Friday, February 15, 2019

The Stranger Inside by Laura Benedict

Kimber was only out of town for a few days but when she gets home she finds her locks changed and a stranger living in her house. When the police arrive, the stranger presents a rent agreement claiming that Kimber invited him to stay. But Kimber never rented out her house. Kimber doesn't know the man. And now she can't get him to leave. 

As Kimber tries desperately to get her house - and her life - back, the stranger counters every attempt. The police aren't on her side and there seems to be little she can do. Anger and frustration, not to mention confusion, have become Kimber's everyday life. And now paranoia had joined the club as she becomes certain the stranger is out to take more than just her home. 

I love Laura Benedict's work. Just flat out love it!

This latest is a bit of a change as it's straightforward thriller with no horror or supernatural aspects, but, if you couldn't tell, it still has a healthy dose of dread and high emotional stakes.

I can't imagine what I would do if I left for a weekend to myself and came back to find my house occupied by someone else. And to find out the police aren't interested in helping! That's the situation Kimber is in when the stranger claims he has a right to be there. And as time goes by, he even gets the police to believe that Kimber is stalking him!

So Kimber's life is not only upside down, she's being treated like a criminal.

But as it turns out, Kimber isn't exactly a great person. She's done some things in the past that reflect a little... poorly on her character. And so she needs to tread carefully where the stranger is concerned. Which makes this a twisty, turny read from the get go. For Kimber and the reader both.

Paranoia is the key here and it comes through on every page of The Stranger Inside. And the questions that drive the plot - Who is the stranger? Why is he out to get Kimber? And what are these shady secrets Kimber is so determined to keep to herself? - are guaranteed to keep readers frantically turning pages until the big reveal at the very end.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Cravings: Hungry For More by Chrissy Teigen

If there’s one thing I love as much as books, it’s food. And so it’s natural that I’d have a bit of an obsession with cookbooks, right?

Glossy pictures of mouthwatering food are just part of it. In order for a cookbook to appeal to me, the recipes have to be enticing and approachable. I’m not a Top Chef, after all. I’m simply a girl with a little more than a working knowledge of my way around a kitchen. By which I mean I have no professional training but I’m beyond “cooking for dummies” level.

I’m also not a food snob. Recipes in any book I add to my collection have to be somewhat budget friendly. Honestly, though, in terms of recipes that are going to appeal to me, they are generally going to be somewhat budget friendly in that I don’t exactly gravitate to caviar and foie gras or wagyu beef (a good filet is fine for me).

Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings: Hungry for More definitely fit these first two requirements. The recipes included run the gamut of junk food (her Mushroom & Crispy Shallot Nachos are amazing!) to fancy dinners (Steak Diane with Crispy Onions, the most complicated dish I’ve made so far and only because frying the onions was a bit time consuming), Asian classics (Beef Randang) and American twists on Asian classics (Lazy Shrimp & Pork “Wonton” Soup) and hearty comfort food (Crispy Bacon & Sweet Pickle Patty Melts are not to be missed). The recipes are about as un-pretentious as you can get - and Teigen comes across the same.

In addition to being a collection of dishes any home cook can make in their kitchen, it’s also a glimpse inside Teigen’s world as well. And dare I say it’s a world you might not expect if you only know of her as a supermodel! Let’s just say she’s not afraid to eat or speak her mind, which I find abundantly appealing. And amusing. Because if you can have fun with your food, all the better!

I’ve done quite a bit of cooking out of this book since getting my hands on a copy last fall. And I’m late in reviewing only because I have a new baby to keep me occupied. And yet, I’ve still been able to cook. Lots of our friends have been amazed by this but nothing I’ve made since bringing the baby home has been overly complicated. And plenty of it has come from Cravings!

King’s Hawaiian Pull-Apart Bacon Grilled Cheese sandwiches were part of our Christmas Eve festivities. Bacony Clam Chowder made for a surprisingly easy and fabulously cozy dinner one snowy evening. Avocado with Toasty Crumbs made for an easy breakfast and a great alternative to avocado toast. Oh, and the Parmesan Minestrone with Chili Mayo Toasts was simple and fabulous, just one of the make ahead freezer meals that I made before the baby arrived for hectic nights after he was here. I've made many more dishes from the book so far and none of them has been anything less than excellent.

Anyone who loves tasty and uncomplicated food should definitely add this book to their collection. It's a go to in my kitchen now for sure!

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Hiding Place by C. J. Tudor

Happy Friday! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for C.J. Tudor's latest, The Hiding Place. 

Arnhill isn't a town Joe would choose to return to without reason. A mining town whose mine has been closed for decades, it's a miserable place to live. But Joe has come home and he does have a reason to be there after all. A very personal reason. One that traces back to his childhood and the fate of his beloved sister. 

Arnhill hasn't aged well in the time that he's been away. And it seems the very things that caused him to leave in the first place might be happening again.

Joe takes a job as a teacher at the very school he once attended. Immediately he recognizes the son of one of his old gang as the local bully, stepping in on his first day as the boy relentlessly picks on another student. And earning himself an enemy for his efforts. But that's just the beginning and the least of Joe's worries. 

C. J. Tudor's latest is dark, dark, dark. Just the opening pages alone are enough to warn away a reader without a strong stomach! Diving into The Hiding Place was like jumping down a rabbit hole of creepy. And considering I started at bedtime... well, it did not make for a restful night!

We don't know from the start exactly what Joe's motives or history are. He alludes to his sister's disappearance, he also alludes to her return, and he outright lies to those around him about what happened to her (which means the reader is in the dark for a good bit as well). We do know he's prompted to return to Arnhill after receiving and email that cryptically says it's happening again. And he chooses to move into a house where a teacher killed herself and her son under incredibly disturbing circumstances.

We also know Joe is on the run and in debt.

And that's it. That's what we start off with. It was enough to hook me, that's for sure! That and, as I mentioned, the incredibly dark and creepy nature of the story. Because even with very little information, Tudor deftly builds an almost overwhelming sense of dread and suspense. I had to know what was going on! What happened to Joe as a teenager? Why is he back in Arnhill? And what does the teacher's death have to do with it all? Agh!

The payoff, the big reveal, and the twists along the way were all worth it! Tudor straddles a fine line between horror and thriller and is a perfect read for fans of both genres. Given, of course, that you can handle the opening pages!

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

For more on C.J. Tudor, you can like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

Thursday, January 31, 2019

No Exit by Taylor Adams

Darby Thorne's mother is dying. Which is why the college student is driving during horrific weather from Colorado to Utah when she gets caught in a snowstorm. Taking refuge at a remote rest stop, she and a handful of others are planning to ride out the storm until it's safe to get back on the road. 

But Darby makes a startling discovery: a kidnapped girl locked inside a van. Of course Darby can't let it slide. The girl is in danger, clearly. And someone at the rest stop is responsible. With cell service down and no way to escape, Darby isn't sure exactly what she can do to help. But she knows she has to do something. 

Taylor Adams's debut is a non stop thrill ride. The kind of thriller that should come with popcorn and those new cozy, recliner movie seats. It's reads like it's playing out on the big screen - both in plot and in pacing. By which I mean you really can't put it down once you start.

But it is a little far fetched. More than once I found myself thinking, this is just a bit too much! And yet, it was fun.

Darby wants to ignore the situation. Badly. Obviously she's on her own and stuck. As mentioned, there's no cell service and she doesn't even know who the van belongs to, so she's unsure who she can trust at the rest stop. It's a gamble any way you look at it.

Thankfully our heroine is a heroine and decides she has to so something - anything - to help the girl in question. Which drives the suspense.

Is this a particularly unique or clever read? Meh. Is it a fun read? Most definitely!

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Expedition by Chris Babu

Good morning, everyone. Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Chris Babu's latest, The Expedition.

I've got massive baby brain and am honestly operating on about 2 hours of sleep as I write this, so here's the promotional copy rather than my own synopsis:

They survived the Initiation. Now the real test begins.

Drayden and his friends thought nothing could be harder than the Initiation. Little did they know it had only been a warmup for the challenge that lay ahead.

With New America’s situation dire, Drayden and the pledges venture into the unexplored world beyond the walls, escorted by a team of elite Guardians. The group seeks to contact another civilization in what remains of Boston, but Drayden has secret goals of his own.

Dangers abound in the outside world, including Aeru, the deadly superbug that wiped out humanity. While they battle the elements of a desolate landscape, a power struggle emerges within their ranks. The Guardians seem to be carrying out a covert mission themselves, and the quest turns everything they thought they knew about New America upside down.

I should note this is the follow up to Babu's previous title, The Initiation. The Expedition can be read fairly easily on its own, though there are spoilers for the first title should you dive in with this one. 

Regular followers know I'm a big fan of post apocalyptic books, especially post outbreak ones. As such, I tend to gobble them up. When I read the description of this one, it immediately brought to mind the recent Netflix release of the Danish show The Rain, so I was super stoked to dive into this book as a way to tide myself over in hopes we'll be getting a second season of the show. 

And while comparing it to the rain is somewhat apt - the main characters are teens trying to survive in this post outbreak wasteland - The Expedition also read more than a little bit like the later Maze Runner titles. 

I liked the interplay with the characters. I also liked the mysteries explored throughout the book, not least of which is the truth behind Drayden's mother's exile and the real reason for the Guardians' mission (alluded to in the synopsis, which also captured my attention when I chose to hop onto the tour). 

All in all, of you're a fan of dystopian reads, especially Maze Runner and The Rain (I hear the first one is a bit Hunger Games-ish), you're sure to enjoy Babu's work! 

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

For more on Chris Babu and his work you can visit his website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

On the Same Page by N. D. Galland

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Nicole (aka N. D.) Galland's latest, On the Same Page.

Joanna Howes has put her NYC life on hold temporarily to return to her childhood home on the island of Martha's Vineyard. The trip is thanks to her uncle who fell off a roof during a rainstorm and ended up laid up with injuries. And while Joanna definitely doesn't mind helping him recuperate, it unfortunately can't be her sole focus. For one thing, she left too fast to sublet her apartment, thinking she'd be back in just a few days when in fact it seems she'll be on the island for a few months! With rent coming due, Joanna has to find some way to make ends meet. 

Which is how and why she ends up freelancing for both of the island's papers at the same time. Except she can't really freelance for them both as Joanna Howes, which complicates things just a bit. So Joanna Howes writes for one paper and Joe Dias writes for another. 

That scheme alone might be fairly innocent but it's not the only one Joanna finds herself entangled in. Islanders are fighting a seasonal occupant who's decided to put his own helipad on his property. Joanna covers the issue for one paper just fine until she finds herself in a relationship with the very man who's created the issue! As the relationship grows, Joanna begins to find it hard to keep her double life going. And as she falls for the guy further and further, she knows he'd never trust her if he found out the truth. 

Galland's latest is a light and fun look at the lives and politics of small town residents. And it's inspired in part by Shakespeare! Which comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with Galland's historical fiction.

The characters here are quirky and lovable and it's easy to sink into the small town setting and Joanna's worsening situation. All of which come together to create a charming read perfect for anyone looking to recover from a stressful holiday season!

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

For more on Nicole Galland and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Ask No Mercy by Martin Österdahl: Excerpt and Giveaway

Hi, everyone! Today I've got an excerpt from Martin Österdahl's Ask No Mercy, first in the Max Anger series and new out from Amazon Crossing, and a chance for you to win a copy of your very own. But first, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads to get you started:

Max Anger is a man on the edge. The former fighter in an elite band of special-ops soldiers in Sweden, Anger is haunted by battle scars, a childhood spent in the Stockholm archipelago, and his own mysterious family past. Now behind a desk at Vektor, a think tank conducting research on Russia, he’s met his match—and fallen in love—with fierce fellow operative Pashie Kovalenko. Like all of Vektor, she’s set her sights on the tenuous future of her country.

When Pashie goes missing in Saint Petersburg, Anger rushes headlong into a volatile Russia, where a new president is about to be elected in the midst of a technological revolution. At the movement’s heart is a start-up Pashie had been investigating, one surrounded by rumors of organized crime and corruption. But the truth is more shocking than Anger could have ever expected.

Now time is running out for Pashie. Racing through a storm of violence and deception, Anger gets ever closer to a sensational secret—and to the Russian madman with dreams of restoring one of the cruelest regimes in the history of the world.

An international thriller, translated and released here in the US for the first time, Ask No Mercy is set in Russia during the 90s. In other words, it sheds a bit of light on certain timely issues. 

And now for a bit of the book itself:

Ask No Mercy
by Martin Österdahl
Translated by Peter Sean Woltemade

Chapter 45

Margarita lay on the backseat of the jeep. Through the windshield, Max saw Ilya say something to the two vory and then point in the direction of the car.

No, don’t bring them over here, thought Max. Are you nuts?

One of the two men, the one with the tattoos, took out a cell phone. He spoke animatedly with someone for a few minutes and then put it away. He looked at the jeep and then at Ilya, who was approaching it.

Ilya knocked on the window on Max’s side. He rotated his index finger, and Max rolled down the window. Ilya reached toward the glove compartment, winking at Margarita. When he realized the glove compartment was empty, he looked at Max, who was holding the Makarov in his hand between the two front seats of the car. Ilya raised his eyebrows and took it from Max.

“Do you think you can drive this heap?”

Max nodded.

“Then I’ll see you back at the hotel.”

“But you can’t still be here when those two realize she’s gone.” 

As usual, Ilya shrugged.

“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I have this.”

He waved goodbye with the Makarov in his hand, then turned around and started walking toward the vory.

Max wriggled over to the driver’s seat while he watched Ilya’s back recede. Would they ever see each other again? He pushed away such thoughts; he needed to show Ilya the trust he deserved. And get Margarita and her children to safety.

He started the engine and drove away without looking toward the men.

Margarita and Max didn’t talk during the drive into Saint Petersburg. The smell of Margarita’s perfume, a floral chemical scent, mixed with that of the jeep’s exhaust.

She was safe now, at least for the time being; she had been saved from the fate of her Swiss lover, Marcel Rousseau, the man who had played with fire. The feeling of having ensured her safety filled Max with satisfaction.

At least one thing had gone their way.

Pashie had told him that Russian women preferred plastic flowers to real ones. She said that if she were ever to start a new career, it would be selling plastic flowers. They were the perfect product for the new Russia. Russians loved flashiness and beauty but were notoriously bad at maintenance. Real flowers required love and care; plastic flowers lasted forever. They were cheap and elegant; they demanded nothing of you; they were simply perfect. In fact, Max had never heard anyone in Russia express much appreciation for naturalness. On the contrary. Naturalness was associated with poverty and backwardness.

Pashie knew how she would compensate for the plastic flowers’ lack of scent: by spraying them with an artificial violet perfume that would be sure to increase sales. Max imagined this would be like the scent wafting from the backseat.

Max poured coffee until Margarita held up her hand.

“Thanks. That’s enough.”

Max sat across from Margarita and her children. They were occupying four rattan chairs under a reproduction of an old Saint Petersburg streetlamp in one of the hotel’s restaurants.

Above them, light shone in through the domed roof.

“You’re safe here,” said Max. “For the time being.”

Without looking up, Margarita poured sugar into her coffee and stirred the steaming black liquid. “What was it Marcel told you?”

Margarita looked up. For a moment she trembled, but she managed to pull herself together once again. “Why are you doing this?”

“I’m looking for a friend. You know that.”

“I want to leave Saint Petersburg,” she said. “I want to never set foot here again.” 

A waiter came by. Margarita ordered two banana milkshakes.

“Where would you go?”

“I have an uncle in Prague. I want to go there.” 

“Okay,” said Max. “If you talk now, I’ll take care of it.” 

She nodded.

“I know Marcel was employed by a large international company in the auditing sector in Switzerland,” said Max. “Why was he here in Saint Petersburg?”

“Marcel had certain weaknesses.”

“Don’t we all?”

Margarita took a sip of her coffee.

“He was still married,” she said. “Did you know that? He left a family behind in Switzerland.” 

“What brought him here?”

“The Arbeiterjugend,” said Margarita, grimacing.

“In Switzerland?”

Margarita shook her head.

“East Germany. His real name was Günther Baumann, and he was born and raised in Karl-Marx-Stadt. He was an excellent swimmer and a participant in the Festival of Youth and Students.”

Which was to say he’d been involved in the work of the Komsomol, the communist youth organization. The latest festival had been held in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 1989. The next was to take place in Havana, Cuba, in a year. “For anti-imperialist solidarity, peace, and friendship.”

“So he defected to the West? And ended up in Switzerland?” 

“Early in the summer of 1980.”

At that time there would only have been two possibilities. Either he had truly defected, which would have been difficult but had been managed by a small number of elite athletes, or he had been placed in the West by the organization that controlled all young lives and souls: Stasi, the super-effective East German intelligence service.

“And his wife?” asked Max.

“Swiss. All I know about her is that she demanded money. More money all the time.” “And his company, Brice & Stadthaller? And St. Petersburg GSM?”

“I swore I would never tell anyone . . .” She pulled in her quivering lower lip, looked up at the ceiling far above them. Finally, she looked at Max.

She was no longer bound by her oath.

“He said they were old contacts. And they’d made an offer he couldn’t refuse. Exactly what that meant, I don’t know. But I’ve thought about it a lot.”

“What kind of contacts? Political contacts? Military?”

“I don’t know. Marcel was a secretive man in many ways.” “And what was the offer?”

“He said we could live wherever we wanted, anywhere in the world.”

Margarita reached for a napkin lying next to one of the milkshakes that had arrived while she and Max had been talking. She wiped her cheek.

“He was going to leave her.”

“What do you think happened to him?”

“They murdered him.”

Max leaned forward. “Who murdered him?”

“He told me he was going to meet him. I could tell he was nervous about this meeting.” 

“Who is he?” asked Max.

“Marcel didn’t tell me his name. But he’s the leader, the boss.” 

“Can you guess who he is?”

Margarita’s expression changed again. It was as though she disappeared for a moment. Then she shook herself.

“He is the devil. He’s an old, strange-looking man. A large body and a small head. A ghost from our country’s darkest period.”

“Did Marcel call him anything? A nickname or a title?” 

Margarita leaned forward. Her voice was only a whisper.

“Joseph Stalin’s most beloved son.”

And now for the giveaway. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, January 21. Open US only.