Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes + a Giveaway

Hi, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Elizabeth Haynes's latest, Behind Closed Doors. This is the second title in her Briarstone Major Crime series. If you haven't had a chance to read Under a Silent Moon, don't worry I won't spoil it. I am also offering up a copy of that series debut here for one of you lucky readers, so you can get started with the Briarstone team! Be sure to read through to the end to enter.

Ten years ago, a young English girl disappeared while on vacation with her family in Greece. Louisa Smith worked the case - one of her first. Most assume the girl died, but the fact that the case was never officially closed has weighed on Lou. Lou gets a second chance when that girl is found in a brothel raid, ten years after her disappearance.

Meanwhile, Lou and her team are already on a tough case of their own: one man has been hospitalized after being brutally beaten while another lies dead. The two cases are seemingly unconnected at first, but it soon turns out they may not only be linked, but that the cases might also tie into discoveries made during an investigation Lou and her team worked just one year ago. 

Behind Closed Doors is a really dark read. The narrative alternates between Scarlett and the investigators, giving readers a disturbing look inside the world of human trafficking.

Scarlett is just fifteen when she is taken. Her trip to Greece offered her a first taste of teenage love but Scarlett's home life is anything but rosy and she starts to see the trip as a chance for escape. Ultimately the reader learns that she chose to stay for the sake of her sister; there are dark secrets in their family story, secrets that are only revealed as the book progresses.

The secondary case, which does turn out to be not so secondary at all, takes a backseat to Scarlett's tale, to be honest. She's captivating! She's strong and her story is tragic, plus the twists that Haynes teases along the way really do drive the mystery.

I did enjoy the fact that there are some lingering issues with the previous case. It's not terribly important to have read Under a Silent Moon first, though you will be aware at least of who DIDN'T do it in that one based on Behind Closed Doors. Briarstone itself seems to be a town rife with crime, so I do hope that means more of Lou, Jason, and Sam to come!

Rating: 4/5

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

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

And now for the giveaway! To enter to win a copy of Under a Silent Moon, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, April 13. US only please.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Recent Additions to my TBR

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: top ten books recently added to my TBR.

Monday, March 30, 2015

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes Giveaway

Jojo Moyes's latest, One Plus One, is out in paperback tomorrow and to celebrate the publisher is letting me offer up a copy for giveaway.

If you haven't read this one yet, you can check out my review post here. Here's a bit about the book from the publisher as well:

Like her breakout smash hit Me Before You, ONE PLUS ONE is a heartwarming tale of family dysfunction and devotion, the power of love, and second chances, told with Moyes’s trademark sensitivity and humor.

Suppose your life sucks—a lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. If you’re Jess Thomas, you do what you always do—make it work.

Jess and her family (including their giant, smelly dog Norman) begin their doomed-from-the-start adventure stranded on the side of the road next to a dilapidated Rolls Royce—sans license, sans insurance—having just been pulled over by the police for a missing headlight. And the unexpected knight in shining armor who rescues them? Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home Jess happens to clean. With big problems of his own, Ed, in perhaps his first ever unselfish act, offers to drive Jess and her dysfunctional brood to the Maths Olympiad and a prize that could turn everything around for Jess’s family. 

This unlikely cast of characters is easy to fall for: Nicky, Jess’s stepson, wears mascara, doesn’t fit in at school, but is fiercely protective of Tanzie, Jess’s precocious math prodigy daughter; Jess and Ed are the kind of opposites you love to watch attract; and pungent Norman, the immovable mascot of the back seat, is the best guard dog you’ll ever find drooling on your shoulder.

One Plus One is also available on audio.

And now for the giveaway: to enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, April 13. Open US only and no PO boxes please.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

New Releases 3/31/15

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

The Day We Met by Rowan Coleman

Murder Boy by Bryon Quertermous

Girl Underwater by Claire Kells

The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak

At the Water's Edge by Sarah Gruen

The Figaro Murders by Laura Lebow

The Harder They Come by T. C. Boyle

Poison by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

The Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry

Throne of Darkness by Douglas Nicholas

Normal by Graeme Cameron

The Patriot Threat by Steve Berry

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter

The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett

The Honours by Tim Clare (4/2)

The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Page

The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

King by Ellen Oh

Sisters of Blood and Spirit by Kady Cross

Solitaire by Alice Oseman

New on DVD:
The Imitation Game

New Reviews at Bookbitch.com:
The Price of Blood by Patricia Bracewell
Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pre Pub Book Buzz: The Fold by Peter Clines

I consider our house a pretty big Peter Clines fan base. Both my husband and I read him (and my husband is reading this one as we speak - didn't even let me have a chance at it! Watch for my review closer to release date.)

The Fold is a break from Clines's super fabulous super heroes vs zombies series, but sounds equally wonderful and is in my reading plans as soon as I can tear it away from hubs. Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

The folks in Mike Erikson's small New England town would say he's just your average, everyday guy. And that's just how Mike likes it. Sure, the life he's chosen may not be much of a challenge to someone with his unique gifts, but Mike is content with his quiet and peaceful existence. 

That is, until an old government friend presents him with an irresistible mystery--one that Mike is uniquely qualified to solve: it seems that a team of DARPA scientists has invented a device that could make teleportation a reality. But something is very wrong with the project. The personalities of the scientists who work on it are changing. People are dying. And reality itself seems to be...warping. 

Mike soon learns that the machine is not at all what it appears to be--and that its creators may have opened a doorway to something horrible that lurks just outside our world's borders.

(Funnily enough there's both a Mike and a Becky in this book!)

The Fold is due out from Crown in June.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Something Red by Douglas Nicholas + a Giveaway

Hob has only been traveling with Molly and her caravan for a short time now, so many of the stops on their regular trek through England are new to him: the St. Germaine Monastery, for example, where the monks have made it their business to protect travelers, and Osbert's Inn, a welcome respite for weary pilgrims. Bandits target the road beyond and Molly has trained her people well in the event of an attack, but something worse than bandits is on their trail this time.

Hob felt it on the road outside the monastery. He felt it again before they were safely behind the walls at Osbert's Inn. It's an evil that thirsts for blood. A presence that weighs heavy on those sensitive enough to feel it coming. And it's hunting Hob and his new family.

Something Red is a deliciously atmospheric debut. It's quite dense, packed with detail and imagery, and much of the dialog works best sounded out as the author employs an almost old English approach (NOT Old English, but as if it's meant to be and still readily readable). But in spite of that, it does read rather more quickly than I'd expected, in part because of my own anticipation about what was coming and in part because it's the kind of tale that does grab hold and drag you along as Hob's group progress in their travels.

The story is set in a bone-chilling winter during the thirteenth century. Molly, or Queen Maeve, is an Irish exile who makes her way through England trading in remedies and music. Hob, an orphan, was discovered at priest house, having been taken in by an aging man of the cloth. Though Molly has yet to explain why she convinced the priest to relinquish the boy into her care, Hob is grateful and has learned much in the year and a half he's traveled with them. At just thirteen years of age, he's proven himself to be a good addition to their group. Also traveling with Molly are Jack Brown, a former crusader and her sometime lover, and her niece, Nemain.

Do be warned, it does take a while for something beyond looks and feelings to happen but the ride along the way is quite fun. This is the first in a trilogy, with the third installment due out Tuesday (March 31). There's a lot of character development but the reader is still left with questions about Molly/Maeve, Nemain, and Hob, particularly with respect to Molly's exile and her powers.

Something Red stands on its own - there's no crazy cliffhanger, but these characters are the kind you won't want to leave for long.

Rating: 4/5

And now for the giveaway! With the trilogy rounding out so soon, I'll be binging on the series myself. I though I would share the love and give away a copy of this first book to one of you lucky readers. To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, April 13. US only please.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Persona by Genevieve Valentine

Suyana Sapaki is the Face of the United Amazonian Rainforest Confederation. She was tapped as a teen and trained to represent the UARC in the International Assembly. But this doesn't mean that Suyana has any semblance of power or influence, and the IA makes sure its Faces know this. No, Suyana is expected to attend events, chair committees when asked, and express only the opinions and votes set forth for her. But when Suyana finds herself at the center of an assassination attempt, she has to wonder if someone has discovered her deepest secret. 

Genevieve Valentine is a smart author and it shows in Persona. The intricate layering of this world, which is much like our own - with a few key... exaggerations so to speak (some cynics would argue she's spot on with our own political system), takes some time to ease into. The political manipulations become clearer as the story progresses, thankfully. At the start I was more than a little confused about exactly how this was all playing out, trying to figure out the nature of the IA and the Faces to begin with.

In this world, politics are done behind the scenes. Faces like Suyana are meant to be seen, literally. They're contracted for everything from public appearances to relationships - a bit like endorsements but for every aspect of their lives. And yet, Suyana has managed to keep some pieces of her life personal. And it's this little secret that could be the reason someone wants her dead.

The attempt is witnessed by Daniel Park, a paparazzo (a Snap). Publicity and photos of Faces are also controlled by the IA, so Daniel's freelancing would be greatly frowned upon (and he's gotten in trouble with the IA before, as we soon learn). But when he ends up being the only person Suyana can count on he knows he can't tell her what he was doing at the scene.

There are so many potential plots against, for, or even by Suyana and Daniel that it's impossible not to become swept up in their story. And the clues Valentine sets along the way to key you into the world fit well within the story as they're placed, both avoiding any icky info dump as well as hang ups in the plot. A win, win all around.

Rating: 4/5

Guest Post by Genevieve Valentine

If you follow the blog then you know that Genevieve Valentine's Persona has been pretty high up on my must have list. It was one of the launch titles for Simon and Schuster's new Saga Press and just the third full-length novel from Valentine, whose work I actually discovered first via various short story collections. Her prose blows me away and I highly recommend her work to anyone looking for something completely unique in genre fiction. (You can check out my review of Persona here on the blog later this afternoon.)

Today we're lucky enough to have Genevieve herself posting to the blog and without further ado I'll hand things over to her:

Persona and Paparazzi

The first time I got hit by a bike in New York, it was the usual way – by bike messenger – and I was prepared to deliver the usual rejoinder – several rounds of enthusiastic swearing and a vague arm shake to wrap it up. 

But I realized as the guy tried to disentangle himself that he hadn't gotten caught off-guard: he'd been pushed. There were three photographers rushing each other, all khaki shorts and elbows, taking pictures of someone who was walking down the street slightly ahead of me. I took two steps backwards, instinctively not wanting to be in any of those shots; everybody in New York knows paparazzi are inevitable bad news; the comparisons to roaches aren't just because they're hard to get rid of, but because even the city's fanciest neighborhoods can't shake them. 

This time they were out for Peter Dinklage, who was walking down the street. (That's it; he was walking down the street. I saw some of him, later, carrying his child as if to lift him from a flood.) Maybe six, maybe eight. And as I stepped back and flinched in sympathy with Dinklage, who did not look pleased but looked equally determined not to make a good story by reacting, I thought about Daniel Radcliffe, who had recently been vocal in interviews about how unsettling it was that he hadn't seen any particular uptick in paparazzi presence when he turned eighteen, but Emma Watson had had to fight off her first upskirt shots on her eighteenth birthday, the second it was legal. 

These photographers didn't do the usual calling – I didn't know if that was some New York law, as if it's more protective of one's privacy so long as it's quiet – but somehow it was just as unsettling to watch a cluster of men shoving at one another in utterly focused silence, as a man tried to walk down the street.

The snaps in Persona, of course, are not nearly this bad. Partially this is out of plot necessities; what they're doing is technically illegal, and though everyone suspects that some press are selling candid shots on the sly, actually belonging to a snap organization is clearly a clandestine business, and so Daniel works hard not to be seen – and then, when he's too decent to help himself, at least tries hard not to be made. Partially, this is because snaps operate in a moral gray area rather than a purely celebrity wheel; while spying on public figures is still fairly creepy, the implication is that it's a more noble profession than it may seem – the regular press is more or less in the pockets of their publishers, so snaps are as close as the public comes to transparency, and every so often, important stories are broken via snap photographs. (It's definitely a clear and present danger for the delegation that runs him out of the country simply for taking a candid shot, even without ulterior motive.) And partially, snaps are a more discreet version of celebrity photographers because to recreate the paparazzi as I've seen them in person – both here, and since – would end up more like than any other sort of thriller.

There's also a deliberate divide in Persona between the seething public friendships of the diplomatic Faces, and the snaps who have a much more easy and open inner circle – largely because it's hard to have secrets when you're recording 24/7. But there's also the weird thrill of the thing: at most, they think they're able to mete out some semblance of justice when it matters; at worst, they're exposing only those Faces who don't have the skill to avoid surveillance (which is fair enough, in its own way, since plenty of Faces fly under the radar).

Celebrities have begun to speak more openly in recent years about paparazzi; Kristen Bell has fought for a "no kids" policy in major magazines to prevent publication of paparazzi photos of celebrities' children, and actors like Keira Knightley have spoken about the often violent tactics that can be used (she's been spat on and called a whore, among other things, in hope of eliciting a response). For now, I'm happy to keep my fictional paparazzi a slightly more subtle kind.

Image Courtesy of Ellen B. Wright
About the author: Genevieve Valentine is the author of Persona and of the critically acclaimed novels The Girls at the Kingfisher Club and Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, which won the Crawford Award for Best Novel, as well as nominations for the Nebula Award and the Romantic Times Best Fantasy of the Year. 

Valentine is also the writer of DC’s CATWOMAN and her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Journal of Mythic Arts, Lightspeed, and the anthologies Federations, The Living Dead 2, After, Teeth, and more; stories have been nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award, and have appeared in several Best of the Year anthologies. 

Her nonfiction and reviews have appeared at NPR.org, The AV Club, Strange Horizons, io9.com, Lightspeed, Weird Tales, Tor.com, LA Review of Books, Fantasy Magazine, and Interfictions, and she is a co-author of pop-culture book Geek Wisdom. She lives in New York City.

Big thanks to Genevieve for being here today and thanks to the folks at Wunderkind for arranging the post!

Persona is out on shelves now. For more on Genevieve and her work (including links to online shorts) you can check out her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Godforsaken Daughter by Christina McKenna

Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Christina McKenna's The Godforsaken Daughter. This is the third book in her Tailorstown series but no worries, it can be read all on its own.

It's been seven months since his death but Ruby Clare still mourns the loss of her beloved father. The two were close, sharing a love of the land and a bond that no one else in the family could understand. Since his death, Ruby's mother has leased off the land and forcing her to give up farming for good. And while her two sisters work in Belfast during the week, Ruby stays home to keep house and care for their mother. With daily criticism from her mother and weekends spent terrorized by her sisters, Ruby has never been more morose. 

Then Ruby discovers an old case belonging to her paternal grandmother. It appears in her own grief, Ruby's grandmother turned to the ancient Goddess Dana for solace. In her, Ruby too finds comfort and the promise of change. But when Ruby's mother catches wind of it, she begins to threaten her daughter with exorcisms and a trip to the local asylum! 

Enter Doctor Henry Shevlin. Henry is new to the area, working as temporary psychiatrist while the town's actual doctor is away on research. And even with his own woes hanging heavy, Henry can offer a voice of reason and support for people like Ruby. 

I really enjoyed this read from McKenna. It's set in the early 80s, amidst the IRA bombings and threats of the era and while this isn't a HUGE part of the plot, it does play into it to a good extent. And really there are two main stories here: that of Ruby Clare and her family and that of Henry Shevlin.

Ruby's tale is the main focus of the book. She's a bit downtrodden, understandable given her situation. Her mother has never really shown any affection for her and even her mother's friends are incredibly critical of the girl. Living in a small town where gossip is gold makes things even worse. McKenna does a fabulous job with the characters that dwell in and around Tailorstown. From the local priest to the post mistress and even the town sheriff, each character - no matter how small or how infrequently seen - is rich in detail. And like any town, some of them are nice and some of them are a little nasty.

Henry Shevlin's story is quite interesting as well. It's through him that we get more of the political climate of the time. It's a bit of a shame really that his story is kind of pushed to the side in lieu of Ruby's tale. It would seem that Henry and his wife might be deserving of their own book, to be quite honest. And this is really The Godforsaken Daughter's only big downfall. I felt like Shevlin's story was too big to be a secondary story.

If you enjoy small town settings and family drama (and this family is full of drama) you'll like The Godforsaken Daughter. As I mentioned above, it is the third book set in the Tailorstown but it's not at all necessary to have read either of the previous books.

Rating: 3/5

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For ed by Kate White + a Giveaway

Happy book birthday to the Mystery Writers of America! Today marks the release of their brand-spanking-new cookbook.

I'm an admitted cookbook fiend as well as a book junkie, so marrying the two worlds is always wonderfully welcome in my house. Given that, the new Mystery Writers of America Cookbook was a must have as soon as I heard about its release. Not only have a ton of my own favorite authors taken part, submitting family recipes or dishes connected to their famous lead characters - Alafair Burke offers up "Ellie Hatcher's Rum-Soaked Nutella French Toast" and Harlan Coben shares "Myron's Crabmeat Dip" - , there are a bunch of new-to-me authors who have now tempted me to try their dishes and books as well - Leslie Budewitz's "Farfalle with Fennel and Pine Nuts" got flagged for dinner plans as soon as the book arrived as did S. J. Rozan's "Rancho Obsesso Lavender Beets." Both of their books are on the "must read" list now too.

The book also prompted me to do a little reading/cooking pairing. Frankie Y. Bailey's Red Queen Dies is at the top of my TBR and I feel I absolutely must bake her "Whole Wheat Wild Blueberry Lemon Pecan Muffins" to go with it! I also mentioned recently that while reading Laura Lippman's latest, post vacation, I tried her "Aunt Effie's Salmon Ball." I have that recipe here to share with you, just to give you a taste of what's inside:


Aunt Effie’s Salmon Ball 

My Aunt Effie—actually my great aunt—was a Capital-C Character, an old-fashioned steel magnolia with a hearty laugh and the first person who ever assured me I was funny. Also, maybe the last. Aunt Effie was the middle of three girls, brought up in an all-female household in Smalltown, Georgia, my great-grandmother having been widowed at a relatively young age. Aunt Effie herself was widowed twice and she learned to take care of herself, ending up in another all-female household with her daughter and granddaughter. Well, there was a poodle name John, but they painted his toenails, poor thing. 

On top of everything else, she was a terrific hostess, and two of my favorite recipes come from her: cheese straws and a so-called Salmon Ball, although I despaired years ago of ever learning how to roll this concoction in slivered almonds, so I just mix it up and put it in a small dish. In fact, it makes a great hostess gift. It’s really simple and everyone loves it. Not quite a health food, but you can substitute low- fat cream cheese for the hardcore stuff. 

Because my household is peripatetic, I often find myself in a different city than the one where I keep all my family recipes. But my Aunt Effie’s salmon ball is very forgiving, which is one reason I like to make it. 

Image courtesy of Steve Legato

1 teaspoon dried minced onions (available in the spice aisle) 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
1 large can salmon, around 15 ounces 
8 ounces cream cheese 
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish 
1 teaspoon liquid smoke— if you can find it 
Slivered almonds (optional) 
Chopped parsley (optional) 

1. Soak dried minced onions in lemon juice for 5 minutes. 

2. Meanwhile, drain salmon and mix thoroughly with cream cheese. 

3. Add lemon juice and onions to salmon mixture, along with Worcester- shire, horseradish, and liquid smoke. You can add more or less according to your taste. 

4. If you are nimble and wildly ambitious, you can form the mixture into a ball and roll it in slivered almonds and parsley. Frankly, I started omitting that step years ago because I could never get it to look right, although I suspect it might work better if you slightly chill the salmon mixture first. Me, I just put it in a nice piece of crockery and refrigerate for several hours. Serve with crackers; it also pairs well with a dry martini or the cocktail of your choice. Eat the leftovers on bagels. 

Laura Lippman is an award-winning crime writer who has written ninenteen books, the most recent of which is the New York Times best seller After I’m Gone. She lives in Baltimore and New Orleans. 

Excerpted from The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook edited by Kate White. Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books. 

And now for the giveaway! Thanks to the publisher I have not one but TWO copies of The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook to give away today. To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, April 6. US only.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books From My Childhood That I'd Like to Revisit

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: books from my childhood - or teenage years - that I'd like to revisit.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Shady Cross by James Hankins

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for James Hankins's Shady Cross.

Stokes is having a bad day when he somehow manages to avoid getting killed in a car accident. His bike is totaled but he's able to walk away; the driver of the other car isn't so lucky. 

When Stokes sees a bag full of money in the dead guy's vehicle, he thinks his luck might have turned. That is until the phone rings: "Daddy? Are you coming to get me?" With more cash than he could ever imagine in his possession - enough to pay off his looming debt to a local lender - Stokes is sorely tempted to ignore the pleading voice on the other end of the line. But something about the little girl gets to him. For maybe the first time in his life, Stokes decides to do the right thing and everything goes wrong. 

There's always something to be said about a book that can be enjoyed simply for being fun. Shady Cross is that kind of book. It didn't blow me away. It didn't leave me breathless with anticipation or really terribly on the edge of my seat. Many of the plot twists and turns were as easy to see coming as a car's headlights announcing it's presence from far down the road. And yet, James Hankins's thriller was absorbing and just plain fun: the kind of book you finish only to realize hours have passed and you haven't moved from your reading spot all afternoon.

Stokes is a great anti hero. He's a real dick, to be honest. At the start, he's just been released from questioning for a local breaking and entering that left a man hospitalized. So a b&e and assault that the police warn could become a homicide if the man dies. Stokes of course maintains his innocence but as he tells his tale of woe to a fellow drinker, he loads the midday drunk into a taxi helping himself to all of the man's money except for the cab fare. What a nice guy, right?

As the day progresses, it becomes more and more surprising that Stokes sticks to his path. Especially when the cards are stacked against him. This was a pretty amusing element to the story, watching Stokes doggedly pursue his goal of saving this little girl.

Shady Cross is quick and entertaining; not necessarily a memorable read but a good one for a lazy afternoon.

Rating: 3/5

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

For more on James Hankins, you can visit his website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

New Releases 3/24/15

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Night Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

Spring Remains by Mons Kallentoft

Someone is Watching by Joy Fielding

Inspector of the Dead by David Morell

The Cavendon Women by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

The She Wolf by Maurice Druon

The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau

The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons

Signature Kill by David Levien

The Animals by Christian Kiefer

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell

Cuba Straits by Randy Wayne White

The Lost Boys Symphony by Mark Andrew Ferguson

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallnach

Half Wild by Sally Green

The Door in the Moon by Catherine Fisher

Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark

New on DVD:
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Into the Woods

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Silent Alarm by Jennifer Banash

Alys Aronson's life is forever changed when her brother, Luke, shoots and kills fifteen people. 

Alys was in the library when the gunshots started and though she'll never know why, her brother did decide to spare her that day. But in the aftermath of that terrible tragedy, and even though Luke took his own life the day of the shooting, Alys and her family become the focus of the town's frustration and misery. What's worse, Alys will never be able to understand why her brother did what he did that horrible morning. 

Silent Alarm was a tough read. Jennifer Banash forces the reader to take a step back and consider the immediate families of the perpetrators of these incidents. It's a hard thing to consider - that even when the killer is gone the family themselves, while also grieving, are not only the focus of investigations but public scrutiny and contempt as well. And reconciling the emotions attached to the loss of loved ones and the anger against the person responsible without also including the immediate family is understandably hard for anyone in these events. Were they in any way responsible? What did they know? Could they have prevented the whole thing?

In this situation, there seem to be no real extenuating circumstances: Alys and Luke's parents are normal parents and their family an average one. Alys admits that they'd all seen a change in Luke, but nothing that would obviously point to such a tragic end. In fact, the harder she tries to look for an explanation the more out of reach it seems to become. Even worse, Alys feels guilty for grieving the loss of her brother - the brother who was always there for her, helping and supporting her for over a decade. The brother who murdered her classmates. That this person is one and the same is almost impossible for Alys to comprehend.

The subject of Silent Alarm isn't an easy one to approach - either for a reader or, I believe, for a writer, but I though Banash did a great job. She humanizes the family and the killer. She makes the reader consider the way mass shootings affect everyone. And she forces you to consider that at least sometimes there is no explanation, that sometimes there is no one to blame once the killer is gone, and that in those cases the killer's family are also victims.

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Kill Shot by Nichole Christoff + a Giveaway

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Nichole Christoff's second Jamie Sinclair thriller, The Kill Shot. There is a tour wide giveaway on this one, so be sure to read through to the bottom to enter.

When Jamie's father has a request, turning it down isn't an option. This is how the security specialist finds herself traveling to London to accompany a State Department courier tasked with delivering new passports to a Middle Eastern physicist and accompanying that person back to the United States. But things turn sour fast when Jamie and the courier are attacked as soon as they arrive in the UK. From there on, the job takes turn after turn for the worst and Jamie is stuck right in the middle. 

I didn't enjoy this follow up to The Kill List quite as much as Christoff's debut. I think it was moving Jamie from a domestic setting to an international one and throwing in more of a political spin that did it for me. Honestly, too, I felt she made some rookie mistakes in this one where she came across as a more serious professional in her first outing.

The physicist in question will not leave the UK without their family, which throws a definite wrinkle in things when they're separated in the city. Multiple government entities are vying for this person and the information they can share, including the US.

I did like the way Barrett comes back in the mix. I like him a lot but felt the added tension of Jamie's old school friend was a bit overblown for my taste. Oh, well. The Kill Shot is good for simple escapism, but I just didn't quite meet my expectations this go around.

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

And now for the giveaway. Again this is tour wide and hosted by the good folks over at Alibi (like them on Facebook for news and other available titles).

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan

Hi, readers! Today I'm kicking off the TLC book tour for Kate Riordan's Fiercombe Manor.

It's 1933 and Alice, unwed and pregnant, has been sent to Fiercombe Manor for the length of her pregnancy. The head maid there, a longtime friend of her mother's, has been told that Alice's husband died tragically in a motor accident and that her doctor has ordered a change of scenery. In truth, Alice has been sent out of the gossipy reach of London so that no one will know of her family's disgrace. 

Fiercombe entrances Alice, especially when she begins to learn about the old Stanton House and its mistress, Elizabeth. Stanton House was to be the new heir's home but after just ten years it was torn apart and sold off to cover the Lord's debts. Elizabeth, his wife, is almost never spoken of but then Alice finds her old diary hidden away in one of the estate's abandoned buildings. Haunted by the ghosts of Stanton House and Fiercombe Manor, Alice wends her way through Elizabeth's story unraveling bits and pieces in an attempt to learn the truth about her tragic fate. 

Fiercombe Manor is a luscious atmospheric read: a crumbling old manor house with locked rooms and light drowned out by overgrown foliage, off limits derelict buildings, and of course the mystery of the estate's never mentioned mistress.

Elizabeth's tale does unfold in alternating chapters. Her story begins as she's expecting her second child and the estate is preparing for a grand party. But she hints that things are not quite right both in her marriage and in the way people speak about her. Riordan deftly weaves a tale of intrigue and heartache, briefly touching on the practice of handling mental health issues in the late nineteenth century. If I had one wish for this story, it would have been to dip further into that aspect of the tale, but it is handled in such a way that it organically moves the story along without weighing it down in a plot line that might have otherwise taken the overall flow of the book off course.

Fiercombe (aka The Girl in the Photograph) is an excellent read for fans of gothic fiction. Even better, it's a bit of a lengthy read - perfect for diving into on a gloomy afternoon!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Kate Riordan and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

New Releases 3/17/15

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford

The Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett

The Dragon of Handale by Cassandra Clark

Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill

The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

Mademoiselle Chanel by C. W. Gortner

The Stolen Ones by Owen Laukkanen

The Friendship of Criminals by Robert Glinski

Delicious Foods by James Hannaham

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

The Mermaid's Child by Jo Baker

The Empire of the Senses by Alexis Landau

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M. J. Rose

Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn (reprint)

Werewolf Cop by Andrew Klavan

The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

The Dead Mountaineer's Inn by Boris & Arkady Strugatsky

Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Mattewson (3/19)

Leaving Amarillo by Caisey Quinn

Duplicity by N. K. Traver

Prudence by Gail Carriger

The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne

New on DVD:
Son of a Gun
Exodus Gods and Kings
Penguins of Madagascar

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
Lacy Eye by Jessica Treadway
Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Friday, March 13, 2015

Short Fiction Friday: The Doll Collection edited by Ellen Datlow

For today's Short Fiction Friday post, I have another anthology for you. And it is quite the perfect collection for a Friday the 13th read, in my opinion!

From dolls as vessels (for spirits, emotions, and other) and figurative dolls of another sort to poppets that can help heal and word dolls to watch out for,  Ellen Datlow has collected an anthology of truly creeptastic tales. For anyone with even minor pediophobia this set of stories is likely to leave you cowering in the corner and looking at even the most innocent of kewpies with suspicion.

Here's the full Table of Contents:

Skin and Bone by Tim Lebbon
Heroes and Villains by Stephen Gallagher
The Doll-Master by Joyce Carol Oates
Gaze by Gemma Files
In Case of Zebras by Pat Cadigan
There Is No Place For Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold by Seanan McGuire
Goodness and Kindness by Carrie Vaughn
Daniel's Theory About Dolls by Stephen Graham Jones
After and Back Before by Miranda Siemienowicz
Doctor Faustus by Mary Robinette Kowal
Doll Court by Richard Bowes
Visit Lovely Cornwall on the Western Railway Line by Genevieve Valentine
Ambitious Boys Like You by Richard Kadrey
Miss Sibyl-Cassandra by Lucy Sussex
The Permanent Collection by Veronica Schanoes
Homemade Monsters by John Langan
Word Doll by Jeffrey Ford

So unless we're talking the obviously meant to be creepy doll from Annabelle (did you know the REAL Annabelle was a Raggedy Ann doll?) dolls don't generally give me the heebie jeebies. But some of the dolls in this collection sure do! A few of my personal favorites: Jeffrey Ford's "Word Doll," which combines folklore and middle American farming (Ford is a character within the story as well), "Miss Sibyl-Cassandra" by Lucy Sussex was infinitely fun, and Richard Kadrey's "Ambitious Boys Like You" was, as Datlow promised in her O&F Podcast, particularly nasty!

If you're a fan of anthologies, Datlow is probably a name you'll recognize. She's made a career out of culling shorts to create the annual Best Horror of the Year anthologies as well as numerous collections like this one. Anton Strout featured her on the Once and Future Podcast a couple of weeks ago, giving readers like me a chance to hear more about what she does and her process for putting together an anthology. I highly recommend checking that out here.

As another little bonus for your reading pleasure, Huffington Post did a fun piece here with some of the contributors to The Doll Collection chiming on their own favorite creepy literary dolls.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Regret Everything by Seth Greenland

Happy Thursday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Seth Greenland's I Regret Everything.

Jeremy Best is a lawyer by day but his alter ego is that of the poet Jinx Bell. His boss's daughter, Spaulding, discovers his identity and immediately strikes up a sort of friendship. But as Jeremy faces down a truly life-altering discovery, their relationship blossoms into something more. 

Greenland has such a way with words. I read something recently praising an author's wordsmithing and that's exactly what Greenland is - a wordsmith.

Stylistically he plays with both Jeremy and Spaulding's narration opting for no quotation marks in Spaulding's chapters. Their voices are both very well established in the narrative and that particular quirk of style makes Spaulding's chapters that much more unique to her character. The interplay between the two, laid out in chapters that alternate their POVs, provides a fun bit of he said she said as well.

I wasn't sure what to expect out of this book and now that I've finished I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it's a bit of a downer. More than a bit. And I definitely didn't think the book was going to take the direction that it did in terms of Jeremy's story. But the relationship between the two characters is endearing and they are undoubtedly two of the most human characters I've encountered in some time. By that I mean not just coming across as real people you might meet on the street, but imperfect and eccentric in a way you only experience in those closest to you.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. And for more on Seth Greenland and his work, you can visit his website here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman + a Giveaway

Hello again! Today I'm on yet another tour, this time promoting the release of Rachel Hartman's Shadow Scale, the highly anticipated follow up to Seraphina. As part of the tour, and thanks to the publisher, I'm also able to offer up a copy for giveaway!

I'm a bit short on time today so I'm going with the official synopsis from the publisher here:

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways. 

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

This book. Or rather THESE books! With Seraphina and Shadow Scale, Rachel Hartman has created one of the most unique worlds filled with some of the most unique characters ever. Ever! The dragons, the history, the world building, it's all so epically drawn and fully realized that it was like I was right there in the story, experiencing the world first hand. And yes, I know that's what every author aims for but we all know it doesn't always work. Trust me, it works here!

If you haven't come across Hartman's work, even around the blogosphere as of yet, then you may not know that everyone - EVERYONE - sings the praises of Seraphina and now Shadow Scale and you can add me to the bunch!

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

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books for Readers Who Like Quirky Fiction

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is a bit of an open one. The prompt was "top ten books for readers who like..." so I chose quirky fiction. This gives me a chance to showcase some titles I haven't done in a TTT before as well as some older favorites that I think deserve some love!

The Daughter by Jane Shemilt

Hi, readers! Today I'm part of the TLC book tour for Jane Shemilt's debut, The Daughter.

On the second to last night of her performance in West Side Story, Jenny's daughter, Naomi, is supposed to be out at an after party with her fellow cast members. But when Naomi doesn't return home , Jenny discovers there was no party. Or at least not that night anyway. Naomi has vanished, seemingly without any trace.

As time passes, Jenny refuses to give up hope but as more and more of Naomi's secrets begin to come to light she realizes she knew very little about her daughter.  

I was a little worried about reading this one pretty much back to back with Lacy Eye. Fortunately, even with some similarity in themes, the two books are very different. The most outright differences right off the bat were the voice and style of the narrative. The Daughter is told from Jenny's perspective, first person, and the reader gets a very clear sense of her personality and her emotions immediately.

Chapters alternate between 2009 and 2010/2011 with Jenny reexamining (as our lead in Lacy Eye did) the events leading up to her daughter's disappearance. As it turns out, Naomi wasn't the only one with secrets. Jenny's world essentially falls apart as she discovers that those around her - those she thought she knew better than anyone else - have all been hiding things.

The Daughter is as much a family drama as a thriller. More so, perhaps. It's really a wonderful blend of suspense and emotion. And full of really lovely imagery. Shemilt's style is lush with description! Honestly, this doesn't read at all like a debut. Shemilt has an assurance to her writing that seems to come naturally given this is her first release.

Rating: 5/5

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

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lacy Eye by Jessica Treadway + a Giveaway

Good morning, everyone! Jessica Treadway's latest is set to hit shelves tomorrow and as part of a launch week blitz the publisher has graciously offered up a copy for a giveaway. Be sure to read through to the end to enter.

It's been three years since Hanna and Joe were attacked. Hanna survived, suffering permanent damage to her face and head. Joe died before the paramedics arrived. 

It was the day after Thanksgiving and Hanna's youngest daughter, Dawn, had been visiting with her boyfriend, Rud Petty. After the house was burgled - with Rud being the police's main suspect - the couple left in a huff. Later that night, someone broke in and bludgeoned Joe and Hanna with a croquet mallet. 

Given the circumstances, Rud was always the primary suspect in the attack and a jury agreed wholeheartedly. But now Rud has won an appeal and is set for retrial. Hanna knows it would be best if she could testify, but she can't remember the events of that night. One thing she does know, in spite of the suspicion of those around her, there's no way Dawn had anything to do with it.

Lacy Eye is a powerful read. When we meet Hanna, she's vowed to try and remember anything she can to ensure that Rud will remain behind bars. But her efforts seem futile given the fact that so much time has passed and she's never once had an inkling of memory about that night. And yet, the prospect of Rud going free is one no one wants to face.

Her eldest daughter, Iris, believes that Dawn had to be involved. Her neighbors believe that Dawn had to be involved. And both the prosecutor and the police believe that Dawn had to be involved. But Hanna is certain, based on her relationship with her daughter, that there's no way that can be. And Dawn has essentially been cleared by a grand jury. But when Dawn comes home, in the wake of the announcement about the retrial, it seems no one but Hanna is willing to see her as anything other than a potential accomplice.

Throughout the book the reader is given more and more of a look into Hanna's life, from her childhood to meeting Joe through to raising both of her girls and the attack itself. Not only does it give readers great insight into Hanna as a character, but it also gives us a chance to piece together the clues about the night of the attack as Hanna herself analyzes those events as she considers whether or not her own daughter could have been behind such a shocking crime.

Rating: 4/5

You can check out a free e sample of the book (here's the BN link).

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

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Sunday, March 8, 2015

New Releases 3/10/15

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Life & Death by Michael Robotham

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer

Lacy Eye by Jessica Treadway

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

Dog Crazy by Meg Donohue

The Doll Collection ed by Ellen Datlow

The Exile by C. T. Adams

The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa

Asylum by Jeanette de Beauvoir

The Prince by Vito Bruschini

Persona by Genevieve Valentine

Bones and All by Camille DeAngelis

Last One Home by Debbie Macomber

World Gone By by Dennis Lehane

Cold Betrayal by J. A. Jance

Small Mercies by Eddie Joyce

Endangered by C. J. Box

Soil by Jamie Kornegay

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen

The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James

Silent Alarm by Jennifer Banash

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

Tether by Anna Jarzab

New on DVD:
The Pioneer
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Our Lady of the Ice by Cassandra Rose Clarke

My pick for today is another upcoming Saga release and, readers, it sounds AMAZING! Our Lady of the Ice is the latest from the Assassins Curse author Cassandra Rose Clarke - here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Hope City, Antarctica. The southernmost city in the world, with only a glass dome and a faltering infrastructure to protect its citizens from the freezing, ceaseless winds of the Antarctic wilderness. Within this bell jar four people–some human, some not–will shape the future of the city forever:

Eliana Gomez, a female PI looking for a way to the mainland.

Diego Amitrano, the right-hand man to the gangster who controls the city’s food come winter.

Marianella Luna, an aristocrat with a dangerous secret.

Sofia, an android who has begun to evolve.

But the city is evolving too, and in the heart of the perilous Antarctic winter, factions will clash, dreams will shatter, and that frozen metropolis just might boil over…

Amazing, right?! And that cover design! Our Lady of the Ice is due to hit shelves in October.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Short Fiction Friday: Photoplay by Hallie Ephron

Later this month we'll see the release of Hallie Ephron's latest thriller, Night Night, Sleep Tight. But before it hits shelves, readers can check out Ephron's latest, the e short "Photoplay," out now from Harper's Witness Impulse imprint.

Duane Foley isn't one to turn down a cushy job. As a photographer, much of his day is spent tracking down Hollywood's most glamorous in hopes that he'll catch something worth selling, so being hired to shoot Bunny Nichol's party means a guaranteed - and easy - pay day. But behind all the glitz and the glam, Bunny Nichols's life is anything but perfect, something Duane learns in his short time at the star's home. And when the party turns ugly, Duane is there to get it all on film. 

"Photoplay" offers readers just a little taste of what's to come in Night Night, Sleep Tight. It's a prologue of sorts, the story behind the story that will later play a larger role in the novel. This is necessary to point out as the short by itself likely won't accomplish much other than frustrating the reader! But it is a great and enticing little read, one that will most definitely leave you wanting more.

Hm, a somewhat sleazy photographer (papparazi) and a starlet with secrets, sounds like a good set up to me. Of course that's just part of the story. I don't want to give anything away, but a quick look see at the synopsis of Night Night, Sleep Tight does reveal exactly what part of the story "Photoplay" pertains to.

Night Night, Sleep Tight hits shelves March 24. "Photoplay" is out now and includes an excerpt of the upcoming novel as well.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Month of Maisie Readalong: An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear

Good morning, readers! To celebrate the release of the eleventh installment in Jacqueline Winspear's massively popular Maisie Dobbs series, the good folks at TLC book tours are hosting a month long series blog tour. So here I am today with book number five, An Incomplete Revenge.

Maisie's latest job should be fairly straightforward: James Compton, the son of Maisie's earliest supporter, is interested in making a large land purchase in Heronsdene. The time is right and the purchase would be very advantageous to Compton Corporation. But James has concerns about the landowner and wants Maisie to do a bit of poking before the deal goes through. 

Maisie figures it'll be a quick and easy assignment but when two young boys are arrested for allegedly breaking into the very same landowner's home, the intrepid investigator realizes the case is more complicated than it initially seems. Heronsdene is rife with petty crime, the townspeople are closemouthed, and the overall atmosphere is just off. The secretive nature of the villagers suggests there's something more than just vandalism and minor thieving plaguing Heronsdene and Maisie intends to find out exactly what that might be. 

This is hands down my favorite of the Maisie Dobbs series so far.

I adored the setting of Heronsdene. The village has an almost insular feel - as though it's completely cut off from the rest of the world, even though realistically it's not at all. The influx of outsiders in search of temporary work with the hop harvest means that the regular villagers have even more stress upon them than usual. And, as Maisie soon discovers, tension is already high to begin with.

I did also love the gypsy aspect of the story. Maisie herself can trace her roots back to the Romany, which means she's very open and sympathetic to the local group that's become the focus of so much suspicion in Heronsdene. (Maisie is generally open and sympathetic to those around her, it's what makes her both a likable and believable character.) It also means that we get a bit more insight into Maisie and her family - her mother and grandmother in particular.

Winspear immediately sets a wonderful ominous and eerie tone in An Incomplete Revenge. I found it not only instantly appealing but it left me with absolutely no doubt that there's something fishy enough to warrant both Compton's concern and Maisie's curiosity. And though it is the fifth in the series, I've personally read them totally out of whack and can attest to the fact that this one in particular seems to be the most accessible so far in terms of having little to no background or context on the series as a whole. (Though I am admittedly a bit more prepared than "little to no background," I've not read the series religiously or in order.)

Rating: 4/5

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

For more on Jacqueline Winspear and her work, you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hush Hush by Laura Lippman + a Giveaway

Hi, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Laura Lippman's latest Tess Monaghan entry, Hush Hush. To go along with my post today, I'm offering up a brand new trade paperback of the very first Tess Monaghan mystery, Baltimore Blues. Be sure to read through to the end to enter.

Tess and her new assistant, Sandy, have been hired to serve as security consultants for one of Baltimore's most notorious murderers. Melisandre Dawes was deemed not guilty by reason of insanity when she was tried for the murder of her two month old baby. Now, over a decade later, she's returned to Charm City to reunite with her two teenage daughters and produce a film on the insanity defense. The job comes Tess's way through her old friend Tyner Gray, but while the lawyer vouches for Melisandre Tess isn't so sure the woman can be trusted. 

I have to apologize for my late posting today - we spent the last week back home where we attended TWO weddings and related festivities. It's been CRAZY and I'm still recovering. But Hush Hush couldn't have been more timely thanks to that - returning to Tess and Lippman, who can always be relied on for engaging reading, meant that I could recuperate some while still enjoying an overall clever mystery.

Hush Hush switches between various narrators including Tess and Sandy, as well as Melisandre, her two daughters, and even her ex's new spouse. Interestingly, the story also includes transcription-style chapters reflecting interviews done for Melisandre's documentary. Those various viewpoints paired with the goings-on of the story itself mean that the reader can be certain very early on that someone isn't being completely forthright. And yet figuring out the who-done-it as well as the why is pretty elusive.

This twelfth installment of the series brings back a whole cast of series characters including Tyner (who is a big part of Baltimore Blues) and Sandy (the retired detective from After I'm Gone). The book also gives Tess's fans a first look at her life as a mother. Carla Scout is three and a complete handful with as much spunk as her PI mom. Considering the initial focus of the case, both the job and the demands of motherhood have a heavy impact on Tess here. It's great to see her - and those around her - continue to grow with the series.

(My reading was timely, too, because I received a copy of the Mystery Writers of America Cookbook and surprisingly had everything on hand to make Lippman's "Aunt Effie's Salmon Ball" as a snack to go along with the book.)

As a whole, Hush Hush made for fabulous post travel recovery reading and great icky snow day reading as well.

Rating: 5/5

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

For more on Laura Lippman and her work, you can find her on the web here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. As an added bonus, you can also head over to the publisher's new Tess Is Back site for series info, excerpts, and giveaways!

And now for my own giveaway: to enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, March 16. Open US only.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Reads From the Past Three Years

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 books from the past three years. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Last List Blog Hop: A Q&A with Ilsa J. Bick + a Giveaway

Frequenters to my blog have seen me fangirl on and on about Ilsa J. Bick's White Space for quite some time now. It was seriously one of the most unique books I've ever read. It was one of my top ten reads of 2014 and the follow up, The Dickens Mirror, has been one of my most anticipated reads of 2015. So of course when Egmont USA announced it would be closing its doors earlier this year I was amazed, shocked, and pretty darn sad. No, it didn't mean The Dickens Mirror wouldn't see the light of day, but it did mean one of my new favorite authors was going to be affected in an undeniably crappy way.

So when the Cuddlebuggery Last List Blog Hop was announced, I hopped to and headed over there to sign on. Thanks to the fabulous organizing of Kat Kennedy, I get to host Ilsa here in a Q&A and I get to offer up an autographed copy of White Space as a giveaway. Oh, and did I mention that was an international giveaway?!

Before I turn things over to Ilsa, here's a bit about The Dickens Mirror from Goodreads (note, if you haven't read White Space, you might want to skip over this part):

Critically acclaimed author of The Ashes Trilogy, Ilsa J. Bick takes her new Dark Passages series to an alternative Victorian London where Emma Lindsay continues to wade through blurred realities now that she has lost everything: her way, her reality, her friends. In this London, Emma will find alternative versions of her friends from the White Space and even Arthur Conan Doyle.

Emma Lindsay finds herself with nowhere to go, no place to call home. Her friends are dead. Eric, the perfect boy she wrote into being, and his brother, Casey, are lost to the Dark Passages. With no way of knowing where she belongs, she commands the cynosure, a beacon and lens that allows for safe passage between the Many Worlds, to put her where she might find her friends—find Eric—again. What she never anticipated was waking up in the body of Little Lizzie, all grown up—or that, in this alternative London, Elizabeth McDermott is mad.

In this London, Tony and Rima are “rats,” teens who gather the dead to be used for fuel. Their friend, Bode, is an attendant at Bedlam, where Elizabeth has been committed after being rescued by Arthur Conan Doyle, a drug-addicted constable.

Tormented by the voices of all the many characters based on her, all Elizabeth wants is to get rid of the pieces under her skin once and for all. While professing to treat Elizabeth, her physician, Dr. Kramer, has actually drugged her to allow Emma—who’s blinked to this London before—to emerge as the dominant personality…because Kramer has plans. Elizabeth is the key to finding and accessing the Dickens Mirror.

But Elizabeth is dying, and if Emma can’t find a way out, everyone as they exist in this London, as well as the twelve-year-old version of herself and the shadows—what remains of Eric, Casey, and Rima that she pulled with her from the Dark Passages—will die with her.

And now a Q&A with Ilsa J. Bick!

How would you describe the Dark Passages duology in a nutshell?

Well, I could direct your readers to Amazon or B&N or something, and they can read the synopses. In fact, that’s not a bad idea since, except for the “critically-acclaimed” part, I helped to write them, so go here for White Space and here for Dickens Mirror.

Go ahead . . . I’ll wait.

Okay? So now let’s talk themes. In a nutshell, I’m playing around with the nature of reality while also kind of commenting on what it’s like to be a writer, when certain characters or stories get under your skin and just won’t let go. For that matter, I’m also talking about what happens when you, the reader, gets lost in a story.

First off, honestly, our problem is the same as Emma’s and Rima’s and Casey’s, as all my characters in this series: how do you know you’re real? You don’t (see below) and that’s precisely the problem my characters run into: whether or not they’re real people or simply characters, infused with too much of a real life, who’ve escaped their stories by falling between the lines into White Space. (Emma, of course, is the most powerful character in this regard; she can blink from one story to the next—or be swept there—because she’s an unfinished character; her story hasn’t reached its end; she’s full of potential.)

Because what really goes on in all that seemingly empty white space? Or another way to look at it is like this: a word has no meaning—none, zero, zich, zip—unless there’s emptiness around it. Unless it’s bounded by emptiness—by white space—to give it power and definition. A D is a D because there’s space around the letter to make it a D. A word or letter or symbol or sentence means absolutely nothing if you don’t set it off by a lot of white space.

So . . . what is white space? What is the emptiness between letters and lines and paragraphs or between the chapters in a book or scenes when, all of a sudden, it’s a week later? I know I’ve driven some of my readers bonkers by ending some books on highly ambiguous notes . . .but I do that on purpose. Guys, that’s why empty page at the end of a book is there: for you to carry on the story the way you think it should go.

So then, this duology goes one step further. What if a writer doesn’t put symbols on white space . . . you know, write a letter or type a page . . . but draws symbols from this emptiness? You know that expression, falling between the lines? That implies there’s something there, doesn’t it?

That the lines are solid, but the space is or could be . . . anything?

I started to wonder what would happen if a character really did just that. Is that character lost, or can she crawl out and find herself in another story? What happens if the wrong character gets into the wrong story?

Okay, that’s more than a nutshell, but you get my drift. I hope. Don’t tell me if you don’t. Life is hard enough.

Child psychologist, film scholar, former Air Force major… you have quite a varied resume! How would you say these experiences have influenced your writing in general and the Dark Passages books in particular?

Well, as a shrink, you crawl through a lot of private sewers. I’ve worked with kids in family bound together by hate, those who treat the people they say they love so badly, and, of course, the outright abusive. I’ve also worked in a women’s prison with people you really don’t want to meet in a dark alley; honestly, orange is the new black this ain’t.

So all that, coupled with having grown up around military folks and my own service during the First Gulf War working with soldiers in the run-up and after their deployments as well as more personal history (my dad’s a Holocaust survivor, for example, and I’ve had my own run-ins with prejudice, even now) . . . I know that people behave very badly all the time. There’s no way I can write sweetness and light because they are tough to find. I’m not necessarily a pessimist, but I do think that people can be counted on to live down to your lowest expectations, especially when things go south. Yes, of course, there are people who surprise you, but they’re in the minority.

I bring all that to my novels. For me, people struggling through adversity to discover that lost light in themselves—that you are not necessarily the worthless scum-bag kid people say or think you are, or that you are stronger than you believe you can be—is what I’m about. The art a society produces, whether that art is literature, music, the visuals arts or film, is the art it requires, and you can learn a lot about what troubles or inspires folks by paying attention to things like that.

In terms of the Dark Passages series in particular, though . . . let me tell you where I got the original idea of playing with the nature of reality: my youngest daughter. See, I have this habit of thinly veiling her in a lot of different stories, and then having her die in the most horrible ways. Never done that to my eldest, who’s beside herself with jealousy and wants to know when I’ll kill her (soon, I promised, very soon). But the youngest kid . . . boy, I off her all the time. Honestly, you’d think the kid would catch a clue.

Anyway, she made some offhand remark about a book I was working on, like was I going to kill her this time or not. (I wasn’t; I was busy killing her cousins.) But we did talk about it, because it turns out she was both kind of flattered but also upset that I kept offing her even though it really wasn’t her. I found out that it always gave her kind of a jolt to recognize a detail that related to her or read her name in one of my books (or in any book, for that matter). When I asked why, she said that her brain always sort of tripped over that. Like she had to remind herself that this hadn’t happened to her; it was only a book; this wasn’t her life.

Well, that was just fascinating. I have such an uncommon name that I’ve only run across it in a book twice before (and one movie, although Humphrey Bogart says it incorrectly and I’ll never be anywhere near as gorgeous as Ingrid Bergman). So that little mental hitch has virtually never happened, but when it has . . . well, I find that my eyes kind of stumble. It’s hard to read and lose myself in the story because I’m constantly thinking, that’s not me; that’s not my life.

But that got me to thinking about perception and reality, something in which, as a shrink, I’ve always been interested. (Really, as a therapist, you are attempting to shift a patient’s perception of reality, but is that the same thing as truth? No, it’s your truth; it’s what you perceive as being more normative. Sort of a slippery slope, if you take my meaning.)

We take it for granted that when we open our eyes, that what surrounds us is real. But how do you know for sure? You really don’t, just as you have no idea if what I say is green really is. If you’re a kid and I say that something is green and say that often enough, you’ll believe me even if what I think is green is really blue or red. For that matter, you have no clue that what you see in the mirror is how you truly appear to others. (A schizophrenic patient once described what she saw when she looked at me and—exaggeration aside—it was pretty interesting.)

By extension, what others say about you influences your perceptions about yourself and, by extension, your reality. So . . . can anyone be sure that you’re the author of your own story? On a more mundane level and for a lot of teens, how do you know that your ambition to be, say, a lawyer or doctor is truly your idea instead of your parents’? What if you’re really a character in someone else’s drama and don’t know it?

See what I mean? You can go crazy thinking about stuff like this, which only goes to show that the old saw about shrinks is true: takes one to know one.

How and when did you decide that you wanted to write?

Long story really short: I didn’t, really. My husband did. I had been writing a bunch of nonfiction articles on film and psychoanalysis for some time but getting kind of bored. Honestly, once you figure out the kind of primitive imagery a film’s using or at what developmental level it functions, then it gets repetitive because everything conforms to genre standards, and different genres have certain tropes to which they normally adhere. So it was fun, but I was also thinking, okay, what’s next?

That’s where the husband said that he thought I really wanted to write novels but was too chicken to try because he thought I thought I would fail. (He was right. This is the disadvantage of being married for so long you can finish one another’s sentences.) So then he dared me to try and, well, I never back down from a dare. (My mother’s hair went white at an early age. If she’d only known about that time I was nine and stood at the edge of a two-story balcony, weighing the risks of breaking my legs, all to impress some boy named Scott . . . she might have grounded me for life.)

Anyway, I started writing stories. (Okay, I’ll be honest; I always wanted to write myself aboard the Starship Enterprise. Captain Kirk was such a hunk.) Well, they were terrible. I mean, really bad. I think I wrote about fifty completely awful stories and six equally abysmal novels (three Trek, three not) before I wrote one 7,000-word story that I managed to sell. Actually, it not only sold but took grand prize in a contest. I won a lot of money and promptly bought a refrigerator. The story got published and then reprinted a couple of times. Then I sat around and fretted, completely paralyzed for a couple months, because I couldn’t figure out what I’d done right. In the end, it was just that I’d finally written enough really, really bad words—about a million, all told—until I stumbled on how to find the not-so-bad ones. But that’s how I got started.

Are there any particular writers/books/films that have inspired you throughout your writing career?

Uhm . . . yeah and no. The truth is that if you’ve written just a thumpingly good story, you are my favorite writer of the moment, and I want to gouge out your eyes with a fork because I wish I’d thought of that idea first. So I’ve had no real inspiration, per se, although I can say that a writer to whose work I have returned on many occasions is Stephen King. Even when he’s awful—and he’s written a ton of real clunkers—he’s better than most because he knows how to tell a story. Now, whether you care about the story he’s telling depends. But he’s one careful guy when it comes to setting things up and making you take the bait.

For example, Secret Window, Secret Garden is just a masterpiece. Yeah, yeah, the end is clunky (he’s not that great with endings, IMHO; for example, the end of the film version of The Mist is far superior to the actual novella), but he really sucks you in right away. I remember the first time I came to that story, I actually heard it (James Woods does a fabulous job). Afterward, I was, like, what? How’d he do that? So then I grabbed the book and went through and tore it up with a critical eye to see how he’d done it, because I was convinced he hadn’t played fair. Well, he had, and from the get-go, in the very second paragraph. The clues are all there, but they’re so cleverly placed, you don’t see them for what they are until the end.

I love the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a character in The Dickens Mirror. Of all the literary personalities out there who could appear in a Victorian London setting, though, I’m curious why you chose Doyle in particular?

Because no one else would think of it? I’m being only semi-facetious here. People know about Dickens and Collins and Thackeray, but how many know about Doyle? I mean, they may know his name, but there’s no way that, say, Pip or Scrooge is more real to people than Dickens. That’s not the case with Doyle. People know Sherlock Holmes, a person who was never real and yet is treated as someone who could be. I mean, there are statues of the guy, for God’s sake. So that really fit in well with the general conceit of the novels: i.e., that we all might be characters in someone else’s book and not know it.

In addition, I was really interested in Doyle as a person. You know, his family (which was HUGE; we’re talking nine sibs) was desperately poor; they lived in the slummiest sections of Edinburgh; he ran with a Catholic gang; his dad ended up a drunk and then hallucinating away in an asylum where he died; and the list goes on. I mean, the guy was also kind of certifiable in a way; he had his own breakdown when his son died just before the end of World War I and then he went completely overboard into spiritualism. He was a bit of a nut, really. So I got interested in the Doyle who might have been—rough, unscrupulous, an addict, and all-around not-very-nice guy with his own demons.

The Dark Passages books are quite different from anything else I’ve ever read, and in a great way! Was the writing process for these two books different in any way from your previous work?

Well, thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed them.

To answer your question, though . . . you know, a funny thing happens whenever I finish a book: I don’t remember the agony that goes into it. In that way, it’s a touch like having a kid ;-)

What I do recall is that I did a TON more research for this book than any other I’ve ever attempted, mainly because, you know, what did I know about Victorian London or Edinburgh? Right: just what I’d read in books. So I had to actually go visit the London Police Museum and Royal College of Surgeons and the old Bedlam which is now the Imperial War Museum and talk to a ton of people, especially since I knew that DM would end up there. I had to wander around Edinburgh and travel out to Sciennes Hill Place, walk around the city and environs—and the number of books and articles I read!! Make your head spin. But I had to do the bulk of the research before beginning White Space, even though I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d end up using versus what I’d throw away or just file for some other book at some other time.

The thing about research is, it can be a huge time-sink. There’s always one more place to go, another book to read. What I had to learn was that a) research isn’t writing and b) you only need enough for verisimilitude. I’m not writing for Victorians; I’m writing for contemporary readers, and if you read a lot of contemporary YA set in that time period, writers sprinkle in little details to give a sense of place. For my people, language was important, too, and that was a challenge because you have to get the slang right but not overdo it so you sound like a caricature. Thankfully, there are a couple compendiums of very old books that catalogue just that.

Another interesting bit about that process: you think you know what you need. What happens, though, is that you do something that’s kind of throwaway . . . like, something touristy (in this case, it was a visit to a very little-known series of caverns under a bunch of cross-streets in the outskirts of Edinburgh as well as all the hidden nooks and crannies under Edinburgh on general principle because of the way the city was once laid out) which solifidied the idea of those caverns/tunnels under Bedlam. (Actually, having worked in a very old Connecticut psychiatric facility that Dickens once visited, I know that these kinds of tunnels still exist.)

The other thing that was different here: the number of false starts and amount of blood on the floor (I mean, in terms of dead pages and shredded sections). There is so much more to the story that I never put in because I just couldn’t. Originally, I’d planned for a trilogy but my then-editor suggested it might be better to wrap it up as a duology. Given what’s gone on with Egmont USA, this was so prescient; I’d have his first-born child if he weren’t already happily married ;-). So all the stuff and little details and adventures and all that I’d planned to take these characters on had to be whittled down to something manageable.

Out of all of the characters in White Space and Dickens Mirror was there any one that you’d consider a personal favorite? If so, why?

Gosh, I love them all; I mean, this is like asking me to pick my favorite child . . . but I guess I’d say Rima, Casey, and Doyle. Rima turned out to be a really interesting girl who has plenty of reasons to be bitter and hard but is instead incredibly compassionate and humane while still being strong. Casey was fun because I got to torture him so much, and I suppose that Doyle was my Casey in DM. I mean, when you think about it, Doyle was just this average, rough, blue-collar, not-really-bright guy simply trying to get along and eke out some kind of life at the end of the world only to have his demons catch up and assume a life of their own. Playing on what the real Doyle wrote, plaguing him with Black Dog—an incredibly perverse alter that is a play on the hound of the Baskervilles and, in this story, his Cerberus—was immense fun.

Oh, and I did enjoy making fun of myself there at the end. The challenge of writing yourself into a novel should not be underestimated.

Playing off your “Sunday’s Cake, Friday’s Cocktail” blog posts, is there a particular drink or snack you’d recommend readers pair with White Space and/or The Dickens Mirror?

What an interesting question! Well, if we’re talking cake, then an old-fashioned steamed pudding made in a real pudding mold would do for either. I really am quite partial to a recent recipe I tried for Christmas pudding as well as a terrific one that features persimmons.

There is, however, one pudding I’d like to try that I think would fit very well with DM: black pudding, which is this very boozy concoction that requires some time to swim around and soak up brandy before steaming. And it really is jet-black. Absolute heaven, with a healthy dollop of sweetened double cream.

Drinks, drinks . . . well, if I were being very Dickensian about it, you could either consume as much alcohol as Dickens actually did in any given day, or make yourself a nice hot gin punch with, say, Old Tom, which is a somewhat sweeter gin than London Dry that got its start back in the 18th century but eventually lost out to a taste for London Dry. If you’re up for a simple cocktail made with Old Tom, though, then I’d suggest an Ampersand, a lovely though largely forgotten drink made with Old Tom, cognac, bitters, and sweet vermouth—and call it a day.

If you want to the true Dickens experience, though, you’ve got two choices: a punch or just a lot of alcohol in various forms quaffed throughout the day. If you go for a punch, you can’t do much better than the one he actually wrote about in Pickwick Papers: brandy, rum, sugar, lemon, and hot water. (It’s really not as potent as all that either, which explains why people could drink this all night long.)

On the other hand, if your liver needs the exercise, make like the Inimitable himself. Dickens’ old manager, George Dolby, wrote a book about the author’s reading tours and even talked about “the Boss’s” routine in terms of how he prepared, what he ate, that kind of thing. To fortify himself, Dickens would start his day with some rum and cream. Not a lot, say, a couple teaspoons worth of rum. At teatime, he’d throw back about a pint of Champagne—so, two cups. Then, a little before he’d go on stage, Dickens would down a tumbler of sherry (and we’re talking, a tumbler) with a raw egg mixed in.

After that, Dickens gets positively abstemious. In-between acts, he was quite adamant that he had a nice hot beef tea waiting, and then before bed, he’d have soup. (I know: staid. But that doesn’t count all the little tipples and toasts and nips he’d pound back at various points of the day because people were always dropping by, and he was quite the entertainer.

On the other hand, compared to Wilkie Collins, who never traveled anywhere without his jug of laudanum—yes, a jug—Dickens was a veritable teetotaler.

See, this is where research is dangerous.

For the purposes of my books, though? Go straight for Death in the Afternoon, which, given the mind-bending nature of the duology, works for both. The drink was a Hemingway favorite, and one he contributed to a celebrity book of cocktails way back in 1935. It’s actually named for a non-fiction book of the same title that he wrote on bullfighting. What you do is fill a glass with about four ounces of Champagne (I’d suggest something middling nice, like Chandon) and then top it with one-and-a-half ounces of absinthe. (By the way, I wrote about this cocktail—and absinthe, in particular—so do check it out: http://www.ilsajbick.com/?p=2980.)

The thing is . . . Hemingway was drinking these when absinthe still contained the compound, thujone, which is what used to make the spirit so damned dangerous. As in, bloody hallucinate your head off dangerous—and he said you should drink three to five of these suckers, though he did suggest you do so slowly.

But you have to wonder: just what the heck was he seeing by the end?

Can you give us a hint about what you’re working on next?

Sure . . . let’s just say it involves a bunch of teenagers (some of whom are out to settle old grudges), a plane crash, a ghost town, some really hungry critters, a long-buried secret, and a question of who pulled which trigger when. Think Lord of the Flies set in the Canadian Rockies . . . and now you’re cooking.

About the author: Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and now an award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels, including her critically acclaimed ASHES Trilogy, Draw the Dark, Drowning Instinct, and The Sin-Eater’s Confession. WHITE SPACE, the first volume of her Dark Passages horror/fantasy duology, is currently long-listed for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a YA Novel. The sequel, THE DICKENS MIRROR, will hit shelves on March 10, 2015. 

Ilsa lives with her long-suffering husband and other furry creatures near a Hebrew cemetery in rural Wisconsin. One thing she loves about the neighbors: they’re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon.

Drop by her website, www.ilsajbick.com, for her Sundays’ cake and Friday’s cocktail recipes as well as other assorted maunderings; or find her on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter (@ilsajbick), or Instagram (@ilsajbick).

Huge thanks to Ilsa for being here today and to Kat for setting up the Last List Blog Hop! The Dickens Mirror is officially out on shelves March 10 and I do highly suggest you snatch up a copy.

And now for the giveaway! To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, March 9. Open internationally!

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