its release back in 2013, along with books two and three in the series. Now, the good folks over at Diversion Books have not only rereleased Between Two Thorns, Any Other Name, and All Is Fair, but they're also about to release a brand spanking new installment in the series, A Little Knowledge.

If, like me, you missed your chance with the series when it initially released, now's the perfect time to give it a try.

The Split Worlds is an intricately built setting encompassing three different worlds - Exilium, the prison world where the fae have been relegated; the Nether, where the fae's favorites reside; and Mundanus, our world.

Cathy's family lives in the Nether under the patronage of Lord Poppy, one of many fae nobles currently residing in Exilium. Cathy strains under the rigid life the Nether offers - one of rules and conformity akin to the Victorian era. And though her own life is split initially between Mundanus and the Nether (people don't age in the Nether) her exposure to Mundanus culture and technology in particular are strictly controlled. But Cathy manages to break free, temporarily, by earning permission to attend college in Mundanus. It's the perfect opportunity to escape and live life the way she wants to. Until she's caught by no less than Lord Poppy himself.

The politics and rules of the worlds of this series are quite detailed and, unfortunately, require quite a bit of set up and explanation. The result is that, while highly readable and entertaining, Between Two Thorns does begin somewhat confusingly for the reader. The story bounces around a lot between a variety of narrators, leaving the reader to glean various bits and pieces of the world building through these characters' eyes. So, for example, it's unclear when we meet Max, exactly what an Arbiter is and does. It's also unclear how the Nether and Exilium work, at least until Cathy herself is returned to the Nether, which may be understandably frustrating for some readers.

Fortunately, as the story progresses things do begin to become clearer. You kind of just have to muddle through the beginning and trust that things are going to begin making sense sooner rather than later.

It's helpful that the characters introduced are likable. Max is, for all intents and purposes, something of a PI. Cathy is a willful and clever girl who longs to be who she wants to be rather than who society says she should be, Sam is trapped in a friction-filled marriage, and Will - like Cathy - struggles with his parents' and patron's expectations versus his own hopes and dreams. The latter character presents an interesting and somewhat opposing force to Cathy, though, because we the readers aren't quite sure if we should trust him. Through him we get more of the Nether conditions Cathy herself finds so stifling and frustrating.

Between Two Thorns does end with lots of questions left unanswered, making this a great series to binge on if you're craving some fun urban fantasy!

Rating: 4/5

The ebook editions of the first three titles are all currently available from Diversion Books. Book four, A Little Knowledge, hits shelves on August 2.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Monster's Daughter by Michelle Pretorious + a Giveaway

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Michelle Pretorious's The Monster's Daughter.

Alet Berg has a long way to go to impress her higher ups, especially considering how she landed in her current predicament. Relegated to the small town of Unie, Alet realizes her chance when the burned body of an unidentified teenage girl is discovered on a local farm. And even though her superiors don't want her on the investigation, she plans to dig into the case anyway. 

A century ago, with the Boer war raging around them, a young girl was forced into an experiment she had no understanding of. When the dust settled, the doctor leading the research fled and the girl in question lived just long enough to try and ensure the safety of her newborn baby. 

That infant, one of just two who lived through the experiment, is part of a mystery that spans one hundred years, connecting Alet and her investigation to the terrible history of the land that surrounds her. 

Whoa! I'm not even sure where to start with this one.

I was sold on Michelle Pretorious's debut with the comparison to Lauren Beukes. I have, in very recent years, become more and more fascinated by South Africa and the writers who come from there. Beukes, Sarah Lotz, and Natasha Mostert are just a few whose works have landed on my favorites list with each and every new release, so of course I was excited to take a chance on Pretorious.

It's not just the caliber of work that I've seen, but the subject matter as well. The Monster's Daughter promised a touch of the region's dark history wrapped around what sounded like a truly enthralling modern-day mystery - and of course the cross-genre aspect is one that always appeals to me as well.

So there were a lot of expectations on my part in diving into this debut. And, readers, I was not let down in the least! From the very first page I was drawn into both Alet's investigation and the historical narrative. The balance between the two worked well for me - I never felt like I was slogging through one of the narratives just waiting to get back to the really interesting one, both were equally fascinating and excellently paced.

As mentioned, this one is quite dark. All things considered, it kind of has to be - the history, way more than a touch, is a major part of the plot. In this Literary Hub article, Pretorious talks about what spurred the idea for The Monster's Daughter and how she'd hoped to use fiction to illustrate and help people understand the history of South Africa. I think she has succeeded brilliantly in this effort, creating a highly readable and entertaining book that fluidly incorporates a history many of us may not be entirely aware of.

And now for the giveaway: I have one copy up for grabs. To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, August 8. Open US only and no PO boxes please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Michelle Pretorious and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books a Million | Barnes & NobleMelville House

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Runaway Wife by Elizabeth Birkelund

Happy Monday! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Elizabeth Birkelund's The Runaway Wife.

Jim had never had time for a vacation, but after being laid off and broken up with it seemed like time. So he and his friend Ambrose took a trip to the Swiss Alps to hike and enjoy the scenery in the days before Jim was to begin a new job. 

On one of their last nights there, though, the men are approached by three sisters hoping to enlist the help of someone to find their mother. It seems the woman ran off after finding out one of her husband's mistresses had a child. And that, it seems, was the breaking point for Calliope Castellane. The sisters fear their mother will be lost or injured traveling the Alps on her own and Jim, who has more time to spare than Ambrose, agrees to take up the search on his own. The journey will be one fraught with danger - one misstep or turn of the weather could spell disaster and Jim is not what anyone would consider experienced. But it's also a journey that will give Jim time to think and maybe  also give him a chance to be a hero. 

The Runaway Wife wasn't quite what I expected. It sounded quirky - and at times it was. It also sounded as though it might be a bit light or humorous, which it turned out not really to be at all.

Jim has had his heart broken. His trip gives him plenty of time to ponder over the loss of his five year relationship with the woman he'd planned to marry. Playing the knight for three attractive sisters, then, is a welcome distraction for the man but he definitely didn't expect or prepare for the mess he'd get himself into on the mountain.

Nor did he truly prepare for Calliope, who turns out to be something of a force to be reckoned with.

But after all of that I'm not actually sure that I was satisfied with how the story wrapped up for everyone involved. In Jim's case, yes. But Calliope's story progression is one that definitely left me wanting.

I won't spoil the end but I'd be interested to see if others feel the same.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Elizabeth Birkelund and her work you can like her on Facebook.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sunday, July 24, 2016

New Releases 7.26.16

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Lost Girls by Heather Young

Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Tracer by Bob Boffard

City of Wolves by Willow Palacek

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Home Field by Hannah Gersen

Dead Joker by Anne Holt

The Night Parade by Ronald Malfi

The Muse by Jessie Burton

Bite by K.S. Merbeth

Cold Silence by James Abel

Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone

The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Supernova by C. A. Higgins

Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon

Breaking Cover by Stella Rimington

Red Right Hand by Levi Black

Urban Allies ed by Joseph Nassise

Murder on Brittany Shores by Jean-Luc Bannalec

Blue Moon by Wendy Corsi Staub

Death at the Day Lily Cafe by Wendy Sand Eckel

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

Riverkeep by Martin Stewart

New on DVD:
The Boss

Friday, July 22, 2016

Short Fiction Friday: Nightshades by Melissa F. Olson

Alex McKenna is a legacy agent at the FBI. So when he volunteers to head one of the most disastrous and dangerous units in agency history, his higher ups are sorely tempted to say no. Alex's argument is a convincing one, though, landing him the gig as Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Bureau of Paranormal Investigations. 

Alex has his job cut out for him. Ever since the discovery that vampires are real, efforts at investigating their crimes have resulted in mass casualties. But Alex has a novel approach no one else seems to have considered - using one of their own to hunt them. And in a case where tensions are high and the victims are children, success is his only option. 

Melissa F. Olson's latest is a paranormal procedural with just a hint of noir. And it appears to be the start of a series - maybe, hopefully :)

In Alex McKenna's world, vampires are real and have been here mingling with humans for quite some time. But it's only in very recent years that humans have really become aware of the shades' existence. By and large, the population seems to be mostly blasé about the whole thing. As one of the characters notes, the human worry and understanding of the shades' presence is akin to their worry regarding the latest flu outbreak. It's a nuisance more than anything.

But authorities are definitely concerned. Especially when the teams they've put together to investigate shades and crimes attached to them have been massively and embarrassingly unsuccessful.

Lindy is a vampire. One not interested in anti human sentiment or in outing herself and her situation. But that's no longer up to her - Alex McKenna knows what she is and has tracked her down. But Alex doesn't want to detain Lindy. Instead, he hopes she can offer insight into the shades that has so far eluded law enforcement.

There's just one problem: Lindy has also caught the attention of the very shade the feds are currently hunting. And that vampire and his minions are none too pleased with the fact that Lindy is helping the BPI.

The novella gives us fairly good insight into the world, its workings, and the characters that inhabit it. McKenna and Lindy in particular are explored with pretty good depth, but I was glad that Olson also pays attention to side characters like Chase, Ruiz, and the others as well - especially considering the fairly limited page real estate available.

Considering the end, it is fairly clear that the world of Nightshades is intended to encompass more installments than just this first outing. The end is undeniably a cliffhanger and there are oh, so many questions left beyond that scene as well. Normally I'd admit to being fairly bled dry of any interest in vampires these days, but I have to say Olson's have grabbed my attention. I want to know more about the mystery that's begun here in Nightshades and what's going to happen next with McKenna, Lindy, and the rest of the team.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Beneath the Lake by Christopher Ransom

It's been thirty years since the Mercer family's last camping trip. Until then it was an annual tradition, but something happened that year. Something that brought an end to those camping trips for good. 

Or not. 

Apparently Raymond's father is ill and it's his final wish that his family come together once again in honor of the old tradition. Raymond, the youngest Mercer child, barely remembers that awful last trip but he knows returning to Blundstone is the last thing he wants to do. This request, however, seems to be one he can't refuse. 

I don't think Christopher Ransom has ever written what I'd consider a predictable book. Some of them may begin in what seems like familiar territory, but by the end of every one I've read the story has been turned upside down and inside out and gone well beyond the boundaries of my own apparently limited imagination.

Beneath the Lake was no exception in that regard. A family hiding a secret so dark it's plagued their memories for three decades AND broken a standing family tradition... What could be so terrible about a family camping trip? In a public place, no less.

Of course our main character doesn't even remember. As it turns out, the eight year old Raymond who was present during that final trip missed out on much of the action. So even though he's leery about returning to Blundstone, which has been closed to the public for some time apparently, he has very little inkling about what might be in store for his family this time around.

He expects drama. He expects arguments. It's the first time the family has been together in quite some time, after all. And considering the bombshell about his dad, the trip is definitely not off to a great start. And so he goes armed with a companion, one he's crushed on for some time but doesn't really know very well at all.

Sounds like a terrible first date to me!

I'm just the kind of reader who would bring Beneath the Lake on a camping trip (if I were inclined to camp, which I'm not) for extra atmosphere. And it would be the absolute perfect fireside read, too - guaranteed to make you jump at every noise and shadow and likely to keep you up at night shivering in your tent.

Of course you can just as easily read this one at home, cozy and safe, and it'll still creep you out to no end. Ransom builds an atmosphere that starts somewhere in the vicinity of normal with a hint of dread and quickly edges into eeriness and all out horror. It's an excellent build, exactly what I crave in a scary read, and a tale that might make you reconsider your own next camping trip!

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Branson Beauty by Claire Booth

Good morning, y'all! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Claire Booth's The Branson Beauty.

When The Branson Beauty is scuttled on a cold and snowy afternoon, it seems like nothing more than a nuisance that can be blamed on a reckless captain. It takes hours to finally get the passengers safely back to shore and all seems well, except for likely fallout to the owner that is. But a final round of the ship reveals a shocking surprise: the dead body of a local coed. 

Sheriff Hank Worth hasn't been in his position long and knows this case is a big one. The girl, a recent graduate of the local high school, was quite well known but only a few people even realized she was on board at all that day. In fact, her parents didn't even know the girl was in town! As the investigation proceeds, it becomes clear the folks of Branson have more than a few secrets up their sleeves. It's up to Hank to untangle those secrets and uncover the killer and motive behind the murder. 

The Branson Beauty marks the first in the brand new Hank Worth series. It's also Claire Booth's fiction debut.

As mysteries go, The Branson Beauty is a lighter one bordering on cozy - it's not overly graphic but it does have a little more edge than a typical cozy, in my opinion. I love the setting. Touristy Branson may be familiar to many readers but it's not Worth's Branson. In fact, even though the newly minted sheriff has only been there a short time, the commercialization has already started to wear on the man.

The plotting could have been slightly tighter for me, but it's also possible that some of the kinks I noted (somewhat repetitive information and a few odd dialog pieces) were specific to the arc and have since been ironed out for the hardcover release.

That aside, The Branson Beauty is a quick and fun mystery read. Hank Worth is excellent leading man material for a series and I look forward to seeing what else Booth has in store for Branson County!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. And for more on Claire Booth and her work you can visit her website here.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books a Million | Barnes & Noble