Monday, June 30, 2014

The Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Deborah Lawrenson's The Sea Garden

Three women with three very different stories all connected by one mystery. 

Ellie Brooke has been hired to restore a memorial garden on the island of Porquerolles. Her arrival is marred by a shocking tragedy but the job is inspiring. Unfortunately things turn out to be quite different than they seem and the island is both steeped in history and haunted by a dark past. 

For Marthe, being taken on at the Distillerie Musset is a dream come true. But WWII brings danger to Provence and Nazi occupation leaves everyone vulnerable. Marthe knows the people around her are keeping secrets, but it is only later that she learns the truth and it's one that places them all at risk.

In England, Iris's part in the war effort involves winnowing out possible spies to send into enemy territory. It's a job that's highly secretive and highly stressful. Then she meets and falls for one of the overseas agents. Their relationship is one that can never exist beyond the war, but that doesn't stop Iris from seeking him out after he's declared missing in the liberation. 

Oh, I loved this book! This is not my first outing with Lawrenson. Her 2011 debut, The Lantern, was one I'd greatly enjoyed both for its lush setting and the vivid imagery. You can imagine then that I'd be looking forward to The Sea Garden with great anticipation. (You'd be correct.) And it almost completely lived up to my admittedly high expectations as well. 

Yet again, Lawrenson's settings and imagery are wonderful. The story moves from the Porquerolles (an island I was previously unfamiliar with and would now desperately love to visit!) to Provence and then to London. Time wise we move from present day to WWII and back again and I found that Lawrenson - at least to my mind - perfectly evoked the feelings of the respective eras and the emotions of each of the characters we meet along the way. 

The book is cleverly built as three interconnected novellas - "The Sea Garden," "The Lavender Field," and "A Shadow Life" - and it's not until the end of the book that you really understand all of the connections. It's also not until the end of the book that you learn the fate of many of the characters, with one exception - folks who have read Lawrenson's The Lantern will recognize Marthe as one of the characters from that book. You don't have to have read it to dive into The Sea Garden but it was a nice sort of return to that earlier story. 

My only issue - and it's not really an issue at all - is that there still seemed to be some unanswered questions at the end of "A Shadow Life." Or just as likely, some things I maybe missed as being resolved somewhere along the way. 

Rating: 4/5

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

For more on the author and her work, you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her blog here.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

New Releases 7/1/14

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The String Diaries by Stephen Jones

Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Breakwater Bay by Shelley Noble

Grave Doubts by Elizabeth Corley

Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins

Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon

God is an Astronaut by Alyson Foster

Inside Man by Jeff Abbott

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer

Never Coming Back by Tim Weaver (7/3)

Sorrow Bound by David Mark (7/3)

Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

Beautiful Oblivion by Jamie McGuire

Born of Fury by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Don't Talk to Strangers by Amanda Kyle Williams

Hurricane Fever by Tobias S. Buckell

The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Last Night At the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

A Possibility of Violence by D. A. Mishani

The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil

The City by Dean Koontz

Wolfsbane by Gillian Philip

Reckoning by Kerry Wilkinson

Copper Magic by Julia Mary Gibson

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Unwept by Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman

New on DVD:
A Young Doctor's Notebook

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
Reckless Disregard by Robert Rotstein
Dualed by Elsie Chapman

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes's The Shining Girls seriously blew me away and I've been feigning for a new title from her ever since. Well, the wait is ALMOST over: Broken Monsters will be hitting shelves Stateside on September 16th from Mulholland (July for UK and South Africa).

In the meantime, here's the description from Goodreads to tide us all over:

Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit's standards; half-boy, half-deer, somehow fused. The cops nickname him "Bambi," but as stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?

If you're Detective Versado's over-achieving teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you are the disgraced journalist, Jonno, you do whatever it takes to investigate what may become the most heinous crime story in memory. If you're Thomas Keen, you'll do what you can to keep clean, keep your head down, and try to help the broken and possibly visionary artist obsessed with setting loose The Dream, tearing reality, assembling the city anew.

Friday, June 27, 2014

"The Laughing Buddha" by M.J. Rose and Lisa Gardner

Since 2006 the International Thriller Writers has been penning and releasing original publications and anthologies to support the group. For thriller fans, it's true candy to supplement the ever-growing craving for more and more thrillers!

This year, the group has put together a truly novel collection in FaceOff. Edited by David Baldacci, the collection features pair ups of some of the most popular thriller writers out there, with their most famous characters facing off (pun intended) together in fabulous original stories! Some of the pair ups include R. L. Stine's Slappy vs Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's Pendergast in "Gaslighted," Heather Graham's Michael Quinn vs F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack in "Infernal Night," and Lee Child's Jack Reacher vs Joseph Finder's Nick Heller in "Good and Valuable Consideration." And of course, M.J. Rose's Malachai Samuels vs Lisa Gardner's D. D. Warren in "The Laughing Buddha."

When an antique dealer is discovered gunned down in his Beach Street shop, Boston sergeant detective D. D. Warren and her partners are called to the scene. At first it appears nothing has been taken but further inspection reveals that a large jade Buddha has gone missing from the dead man's office. The investigation soon leads Warren to Malachai Samuels, of the Phoenix Foundation. Samuels is known for his work with past-life regression. He's also known for his run ins with the law. And while he's never been convicted of anything, it doesn't make him an innocent man - but is he responsible for the antique dealer's death? And what's the significance of the jade Buddha?

"The Laughing Buddha" certainly isn't necessary to either the Reincarnationist or D. D. Warren series but fans of either or both will love this little bonus cross over story. Many an investigator has tried to bring down Samuels but I'll leave it to you to discover whether in D. D. he has finally met his match!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

In the End by Demitria Lunetta

Amy has been on her own for three months since escaping the ward and leaving New Hope. In that time she's had no contact with Baby, Rice, or any of the others, but her hope has been that her absence will keep them safe. She was wrong. Kay risks contact long enough to let Amy know that Dr. Reynolds has taken a special interest in Baby since her escape. Kay has a plan, though. She sends Amy to Fort Black where her brother, Ken, is a researcher. If Amy can find Ken and earn his trust, he may be able to help save Baby. But when Amy arrives, Fort Black is nothing like she'd imagined. Inside is a war zone with survivors fighting daily just to get by and the mysterious Ken is nowhere to be found. Amy is more than capable of taking care of herself but she'll have to rely on the help of an insider if she's going to have any hope of saving her sister.

I really, really loved Lunetta's debut, In the After. It was one of my favorite books last year. I didn't actually love it's follow up, though. It's a shame really but I felt like most of what I enjoyed so much in the first outing was missing in In the End.

I think the environment is to blame. Fort Black is the polar opposite of New Hope in a lot of ways and Lunetta does a great job illustrating that. Much of the story is focused on Amy's search for the researcher, though, and it started to become somewhat wearying.

I wanted more of the Floraes, I wanted more of the science and the vaccine attempts, I wanted more of the action at New Hope as well. I really don't want to give anything away so I'll limit myself to saying I felt the best parts of the book went by much too quickly. The balance felt off, as though too much time was spent carefully building the setting while the actual story fell to the wayside.

In the End is an ok finish to what started out so fabulously in In the After but I wish it had lived up to my overall expectations and let us go out with a bang!

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Guest Post by Gail Z. Martin + a Giveaway

This week marks the release of Gail Z. Martin's latest, Deadly Curiosities, which also just happens to be her very first urban fantasy novel release! In honor of occasion, Gail has kindly agreed to a post here today. But first, a bit about the book for you:

Welcome to Trifles & Folly, an antique and curio shop with a dark secret. Proprietor Cassidy Kincaide continues a family tradition begun in 1670 – acquiring and neutralizing dangerous supernatural items. It’s the perfect job for Cassidy, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history.

Together with her business partner Sorren, a 500-year-old vampire and former jewel thief, Cassidy makes it her business to get infernal objects off the market. When mundane antiques suddenly become magically malicious, it’s time for Cassidy and Sorren to get rid of these Deadly Curiosities before the bodies start piling up.

Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of Deadly Curiosities to offer up for giveaway. Be sure to read through to the bottom to enter.

I have been a fan of Martin's epic fantasy series so of course I'm super excited about this latest. And while this is again her first urban fantasy novel, it is not the first time readers have been given a taste of this world. Nope, Gail is a prolific short story author with a collection of tales featuring this particular world already out and available for purchase (you can find the full list and links here - and check out this post on how they all tie in).

Since you all know what a fan of short fiction I am, and since this new series has its roots in short fiction, I thought that would be the perfect prompt for Gail today. On that note, I'll hand things over to her now!

Why Short Fiction Still Matters 

By Gail Z. Martin 

Not too long ago, short fiction terrified me. I didn’t flinch at a contract requiring 175,000 words, but 8000 – 10,000? Horrors! Then a friend invited me to be in her anthology, and I said yes—with trepidation. Turns out I enjoyed writing the story, which was required to have both pirates and magic in it. 

That started the ball rolling. Since then, I’ve said yes to fifteen anthologies, and I’ve started to write two series of direct-to-ebook short story series, with a new story every month on Kindle, Kobo and Nook. One of the anthologies that included a short story of mine, “Magic: Esoteric and Arcane” went on to win a British Fantasy Society award for Best Anthology and be nominated for a Nebula award for Best Anthology. And from those anthologies have come other invitations to participate in new anthologies, plus a contract for my “Deadly Curiosities” novel/series, which expands on the characters and world I created in “Magic”. 

Some folks love writing short stories and don’t worry about novels, in the same way some authors only write long fiction. I’ll also admit that I take a little different approach to short stories, since mine tend to be stories in a series with continuing characters, somewhat like a serialized novel. That’s very different from the friends of mine who have sold hundreds of stand-alone short stories to magazines. I’ve also heard it said that “Novelists are failed short-story authors and short-story authors are failed novelists.” While I get the humor in that concept, I think it does an injustice to most authors. 

In my opinion, a short story is more difficult to write than a novel because you’ve only got about twenty or so pages to fully convey plot, character and setting with enough skill to emotionally engage your reader and spin a memorable tale. There’s a lot more wiggle room in a novel, more set-up time, more space to expand and flesh out. While writing a novel poses its own challenges, short stories aren’t “easier” just because they’re short. 

For authors, short fiction offers several benefits. Anthologies are a “sampler platter” where readers who might not take a chance on a full novel from an unknown author can take your writing out for a low-risk test drive to decide if they want to go further. Depending on the anthology, short stories can also provide a nice advance check—from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Being in an anthology can put an author in esteemed company, a nice boost for a new author to be among more established peers. And as in my own experience, a successful short story can spawn a new novel or series. Not only that, but short stories allow an author room to experiment with concepts and characters that may not warrant a whole novel, but are interesting to explore. They permit an author to grow and stretch. 

The two series of short stories I publish direct to Kindle, Kobo and Nook gives me the ability to keep a narrative going in two worlds that weaves around and in-between my books. My Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures series explores the background of a popular character from my Chronicles of the Necromancer books, essentially building a prequel one story at a time. Likewise, my Deadly Curiosities Adventures are tied in to my new “Deadly Curiosities” urban fantasy Plus, writing to the theme of an anthology is just plain fun, forcing me outside my normal comfort zone. 

For readers, short stories have that “sampler platter” benefit in reverse, providing access to bite-sized fiction by authors you might have heard about but not tried yet. It’s a great way to discover a new author without committing to an entire book. Themed anthologies can be lots of fun as you see authors create stories with unique variations on the central concept. And as many readers tell me, short stories are nice to read on a commute because they don’t leave you hanging mid-chapter until the end of the work day! 

There seems to be some debate on whether or not anthologies are good for publishers. Magazines of short fiction have certainly seen a tough market, with many long-established publications going out of business, moving completely online, decreasing the number of issues per year or raising prices to make up for a diminished readership. Editorial cut-backs at the big publishers have left editors with less time to take on anthology projects, and budget constraints have made the big publishers wary of projects that don’t have slam-dunk potential. 

On the other hand, many small presses embrace anthologies and seem to do quite well with them (based on the fact that they keep bringing out more and more anthologies). Anthologies do well on Kickstarter, since the publisher has perhaps thirty collaborating authors to promote the campaign instead of just one. Many of these anthologies are published without author advances, or with very low advances but the promise of royalties. What the small press can offer is a combination of at-convention sales to a core of engaged fan readers, as well as the flexibility to explore niche themes. An anthology with a winning theme and a few dozen authors may well seem less risky for a small press to produce than a novel with a single author, since a reader who loves the theme and loves most of the anthology writers perceives a success, where the sales of a novel hinge on a single author’s skill. 

Despite what you may have heard, I think that short fiction is going strong, and will be around for quite a while. So the next time you feel like snacking on a story instead of a full sit-down meal of fiction, grab a short story and dig in! 

About the author: Gail Z. Martin is the author of the new epic fantasy Reign of Ash (Orbit Books 2014) and Deadly Curiosities, a new urban fantasy novel (July 2014 Solaris Books), set in Charleston, SC. She is also author of Ice Forged in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, War of Shadows (Orbit Books, 2015), and Iron and Blood, a Steampunk novel (2015, Solaris Books). She is the author of The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven & Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn and The Dread) from Orbit Books. She writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures

Gail’s work will appear in at several new anthologies in 2014: Clockwork Universe Steampunk vs. Aliens, Athena’s Daughters, Dreams of Steel 5, The Big Bad 2, Dance Like a Monkey, plus an illustrated story in Icarus: A Graphic Novel, Heroes (stretch goal author) the British Fantasy Society’s Unexpected Journeys and With Great Power, a superhero anthology. Other US/UK anthologies include Magic (Solaris), The Bitten Word, Rum & Runestones, Spells & Swashbucklers, and The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women

Find her at www.ChroniclesOfTheNecromancer.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com. She leads monthly conversations on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin and posts free excerpts of her work on Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

Big, big thanks to Gail for being here today and big thanks as well to the folks over at Solaris! And now for the giveaway. This one is open internationally! To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, July 7. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins

Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Max Allan Collins's latest, Supreme Justice.

It looked like a robbery gone wrong - gunmen busted into a DC restaurant while Supreme Court Justice Henry Venter and his clerk were having a drink after work. The gunman turned to the clerk, Venter stood to make a move and was gunned down for his efforts. 

Enter ex Secret Service agent Joseph Reeder, aka Peep. After taking a bullet for the president, Reeder left the Service under not so friendly terms when he shared some of his opinions on the current political scene. Now he runs his own company, ABC Security. Reeder's skills in kinesics, "reading" body language, have made him a sought after consultant, which is why the folks investigating Venter's death approach him for his opinions on the case. What Reeder sees in the recording of the crime proves Venter's death was not in fact accidental. Venter was assassinated. And it soon begins to look as though there could be other targets to come. 

This is a prime example of a book that definitely came to me at the wrong time. And I truly hate it when that happens. Supreme Justice is not overly heavy in politics but overall it's a topic I'm a bit over at the moment. There's just too much mess in real life for it to appeal to me in my fiction. I would say, maybe in a different political climate, that the politicians seemed like over the top caricatures of the real thing but...

The idea of using kinesics to solve crimes is actually a compelling one. Reeder's skills read believably so there's really no point where it seems like a stretch that things are unfolding the way they do. And honestly, the plot and pacing are pretty dead on for a great thriller. So while this book and I weren't a fit, there's really nothing keeping me from recommending Supreme Justice to a reader more open to the setting than I currently am.

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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Guest Post by Sarah Hilary + a Giveaway

Good morning, readers! Today marks the release of Sarah Hilary's US debut, Someone Else's Skin, the first in her Marnie Rome series. This one popped up on my reading radar this spring and I've been greatly anticipating the release ever since!

Today I've got Sarah Hilary herself on the blog and, thanks to the publisher, a copy of Someone Else's Skin to giveaway. First, though, a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Five years ago, a shocking and bloody crime left Detective Inspector Marnie Rome’s parents dead. Not even her partner, Detective Sergeant Noah Jake, knows much about Marnie’s past. Though as one of the few gay officers on the force, Noah’s not one to over-share about his private life either.

By chance, Marnie and Noah are at the domestic violence shelter when Hope Proctor stabs her husband, Leo. It should be an open and shut case of self-defense, but none of the eight witnesses tells quite the same story. And the question remains: How did Leo get into the secure building? As the violence spirals, Marnie finds herself drawn into a place where the past casts long shadows and she must tread carefully to survive.

I expect you see now why I've been looking forward to this one! Be sure to read through to the bottom to enter to win your very own copy. And now I'll hand things over to Sarah Hilary as she talks about what drew her to the thriller genre:

What drew me to the mystery/thriller genre? When I was about ten years old, someone introduced me to Sherlock Holmes. Those stories became my first real reading obsession, and while much of that is down to Holmes’s character, it’s also about the structure of the stories. 

Anarchy and order

I love the complexity and the neatness of the genre, the way it sets up expectations and then perverts them. Even when order is restored, at its best, I think this is a very anarchic genre.

That’s certainly true of some of my favourite crime reads. Innocent Blood by PD James, for example, which plays with our moral and emotional pre-conceptions. The Collector by John Fowles is another brilliant example, and structurally very different to most novels. Two of my favourite books are The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, who was one of the first contemporary crime writers to tackle serial killing at a psychological level.

Flashy tricks

I’m also a big fan of flash fiction, or what is sometimes called micro crime fiction. I love the discipline and the wickedness: telling a story in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette; it shouldn’t work, but it absolutely can and does. Like longer crime fiction, flash takes us straight to the detail of the story. Think of those long zoom shots at the start of Hitchcock’s films – the cityscape, the street, the building, the room, the desk, the knife… Now jump-cut to the knife. But – and here’s the trick – you have to do it without losing the story. You need to be a bit of a magician to pull it off. Maybe that’s why I love the TV series The Mentalist so much.

Compassion is crucial

I’ve been asked why I picked such a difficult genre to write in, given the need for this discipline of plotting, twists, magic tricks. Oh and bloodymindedness, and more than a dash of defiance. But a writer’s ego is a strange beast – you have to lose almost all the arrogance you start out with, but not so much that you give up on the (crazy, mad, impossible) dream that you will be published. The iron has to enter your soul, but not at the expense of your imagination. And a mystery/thriller writer needs compassion, especially if you’re tackling complex and dark issues as I am in Someone Else's Skin: violence within culture, race, gender and sexual preference. You must never lose sight of the heart of your story.

Plot comes from character

I’ve always found characterization easier than plotting, but plenty of readers have remarked on the great way in which Someone Else's Skin juggles three different multi-layered plots. Well, I have to admit I didn’t structure the first draft in that way. It developed into the multi-layered plot as I added the detail. I’ve found this is the way I write best: I add layers once I have the spine of the story in place. I also think plot comes from character, not the other way around. Characterization is something else that the mystery/thriller genre does so well. 

We remember Sherlock Holmes, even when the details of the plots have faded from memory. The same is true, I’m sure, for Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. The genre has given us some of literature’s best villains and heroes; another great reason to love it.

About the author: Sarah Hilary lives in Bath, England, with her husband and daughter, where she writes quirky copy for a well-loved travel publisher. She’s also worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. An award-winning short-story writer, she won the Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012. SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN is her first novel. Visit her at https://www.facebook.com/Sarah.Hilary.Author

Huge, huge thanks to Sarah Hilary for being here today and also to the great folks over at Penguin for setting this up.

Now for the giveaway: to enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, July 7. US only please and no PO boxes. Good luck!

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Monday, June 23, 2014

All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Alafair Burke's latest, All Day and a Night!

Over a decade ago Anthony Amaro was tried and convicted for the murder of Donna Blank. She was the suspected fourth victim in a series of murders and the police were able to get a confession out of Amaro for her case. So when Helen Brunswick is killed in present day in present-day Brooklyn in a manner similar to that of Amaro's suspected crimes, no one initially draws a connection. But when the DA's office receives a letter claiming Amaro's innocence and suggesting that the killer is not only free but still committing crimes, the case is handed over to Ellie and her partner to investigate. 

Meanwhile, Amaro has a top-notch defense attorney on his side as well as Donna Blank's sister. Carrie wants her sister's killer to pay for his crimes and knows that joining Amaro's team will allow her full access to the case files. 

This series seriously just keeps getting better and better. Ellie is a clever and tough-as-nails cop with fabulous development. The opening scene in this one alone proves it as she outwits her partner in an investigation where they disagree on a witness's testimony. It's pretty awesome and - for series newbies - is a great introduction to Ellie Hatcher.

The details and intricacies of this mystery (of all of Burke's stories) are the kind that will keep you up late reading, so you've got fair warning from me on that. Yes, I did dive into this pretty late at night and had a very hard time putting it down to go to bed. Of course that's always a sign of a great thriller and a great plot - that desperate need to find out what will happen next, so much so that you start neglecting basic needs (like sleep and meals).

As always, All Day and a Night can very easily be approached by readers who have yet to begin the series even though it is technically fifth in the series, but because I'd hate for a fellow book junkie to miss out on anything, here's the full series list in order for you:

Dead Connection
Angel's Tip
Never Tell
All Day and a Night

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

For more on Alafair Burke and her work, you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

New Releases 6/24/14

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Eyes on You by Kate White

The Blasted Lands by James A. Moore

Someone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary

The American Mission by Matthew Palmer

Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour

The Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin

Fearful Symmetries ed by Ellen Datlow

Strange Gods by Annamaria Alfieri

Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica

The Last Taxi Ride by A. X. Ahmad

The Arsonist by Sue Miller

Identity by Ingrid Thoft

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas

The Remaining: Aftermath by D.J. Molles

The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry

Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner (6/26)

In the End by Demitria Lunetta

The Stepsister's Tale by Tracy Barrett

Rain by Amanda Sun

Drowned by Nichola Reilly

License to Spill by Lisi Harrison

New on DVD:
300: Rise of an Empire
Winter's Tale

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Magnificent Crime by Kim Foster

Cat Montgomery is back but not in perfect form. After the Fabergé egg incident, she's come down with a sudden case of the shakes. Or more accurately, panic attacks. Like the one she had while scaling a building on a recent job. The timing was less than perfect and left her forced to find a quick escape. But that's the least of her problems as an old mark has now targeted her for revenge. When she stole Albert Faulkner's Caeser Diamond, she was just doing her job. Unfortunately for her, Faulkner has tapped her for a new job as payback. Since the Caeser is no longer what it was, he wants something else instead: the Hope Diamond. If Cat can pull of the heist, Faulkner claims he'll call it even. If she fails, he says he'll cut off her hands instead. 

At the same time, Cat's FBI boyfriend has a challenge of his own. He's finally given a chance at field work but sadly loses his target. When he's pulled from the case in spite of new evidence, James decides to pursue it on his own. The target could lead him directly to the Gargoyle, a criminal mastermind Interpol is investigating, and prove to be a boon for James as well. Surprisingly, the case leads him to Paris where it soon becomes clear that there's a connection between Cat's job and James's case. 

Kim Foster's AB&T (Agency of Burglary and Theft) series is quite fun. It's light and breezy in the same way a Janet E mystery would be. In other words pretty much pure entertainment. (Note, you can easily dive into A Magnificent Crime without having read A Beautiful Heist if necessary, though there is a lot of fun character and relationship set up in that first installment that you'd miss out on - and the whole story behind the Fabergé egg as well.)

This second outing did seem a bit more focused than A Beautiful Heist but there is still a lot going on: the Hope Diamond job, the Gargoyle, and the reappearance of the Fabergé egg as well. I did love the new addition of the Department of Antiquities, that was quite a nice wrinkle in the story. Plus, the Hope Diamond! I mean, c'mon. Who isn't at least the teensiest bit captivated by that gem (pun intended)? You can read more about the diamond and the famed curse in Kim's guest post here.

Interestingly, and I'm sure I'm not the only book junkie to find this happening, A Magnificent Crime was made that much better for me simply by being in the right place at the right time. A few weeks back I tuned in to watch Headhunters, the movie based on Jo Nesbø's stand alone by the same name. And it's about an art thief. It's quite good - quite dark and violent in a way that Kim Foster's series definitely is not, but you can say I was in the mood for more in this vein.

At the same time, hubs was out of town traveling and I decided it was beyond time to tackle some horror reads from the TBR. So yeah, a light and fluffy-ish heist book was the perfect counterpart to that (to save me from icky nightmares given the horror book of choice).

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly

A tale of mermaids, legends, and underwater adventure! 

Six teen mermaids are tasked with saving the seas from an ancient monster known as Abbadon. But the legend that comes to them in a dream is one they all believed was just a story. 

Serafina's betrothal ceremony will not only cement her kingdom's ties with nearby Matali, but it will also solidify her position as heir to the throne in Miromara. But the ceremony comes to an abrupt and tragic end when the kingdom is taken and the reigning Regina, Serafina's mother, is shot. Sera and her friend Neela have no choice but to take to the seas and seek safety. It is at this point that they both realize the Iele are real. The soldier on their tails knows of their dreams and has orders to find all six of the mermaids before they make it to the sea witches' cave. If they're caught, it will not only mean the end of Miromara but it could mean the destruction of the whole undersea realm if not the world beyond. 

This first in Donnelly's Waterfire Saga was a bit underwhelming. It is a teen release but I still expected it to be a bit more serious and mature than it turned out to be. 

The world building is definitely a strong point in the book. I did love the ocean realms and the fact that the whole story is steeped in this world. The language and history, the food, even the slang terms the characters use are completely unique to Donnelly's creation. 

The characters, though, were an issue for me as an adult reader. I think they're fine for a younger audience - they're certainly likable as heroines and it's easy to sympathize with their plight. They simply come across a bit silly even after the action begins. 

I had higher expectations, obviously. If I were still a bookseller, though, I honestly would have no issue recommending this to a thirteen-year-old, depending on their reading preferences of course. I guess I feel a little guilty giving this one too much of a bad review considering my only real issue is that it didn't satisfy me - as a thirty+ year-old reader, which I think is unfair considering it's a teen release. So for me Deep Blue was meh, and I'm guessing most adult readers will agree. For a younger teen audience it might be perfectly delightful. 

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Divided by Elsie Chapman + a Giveaway

Last year Elsie Chapman burst onto the scene with her debut Dualed. And now the sequel has arrived! Be sure to read through to the bottom to enter to win a copy of your own!

In Kersh, only the strong can survive. The city is separated from the outside world, its citizens protected for the wars waged in the Surround. But supplies are limited. Every citizen is born with an alternate - a genetic twin raised in a different family. When the twins come of age they will be given their assignment: just one month to kill their alt. The system is designed so that only those who are worthy will live, contributing to society and also serving as the perfect soldier if the city's walls are ever breached. 

West survived her assignment and left behind her brief life as a striker, vowing never to kill again. But now things have changed. The Board has offered her a deal: kill their children's alts and in exchange any children of West's will never have an alt of their own to face down. The deal seems more than a bit shady, but West doesn't really have a choice. When her suspicions are confirmed, it's up to her to find out the truth behind the Board's actions before they get to her first. 

This sequel to Elsie Chapman's Dualed picks up just months after West's battle with her alt. She's still suffering the effects of that battle but has begun a new life, one that includes Chord. With no one hunting her, she's finally comfortable enough to admit her feelings for him. And yet, her time as a striker hangs over her like a shadow. Not only does she fear Chord will hold her actions against her, but it leaves her vulnerable to the Board.

We didn't learn all that much about the governing body behind Kersh in Dualed, so that was a nice bonus here in Divided (and a BIG part of the plot, obviously). This sequel also provided more of an opportunity to see the world that West lives in.

I'm not going to lie, this is a pretty dark series. I was reading these at bedtime and ended up having some really bizarre dreams as a result! It's certainly no darker than Hunger Games, and likely to draw comparisons for obvious reasons. And yet, if you enjoyed Collins series you will likely enjoy Chapman's books as well. West is equally as strong and driven as Katniss. The plot is intense and there's a nice balance between the action and the politics as well. Both Dualed and Divided are quick reads and, dreams aside, I did quite like them both.

Note: while there is a brief recap at the beginning of Divided (nice for Swiss cheese brained folks like me), I definitely recommend starting with Dualed first.

And now for the giveaway. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, June 30. US only and no PO boxes please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: Top Ten Books in My Summer TBR.

Ooh, summer TBR. This is a tough one because there really are a TON of fabulous books due out this summer. (Just ask the lovely ladies over at Read Me Deadly, they've got a whole string of Summer Preview posts that have been truly detrimental to my bank account!)

1. Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin - this one is due out June 24 (I'll have a guest post with Gail June 25) and is Gail's first urban fantasy novel (she's previously written a bunch of shorts in this world). 

2. Season to Taste by Natalie Young - a wife who kills her husband and plans to cook him? Um, yeah. This book just sounds too darkly comic to miss. (Due out in July.)

3. Armada by Ernest Cline - I adored Ready Player One so I'm definitely looking forward to this newest from Cline as soon as it releases. (July 28)

4. In the Woods by Tana French - I will (will, will, will) get to this first in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series this summer without a doubt!

5. The Intruders by Michael Marshall Smith - this is the first of two books that are on my summer TBR because I want to read them before they hit the small screen! The adaptation of this one is airing on BBC America this summer. (Here's one of the teasers for you.)

6. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James - and this is the second - this one will air on PBS's Masterpiece starting October 26 (here's a trailer for you!)

7. Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls series - I've had the trilogy for ages and now that there's a prequel due out I think it's time for me to tackle it. 

8. The Diviners by Libba Bray - because it's time to get to this one :)

9. The Archived by Victoria Schwab - see reason above!

10. Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire - as I write this, this title is staring at me from the top of a stack on my desk. And it's a ghost story. I'm not waiting too long to get to this one!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Emma Healey's Elizabeth Is Missing.

Maud is having trouble remembering things, but she knows something isn't right with her friend Elizabeth. She's convinced Elizabeth has gone missing. She's tried to tell her daughter, her carers, even the police but no one believes her. She's gone to Elizabeth's house and looked for clues herself but every time she gets started she loses the fragile thread of thoughts that's brought her there. As more time goes by and Maud has no more answers than she began with, she is increasingly reminded of her sister's unsolved disappearance seven decades ago. 

Elizabeth Is Missing is quite brilliantly constructed. On the one hand it is a very sad story about aging, Maud's grasp on reality continues to become worse and worse until she can no longer remember her daughter or her granddaughter, while the memories of her sister seem to become more vivid. She also begins to confuse elements of her sister's case and Elizabeth's.

And of course, on the other hand, this is a mystery - Maud holds the necessary pieces to solve both Elizabeth's case and Sukey's, but her tenuous grasp on reality and her memories complicates things. The combination reminded me in a way of S. J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep, where yet another narrator's unreliable memory affects the way the story unfolds.

I loved Maud. She's feisty and ready to take on the world, even in spite of her odds in doing so. The few times she's faced with her own aging her reaction feels genuine and real (who really ever thinks of themselves as being OLD?). Her stubbornness in accepting that Elizabeth is fine and her frustration in her investigation makes the reader root for her even more as the story continues.

It is hard to believe that this is Healey's first novel. In all honesty the story is to my mind quite flawless and wonderful.

Rating: 5/5

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

For more on Emma Healey you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Guest Post by Kim Foster

Hello, readers! Last year we were introduced to Kim Foster's AB&T series with A Beautiful Heist. Now her follow up, A Magnificent Crime is out and in honor of that release Kim has prepared a guest post for your reading pleasure!

But first, a bit about A Magnificent Crime to whet your appetite:

Everyone has a talent. Some are just more legal than others. 

Cat Montgomery is a natural-born thief with a special gift for stealth—or at least she thought so. Years ago, she stole from the diamond-hoarding businessman Albert Faulkner III. Now he wants revenge, and he forces Cat to plan a heist of the infamous Hope Diamond while it’s on loan to the Louvre in Paris. If she fails the mission, he'll wreak bloody havoc on her loved ones. But the stakes are raised even higher when Cat discovers that stealing the Hope is not only an impossible task, it's a cursed one. . . 

Meanwhile, Cat's boyfriend, FBI agent Jack Barlow, is tracking a fierce criminal known as the Gargoyle, running into Interpol and resistance among his agency. As he follows the trail to Paris, where Cat is, their missions entwine in ways neither of them would have suspected. . .

Super fun!

And now, I'll kick things over to Kim Foster and her piece on the famous Hope Diamond!

The Curse of the Hope Diamond 

Cat Montgomery, a professional jewel thief, is the main character in my Agency of Burglary & Theft series. In A MAGNIFICENT CRIME (book two in the series) she's blackmailed into staging a heist of the world’s most famous diamond—the Hope Diamond—while it’s on loan to the Louvre in Paris. 

Trouble is, not only is this task impossible...it’s also cursed.

The curse of the Hope Diamond isn’t something I fabricated for the purposes of my story, of course; it’s a legend with a long history. A deep blue diamond of 45.52 carats—the size of a walnut—the Hope Diamond should only be worth 40 million dollars, tops, based on its weight and color. But it was recently valued at 250 million dollars, and this is entirely because of its infamous legend. Specifically, the curious number of deaths and tragedies that have been blamed on the Hope Diamond.

Hope Diamond photo credit: wikimedia commons
The story begins in the 17th century with a French explorer and merchant named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, on expedition in India. We are told he discovered a large blue diamond there, selling it to the French court upon his return to Europe. However, other accounts claim he didn't merely discover the diamond, but in fact stole it from a Hindu idol of the goddess Sita—the blasphemous act that unleashed the curse on not just himself, but anyone who would ever possess the stone. 

Here are just a few of the stories linked with the Hope Diamond:

· Princess de Lambelle, a frequent wearer of the diamond, was killed in 1792 by a mob in Paris, raped, decapitated, and mutilated. 

· King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the stone’s most famous owners, were beheaded by the guillotine during the French Revolution.

· Sultan Abdul Hamid of Turkey bought the Hope Diamond in 1908 and gave it to his favorite concubine. Within a year he stabbed her to death, became a paranoid recluse, and was dethroned. He died in captivity several years later. 

Evalyn McLean photo credit: wikimedia commons
· In 1911 socialite Evalyn McLean bought the Hope from famous jeweler Pierre Cartier. In the years that followed, Evalyn McLean’s son died in a car crash, her daughter committed suicide at the age of 25, Evalyn herself became addicted to morphine, and her husband was declared legally insane, eventually dying in a sanatorium.

And those are just a few examples of the string of misfortunes tied to the Hope Diamond. Of course, the curse has been refuted by many authorities over the years. A commonly given explanation is to claim the curse was Cartier's fabrication--they assert he embroidered stories of the curse to entice Evalyn McLean to buy the Hope. (The power of a good storyteller, yes?) And while that may be true...how do they explain what happened to her after she purchased the Hope?

Harry Winston acquired the Hope in 1947 when he purchased the entire McLean collection. By this time, the curse was entrenched in the public’s consciousness. When Winston announced he would donate the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian in 1958, the public panicked. Many Americans wrote hostile letters and signed petitions, urging the national museum not to accept it, for fear the entire country would be cursed. 

Nevertheless, Winston sent the gem to the museum in 1958. But how to ship such a precious jewel? In a plainly-wrapped package by US mail, of course. Winston famously explained that by using the postal service, he had the whole US government protecting it. “It’s the safest way to mail gems,” he said.

Maybe not so safe for the postal worker, however. 

Within a year of delivering the package to the Smithsonian, postman James Todd faced a string of tragedies: his leg was accidentally crushed by a truck, his wife died of a heart attack, his dog was strangled on its leash, and his home had burned to the ground.

In recent decades, the curse has been quiet. In fact, some say it has brought nothing but good luck to the Smithsonian, boosting attendance levels and helping the museum to build a world-class gem collection.

In spite of that, the legend persists. During my recent book launch party on Twitter for A MAGNIFICENT CRIME, one reader said she’d seen the Hope in the Smithsonian several years ago...and she’d been terrified to go near it.

And what of Tavernier—the merchant who first found the diamond in India? Well, his fate is shrouded in mystery. While some say he died in his sleep at an old age, other accounts describe a more grisly end: torn apart by wild dogs on a trip to Russia.

But perhaps that’s just a story, like the others. A piece of fiction, nothing more. 

Ah...but there’s power in a good story, isn’t there?

- Kim Foster, June 2014

About the author: Kim Foster is the author of the Agency of Burglary & Theft Series, a series of novels about a professional female jewel thief. Kim has a typical background for someone who writes thrillers about thieves and spies and criminals: she has a degree in medicine and is a practising family doctor. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t make much sense to her friends and family, either.) 

She’s addicted to yoga, loves to travel, and has a clinical weakness for dark chocolate with sea salt. Online, you can find her blogging about her left-brain, right-brain mash-up on www.kimfoster.com. Kim lives with her husband and their two young sons in Victoria, BC, where she's hard at work on her next book. And drinking a ridiculous amount of coffee. 

For more on Kim Foster, you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Big thanks to Kim for being on the blog today! A Magnificent Crime is out now from eKensington.