Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Ok, so this isn't a TRUE pre pub book buzz because it's been out in the UK (and available through international resources) for a while. BUT it's been nominated for the inaugural James Herbert Award (along with some other fabulous horror titles) and the good folks over at Amulet Books are releasing a US edition in May.

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads for you:

When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry, her sister seems scared of her, and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out. Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest to find the truth she must travel into the terrifying underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family-before it's too late . . .

Set in England after World War I, this is a brilliantly creepy but ultimately loving story of the relationship between two sisters who have to band together against a world where nothing is as it seems.

I've actually read some reviews of this (like this one from The Midnight Garden) and it seems to live up to the excellent description here. I'm dying to read it (and the rest of the award nominees I've not yet read as well).

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Twisted Fate by Norah Olson

I'm already behind on the 2015 DAC challenge! I missed January - I'll catch up but I wanted to be sure that I didn't fall any further behind for February. So here's my first DAC challenge title for 2015, squeezing in just before February ends :)

Allyson and Sydney couldn't be more different. In fact, the Tate sisters are almost polar opposites. So it makes sense that when Graham Copeland moves to the neighborhood, they're reactions to him would be different. Allyson is immediately drawn to him - he's a bit shy and artsy, and she quickly finds herself becoming very close to the boy. Sydney on the other hand is quickly turned off by Graham's quirkiness. For one, he seems to be on something almost all the time. For another, his habit of filming everything, while somewhat intriguing, is also a bit annoying. Plus, Sydney is sure that Graham is hiding something. She's convinced he's bad news for Allyson, but she can't put her finger on exactly why that might be. And she can't seem to get Allyson to stay away from him. 

Right off the bat I should say that I didn't love Twisted Fate, but I didn't dislike it either. I'm in the middle.

I thought the author did an overall decent job of putting together such a clever read but there were parts that I felt were quite underdeveloped. For one, the book is split into multiple viewpoints, offering varying perspectives on the characters and occurrences of the story. But with this formatting I never really got a sense of exactly what was wrong with Graham and I felt like everyone around him was pretty wishy washy where he was concerned. Sydney and Allyson were particularly problematic in this area: the relationship between Allyson and Graham felt very thin and Sydney seemed to spend more time with Graham than not - in direct conflict with her comments about how much she can't stand him.

I also wanted the relationship between Allyson and Sydney to be focused on more than it was. Their interplay was the best part of the story and it could be that in featuring their particular interactions more the author may have been afraid of giving too much away too early. I don't know, I figured it all out fairly quickly so I can't say.

Overall the interactions between all of the characters really could have been beefed up in a way to provide more context and more depth without spilling the beans on Graham's secret or even Allyson and Sydney's story.

I will say this, though, what the author was trying to accomplish is tough and (as I mentioned above) she does do a pretty good job of it overall.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth + a Giveaway

I have a bit of an obsession a serious obsession with fairy tales, folklore, and mythology. I've amassed a collection that includes Scottish folk tales, Norse mythology, Chinese ghost stories, Icelandic sagas, Russian fairy tales, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault (Mother Goose) and of course Grimm, Grimm, and more Grimm. Obviously there's still lots out there (I'm still on the hunt for a very nice edition of 1,001 Nights) but now I can also add Franz Xaver von Schönwerth to the list as well.  

Schönwerth's stories are, according to the foreword, collected oral tales from eastern Bavaria. Interestingly, his work languished on shelves for years, lost for generations, only to be discovered recently in a German archive and compiled into a published volume by Erika Eichenseer. And now the collection is available here, translated by Maria Tatar and illustrated by Engelbert Süss.

The tales are divided into six sections by type of tale: "Tales oaf Magic and Romance," "Enchanted Animals," "Otherworldly Creatures," "Legends," "Tall Tales and Anecdotes," and "Tales About Nature." Princes cursed as dung beatles, mermaids and mermen, and snow that wished it was as colorful as flowers are just a few things you'll find within these pages. Some of the tales might ring a bit familiar while others are wholly unique (or unique to me anyway). And, as Maria Tatar points out in her intro, there are quite a few male leads in these tales! A bit of a role reversal from the more well known stories out there. It's a refreshing and eye opening collection, indeed. Definitely recommended for any fairy tale and folk lore collection!

And now for the giveaway: To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, March 9. US only and no PO boxes please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Heroines in Fiction

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 favorite heroines in fiction.

There are any number of characters I could choose here - and given more time or coming to it on a different day might actually result in a somewhat different list! (Kinsey Millhone would always be on it, though.)

The Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman - Excerpt

Happy, happy book birthday to Samantha Norton and the late Ariana Franklin. Today marks the release of their coauthored historical novel, The Siege Winter! Thanks to the publisher, I have an excerpt to share here, to whet your appetite and hopefully send you racing to your closest bookstore. (If you missed my pre pub book buzz post with the general synopsis, you can check that our here.) You can also expect to see a review here on the blog very soon.

Chapter 1 

Winter, 1141 AD, the Cambridgeshire fens 

AT FIRST, NEWS OF THE war that was going on outside passed into the fenland without impact. It oozed into that secret world as if filtered through the green miasma of willow and alder that the fen-landers called “carr,” which lined its interminable rivers and reed beds. 

At Scutney, they learned about it from old Sala when he came back from his usual boat trip to Cambridge market, where he sold rushes for thatching. He told the tale in the village church after the celebration of Candlemas. 

“Now yere’s King Stephen . . . ,” he began. 

“Who?” somebody asked. 

Sala sighed with the exasperation of a much-traveled man for the village idiot. “I told you an’ told you, bor. Ain’t Henry on the throne now, it’s Stephen. Old Henry’s dead and gone these many a year.” 

“He never told me.” 

“Well, he wouldn’t, would he? Him bein’ a king and dead.” 

As always, the little wooden church smelled of cooking from the rush tapers that had been dipped in fat. Scutney couldn’t afford bees­wax candles; anyway, rushes gave out a prettier light. “Get on with it, will ee?” Brother Arth struggled out of the rough woolen cope he wore to take the services and into the sheep­skin cloak that was his working wear in winter. “I got ditchin’ and molin’ to see to.” 

They all had, but the villagers stayed where they were—it was as well to be informed about what was going on in them uplands. 

Sala stretched back his shoulders and addressed his audience again. “So this King Stephen’s started a-warring with his cousin the empress Matilda. Remember as I told you old King Henry on his deathbed wanted his daughter, this Matilda, to rule England? But the nobles, they don’t want no blasted female queenin’ it over un, so they’ve said no and gives the crown to Stephen, old Henry’s nephew.” 

He looked sternly into the standing congregation. “Got that, Bert, now, have you? Good. Well now, Matilda, she ain’t best pleased with bein’ passed over and seems she’s brought an army as is a-fighting Stephen’s army out there some’eres.” 

“That it?” Nyles asked. 

“Enough, innit?” Sala was miffed that Nyles, the big man of the village because he owned more sheep than anybody else, hadn’t been more receptive to the news. “I been tellin’ you as there’s a war goin’ on out there.” 

“Allus is.” Nyles shrugged. 

“Excitin’, though, Pa, ain’t it?” asked eleven-year-old Em, look­ing up at him. 

Nyles cuffed his daughter lightly about her red head for her for­wardness in speaking in church. She was his favorite, but it didn’t do to let females get out of hand, especially not this one. “Well, good luck to ’em, I say. And now let’s get on with that ditchin’ and bloody molin’.” 

But old Sala, irritated by the interruption, raised his hand. “And I’ll tell you summat else, Nyles. And you’ll want to listen this time. Want to be keeping a close eye on that one you will,” he said, point­ing at Em. “Folk say as there’s a band o’ mercenaries riding round ’ere like the wild hunt and with ’em there’s a monk, likes redheads he does. Does terrible things when ee finds ’em too.” 

Nyles shook his head indulgently and turned toward the door. He knew old Sala with his scaremongering and preposterous tales of abroad, and yet he suddenly felt inexplicably chilly and, without realizing it, had reached out and drawn the child closer to him. Daft old bugger. 

“That it then, Sala?” he asked. The old man looked deflated but nodded, and with that the men, women and children of Scutney trooped out of its church to continue their own, unceasing war— against water. 

The North Sea, that great enemy, was always threatening to drown East Anglia in one of its rages, submerging fields and cattle, even lapping the just-above-sea-level islands that dotted the flattest land in England. In winter, the sluggish rivers and great drains had to be cleared of weeds or they clogged and overflowed. 

Oh, and the mole, as big an enemy as the sea, had to be killed to stop the little bugger from weakening the dykes with his bloody tunnels. 

No, the people of Scutney didn’t have time to spare from their watery business to bother about wars between the danged nobles. Anyway, they were safe because just over there—over there, bor, see them towers in the distance?—was Ely, greatest cathedral in England. 

Every year, the villagers had to deliver four thousand glistening, squirming eels to Ely in return for being protected by Saint Ethel­dreda, whose bones lay in a jeweled tomb within the cathedral walls. 

Powerful saint, Etheldreda, an Anglo-Saxon like themselves, and although Scutney people resented the number of eels they had to catch in order to feed her monks, they were grateful to her for keeping them safe from the outside world with its battles and carryings-on. 

Oh yes, any bugger who came a-trampling and a-killing in this part of the fens’d soon have his arse kicked out of it by good old Saint Ethel. 

That’s if the bugger could find it in the first place and didn’t drown in the meres or get led astray by spirits of the dead who took the shape of flickering jack-o’-lantern flames in the marshes by night. 

Folk allus said that for an enemy force to attack Ely it’d take a traitor to show the secret causeways leading to it. And who’d be so dang-blasted stupid as to betray Saint Etheldreda? Get sent straight to hell, he would. 

Such was the attitude. 

But a traitor was even now preparing his treachery, and the war was about to penetrate Scutney’s fenland for all that Saint Etheldreda in her five-hundred-year-old grave could do about it. 

THE FIRST THE VILLAGE KNEW of its fate was when soldiers sent by Hugh Bigod turned up to take its men away to build him a new castle. 

“Bigod?” roared Nyles, struggling between two captors while his redheaded elder daughter batted at their legs with a frying pan. “We don’t owe him nothing. We’re Ely’s men.” 

Hugh Bigod, newly Earl of Norfolk, owned a large proportion of East Anglia. The Scutney villagers had seen him in his fine clothes swanking it at Ely with their bishop during Christmas feasts and suchlike. Didn’t like him much. But then, they didn’t like anybody from Norfolk. Didn’t like the next village across the marshes, come to that. 

Nor was he their overlord, as was being energetically pointed out to his soldiers. “Tha’s not law, bor. We ain’t none of his. What’s he want another castle for? He’ve got plenty.” 

“And now he do want another one,” the soldiers’ sergeant said, “in case Empress Matilda do attack un. There’s a war on, bor.” 

“Ain’t my war,” Nyles told him, still struggling. 

“Is now,” the sergeant said, “and if them nippers of yourn don’t cease bashing my legs, they’ll be its bloody casualties.” 

For Em had now been joined by her younger sister, Gyltha, wielding an iron spit. “Leave it,” Nyles told his girls. But they wouldn’t, and their mother had to drag them off. 

Holding them tightly, Aenfled watched her husband and every other able-bodied man being marched off along the roddon that led eventually to Cambridge.

“Us’ll be back, girl,” Nyles shouted at her over his shoulder, “but get they sheep folded, an’ don’t ee sell our hay for a penny under thrup­pence a stook, an’ look to that danged roof afore winter’s in, and . . .” He had suddenly remembered old Sala’s warning in the church. “Keep Em close . . .” And then he was too far away to be heard. 

The women of Scutney stood where they were, their men’s instructions becoming fainter and fainter until only an echo came sighing back to them and even that faded, so that the air held merely the frightened bawling of their babies and the call of geese flying overhead. 

They didn’t cry; fenwomen never wept. 

THE MEN STILL HADN’T COME back by the beginning of Lent. It was a hard winter that one, too. Birds dropped out of the air, killed by the cold. The rivers froze and dead fish could be seen enclosed in their ice. The old died in their huts, the sheep in their pens. 

In the turbaries, spades dulled themselves on peat that had become as hard as iron, so that fuel became scarce and it was nec­essary for tired, overworked women and their families to venture further and further away from the village in order to retrieve the peat bricks that had been stacked a year before to provide fire for shepherds during the lambing season. 

On Saint Valentine’s Day, it was the turn of Aenfled and her chil­dren to trundle a barrow into the marsh to fetch fuel. They’d left nothing behind in the woolly line and the thickness of their wrap­pings gave them the look of disparately sized gray statues perambu­lating through a gray landscape. Their breath soaked into the scarves round their mouths and turned to ice, but a veil of mist in the air promised that the weather might, just might, be on the turn. The children both carried bows and arrows in case a duck or goose flew within range. 

Tucked into Em’s belt was a little carved wooden key that Dur­wyn, Brother Arth’s son, had shyly and secretly shoved into her hand that morning. 

Gyltha wouldn’t leave the subject alone. “Wants to unlock your heart, he do. You got to wed un now.” 

“Sod that,” Em said, “I ain’t never getting married and certainly not to a saphead like Durwyn. Anyways, I ain’t old enough an’ he ain’t rich enough.” 

“You kept his old key, though.” 

“Tha’ll be on the fire tonight,” Em promised her, “keep us warm.” 

They stopped; they’d felt the drumming of hoofbeats through their boots. Horsemen were cantering along the causeway behind them. 

“Get into they bloody reeds,” hissed Aenfled. She pushed her barrow over the causeway’s edge and tumbled her children after it. 

Horses were rare in the fenland, and those traveling at speed sug­gested their riders were up to no good. Maybe these were friendly, maybe not, but lately there’d been nasty rumors of villages sacked by demons; women raped, sometimes even murdered; and grain stores burned. Aenfled was taking no chances. 

There was just time to squirm through the reeds to where the thick, bare fronds of a willow gave them some cover. 

Her hand clasped firmly over the mouth of her younger daugh­ter, not yet old enough to silence with a look, Aenfled prayed: Sweet Mary, let un go past, go past

Go past, go past, urged Em, make un go past. Through the lat­tice of reeds above her head, she saw flicks of earth being thrown up as the leading horses went by. She bowed her head in gratitude. 

Thank ee, Saint ethel, thank ee, I’ll never be wicked no more. 

But one of the middle riders pulled up. “Swear as I saw some­thing dive into that bloody ditch.” 

“Deer?” One of the leaders stopped his horse abruptly and turned back. As he approached the wind picked up, lifting his robes and revealing the animal’s flanks, which were lathered white with sweat and dripping blood from a set of vicious-looking spurs. 

Keeping still as still, Em smelled the stink of the men above her: sweat, dirt, horses, blood and a strange, pungent smell that was for­eign to her. 

“Coulda been.” 

“Flush the bastard out then. What are you waiting for?” 

Spears began thudding into the ditch. One of the men dis­mounted and started scrambling down, hallooing as he went. 

Em knew they were done. Then her mouth set itself into the thin, determined line that her sorely tried mother would have recognized and dreaded. no we ain’t. not if I lead ’em away. She pushed her sister’s head more firmly into the ground and leapt for the bank. A willow twig twitched the cap from her head as she went, releasing the flame-red curls it hid beneath, but although she paused briefly, she didn’t stop for it. Now she was running. 

Aenfled kept Gyltha clutched to her, her moans and prayers cov­ered by the whoops of the men. She heard the one who’d come into the ditch climb back out of it and join the hunt. She heard hoofbeats start up again. She heard male laughter growing fainter as the rid­ers chased their prey further and further into the marsh. She heard the faraway screams as they caught Em and knew her daughter was fighting. She heard the horses ride off with her. 

Birds of the marsh that had flown up in alarm settled back into their reed beds and resumed their silence. 

In the ditch Aenfled stopped praying. 

Except for her daughter’s soul, she never prayed again.

Big, big thanks to the publisher for providing the excerpt today. The Siege Winter is out now!

About the authors:
ARIANA FRANKLIN was the award-winning author of Mistress of the Art of Death and the critically acclaimed, bestselling medieval thriller series of the same name, as well as the 20th century thriller City of Shadows (Morrow, 2004). She died in 2011, just before completing THE SIEGE WINTER.

SAMANTHA NORMAN is Ariana Franklin’s daughter. A successful feature writer, columnist, and film critic, she lives in London.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Iron Ring by Auston Habershaw

Tyvian Reldamar has big plans for his latest scam. But when his partner betrays him, leaving him high and not so dry, pursued by a vengeful Mage Defender, Tyvian vows revenge. Unfortunately, a run in with a mysterious character and an iron ring that punishes him for bad behavior puts a real wrench in the thief's plans. 

Saddled with a young admirer and a monster who is also seeking his former partner, Tyvian and his entourage make their way to Freegate - a city free of the Mage Defenders' rules and the one place Tyvian can be free. Unfortunately, when he arrives he discovers a serious evil brewing and finds himself a target on multiple fronts. 

Auston Habershaw's debut and the first in the Saga of the Redeemed is an entertaining read with a super fun anti hero. Seriously, Tyvian is a shit. He's got very little in the way of redeeming qualities, though he is quite clever and funny (in a snarky and overly confident way). As the book progresses, though, it becomes clear that his self confidence is not misplaced.

The ring seemingly prevents him from any naughty behavior - when his companions are in danger it prevents him from walking away (which is his default setting) and it also prevents him from killing the mage defender who has devoted her career to bringing him down. And that mage defender - Myreon Alafarr - she's pretty awesome. Her connection to Tyvian, and the main reason she's so bent on capturing him, isn't revealed until close to the end but it could also hint at just why Tyvian is so darn talented as a con man and thief.

The book isn't completely without flaws, my only real issue was with the pacing in certain areas. Fortunately both Tyvian and the world itself were enough to keep me moving along. And it's a pretty short read all in all so any lagging passes within just a few pages.

The Iron Ring is out now, but be warned it does come to a very abrupt end. The follow up, All That Glitters, isn't due out until October. 

To find out more about Auston and the Saga of the Redeemed, you can visit his website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, February 22, 2015

New Releases 2/24/15

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon

Touch by Claire North

The Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

Harm's Way by Alex Barclay

Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth

Dorothy Parker Drank Here by Ellen Meister

Winter Foundling by Kate Rhodes

Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders

Canary by Duane Swierczynski

Shadow by Will Elliott

Lamentation by C. J. Sansom

Devils and Dust by J.D. Rhodes

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

Shame and the Captives by Thomas Keneally

A Ghostly Undertaking by Tonya Kappes

Empire by John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard

The Doomsday Equation by Matt Richtel

Some Other Town by Elizabeth Collison

The Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norton

Double Fudge Brownie Murder by Joanne Fluke

Mightier Than the Sword by Jeffrey Archer

I am Radar by Reif Larsen

Dreamfire by Kit Alloway

Dove Arising by Karen Bao

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling

Breakout by Kevin Emerson

New on DVD:
Horrible Bosses 2
Big Hero 6

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
Bred to Kill by Franck Thilliez
The Forgetting Place by John Burley
My Soul to Take by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Sweet by Emmy Laybourne

A teen thriller set on a cruise ship? Yes, please! Sweet by Emmy Laybourne, is set to hit shelves this summer and sounds amazing! Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

People would kill to be thin.

Solu’s luxurious celebrity-filled “Cruise to Lose” is billed as “the biggest cruise since the Titanic,” and if the new diet sweetener works as promised—dropping five percent of a person’s body weight in just days—it really could be the answer to the world’s obesity problem. But Laurel is starting to regret accepting her friend Viv’s invitation. She’s already completely embarrassed herself in front of celebrity host, Tom Forelli (otherwise known as the hottest guy ever!) and she’s too seasick to even try the sweetener. And that’s before Viv and all the other passengers start acting really strange.

But will they die for it, too?

Tom Forelli knows that he should be grateful for this job and the opportunity to shed his childhood “Baby Tom-Tom” image. His publicists have even set up a ‘romance’ with a sexy reality star. But as things on the ship start to get a bit wild, he finds himself drawn to a different girl. And when his celebrity hosting gig turns into an expose on the shocking side effects of Solu, it’s Laurel that he’s determined to save.

I don't know about you, but I think Sweet is going to be super fun! Watch for it June 2 from Feiwel & Friends.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Short Fiction Friday: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveler by Joanne Harris

Radiation poisoning from Metebelis III could mean the end for the Doctor. Or his latest incarnation, that is. In his efforts to return to his closest friends before that happens, he travels to Earth in search of Sarah Jane. But the TARDIS has other ideas. 

The world he lands on resembles Earth, but there's something undeniably off. If he is to unravel this particular puzzle, though, he'll have to do it before his presence alerts the watchful eye that has kept the world under terrifying control. 

Let's face it, folks, the best of the best are Doctor Who fans - Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, and Joanne Harris! (Just to name a few.) If you haven't gotten on board yet, I don't know what you're waiting for. It's never too late to become a Whovian, though.

Harris's Doctor is indeed Doctor # three, Jon Pertwee, who was trapped on Earth, working alongside UNIT for his show run. Unfortunately way before my Doctor Who time as PBS didn't really air this Doctor. I have some catching up to do!

In this short, Harris does have the Doctor traveling and quite near regeneration. And yet, his life of traveling space and time - particularly his time spent alone - weighs on him. It makes him particularly useful in tackling the issue that's plaguing the land he finds himself currently trapped in.

"The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveler" is a great story and a great Doctor Who story at that. Definitely recommended for fans of all of the Doctors!

Rating: 5/5

Little Black Lies by Sandra Block

Zoe Goldman's return to Buffalo for her residency has awakened nightmares she thought she'd long left behind. 

As a child, Zoe was the only survivor of a fire that claimed the life of her young mother. She was taken in by her mother's best friend and adopted as her own, but until she was a teen she was haunted by nightmares of that tragic accident. In her dream, she is hiding and someone is calling her name. Zoe can't remember who it is, but she is terrified of being found and always awakens before seeing the person's face. With the return of these dreams - and the lack of sleep they cause -, Zoe, a psychiatrist now, is determined to learn more about her past. 

It wasn't my intention to read two psychological suspense titles back to back. Fortunately the two books turned out to be VERY different.

Little Black Lies unfolds in such a way that the reader can't resist being pulled in - and by that I mean don't start this one late at night or you'll be up until you turn the last page! Zoe is a frank and honest narrator, but even she can't tell the reader what she doesn't remember. The obvious route is barred thanks to her adopted mother's dementia, though Zoe does try to get information out of her anyway. The relationship with her mother affects her attempts as well, though, as Zoe is somewhat concerned about the upset involved in asking questions about her "real" mom.

As with the Burley title earlier this week (and something I didn't mention there), Sandra Block does have a medical background. She seems to bring much of her own knowledge into the story: the workings of the hospital and psychiatric wards, psychology, and neurology. It's a definite plus and adds an added air of seriousness and believability to the tale.

Surprisingly, Little Black Lies is Block's debut novel. Not her first time writing or being published, as her bio states that she's been featured in medical and poetry journals, but even that might not necessarily promise a great narrative skill. And yet great narrative skill seems to be exactly what Block brings to the table! Every facet of Little Black Lies works harmoniously - the story is emotional, suspenseful, and fabulously well written!

Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Problems

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 bookish problems. 

I'm sure there are going to be a LOT of similar items on other TTTs!

1. Not enough time to read - honestly, there's NEVER enough time to read. By which I mean I can't ever aspire to read ALL the books! I seriously want one day (one whole day) every week that I can devote just to reading and absolutely nothing else. Never going to happen. 

2. Which doesn't stop me from wanting to read ALL the books - let's face it, as a book junkie I acquire way too many books. Many, many more than I can ever tackle. This was particularly bad when I was a bookseller as any shelving day would result in a stack of books to buy. 

3. My big TBR = a guilty conscience - sometimes I think the books are staring back at me accusingly. 

4. Traveling, vacations, and being sick - soooo I know I'm not the only one who thinks that when I'm sick as a dog and can't do anything else at least I can still read. I honestly look at it the same way as a vacation in terms of TBR tackling even though I don't even get to read all that much on vacation! And don't even get me started on packing what to read while traveling.

5. eBooks vs physical books - ebooks are never going to win. They almost never get priority over my physical books. When I do choose one, my ereader will inevitably be in need of charging. And half the time I think I've loaded a file, when I go to read it it's gone. 

6. I need a TARDIS to hold my books - my available shelving space needs to magically grow along with my book collection. 

7. The dreaded reading slump - I've battled this a bit more effectively of late simply by committing myself to scheduled reviews. No, it doesn't necessarily make the slump go away but it makes it harder to succumb to it and it usually does end rather quickly (thankfully).

8. Choosing the next book - I'm a mood reader but I also have that guilt mentioned above, which means that when I do get to choose my next book on my own I often become crippled by the decision. I sit and stare at the shelves and then I feel guilty about the time I'm wasting when I could be reading something!

9. My brain is becoming Swiss cheese - I feel like I used to remember details much better in years past. I never understood how a person couldn't remember if they owned a book (people used to complain about new covers and buying books they'd already read). Yeah, I get that now. I can't remember anything! 

10. Hoarding - let me just say I'm definitely NOT a true hoarder. I get rid of books ALL the time. But,  I do have a definite fear that I'll get rid of something that I want to come back to later on. It's awful. And it's happened! The worst part, though, is hanging onto series titles. If it's something I really want to read but maybe haven't had a chance to get to, I'll still buy later installments planning to tackle the whole thing when I have a chance. But of course there's #1 and #2 and #3 above isn't there?

The Forgetting Place by John Burley

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for John Burley's latest, The Forgetting Place.

Dr. Lise Shields doesn't think her newest patient belongs at Menaker State Hospital. His arrival was unorthodox, to be sure: no transfer order, no patient history, no paperwork at all. In fact, Lise isn't even sure why he's been committed at all. Lise questions her superiors and is told to let things be, but she soon notices that she's being followed. By the time the FBI approaches her, she knows there's something fishy about the whole case. 

Readers, I've been fretting about how to review this book without giving anything away and I'm going to just have to suck it up. Be warned, I can't promise there will be NO spoilers but I will do my absolute best to avoid them.

I wanted to love The Forgetting Place. Burley's writing is crisp and toned. Lise Shields's voice is perfectly crafted from page one. And the tension! Yes, there's enough suspense and tension to keep any reader captivated throughout The Forgetting Place.

So why didn't I love it? Because I feel like I've seen it before. Not the story itself. Not the characters. Not even the specific setting. But the twist. Ah, that twist. I saw it coming from the start. My reading history left me well prepared for that twist, which is not at all to say that it isn't well done just that it wasn't the surprise it was meant to be, I'm sure.

That aside, I did quite like The Forgetting Place. Lise's own story plays out in such a way that the reader can see why she's ended up where she is. Meanwhile, Jason's (her patient) story plays out slowly enough to ratchet up the intensity of the story. By the time Lise starts to realize why he's at Menaker, she feels certain that she herself is in grave danger and everything that happens around her supports that fear.

The Forgetting Place is definitely a gripping read and one that will greatly appeal to fans of psychological suspense.

Rating: 4/5

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

For more on John Burley and his work, you can visit his website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Thing About Great White Sharks by Rebecca Adams Wright

Hi, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Rebecca Adams Wright's The Thing About Great White Sharks.

So you've heard me sing the praises of short stories so much here that I'm sure you're sick of it, but this weekend proved one of my points perfectly: shorts are an excellent choice when you can't focus on longer reading for whatever reason. My reason, I've been sick all weekend. And it was the kind of sick where I felt like I was on the brink of falling asleep pretty much every minute of the day. Sore throat, mild cough, big time lethargy... it made Bosch watching a natural choice, but it was not conducive to my weekend reading plans at all. With the exception of Rebecca Adams Wright's collection.

The Thing About Great White Sharks features fifteen oddball tales that were really a pleasure to read. Really. Whether you're suffering from the zombie plague or not, these are fun stories. Well, mostly fun. "Sheila" - the one about the mechanical dog - wasn't fun. "Tiger Bright," which does offer a bit of a parallel, though, definitely was.

Of course it was a great fit for sick reading as well considering many of the tales seemed a bit like fever dreams! "What to Expect When You're Expecting an Alien Parasite" (the title says it all) in particular was maybe a bit too much for me this weekend. "The Other Husband" too was maybe not a great choice - I had to read that one twice because my brain just wasn't processing it. Entries like "Orchids" and "Storybag," though, were exactly what I needed!

From aliens and ghosts to the London blitz and the far future, Rebecca Adams Wright tackles a range of topics and settings I doubt any reader has ever seen brought together quite this way in one volume.   This is an exciting collection, folks, and one that I think is fabulous evidence of the author's talent. I wholeheartedly believe, based on The Thing About Great White Sharks, that Rebecca Adams Wright has wonderful things to offer the reading world and I will certainly be looking forward to reading more!

Rating: 4/5

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

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

New Releases 2/17/15

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Little Black Lies by Sandra Block

Housewitch by Katie Schickel

Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbøl

Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

Find Me by Laura van den Berg

Lies That Bind by Maggie Barbieri

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

The Half Brother by Holly LeCraw

Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan

After Birth by Elisa Albert

Making Nice by Matt Sumell

Fortune's Blight by Evie Manieri

Last Days of the Condor by James Grady

Nobody Walks by Mich Herron

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

The Whites by Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt)

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

New on DVD:
St. Vincent
The Interview
The Theory of Everything
The Homesman
Dumb and Dumber To

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Housewitch by Katie Schickel

Housewitch by Katie Schickel is out in just a few days, but it sounded so fun that I just had to feature it here (NetGalley has had a sample up rather than the full book so I've not been able to read the whole thing for an actual review as of yet either).

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Allison Darling, former foster child, now a stay-at-home mom of three, desperately wants to fit in with the organic latte drinking, hundred-dollar-yoga-pants-wearing moms who run Monrovia, her charming seaside village. Constantly feeling like an outsider, Allison dreams of more for her children. When the Glamour Girls, a soap-selling company run by the most charismatic and powerful women in town, recruits Allison, she jumps at the invitation. The Glamor Girls have a hand in everything in Monrovia, from bake sales to business deals. This is what Allison’s wanted her whole life—to be liked. To be popular. To belong. After Allison’s estranged mother passes away, she learns her family’s heartbreaking legacy and the secret Allison’s been fighting to suppress all her life emerges: she’s a witch. What’s more, she’s not the only one in town. There’s more to the Glamour Girls then it seems… and once you’re a Glamour Girl, there’s no going back. Allison must use her rediscovered magic to defend Monrovia, protect her marriage and her children, and reclaim her legacy. Fighting tooth and nail for her family is easy, but what about for herself? Is it too late to confront her own demons and become the woman she dreams of being?

Housewitch is out this Tuesday (2/17) from Forge.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Price of Blood by Patricia Bracewell + a Giveaway

Last year Patricia Bracewell introduced readers to the likely little known Emma of Normandy, the "twice crowned queen." The beginning of her story was one fraught with tension and political scheming: she was to be the key piece in a negotiation between Normandy and England, a young girl set to wed King Æthelred who'd hoped it would ensure Normandy's support against the Danes. Unfortunately for Emma, her new marriage is little more than a contractual agreement; Æthelred isn't interested in her support or her counsel. Instead, he wants her to bear children and that's about it. Worse yet, Emma and Æthelred's eldest son, Athelstan, who are much closer in age and much better suited for one another, find that they indeed have strong feelings for each another.

What a pickle!

The second part of Emma's saga, The Price of Blood, picks up around Easter 1006. She has born the King a son, a son who has been declared heir in spite of having six remaining sons - from his previous marriage - who would be in line first. But the story begins with the death of one of those six and the King's continued certainty that he has been cursed by his dead brother.

Ecbert has died. King Æthelred knows this is continued punishment for his silence pertaining to his brother's death, but what is there to do about it at this stage? With the Viking forces rallying, Æthelred learns that his Ealdorman in the north has been plotting against him, planning to wed his daughter to one of the Danes in order to forge his own alliance. The King orders his death and that of his sons, causing the lords of the north to question his role as their sovereign. And in spite of this, the Ealdorman's daughter is indeed tied to the Vikings, marrying the Cnut, the son of King Swein. But Æthelred's problems don't end there. The King is convinced that his sons are plotting against him and his behavior has become cause for concern. Emma - torn between her role as queen, her love for the King's eldest son, and her determination to protect her own son - is forced to begin her own plotting behind the scenes, ever aware that if she is caught, the King will no doubt accuse her of treason. 

Whew! Poor Emma. Though this is a fictionalized version of her as a person (her thoughts and motivations), history does include enough about her life that it's likely Bracewell has pieced much of this together fairly accurately. As she pointed out in her guest post last year, what is known about Emma alone leaves little doubt that she was a formidable woman and a force to be reckoned with.

And as Bracewell also points out in her post, people know very little about Emma as compared to other queens. I love, though, that she has taken it upon herself to rectify this situation! Bracewell brings Emma to life through her prose, imagining a woman driven by loyalty and love. Marrying Æthelred wasn't her decision, but it is her lot in life and a duty that she takes on with bravery and determination. She is smart and not willing to stand by the sidelines as a trophy or broodmare. No, this woman will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety and future reign of her son. She's also determined to see peace for the kingdom she has been tied to.

If you're a fan of historical fiction who has yet to discover Bracewell and Emma, you should definitely add both Shadow on the Crown and The Price of Blood to your immediate reading plans! And for anyone interested in some extras, the publisher has put together a great Book Club Kit featuring party ideas, early English factoids, and a Q&A with the author. You can also follow Patricia on Twitter.

What's more, thanks to the publisher I'm able to offer up a copy of both Shadow on the Crown and The Price of Blood to one of you lucky readers! To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, March 2, US only and no PO boxes please.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

Three women. Three generations of midwives. One secret that threatens to tear them apart. 

Neva has managed to keep her pregnancy secret for all of six months, but when her mother, Grace, and grandmother, Floss, discover her situation quite by accident it seems it's finally time to spill. As a midwife in a family of midwives, and an employee at a birthing center, it's not like she could keep it secret forever. One thing Neva won't reveal, though, is the identity of the father. 

Grace grew up without a dad and knows all too well the sense of loss and the damage it can do to a child. As she tries to push Neva to involve the father in some way, Floss is forced to confront a secret of her own. And this one has been festering inside of her long enough to do real damage. 

The Secrets of Midwives, Hepworth's US debut, is lighter fare than my last few reads. It's 100% women's fiction in the truest sense - a story about three generations of women from the same family, all of them dedicated to a noble practice that's steeped in women's history. Interestingly, Hepworth manages to also pit the different family members against one another in terms of viewpoints on hospitals and home births without becoming overly political. (It's a subtle aspect of the story, to be honest, at least in comparison to the rest of the plot, but I found it to be particularly timely all things considered.)

Hepworth does a fabulous job establishing each character's personality and voice as the story alternates between the three narrators. Each of them has their faults, but I found something to love in each of them as well. Floss's story, though, is the only one I felt was really worthy of any sense of urgency. Neva has her life together. She's prepared to be a mother, she has a support system, and her situation never feels as serious as I think it's meant to. Grace's story also felt the same, but perhaps this was because Robert, her husband, isn't very well developed as a whole and much of her own conflict lies in part with him.

Floss, though, is hiding something pretty big and it's not hard for the reader to figure it out. Her story unfolds through flashbacks, bringing the reader back to England in the 1950s, and it was this part of the tale that I really loved. I have to admit that I pictured her story through a lens no doubt influenced by Call the Midwife! (Note that cover art.)

As a whole, The Secrets of Midwives is heartwarming and fun, a one-sitting read perfect for readers looking for a bit of a deep subject in a lighter framework.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Secrets of Midwives is out now in hardcover and on audio, read by Alison Larkin. Thanks to the publisher, I have a sample of that available here for you:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney + a Giveaway

Good morning, everyone! Today I am kicking off the TLC book tour for Lou Berney's latest, The Long and Faraway Gone. Berney blew me away with his Whiplash River and is an author I think should definitely be more widely read. That said, I'm super stoked to be able to offer up two copies of this latest to one of you lucky readers, so be sure to scroll through to the Rafflecopter below to enter to win a copy.

It was the August of 1986 when three robbers busted into the Pheasant Run Twin movie theater and killed its manager and all but one of the employees on shift. Just a few weeks later, Genevieve Rosales disappeared from the state fair. 

Two decades have passed and Wyatt and Julianna are still haunted by these events. Wyatt, the only one to survive the theater robbery, changed his name and is now a PI in Vegas. Julianna, Genevieve's little sister - who was left waiting for her the night she disappeared, still lives in Oklahoma City where she works as a nurse. While Wyatt has always tried to put his own past behind him, Julianna has spent her time trying desperately to find some clue that will explain her sister's disappearance. Unfortunately for Wyatt, a favor for a friend leads him straight back to his old hometown, forcing him to once again face the ghosts of that summer. For Julianna, a glimmer of hope comes in the form of a new clue, which means she too may finally have a chance to face down her demons. 

The Long and Faraway Gone is a mystery wrapped around human tragedy. Both Wyatt and Julianna are trying to solve their own cases, in their own ways. Wyatt is also tasked with investigating another mystery, that of Vegas girl who's inherited an OKC club and thinks she's being harassed for it.

Crimes aside, Wyatt and Julianna are both still struggling emotionally with the fallout of these crimes. Wyatt has always wondered why he survived. Why all of his coworkers were shot and he was spared. Julianna has also wondered why - why her sister left her behind that night. What could possibly have been so important that she would abandon her little sister.

Berney's plotting is wonderful but it's the heavy focus on the emotional repercussions that remain in the days, weeks, and years following such tragedies that elevate his latest above and beyond standard mystery/thriller fare. What's more, the focus on connections - the links and the small interactions that occur throughout the story - make The Long and Faraway Gone seem so real.

Rating: 5/5

And now for the giveaway. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, February 23. US only and no PO boxes please.

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

For more on Lou Berney and his work, you can check out his website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Eat: The Little Book of Fast Food by Nigel Slater

I'm always on the lookout for great recipes that can be made quickly and fairly inexpensively, so when I stumbled upon Nigel Slater's Eat as part of the Blogging for Books selected titles for review I knew I had to get my hands on it. 

Slater's intro says this book is for those times when we "just want to eat" and he couldn't have described the book better. The recipes are fairly short and fairly easy and the ingredients are all pretty much things you have in your pantry already. In fact, when the book arrived I immediately started tagging recipes to try based simply on what I'd be able to make without going shopping ('cause really, there are those days when you couldn't pay me to go to the grocery story). 

While some may lament the fact that there aren't many pictures in this book, I love the fact that many of the recipes provided include alternatives or similar dishes featuring similar techniques and completely different flavor profiles. The "Artichokes with Cannellini" for example is a recipe using just artichokes, cannellini beans, green onions, lemon, and parsley but Slater also suggests swapping tarragon or mint, or using Puy lentils in place of the beans. It's these kinds of tips and swaps that elevate the book, making it the kind of cookbook that inspires as well as informs. 

Eat by itself is great for anyone who has even the smallest amount of kitchen knowledge, but I think for people who have a bit more experience and like to try new things that it's even better. Slater's own suggestions mean many of the recipes can be made new the second time around: "Potatoes with Hazlenuts and Egg" can be "Pumpkin with Pistachio and Egg" the next time around and then "Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke with Walnuts and Egg." And a recipe like that can you send a creative person into a whole new realm of adventure in the kitchen!

My one complaint about the cookbook, which is not entirely conducive to kitchen use at all, is the binding. When cooking, I want to lay my cookbook out and return to it's spread open pages between steps. Unfortunately, Eat is bound in such a way that makes it pretty tough to open the book flat. Considering the almost 500 page book undoubtedly packs in more than 500 recipes, I can forgive the binding this time.  

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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

New Releases 2/10/15

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Pardon the Ravens by Alan Hruska

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan

The First Wife by Erica Spindler

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr

The Forgetting Place by John Burley

The Swimmer by Joakim Zander

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Dreamless by Jorgen Brekke

Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger

She Weeps Each Time You're Born by Quan Barry

Shadows Over Paradise by Isabel Wolff

The Marriage Game by Alison Weir

The Damned by Andrew Pyper

The Killing Season by Mason Cross

Blood Infernal by James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell

The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson

Amherst by William Nicholson

Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick

The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli

The Silence of Ghosts by Jonathan Aycliffe

The Cat, the Devil, and the Last Escape by Shirley Rousseau & J. J. Murphy

Finn Fancy Necromancy by Randy Henderson

Plague Land by S. D. Sykes

Sweet Nothing: Stories by Richard Lange

The Glittering World by Robert Levy

Neverhome by Laird Hunt

Phantom Angel by David Handler

Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater

The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber

Rebound by Noelle August

In Her Wake by K. A. Tucker

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton

Rebellion by Stephanie Diaz

Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons

Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly

New on DVD:
Force Majeure
Kill The Messenger
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Pre Pub Book Buzz: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

Victoria Schwab kicks off a new series later this month with the release of A Darker Shade of Magic. This newest title promises to be both action packed and super fun. Don't believe me? Well here's a bit about the book from Goodreads to tempt you:

Kell is one of the last Travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes—as such, he can choose where he lands. There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, ruled by a mad King George. Then there’s Red London, where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne—a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London...but no one speaks of that now.Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see—a dangerous hobby, and one that has set him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations, first robs him, then saves him from a dangerous enemy, and then forces him to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—and that is proving trickier than they hoped.

A Darker Shade of Magic is out from Tor on February 24.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Short Fiction Friday: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman + a Giveaway

(Before you say it, I know this post is going up on Saturday and not Friday. All I can say is that my intentions were thwarted by exhaustion.)

Neil Gaiman is back with another collection of shorts for our reading pleasure, folks, and oh, I have to say, what a freaking pleasure it is!

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances features a handful of brand new stories as well as others that have appeared elsewhere ("The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury" from Shadow Show; "Down to a Sunless Sea," which also appears in Fearie Tales; and "The Sleeper and the Spindle" from Rags & Bones, just to name a few). There are short shorts, longer shorts, poems, and even an interview ("Orange") each of them fabulous gems and wonders. There's even a Doctor Who story ("Nothing O'Clock") and a tale featuring Shadow Moon of American Gods fame ("Black Dog").

One of my favorite elements in the collection is Gaiman's insight into the background of each piece. For many, he notes authors past and present who have inspired him throughout his career (also making a book junkie like me add frantically to my own must read lists). As a reader, though, I have to say that Gaiman himself is the kind of author that readers and writers also praise for being both brilliant and inspiring. For me, in reading any of Gaiman's work, it begins with a bit of a tingle... a feeling that I'm diving into something truly special.

Whether you're a longtime fan of Gaiman's work or someone looking to discover what he's all about, Trigger Warnings is quite the perfect read. His dedication to the arts in general, libraries, and independent stores (one in my area won the event contest for Trigger Warnings) would be enough to make him a man to be admired, but he is such a tremendous talent as well and a collection like Trigger Warnings serves to further emphasize that.

Rating: 5/5 and highly, highly recommended!

And now for the giveaway. Unfortunately I don't have a copy of Trigger Warnings for you, but I think you'll like this just as much: a paperback copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and the hardcover, illustrated edition of "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains..." (the story sans illustrations appears in Trigger Warnings as well). To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, February 23 (US only please).

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Miramont's Ghost by Elizabeth Hall + a Giveaway

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Elizabeth Hall's Miramont's Castle, a gothic tale that draws inspiration from a real place here in my neck of the woods!

Like her grandmother before her, Adrienne has always had the gift of sight. But this gift is no gift at all. Instead, it's more like a curse. 

After the death of her beloved grand-pére, the Compte de Challemelles, Adrienne struggles to keep her visions to herself. But her efforts are in vain. Her aunt Marie, a woman who has always worried about the village gossip especially as it pertains to Adrienne's odd behavior, arranges to take the teen to America. There the two women will take up residence at Marie's son's newly completed castle in Manitou Springs, Colorado. But as soon as Adrienne arrives, she realizes she is to be a prisoner rather than a guest. As she searches for a way to escape, her days at Miramont Castle become more and more bleak. 

Soooo, yes. Miramont Castle exists. You can tour it, you can book it for a wedding, you can even enjoy lunch or high tea in the Queen's Parlor Tea Room. And though I've worked with authors who have written about Miramont before, the rumored sordid past was new to me. Hall very kindly includes afterword outlining some of the parallels between the real Miramont history and her tale (of course pointing out that the book is fiction).

And oh, poor Adrienne! Readers, this is a bleak story indeed. I supposed I should have known that - or at least had my suspicions about that - but I went into the book a little blind. I knew it was a gothic tale and I knew it was set at Miramont Castle and that was it. The rest was a surprise. Perhaps most surprising, though, was the fact that Adrienne doesn't arrive at Miramont Castle until halfway through the book. Instead, the first half is set in France and is set up for both her visions and her family situation.

I did love the historical setting! I'd thought that maybe Hall had set the story at Miramont simply for the sake of setting it at a castle. Not so, fellow readers! In addition to the above mentioned parallels between the real Miramont/Fr. Francolon history and the fictional Miramont/Fr. Julien, Hall also spends a little time setting the scene with other interesting tidbits including the Denver & Rio Grande Railway, cameos by General William Jackson Palmer, and bits about historic Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs.

So although the tale is admittedly pretty bleak, I have to say that I rather liked it. In the way that you can like a story steeped in dread and foreboding.

Rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher I'm able to offer up a copy of Miramont's Castle to one of you lucky readers. (Open US/Canada only.) To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, February 23.

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

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Love By the Book by Melissa Pimentel

Lauren Cunningham has a great job but her love life is lacking. Though she isn't looking for anything serious, she would like someone she can spend time with. When her latest relationship takes a nosedive thanks to a spontaneous breakfast (she cooked him eggs!) she decides to take a more scientific approach to dating. She'll choose one dating book each month, follow it to the letter, and chronicle the results. But will her experiment bring her love?

The concept behind Melissa Pimentel's debut is charming and quite funny. Of course the possible outcome of Lauren's little experiment leave lots of room for drama! Given that she starts with The Rules, which involves no eye contact and basically no personality on her part, it's easy to imagine from the start that at least one of her subjects would consider the fact that she's somewhat unstable and bordering on insane.

Each new book makes for new potential awkwardness (Rules of the Game from a girl's perspective...) and hilarity. And while they are all ostensibly for the purpose of allowing Lauren to meet and date men, they do give her a chance to gain some keen insight into herself as well.

Pimentel says in her author's note that the book is about how much fun dating can be. Honestly, I never found dating fun. I found it weird and off putting, spending much of my time wondering if I was lusting after a potential serial killer and/or freaking out about all the weird games guys play. But I have to admit that experiencing it through Lauren's eyes was quite amusing. I'm still glad to be out of the dating world altogether, though.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran by Marion Grace Woolley + a Giveaway

Hello, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Marion Grace Woolley's Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran. Thanks to the publisher I'm able to offer up a giveaway copy of this one, and it's open internationally! Be sure to fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter to win.

As the eldest daughter of the Shah, Asfar enjoys a life of privilege and luxury. But Asfar longs for more. On her twelfth birthday, her father presents her with a circus. One of its members, a masked man whose magical feats are both breathtaking and baffling, becomes Asfar's closest friend. Together they find pleasure in cruelty and torture, but their friendship will be their undoing.

There are some books that in spite of reading synopses and promotional materials seem to defy all expectation. Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran is one of those books. I honestly had no idea, even after reading up on the book, what to expect out of this one. I was intrigued, though, by the premise and the more I read about it further convinced me that I needed to see for myself what it was all about. (In finishing the book, I find I am having a bit of trouble summing it up myself, so I want to share a couple of those links with you. This first one is a piece by Salomé Jones on marketing Rosy Hours, and this second link is a Q&A with the author herself.)

Inspired by The Phantom of the Opera, the tale imagines Erik Vachon's life in Persia in the years before Leroux's tale takes place. Amazingly, though Vachon is a mean spirited man who makes a living as an assassin for the Shah, young Asfar is a much more cruel character in my opinion. One could argue that Vachon's appearance is the cause of his disposition and proclivities; Asfar has no such excuse. Even when she becomes a pawn and a plaything in the hands of her grandmother and her father's favorite wife, her vengeful nature is, for the most part, drawn simply from a desire to kill rather than a need for retribution.

Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran is a dark and brutal book and there really are no redeeming qualities in its heroine. Nothing that makes you sympathize with her or like her in the least bit anyway. But there's something undeniably engaging about the story and the author's talent in putting to page her own prequel of a sorts to such a well-known story is quite admirable.

Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran is officially out February 14 from Ghostwoods Books.

Rating: 4.5/5

And now for the giveaway! As mentioned above,  To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, February 16. And again, this one is open internationally!

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To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Marion Grace Woolley and her work you can follow her on Twitter.