Monday, November 30, 2015

The Magician's Lie by Greeg Macallister + a Giveaway

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you've recovered from Thanskgiving - I haven't. I have a new cookbook in hand for review and spent the entire weekend cooking randomly from it. I seriously want to cook the whole book! More on that later, though.

As part of the holiday festivities I signed on for the Thankfully Reading Weekend hosted by Jenn over at Jenn's Bookshelves. And while I maybe didn't read as much as I'd hoped over the long weekend, I did manage to finish a few books.

One of those was Greer Macallister's debut, The Magician's Lie, a book I'd been hearing fabulous things about all year long! Not only was this one of my recommendations from Anne Knows Books, it was also an October pick in Catherine McKenzie's 52 Weeks, 52 Books group over on Goodreads. So yeah, it's one I've been trying to squeeze in for a while and this weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity.

She's called the Amazing Arden but once upon a time she was Ada Bates, a girl who dreamed of a life on the stage. Sadly for Ada circumstances beyond her control seemed to be working against her. A chance to dance for one of the greats was ruined and Ada believed it to be the end of her dreams. 

But Ada isn't one to stand by and watch opportunity die, nor is she going to let her home life dictate her future. And when a chance to escape to New York City presents itself, she grabs hold with all her might!

In New York, Ada finally lands a dancing job. It's this job that catches the attention of Adelaide Herrmann, the only female illusionist in the magic business. Adelaide, it turns out, is in need of a dancer and wants Ada to join her crew. For the first time, Ada knows what it's like to be in the spotlight and it's everything she's ever dreamed and hoped for! 

But by the time she's taken the mantle of the Amazing Arden, everything has changed. Her signature piece has apparently ended in murder and Ada aka Arden is at the mercy of a small town police officer who hasn't yet decided whether to believe her plea of innocence or not. 

We begin our tale with the police officer in question, a man who has received dire news and has just been witness to Amazing Arden's act when he hears that she's being sought for questioning in a murder. But it's not his case or his jurisdiction and so he heads for home, stopping long enough for coffee midway. And it's here that he crosses paths with the suspected murderess.

Virgil, the cop, takes Ada/Arden into custody, cuffing her to a chair and ordering her to tell her tale. But he's in for way more than he expected. Ada begins with her childhood, taking him on a journey through the years, her life, and her career, promising that it's all necessary if she is to get to the question at hand: whether or not she killed her husband.

Of course Ada is an illusionist and the book is called The Magician's Lie, so the reader is definitely set up to expect some sort of manipulation or stretching of the truth. The lie itself didn't seem to live up to the expectation set by the title, but I was actually fine with that. Her "lie" isn't really the point and the question of whether or not she's a killer is there up until the very end. Ada/Arden's tale is instead one of hope and loss, magic and mystery, and yes, murder. It's a fun and easy read with an utterly charming setting - the magic and illusion were definitely a draw for me so I was pleased to find that the author handled it quite well. Overall the story is one that begs to be read in one sitting, which I almost managed!

Rating: 4/5

Because I like to share the love, I'm giving away one copy of The Magician's Lie! To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, December 14. Open US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, November 29, 2015

New Releases 12/1/15

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Curse of Jacob Tracy by Holly Messinger

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

The Bone Hunters by Robert J. Mrazek

Ghost in the Wind by E. J. Copperman

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves

Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid

The Age of Reinvention by Karine Tull

The Rising by Ian Tregillis

Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt

MemoRandom by Anders de la Motte

House of the Rising Sun by James Lee Burke

Ornaments of Death by Jane K. Cleland

Daughter of No Nation by A. M. Dellamonica

Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

Tom Clancy Commander in Chief by Mark Greaney

Hawthorn by Carol Goodman

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman

New on DVD:
Goodnight Mommy

Friday, November 27, 2015

Even More Pax Arcana Shorts

I know some people are not fans of the e short trend, but I am not one of them. (If I didn't have an e reader - thanks, hubs - I might not be, so I do understand.) Of course there are times when the tale is just a one off that doesn't add anything significant. There are other times, though, where the story adds a great little bit of insight into a series. Or it's just a chance to spend more time in a world that's already got you completely ensnared. This last one is the case with Elliott James's Pax Arcana shorts.

If you haven't read the series, it's a little bit like the show Grimm in that our hero - John Charming - is the last of the Charming line (yes, as in Prince Charming). He's also a former knight of the Knights Templar. Former because he's been kicked out for being a werewolf. Now he travels around encountering and fighting creatures and such from all kinds of mythologies and folklore. It's a super fun series and one that I highly, highly recommend.

In "Bulls Rush In" the murders of two boys in Verde Vista prompts John to investigate. He knows exactly who/what is behind the crime, he can smell it, but sometimes things aren't quite what they seem. When he's cornered by a cop after breaking and entering, John finds himself forced to explain everything. 

These two are linked and, unfortunately for me, I read them out of order. I didn't know how "Bulls Rush In" was going to play out, but I did have an idea about how it was going to end (or how it wasn't going to end). The short did still have a few surprises in store for me, thankfully!

Rating: 3.5/5

In "Talking Dirty" John has been attending a support group in the hopes of finding someone he can frame for murder. Yeah, he's knows it's not quite on the up and up. When he meets a woman whose husband had been forking over gifts and cash to a phone sex operator, he senses there might be something a bit supernatural about the whole thing and vows to investigate. 

This particular short was really fun. There have been some great ones in this shorts series (and I hope eventually they'll be released in one volume) but this is definitely one of the best - right up there with "Surreal Estate." I won't give away the particular being he's up against here, but it is revealed early on in the tale. I will say that by the time he meets up with his foe I'd laughed out loud more than a few times. If you couldn't tell based on his ultimate goal (you know, finding someone at a support group to pin a murder on), this is a particularly sarcastic entry.

Rating: 4.5/5

The series (so far) includes:

In Shining Armor (due out in April)
"Charmed I'm Sure"
"Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls"
"Pushing Luck"
"Surreal Estate"
"Bulls Rush In"
"Talking Dirty"

Thursday, November 26, 2015

2015 Thankfully Reading Weekend Kick Off Post

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! If you're reading this early, I'm likely baking green bean casserole and stuffing (not stuffed in the bird), and roasting my hopefully fabulous turkey. We're doing Thanksgiving at a friend's house this year and I am definitely looking forward to the mad feast we have planned.

If you're reading this in the afternoon, then I'm either in a food coma, binging on Jessica Jones or The Man in the High Castle, or reading - as I should be. Today is the first day of the Thankfully Reading Weekend, hosted by Jenn at Jenn's Bookshelves, and that means devoting the weekend (Nov 26-29) to reading as much as possible while avoiding the madness of Black Friday shopping!

I've never been a Black Friday shopper so this is a pretty easy challenge for me. Course I'll have to avoid the call of Fallout 4 if I'm to get any serious reading done!

I'll update this as my reading progresses (and as I make my picks). I'll also plan to tweet my progress (you can follow me at @BeckyLeJeune) using the #thankfullyreading tag.

Hope you're all having a wonderful Thanksgiving! If you're joining in on the challenge I look forward to seeing what's in your reading plans!

Update: Thanksgiving day = 100 pages read. Too much turkey!


The Golem of Hollywood by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman


The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister
Valhalla by Robert J. Mrazek

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

It's 1939 and the world has become a dangerous place, something seven-year-old Anna is about to discover for herself. 

Anna's been fairly protected by her father all her life but a summons to the university leads to his capture by the Nazis. Anna isn't at all aware of what's happened, all she knows is that her father still hasn't returned after two days. She had been left under the watchful eye of the local pharmacist, but even he is unwilling to keep the girl beyond the first night. Fortunately for Anna, this series of events leads to her meeting the Swallow Man. A thin man who speaks almost as many languages as Anna and her father, the Swallow Man knows how to navigate this new and treacherous world. With Anna under his wing, they travel throughout the countryside making friends and avoiding enemies when possible. 

Anna and the Swallow Man is a strange little book. I've been trying to decide how to describe it and still haven't quite got it. It's set in Eastern Europe during WWII and is brilliantly written. Gavriel Savit's use of language is gorgeous and is just one of the more compelling aspects of the book. Some have compared it to The Book Thief, which is appropriate in terms of topic and setting sure even in terms of the narration as well - though Savit's tale is not narrated by death, the overall feel is similar. But the story in Anna and the Swallow Man is quite unlike The Book Thief in so many ways.

Anna is growing up during a time of great upheaval. She's young enough that she doesn't quite understand the severity of war or what's happening in Poland but she's old enough to know it's bad. She's old enough to realize her father won't be returning and that she needs someone to help her through this world. She's not quite old enough to know that The Swallow Man might not be the kindly father figure she believes him to be, though. The Swallow Man is her savior, but he's a bit of a danger as well.

Anna's journey is quite disturbing at times, though Savit doesn't get overly graphic or gory with his detail. Frankly it's almost a given that the story is going to be disturbing, though, considering it's about an orphaned girl wandering Poland during WWII.

As I mentioned, Savit's prose is wonderful and I love the way the he forces the reader to read between the lines at times. Again, the story gets quite bleak and disturbing and while it's mostly clear what's happening, there are times when the prose is quite lean and the reader is left to tease out the details themselves. The Swallow Man's identity is just one of these cases. There are hints, especially towards the end, but neither Anna or the reader ever really finds out who he is.

Anna and the Swallow Man is considered a middle grade release, I think, but I don't necessarily think it easily fits that category. Or better yet it certainly isn't limited to that category. Not only does the writing beg for a larger audience, it's the kind of book that will no doubt generate a lot of discussion making it an equally appropriate choice for the classroom and book clubs as well.

Anna and the Swallow Man is due out in January from Knopf.

Shelf Control: Secret Smile by Nicci French

It's Wednesday and that means it's time for a Shelf Control post!

Shelf Control is a weekly meme hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies, giving book junkies like me a chance to highlight some of the lingering titles in our TBR stacks!

Title: Secret Smile
Author: Nicci French
Published: 2006
Length: 384 pages

What it's about (from Goodreads):

Miranda's sister, Kerri, has a new boyfriend. He's a raven-haired, handsome charmer who seems to dote on Kerri. But Brendan isn't the man he says he is. Miranda should know, because she broke off her own affair with him just a few weeks ago when she found him reading her diary. Now Brendan claims that it was he who ended their short-lived relationship-and everyone believes him. When he and Kerri announce their engagement, Miranda's parents are thrilled for their shyer, less confident daughter. Then Kerri and Brendan beg Miranda to let them live in her apartment until their new home is ready. Against her better judgment, Miranda agrees.

Like a virus, Brendan starts spreading destruction throughout her life. He invades her privacy and disrupts her relationships with her family and friends. And then the real nightmare begins...

Like the obscenities he whispers into her ear, his onslaughts are as undetectable as they are devastating. Those closest to her begin to doubt her mental stability and accuse her of the very thing she believes drives Brendan: obsession. When Miranda decides to take off the gloves, fight back, and discover what is behind her enemy's bemused, secret smile, the consequences will be unlike any readers have ever encountered before.

How I got it:

Barnes and Noble

When I got it:

2006 I guess. Mine's got the same cover below so that must be right!

Why I want to read it:

At the time, I just thought it sounded interesting. I'd not actually read Nicci French then but have since devoured each installment in their (Nicci French is a husband and wife writing team) completely fantastic Frieda Klein series. 

Secret Smile was actually adapted into a TV movie in the UK and stars Kate Ashfield (of Shaun of the Dead) and David Tennant. While Tennant does technically play a bad guy in Harry Potter, this was the first time I really saw him play a villain. I didn't like it one bit! But the movie was good. (Of course Tennant is now playing the villain in Jessica Jones.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mini Reviews Part V - One of the Best Series You're Likely Not Reading

I am a pretty big advocate for translated works. It's selfish, I admit - I enjoy them and I want more available to me. And that's only going to happen if the industry can be convinced that there's a market for it here in the States. That's an issue I'm not really going to go into here. Instead, I want to highlight a series I quite enjoy and want to hopefully turn a few of you onto.

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir is a worldwide bestselling author who hails from Iceland. Surprisingly, she's one of the very few authors from that country to have been translated into english. I started reading her Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series in 2009, around the time the second book was being published here in the US. I'm a bit ashamed to say that I only returned to the series early this year when I took that second book on a trip and devoured it on the plane ride. I've since taken books three and four on plane rides as well (she makes for pretty excellent travel reading).

In the series debut, Last Rituals, we meet Thóra, a single mother and lawyer who's been hired by a German couple desperate to find out the truth about their son's murder. It's a investigation that links back to Iceland's own history of witchcraft and the witch trials of the sixteenth century, a history the dead man was apparently obsessed with in the days leading up to his murder. While the case reeks of possible dark ritual connections, Thóra and her assigned cohort, Matthew, aren't so sure. 

In reviewing the title six years ago, I'd noted that Thóra was not your typical sleuth. In fact, and this holds true of most of the series, she's kind of an atypical investigator. She's a lawyer and much of her investigative work is tied to clients she's involved with. But her increasing role in oddball cases also means she continues to be approached about exactly that: cases that are a bit off the wall and bizarre.

Rating: 4/5

In My Soul to Take, Thóra is representing a client intent on building a wellness spa. The client believes the land he's purchased is haunted and that the people who sold him the property hid that fact in order to sell. Ghosts could be bad for R&R, and he wants Thóra to prove the sale was under false pretenses so that he can at least get some of his purchase price refunded. But when a body is discovered nearby, Thóra finds herself thrust into a murder investigation with her client the prime suspect. 

This was an especially fun entry in the series as it includes both Icelandic folklore and more of the dark history of country. The mystery wasn't quite as tightly plotted as Last Rituals, but the character development makes up for that quite a bit. Thóra's relationship with Matthew and her troubles with her children get a lot of attention in this outing. Sigurdardóttir also injects quite a bit of humor into this installment (and subsequent ones).

Rating: 3.5/5

Ashes to Dust begins with the excavation of a town that's been buried under ash and dust for over thirty years. Thóra's client had intended to stop the excavation of his childhood home but was instead granted permission to be the first to enter. Unfortunately for the client this behavior is deemed quite suspicious when three bodies and a disembodied head are discovered in the basement of said home. 

This book begins with one of the most disturbing and strange murder scenes I've ever encountered. And it's fabulous! And let me stress again, highly disturbing.

The plot of Ashes to Dust is based on the eruption of Eldfell and the very real fate of Heimaey Island. And something called the Cod War. (Yep, as in fish.) I love, love, love the way Sigurdardóttir has built each of the first three books around such fantastic history. It's definitely one of my favorite aspects of the series as a whole. And it's interesting that, as the author noted in this interview, no one else took advantage of the Eldfell story for a book before this!

Rating: 3.5/5

The Day is Dark takes Thóra out of the comfort of Iceland and into the harsh environment of Greenland when her now longtime significant other, Matthew, pitches a new job to her. 

It seems Matthew's employers stand to lose quite a bit of money when a contractor they backed is dangerously close to defaulting on a job. The company in question, Berg Technology, had been hired by a British mining company to gather data and begin work on an excavation site in a remote area of Greenland. Berg's position there has been plagued by problems, though, including the disappearance of two employees and now the abandonment of the work site by all but two men. When the men in question can no longer be contacted, the bank decides it's time to investigate. 

If this were your first read in the series (and they can most definitely be read out of order) you'd get a pretty good feel for Thóra very early on. In spite of the weirdness of the situation, the temptation of a "vacation" with Matthew is enough for her to say yes. And this holds true even after seeing a bizarre video that seems to indicate the two men left at the site have most definitely suffered a violent demise. She then proceeds to get drunk and pack a bag filled with a very Greenland inappropriate wardrobe.

That's our heroine. She's human and I do love her all the more for it.

Greenland is anything but romantic, especially when Thóra and team find bones strewn about the office. There's no sign to be found of the two men, the locals are anything but welcoming, and the Berg employees back in Iceland are not talking.

I was going to say that unlike the others The Day is Dark is not based in actual Icelandic (or in this case Greenlandic) history, but that's not quite true. It's certainly inspired by actual history though it's not reflective of any particular or specific history as the others are. It's still quite fun and the setting makes it an especially chilling read (literally and figuratively!).

Rating: 4/5

The fifth book in the series, Someone to Watch Over Me, hit shelves earlier this year and is next up in my TBR. Book six in the series, The Silence of the Sea, is due out in February and I've also got Sigurdardóttir's very newly released (in the UK) standalone, The Undesired, currently waiting in my Christmas wish list. Sigurdardóttir has one additional title available here in the States, last year's standalone I Remember You. You can read my review of that one here.