Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm kicking off the TLC book tour for the second installment in Ovidia Yu's series, Aunty Lee's Deadly Delights!

Things turn deadly when Aunty Lee is hired to cater a party for a local law firm! 

Rosie Lee is known for her tasty Peranakan specialties, which leads to a special request from the Sung Law Firm. Mabel Sung hires Aunty Lee to cook for a party honoring the new promotion of her daughter, Sharon. For the buffet, they have two specific requirements - a nasi lemak spread and Aunty Lee's special chicken buah keluak. The chicken dish is one that has its risks, if prepared incorrectly the nuts used in the dish can be deadly. When both Mabel Sung and her son Leonard are discovered dead, fingers immediately begin pointing at Rosie and the buah keluak.  But Rosie knows her food can't be responsible. Never one to stand idly by, Aunty Lee quickly inserts herself into the investigation. This time, though, catching the killer is the only way to clear her own name and save her business!

There is an undeniable charm to Ovidia Yu's series. These characters - Rosie, Nina, Cherrill, Mark, Selina, Salim... are so richly drawn. All of their personality quirks, their signature mannerisms, everything about them comes through.

As with the first installment, Aunty Lee's Delights, the plot is fun and moves along at a rather quick pace. But, as with the first installment, the somewhat choppy prose is still present. Fortunately, it's much less of a distraction this time around. Whether this is a mark of improvement, I honestly can't say - I suspect it's more the investment in the characters at this point that's allowed me to move past some of this. The biggest issue I noticed in this particular outing is the repetition. It is consistent, though, so I believe it's intended. As a style quirk it's easy to look past and doesn't detract from the overall readability.

I'll warn you - these are food based mysteries and I don't know about you guys but there are no Singaporean style restaurants in my area! Yu's description of the meals and dishes prepared by Aunty Lee set my stomach immediately growling. As a tiny bonus she does include some recipes, including the potentially deadly buah keluak! Don't worry, macadamia nuts are an alternative!

It's a nice twist, though, the inclusion of the food. While culinary mysteries aren't rare, it's the overall Singapore setting as well as the cultural details AND the food that elevate this series beyond the normal cozy fare.

Rating: 3.5/5

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Ovidia Yu and her work you can like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Imaginary Life by Mara Torres

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Mara Torres's The Imaginary Life.

Beto told Nata that he needed some time. He suggested a temporary break and temporary is all Nata expected it would be. But Beto doesn't return Nata's calls and everyone says she should just get over him and move on. Nata sometimes imagines what it will be like when they see each other. She imagines what he's been doing while they've been apart. Eventually she even begins to imagine a life without him. 

The Imaginary Life is a nice little read, one many of us can likely identify with. It begins with Nata journaling her life post breakup, obviously pining over him in spite of her friends and her therapist suggesting it's time to move on. But moving on is hard! Especially when the other person leaves you hanging as Beto does here. And yet, things do get easier for Nata.

Nata's voice - via Mara Torres's writing - speaks to pretty much any woman who's ever gone through a breakup. Any woman who's ever wondered what the other person is thinking, what the other person is doing, if the other person is thinking of them the same way.

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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

New Releases 9/30/14

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

You by Caroline Kepnes

The Haunting Ballad by Michael Nethercott

Proof Positive by Archer Mayor

Consumed by David Cronenberg

The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis

The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

A Perfect Witness by Iris Johansen

Good House by Peyton Marshall

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott

Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu

The Madness of July by James Naughtie

Mean Business on North Ganson Street by S. Craig Zahler

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

The Lost Key by Catherine Coulter & J.T. Ellison

Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories by Paul Theroux

Only the Dead by Vidar Sundstol

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

French Pastry Murder by Leslie Meier

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

The Queen of Zombie Hearts by Gena Showalter

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Unmarked by Kami Garcia

Party Games by R.L. Stine (Fear Street!)

New on DVD:
Cold In July
The Pretty One
Are You Here

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis
No Time to Die by Kira Peikoff
Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley

OMG! The sequel to one of my FAVORITE debuts is finally coming out!!!

Daniel O'Malley's The Rook hit shelves January 2011 and I've been pining away for a sequel ever since. It's just such a very cool book and a very cool premise for a series that I couldn't imagine it not continuing. And now, at long last, there's a sequel due out! Stiletto is set to be released February 2015 from the good folks at Little, Brown.

Here's a bit about it from Goodreads:

In this spirited sequel to the acclaimed The Rook, Myfanwy Thomas returns to clinch an alliance between deadly rivals and avert epic -- and slimy -- supernatural war.

When secret organizations are forced to merge after years of enmity and bloodshed, only one person has the fearsome powers---and the bureaucratic finesse---to get the job done. Facing her greatest challenge yet, Rook Myfanwy Thomas must broker a deal between two bitter adversaries:

The Checquy---the centuries-old covert British organization that protects society from supernatural threats, and...

The Grafters---a centuries-old supernatural threat.

But as bizarre attacks sweep London, threatening to sabotage negotiations, old hatreds flare. Surrounded by spies, only the Rook and two women who absolutely hate each other, can seek out the culprits before they trigger a devastating otherworldly war.

I would show you the happy dance this news brought about but... yeah. Mark your calendars, folks! February 10 looks like the day. In the meantime, if you haven't treated yourself to The Rook, I highly suggest you do so immediately :)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Short Fiction Friday: All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein

I recently came across a trailer for a new movie from the Spierig brothers and decided to seek out the source story - to aid in my attempt to read more sci-fi in general and more classic sci-fi in particular. The movie is called Predestination and stars Ethan Hawke as "the Bartender" a time traveling cop. You can check out the trailer on IMDB here - I'll wait.

Looks cool, right? It played at this year's South by Southwest and apparently did really well. Well enough, in fact, to get picked up for distribution.

A quick look-see at the movie's dets shows that it is in fact based on a short story penned by Robert A. Heinlein and published back in 1959 (if Wikipedia is to be trusted) in Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. BTW, don't read the actual Wikipedia breakdown of the story if you want the story or movie to be any sort of surprise.

"All You Zombies" is weird and cool and super bizarre. It's also extremely short. Supposedly, though, the Spierig brothers have stuck close to their inspiration while also fleshing out and obviously adding more of an investigation plot.

In the short, the Bartender is set on recruiting a character called the Unmarried Mother. The Unmarried Mother has a troubled past that is revealed to the Bartender during their talk - over drinks - with the Bartender ultimately suggesting he can help the Unmarried Mother in gaining some vengeance or closure. In exchange, the Unmarried Mother will sign on as a fellow temporal agent. 

It's hard to say much about the story without completely ruining it, and I do feel a bit of a sense of regret in now knowing at least part of the movie plot as well. I'm sure there's lots that can be debated about the story, but all in all it's a time travel paradox story. Everything in the story hinges on specific events that must happen via time travel.

I'm not sure how I really want to rate this read. On the one hand I know it's a classic of the genre and Heinlein is a HUGE name in said genre as well. On the other hand it's just such a weird story! It might require another read through before seeing the film.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis

Holy crap, Vegas! Soylent Green is people!

If you've read Mindy McGinnis's latest you'll know what I mean (even if you don't get the seventies cultural reference there). This follow up/companion to Not a Drop to Drink was rough! Not bad rough, just hard to read at some points. But what would I expect after Not a Drop to Drink, right?

Lucy is sixteen and she, Lynn, and Stebbs are now part of a small but thriving community. Lucy even has a boyfriend of sorts in her friend's brother, Carter. But when a polio outbreak hits it seems the only traceable connection to the infected is Carter - and Lucy. Lucy's grandmother knows something about the virus but not enough to ensure that either of the teens is or isn't the cause or, if they are carriers, how long the virus will be active. 

Carter is exiled and Lynn decides it's time for her and Lucy to move on as well. They've heard rumors that desalination plants in California have made ocean water drinkable. The lure of limitless water and no more harsh winters sets the two women on a trek that could cost them their lives, but the promise of a future filled with such hope is too much to resist.

Readers, don't make the same mistake I did in reading this one concurrently with Edan Lepucki's California! I've been doing that one on audio so going back and forth between the two stories quickly became unmanageable. Fortunately for me In a Handful of Dust proved to be just as quick of a read as Not a Drop to Drink and I wrapped it up in one Saturday afternoon. 

It is a tough world to be so completely submerged in for that period of time! And I do mean submerged. There were times when I'd come out of the story almost gasping for breath. It was jarring turning the final page and easing back into real life. 

I blame this on the truly treacherous path that McGinnis places her characters on. Some of it is par for the course now in both post-apocalyptic settings and survival stories. Let's face it, two women on the road are going to likely come up against at least some of the same dangers (let's play Adam and Eve, y'all! Ick!). And yet McGinnis does add in some things I've not yet come across (what happens in Vegas...).

In a Handful of Dust is a sequel to Not A Drop to Drink - same world, same characters, further into the future than that story. But you don't have to have read that first installment to dive into this one. I would warn, however, that much of Lynn's character development is left to Not a Drop to Drink. Readers skipping out on that one likely won't feel they know her character very well based on just In a Handful of Dust.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon

Dave Gurney is back in this fourth installment of John Verdon's series.

It's been just a few months since Gurney helped solve the Good Shepherd case. Just a few months since his consulting led to Jack Hardwick's forced retirement from the NYSP. Jack has been left with something of an axe to grind over the whole thing and Gurney is well aware that he owes him. So when Jack approaches him with a new plan, Gurney has little choice but to go along. 

Jack is set on starting up as a PI and he has his eye on a high profile case as his first. Kay Spalter was convicted of killing her husband, Carl, and is serving a life sentence. Jack has inside information proving negligence in the investigation and, with the help of a top-notch attorney and Gurney, plans to get the case overturned. As Gurney begins to investigate, it becomes clear that there are definite questions about Kay's guilt and the case against her. With mob links, corrupt cops, and a seriously dysfunctional family at the root of the case, Gurney has plenty of leads to look into. Strangely, though, one unidentified person keeps appearing at every turn. Is this the real killer? And if so what is the motive behind Carl Spalter's murder?

John Verdon is a master at creating whip quick puzzlers! Gurney, dubbed a super cop, has excellent observation skills - skills that fortunately don't come across as over the top. It's quite easy, as a reader, to follow his train of thought and the various details to his conclusions.

In Peter Pan Must Die, Jack is something of a roadblock. He's determined to prove negligence - a clear effort to enact some revenge on the very people who penalized him for bringing Gurney in on their former case. And yet, as Gurney begins to find clues suggesting Kay Spalter's innocence, Jack seems almost unwilling to listen. He's not out to prove her innocence, he's out to prove the guilt of the police!

I love the interactions and relationships between Gurney and the other characters. The tension between him and his wife over his continued involvement in investigations in spite of his retirement (which is actually quite accepting on her part). Gurney's feelings about Jack, "it's complicated" about sums it up. There's a definite care and attention in the development of the characters in this series that I appreciate as a fan.

I kind of feel like the Dave Gurney series is one that doesn't get as much attention as it deserves. I really do recommend checking it out, even if you dive in with this latest, as Verdon has created something here that rivals the best of the mystery/thriller genre!

Per Blogging for Books requirements: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison + a Giveaway

Good morning, everyone! I had to bring this post back in light of the author's new edition and publishing deal. An author whose work I very much enjoy and whose opinion on books I very much respect, recommended Harrison's self-published book last year in her efforts to help spread the word. Since then, Harrison's book has been acquired by Lake Union Publishing and a brand spanking new edition hit shelves yesterday. So for all of you new readers, heads up - you're going to want to check this one out! (Psst, I get to offer up a copy for giveaway - read through to the bottom to enter!)

Neil Kazenzakis doesn't exactly have it easy: he's a high school teacher with a teenage son he's been raising on his own since his wife was hospitalized a few years ago. Neil and his son, Chris, are doing their best. Chris does well in school and is planning to start college in a year. But Neil has been in a relationship for the past two years, something he's been careful to keep from his son out of fear of how he will react. Just when he's ready to finally come clean, Neil is accused of beating up a student. A scandalizing YouTube video is all the proof most people need of the event, but Neil stands by his side of the story. The video's account isn't what really happened. Suspended while the event is investigated, Neil's world is further shaken by the threat of losing his job and the insurance that pays for his wife's long term care.

While the story is playing out, there are emails addressed to Neil's wife interspersed throughout the story. It's his journal of sorts and gives readers further insight into the various things Neil struggles with. His friend Alan serves as a good sounding board for some of these issues, but Neil spends a lot of time hiding things from those around him - not really for his own sake but to protect the people he loves from the things he thinks might hurt them. Neil puts up a good front, but it wears on him and as the story progresses he starts to crack.

Neil reminisces about his life, his marriage, his family, and his friends throughout the story as well. It's worked into the narrative in a way that it doesn't at all hinder the flow of the story, which has a great pacing. Harrison's prose is very smooth, the kind of story that sweeps you along so that you don't even notice how much time has passed when you next look up from the page.

Harrison's characters and their relationships are the driving force of this story. Without such fantastic characterization, the story would still have been a good story but the characters make it more relatable and human.

Rating: 4.5/5

For more on Jon and his work you can check out the book's official website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

As promised, I do have a copy to give away. To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, October 6. Open US only - no PO boxes please.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Books in My Fall TBR

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: Fall TBR Titles!

Ryder by Nick Pengelley + a Giveaway

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Nick Pengelley's Ryder. Note there is a tour wide giveaway on this one so be sure to read through to the end to enter.

When renowned academic Sir Evelyn Montagu is discovered dead in his apartment, Ayesha Ryder is called in to help. Initially, the investigators on the case only want her opinion on some documents found in the apartment. Montagu had clearly been tortured and his house ransacked - clues left at the scene suggest a Middle East link and Ayesha is something of a go to in those matters. 

To Ayesha, though, nothing about the scene is straightforward. And as someone who was very, very close to Montagu, she quickly realizes he's left clues specifically for her to find. Those clues send Ayesha and the detectives on the case down a twisted path that places them all in danger. Obscure encoded messages lead them to the long and violent tension between Israel and Palestine and strangely to T.E. Lawrence and incidents that occurred around the time of his death. If Ayesha and the police can tease out the meaning of the clues, they may just find a motive for Montagu's murder and maybe even the identity of the people responsible. But only if they can live long enough to make it to the end.

I was quite pleasantly surprised by Nick Pengelley's debut! Ryder blends all of the best elements of political thriller, espionage, conspiracy theory, and history together to create a read that's part puzzle and all action.

Ayesha is a character with a mysterious past - terrorist ties (to some) and a reliable consultant (to others). DI Holden and DS Ryan make for good companions, even if they are somewhat cliche (Holden sometimes comes across as a not-quite-so-bright detective while Ryan is a bit of a know-it-all). Throw in the fascinating life and history of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and a slew of other well known figures (Churchill, Edward VIII...) and you have all the pieces you need to make a good book. Pengelley goes one further, though, making use of fabulous lesser-known history of London as a further backdrop to the story.

The real meat of the tale, though, is set in the controversial establishment of the State of Israel. Montagu, a scholar with an avid interest in T.E. Lawrence, makes a discovery that, on the eve of a new peace talk between Israel and Palestine, could have overwhelming ramifications for everyone involved. Before you know it, Ayesha and her friends are caught in the middle of a decades long political argument, with no real idea who is an ally and who is an enemy.  

Ryder really was quite fun and clever! This kicks off a new e series, one that will appeal to fans of Steve Berry's Cotton Malone books.

As mentioned above there is a tour wide giveaway here. To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Bully of Order by Brian Hart

Hi, everyone! Today I'm part of the TLC book tour for Brian Hart's The Bully of Order.

Here's the official description of the book:

Washington Territory, 1886

Jacob and Nell Ellstrom step from ship to shore and are struck dumb by the sight of their new home—the Harbor, a ragged township of mud streets and windowless shacks. In the years to come this will be known as one of the busiest and most dangerous ports in the world, and with Jacob’s station as the only town physician, prosperity and respect soon rain down on the Ellstroms. Then their son, Duncan, is born, and these are grand days, busy and full of growth. But when a new physician arrives, Jacob is revealed as an impostor, a fraud, and he flees, leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves.

Years later, on a fated Fourth of July picnic, Duncan Ellstrom falls in love. Her name is Teresa Boyerton, and her father owns the largest sawmill in the Harbor. Their relationship is forbidden by class and by circumstance, because without Jacob there to guide him, Duncan has gone to work for Hank Bellhouse, the local crime boss. Now, if Duncan wants to be with Teresa, he must face not only his past, but the realities of a dark and violent world and his place within it.

Told from various points of view, Brian Hart’s novel follows the evolution of the Harbor from a mudstamp outpost to a city that rivals the promise of San Francisco. The Bully of Order is a meditation on progress, love, and identity; a spellbinding novel of fate and redemption—told with a muscular lyricism and filled with a cast of characters Shakespearean in scope—where everyone is as much at the mercy of the weather as they are of the times.

Readers, I don't mean to look like I'm phoning it in for this review but I honestly just didn't hit it off with this one. I started it. I started it over. I thumbed through and skimmed it. I read other reviews and I started once again. By this point I think I harbored some serious resentment towards The Bully of Order! Some have pointed out that the author's style takes some getting used to but I never was able to get the hang of it. Instead I slogged through, page by page, wishing and hoping that I'd be able to come to some sort of compromise with the book - or that it would just wear me down - and hoping that it would pick up. It never did.

This is an incredibly bleak book. The author's style leans towards clipped sentences and something close to stream of consciousness narration on the part of the characters (close to, but not exactly - either way it made it difficult to follow).

I should point out that there are some quite nice reviews of this book. I should further point out that the author's style isn't bad but was something I simply couldn't wrap my brain around at this point in time.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Brian Hart and his work, you can visit his website here.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

New Releases 9/23/14

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Witch and Other Tales Retold by Jean Thompson

Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm & Gruesome ed by Stephen Jones

The Ghost & Mrs. Muir by R. A. Dick (reissue)

To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie

Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Coma by Robin Cook (reissue)

Julia by Peter Straub (reissue)

Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

The Darkest Hour by Tony Schumacher

Wouldn't It Be Deadly by D. E. Ireland

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Silent Murders by Mary Miley

Rose Gold by Walter Mosely

The Seventh Sigil by Margaret Weis & Robert Krammes

Daring by Elliott James

The Day of Atonement by David Liss

Skink - No Surrender by Carl Hiassen

Tape by Steven Camden

In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Messenger of Fear by Michael Grant

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

New on DVD:
The Signal
The Calling

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
Pines by Blake Crouch

The Last Town by Blake Crouch

There's little to keep secret by now if you've read both Pines and Wayward but if you've stumbled across this review without having read those two I'll try to be somewhat vague :)

Just weeks ago, Special Agent Ethan Burke was on assignment tracking down two missing agents. His investigation took him to Wayward Pines, a town that turned out to be anything but normal. Ethan's knowledge and skills left him perfectly aligned to be of use to the town's founder, David Pilcher, and so he was shown the truth about Wayward Pines. But being part of the inside circle wasn't all it was cracked up to be, especially when Ethan began learning more about Pilcher himself. In saving his friend and former partner, Ethan told the citizens everything he knew about Pilcher, the town, and what lay beyond its borders. 

As the walls of his built paradise began to crumble, Pilcher decided that Ethan and everyone else in Wayward Pines would have to pay the price for such a betrayal. 

The Last Town picks up immediately where Wayward leaves off, with the citizens of Wayward Pines reeling from Ethan's announcement. And of course everything soon goes to hell in a hand basket. Pilcher has cut the power to the fence and Ethan has to try and save his family and as many of the other Pines citizens he can. But with few weapons and an enemy only Ethan has faced, it seems the endeavor might be destined to fail.

I'm on the fence about the ending of The Last Town. It's not at all a bad ending but it is one that left me wanting more. Perhaps it's the flip side of the coin here - I've benefitted by being able to zip through the series now that all three are out, but I've also immersed myself so completely in the world Crouch has created that it's very hard to leave it behind.

There are a series of shorts associated with the trilogy out via Kindle Worlds, which is an interesting concept. Some of the contributing authors are authors you might well know (F. Paul Wilson, Brett Battles...). Unfortunately I don't have a kindle nor am I quite so desperate that I'll read the shorts on my computer at this point. I'm also not sure that any of these pick up in the aftermath of The Last Town, and that's what I'd really be hoping for. I may dive in at some time in the future, though, especially after I get a taste of the tv show.

Aside from knowing that I'll miss the universe, this has been a quite fabulous and fun trilogy! I definitely recommend it if you're in the mood for three quick and gripping, action packed reads.

Rating: 4/5

Friday, September 19, 2014

I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe + a Giveaway

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Erin Lindsay McCabe's I Shall Be Near To You. Thanks to the publisher, I'm able to offer up one copy in a giveaway so be sure to read to the bottom to enter to win.

It's 1862 and Jeremiah Wakefield is planning to enlist. The money he'd earn would go a long way towards buying a farm of his own. With money in his pocket and the promise of a future he'd then be comfortable asking for Rosetta to be his wife.

But Rosetta has other plans! If Jeremiah is to enlist then Rosetta wants to be married straight away. She aims to begin their life together before possibly losing that chance. And when Jeremiah leaves for war, she also aims to be by his side. While the front lines are, according to everyone around her, no place for a woman, Rosetta conceives of a plan that will - if successful - allow her not only to be with her husband while he is away, but earn her own money to put towards their farm as well. Rosetta has never been one to stick to womanly duties anyway; she's never been afraid of hard or messy work. So she cuts her hair, takes some of Jeremiah's clothes, and passes herself off as Ross Stone, enlisting in the same company as Jeremiah and his friends.

Readers I was really excited to get a chance to review I Shall Be Near To You. I'd already read some great reviews, including Kelly's here, so I did have pretty high expectations - but I can safely assure you that Erin Lindsay McCabe succeeded in every aspect with this book.

It's something of a heart wrenching story. I cannot imagine being a newlywed and immediately facing the prospect of becoming a widow - something Rosetta does very much believe will happen, especially considering this is the fate that has recently befallen one of her own peers. And Rosetta is something of a strange bird. She wants to farm, she wants to work outside, she doesn't want to do all of the things she's told a proper woman should do. Without Jeremiah by her side supporting her in this her confidence begins to falter.

While life today is so completely different for us, putting myself in Rosetta's shoes was something Erin Lindsay McCabe allowed me to do here in I Shall Be Near To You. She really does a wonderful job in imparting both the the fears and concerns and overwhelming emotions someone like Rosetta would have been up against.

Rosetta is drawn from real inspiration - I honestly had no idea that so many real women had indeed donned men's clothing and enlisted to fight in the Civil War! Not only would the prospect of fighting have obviously seemed daunting to women of the time, the consequences of being caught would likely have deterred many others. Not these women, though, and as McCabe points out in her afterword, many were successful in completely hiding their identities. I loved that in learning that, McCabe immediately had the same question many of us would - how? How did they do it? What were they feeling?... And it's these questions that she explores with Rosetta.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you like historical fiction and strong female characters, I Shall Be Near To You will definitely hit the spot!

And now for the giveaway! To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, October 6. Open US/Canada only. No PO boxes please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

For more on Erin Lindsay McCabe, you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Short Fiction Friday: Dinner With the Cannibal Sisters by Douglas Clegg

In 1890 Bog House was the site of an unspeakably gruesome crime. Though children at the time, Sally and Lucy Windrow - and their possible involvement in the atrocities - were the center of much speculation. Even twenty years on, folks still talk about them and the Bog House of Horrors. 

The girls themselves have always kept quiet on the subject, ignoring pleas by journalists and gossips alike. But now, on the twentieth anniversary of the event, a driven young journalist with a direct tie to the Windrows plans to break the story. Banking on their family connection, he travels to Bog Farm to finagle an invite to dinner...

I'd thought I would go into more detail on the story itself but I think I'll leave that for now. I fear I may ruin the read for others if I share my thoughts or more details! Fellow Douglas Clegg fans will likely understand, though, when I say I was surprised at how tame Dinner With the Cannibal Sisters turned out to be. It was certainly not what I've come to expect from him, and yet that element did surprisingly add to my enjoyment of this short little read. 

(If you are looking for something darker this Halloween season, Clegg's Halloween Man has been on sale for .99 of late.)

This latest from Clegg, though, is a nice limited edition from Cemetery Dance featuring artwork by Caniglia, the same artist who paired with Clegg for The Necromancer. The art is eerie and in the vein of restored images from Bog Farm. Clegg writes about the images on his blog here.  It's a quite handsome edition and a nice collectible for any hard core fan!

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Guest Post by Beth Cato

Beth Cato's steampunk debut The Clockwork Dagger hit shelves this week and it's already earning some pretty nifty praise. PW called it a "rousing tale of airborne intrigue" and Cato "an author to watch" while Library Journal gave it a starred review and RT said "steampunk fans should take note." And take note I have! The Clockwork Dagger has taken up a top spot in my TBR and probably should take the same pride of place in yours :)

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

The Clockwork Dagger is the story of a gifted young healer, Octavia Leander, who sets off on her first mission. Her goal is to get to a plague-ridden village and help the people there, but a series of strange occurrences—including murder—rock the airship she is traveling on. The dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Dagger assassins, her cabin-mate hides secrets (and an alarming penchant for writing pulp novels), and Octavia is beginning to discover that her magical gift for healing may be even more powerful than anyone thought. In short, this airship voyage is much more eventful than Octavia expected, and she’s stumbled into the midst of a conspiracy that may reach the crown itself.

And thanks to the publisher, I've got a guest post from Beth as a treat for you today:

Colorful Secondary Worlds
by Beth Cato

In recent months, #WeNeedDiverseBooks has been trending on Twitter. One of the posts I contributed was, "#WeNeedDiverseBooks because epic fantasy worlds should be as beautiful & colorful as Earth."

This is something I had in mind a few years ago as I developed the world for my novel, THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER. I wanted to create a colorful world based on Earth. My heroine is pale-skinned, but her love interest is black. Alonzo is right there on the cover, looking debonair in a red coat.

I've seen other authors deal with this issue, so I know at some point, someone may ask, "Why is he black?"

My immediate response is, "Why not?"

My book does not take place on Earth, but it's based on Earth. I grew up in California. I took for granted that my fellow classmates reflected all colors and nationalities. This isn't a bad thing. It's not a threat. It's an asset. We learn from our differences, even if, yes, they create conflicts. Hopefully we emerge as better, more enlightened people.

That's the whole point of the character arc in a novel, too.

Alonzo isn't a token character of color. My book is populated by diverse skin tones, shapes of eyes and noses, hair styles, cuts of clothing. Racial and cultural dynamics vary greatly from what exists on Earth, and they play a major role in the plot.

So yes, if need be, I can justify why one of my main characters has darker skin. I can point out that he's one aspect of the complex world-building. It makes me sad that I even have to consider this explanation at all, but it all comes back to that hash tag--#WeNeedDiverseBooks. Alonzo stands out on the cover because he is a rarity. He shouldn't be.

The fantasy genre is not confined to white-skinned, European-based mythology. Earth is much larger than that. Other created worlds are also much larger than that. I think of awesome series like Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence and Brian McClellan's Powder Mage books. Their worlds are fresh and vibrant because they do drop the stale tropes that fantasy has relied on for decades. A good cover--an honest cover--demonstrates that to potential readers.

If anyone questions why Alonzo is on the cover, I'm ready for that debate.

About the author: Beth Cato resides in the outskirts of Phoenix, AZ. Her husband Jason, son Nicholas, and crazy cat keep her busy, but she still manages to squeeze in time for writing and other activities that help preserve her sanity. She is originally from Hanford, CA, a lovely city often pungent with cow manure.

Here, here, Beth! And big, big thanks for being on the blog today!

The Clockwork Dagger is out on shelves now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Supernatural Suspense StoryBundle

Horror fans, listen up! The folks over at StoryBundle are offering a great deal on a ten ebook pack curated by David Niall Wilson.

The pack includes the following titles:

Reign by Chet Williamson
Second Soul by Thomas Sullivan
On the Third Day by David Niall Wilson
Incursion by Aaron Rosenberg
Moonbane by Al Sarrantonio
Weaveworld by Clive Barker (bonus title)
Nightlife by Brian Hodge (bonus title)
Sineater by Elizabeth Massie (bonus title)
Skorpio by Mike Baron (bonus title)
Night of Broken Souls by Thomas F. Monteleone (bonus title)

StoryBundle is a cool idea - you pay what you want and, in the case of this bundle, if you pay at least $12 you get all of the bonus titles as well.

To purchase the bundle you can head straight here. For more on StoryBundle and this pack in particular you can read more here. The bundle is only available for a limited time so if you're interested in checking it out be sure not to wait too long.

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Sophie Hannah's new Agatha Christie mystery, The Monogram Murders.

A chance encounter in a cafe leads Poirot to abandon his attempts at quiet relaxation and anonymity in this new mystery from Sophie Hannah.

Jennie entered the coffee house in a manner that begged for Poirot's attention. When he offered assistance, thinking she looked as though she was in danger, she refused and offered only a cryptic explanation as to her circumstances, begging that Poirot do nothing. 

Upon returning to his lodgings that evening, though, Poirot learns that three people have been murdered in a nearby hotel. Poirot is certain the crimes are connected to the girl in the coffee shop and quickly becomes involved in the investigation. The crime itself is a bizarre one: three guests at the same hotel, all murdered in their rooms on the same evening. A note announced the crime and led to the discovery of the bodies of two women and one man. They had no apparent connection but their bodies had all been posed in the exact same scene. And it is soon discovered that the killer left one more significant clue - a monogrammed cufflink placed inside each victim's mouth.

One might say that with so many Christie titles as guide taking on the task of continuing her work might not be that challenging, I would heartily disagree. The ardent passion of an avid Christie reader and Poirot fan would likely dissuade all but the most brave of writing souls! Sophie Hannah, author of the Charlie Zailer/Simon Waterhouse series, had some big shoes to fill in taking on the challenge of penning an Agatha Christie mystery but I found her to be overwhelmingly successful in her efforts.

Though I am by no means a Christie expert, my Swiss cheese brain did quickly recognize both the tone of the story and the attitude of the famous lead detective as being a close match to what I recall from my own Christie readings. And though Christie did kill off her famous lead in CurtainThe Monogram Murders is set in 1929, thereby allowing for Poirot's resurrection.

Since plot is key in Christie, I would be remiss in not taking a moment to mention it here. I do read a lot of mysteries and a good one - with some exception - often keeps the reader guessing. Sophie Hannah does this in spades! The crime is set in London but Poirot soon decides that its roots lie elsewhere. Of course he's correct, which leads the investigation down a road I didn't see coming fairly early on. Even still, with insight into Poirot's musings via his friend Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard, the detective's discoveries are held close to the vest until the story winds to an end.

The Monogram Murders is a fun return to such a beloved character and one I think will please even the most persnickety mystery readers!

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

For more of Poirot's and Agatha Christie's mysteries be sure to visit the official Agatha Christie website. And for more on Sophie Hannah and her work be sure to visit her on the web here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Guest Post by Sarah Fine

Hello, everyone. I have a special feature for you today - a guest post by Of Metal and Wishes author Sarah Fine!

Of Metal and Wishes released early last month and is something of a Phantom of the Opera retelling - set in a Chinese slaughterhouse. If you haven't read it yet, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

There are whispers of a ghost in the slaughterhouse where sixteen-year-old Wen assists her father in his medical clinic—a ghost who grants wishes to those who need them most. When one of the Noor, men hired as cheap factory labor, humiliates Wen, she makes an impulsive wish of her own, and the Ghost grants it. Brutally.

Guilt-ridden, Wen befriends the Noor, including their outspoken leader, a young man named Melik. At the same time, she is lured by the mystery of the Ghost and learns he has been watching her … for a very long time.

As deadly accidents fuel tensions within the factory, Wen must confront her growing feelings for Melik, who is enraged at the sadistic factory bosses and the prejudice faced by his people at the hand of Wen’s, and her need to appease the Ghost, who is determined to protect her against any threat—real or imagined. She must decide whom she can trust, because as her heart is torn, the factory is exploding around her … and she might go down with it.

I was interested to begin with but when I heard Phantom set in a a slaughterhouse I was utterly intrigued! With so many retellings hitting shelves these days, I was curious about this particular pairing. Here's Fine's piece on the subject:

Bones, Sinew, and Flesh: How I Accidentally Wrote a Retelling

Of Metal and Wishes is often and most easily described as a retelling of Gaston LeRoux’s The Phantom of the Opera. But every time I describe it that way, I sort of waffle a bit, because I feel like I’m not telling the whole story.

Fairytale retellings are super fun. We get to have our cake and eat it, too! We have the pleasure of being told a story that connects us to simpler times in our lives, when we believed magic was possible and real. We have an idea of the structure of the story, and perhaps even the outcome. We have a sense of the conflict. The general arc. That can be very comforting, I think, and also exciting. It’s like listening to a new mix of a familiar song. You might be able to sing along, but the beat and arrangement make it an entirely new thing. 

The trick with retellings is to render them fresh. Sure, it’s neat to recognize the bones of an old tale, but it’s especially cool when those bones are wrapped in an intriguing new set of sinew and flesh. And it’s pretty thrilling when a story like that, with bones we recognize, can surprise us. 

Maybe that’s why I decided to make Of Metal and Wishes a loose retelling of Phantom. But I’ll fess up here: it didn’t start out that way. 

I think that’s why it worked.

Here is how my ideas form: I get fascinated with something, either news story or a place, usually, and my brain starts to churn, working over all the angles of it until I find my way in. In the case of OMAW, I was watching the documentary Food, Inc. and it showed hidden camera footage of undocumented workers slaving in a poultry processing plant, dead birds hanging on hooks zinging past work stations, where people had to cut off various parts for packaging. I stared and stared, and I thought—I have to tell a story about what it’s like to work in a place like that

Inspiration can be so random. 

But then I had to follow the thread of that inspiration, straight down the rabbit hole. Who are my characters? What’s the conflict? And don’t ask me why, but I settled on a boy who had been a victim of the brutal machines on the killing floor, who had turned the entire factory into his domain. The Ghost of the factory. Then I thought of a girl, an outsider who came to live there. I pulled from all the things that fascinate me and knitted together a tale. 

About halfway through, I realized that my Ghost was very Phantom-like. At that point, I had a choice—veer in a new direction or embrace the parallels. Well, Phantom set in a slaughterhouse … how could I not embrace that? However, I didn’t let it override the story I really wanted to tell. My interest was in weaving a story about how people survive and thrive and love and risk even in a place that devalues life, that breeds defeat and failure, that crushes souls. I wanted to tell a story of a girl becoming a woman, learning to think for herself and be brave as she reaches out to help others, even when doing either of those things increases the likelihood she’ll be cast out, starving and penniless. So yes, I played up some of the similarities to Phantom, but never at the expense of the core of the story I was so hungry to tell. 

So that’s how it happened: old bones, new sinew and flesh. I hope my readers enjoy both. And I hope it surprises them, too.

About the author: Sarah Fine is the author of several books for teens, including Of Metal and Wishes (McElderry/Simon & Schuster) and its sequel, Of Dreams and Rust (coming in August 2015), and the Guards of the Shadowlands YA urban fantasy series (Skyscape/Amazon Children’s Publishing). She is also the co-author (with Walter Jury) of two YA sci-fi thrillers published by Putnam/Penguin: Scan and its sequel Burn (which will be published in 2015). Fine's first adult urban fantasy romance novel, Marked, will be published in January 2015 by 47North/Amazon Publishing, with the sequel, Claimed, coming in March 2015. When she's not writing, she's psychologizing. Sometimes she does both at the same time. The results are unpredictable.

Huge thanks to Sarah Fine for being here today and equally huge thanks to the folks over at Simon and Schuster. Of Metal and Wishes is out now!

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I've Only Read Once but Need to Read More

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: authors I've read once and need to read more.

Goodness! Just ten?!

1. Ilsa J. Bick - yes, White Space was my first time reading Bick. Her earlier series gets rave reviews and considering how much I completely loved White Space I'll be reading more of her work sooner rather than later (like White Space's follow up!) 

2. Terry Pratchett - I've not actually even read Pratchett, if we're splitting hairs here. (I"m counting him anyway.) I've read Good Omens, which he co wrote with Neil Gaiman. Considering he's my husband's favorite author and we do have most of his titles in our house I'm a little embarrassed that I haven't read him. 

3. Michael McDowell - kind of the same as Pratchett. I read Candles Burning and didn't love it. McDowell frequently pops up in horror recommendation lists, though, and with The Amulet and The Elementals back in print now it seems like the perfect time to read more. 

4. Graham Joyce - this might be a cheat because I could swear that I've read more than one of Joyce's books, and yet it seems my Swiss cheese brain might be playing tricks on me. I've definitely read The Silent Land and I've definitely got a couple of others in my TBR. Joyce unfortunately passed away just after the release of his most recent title, The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit.

5. Susan Hill - Of course I had to read The Woman in Black before the movie released but I've also amassed quite a Susan Hill collection in my TBR. Some of it has been hoarding her shorter horror reads for when the mood hits and some of it has been snatching up her series titles as I come across them so that I have them when I'm ready to start from the beginning (and I may still be missing the first book, which would hold up starting). 

6. Lauren Beukes - The Shining Girls blew me away and it really took a lot of restraint not to start buying up her backlist and hoarding them in the TBR. I've tried to make myself hold back a bit on that! Her newest book is out this week, though, and I'm not going to be able to hold out.

7. Melissa Marr - this is another weird one. I'm not sure how but Graveminder is so far the only book I own and have read by Marr. Made For You is new out this week and I think I'll have to buy it!

8. Katie Crouch - I only recently read Crouch for the first time. Abroad was amazing! A 2014 favorite and a book that gave me a massively difficult to overcome book hangover. While I understand her earlier books are a bit different (quite in some cases) this is an author I definitely need to spend more time reading!

9. Jessica Anya Blau - same reason as Crouch! Wonder Bread Summer was one of the best books I read last year. I've actually got Blau's two previous books waiting in the TBR as we speak. 

10. Amy Tan - I read Saving Fish From Drowning over the Christmas holiday the year it was released and really enjoyed it. I don't know why I've not read more by her - The Joy Luck Club sadly wasn't on my school reading lists. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

You all know her story - the Girl From the Diner, the Phantom Prom Date, the Ghost of Sparrow Hill Road... killed on her way to prom and forced to forever wander the roads in search of a ride home. Beneath the urban legends, the twisting variations of the story that started it all, is a girl: Rose Marshall. 

She wanders the highways and byways of the continent, hitching and helping those whose own fates are tied to the road as well. Some she's able to save, others she helps pass on to their final home. 

Savvy Seanan McGuire readers have already met Rose Marshall. The book originally started as a collection of shorts that appeared in The Edge of Propinquity, a webzine whose archives are available here. Twelve of Rose's tales appeared in the zine in 2010 and on her website McGuire notes that one of the stories is still available online through The Edge of Propinquity. Fortunately for the rest of us, most of those original stories have been gathered up and recently released as one volume by the good folks over at DAW!

I could swear that Alvin Schwartz was the first to introduce me to a variation of the popular urban legend that spawned McGuire's latest. Seems like a likely candidate since Schwartz's various Scary Stories collections were tops in my creepy reads lists as a kid. Anyway, McGuire's spin on this classic story is excellent! She fleshes out the tale, giving life to the character in a way those passed along variations never could.

It's interesting that this is still essentially a collection of Rose stories in one volume rather than a linear novel. And our spectral narrator does warn us of this in the beginning of the book. Some may find that leaves the reader with a feeling of disconnection but I kind of felt the opposite. There is a running plot that ties all of Rose's stories together and the book does feel very much like Rose telling us the chapters of her own life and afterlife.

McGuire does a quite effective job of building a really complex world in Sparrow Hill Road. We see some other familiar supernatural presences - a Beán sidhe, mention of a white lady, and a new variation on the strigoi - but many of McGuire's otherworldly presences are new (to me at least). Routewitches, crossroads ghosts, hitchhiking ghosts, homecoming ghosts, and more live in this world. Some - bela da meia-noite, for example - are basically sidebar entries while others like the haunt and the maggy dhu do get brief cameos. It makes me hopeful that this will eventually become another of McGuire's series (and if the Goodreads entry is any indication this does seem to be the plan).

Rating: 4/5