Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni

Happy Wednesday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Danielle Trussoni's latest, The Ancestor.

Bert Monte is struggling. After experiencing another heartbreaking miscarriage, she's desperate to move on. And as part of that moving on, she's asked her husband to leave. Trying to get herself used to a new normal has been an ongoing battle. And then she receives something odd in the mail: correspondence from Italy that claims she's the sole descendant of an aristocratic family with an estate in Italy. 

Bert is stunned. She knows little about her background and has no one she can ask. The letter is accompanied, shortly thereafter, by a visit from a lawyer who says Bert must fly to Italy to meet the other lawyers and view the estate. 

Knowing this is the kind of thing that never happens to everyday people, Bert is leery. But a trip to Italy could be just what she needs. When she arrives, however, she discovers that the grand estate has fallen into disrepair and the rumored family wealth is all but gone. But it's the family history that's especially odd. And as she learns more about her heritage, the more she realizes just how odd it is. 

If you're craving something darkly gothic and mysterious, The Ancestor is perfect!

I know a lot of us have been struggling to read of late. I seem to have gotten a little bit of that back, though still not in a work capacity (it's a much different kind of reading). The trick for me has been true escapism reads and narratives that really suck me in. Which tend to lean on the darker side, even amidst this chaos.

Trussoni, who wrote Angelology and Angelopolis, knows how to weave an incredibly engrossing tale!  And this one begins like a fairy tale (just like the book's promotional material promised!). A promise of a new start and a grand inheritance. A past and history that's previously unknown. Of course, gothic tales are really just a darker side of fairy tales in a lot of ways. And it's clear to the reader pretty early on that this is not going to be a sparkly happily every after kind of fairy tale, but rather a monster in the attic gothic story!

Bert's letter is in Italian, a language she doesn't speak or read. So she has to seek help in reading the correspondence. And that help comes in the form of her soon-to-be-ex's great aunt, a woman who never really liked Bert all that much anyway. And she kind of makes it clear why when she conveys the meaning of the letter to Bert.

She and Bert's grandfather, as well as others, immigrated from Italy around WWII from a tiny village near Turin. A cold and desolate place, if she's to be believed, that was also home to a monster that stole children. And when Bert arrives in Italy she discovers a book that tells more about this strange tale and her native land.

But of course Bert doesn't put much stock in mythology and folklore, she's a modern woman and these kinds of things always have a logical explanation!

Are you getting chills yet? Because I certainly was! And all of this happens in the first 50 or so pages!

Like I said, I need escapism right now. Plus, I've always been a fan of gothic reads. Can't get enough of them, honestly! So The Ancestor was a perfect fit for my reading needs.

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

For more on Danielle Trussoni and her work you can like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BookBar


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Stalker by Lars Kepler

Alright, readers. I've tried to write a blurb for this book so many times and it's just not happening. I'll defer to the very vague one that appears on Goodreads:

The police receive a video of a woman in her home. Hours later, they discover her mutilated body. Soon after, the killer sends another tape, taunting the police. He knows there's nothing they can do.

Only Joona Linna and his old friend Erik Maria Bark can stop this cunning predator. But Bark is hiding secrets of his own--secrets the killer knows.

This is a twisted and dark mystery! I'm not kidding. The book opens with one of the victims. She's having a normal night at home, waiting for her husband to get back from a business trip, and there's a killer in her house. You can probably imagine where that's going.

The book offers quite a few different perspectives throughout the book: the main investigator on the case, Margot (who's massively pregnant), Erik, Joona, and various others all offer up bits of the story. In some cases this might adversely affect the flow of the narrative, but that wasn't the case here.

In fact, the story moves rather quickly. Which is good because this is a bit of a doorstopper for a thriller!

The plot is interesting and seriously quirky. I haven't read any of the previous books in the series, so I assume this is a style thing for the authors. Yep, authors. Lars Kepler are a husband and wife writing duo who, as an aside, tried their damnedest to stay anonymous. There was serious fervor in their native Sweden to find out just who was behind the pseudonym!

This should give you a sense of just how mad people are for Lars Kepler! I can't say that I was quite that impressed with the book. I did like it, I just didn't LOVE it. I'll be reading more—I've got The Hypnotist queued up from the library and I am looking forward to it. For me, though, there was something missing in the reading and I think it likely is the fact that this is the fifth book in the series.

Ok, so like I said, I've never read Lars Kepler. This one was the first pick for a new online book club that I joined on Instagram. And it's Scandi-crime. And I was certain that I had the first book in my TBR (I was wrong about that last one, or I just can't find it in the mess of my bookshelves).

Also, the folks who picked it were clear about the fact that it's the fifth book in a series and I can confirm that it's ok to read on its own. For the most part. I personally think I would have had a stronger connection to the characters had I read the other books first. Also, there are two spoilery issues: First, Erik is actually in the first book of the series The Hypnotist. Second, Joona Linna doesn't actually appear until about halfway (maybe not quite that far) into the book because he's in hiding thanks to things that happen in The Sandman (which I actually did already have in my TBR).

Stalker is out now in paperback and the sixth book in the series is out now in hardcover. The full series order, if you're interested, is:

The Hypnotist
The Nightmare
The Fire Witness
The Sandman
The Rabbit Hunter

If you're into Scandi-crime, you should definitely check this series out. My recommendation, though, would be to start at the beginning.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Feature: Something She's Not Telling Us by Darcey Bell

As you can imagine, having a book release amidst a pandemic is not easy. And so, I've been doing some feature posts to highlight some of these new releases that I haven't yet had the chance to read!

Tomorrow is the official release date for Darcey Bell's latest, Something She's Not Telling Us. Bell is the author of A Simple Favor, which was adapted into a film starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. And now, she's back with another juicy thriller that sounds amazing!

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Charlotte has everything in life that she ever could have hoped for: a doting, artistic husband, a small-but-thriving flower shop, and her sweet, smart five-year-old daughter, Daisy. Her relationship with her mother might be strained, but the distance between them helps. And her younger brother Rocco may have horrible taste in women, but when he introduces his new girlfriend to Charlotte and her family, they are cautiously optimistic that she could be The One. Daisy seems to love Ruth, and she can’t be any worse than the klepto Rocco brought home the last time. At least, that’s what Charlotte keeps telling herself. But as Rocco and Ruth’s relationship becomes more serious, Ruth’s apparent obsession with Daisy grows more obvious. Then Daisy is kidnapped, and Charlotte is convinced there’s only one person who could have taken her.

Ruth has never had much, but now she’s finally on the verge of having everything she’s ever dreamed of. A stable job at a start-up company, a rakish, handsome boyfriend with whom she falls more in love with every day—and a chance at the happy family she’s always wanted, adorable niece included. The only obstacle standing in her way is her boyfriend’s sister Charlotte, whose attitude swerves between politely cold and outright hostile. Rebuffing Ruth’s every attempt to build a friendship with her and Daisy, Charlotte watches over her daughter with a desperate protectiveness that sends chills down Ruth’s spine. Ruth knows that Charlotte has a deeply-buried secret, the only question is: what? A surprise outing with Daisy could be the key to finding out, and Ruth knows she must take the chance while she has it—for everyone’s sake.

This sounds like a perfect escapism read, and I can't wait to dive in!

Order it from BookBar!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Feature: Providence by Max Barry

Good morning, readers! Yesterday marked the release of Max Barry's latest, Providence!

This one is still in my TBR since my husband stole my copy :) But I wanted to promote the book on its release week for all of you. To that end, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

A dazzling, inventive, and thought-provoking new novel from the ingenious author of Jennifer Government and Lexicon.
Gilly, Talia, Anders, and Jackson are astronauts captaining a new and supposedly indestructible ship in humanity's war against an alien race. Confined to the ship for years, each of them holding their own secrets, they are about to learn there are threats beyond the reach of human ingenuity--and that the true nature of reality might be the universe's greatest mystery.

In this near future, our world is at war with another, and humanity is haunted by its one catastrophic loss--a nightmarish engagement that left a handful of survivors drifting home through space, wracked with PTSD. Public support for the war plummeted, and the military-industrial complex set its sights on a new goal: zero-casualty warfare, made possible by gleaming new ships called Providences, powered by AI.

But when the latest-launched Providence suffers a surprising attack and contact with home is severed, Gilly, Talia, Anders, and Jackson must confront the truth of the war they're fighting, the ship that brought them there, and the cosmos beyond.

Mike's thoughts (this is like pulling teeth, people. He says he wasn't expecting to have to give me a book report!): I really liked how the book dealt with AI stuff - the book is about a crew that's put on a ship as PR puppets; the AI is actually responsible for everything. I also really liked the characters, Gilly in particular, and found the book amusing and dark. 

Providence earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which stated "Fans of Robert Heinlein open to more nuanced characterizations will be delighted."

Barry himself describes the book as follows, "It has aliens and spaceships in it, which is new for me, and something I’ve wanted to do since… well, since I was about fourteen, probably. Because I really love aliens and spaceships. But it had to be smart and suspenseful and character-driven, too. Hopefully I figured out a way to do that."

Barry also created a Providence Battle Simulator to go along with the book. You can find that online here

Again, this one is still in my TBR, though I was super excited to not only receive a copy, but to receive a personalized letter from the author to go along with it!

Providence is out now from Putnam. Buy it from BookBar today!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman

I've been heading up BookBar's Cookbook Club for over a year now and in that time, I've not been doing many cookbook reviews here on the blog because I've been profiling them elsewhere. Time to rectify that!

Everyone is looking to cook at home more these days. Understandable considering we're all pretty much on lockdown. And while some items have been difficult to find at the store (everyone is baking right now, it seems!), most stuff is still readily available.

Which is where a collection of trustworthy cookbooks and food blogs comes in.

Alison Roman has been on my radar since the release of her first cookbook, Dining In. She garnered so much praise and such a fervent fan base that I knew I had to get my hands on a copy of Nothing Fancy.

I have to say, the fervor is well earned!

Within days of getting my hands on an early copy of this one, I had plans to make over a dozen recipes. The first was the Citrusy Cucumbers with Red Onion and Toasted Sesame. This light and refreshing salad is a perfect example of the bevy of fabulous salads featured in the book. It's also a perfect example of the fact that much of the book is focused on easy to find ingredients that you likely have on hand already.

Yes, there are some specialty ingredients. I discovered I didn't have my trusty jar of harissa anymore, but the new jar has stretched for quite a few recipes now!

Roman's main focus for this book is entertaining. Cooking for guests and crowds. To that end, her goal is not to have you slaving away in the kitchen while everyone else is enjoying themselves. So, many of the recipes actually have make ahead tips!

Another bonus that goes along with the theme, there are tons of recipes for snacks! And I do love a good snack. A binge of Locke & Key was accompanied by Roman's Labne with Sizzled Scallions and Chile (Almost Ranch), a recipe Roman herself actually calls "The Dip." It's wonderful! Even better, if you don't have labne on hand, Roman says you can sub in Greek yogurt, or sour cream.

While we had family visiting, I made a smorgasbord of Roman's snack recipes including: Spicy-Tomato Marinated Feta (there's that harissa), which was a hit with my toddler! We served it alongside Tangy Roasted Mushrooms and fancy bread. Haloumi is a favorite in my family, so the Crispy Haloumi with Honey and Pistachio was a perfect choice. And the Vinegar-Marinated Butter Beans almost take the place of a favorite marinated giganto bean salad I used to buy.

As for main dishes, she doesn't lie calling her lasagna A Very Good Lasagna and the One-Pot Chicken With Dates and Caramelized Lemon is divine!

By no means have I cooked every recipe in the book as of yet, but this is already a favorite in my kitchen, joining the ranks of other fantastic cookbooks of late. Dining In has also joined my collection!

Order a copy from BookBar! And follow the cookbook club too! If you make anything from this one, share a pic and tag us #BookBarCookClub

Monday, March 30, 2020

Guest Post by Jeff Wheeler

I am excited to welcome Jeff Wheeler to the blog today. Wheeler is the author of, amongst other titles, The Killing Fog, the first in the Grave Kingdom series.

Today Jeff is tackling the topic of how to stay productive while working at home, a challenge I know a lot of us are facing at the moment!

Two Bits of Advice for Working at Home during the Apocalypse

By Jeff Wheeler

During the two decades I worked at Intel Corporation, I saw how working from home went from impossible to expected. Back when I first started at Intel in the early ‘90s, if I got sick I couldn’t work from home because my computer was strapped down at a desk in a cubicle. By the time I left in 2014, it was mostly expected that you’d work from home if you had the sniffles.

As a full-time author, I’ve been working from home for almost six years and I know a thing or two about how to stay productive when there are so many distractions—like incoming texts, social media, and now with the fear and uncertainty of a global pandemic. There are two lessons I’ve learned over the years that might be helpful to re-think where you’re at during this crisis.

The first idea came from the business author Jim Collins and it’s about an expedition two explorers made to Antarctica in 1910. If you think social distancing is bad now, imagine being isolated from the rest of the world in a blizzard that lasted 99 days. The other team made it to the south pole but died on the way back. In his book Great by Choice, Collins talks about how the successful explorer used a technique where he set and stuck to a daily goal of moving so many miles. Regardless of weather conditions, terrain, or setbacks, they went at a certain rate—twenty miles a day. Even when the weather was beautiful (for Antarctica) and conditions were easier, they stopped after twenty miles. That was the cadence of their march, day in and day out. It was measurable, doable, and repeatable. The other team, on the other hand, only trekked when conditions were good. On blustery days, they’d hunker down in their tents and wait out storms that could last for days. I’ve found during my writing career that setting and sticking to output goals creates a virtuous cycle of consistent performance. Back when I was working full-time at Intel, raising a family, and holding down significant responsibilities at my church, my goal was one chapter a week, one book a year. Now that I’m writing fulltime, it’s three chapters a week, three books a year. Having a measurable and consistent goal—and sticking to it—is a powerful technique that has helped me remain a prolific writer.

The second idea I learned during a major business downfall at Intel in 2005. The timing is important because it happened right before the last economic downturn when the global real estate market crashed. What we are going through right now is a once-in-a-century kind of social and economic shock, and I’ve lived through major earthquakes, the dot-com boom, and many other downturns, but this one is one for the history books. Back in 2005, an idea began to spread through the company called “Possibility Thinking.” It challenged the status quo with the notion “I know we’ve always done things certain ways, but what is the fastest way we could do this process?” At Intel, we made microprocessors—the computer chips that are the brains of any smart device. They are complex chips that require billion-dollar manufacturing plants to make atoms line up precisely. It took over 40 days to run the processes that would create these chips. Back then the head of manufacturing used possibility thinking by asking what the fastest time they could run the process and produce a chip? They ran some experiments and just gave it a try, which began to break down assumptions and thinking that had been hard-coded in the company since the beginning. The manufacturing process was cut almost in half. Thankfully, these learnings happened just before the global downturn, which enabled Intel to scale down production quickly and then scale it back up again quickly when demand changed. That nimbleness wouldn’t have been possible without possibility thinking. I’ve used this idea for my writing as well. It used to take me a certain number of hours to write a chapter. I’ve learned to cut that time almost by about a third by examining my creative process and learning how to streamline it. I won’t get into all the details, but I’ve examined my writing conditions in great detail to weed out distractions.

We’ve all been given a strange gift of time during the self-isolation caused by COVID-19. As we’ve told our kids, let’s use the time to improve ourselves, to learn more than we might have learned otherwise. To develop new skills, new interests, to read new books, to practice new skills. During this pandemic, I saw a meme which delighted me. In 1665, Isaac Newton had to take a break from the University of Cambridge due to an outbreak of the bubonic plague. He used that time to develop Calculus and his theory of gravity.

How can you improve during this time that will make your life and other lives better in the years to come?

Jeff Wheeler is the bestselling author of The Grave Kingdom series, the Kingfountain series, the Muirwood series, and many other fantasy novels. To learn more about the Antarctica march and possibility thinking, see his book “Your First Million Words: Finding the Story Inside You.” His new book, The Killing Fog, is also available now.

Huge thanks to Jeff for being on the blog today and to his publicist for organizing the post!

Feature: The Killing Fog by Jeff Wheeler

Today I'm lucky enough to be featuring Jeff Wheeler on the blog with a guest post about staying productive in these odd times. But first, I want to showcase his latest release, The Killing Fog, first in the Grave Kingdom series.

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Survivor of a combat school, the orphaned Bingmei belongs to a band of mercenaries employed by a local ruler. Now the nobleman, and collector of rare artifacts, has entrusted Bingmei and the skilled team with a treacherous assignment: brave the wilderness’s dangers to retrieve the treasures of a lost palace buried in a glacier valley. But upsetting its tombs has a price.

Echion, emperor of the Grave Kingdom, ruler of darkness, Dragon of Night, has long been entombed. Now Bingmei has unwittingly awakened him and is answerable to a legendary prophecy. Destroying the dark lord before he reclaims the kingdoms of the living is her inherited mission. Killing Bingmei before she fulfills it is Echion’s.

Thrust unprepared into the role of savior, urged on by a renegade prince, and possessing a magic that is her destiny, Bingmei knows what she must do. But what must she risk to honor her ancestors? Bingmei’s fateful choice is one that neither her friends nor her enemies can foretell, as Echion’s dark war for control unfolds.

The Killing Fog is out now from 47North. Book two in the series, The Buried World, releases in June.

Order it from BookBar