Monday, November 30, 2015

The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister + a Giveaway

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you've recovered from Thanskgiving - I haven't. I have a new cookbook in hand for review and spent the entire weekend cooking randomly from it. I seriously want to cook the whole book! More on that later, though.

As part of the holiday festivities I signed on for the Thankfully Reading Weekend hosted by Jenn over at Jenn's Bookshelves. And while I maybe didn't read as much as I'd hoped over the long weekend, I did manage to finish a few books.

One of those was Greer Macallister's debut, The Magician's Lie, a book I'd been hearing fabulous things about all year long! Not only was this one of my recommendations from Anne Knows Books, it was also an October pick in Catherine McKenzie's 52 Weeks, 52 Books group over on Goodreads. So yeah, it's one I've been trying to squeeze in for a while and this weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity.

She's called the Amazing Arden but once upon a time she was Ada Bates, a girl who dreamed of a life on the stage. Sadly for Ada circumstances beyond her control seemed to be working against her. A chance to dance for one of the greats was ruined and Ada believed it to be the end of her dreams. 

But Ada isn't one to stand by and watch opportunity die, nor is she going to let her home life dictate her future. And when a chance to escape to New York City presents itself, she grabs hold with all her might!

In New York, Ada finally lands a dancing job. It's this job that catches the attention of Adelaide Herrmann, the only female illusionist in the magic business. Adelaide, it turns out, is in need of a dancer and wants Ada to join her crew. For the first time, Ada knows what it's like to be in the spotlight and it's everything she's ever dreamed and hoped for! 

But by the time she's taken the mantle of the Amazing Arden, everything has changed. Her signature piece has apparently ended in murder and Ada aka Arden is at the mercy of a small town police officer who hasn't yet decided whether to believe her plea of innocence or not. 

We begin our tale with the police officer in question, a man who has received dire news and has just been witness to Amazing Arden's act when he hears that she's being sought for questioning in a murder. But it's not his case or his jurisdiction and so he heads for home, stopping long enough for coffee midway. And it's here that he crosses paths with the suspected murderess.

Virgil, the cop, takes Ada/Arden into custody, cuffing her to a chair and ordering her to tell her tale. But he's in for way more than he expected. Ada begins with her childhood, taking him on a journey through the years, her life, and her career, promising that it's all necessary if she is to get to the question at hand: whether or not she killed her husband.

Of course Ada is an illusionist and the book is called The Magician's Lie, so the reader is definitely set up to expect some sort of manipulation or stretching of the truth. The lie itself didn't seem to live up to the expectation set by the title, but I was actually fine with that. Her "lie" isn't really the point and the question of whether or not she's a killer is there up until the very end. Ada/Arden's tale is instead one of hope and loss, magic and mystery, and yes, murder. It's a fun and easy read with an utterly charming setting - the magic and illusion were definitely a draw for me so I was pleased to find that the author handled it quite well. Overall the story is one that begs to be read in one sitting, which I almost managed!

Rating: 4/5

Because I like to share the love, I'm giving away one copy of The Magician's Lie! To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, December 14. Open US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, November 29, 2015

New Releases 12/1/15

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Curse of Jacob Tracy by Holly Messinger

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

The Bone Hunters by Robert J. Mrazek

Ghost in the Wind by E. J. Copperman

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves

Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid

The Age of Reinvention by Karine Tull

The Rising by Ian Tregillis

Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt

MemoRandom by Anders de la Motte

House of the Rising Sun by James Lee Burke

Ornaments of Death by Jane K. Cleland

Daughter of No Nation by A. M. Dellamonica

Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

Tom Clancy Commander in Chief by Mark Greaney

Hawthorn by Carol Goodman

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman

New on DVD:
Goodnight Mommy

Friday, November 27, 2015

Even More Pax Arcana Shorts

I know some people are not fans of the e short trend, but I am not one of them. (If I didn't have an e reader - thanks, hubs - I might not be, so I do understand.) Of course there are times when the tale is just a one off that doesn't add anything significant. There are other times, though, where the story adds a great little bit of insight into a series. Or it's just a chance to spend more time in a world that's already got you completely ensnared. This last one is the case with Elliott James's Pax Arcana shorts.

If you haven't read the series, it's a little bit like the show Grimm in that our hero - John Charming - is the last of the Charming line (yes, as in Prince Charming). He's also a former knight of the Knights Templar. Former because he's been kicked out for being a werewolf. Now he travels around encountering and fighting creatures and such from all kinds of mythologies and folklore. It's a super fun series and one that I highly, highly recommend.

In "Bulls Rush In" the murders of two boys in Verde Vista prompts John to investigate. He knows exactly who/what is behind the crime, he can smell it, but sometimes things aren't quite what they seem. When he's cornered by a cop after breaking and entering, John finds himself forced to explain everything. 

These two are linked and, unfortunately for me, I read them out of order. I didn't know how "Bulls Rush In" was going to play out, but I did have an idea about how it was going to end (or how it wasn't going to end). The short did still have a few surprises in store for me, thankfully!

Rating: 3.5/5

In "Talking Dirty" John has been attending a support group in the hopes of finding someone he can frame for murder. Yeah, he's knows it's not quite on the up and up. When he meets a woman whose husband had been forking over gifts and cash to a phone sex operator, he senses there might be something a bit supernatural about the whole thing and vows to investigate. 

This particular short was really fun. There have been some great ones in this shorts series (and I hope eventually they'll be released in one volume) but this is definitely one of the best - right up there with "Surreal Estate." I won't give away the particular being he's up against here, but it is revealed early on in the tale. I will say that by the time he meets up with his foe I'd laughed out loud more than a few times. If you couldn't tell based on his ultimate goal (you know, finding someone at a support group to pin a murder on), this is a particularly sarcastic entry.

Rating: 4.5/5

The series (so far) includes:

In Shining Armor (due out in April)
"Charmed I'm Sure"
"Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls"
"Pushing Luck"
"Surreal Estate"
"Bulls Rush In"
"Talking Dirty"

Thursday, November 26, 2015

2015 Thankfully Reading Weekend Kick Off Post

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! If you're reading this early, I'm likely baking green bean casserole and stuffing (not stuffed in the bird), and roasting my hopefully fabulous turkey. We're doing Thanksgiving at a friend's house this year and I am definitely looking forward to the mad feast we have planned.

If you're reading this in the afternoon, then I'm either in a food coma, binging on Jessica Jones or The Man in the High Castle, or reading - as I should be. Today is the first day of the Thankfully Reading Weekend, hosted by Jenn at Jenn's Bookshelves, and that means devoting the weekend (Nov 26-29) to reading as much as possible while avoiding the madness of Black Friday shopping!

I've never been a Black Friday shopper so this is a pretty easy challenge for me. Course I'll have to avoid the call of Fallout 4 if I'm to get any serious reading done!

I'll update this as my reading progresses (and as I make my picks). I'll also plan to tweet my progress (you can follow me at @BeckyLeJeune) using the #thankfullyreading tag.

Hope you're all having a wonderful Thanksgiving! If you're joining in on the challenge I look forward to seeing what's in your reading plans!

Update: Thanksgiving day = 100 pages read. Too much turkey!


The Golem of Hollywood by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman


The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister
Valhalla by Robert J. Mrazek

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

It's 1939 and the world has become a dangerous place, something seven-year-old Anna is about to discover for herself. 

Anna's been fairly protected by her father all her life but a summons to the university leads to his capture by the Nazis. Anna isn't at all aware of what's happened, all she knows is that her father still hasn't returned after two days. She had been left under the watchful eye of the local pharmacist, but even he is unwilling to keep the girl beyond the first night. Fortunately for Anna, this series of events leads to her meeting the Swallow Man. A thin man who speaks almost as many languages as Anna and her father, the Swallow Man knows how to navigate this new and treacherous world. With Anna under his wing, they travel throughout the countryside making friends and avoiding enemies when possible. 

Anna and the Swallow Man is a strange little book. I've been trying to decide how to describe it and still haven't quite got it. It's set in Eastern Europe during WWII and is brilliantly written. Gavriel Savit's use of language is gorgeous and is just one of the more compelling aspects of the book. Some have compared it to The Book Thief, which is appropriate in terms of topic and setting sure even in terms of the narration as well - though Savit's tale is not narrated by death, the overall feel is similar. But the story in Anna and the Swallow Man is quite unlike The Book Thief in so many ways.

Anna is growing up during a time of great upheaval. She's young enough that she doesn't quite understand the severity of war or what's happening in Poland but she's old enough to know it's bad. She's old enough to realize her father won't be returning and that she needs someone to help her through this world. She's not quite old enough to know that The Swallow Man might not be the kindly father figure she believes him to be, though. The Swallow Man is her savior, but he's a bit of a danger as well.

Anna's journey is quite disturbing at times, though Savit doesn't get overly graphic or gory with his detail. Frankly it's almost a given that the story is going to be disturbing, though, considering it's about an orphaned girl wandering Poland during WWII.

As I mentioned, Savit's prose is wonderful and I love the way the he forces the reader to read between the lines at times. Again, the story gets quite bleak and disturbing and while it's mostly clear what's happening, there are times when the prose is quite lean and the reader is left to tease out the details themselves. The Swallow Man's identity is just one of these cases. There are hints, especially towards the end, but neither Anna or the reader ever really finds out who he is.

Anna and the Swallow Man is considered a middle grade release, I think, but I don't necessarily think it easily fits that category. Or better yet it certainly isn't limited to that category. Not only does the writing beg for a larger audience, it's the kind of book that will no doubt generate a lot of discussion making it an equally appropriate choice for the classroom and book clubs as well.

Anna and the Swallow Man is due out in January from Knopf.

Shelf Control: Secret Smile by Nicci French

It's Wednesday and that means it's time for a Shelf Control post!

Shelf Control is a weekly meme hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies, giving book junkies like me a chance to highlight some of the lingering titles in our TBR stacks!

Title: Secret Smile
Author: Nicci French
Published: 2006
Length: 384 pages

What it's about (from Goodreads):

Miranda's sister, Kerri, has a new boyfriend. He's a raven-haired, handsome charmer who seems to dote on Kerri. But Brendan isn't the man he says he is. Miranda should know, because she broke off her own affair with him just a few weeks ago when she found him reading her diary. Now Brendan claims that it was he who ended their short-lived relationship-and everyone believes him. When he and Kerri announce their engagement, Miranda's parents are thrilled for their shyer, less confident daughter. Then Kerri and Brendan beg Miranda to let them live in her apartment until their new home is ready. Against her better judgment, Miranda agrees.

Like a virus, Brendan starts spreading destruction throughout her life. He invades her privacy and disrupts her relationships with her family and friends. And then the real nightmare begins...

Like the obscenities he whispers into her ear, his onslaughts are as undetectable as they are devastating. Those closest to her begin to doubt her mental stability and accuse her of the very thing she believes drives Brendan: obsession. When Miranda decides to take off the gloves, fight back, and discover what is behind her enemy's bemused, secret smile, the consequences will be unlike any readers have ever encountered before.

How I got it:

Barnes and Noble

When I got it:

2006 I guess. Mine's got the same cover below so that must be right!

Why I want to read it:

At the time, I just thought it sounded interesting. I'd not actually read Nicci French then but have since devoured each installment in their (Nicci French is a husband and wife writing team) completely fantastic Frieda Klein series. 

Secret Smile was actually adapted into a TV movie in the UK and stars Kate Ashfield (of Shaun of the Dead) and David Tennant. While Tennant does technically play a bad guy in Harry Potter, this was the first time I really saw him play a villain. I didn't like it one bit! But the movie was good. (Of course Tennant is now playing the villain in Jessica Jones.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mini Reviews Part V - One of the Best Series You're Likely Not Reading

I am a pretty big advocate for translated works. It's selfish, I admit - I enjoy them and I want more available to me. And that's only going to happen if the industry can be convinced that there's a market for it here in the States. That's an issue I'm not really going to go into here. Instead, I want to highlight a series I quite enjoy and want to hopefully turn a few of you onto.

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir is a worldwide bestselling author who hails from Iceland. Surprisingly, she's one of the very few authors from that country to have been translated into english. I started reading her Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series in 2009, around the time the second book was being published here in the US. I'm a bit ashamed to say that I only returned to the series early this year when I took that second book on a trip and devoured it on the plane ride. I've since taken books three and four on plane rides as well (she makes for pretty excellent travel reading).

In the series debut, Last Rituals, we meet Thóra, a single mother and lawyer who's been hired by a German couple desperate to find out the truth about their son's murder. It's a investigation that links back to Iceland's own history of witchcraft and the witch trials of the sixteenth century, a history the dead man was apparently obsessed with in the days leading up to his murder. While the case reeks of possible dark ritual connections, Thóra and her assigned cohort, Matthew, aren't so sure. 

In reviewing the title six years ago, I'd noted that Thóra was not your typical sleuth. In fact, and this holds true of most of the series, she's kind of an atypical investigator. She's a lawyer and much of her investigative work is tied to clients she's involved with. But her increasing role in oddball cases also means she continues to be approached about exactly that: cases that are a bit off the wall and bizarre.

Rating: 4/5

In My Soul to Take, Thóra is representing a client intent on building a wellness spa. The client believes the land he's purchased is haunted and that the people who sold him the property hid that fact in order to sell. Ghosts could be bad for R&R, and he wants Thóra to prove the sale was under false pretenses so that he can at least get some of his purchase price refunded. But when a body is discovered nearby, Thóra finds herself thrust into a murder investigation with her client the prime suspect. 

This was an especially fun entry in the series as it includes both Icelandic folklore and more of the dark history of country. The mystery wasn't quite as tightly plotted as Last Rituals, but the character development makes up for that quite a bit. Thóra's relationship with Matthew and her troubles with her children get a lot of attention in this outing. Sigurdardóttir also injects quite a bit of humor into this installment (and subsequent ones).

Rating: 3.5/5

Ashes to Dust begins with the excavation of a town that's been buried under ash and dust for over thirty years. Thóra's client had intended to stop the excavation of his childhood home but was instead granted permission to be the first to enter. Unfortunately for the client this behavior is deemed quite suspicious when three bodies and a disembodied head are discovered in the basement of said home. 

This book begins with one of the most disturbing and strange murder scenes I've ever encountered. And it's fabulous! And let me stress again, highly disturbing.

The plot of Ashes to Dust is based on the eruption of Eldfell and the very real fate of Heimaey Island. And something called the Cod War. (Yep, as in fish.) I love, love, love the way Sigurdardóttir has built each of the first three books around such fantastic history. It's definitely one of my favorite aspects of the series as a whole. And it's interesting that, as the author noted in this interview, no one else took advantage of the Eldfell story for a book before this!

Rating: 3.5/5

The Day is Dark takes Thóra out of the comfort of Iceland and into the harsh environment of Greenland when her now longtime significant other, Matthew, pitches a new job to her. 

It seems Matthew's employers stand to lose quite a bit of money when a contractor they backed is dangerously close to defaulting on a job. The company in question, Berg Technology, had been hired by a British mining company to gather data and begin work on an excavation site in a remote area of Greenland. Berg's position there has been plagued by problems, though, including the disappearance of two employees and now the abandonment of the work site by all but two men. When the men in question can no longer be contacted, the bank decides it's time to investigate. 

If this were your first read in the series (and they can most definitely be read out of order) you'd get a pretty good feel for Thóra very early on. In spite of the weirdness of the situation, the temptation of a "vacation" with Matthew is enough for her to say yes. And this holds true even after seeing a bizarre video that seems to indicate the two men left at the site have most definitely suffered a violent demise. She then proceeds to get drunk and pack a bag filled with a very Greenland inappropriate wardrobe.

That's our heroine. She's human and I do love her all the more for it.

Greenland is anything but romantic, especially when Thóra and team find bones strewn about the office. There's no sign to be found of the two men, the locals are anything but welcoming, and the Berg employees back in Iceland are not talking.

I was going to say that unlike the others The Day is Dark is not based in actual Icelandic (or in this case Greenlandic) history, but that's not quite true. It's certainly inspired by actual history though it's not reflective of any particular or specific history as the others are. It's still quite fun and the setting makes it an especially chilling read (literally and figuratively!).

Rating: 4/5

The fifth book in the series, Someone to Watch Over Me, hit shelves earlier this year and is next up in my TBR. Book six in the series, The Silence of the Sea, is due out in February and I've also got Sigurdardóttir's very newly released (in the UK) standalone, The Undesired, currently waiting in my Christmas wish list. Sigurdardóttir has one additional title available here in the States, last year's standalone I Remember You. You can read my review of that one here.

Lone Star by Paullina Simons - Excerpt

Happy Book Birthday to Paullina Simons whose latest, Lone Star, hits shelves today!

To celebrate the release, I've got an excerpt to share - just to get you started :) But first, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Chloe is just weeks away from heading off to college and starting a new life far from her home in Maine when she embarks on a great European adventure with her boyfriend and two best friends. Their destination is Barcelona, but first they must detour through the historic cities of Eastern Europe to keep an old family promise.

Here, in this fledgling post-Communist world, Chloe meets a charming American vagabond named Johnny, who carries a guitar, an easy smile—and a lifetime of secrets. From Treblinka to Trieste, from Karnikava to Krakow, from Vilnius to Venice, the unlikely band of friends and lovers traverse the old world on a train trip that becomes a treacherous journey into Europe’s and Johnny’s darkest past—a journey that jeopardizes Chloe’s plans for the future and all she ever thought she wanted.

But the lifelong bonds Chloe and her friends share are about to be put to the ultimate test—and whether or not they reach Barcelona, they can only be certain that their lives will never be the same again.

Simons is known for her epic and romantic tales and Lone Star promises to be just that!

Now without further ado, here's a taste to pique your interest:

Chloe squeezed in by the window near the massive woman. She felt so claustrophobically cramped. Too many strangers in one confined space. Like spending hours in a packed and broken elevator. At least here there was a window.

Fifteen minutes behind schedule, the train engines finally spun into action, and she permitted herself a small smile. Yes, it was smelly. And awfully crowded. And soon to be hot. Her shirt was still damp from the rain, and all the windows were closed and she couldn’t find her ticket to show the conductor. But the train was moving at last. Soon this would be over.

Not a minute after the conductor left, the door opened again and into their stuffy, overcrowded cabin stepped the dreaded eighth passenger, a young dude. No! It was impossible! There was no room here; couldn’t he see that? It was as clear as the scowl on her face. A sharply inhaling Chloe despised him from the moment he slid open the door, smiling widely, and stepped inside to look for a seat. He was not only tall and had to bow his head to fit under the cornice, but he carried with him a crapload of stuff, enough to warrant his own cabin. Besides the oversized green duffel and a backpack, he wore a bulky leather jacket and a pretentious black beret. And on his back was a guitar of all things. Chloe nearly groaned. A guitar!

The luggage shelf above their heads was full. There was no room for a man-sized duffel, no room for a man-sized guitar, no room for a man. The guitar looked old and beat-up, and had no case. Nice way to take care of an instrument, Chloe thought. But when he spun around, she saw that the strings were new. She didn’t know which detail made her most hostile. All of it.

This interloper, at whom Chloe was too upset to look directly, assessed the situation in the cabin.

“Hello, there,” he said to her in a low easy melodic American voice. Cool and casual and friendly. Like a singsong. A fed-up Chloe stared out the window, ignoring him. Undeterred, the insolent intruder continued to speak. She glared in his direction, hoping her internal screaming might dissuade him. Nope. Just the opposite. Grinning at her with his mouthful of teeth like a simpleton, he took one long gallop through the compartment and was by her side, his duffel, backpack, guitar, jacket, pompous beret, everything. Was his black hair short or was it slicked back in a ponytail? He would have a ponytail, wouldn’t he? Oh yes. There it was.

“Hi,” he said to her, dropping the duffel to the floor. “Sorry about all my stuff. Would you mind?”

“Mind what?” Chloe barked. Her mother wouldn’t be pleased with her manners. How did he know she spoke English?

“Um, scooting over just a wee bit?” he said. His large eyes were twinkling. He probably thought they were dark chocolate in color. “You’re in my seat. Maybe you could move a smidge, and then I’d fit right in.” He grinned. “I’m good at fitting into tight spaces.” He didn’t just say that! “I’m skinny, you see,” he added. Chloe didn’t see. She didn’t see anything. She flung herself at the window. She would’ve liked to fling herself through the window like a waxwing slain.

The conductor opened the door and grunted at the unwelcome arrival. “Billetes? ”

“One moment.” The guy reached into his back pocket, and his elbow poked Chloe in her breast! He stopped, didn’t even say excuse me, moved away slightly, and passed her the guitar. “Can you hold it for a sec? I have to find my pass.”

It wasn’t as if he asked her for a favor, expecting perhaps a no. Had he ever heard the word no? He acted as if he hadn’t. First he pushed his guitar at her, already standing up, and then he asked her to hold it. Perhaps the unspoken threat was, either hold my guitar or be elbowed again in your ample bosom.

He took something out of his wallet that did not look like a ticket or a Eurail pass. The conductor glanced at it, glanced at him a moment longer, nodded quickly, his hand almost going to his temple in a salute, and backed out of the cabin. The guy stuffed everything back into his wallet, and sat down.

“I’ll take my guitar now,” he said.

She turned to the window and checked her watch. It was only 5:30! The train wouldn’t get to Riga until after eight. Chloe tried to think of other things. Yet the boy’s presence next to her was enormous and could not be denied. He crowded out all her other thoughts. She couldn’t close her eyes. She couldn’t read her book. Trying not to breathe, she stared grimly out of the window, her mouth in a clamshell.

For a few minutes, the compartment was almost silent. The professor was reading Hawking. The father was reading the paper and the boy was playing a handheld video game. The male half of the stout couple was napping, while the female half was attempting to involve guitar boy in conversation. Apologetically glancing at the woman while trying to catch Chloe’s eye, he said in English with a rueful smile, “I speak only the most basic Latvian. I wish I could explain that to her.” Oh, he fancied himself to be quite the smiler!

It was hot. Chloe’s damp shirt was pressed against the shoulder of his leather jacket. After a few minutes he mercifully took the jacket off, but not before flinging his arms and elbows and hands in all directions. Women, Chloe wanted to yell in alarm, guard your boobs! Under the leather, he wore a plain black fitted T with the white star of Texas above the pocket. Was he from Texas? Words could not express how much she didn’t care.

“I’m Johnny, by the way,” he said. “Pleased to meet you. And you are . . .”

“Chloe.” They were sitting too close for Chloe to turn her head and look him in the eye. His face was barely a foot away from her face. She half nodded in his general direction, keeping her eyes on his denim-clad knees and the pointed black–leather toe of what looked to be a snazzy cowboy boot. Lucchese perhaps? Wow. Leather jacket, beret, an ancient guitar with new strings. What the hell?

“Hi, Chloe,” he said. “Would you like to book a tour of Riga with me? I’m very good.” Every word spoken through two rows of exposed white teeth.

How good could he be? “Um, no, thank you.”

He leaned to Chloe, like a kid already familiar and undaunted by her hostility, oblivious to it, really. He inhaled the air around her and said, “You smell nice.” He tilted his head, this way and that. “Like a girl. You smell . . .” He inhaled again. “Like lavender and vanilla.”

For a moment Chloe caught his smiling eye. He blinked, slowly. She blinked slowly back. When she replied, she felt slightly heady, as if she’d been winded. “You’re telling me I smell like fabric softener?”

And he, without missing a beat, said, “I don’t know, what’s fabric softener?”

Thanks to the publisher for providing the excerpt today. Now head out to your local bookstore and grab a copy - you do have that Thanksgiving break to fill with reading after all!

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Great Forgetting by James Renner

Jack Felter's father is suffering from dementia and his sister fears his final days are on their way. So Jack packs up and returns to his tiny hometown of Franklin Mills. It's not exactly a welcome homecoming for Jack. He's avoided Franklin Mills ever since his girlfriend married his best friend. Yes, that's right, Jack's girlfriend, Sam, married Jack's best friend, Tony. And now Tony is missing. 

Tony's been gone for three years now and Sam is ready to move on. Without a body, though, the police won't allow Tony to be declared dead. Here's where Jack comes in: Sam is sure that Tony offed himself in the local lake and appeals to Jack for help. If he can find the body, Sam can collect on the life insurance. Then she won't lose everything she's worked for in the time since Tony abandoned her. 

Jack agrees and arranges for a diver who does indeed turn up a body. And that's when things get really complicated. And weird. 

You should know that this is not an easy book to sum up, especially without giving too much away. It involves history, some insane conspiracy theories (conspiracy theories that do exist!) and memory as we perceive it. It's a twisty turny read that will likely head in directions that you won't expect - or at least I didn't - it starts with an Epilogue for goodness sake!

From the start we do know that Jack is not looking forward to running into Sam. You might question, then, why he would be so willing to help her out (per the synopsis above). Well, present day Jack keeps things close for a while but Franklin Mills does force him to confront issues from his past, like his relationships with Sam and Tony. Through flashbacks we discover how they all met, how the relationships formed, and what ultimately went wrong. We also get flashbacks from a few other characters, all of which - and whom - move the story along quite brilliantly.

I'm going to stop there because I'm really too afraid of spoiling it. I've already removed quite a few things from this post that I thought would do exactly that so I know any more time I spend trying to write this risks even more potential surprise ruining quips.

I will say that I'm an unabashed fan girl for James Renner's fiction. His debut, The Man From Primrose Lane, is one any regular reader of the blog has seen pop up quite a bit - lots of TTT topics like authors who deserve more attention, all time favorites, etc. That book blew me away and left me waiting with baited breath to see what Renner would have in store for readers the next go around. And while Man set the bar pretty high as far as expectations go, I have to say that The Great Forgetting more than lived up to those expectations.

Like Man, The Great Forgetting is another genre bender. It's part sci-fi, part mystery, and part a few other things. They're the hardest books to describe but, in my opinion they're often the most fabulous of reads.

Highly recommended!

Rating: 5/5

2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino - Giveaway

Happy Monday, everyone! I've got some goodies planned for you for this week, starting with a giveaway!

You may recall last year I was part of the blog tour for Marie-Helene Bertino's 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas, a sweet story set on the eve of Christmas Eve. If not, you can check out my review here, and here's a bit about the book from the publisher:

2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas begins on a quiet morning in a Philadelphia apartment the day before Christmas Eve, where we meet the precocious and smart-mouthed nine-year-old Madeleine Altimari. Madeleine’s mother has recently died, and her father is still lost in his grief. Madeleine finds solace in music and aspires to become a jazz singer like her late mother, “whose voice could redirect the mood of a room.” Just two days shy of her tenth birthday, she is about to have the most remarkable day of her life. After facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine decides today is the day to find Philadelphia’s legendary jazz club, The Cat’s Pajamas, and make her debut on stage. On the same day, Madeleine’s fifth-grade teacher, Sarina Greene, who has moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with her high school love. And across town at The Cat’s Pajamas, club owner Jack Lorca discovers that his beloved venue may be closed by the end of the night due to financial woes. As we follow these three lost souls over the course of twenty-four hours, we also meet a cast of eccentric Philadelphians who surround them—from the daffy but well-intentioned coffee shop owner, Mrs. Santiago, to Ben, Sarina’s high school crush, to Melissa, the former “snake lady” exotic dancer who is Lorca’s long-suffering girlfriend and last hope for love, to Pedro, the dog with incurable ennui. With sharp wit and irrepressible spirit, Marie-Helene Bertino turns her home city of Philadelphia into a magical place where anything can happen.

The book was recently released in paperback, just in time for the upcoming holiday season, and I have a shiny new copy to give away to one of you lucky readers. If you're looking for a heartwarming and quirky read this season, this might just be the perfect one for you!

To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, December 7. Open US only.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

New releases 11/24/15

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Chimera by Mira Grant

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher

Positive by David Wellington

Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston

Lone Star by Paulina Simons

Queen by Aimée Carter

New on DVD:
Shaun the Sheep Movie
American Ultra
Ricki and the Flash

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix

Home cooks and cookbook fiends should definitely know Mark Bittman's name by now. He's written over a dozen cookbooks, including the aptly named How to Cook Everything, and his NYT column (which just ended a decade plus run) has been read by umpteen folks throughout the years. His Best Recipes in the World is one I bought the day it was released and has since become splattered and stained with use. And now he's released a brand new cookbook for me to ruin use frequently.

Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix was put together with the premise that "If you can cook 10 recipes, you can cook 10,000." So the idea is that by using the book you can learn Bittman's basic approach to any given recipe provided and then try your hand at your own variations.

What does that mean? Well, let's take Bittman's Tiny Pancakes - a recipe that appears fairly early on in the book. Bittman starts off explaining how the idea for this recipe came about and then provides the base pancake mix and "universal instructions" along with 13 variations you can try. Yep, 13 different recipes all on a two page foldout: shrimp, peas, cooked spinach, roasted red pepper, cooked chicken, olives, peach, tomatoes, squid, pear, blueberries, cucumber, and asparagus.

But wait, this is winter squash season right? So what if you made some roasted butternut squash and had some left over? Well you can make your own Tiny Pancake variation using that or anything else you might have on hand!

Even if you stick to Bittman's basics, there are literally hundreds of recipes packed into this book. Thanksgiving Leftovers 20 Ways, Paillards (Cutlets) 10 Ways (this includes chicken, beef, pork, and lamb so if you make those a little interchangeable there are WAY more than 10 variations), Chickpeas 4 Ways, Shrimp 12 Ways, Beets 12 Ways... there's a section for most ingredients or meals you can think of. Then there are the recipe generators: Paella, Vinaigrette, Kebabs... Bittman gives you the basic build and you can pick your own ingredients.

Recipes are short, to the point, easy to follow, and include a mix of simple to somewhat more complex dishes. None are overly complicated or require incredibly specialized equipment, though, making this the kind of book that's great for a mix of experience levels and budgets. Someone less comfortable can, again, follow each of the recipes exactly and walk away with some new techniques and - hopefully - more confidence in the kitchen while those more experienced and willing to experiment beyond the basics will find a ton of inspiration.

I love this book. I was already a fan of Bittman's but even if you aren't familiar with him I highly suggest checking out this cookbook. It's definitely one that'll get heavy use in your kitchen and I'd be willing to bet it'll send you on a search for more from Bittman as well (Best Recipes in the World, y'all!)

Rating: 5/5

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

Bookreporter.com's Linwood Barclay Contest

Hey, everyone! The holidays are looming and the folks at Bookreporter.com have a great holiday contest going on right now for Linwood Barclay fans.

Here's a bit about the giveaway:

What Friend or Relative Would You Like to Thrill with a Personalized Signed Copy of Linwood Barclay’s BROKEN PROMISE This Holiday Season?

Here’s an opportunity to win a personalized signed copy of BROKEN PROMISE for someone on your holiday list. And, ahem, this is not a “To Me/From Me” gift! The purpose is for you to give this book to a thriller reader. Barclay is hailed as “a suspense master” by Stephen King, and the writing in BROKEN PROMISE, the first book in the Promise Falls trilogy, lives up to that description. This fast-paced series is also on a fast publication schedule. The second book, FAR FROM TRUE, will be in stores on March 22, 2016. The third book, THE TWENTY THREE, will be out on November 16, 2016.

Broken Promise released in hardcover this summer and if you haven't had a chance to read it, it sounds like a doozy (aren't all of Linwood Barclay's books doozies?). Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

From New York Times bestselling author Linwood Barclay comes an explosive novel set in the peaceful small town of Promise Falls, where secrets can always be buried—but never forgotten…

After his wife’s death and the collapse of his newspaper, David Harwood has no choice but to uproot his nine-year-old son and move back into his childhood home in Promise Falls, New York. David believes his life is in free fall, and he can’t find a way to stop his descent.

Then he comes across a family secret of epic proportions. A year after a devastating miscarriage, David’s cousin Marla has continued to struggle. But when David’s mother asks him to check on her, he’s horrified to discover that she’s been secretly raising a child who is not her own—a baby she claims was a gift from an “angel” left on her porch.

When the baby’s real mother is found murdered, David can’t help wanting to piece together what happened—even if it means proving his own cousin’s guilt. But as he uncovers each piece of evidence, David realizes that Marla’s mysterious child is just the tip of the iceberg.

Other strange things are happening. Animals are found ritually slaughtered. An ominous abandoned Ferris wheel seems to stand as a warning that something dark has infected Promise Falls. And someone has decided that the entire town must pay for the sins of its past…in blood.

For full contest deets, be sure to head over to Bookreporter.com. Here's the link that will take you straight to the entry form. You only have until Decmber 7th to enter so be sure to check it out soon. I've already picked my person, we'll see if they end up being one of the 23. Good luck to all of you!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Short Fiction Friday Newsflesh Edition: Countdown and San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant

Did you know that Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire completely and totally rocks? She does. Completely and totally.

This has been a week of indecision and blah. Which means that I've waffled over I don't know how many books, starting and abandoning them simply because I'm not in the mood. Ugh. But I did keep myself occupied and productively reading with some shorts and novellas I've been piling up in the TBR! And since my goal this month (as it flies by) is to tackle some unfinished series lingering in my stacks, it made sense to read through a few of Mira Grant's novellas in particular.

See, I LOVE the Newsflesh world. LOVE IT! I mean, I kind of do gobble up zombie fiction in masses. I'm not tired of it. Nor am I tired of post-apocalyptic/post viral outbreak stories/settings. Newsflesh is unique, though, in that the world has moved on since the zombie apocalypse, attempting to reclaim some normalcy.

In addition to the base trilogy (Feed, Deadline, and Blackout), Grant has also penned a number of shorts and novellas set in the world (CountdownSan Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats"Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box;" How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea; The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell; and Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus). Orbit is releasing what I believe will be a full collection of those shorts in June as Rise: The Newsflesh Collection (the description says "every piece of short fiction from New York Times Bestseller Mira Grant's acclaimed Newsflesh series, with two new never-before-published novellas..."). I've still got two of the novellas to go (How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea and Please Don't Taunt the Octopus) so between those two, the short, and the two new novellas to come I've got a bit to go. Plus, and this is awesome-sauce, Grant has a fourth Newsflesh novel, Rewind, due out in 2016, so I won't have to leave this world behind for quite some time!

Readers, even with the blah-est of blahs, Countdown and San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats were fan-freakin'-tastic! And they made me have zombie nightmares.

In Countdown, Grant goes back to the beginning, outlining the key occurrences leading up to the Rising.

The zombie apocalypse began in 2014 thanks to a series of tragic mistakes and circumstances. While a doctor in Denver was beating cancer with an experimental Marburg treatment, a doctor in Reston, Virginia made it his life's goal to wipe out the common cold. Initial testing of Dr. Alexander Kellis's virus was promising but before human trials could begin a group of protestors broke into Kellis's facility, releasing the virus. 

It wouldn't take long for the world to discover just how catastrophic the mix of Marburg Amberlee and Kellis's creation would be.

While we know some of the Kellis-Amberlee story thanks to the series main entries, this is the first look (that I recall) at the 2014 players. And of course those who have followed the series as a whole know that the shit is definitely hitting the fan. This is not some alternate Newsflesh reality where the 2014 world is able to combat and beat the coming zombie plague.

Rating: 5/5

San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats is set in 2044 but is an interview with the only remaining survivor of the nation's final Comic-Con.

On July 23, 2014, in the midst of the Rising, the nation, and indeed the world, are about to find out what Kellis-Amberlee has in store. But for those preparing for the annual San Diego Comic-Con, a zombie apocalypse is still the furthest thing from their minds - at least in real-world terms. 

In 2044, Mahir Gowda has arranged an interview with Lorelei Tutt, the only person to survive the event. To date, Tutt has remained silent about her parents' final days but Mahir's prompting and the news that San Diego is considering reviving the con finally prompts the woman to break her silence. 

The fallen and their stories will be remembered for their heroism and ultimate tragedy. 

San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats is set during the same timeframe as Countdown. The characters here have heard rumors of issues with the Kellis virus but thus far haven't actually seen what happens when the virus amplifies in a human. If they had, so many things might have been different.

I know I'm not the only person whose brain goes to zombie apocalypse in certain situations. I know because I've heard it. Hubs and I were at a concert at Red Rocks recently and the droves of people cramming through the exit after the show ended would be the absolute worst place for someone to spontaneously zombify. As I was thinking this, I actually overheard someone expressing virtually the same sentiment. I'm not the only weirdo!

Anyway, setting a story at Comic-Con is brilliant for so many reasons! I mean, it's Comic-Con! The people, the costumes, the swag that can be used as potential weapons, the weapons that can be used as potential weapons... (Second best for that would be a Ren Fest setting, right?!) Plus, it's exactly the sort of nightmare scenario some of us can very obviously see happening if we were to actually experience a zombiepocalypse.

You don't have to read either of these to enjoy the series but if you're like me and want to spend more time in the world, these are perfect additions! I highly, highly recommend them - and the series as a whole, if you're not reading yet!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Whistling Women by Kelly Romo

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Kelly Romo's Whistling Women.

Addie has been hiding for half her life. After an act that could have landed her in prison, she found refuge in the Sleepy Valley Nudist Colony. Now, they're participation in the San Diego World's Fair means returning to the scene of Addie's crime and possible confrontation with the family she left behind, something Addie's hoped to avoid ever since leaving. 

But it's not like her sister has ever expressed any interest in staying in touch. All of Addie's letters to her have returned unopened in the years she's been at Sleepy Valley. And it's true that Addie's sister still has no intention to reunite. Instead it's Addie's niece Rumor who seeks out the aunt she's never met, determined to bring her family together once again. 

Addie's crime isn't that big of a reveal, in fact (and many others on the tour have pointed it out) the secrets are quite easy to see coming. But that doesn't detract from the story one bit. It's the relationships between the women that are the focus of this tale, and it's those relationships that make the book shine!

Young Addie is full of such hope when she leaves the orphanage to join her sister in California. I hated to see her suffer. I hated to see the bond between the sisters break. But Addie's strength throughout is so admirable. Her niece Rumor, our second narrator, has an equally wonderful vibrancy and voice.

Whistling Women was by no means an easy read. The subject matter is a tough one and seeing characters you've come to like and sympathize with suffer through such things is hard. It's a testament to Romo's writing, though, that she's able to create characters that do grab you so firmly from the start! And of course a large part of the story is the healing that comes (or will come) from the relationships and family that help you through such tough times.

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shelf Control: Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips

It's Wednesday and that means it's time for a Shelf Control post!

Shelf Control is a weekly meme hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies, giving book junkies like me a chance to highlight some of the lingering titles in our TBR stacks!

Title: The Quiet Dell
Author: Jayne Anne Phillips
Published: 2013
Length: 480 pages

What it's about (from Goodreads):

A spectacularly riveting novel based on a real life crime by a con man who preyed on widows: “a brilliant fusion of fact and fiction, Jayne Anne Phillips has written the novel of the year” (Stephen King)—“think In Cold Blood meets The Lovely Bones—but sexy” (People).

In Chicago in 1931, Asta Eicher, a lonely mother of three, is desperate for money after the sudden death of her husband. She begins to receive seductive letters from a chivalrous, elegant man named Harry Powers, who promises to cherish and protect her, ultimately to marry her and to care for her and her children. Weeks later, Asta and her three children are dead.

Emily Thornhill, one of the few women journalists in the Chicago press, wants to understand what happened to this beautiful family, particularly to the youngest child, Annabel, an enchanting girl with a precocious imagination and sense of magic. Determined, Emily travels to West Virginia to cover the murder trial and to investigate the story herself, accompanied by a charming and unconventional photographer equally drawn to the case. These heroic characters, driven by secrets of their own, will stop at nothing to ensure Powers is convicted.

A tragedy, a love story, and a tour de force of obsession, Jayne Anne Phillips’s Quiet Dell “hauntingly imagines the victims’ hopes, dreams, and terror” (O, The Oprah Magazine). It is a mesmerizing and deeply moving novel from one of America’s most celebrated writers.

How I got it:

It was a Christmas gift

When I got it:

Last Christmas, so not too terribly long ago (based on the previous titles I've featured anyway).

Why I want to read it:

An industry friend of mine recommended it after reading it herself. It sounded fabulous and she said it had a great "creep factor."

Monday, November 16, 2015

Besh Big Easy: 101 Home Cooked New Orleans Recipes by John Besh

There are a lot of things I like about living in Colorado but there are also quite a lot of days I find myself seriously homesick for Louisiana. Days like today, for example. As I write this (very late in the day thanks to things beyond my control) it's dark as night out (and has been for at least the past hour) and we're settling in for what the weather forecast is predicting will be an overnight blizzard.

Um, yeah.

Don't worry, though, we've got firewood AND gumbo ready for a cozy evening.

Yep, the only real way to get through nights like this - in my opinion - is to fix up a taste of home. Nothing cures a case of the blues or the Mondays like a good home cooked meal and I crave the ones I grew up eating. I do try to share the love and invite company over, but just as often I'm asked to recommend a good recipe or cookbook.

I've always had a very special place in my heart for John Besh. I've tuned in to his show (when it's been available here) and rooted for him in Top Chef Masters. I haven't made it to one of his restaurants yet but I do love being able to cook his recipes at home! So when his latest, Besh Big Easy, hit shelves I was pretty stoked. And it's joined the ranks of cookbooks I can honestly recommend to anyone looking to recreate southern Louisiana dishes in their own homes.

Dishes like Besh's Monday's Red Beans and Rice, Cajun Stuffed Pork Chops, and Andrew's Pan-Fried Pork Cutlets are literally the stuff of my childhood. And his Perfect Roast Pork Shoulder with Country Gravy is oh, so reminiscent of my dad's pork roasts! Trout Almondine, shrimp and grits, and stuffed peppers are newer favorites of mine, dishes I didn't try until I was almost in college but became fast favorites. Besh puts his own spin on each, creating versions that are definite winners for this Louisiana girl!

These are, of course, just a small taste of what's inside the book. Other classics like Bananas Foster, Cajun Crawfish Bisque, jamabalaya, and catfish courtboullion are also featured as are the not-to-be-missed New Orleans Shrimp Étouffée and the Quick & Dirty BBQ Shrimp (this is another new favorite and if you haven't had it, you're in for a treat!).

I should note that Besh's cookbook is, as the title says, a book of "New Orleans Recipes." Why the specification? Well I'm from Cajun country and things like gumbo (as Besh notes) differ a bit between the two areas. Mostly thanks to tomatoes: New Orleans gumbos include tomatoes and Cajun ones do not. Tomatoes aside, I can attest to the fact that even Besh's Chicken and Sausage Gumbo is not too far off from my family's recipe (I don't use Worcestershire).

Besh Big Easy is a love letter to New Orleans culture and cuisine. Most of the recipes feature full color photographs of the finished product as well as tips and notes on the recipes that range from childhood reminiscences and info on the dish or specific ingredients to substitutions (Greek yogurt for Creole cream cheese, any white flaky fish in place of Puppy Drum, etc).

I might be a bit of a fangirl for Besh. But it's because he represents my home state so very well! His advocates for Louisiana products, his food is amazing, and his recipes are definitely accessible for the home cook. If you love Cajun and Creole food but haven't tried cooking it yourself, or even if you're just curious about why we Louisianians can't shut up about our food, Besh Big Easy is a pretty darn perfect choice.

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Planetfall by Emma Newman + a Giveaway

When Suh awoke from a coma with coordinates to a planet she said was their destiny, Ren was on board. She loved Suh, after all, and believed wholeheartedly in her plan. 

Two decades after the Planetfall their colony is thriving. Seated at the base of God's City, a strange structure that was present when they arrived on the planet, Ren and the rest of Suh's followers have built a community that lives in harmony with their new home planet. Ren - an engineer and genetics expert - spends her time fixing and maintaining the colony's 3-D printers, a technological advancement that has made it possible for the colonists to build everything they could possibly need. And while Suh communes with "God" in the structure above, her followers wait patiently for her message and her eventual return. 

But then a stranger arrives at the colony's gates. A stranger who reminds the colonists of their own losses. A stranger who claims to be Suh's own grandchild, something even Ren can't deny. And with his arrival, Ren's rigidly built life begins to crumble. 

Planetfall is sci-fi with a psychological twist. In two regards. First, there's the secret Ren and one other member of the original Planetfall have been hiding. Something that ties directly to Suh's mission. Second, there's Ren herself. A psychologically complex character who's been lying to those around her for over twenty years now. She's an anxious character, but exactly how that anxiety manifests isn't clear until about halfway through the story.

I loved everything about this book! I've been making a serious effort to fit more science fiction into my reading schedule. It's an effort because I had a bit of a rough experience with the genre way back there and have had to bounce back a bit. I've noted before that it often feels like sci-fi books go right over my head. Like there's some genre primer I've missed out on and everyone but me knows what the author is talking about. Fortunately, and the wonderful book community online has helped with this, I've been able to find more and more accessible genre reads that work for me! Planetfall was one of these books. Honestly, as much as I've struggled with some titles in the genre, I read Planetfall in one night.

There are two main reasons this is such an easy and fabulous read: world building and Ren.

Newman builds the world fabulously. It's easy to follow Ren through the community and the mission that brought her there. Every necessary detail (I say necessary because in all honesty there's much of the Planetfall world that isn't really explored - because the colonists themselves don't seem to be all that interested) makes it that much easier to visualize this alien world and the ways in which the colonists have made it their new home. And even the technological bits are easy for a lay person to digest!

And as for Ren herself, in her Emma Newman has created a character who is both intriguing and, in my opinion, pretty impossible not to like. She's so clearly drawn and so human. She's brilliant but flawed. She's a nervous wreck and we don't really know why.

Now I know I may not be an authority on sci-fi but from a regular old reader standpoint (an exceptional reader standpoint?), Planetfall is a great book. So whether you're a die hard genre fan or a fringe reader working up to more (like me), I consider Newman's latest a must - 'cause, you know, a great story can be enjoyed by anyone!

Rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher I get to give away a copy of this fabulous read! To get your name in the hat, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, November 23. US only and no PO boxes please.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Guest Post by Laura Benedict

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Laura Benedict's latest, Charlotte's Story. You may recall I reviewed the book just a few weeks ago, so today I have a special treat for you: a guest post by Laura Benedict!

Charlotte's Story is the second Bliss House book, an absolutely chilling series set in one of the creepiest houses I've come across in literature in some time. If you didn't see that earlier post, go ahead and check it out! We'll wait :)

I'm not kidding when I say that Laura Benedict is one of my absolute favorite authors. She has been at the top of my must read list ever since the release of her debut, Isabella Moon. I supposed you can imagine what a treat it is for me to have her on the blog today. So without further ado, I'll hand things over to Laura!

You’d think that a writer doing research for suspense and horror stories would enjoy a steady diet pretty grisly stuff: ghosts, monsters, interesting poisons, weapons, psychological disorders. But the thing about stories is that they also have a lot of details that are—like real life—rather prosaic. Interesting, sure, but hardly glamorous, let alone dastardly.

Let’s talk bathtime. Specifically communal bathing. A subject that makes me more than a little squeamish. I can never forget seeing an image from my grade school days of a Japanese family from the 1960s bathing together (in the nude!) in a large wooden tub. Call me a prude, but I was completely shocked. Bathing? Naked? With other people—particularly my family? Madness!

One of the characters in my novel-in-progress is a young Japanese girl who has been kidnapped and brought, alone, to the U.S. in the 1870s. We’ve all seen films and read books about the period. Germ theory was still just that—a theory. A Civil War combatant was much more likely to die from infection of a wound than the wound itself, and most Americans were lucky to have one bath a week. And that bath water was likely to be scant and used by several people. My character, Kiku, came from a culture where bathing was both frequent and a social ritual.

It’s generally known that the ancient Romans were mad for water, and copied and expanded the ritual bathing habits of the Greeks, but Japanese culture’s history of communal bathing also has religious roots. Buddhist cleansing traditions didn’t reach Japan until the sixth century, but water purification rites were practiced much earlier in Japan by Shinto priests.

Like the Romans, the Japanese extended religious bathing beyond the temple and into wealthy homes, and then into an elaborate system of public bath houses. The first public baths in Japan, onsen, began in the Nara Period (710-794) as baths attached to temples. The offering of a bath to anyone, regardless of status, was assumed to bestow honor on the donor. And like the purchasing of religious indulgences in Western culture, paying for the running of the baths also was presumed to ensure a comfortable afterlife. The practice continued through later periods, until the Edo Period (1603-1868), when the baths became a focus of secular community life.

Sento baths function not just as places to get clean, but as community centers. Paying patrons can bathe, gossip, get massages, and indulge in other spa services. Like Roman baths, the contemporary sento is co-ed, and is generally housed in one large room with dividers that lay out the separate areas for men and women. But before Admiral Perry arrived in Japan in 1853, bringing along Victorian moral prohibitions and inhibitions, the sexes often mingled freely in the sento.

Even now, though most people have a shower or bath in their homes, there are sento baths that have their own community rules and traditions all over Japan.

My character, Kiku, is a young peasant girl from a fishing village, but she has an innocent sophistication that her American acquaintances lack. Bathing is a sensual thing, and, aside from a higher standard of cleanliness, Kiku finds herself surprised at the everyday prudishness of the people surrounding her. She would probably even laugh at me. I was never one for skinny-dipping or hot-tubbing in the buff with my friends—or family. I am very much a product of my time and upbringing. But it’s one of the intense pleasures and privileges of writing to be able to imagine oneself in the place of someone who has different attitudes and approaches to life, especially if they’re daring and not the least bit scary.

About the author: Laura Benedict is the author of Charlotte’s Story and Bliss House, the first two novels in the Bliss House trilogy, as well as several other novels of dark suspense. Her work has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. She lives with her family in Southern Illinois.

Huge, huge thanks to Laura for putting together today's fabulous post! If you haven't checked out her work yet, trust me when I say you are missing out. I do hope you'll head out and pick up a copy of Charlotte's Story (or any of her books) today!

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

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

Purchase Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Shelf Control: The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis

It's Wednesday and that means it's time for a Shelf Control post!

Shelf Control is a weekly meme hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies, giving book junkies like me a chance to highlight some of the lingering titles in our TBR stacks!

Title: The Boy in the Suitcase
Author: Lene Kaaberbøl and Angete Friis
Published: 2011
Length: 313 pages

What it's about (from Goodreads):

Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse, wife, and mother of two, is a compulsive do-gooder who can’t say no when someone asks for help—even when she knows better. When her estranged friend Karin leaves her a key to a public locker in the Copenhagen train station, Nina gets suckered into her most dangerous project yet. Inside the locker is a suitcase, and inside the suitcase is a three-year-old boy: naked and drugged, but alive.

Is the boy a victim of child trafficking? Can he be turned over to authorities, or will they only return him to whoever sold him? When Karin is discovered brutally murdered, Nina realizes that her life and the boy’s are in jeopardy, too. In an increasingly desperate trek across Denmark, Nina tries to figure out who the boy is, where he belongs, and who exactly is trying to hunt him down. 

How I got it:

I bought it. It was getting LOTS of attention and I do love Scandinavian crime fiction. 

When I got it: 

Ugh, in 2011!

Why I want to read it:

Well, as I said above I do love Scandinavian crime fiction. This one is a little bit of a cheat because I did crack the book open last night under orders from the agent I'm working with! It's moving along really fast, I made it about halfway through in one sitting. 

This is the first in a series and I already have book two on hand (which makes my delay in reading it even worse!). The fourth title is due out in March of next year.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Miracle of Grace by Kate Kerrigan

When Grace learns that her mother has stage IV ovarian cancer and that it's likely terminal, she's shocked. Frankly, though, it's not so much the cancer that sets her reeling as the way she finds out about it - an innocuous notation, number eight in fact, on one of her mother's to do lists: 

8. Tell G have ov cancer. Prob term

Eileen's cancer should bring the two together, unite them against a fate that is almost inevitable. Instead the note, the illness, the whole situation stresses the relationship between mother and daughter. But as time progresses and Grace's life spirals even further out of control, she comes to realize that her mother is the one who has always been there. In time, she also comes to learn that there's much about her mother she's taken for granted and stories she's never been told... 

Oh, Eileen is wonderful! Her story, her journey from a bright-eyed, devout child enamored with a pair of red slacks to the mother she becomes was my absolute favorite part of this book. It's likely in part due to the fact that she reminded me just a bit of another character I'd recently become attached to whose relationship with her husband was similar to how Eileen's turned out. Just a smidge of reminiscence but enough to make her that much more of a favorite of mine in the reading.

Grace on the other hand took much longer to become attached to. It was her stubbornness and anger over the note that I just couldn't reconcile! It's hard to imagine (though I know it happens) turning anger and hurt over such a revelation onto the person who's suffering rather than the situation itself.

Don't worry, that's part of Grace's story.

The dual narrative gives readers a chance to really get to know both Grace and Eileen AND illustrate the true differences between their generations. This was another aspect I really, really loved about The Miracle of Grace. Eileen is somewhat trapped by her situation thanks to the time and place she's grown up in. Grace's own coming of age, however, is much different - again thanks to the era in question. There was so much social change, some of which Grace acknowledges in her own chapters, between when the two woman lived that it's quite easy to see how there would be such a disconnect between them.

Where Recipes for a Perfect Marriage also explored those generational differences, The Miracle of Grace is focused on the mother/daughter relationship rather than a spousal one. The style and elegance of Kerrigan's writing is always present but I do appreciate how different the two stories are from one another and even from the Ellis Island trilogy as well. Kerrigan has a great range and is a wonderful storyteller!

Rating: 4/5

Top Ten Tuesday: Book to Movie Adaptations I'm Looking Forward To

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: Book to movie adaptations I'm looking forward to.

There are way more than 10! I limited it to new adaptations - no sequels or series continuations but I still ended up with 14 - and would probably have many many more if I had a handy list of ALL the upcoming adaptations at my fingertips!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime by Ree Drummond

My weekend routine kind of starts with Food Network. Well, really it starts with coffee but once my brain is working on Saturday morning I tune it to see what goodies Ree Drummond has in store on The Pioneer Woman. Which usually means I'm going to make at least one of her recipes that weekend!

I've been a fan of Drummond's for quite some time now - even before she had a show - and she's still one of my favorites. Her food is tasty, her recipes are easy, and I generally have most of the ingredients on hand at any given time. She's a go to in my house and many of her recipes, once tried, end up in my regular rotation! Even better, she's one that I frequently recommend to friends and family looking for new recipes to try. (Yes, they're generally cheesy and creamy, but that's what I like.)

Her latest cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime, is (as the title states) focused on dinner. Breakfast for dinner, quick 16-minute recipes, freezer foods you can make ahead and use a number of ways... you name it. All dinner. If you're a fan of her blog in particular, you'll love this latest from Drummond. It's laid out exactly like the blog with full color photos of each and every step as well as make ahead tips, variations, and serving suggestions.

I did some legwork for you guys, and it's a great addition for your cookbook collection!

I know a lot of you probably wonder about reviewing a cookbook. How many recipes do I actually try before posting a cookbook review? I mean, it's not exactly like reading a novel but in my opinion it's definitely on par. In some cases I do a total binge and cook nothing but recipes from that cookbook for a full couple of weeks before doing my post. To give you an idea with this one in particular, here are the recipes I've tried to date:

Ginger Steak Salad (the dressing/marinade for this steak is AMAZING!)
Sesame Chicken Salad
Sausage, Potato, and Kale Soup
Cheesy Cauliflower Soup
Ready-to-Go Grilled Chicken
Ready-to-Go Taco Chicken
Chicken Nachos :)
Cajun Chicken Pasta
Chicken Kale Pasta
Tortellini Primavera
Chicken Enchiladas
Breakfast Potatoes (THE. BEST. EVER.)

Obviously, this is just a FRACTION of the recipes in the book but considering they've all been wins for me so far I think it's safe to say this is one I definitely recommend!

Rating: 5/5