Thursday, October 31, 2013

Grave Images by Jenny Goebel

While working at Mountains and Plains this year, I had the chance to meet debut author Jenny Goebel. Her middle grade release, Grave Images, officially hit shelves this past Tuesday but I was lucky enough to get a signed copy at the show.

Bernie knows that her family is a bit off. They own and run a monument company whose main clientele are looking for gravestones. Plus her mom hasn't been the most social person of late, spending most of her time locked up in her bedroom crying. When a drifter arrives boasting an impressive skill at etching and looking for room and board, Bernie's father agrees to take him on. At first, Bernie is fascinated by the man's talent and hopes that he may be able to help her better her own. But Abbott Stein isn't interested in helping Bernie. Not one to take no for an answer, Bernie starts to snoop around the man's room and eventually finds an etching of a man who looks startlingly familiar. She'd almost forgotten about the incident when she learns that an old friend of her grandfather has just died. He and the man in the etching are one and the same, but why would Mr. Stein have carved a picture for someone BEFORE their death?

From the start, I was impressed by how well Jenny Goebel brought Bernie to life. From page one, Bernie just jumps off the page. Her voice, mannerisms, and attitude ring clear as a bell! Bernie is a clever kid who quickly figures out there's something wrong with Abbott Stein. Of course the adults are all clueless, but with the help of a fellow schoolmate (and someone Bernie reluctantly calls a friend), she bravely throws herself into investigating.

Grave Images is a fun read for someone my age and a great creepy read for a younger audience. Goebel does a wonderful job of building an interesting mystery with some light supernatural elements and even some slightly gory details as well. Given my own reading tastes as a kid, this definitely would have hit the spot for me (it admittedly hit the spot for me as a somewhat grown up 32 year old, too).

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Secret Daughter of the Tsar by Jennifer Laam + a Giveaway

The Romanov legacy is one that has captivated people for decades. With multiple movies and books devoted to the fate of the family and the possibility that one member (typically Anastasia) may have escaped, Jennifer Laam's debut is an interesting addition and a bit of a twist.

Present day, California: Veronica Herrera is fascinated by the Romanovs. A Russian history professor working on a book about Empress Alexandra, she's long hoped that her research will lead to tenure. Unfortunately, the head of her department fears that this will not be the case. A coincidental meeting with a man named Michael Karstadt could change everything.

1941, France: The German occupation has only marginally affected Charlotte, until a German soldier seeks her out. The man knows an awful lot of details about Charlotte and she's terrified about what this could mean for her and her son. Desperate to save her boy, Charlotte fears the only solution is to run.

1901, Peterhof Estate: Empress Alexandra has given birth to yet another daughter. The pressure to produce a son and heir continues to grow and Alexandra turns to every means possible to ensure her next child will be a boy. When she learns that Lena, one of her maids, is the daughter of a midwife, Alexandra pressures her for help. Ever fearful of failure, Lena knows that this is the only hope for her own brother. If she can help the Empress then maybe Alexandra will help her.

I really like the premise of Laam's book. As I mentioned above, there have been numerous titles featuring Anastasia as the surviving Romanov - thanks in no small part to real life claimants that have been debunked.

I do have to say that of the three women, Charlotte was the one whose story interested me more. Veronica didn't stand out so much next to her and while Lena was interesting, Charlotte being in the midst of occupied France kind of can't be beat in terms of story. I can't say that the ending wasn't exactly what I expected it to be. There were very few surprises in the book, most of it plays out exactly as I'd imagined it would, but it's a fun read nonetheless.

Rating: 4/5

Oh, I almost forgot. If you're interested in reading a bit of the book to get you started, I have an excerpt with the prologue for you here.

Thanks to the publisher, I'm able to offer up one copy for giveaway. To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter below before November 18. US only please.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books to Read for Halloween

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: scariest covers or best books for Halloween. I chose the latter since I've not done that topic yet.

Oh, this'll be rough since horror is my FAVORITE. But here's a narrowed down list of (almost) ten titles:

1. A Book of Horrors ed by Stephen Jones - I've sung the praises of this book many times, but it's a fantastic creepy collection and shorts are definitely perfect Halloween reading 

2. Nocturnes by John Connolly - another amazing short story collection filled with chilling and horrific tales!

3. Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker -c'mon, it's Hellraiser.

4. Mischief by Doug Clegg - one of the Harrow House books and one of my favorites from Clegg. 

5. The Rats by James Herbert - this actually was a Halloween read of mine a few years ago. Short of going with his first two Ash books, I think this is a perfect choice. It's a little campy and a lot gory but all fun.

6. Cujo by Stephen King - why this one in particular? Simply because - like above - it was one of my own Halloween reads. In fact, the one Halloween I was stuck in the dorm at college :)

7. James A. Moore's Serenity Falls trilogy - I lurved these books! Lurved them so very, very much! They're definite Halloween season recs for any horror fan. 

8. The Bones of You by Gary McMahon - as I mentioned in my review this is the latest in the Earthling Publications annual Halloween series. 

9. Haunted or Moonfall by Tamara Thorne - Thorne's books are insanely fun. I'm not sure which I'd recommend more for Halloween though since both of these titles are pretty perfect.

10. Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest - this is the first in Priest's Eden Moore trilogy. It's a creepy as hell ghost story.  

The Boy in the Snow by M. J. McGrath + a Giveaway

With the threat of snow in the forecast, I don't think I could have possibly chosen a more perfectly suited mysteries for the beginning of the week!

Edie Kiglatuk was supposed to be in Anchorage as part of her ex-husband's Iditarod team, but when she discovers the body of an infant in the woods she becomes embroiled in a murder mystery instead. The boy was carefully wrapped and left inside a small structure on land owned by a religious sect called the Old Believers. Edie had seen two of them passing by on a snowmobile just moments before making her discovery, which of course leads the police to believe the two were involved. Edie isn't so sure. To her, the scene seemed to have been undisturbed suggesting the body had been there for at least some time before she stumbled across the structure. The discovery just happens to coincide with Alaska's race for governor, though, and Anchorage's mayor is one of the hopefuls. As the battle heats up, he's determined not to let either the murder or the Old Believers stand in his way. 

I absolutely love when an author successfully tackles a unique setting and character in this way. Edie is half inuit and lives in a remote area of Northern Canada. For her, just about any part of Alaska is the big city. Both in terms of character (and her heritage and viewpoints) and setting, M.J. McGrath's series delivers something completely new for me as a reader.

It's interesting to note that McGrath herself, while not from Alaska or of inuit heritage, was a journalist who focused much of her time and research on this area. Her 2006 nonfiction release The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic was a history of one family living and surviving on Ellesmere Island (the fictional Edie's home).

Character and setting aside, The Boy In the Snow is an extremely well put together mystery. The pieces fit together perfectly and the narrative is smooth and intriguing. I should point out that this is actually the second Edie Kiglatuk mystery, following White Heat. Considering I've not read the first as of yet, I can safely say that The Boy in the Snow can easily serve as a starting off point for any reader. As a bonus, and if you're looking for a taste of the series, there's an Edie Kiglatuk e short available as well. "Edie Kiglatuk's Christmas" which includes excerpts of both White Heat and The Boy in the Snow and is just $1.99.

Rating: 4/5

The Boy in the Snow is out in paperback today and thanks to the publisher, I'm able to offer up a copy to one of you! To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, November 11. US only - no PO boxes please.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Bonus Horror Giveaway: Red Hill by Jamie McGuire

Hi, everyone! As a bonus and follow up to my review of Jamie McGuire's super fun zombie read, Red Hill, the publisher is letting me offer up one copy of the paperback for giveaway! To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, November 4. US/Canada only - no PO Boxes please.

Good luck!

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Mage's Blood by David Hair

Readers, it's no secret that I've been gobbling up Quercus/Jo Fletcher books of late - I've just gotten in two of their UK books I special ordered for Halloween and their US releases have been making their way into my TBR stack regularly. So of course David Hair's Mage's Blood was already on my radar even before I started seeing it compared to GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire series. But this 600+ page whopper was going to demand significant reading time so I had to wait just a bit. It's a good thing I did - this book had been kicking my ass for over a week!

The continents of Yuros and Antiopia have long been separated by an impassable stretch of ocean, but the mage built Leviathan Bridge changed all of that. Every twelve years, the bridge is revealed and trade and commerce are made accessible to the masses of both lands. But the bridge has also brought war. As the upcoming moontide grows closer the people of both sides are preparing for battle. 

Mage Antonin Meiros, the man behind the Leviathan Bridge, has lost his heir. As an Ascendant, he's lived much longer than any normal man but now he feels his time is running out. His search for a new wife has led him to Lakh in southern Antiopia and Ramita Ankesharan. Ramita is promised to another but Meiros offers her father riches beyond anything he'd ever imagined in exchange for his eldest daughter's hand. Obedient but distraught, Ramita has no choice but to agree. Meiros believes their children will finally mean peace between the two lands, but Ramita's beloved, Kazim, stands in their way. 

Meanwhile, Alaron Mercer is preparing for his final exams in Noros. If he passes, it could mean the realization of everything he's dreamed of. If he fails, it means he'll never be able to use his gnosis again. For his thesis, he's made what could be a groundbreaking discovery but it's one that will garner him the wrong kind of attention and put everything he's worked for at risk. And while Alaron battles the politics of Noros, his aunt, Elena Anborn, will face a political battle of another kind. Elena has been tasked with protecting the royal children of Javon. But the powers that be back on Yuros believe that this kingdom may be key to their winning or losing their upcoming crusade. When Elena ignores a direct order that would have her part of the elimination of said family, she becomes a target and enemy of her former employer. 

Whew! This is a dense read. It's good, don't get me wrong. In fact, it's very good! The comparisons to Song of Ice and Fire are appropriate in that this new series from Hair is epic fantasy with a complex world filled with history and mythology. Obviously if these are the things you love about George R. R. Martin's series, then they'll hold just as much appeal in Hair's Moontide Quartet.

There's considerably more magic in Mage's Blood than you'll find in A Song of Ice and Fire, but I'd say they're about equal in the political machinations! The chapters are headed up with bits of history and descriptions of the gnosis and such that also help considerably in immersing the reader in the world.

The beginning of the book was a little tough to get into. The introduction of the geography, the history, and the numerous characters was a bit much for my brain to handle even though I had steeled myself for it. Turns out it's not something I could easily prepare myself for and the first 150 pages or so were kind of rough. I couldn't be more glad that I stuck it out, though, as the book picks up considerably once all the players have been introduced. As is the case with most epic fantasy, the chapters alternate between the core characters - meaning you've got just enough time to get sucked into one person's story before having to move onto the next! And of course there's a killer cliffhanger of an ending, so now I'm desperately waiting for book two.

Seriously, though, if you're craving a big chunskter read and need something to hit the spot while waiting for the next season or release of GRRM, you should most definitely check out Hair. As one reviewer pointed out, go with the physical on this so you can refer back to the maps! It'll help in getting yourself oriented with the geography :)

Rating: 4/5

UPDATE: Looks like book two, The Scarlet Tides, is out in the UK now. No word on the US release but considering the first just hit shelves here last month, we've got a little wait.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

New Releases 10/29/13

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

S. by Doug Dorst & J.J. Abrams

The Clearing by Dan Newman

The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Huegten

Parasite by Mira Grant

The Melody of Secrets by Jeffrey Stepakoff

Accused by Lisa Scottoline

Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

Cold Snap by Allison Brennan

No Escape by Mary Burton

Dead Set by Richard Kadrey

The Iron Traitor by Julie Kagawa

Relic by Heather Terrell

Waterfell by Amalie Howard

In the Age of Love and Chocolate by Gabrielle Zevin

New on DVD:

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
The Preservationist by Justin Kramon
Just One Year by Gayle Forman

Friday, October 25, 2013

Undead + Unfed by Kirsty McKay

This was a shaping up to be a very horror light week so I decided to squeeze in two quick and easy titles - Kirsty McKay's teen zombie horrors, Undead and Unfed. I actually won these as part of Scholastic's This is Teen giveaway over on Facebook. So thanks, Scholastic!

Bobby was never keen on the class ski trip anyway, but her mother thought it would be a good idea. After living in the states for a number of years, their return to England has left her feeling out of whack as the new girl who doesn't quite fit in. They stop at a remote cafe for lunch but Bobby decides hanging out on the bus would be better than joining her classmates for another round of meal time teasing. And boy is she right! Before long, all of Bobby's fellow students - with a few exceptions - have become literal mindless zombies ready to chow down on the few remaining living.

It's no secret that I love a good fun read. That's exactly what Kirsty McKay's books are: fun times with zombies. A school trip, a zombie outbreak in the middle of nowhere, zombie kills with snowboards, a creepy castle, and a super fun conspiracy, what's not to love?

Sure it's all teen. The characters are a little cliche: the new girl, the bad boy, the smart kid, and the popular girl. And of course this is a pretty typical zombie outbreak story when it comes down to it. But McKay has a snarky way of writing and I was in the mood for exactly this kind of book this week - fast, easy, gory zombie horror. (Plus, these covers are so Dead Snow!)

And there's a sequel!

Unfed picks up six weeks after that fateful trip. Six weeks after it was discovered that Bobby's own mother's employers, Xanthro, were responsible for the zombie outbreak. Bobby is being held in a military medical facility along with Alice, Pete, and Russ - a new addition to their group. Smitty and Bobby's mother are both missing but Bobby has reason to believe they may both still be alive. In order to find them, the four teens must escape the facility (now overrun with zombiefied patients and armed military) and brave a countryside plagued with zombie cows and goats to track down Smitty and Bobby's mom. 

Now the teens are not only in the middle of the zombie outbreak but unraveling the actual plot that resulted in a mass infection. With the evil Xanthro goons on their tails Unfed is possibly even more fun than its predecessor! Kirsty's teens are clever but believable and her overall sarcastic and witty style is infectious in and of itself. I dare you to read these and NOT enjoy them!

Ratings for both: 4/5

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Guest Post: CJ Lyons

Hi, everyone! I am super excited to be hosting CJ Lyons today. CJ is the author of a number of titles, including her upcoming teen debut Broken, but before becoming a published author she worked as a pediatric emergency room doctor.

I had the pleasure of meeting CJ at Left Coast Crime in Denver back in 2007 when her Angels of Mercy medical thriller series was kicking off. Today CJ talks about why she decided to become a writer and whether she misses working in medicine.

So, without further ado, I'll hand things over to CJ Lyons!

I’ve been a storyteller all my life and in high school wrote my first novel (a YA fantasy) and two SF/F novels in med school. But everything changed during my pediatric internship year. 

Halfway through my first year at Childrens Hospital of Pittsburgh one of my fellow interns was killed in a very horrendous way. The police apprehended the killer, thanks to good forensic work and cooperation of several agencies. But we interns were still traumatized. Left to mourn and make sense of this terrible thing while simultaneously caring for infants and children entrusted to our care and trying to help families cope. 

For me, writing helped me to heal. I wrote my first crime fiction novel, a romantic thriller called BORROWED TIME (which hit the USA Today Bestseller list). Before I'd always written SF/F, but after Jeff died I needed to explore good/evil, justice/truth more than I needed the escapism my previous novels provided me. 

I wanted to change the world, to bring Jeff back. To punish the bad guys and give the good guys a happy ending. To find the courage to stand up and face the darkness. And the only place I could do that was in my writing. 

I never could have made the leap of faith that took me from medicine to published author without the courage I learned from Jeff. Without finding the strength to climb out of the despair his death created and to face the pain of living with the loss. 

My writing explores the gray spaces between the black and white of good and evil. That’s why I call them “Thrillers with Heart”—they’re less about the action and more about the people. Stories about every day heroes finding the courage to change their world. 

I think Jeff would have approved. 

Leaving medicine was hard, especially since at the time I was practicing as a community pediatrician and had long-term relationships with my patients. Plus, it took a real leap of faith to abandon that job security for the vicarious life of an author. 

Becoming a doctor was amazing—I come from a small town in Pennsylvania and worked three jobs to put myself through medical school—but becoming a writer was a dream I'd had all my life, so being able to make it come true has been fantastic beyond words. 

My writing career hasn't been smooth sailing, in many ways it's as hard as being a doctor (I actually work longer hours now!) but it has been fulfilling in so many ways. 

As a doctor the greatest rush came from those rare moments when I actually saved a life. As a writer I get the chance to touch hundreds of thousands of lives—and I can't begin to describe the feeling I get when I hear from fans about how my stories have done more than provide entertainment but have inspired or empowered them. Talk about your dreams come true! 

About CJ: 

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-one novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart. 

Winner of the International Thriller Writers’ coveted Thriller Award, CJ has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday). 

Learn more about CJ's Thrillers with Heart at www.CJLyons.net

Broken hits shelves November 5 and if you pre order the ebook before then, you can get it for just $4.99.

Here's a bit about the book from the publisher:

The only thing fifteen-year-old Scarlet Killian has ever wanted is a chance at a normal life. Diagnosed with a rare and untreatable heart condition, she has never taken the school bus. Or giggled with friends during lunch. Or spied on a crush out of the corner of her eye. So when her parents offer her three days to prove she can survive high school, Scarlet knows her time is now... or never. Scarlet can feel her heart beating out of control with every slammed locker and every sideways glance in the hallway. But this high school is far from normal. And finding out the truth might just kill Scarlet before her heart does.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Preservationist by Justin Kramon

Morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Justin Kramon's latest, The Preservationist.

For Julia, adjusting to college has been a bit of an effort. The tragedy of the year before is still fresh in her memory and she's still not fully recovered. When she meets Sam, she finally feels she's met someone she can trust and open up to. After all, Sam's suffered a loss recently as well. But Julia caught the eye of another boy, too. Marcus is hurt when Julia chooses Sam. Hurt and angry.

This is a twisted story that will make anyone worry about being part of the dating scene (or relieved they no longer have to be, as is my case)! Kramon's taken a young woman already facing some pretty crappy issues and put her in an even rougher situation. Without giving too much away there comes a point when Julia begins to worry about everything and everyone. She's in this weird place with Sam and Marcus and then there are reports of two attacks on campus.

The Preservationist is one of those books that starts one place and ends up somewhere completely different. I suspected I knew the twist before it came - and I was right - but honestly the way Kramon builds the story and intensity meant that I quite enjoyed the book. Figuring it out definitely didn't kill the story.

And while I had pretty well teased out the big twist before it came, Kramon had me second guessing myself more than once. There were also a number of little twists along the way and throughout the book that I never saw coming.

I think my favorite thing about The Preservationist was the way the story played out. Surprisingly, Kramon doesn't make us wait to the very end for what I consider the big surprise. Instead it comes about halfway through the story but leaves the reader in a position where we can almost see what's coming for Julia - and it isn't good. It seriously ratchets up the tension in the story. It also makes for the kind of read that will keep you up all night so beware. I couldn't sleep until I'd finally finished the book!

Rating: 4/5

To see what others on the tour thought, check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Justin Kramon, visit his website here. You can also like him on Facebook.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Just One Day + Just One Year by Gayle Forman

This week is shaping up to be pretty neat over here. Mike and I have early screening tickets for About Time and Gayle Forman is going to be doing an event in Denver this Thursday. The nifty thing about the Gayle Forman event is that I'll be part of it! So if you're in the Denver area on Thursday (that's October 24) and are interested, the event is at 7:00 at the the Colfax Ave Tattered Cover. The topic is: Just One Day to Just One Year: A Conversation About Love, Travel and Transformation.

Today I'm doing two quick reviews of Just One Day and Just One Year - I should note that while I've seen folks raving about Gayle's work all over the place, these were my intro to her list. I absolutely adored Willem and Allyson's stories, though, and now have If I Stay in my TBR as well (thanks to the lovely Jill at Penguin).

Allyson expected her trip around Europe to be more exciting - it was to be an adventure, but instead the Teen Tours trip turned out to be a bit dull: shuttling off from one tourist site to another wasn't her idea of seeing the world. On the final night of the tour, the group is in Stratford Upon Avon with tickets to see Hamlet. But Allyson and her friend Melanie opt to attend an outdoor performance of Twelfth Night instead. The next morning, Allyson runs into the play's Sebastian on the train to London and he invites to her travel to Paris with him for the day. His name is Willem and while Allyson would normally never go off with a boy she doesn't know, this day is different. On this day, Allyson will finally have her adventure. But in the wake of that one day, Allyson finds it almost impossible to go back to her old self. 

For Willem, that one day had an equally powerful effect. Willem's a bit of a ladies' man and a wanderer but even though he doesn't tell Allyson about his past, there's a very real reason for his behavior. In the year following the time he spent with Allyson he'll not only have to finally face his own demons but he'll wonder about the girl he called Lulu. 

Oh, both of these books are so wonderful! Allyson and Willem are both so easy to love and I have to admit that it took every ounce of willpower on my part not to skip straight to the end of Just One Year to find out what happens to them.

The really cool thing about these books is that Willem's tale in Just One Year mirrors Allyson's in Just One Day. Willem's story begins the morning after their day in Paris. Allyson - and therefore the reader - never knew what happened to Willem that morning. And while Allyson is essentially (but not exactly) pining over Willem in the year to come, I don't think it's giving too much away to say that Willem is doing the same for his mysterious Lulu.

Not only has Forman created two beautifully realized main characters, she's built up a cast of excellent supporting characters as well. Everyone from Allyson's friends Dee and Melanie, to her parents and her grandmother, Willem's friends Broodje and Prateek, and even Willem's fellow actors (and others I won't mention out of fear of spoilers). And one can't fail to mention the various settings - it's clear that Forman has a real passion for travel. The various locales that both Allyson and Willem travel through in the course of their stories are rich in detail and completely come to life through Forman's writing.

Rating (on both): 5/5

Monday, October 21, 2013

Killer Image by Wendy Tyson

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Wendy Tyson's debut, Killer Image.

Image consultant Allison Campbell is one of the best in the business. When a local congressman approaches her about his daughter, though, Allison may have met her match. Maggie McBride is a fifteen-year-old with an attitude. What's more, her goth appearance and her stubborn personality are the exact opposite of the image her father would like to show the public. As a rule Allison doesn't work with teens but Hank McBride isn't one to take no for an answer. Maggie and Allison butt heads from the get go and the job seems like a hopeless one but when Maggie becomes a suspect in a high profile murder, Allison can't help but feel she owes the girl something. 

When I started reading this one, I kind of expected it to be a bit light and fluffy. It most definitely - and thankfully - was not. I was in the mood for something much darker and Killer Image turned out to be a great fit for the mood.

It might seem odd that an image consultant would become wrapped up in a murder investigation, but Tyson made it work. I mean we've seen sports agents become investigators (Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar books) and caterers forced to poke their noses into crimes (Diane Mott Davidson's Schulz series) so why not an image consultant, right? Allison is hired to work on Maggie's image right around the same time a prominent divorce attorney is murdered in his home. They all live in the same area and the attorney in question even represented Allison's own ex father-in-law in his divorce, which leads to Allison being questioned as well. Like I said, Tyson made it work. Killer Image is incredibly well plotted - the story unfolded in a logical manner and Tyson also kept me guessing.

The beginning chapters were a bit concerning: there are quite a few characters at the very outset and there are a number of elements throughout the story that seem to be unconnected when first introduced. I wondered how Violet's story in particular would play out and fit into the overall plot beyond simply showing why Allison didn't take on children as clients. I have to say, though, I was really pleased with how the whole of the book turned out. I hope this is a first in a series as I would love to see more of Allison Campbell and First Impressions.

Rating: 4/5

To see more stops on the tour, check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Wendy Tyson and her work visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

New Releases 10/22/13

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr

Captive by A. D. Robertson

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Abominable by Dan Simmons

The Spanish Queen by Carolly Erickson

Banquet of Lies by Michelle Diener

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

The Hidden by Jo Chumas

Fallen Women by Sandra Dallas

Outlaw by Mark Sullivan

Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Rags & Bones: Twists on Timeless Tales ed by Melissa Marr & Tim Pratt

Teardrop by Lauren Kate

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano

New on DVD:
The Way Way Back
I Give It a Year
The Conjuring
The Internship

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
Red Hill by Jamie McGuire
The Bones of You by Gary McMahon
This House Is Haunted by John Boyne
Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois
Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Bliss House by Laura Benedict

(or, my version of Waiting on Wednesday)

So Laura Benedict has a new book coming out. Squee!!! Benedict is the author of Isabella Moon, Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts, and Devil's Oven, each of which is utterly fantastic. I expect Bliss House will be equally so and I can't wait til I can read it!

Here's the description from from Goodreads:

Amidst the lush farmland and orchards in Old Gate, Virginia, stands the magnificent Bliss House. Built in 1878 as a country retreat, Bliss House is impressive, historic, and inexplicably mysterious. Decades of strange occurrences, disappearances and deaths have plagued the house, yet it remains vibrant. And very much alive.

Rainey Bliss Adams desperately needed a new start when she and her daughter Ariel relocated from St. Louis to Old Gate and settled into the house where the Bliss family had lived for over a century. Rainey's husband had been killed in a freak explosion that left her 14 year-old daughter Ariel scarred and disfigured.

At the grand housewarming party, Bliss House begins to reveal itself again. Ariel sees haunting visions: the ghost of her father, and the ghost of a woman being pushed to her death off of an upper floor balcony, beneath an exquisite dome of painted stars. And then there is a death the night of the party. Who is the murderer in the midst of this small town? And who killed the woman in Ariel's visions? But Bliss House is loath to reveal its secrets, as are the good folks of Old Gate.

Bliss House is due out next June from Pegasus books and is already up for preorder on Amazon. For more on Bliss House, Laura, and her other work (which I highly suggest checking out), visit her blog Notes From the Handbasket. Seriously check her out. You won't regret it!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

Morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for William Kuhn's debut novel, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train.

I'm a bit tight on time here and find the publisher's synopsis of this book quite cute, so I've decided to cheat and use it this time:

After decades of service and years of watching her family's troubles splashed across the tabloids, Britain's Queen is beginning to feel her age. She needs some proper cheering up. An unexpected opportunity offers her relief: an impromptu visit to a place that holds happy memories—the former royal yacht, Britannia, now moored near Edinburgh. Hidden beneath a skull-emblazoned hoodie, the limber Elizabeth (thank goodness for yoga) walks out of Buckingham Palace into the freedom of a rainy London day and heads for King's Cross to catch a train to Scotland. But a characterful cast of royal attendants has discovered her missing. In uneasy alliance a lady-in-waiting, a butler, an equerry, a girl from the stables, a dresser, and a clerk from the shop that supplies Her Majesty's cheese set out to find her and bring her back before her absence becomes a national scandal.

While much of the book is quite lighthearted and silly (the idea of The Queen donning a hoodie and sneaking out of the castle, for example), Mrs. Queen Takes the Train is amazingly realistic. I really wasn't surprised to learn that Kuhn's previous works were biographies as, in my opinion, this book does actually read a bit like a bio. What I mean by that is that each of Kuhn's characters, The Queen included, feels real: while the abovementioned hoodie sporting Queen is certainly giggleworthy, the way Kuhn tells each part of the story makes the whole of it believable on top of amusing.

And there are some serious parts as well. The fact that The Queen is upset about the possible retirement of the royal train is just one of many examples of a sort of analysis of the monarchy and their traditions. The PM points out to The Queen that the train isn't cost effective and that public sentiment would likely support a more inexpensive - and modern - mode of travel, to which Kuhn's Queen responds, "The monarchy does not exist to be modern..."

The characters in the book cover a full spectrum of the British population - we have The Queen herself as well as a number of people in her service and her periphery: Luke, the equerry, recently returned form Iraq and still dealing with the loss of a very close friend; Rajiv, a young man of Indian descent who doesn't quite feel he belongs in either England or India; Shirley MacDonald, The Queen's most senior "dresser" and a woman who's given her life to service. All of these characters and many more outline a number of facets of this society in terms of age, politics and worldviews, and class division.

All in all, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train can be read as an enjoyable piece of fiction or as an examination of English society and the monarchy wrapped up in an enjoyable piece of fiction. Either way it's a fun and entertaining read.

Rating: 3.5/5

To see more stops on the tour, check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on William Kuhn and his work you can visit his website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Red Hill by Jamie McGuire

Scarlet thought it was going to be a normal weekend. She dropped her daughters off at school - it was her ex's weekend with them and he was supposed to be picking them up that afternoon - and headed off to work. Her first case of the day was an odd one, a woman who's lost twenty pounds in a matter of days. The patient hadn't traveled or done any otherwise odd or different things, but mentioned that she'd been attacked and bitten on her way home one evening. When the doctors opened her up her insides were literally dead. Even still, Scarlet didn't connect the odd radio reports of the morning with what was happening until the hospital was in crisis mode. When the patients started attacking, Scarlet got out of there quick. Her one goal: to find her daughters before it's too late.

Zombiepocalypse! Zombiepocalypse! It's a zombiepocalypse and I'm still not sick of zombies :)

So yeah, I was pretty excited about Jamie McGuire's Red Hill. In spite of what my synopsis above implies, there are actually three main characters in the book and we get alternating chapters from each of their perspectives. First is Scarlet, of course. Then we meet Nathan, a father whose wife leaves him just as the outbreak begins. He's dead set on protecting his daughter, Zoe, at any cost and heads off in search of a safe place to bunk down during this whole mess. Then we meet Miranda who, along with her sister and both of their boyfriends, is heading out to meet their dad for the weekend. Her dad just happens to be a doctor who works alongside Scarlet AND owns a remote ranch that Scarlet jokes would be the best place to ride out the apocalypse.

All of the stories interweave and connect at multiple points throughout the book, which is really cool. McGuire plays with the timeline as well giving us pieces of each story as they overlap. And while this is your typical zombiepocalypse tale (complete with a suspiciously Daryl-like character) it's such a freaking fun read!

The book is set in Kansas, which is kind of perfect for the story: it gives the characters plenty of zombies to fight and a believable scenario where they can hole up and get away while still being able to scavenge around for supplies and such. (It's also a good scenario for building the particular overlapping I mentioned above - it makes total sense that the characters would cross paths and come together in this small however many square miles radius.)

Red Hill is a quick read - got through the first 1/3 fighting my latest bout of insomnia - and one that you won't want to put down (never the best choice when you need sleep but at least I enjoyed the book while being exhausted!).

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

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Horror for Halloween Giveaway

I think I'm pretty well stocked up on horror for the TBR this month. I've just ordered a couple of UK titles: Neil Spring's debut, The Ghost Hunters, and Alison Littlewood's second release, Path of Needles (not sure if this one is horror or just a thriller, we'll see). I've got some e stuff as well, Open Road Media's new rerelease of Thomas Tryon's Lady and Gary McMahon's Nightsiders. John Ajvide Lindqvist's Let the Old Dreams Die is at the top of my review list as we speak along with teen zombie books Undead and Unfed by Kirsty McKay and I'm currently wrapping up reading Jamie McGuire's Red Hill. So yeah, I'm covered for a while :)

I've got some stuff to give away, though, if you're feigning for some good horror this season and need to bump up your own TBR. I'll do these as three separate giveaways but you can most certainly enter all three if you like.

First up is the newly released paperback of Joe Hill's NOS4A2 (you can read my review here).

And I've got two paperbacks from John Ajvide Lindqvist up for grabs as well, Harbor and Little Star.

To enter, just fill out the rafflecopters below before Monday, October 28. US only please. Note - if you're entering more than one of the giveaways and opt for the comment option, you only need to leave one comment on this post :)

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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The Bones of You by Gary McMahon

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to review Michael Marshall Smith's short story collection, Everything You Need. The book was released in September from Earthling Publications, a company known for their limited edition horror titles. As a huge horror fan I have to say I'm incredibly excited about everything Earthling does, especially their annual Halloween series. This year's addition is Gary McMahon's The Bones of You.

Adam Morris wants nothing more than to provide a good life for his daughter. After some scrapes with the law, he's been told to shape up in order to meet the custody requirements that allow him to see her every other weekend. To that end, Adam has found a new rental home that will be perfect for his daughter's visits. Little does Adam know, the neighborhood was once home to the infamous Miss Moffat, a woman who killed a dozen children and buried them in her cellar. Katherine Moffat has been dead for two years, but the abandoned house next door - the house where Miss Moffat lived - still bears the stain of her crimes. 

Adam Morris is a good dad and basically an ok guy who's in a crap position. His ex is a mess and yet it's his own mistakes that make him the lesser fit parent. Right away it's easy to side with him and see that he's doing everything he can for his daughter. But every step he takes towards progress begins to be undermined by the ominous presence of the house next door. It's an insidious undermining and one that I think McMahon builds really well with the atmosphere of the book.

Soooo this was a freaking creepy book. Really, given the right atmosphere it would probably have put me in a bit of a state (you know, if I'd been reading it in the house alone in the middle of the night!). And the pumpkin seeds! (Read it, you'll see.)

Amazingly this is my first official read by Gary McMahon. I bought his book The Concrete Grove a bit back there and it's been lingering on my TBR shelf, staring at me accusingly ever since. It's been bumped up now thanks to The Bones of You. This is a straight up genuine creepy read with a flawed hero to root for and a big bad that might scare the bejeezus out of you if you let it. It might also make you wonder next time you drive by a manky abandoned house (or move in next to one!).

The Bones of You is a short read and a perfect one for this Halloween season. Definitely recommended!

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Was Forced to Read

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: books we were forced to read.

Mine are a combination of school reads, suggestions from other people, and plain old social pressures!

1. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand - after years of disliking almost all of school's required reading, I was set to loathe The Fountainhead. And it's a book that comes with a long line of fair warnings of such. But I did so enjoy it. Perhaps because I'd already voluntarily read two of Rand's other works. 

2. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson - so it's short stories and it was a required read my freshman year in college. But oh, how I loved this book! 

3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - my sister read the trilogy before I did and harassed me to no end until I read them myself. Of course they were fantastic (I'd have gotten to them on my own eventually.)

4. A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton - while I can't say that this is the one that totally hooked me with this series, I can say that Kinsey Millhone quickly became one of my favorite characters. My ex's mother had the whole series and suggested I try them out. I read one a night (between 11 and 2) every night until I was caught up. 

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - again one I'm sure I would have come to on my own but was required reading in college. While I didn't quite think I would hate this one, I did think that it would be more of a trial to read than it turned out to be. I zipped through it way before we were supposed to finish and loved every page!

6. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld - no one actually forced me to read this one or even suggested that I do so. Instead, this was one that was doing so well in our store that I finally gave into my own curiosity and tried a few pages while shelving one morning. I soon realized I was sitting in the aisle wholeheartedly devouring pages and bought my own copy. 

7. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman - back in my bookselling days a marketing person with the publishing company was actually shocked when I revealed I'd never read any Neil Gaiman. He sent me a reissued copy of this one and I fell in love with it.

8. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett - this book made its way around a group of my high school friends. I bought two copies for my husband before giving into his constant prompts to read it. 

9. Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin - the first time I tried this one, I gave up in chapter one. The first three books sat on my shelves for five years until I decided to give the show a go. So it was a combination of bookshelf guilt and binge watching season one that forced me to dive int. Now I'm a huge dork for the series!

10. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier - I don't know how many times I picked this book up and put it back before I read it. In the end, I'd written it off as something that wouldn't be my cup of tea until an email newsletter I belonged to sent out an excerpt of the book. I bought the trilogy the very next day.

The Prodigal by Michael Hurley

Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Michael Hurley's The Prodigal.

After a well-intentioned deception on a case is revealed, hot-shot lawyer Aiden Sharpe finds himself suddenly without a job. A helpful friend sends him to Father Marcus on Ocracoke Island, a man known for helping lost souls in more ways than one. Island life is much simpler for Aiden and here he begins to put the pieces of his world back together. Soon, however, Aiden and his friends become part of a mystery that's generations in the making.

Hurley's book is packed with interesting characters - from Aiden and Marcus to Ibrahim and Zoot and of course, Sarah. And we get to spend quite a bit of time with each of them, learning their histories and their quirks, before really getting into the meat of the story. I guess, though, that the characters could really be considered the "meat" of this particular story. The promised mystery doesn't so much come into play until about 2/3 of the way through the book, which I initially found a bit confusing. After all, we begin with a prologue from 1851 and then jump directly into Aiden's story spending the next two hundred pages (give or take) wondering when they'll come back into play and how they relate to the rest of the book.

They do say patience is a virtue and The Prodigal is a book where patience pays off.

All of that said, I would be doing the book a disservice if I led you to believe that any part of it is without merit or in any way something other than a joy to read. Because it is - a joy to read. Getting to know Aiden and the islanders, learning some of the ins and outs of island life and boating, all of it is incredibly descriptive and well written. Really, it's a wonderful character driven literary read that would stack up against the best of book club choices.  

Rating: 4/5

To see more stops on the tour, check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Michael Hurley, you can like him on Facebook.

The author has dropped the e-book price of The Prodigal from $5.99 to $0.99 for this blog tour.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Excerpt: Death and the Girl He Loves by Darynda Jones

Hello, all! I'm super happy to be part of the latest Darynda Jones tour! This time it's in honor of the latest release in the Darklight series, Death and the Girl He Loves. So today I've got the next excerpt for you and - of course - the giveaway links, too.

“Do you feel bad again?” she asked me, alarmed. 

“Yes, I do. I’m sorry.” I started to rise, but I could hardly leave Crystal alone with a bonafide psychopath. She needed to know who he was. What he was. And she needed to steer all kinds of clear of this guy. What a whack job. 

Then again, how did I explain this to her? My position was too precarious. Too much was at stake for me to risk anything. I had to survive the next few days. I had to at least try to stop the coming war. Left with little choice, I realized I had to leave. Now. I could hardly fight him. A knife in even the most inept hands was a very dangerous weapon. It wasn’t like I knew karate. Or judo. Or Pilates. I totally should have watched more Bruce Lee movies growing up. Considering my lack of experience, I didn’t stand a chance against him. He seemed quite determined. And agile. 

I’d made up my mind. Tonight I would sneak out, buy a plane ticket, and go home.

And now for the giveaway. Just a reminder, this is open internationally. Be sure to hit up the other stops on the tour for extra entries.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

New Releases 10/15/13

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman

Killer's Art by Mari Jungstedt

Dark City by F. Paul Wilson

Copperhead by Tina Connolly

Styx & Stone by James W. Ziskin

Fiendish Schemes by K.W. Jeter

The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Wasteland Saga by Nick Cole

The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson

Crooked Numbers by Tim O'Mara

The Police by Jo Nesbo

Dead Man's Time by Peter James

The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice

Identical by Scott Turow

Behind Shattered Glass by Tasha Alexander

Backlash by Lynda La Plante

The Wolves of Midwinter by Anne Rice

Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

Chickens in the Road by Suzanne McMinn

Revealed by P.C. Cast

The Darkest Minds Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken

New on DVD:
The Heat
The Colony

Blackout by Robison Wells

In the midst of a number of terrorist attacks, a virus is spreading throughout the country. It hits teens and results in a number of strange symptoms including random supernatural abilities. When it is learned that the terrorists themselves are some of these affected kids, the government begins rounding up droves of teenagers everywhere in order to test for the virus and hopefully create their own teams to combat the terrorists. 

This latest from Robison Wells (author of Variant and Feedback) is part X-Men and all action. Thing is, while the book is fine it didn't blow me away and I'm not 100% sure why.

First, it is clearly the beginning of a new series. Blackout does not have an all encompassing plot of its own and readers should definitely be prepared.

Aubrey and Jack, two of the lead characters, have a nice set up and relationship to build from. Alec and Laura are understandably much more mysterious: they're part of the terrorist group whose plot is still unclear by the end of Blackout. And perhaps that's my problem. Nothing is explained in much detail and there are no conclusions at all. Everything is left up in the air at the end of this first installment. I wanted SOME answers. Any answers at all. Who's in charge of the terrorists? What's their goal? Who created the virus?

I would have been happy with anything.

Instead we get simply a prelude with more to come. Maybe I'm just tiring of that kind of setup or maybe it's just that other series in this vein have had more satisfying series starts. I'm not entirely sure. What I do know is that by the end of Blackout I felt a bit (sadly) relieved simply to be finished.

That sounds so mean! I really don't mean to be. The book isn't at all bad. Wells's writing isn't bad. Blackout was just a miss for me personally.

Rating: 3/5

Friday, October 11, 2013

Oddities and Entities by Roland Allnach

Morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Roland Allnach's Oddities and Entities.

More creepy short story reads for this so far colder than I'd like October! The collection kicks off with a tale called "Boneview," which is probably the most chilling story in the book. In this tale, a young girl possesses a strange ability and an odd friend she calls the Curmudgeon. Then we move on to "Shift/Change" in which a new morgue employee turns out to be something unexpected. Next is "My Other Me," kind of a play on multiple personalities. In "Gray" one man learns that odd product warnings are sometimes very important. "Elmer Phelps" is Allnach's own version of a vampire tale. Finally, in "Appendage" a man is hired for a job he should never have taken. 

Each of the stories in this collection is creepy and completely odd - "Gray" probably more so than the rest! They're all pretty excellent though. Everyone seems to agree that "Boneview" is the true stand out and I won't argue (it's definitely my favorite) but overall this is a really worthwhile set of shorts. Fans of quirky horror should definitely give it a try and I'm sure they'll be with me in hoping to see more from Allnach very soon indeed.

To see more stops on the tour, check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Roland Allnach and his work, you can visit his website here. You can also check out his blog, Out of the Horizon, friend him on Facebook, and become a fan on Goodreads.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois

Morning, all! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Jennifer duBois's Cartwheel.

For Lily, a semester abroad in Buenos Aires meant an adventure and a time for real freedom. In just five weeks, though, the twenty-one-year-old would be imprisoned, charged with killing her housemate. Katy was brutally murdered and the police believe Lily is guilty. She found the body, she called the officials, but her reactions are off and everything indicates that she and the other girl didn't really get along. It seems everyone has already made up their minds but is Lily really guilty?

Oh, this book! While I didn't dislike it, I'm not sure I can say that I completely enjoyed it. It's definitely one that needs a good chunk of time devoted to it, time that I simply didn't have while reading it. duBois is a wordy writer and at times I thought it was a poetic wordiness with every sentence built with a graceful and almost melodic style. At other times, however, I thought I'd go permanently cross eyed trying to wrap my head around the image a particular sentence was trying to convey!

I love the fact that the story is told through a variety of points of view. It forces the reader to constantly reconsider any ideas they have about Lily and the crime. The timeline shifts as well - we begin with Lily's father just after her arrest, moving to the fiscal de camara (the prosecutor), then jumping back to one month before the crime with Lily and Sebastien, and back post arrest with her father's narrative, etc.

Honestly the constant did she or didn't she and if she did, WHY?! hooked me. The impact of the case on the people directly involved was interesting as well. I would have liked to have gotten some of Katy and her family's story - Katy was a constant mystery to me. Whereas we do get some of Lily's POV, we get nothing from or about Katy that isn't skewed by another character's perceptions. And the varying perceptions people have about one another is, I believe, exactly the point of Cartwheel.

One thing everyone keeps pointing out - and yes, there's mention of it in the book as well - is that Cartwheel is loosely inspired by the Amanda Knox case. Beyond actually knowing Knox's name and the crime she was accused of, I know none of the specifics. None. Not a one. So if you followed the case, as a few of the reviewers on the tour have, then you'll catch more connections than I did for sure.

Rating: 3.5/5

To see more stops on the tour, check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Jennifer and her work visit her official website here, You can also follow her on Twitter.