Saturday, April 30, 2016

Pre Pub Book Buzz: The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest is a highly talented author who's tackled everything from steampunk and historical murderesses (with an added Lovecraft flavor) to vampires and superheroes - and tackled them well, I should add. But I have to admit I did a majorly dorky happy dance when I heard that her upcoming The Family Plot would be a haunted house tale!!!

It's no secret that ghosts and haunted houses are my favorite horror topic. FAVORITE favorite in a genre that is my favorite, that is. And Cherie Priest does ghosts fantastically! If you haven't checked our her Eden Moore series (which started with the uber creepy Four and Twenty Blackbirds, I suggest you do that soon). So yeah, to say I'm excited about this one is a bit of an understatement.

Here's a bit about The Family Plot from Goodreads:

Chuck Dutton built Music City Salvage with patience and expertise, stripping historic properties and reselling their bones. Inventory is running low, so he's thrilled when Augusta Withrow appears in his office offering salvage rights to her entire property. This could be a gold mine, so he assigns his daughter Dahlia to personally oversee the project.

The crew finds a handful of surprises right away. Firstly, the place is in unexpectedly good shape. And then there's the cemetery, about thirty fallen and overgrown graves dating to the early 1900s, Augusta insists that the cemetery is just a fake, a Halloween prank, so the city gives the go-ahead, the bulldozer revs up, and it turns up human remains. Augusta says she doesn't know whose body it is or how many others might be present and refuses to answer any more questions. Then she stops answering the phone.

But Dahlia's concerns about the corpse and Augusta's disappearance are overshadowed when she begins to realize that she and her crew are not alone, and they're not welcome at the Withrow estate. They have no idea how much danger they're in, but they're starting to get an idea. On the crew's third night in the house, a storm shuts down the only road to the property. The power goes out. Cell signals are iffy. There's nowhere to go and no one Dahlia can call for help, even if anyone would believe that she and her crew are being stalked by a murderous phantom. Something at the Withrow mansion is angry and lost, and this is its last chance to raise hell before the house is gone forever. And it seems to be seeking permanent company.

Tell me that does not sound super cool?! The Family Plot is due out from Tor in July.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Hi, everyone! Today I'm pleased as punch to be taking part in the blog tour for Roshani Chokshi's hotly anticipated teen debut, The Star-Touched Queen.

Since her birth, Maya's fate has been maligned by the stars. Her other siblings and the other mothers in her father's harem snubbed her or outright cursed her, telling her they would all be better if she died because of what they say was written in her horoscope. And Maya hates the stars because of it. 

Convinced she will never marry, and happy for it, Maya is surprised to find that her father has decided to use her as a bargaining chip to prevent war. But on the day of her she is to choose her husband, nothing goes according to plan and Maya finds herself wed to a man from a kingdom she's never heard of. He says he wants her to be queen, he wants her for her ideas and her mind, he wants her for her power. But secrets shroud their marriage and the new land she calls home. And as whispers and cries reach out to her from behind locked doors, Maya begins to understand the fate the stars have written for her. 

This book. THIS BOOK! Y'all everyone is raving about this book, so much so that I was actually worried when I started reading - worried that maybe it had been overhyped and that I wouldn't love it as much as everyone else.

That simply was not the case!

The Star-Touched Queen is steeped in Indian folklore and blended with the Hades/Persephone myth. (I was hesitant to include that particular tidbit in my review because I'd gone into the book without reading any real specifics about the plot at all and found myself both pleased and surprised by that element. But it's pretty much all over the internet including the original deal listing for the book so I figured I'd tell you.) I love folklore and will probably never tire of folk/mythology/fairy tale retellings. But coming across one that's unique and includes lore I'm fairly unfamiliar with is refreshing, to say the least.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what makes this book so fabulous! In addition to the lore that makes up the bones of the story, Chokshi has built a world that is lush and vibrant and absolutely filled with gorgeous and creepy imagery! It's a world that I wanted to eat, sleep, and breathe well after finishing the book.

Having said all of that (I know, I'm raving - it can't be helped), even the most beautifully built world and wonderfully built narrative are nothing without characters that are equal to their setting. Lest you think that Chokshi may have faltered here, let me set you straight. Maya does live up to the standard. She's stubborn and clever, a rule breaker even from the start. She defies her tutors, turns a mostly deaf ear to the overly loud insults in the harem, and sneaks into places women aren't even supposed to be in order to glean information and learn leadership from her father, the Raja. It all comes in handy as she begins her journey, too. And as her character and will are tested time and time again as the story plays out, her strength never falters.

The Star-Touched Queen is an absolutely phenomenal read, the first of what I hope will be many phenomenal reads from Chokshi!

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

America's Best Breakfasts by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman

Readers, I'm a breakfast person. But not breakfast for breakfast most of the time. I like breakfast all day! And I love trying recommended breakfast places when we travel. Like the San Diego place with the mammoth biscuits we couldn't even finish, or the food truck breakfast tacos we had on our last trip to Houston... It's always been this way for me: midnight trips to the local 24-hour diner in my college and post-college years were a heaven of fried eggs and gravy fries, Corned Beef Hash with Dill Hollandaise was kind of a life-changing discovery when we found our favorite brunch place after moving to Colorado, and the fabulous Cajun Benedict concoction I had for lunch on my last trip to Lafayette is the stuff of dreams! And I haven't even mentioned some of our other local favorites we take visitors to here.

All that's to say that I think (or thought) America's Best Breakfasts: Favorite Local Recipes from Coast to Coast would be the absolute perfect cookbook for me. In their newest book Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman highlight some of the best breakfasts from around the country and provide readers with the recipes to make them in their very own kitchens. Yum!

But there are two things I don't love about this book. First, the title and premise are a bit misleading. The authors don't highlight ALL of the states. In fact, they hop skip and jump straight from LA, San Francisco, and Portland over to Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Ohio with nothing in between. That's a whole lot of states not covered by even one highlighted breakfast spot! Now I don't know the reason for this and (most of you don't know this) considering I once wrote cookbooks that required places to agree to have their submitted recipes printed in a book, it could simply be that the authors intended to highlight ALL of the states and had issues getting recipes. I don't know. But there are sections highlighting places without recipes in the book as well, so that still doesn't explain why so many states aren't represented at all.

My second issue with this book is that in perusing the recipes I noticed a lot of them require quite a bit of prep for multiple components, some of which have to be made a day ahead of time. Now, like I said I'm not hellbent on breakfast for breakfast but when I went to make the "Caramelized Grapefruit with Basil Sugar," for example, I was not prepared to have to let the grapefruit chill for at least an hour before I could eat it. It's broiled grapefruit with sugar! And considering it's got olive oil on it, it was essentially cold, greasy grapefruit...

Not all of the recipes were overly complicated or unappealing, though. The "Bacon, Egg, and Cheese 'Paco'" (a brilliant creation courtesy of the Food on a Roll Truck in Miama) is a breakfast wrapped in a pancake (why did I never think to do this?!). "Marlene Schrager's German Breakfast (For Dinner)" is a tasty and easy scramble as is the slightly more time consuming (only slightly) "Devil's Mess" from Richmond, VA's Millie's Diner.

In spite of my above issues, the variety and types of recipes is actually quite nice. There are omelets, crêpes, donuts, breakfast sandwiches, and even pop tart recipes included. There are a number of regional and ethnic dishes as well - "Pozole" (from San Jalisco of San Francisco), "Koko Moco" with a homemade mushroom gravy (from Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu), "Pho Bo" (courtesy of Dông Phuong in New Orleans), Ingrid Hoffman's "Yuca Buns" and an Avena Breakfast Smoothie, and even a Scrapple recipe from DC's Birch & Barley.

And while the "Morning Glory Muffins" (Panther Coffee and Cindy Kruse's Baked Goods in Miami) may have made me dirty every dish in my kitchen to make them and Lambert's (Austin) "Frito Pie" requires the forethought (and self control) of keeping extra brisket on hand after a BBQ meal, the argument could be made that there is enough variety and enough recipes like Versailles' (Miami) "Tortilla de Papas" and Miss Lily's (New York) "Coconut Pancakes" to appease even someone like me who doesn't want to think about breakfast a day ahead of time.

I do still wish there had been more representation of the other states, though.

Rating: 3.5/5

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen + a Giveaway

Happy Book Birthday to M.G. Buehrlen whose Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare hits shelves today courtesy of Diversion Books.

Note: if you haven't yet read The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare you can check out my review of that here. I have tried my darndest not to include any possible spoilers here for those of you who haven't read that one, but I can't promise I've been totally successful in that. You have been warned. (The Rafflecopter for the giveaway is included in both Alex Wayfare posts.)

Alex only recently learned that she's a Descender, one of very few people able to travel via soulmarks through time. But traveling via soulmark has certain restrictions, restrictions that don't apply to Alex because she's been reincarnated fifty-seven times. While other Descenders can only use any given soulmark once, Alex can travel her own past lives an infinite number of times. 

That's a whammy of a discovery!

But there's more, in her previous life Alex escaped the very people who used her ability towards their own causes for years and has vowed now to use her ability to sabotage their plans. These people will do anything to get Alex back even if it means threatening those closest to her. If Alex is to remain safe and protect her family, she has to keep her Base Life hidden from them. It should be easy considering very few know who she is in her Base Life. Unfortunately, it's beginning to look as though someone on her side may be feeding information to the enemy: each time Alex travels they're there. And now Alex isn't sure who she can trust.

When I finished M.G. Buehrlen's The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare I had SO MANY questions! First and foremost - who is Blue in Base Life?! It's something Alex herself is determined to discover, but as the prologue to the book states:

Some stories are about a boy... Not this story... This story is about death. 

What an ominous beginning, right?

Well it turns out Alex hasn't found out everything about her ability just yet and the newest revelation is one that changes pretty much everything. At least for Alex Wayfare. See Alex's sister is dying and their mother has been working tirelessly to find a cure or treatment that will save her. Not only does Alex want to help, but with her new knowledge she aims to make it her sole goal.

I quite enjoyed these books and the main reason for that (aside from the fact that the story is cool) is Alex. I love Alex as a character! She's grown so much since the beginning of 57 Lives but she's always been unquestionably devoted to her family. Which is great because it makes her that much more lovable. But it's also something that creates tension in the series thanks to the fact that - like most superhero sagas - she's painfully aware that her family are at risk because of her. But what I find really fabulous about these books is the fact that Alex is kind of atypical compared to other well known characters in her situation. In a lot of superhero stories, we find the characters pushing loved ones away in order to keep them safe. Not so in Alex's case!

Friends, on the other hand... Here is where we see Alex struggling the most. She has finally opened up and allowed Jensen to become something of a friend but still doesn't trust his motives. And now she finds she has to wonder if she can trust the few other people she's allowed in as well: Porter, Levi, Micki, and yes, Blue. These are the people who know her secret, the people she can be herself around.

But as I said, there's another whopper of a revelation for Alex to discover here and it's one that forces her to make some tough decisions.

There are still questions left after The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare and I honestly don't know if we'll see them answered. On the one hand I'm ok with that. The story is the story and the pair of books together stand well on their own. But on the other hand I would definitely love to return to Alex's tale if that's in the author's plans! There's certainly more I'd love to see explored :)

Rating: 4/5

Now, as I mentioned in last week's post for The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare, I do get to offer up one copy of the first Alex Wayfare title courtesy of the publisher. To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, May 9.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan

Happy Monday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Kemper Donovan's The Decent Proposal.

Richard is a Hollywood producer struggling to make it in a tough industry. Elizabeth is a lawyer whose life revolves around work. Neither of them knows the other, but that's all about to change. 

An anonymous benefactor is willing to pay Richard and Elizabeth half a million dollars each if they are willing to spend two hours together each week for the duration of one year. Nothing is required beyond that - this is a "decent proposal" as Richard dubs it - and they can spend the two hours as they like as long as they spend the two hours together talking. It's a strange request, one that baffles the two, but eventually they agree. After all, who couldn't use half a million dollars? But considering the two are as opposite as two people can get, will they even be able to stand each other long enough to collect their cash?

I was looking forward to a goofy and fun head in Kember Donovan's debut. But as Richard and Elizabeth mix as well as oil and water when they meet, so too was the situation between me and this book.

I found it hard to get drawn into the story. Neither Richard or Elizabeth really appealed to me as characters. Maybe Richard more so than Elizabeth, but still not enough for me to be truly invested in his story.

Elizabeth is a snob. One with a little bit of a chip on her shoulder. And while we do find out why and she does eventually begin to warm to Richard, her internal judgement still rankled. Richard is only marginally better when we meet him. He's a playboy, which is fine (and is one of the key things Elizabeth judges him on in the beginning) and a bachelor with typical bachelor habits (another thing Elizabeth hates) but he's a bit shallow. And yes, those elements and growth are part of the characters' journeys. Unfortunately, if I were to meet either of them out I'd probably not look forward to hanging with them again. Before or after.

And that's what you usually want with a book - or at least with this kind. Characters you want to hang and be friends with. (Though they did win me over briefly when they both agreed Jane Eyre was the way to go and Wide Sargasso Sea was not to either of their liking!)

Part of the problem is that Donovan doesn't seem to ever really round these characters out much. We get plenty of their internal thoughts and even those of their friends, but they seem to be surface material only: minimal and without much depth.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Kemper Donovan and his work you can follow him on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sunday, April 24, 2016

New Releases 4/26/16

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

The Other Widow by Susan Crawford

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

In Shining Armor by Elliott James

Extreme Prey by John Sandford

The Drowning Girls by Paula Treick DeBoard

The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

Murder at the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane

In the Cold Dark Ground by Stuart McBride

Wraith by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

The Body in the Wardrobe by Katherine Hall Page

Hide Away by Iris Johansen

Fall of Light by Steven Erikson

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Down With the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn

The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen

The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Soldier by Julie Kagawa

The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian

New on DVD:
The Driftless Area
Jane Got a Gun
Ride Along 2

Friday, April 22, 2016

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen + a Giveaway

All her life Alex has had visions. They terrify her and embarrass her and she does everything she can to avoid them. But when a vision launches her into 1920s Chicago where she meets a boy named Blue, everything changes. 

Alex is a Descender, a person whose soul has the ability to travel through time. But Alex is special. Alex is what's called a Transcender. Her soul has been reincarnated over and over and over, giving her the ability to travel through her own past lives. As she learns more about her ability and its usefulness, she also learns others are after her for her gifts and for her actions in her past lives. 

Time travel, reincarnation, and a corporation whose motives are questionable and whose founder will to everything he can to get Alex back into his fold or make her pay for leaving... M.G. Buehrlen's debut is an absolute mind bender of a read, that's for sure!

So when we meet Alex she's created a hard shell to protect her from what she basically views as a weird curse. She avoids anything and everything she thinks might trigger a vision - cats, ferris wheels, boats - and she doesn't read fiction or watch movies and TV she deems unsafe. Anything she can think of to keep the visions at bay. But it's made her very closed off. She has no friends.

But she is brilliant when it comes to science, tinkering and creating things that make life easier for those around her. It's her one real escape.

Until she learns the truth about her so-called visions. Given she's experienced them for so long, wishing and begging for them to stop, it's understandable that she'd very quickly adapt to the truth behind them and the revelation about her new ability. And once that happens, the action really begins!

But of course, since this is just the beginning of Alex's story we are left with a LOT Of questions. Questions I am dying to see answered very soon. Fortunately, my wait will be very short indeed because the sequel is hitting shelves next Tuesday. I for one am very much looking forward to the next installment, especially considering where we left off on this debut!

Rating: 4/5

But I can't imagine how torturous the wait has to have been for those of you who may have come to the series when it first launched back in 2014! Agh, you've been waiting so long!

See, M.G. Buehrlen was one of the many authors orphaned after the shuttering of Angry Robot's Strange Chemistry imprint. Which is a shame because there were a lot of really great titles under that imprint. Fortunately, Beuhrlen (and many others) have been snatched from the ruins and given new life with other houses!

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare and it's very soon to be released sequel, The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare, have found a home at Diversion Books, who graciously provided me with the opportunity to not only cover both titles BUT to also offer you guys a chance to win a copy of The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare of your very own! And since my review of The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare may contain some spoilers for those of you who are new to the series, I'm going to include the giveaway on both reviews!

To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, May 9. Open US only and no PO boxes please.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Author Spotlight - Susan Meissner and Stars Over Sunset Boulevard

A few months ago I had the pleasure of reviewing two very different Hollywood themed titles - Platinum Doll by Anne Girard, about Jean Harlow, and No Ordinary Life by Suzanne Redfearn, a book about the issues facing child stars and their families. Well right around the same time those two hit shelves, another interesting Hollywood based read hit shelves as well.

Here's a bit about Stars Over Sunset Boulevard from the publisher:

When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take the reader on a journey to the past.

It’s 1938 and Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Los Angeles after her dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, landing a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide.

What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future.

Who can resist any tale about the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood, right? This one is pretty high on my list right now. 

About the author: Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include A Fall of Marigolds, named by Booklist’s Top Ten women’s fiction titles for 2014, and The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the 100 Best Novels of 2008. She is also a RITA finalist, and Christy Award winner. 

A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University. Susan is a pastor’s wife and a mother of four young adults. When she's not working on a novel, she writes small group curriculum for her San Diego church. She is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.

For more about Susan Meissner and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is out now from NAL.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Girl From the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love

Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Alison Love's The Girl From the Paradise Ballroom.

It's 1937 and England whispers of WWII are in the air. Antonio Trombetta's family has been in England for decades. Antonio makes his living singing anywhere he can find work, which is why he's at the Paradise Ballroom. Olivia is a dancer determined to make her way in London. But her circumstances aren't ideal when she meets Antonio. 

Months later, Antonio is a new father and Olivia a new bride. Fate intercedes, pushing the two together once more via Olivia's new husband. And in spite of Olivia's initial fears that Antonio will spill the few remaining secrets she has, the find themselves drawn together. But with Italy an enemy of England and both of them married to other people, it's a relationship that's doomed before it even begins. 

Ha! I didn't even realize until I was writing this that today's author has almost the same exact name as the victim in yesterday's book! Weird.

Love's US debut is as much a family saga as it is a WWII tale. In fact, it's more the former than the latter. The war itself and particularly Italy's stance sets the tone for England at the time, leaving Antonio and his family (part of which are actual Mussolini supporters) open to the scrutiny and outright hatred some felt towards anyone hailing from an Axis heritage. And that's how the story begins - with Antonio carted off by the police in 1940. But before we get to the truth behind that part of the story, Love takes us back to 1937, hopping forward through time from there.

It's an interesting perspective, that of the Italians in England in particular. But again, it's only part of the story. Antonio and Olivia, the progression of their relationship, how the stories of those around them interact and intersect, and of course the effects of war on all of them are the focus of the tale. And Love does a good job highlighting all of this.

The Girl From the Paradise Ballroom is a good read, one perfect for fans of character-driven tales. And oh, there are some characters here but for me it felt more like a highlight reel than a full and rounded story (because we all know I'm more of a plot driven reader). Personal preference aside Love's characters are interesting and engaging, the kind you'll want to see through to the end.

Rating: 3/5

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. And for more on Alison Love, you can follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Made Me Laugh

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: books that made me laugh. 

Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge by Ovidia Yu

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Ovidia Yu's third Aunty Lee mystery, Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge.

Five years have passed since the puppy killer scandal: an animal activist group adopted a puppy out to an American expat who, rather than return the dog when it became problematic, had it put down. The outrage over the incident spread well beyond the Animal ReHomers volunteers, leaving the American, Allison Fitzgerald, all but run out of the country. But now Allison has returned, determined to have her revenge on the people she believes were responsible not only for dragging her name through the mud but for costing her her marriage and family. 

Unfortunately, Aunty Lee's new business partner is one of those former volunteers. To make things easier, they set their meeting with Allison at Aunty Lee's cafe. But when Allison is a no show, her sister arriving in her stead, they find out the former puppy killer has herself been murdered. And the ReHomers are the prime suspects! What better way, then, for Aunty Lee to help than to offer her home as a place for the dead woman's sister to convalesce while the investigation proceeds?

Aunty Lee is at it again! The kaypoh (nosy) cook can't help herself, especially this time around. Aunty Lee has been told to take it easy considering her recently sprained ankle, which means taking a step back and allowing Cherril, Nina, and even her daughter-in-law, Selina, to take charge of the cafe. So of course she's going to thrill at the opportunity to dig her teeth into yet another mystery. That this one involves her friend and business partner makes it even more inevitable.

This series as a whole is quite delectable. Singaporean culture and food take center stage right alongside our amateur sleuth. The pacing is always steady and the characters are pretty fantastic. As a cozy series, however, the overall mystery in each installment is always fairly well plotted but there are little inconsistencies in each of the tales that kind of rub me the wrong way as a frequent mystery reader. For example, after the death of Allison Love is announced in the morning papers Selina and Mark come running to the cafe so that "Silly-Nah" can express her concerns over how this will impact the restaurant. But Selina was present when the police arrived the previous day. She wouldn't need the paper or her friends to announce the cafe's involvement (or lack there of).

All in all, these inconsistencies are small but they keep me from truly falling in love with a series I would otherwise highly recommend. To that end, readers in the mood for a cozy culinary mystery will certainly enjoy Yu's Aunty Lee but I fear more voracious mystery fans may have the same issue I do.

I like these, and Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge is no exception. They're great for light reading evenings, but three books in I'd really hoped some of the kinks would be worked out by now.

Rating: 3/5

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

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

It's been ten years since Tessa's best friend's cousin was murdered by the Ohio River Monster. And it was Tessa and Callie's testimonies that put the killer away, earning him the death sentence. Tessa left Pennsylvania shortly after, taken in by her grandmother in Florida, with no plans to return. But news that her father is dying is just the thing to force the teen back to the dead end town she was raised in. 

Her arrival coincides with news that new evidence in the Ohio River Monster case is being considered and that Wyatt Stokes has finally been granted an appeal. It's news Tessa doesn't welcome, but it does force her to consider the statement she made all those years ago. And when another girl is found, murdered in much the same way as the Ohio River Monster's victims, she starts to wonder if the right man is really behind bars. 

I found out last fall that Kara Thomas (aka Kara Taylor) had a new book coming out and I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. Prep School Confidential was fantastic and definitely made Thomas/Taylor a must read for me. And even though The Darkest Corners promised to be much darker than the boarding school mystery, we all know that wouldn't turn me off.

As promised by the publicity and the title, The Darkest Corners was dark indeed. Tessa and Callie both suffer long lasting effects of having been partial witnesses to a murder that occurred when they were just eight years old. What's more, we learn that Tessa's time in Fayette definitely wasn't happy and the time just after the trial got markedly worse for her and her family.

Tessa's father was already in prison by the time the Ohio River Monster started stalking and killing young women in the Fayette area. She, her sister, and her mother lived together in a tense existence. And it wasn't long after the case that Tessa's beloved sister, Jos, ran away from home. Shortly after that, Tessa and her mother were evicted and forced to live in their car, which eventually led to Tessa being taken in by her grandmother. So when the story starts, Tessa hasn't seen or heard from either her sister or her mother in a decade. That'd take a toll on anyone!

Tessa is a fairly complex character, as is her friend Callie. Thomas does a really great job building them both and showing just how the case has affected the progression of their lives and their personalities over the course of ten years. Callie, for example, presents a great front but turns out to be a total mess underneath and isn't interested in letting Tessa in until another murder occurs. And once that happens our teen leads begin their own investigation, somewhat heedless of the danger it could mean to them both. That recklessness also comes from a sense of responsibility both girls feel as a result of testifying against Wyatt Stokes.

The Darkest Corners, while marketed to teens and featuring teen leads, is definitely one I think will (and should) appeal to a much broader audience. The mystery is well built, the tension and suspense are fabulous, and the characters are rich and well rounded - in other words, The Darkest Corners has all right pieces you need for a great thriller!

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, April 17, 2016

New Releases 4/19/16

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Maestra by L. S. Hilton

The Nettle King by Katherine Harbour

Midnight in Berlin by James McManus

Grim Tidings by Caitlin Kittredge

The Girl From the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Lowe

The Last Mile by David Baldacci

The Letter Writer by Dan Fesperman

War Hawk by James Rollins & Grant Blackwood

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride & Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Mr. Fahrenheit by T. Michael Martin

Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here by Anna Breslaw

Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Anstey

New on DVD:
The Lady in the Van
The Revenant

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
The Poison Artist by Jonathan Moore
The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar

I have a confession about today's title - it's being called Twin Peaks meets Gilmore Girls and with the exception of just a few episodes I've never actually watched either one. Doesn't mean I'm any less excited about Lindsay Ribar's latest though!

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Twin Peaks meets Stars Hollow in this paranormal suspense novel about a boy who can reach inside people and steal their innermost things—fears, memories, scars, even love—and his family's secret ritual that for centuries has kept the cliff above their small town from collapsing.

Aspen Quick has never really worried about how he's affecting people when he steals from them. But this summer he'll discover just how strong the Quick family magic is—and how far they'll go to keep their secrets safe.

With a smart, arrogant protagonist, a sinister family tradition, and an ending you won't see coming, this is a fast-paced, twisty story about power, addiction, and deciding what kind of person you want to be, in a family that has the ability to control everything you are.

Sounds quirky and dark - right up my alley!

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies is due out in June from Penguin/Random's Kathy Dawson Books.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Armada by Ernest Cline - Excerpt + a Giveaway

So it's Friday. Yay! And I have something super fun to share with you today - an excerpt of Ernest Cline's Armada (now out in paperback) and a chance for you to win your very own copy! But first, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

If you aren't familiar with Ernest Cline, he is the author of the massively fun and super duperly popular Ready Player One, which is currently being adapted for the big screen and will be directed by Steven Spielberg (and Simon Pegg has just signed on as part of the cast!). I adored the book and definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone looking for a fast and fun sci-fi tale packed with pop culture references. And I expect Armada will be no different!

(As a little bonus, there is an online Armada giveaway going on as we speak. You can check out the dets on that here.)

So now without further ado, here's that promised excerpt:

by Ernest Cline

I didn’t remember unzipping my backpack, or taking out the tire iron, but I must have, because now I had the cold steel rod clenched in my hand, and I was raising it to strike.

All three of my opponents stood frozen for a moment, their eyes wide. The Lennys threw up their hands and started backing away. Knotcher’s eyes flicked over to them, and I saw him registering that his simian pals had bowed out of the fight. He started moving backward too.

I looked at the curb a few feet behind him, had a nasty thought, and followed through on it by lunging at Knotcher with the tire iron. He lurched backward and—just as I’d hoped—caught a heel on the concrete rise and landed flat on his back.

And then I was standing over him, looking down at the tire iron clutched in my hands.

Off to my left, someone screamed. My head snapped around and I saw that an audience had gathered— a handful of students on their way in to first period. Among them one girl, too young and deer-in-the-headlights to be anything but a freshman, slapped a hand over her mouth and flinched backward as I looked her way. As if she was terrified that I—Zack the school psycho—would choose her as my next target.

I glanced back at the Lennys, who were now standing among the students who had gathered to watch the fight. All of the onlookers seemed to be wearing the same expression of horrified anticipation, as if they believed they might be seconds away from witnessing their first homicide.

A wave of cold shame washed over me as the intensity of my rage faded away. I looked down at the tire iron clutched in my hands and let it clatter to the pavement. I heard a chorus of nervous laughter behind me, along with more than one relieved sigh.

I stepped away from Knotcher. He slowly got to his feet. We stared at each other for a moment, and he looked as if he was about to say something when his gaze shot upward, focused on something in the sky behind me.

When I turned around, I saw a strange-looking aircraft approaching from the east, moving at an incredible speed. The closer it got, the more familiar it looked. My brain still refused to accept what my eyes were seeing—until a few seconds later, when the craft braked to a dead stop and hovered directly over us, close enough for me to make out the Earth Defense Alliance crest stenciled on the side of its armored hull.

“No way,” I heard someone whisper. A second later, I realized it was me.

It was an ATS-31 Aerospace Troop Shuttle, one of the ships used by the Earth Defense Alliance in both Armada and Terra Firma. And it was about to land in front of my high school.

I definitely wasn’t hallucinating this time: Dozens of other people were staring up at the shuttle in amazement, too. And I could hear the rumble of the shuttle’s fusion engines and feel the heat from their exhaust buffeting my face. It was really up there.

As the shuttle began to descend, everyone in my vicinity scattered like roaches, heading for the safety of the school.

I just stood there like a statue, unable to look away. The ship was identical to the troop shuttles I’d piloted while playing Armada, right down to the EDA crest and identification bar code stamped on the underside of its hull.

The Earth Defense Alliance can’t be real, Zack, I assured myself. And neither can that shuttle you think you’re looking at right now. You are hallucinating again, only it’s much worse this time. This time, you’re having a full-on psychotic break.

Reprinted from Armada Copyright © 2015 by Dark All Day, Inc. Published by Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC.

I don't know about you but I think my weekend plans have just been set!

And now for the giveaway: I have one copy to give to one of you lucky readers and all you have to do to enter is fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, May 2. Open US only. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Deborah Lawrenson's latest, 300 Days of Sun.

For Joanna, Portugal is the perfect opportunity to gain some perspective after losing her job and walking out on her boyfriend. It's a break and a change of pace, not to mention a change of scenery. But when a fellow traveler asks for her help looking into a private matter, her journalistic instincts can't be denied - Joanna can smell a story brewing. 

Nathan Emberlin's parents are both dead and he is looking for a man he always thought was his father's friend. But for a strange admission his mother made on her death bed, he may never have known any different. His mother's dying revelation, though, led Nathan to Portugal for answers in a mystery that seems to trace all the way back to WWII. As he and Joanna try to piece together the information, they become embroiled in an investigation that could put them both in very grave danger. 

Ooh, just writing the synopsis for this one gives me chills and I've already read the book!

I love, love, love how Deborah Lawrenson weaves her stories amongst such lush and exotic locales. Her previous release, The Sea Garden (one of my favorite reads of 2014), was set in the Porquerolles, a place that's become my absolute idea of paradise since reading the book. Before that, she took readers to Provence in The Lantern. Now she's bringing readers to Portugal! And while she's added intrigue and kidnapping to the mix, it's all in the fun of the story. Portugal itself, the village of Faro in particular, still comes through as charming and vibrant.

The story is essentially split into two timelines: Joanna's digging all takes place present day, but one of her contacts suggests that reading a book published during WWII might help lend her some answers. And at first both Joanna and the reader have a hard time understanding exactly how the fictional tale of The Alliance connects to Ethan's inquiry at all.

The Alliance, Lawrenson's creation, was penned by a woman named Esta Hartford and is set in Portugal during WWII. The book, as Joanna's contact claims, has become something of a cult favorite in Portugal. In the fictional tale, an American and her husband travel from Rome to Portugal in the hopes that they can leave the continent before the neutral country is dragged into the war. But before they can hitch a ride out, they find themselves entangled in a network of secrets and spies.

I've never been to Portugal and had little (no) knowledge of the country's involvement in the war, but Lawrenson was still able to give me the opportunity to feel as though I was there seeing it all first hand. Through Joanna and Esta's Alva, I witnessed and felt the discordance between the sunny beaches and the smell of the ocean and the tension and uncertainty the people must have felt there during the war. That discordance of a virtual paradise, a breath of relief, and the possibility that it could all come crumbling down around the characters at any minute added to the overall suspense, making this a story that grabbed my attention even when I wasn't able to read it. As with any good read, I couldn't wait to get back to it and it lingered long after finishing.

300 Days of Sun is a truly page-turning tale of WWII espionage and the more present mystery of a string of missing kids. How those two connect is for you to discover but I will say that, as always, Lawrenson has very clearly done her research. Her attention to detail with regards to her setting and the tone and feel of that setting present day and during WWII is fantastic!

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

For more on Deborah Lawrenson and her work you can visit her website here. You can also check out her blog, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Maya knows horror and loss, she was a special-ops pilot after all. But even a tough ex-military officer isn't prepared to lose their spouse. Faced with being a single parent and still grieving her loss, Maya agrees to set up a nanny cam purchased by her best friend. It's to give her piece of mind, to let her know that her young daughter is in good hands while she's at work. But in reviewing the nanny cam footage one morning, Maya receives the shock of a lifetime: the camera captured footage of her dead husband playing with his daughter.

Since the camera was installed after his death, Maya knows this is an impossibility. And since she saw her husband get shot, she knows without a doubt that he's definitely dead. But the footage disappears shortly after Maya watches it, leaving her with no proof to show to anyone she trusts. Plus, Maya has suffered PTSD since returning from combat. It could just be another symptom of an issue she's not prepared to face. But her husband's casket was closed, on orders from his own mother. Much the same as that of her husband's dead brother so many years ago...

Harlan Coben has been a longtime favorite of mine. Ever since Tell No One released, in fact. And I'm not the only one - each new release is in high demand amongst thriller fans worldwide. I'm not kidding! Did you know he even has a new TV show airing in the UK? There's also a French TV show based on the book No Second Chance. (I just wish we had the chance to see them here in the States.)

His latest, Fool Me Once, debuted hit bestseller lists as soon as it hit shelves and is already in talks to be adapted for the big screen with Julia Roberts attached as star and producer. It's a perfect match in my opinion. I can definitely imagine Roberts as Maya and will be looking forward to seeing it for sure!

I know I've said it before, but Coben really can be counted on for high suspense and page-turning plots. Once you start any one of his books, you'll be hard pressed to put it down before turning the final page. I didn't even try to fight it with Fool Me Once.

Maya is an interesting character. First, she's actually Coben's first female main character. Second, she's a gutsy lady with a complicated history. But her history isn't explained fully until the tale is well under way. All we know at the start is that she's a widow whose husband was killed in a mugging she was in part witness to, she's now a single mother, she's retired military who now teaches flying lessons, and she doesn't necessarily get along that great with her in laws.

Each of those things plays a role not only in her current mindset but in how she handles seeing her dead husband on film when he's supposed to be six feet under. And though she's not sure if it's all in her head or if it's someone messing with her, she aims to find out!

I dare you not to get totally engrossed in this one. In fact, I dare you to try and abandon it after reading the first chapter. I'm willing to bet you won't be able!

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

When Ruthie comes home late after an evening with her boyfriend, she thinks she's lucky to have avoided an argument with her mother, Alice. But when she wakes the next morning to no sign of Alice, Ruthie realizes her mother has gone missing. While searching the house for clues, Ruthie and her sister make two strange discoveries: first, their mother has boarded up her own closet. Second, a board in the floor of their mother's room hides a book based on the century-old writings of a woman who once lived in their very home, licenses belonging to two strangers, and a gun. 

Alice may be a bit on the strange side, set in her ways and set on enforcing those ways with both daughters, but Ruthie knows she'd never abandon them. What's worse, Alice isn't the first person to go missing in their area. As Ruthie tries to unravel the clues and find their missing mother, she turns to the book for answers about Alice's fate and the secrets she's so obviously been keeping. 

I love Jennifer McMahon's work. In fact, this is one author I have to admit I'm a total fangirl over. There's almost always (I can't remember 100% positively so we'll go with almost) a dual storyline, and there's definitely always an underlying element of dread and an eeriness that seems to be somewhat beyond the normal realm of possibilities. Well this time she jumps wholeheartedly into the supernatural!

In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea suffers a great loss. One that breaks her. But there's hope. Her story unfolds intermittently as Ruthie's own present day story does. But it's not just Sara and Ruthie that are the heart of the story. West Hall, Vermont, a small town with strange tales and a string of missing people is where Katherine's husband, Gary, spend his last day. He lied about where he was that day, claiming to be photographing a wedding elsewhere. And Katherine may not have ever known but for the fact that Gary was killed in a car accident on his way home.

Now she's come to West Hall to investigate, eventually following a thread that leads her to Sara Harrison Shea as well.

McMahon's always been a pro at building fantastic suspense and in setting the perfect tone and atmosphere for that suspense. It's one of my favorite things about her work, that and the way she draws out a plot, feeding little clues to the reader along the way. The Winter People is no exception, but I think those elements are amplified with the addition of the obviously paranormal goings on in West Hall.

I do wish that some of the pieces of the story had been further developed. Fawn's own clear ability to see the winter people in particular was something I wish had been explored more. Honestly considering how much I enjoy McMahon's work, she could have doubled the size of the book and I probably still would have wanted more. Her pages are the kind I love to get lost in, her stories the kind I find myself getting so involved and immersed in that turning the final page is almost painful.

The Winter People is a fabulous addition to McMahon's list of titles. It is, as I mentioned before, a bit of a break from her previous work considering it does have that paranormal element, but I'm certain fans will still be pleased. I'm also certain it's a great starting place for folks unfamiliar with her work.

Rating: 4/5

And no, this isn't McMahon's latest release. I actually have that one (The Night Sister) waiting in my TBR along with one of her older titles as well. I find McMahon's become one of the authors I save for a rainy day (literally) or for when I need a boost out of a book funk. But then I feel guilty about not having read them as soon as they release! It's a real dilemma for many reasons - as a fan I want to not only buy the books when they release but I want to read and review them and encourage everyone to go out and buy them. But it also creates a massive backlog and eventual overwhelming TBR to get to. As such, I signed on for the Backlist Books Challenge hosted by Pretty Deadly Reviews. You'll see more of these soon considering I've hoarded a massive collection of horror reads and have been in that particular mood of late!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

New Releases 4/12/16

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson

Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro

Sunset City by Melissa Ginsburg

Poisonous by Allison Brennan

A Death Along the River Fleet by Susanna Calkins

A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline

Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

Psycho: Sanitarium by Chet Williamson

A Man of Genius by Janet Todd

The Titans by Leila Meacham

Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

The Obsession by Nora Roberts

Can You Keep a Secret? by R. L. Stine

Dreamology by Lucy Keating

Bloodtraitor by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

The Passion of Dolssa by Julia Gardner Berry

New on DVD:
Flight 7500
The Forest
The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun

Friday, April 8, 2016

Country Cooking From a Redneck Kitchen by Francine Bryson

I have a confession: I've never seen the American Baking Competition and thus had never heard of Francine Bryson before Country Cooking From a Redneck Kitchen came across my radar. But southern food is, to me, comfort. Sure my own roots are in the deep south, Cajun country to be specific, but BBQ, picnic and pot luck dishes, and warm gooey casseroles do hold a very special place in my heart (let's face it, all food does!). So Country Cooking From a Redneck Kitchen appealed to me in spite of my not knowing the author's name.

And the book lives up to its promise, let me tell you! With more drool-worthy recipes than I can even mention, my copy immediately became a mess of flagged recipes to try.

We started our week with the "Mama's Tuna Casserole" and the "Roasted Crooked Yellow Squash." Oh, I was in comfort food heaven! I should say, however, that as far as I can remember I've never actually tried tuna noodle casserole. But I have heard many folks poke fun at the canned casserole staple. Well, they haven't had it Francine Bryson's way. First off, she provides recipes for making all of those cream soup casserole bases from scratch! So with homemade "Cream of Celery Soup" in hand, the casserole is then built with fresh vegetables, pimentos, noodles, and tuna. Oh, and lots of cheese :) I never said it was a healthy cookbook! And my goodness it was tasty!

I was particularly impressed by the fact that Bryson took the time to lay out how to make "Cream of Mushroom Soup," "Cream of Celery Soup," and "Homemade Cream of Chicken Soup." And I have to admit this is something I've been looking for - an updated twist on what I consider staple foods. Because while I didn't grow up on tuna noodle casserole in particular, we did eat casseroles and I've got no qualms about making them in my own kitchen!

Now don't mistake this for a casserole cookbook. It's not at all. The title is 100% accurate - this is a southern country cookbook through and through. There's an entire chapter on BBQ complete with all the necessary BBQ accoutrements, there are recipes for canning ("Green 'Mater Chow Chow" and "Old Fashioned Squash Relish" are in my plans as soon as my garden is up and running for the season), salads of the southern sort (yes, I mean salads without lettuce bases and even a couple of the jello variety), fried chicken, hot fried chicken, and baked "fried" chicken, "Southern Fried Catfish," just to name a few of the fried dishes (that catfish is a new household favorite!), as well as plenty of other southern staples, breads and biscuits, and baked goods galore!

Now, if you follow me regularly then you know that baking is kind of the bane of my existence here at high altitude. I usually avoid those recipes like the plague. Given that Bryson made a name for herself in this arena, though, it should be fairly understandable when I say that even I couldn't resist recipes like "Pimento Biscuits,""Lemonade Rolls," "Church Lady's Sour Cream Cookies" (this is a recipe I've actually been looking for, amazingly I've had these cookies but have never found anyone to share the actual recipe with me!), and my next up to try "Buttermilk Pecan Skillet Cake."

If you're looking for fancy and frilly recipes, this is not the book for you. If, however, you're looking for hearty and tasty dishes that are sure to bring a smile to your face (either because they taste awesome or because they bring to mind family meals from your childhood), then this is definitely a cookbook to add to your collection!

Oh, and I definitely know Francine Bryson's name now :)

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

Short Fiction Friday: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

What if the lands of our stories and myths were real? What if doors to these worlds revealed themselves only to a select few? And what if those select few were sometimes sent back. Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children is a boarding school that's meant to help.

After she is sent back from an Underworld (there are many different Underworlds, apparently), Nancy's parents are at their wits end trying to fix her. And so they turn to Eleanor West and her school, in the hopes that she can bring their daughter back to them. Like most of the other kids in the school, Nancy doesn't want to be fixed. Nancy wants to go back. She knows, though, that her return is not up to her - Nancy has to be allowed back by the Lord of Death himself. Until then, she'll bide her time in whatever school her parents send her to - as long as she can still wear black!

Fortunately for Nancy, while Eleanor West's school may not be the only one of its kind, it is the only one designed for those children who long for nothing more than to return to the lands of whimsy and fantasy. Eleanor offers the children a refuge and doesn't curb their desire, instead she understands that if or when a student's door returns it's their choice to leave this world behind or stay. She even has a story prepared for the parents in the event of such a case. But when a murderer begins targeting her students, Eleanor's carefully constructed sanctuary is shattered. Now Nancy and her classmates have no choice but to unmask the killer themselves. To fail could mean losing the school at best or dying (at worst!).

Seanan McGuire once again spins a fabulous tale set in a wondrous and admirable world! And she promises to continue weaving this magic as well - Every Heart a Doorway is now the first in a series! The possibilities of such are only limited by the number of worlds McGuire can imagine.

We do learn of quite a few of these worlds in Every Heart a Doorway. There's Nancy's Halls of the Dead, which is quite different from the twins' world and their vampire lord, which is even more different from the land of the skeletons. There are lands that resemble tales of the fae, lands of magic, and lands of candy and rainbows. Each of the students has their own story and their own land. Even Eleanor has one, and it's one she's admitted to returning to over and over again.

The students are all as varying and different as students in any real life school. The twins, Jack and Jill, (the smart one and the pretty one); Sumi, boisterous and outgoing, Kade, one of the few boys and, as we learn, Eleanor's nephew; Nancy... there are even some mean girls and snobs in the mix. None of them feels like caricatures, though. McGuire takes adequate time to develop them each enough, even those on the periphery, that they all feel genuine.

The murders are quite gruesome, but that makes the story all that much more fun in my opinion. The stakes are HIGH for these kids and they know it. Their classmates are falling one by one and any of them could be next. For them death is more than the end, it's death without ever seeing their beloved worlds again!

The lands are described as being Nonsense, Logic, Wicked, and Virtue. Beyond that there are even further delineations to determine the vast number of worlds out there. I couldn't quite grasp the full meaning of these just yet (they're used a bit like directions), but this is just one of the things I hope to learn more about in subsequent stories.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, April 7, 2016

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh + a Giveaway

When Lindy Simpson was attacked in the middle of her own neighborhood one hot summer evening in the late 80s, there were four suspects. One, a young boy who was madly in love with the girl, would have done anything to help find the person responsible. 

As a married man with a daughter and a son on the way, the narrator looks back on his childhood - the years leading up to Lindy Simpson's rape and the years immediately following. He recalls his parents' divorce, his own sister's death, the feelings surrounding those events and others, including Lindy's terrible attack, and how those and more affected the boy he was and the man he would become. 

There are many things that I loved about this book - the fact that it's actually not breezy or fast, but sucks you in nonetheless; Walsh's writing; the method of storytelling, a man looking back on an event that so shaped and influenced his life...

But it's the setting in particular that got me this week.

Between Hap and Leonard and M.O. Walsh this has been a bad week for homesickness. That might sound odd all things considered - after all, I didn't grow up chasing bank robbers' loot in Texas nor did I grow up in the suburbs of Baton Rouge while facing a neighborhood tragedy. But I did grow up in my own little southwest corner of Louisiana and some things are just universal there. Like the sounds at night (listen to the incessant buzzing in the background of every Hap and Leonard episode), the heat, and just about everything except the crime in M.O. Walsh's debut. Plus, while Hap and Leonard is set in Texas it's actually filmed in Louisiana.

Walsh grew up in Baton Rouge and states multiple times that he wants to set the record straight about Louisiana. And I love it! Because it's true. Unless it's New Orleans or the food in general, we get a bad rap. Not that some of it isn't deserved, but we won't go there.

My childhood mirrored that of the narrator in My Sunshine Away and while I never faced the particular tragic event he or Lindy does, there are definitely events I can trace back as having had great impact on how my life was shaped.

Walsh's method of storytelling here will no doubt cause many readers to think back on their own childhood memories. Our narrator is firmly set in the here and now but lets his mind wander, flitting back not just to those childhood years but to later events as well including Hurricane Katrina. It's a walk down memory lane that's heavily weighted towards one event, but not firmly seated there. As a result, the story does stray a few times - closer to the end in particular as we're waiting for the most damning evidence of all to be revealed. But I found the story that much more appealing because of this. The anticipation and expectation of that end, delayed while our narrator's mind is drawn temporarily in another direction. It forces you, the reader, to slow down and savor the tale.  In a lot of ways, it's exactly how I'd imagine this kind of story would unfold in real life were the narrator sitting next to you and sharing the story in person, over a beer or two or maybe even a table full of crawfish.

My Sunshine Away is not a thriller but is instead a story about the inevitable loss of innocence that comes with every childhood. It's also about love and a parent's wish for their children. It's something of a mystery as well and more than a little bit of a love letter to south Louisiana.

Rating: 4/5

And now for the giveaway! I have one copy up for grabs - to throw your name in the hat simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, April 25. Open US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Happy book birthday to Monica Hesse and Girl in the Blue Coat!

It's 1943 and the Germans have occupied Amsterdam in spite of promises otherwise. Hanneke ekes out a living handling black market sales and evading the soldiers when she can, sweet talking them when she must; she isn't a revolutionary, she's just trying to support her parents. But when one of her customers asks for help finding a missing Jewish girl, Hanneke allows herself to be pulled into a much bigger cause. 

The girl, a teen whose entire family has already been slaughtered by the Nazis, had been hiding out in a secret cupboard belonging to her father's old boss. The man's widow took her in after her husband died trying to hide the rest of the girl's family. The two have nothing and no one left but each other and so the woman is determined to protect the girl at all cost. But now the girl has disappeared without a clue or trace, and Hanneke is the only one who might be able to help. 

Monica Hesse's teen WWII tale is one about, as she states, little rebellions. How even the smallest push against the Germans contributed to the larger cause. 

Hanneke's own rebellion begins somewhat selfishly - she's earning a living. But her heart isn't in the wrong place. Her parents don't work, her father is more of an academic and her mother no longer makes a living teaching piano lessons thanks to the war. Without the money Hanneke earns, they might all go hungry. But Hanneke soon meets others who are working for a cause, stealing rations and such to feed those who can't afford it otherwise. And Hanneke feels guilty. 

Unfortunately, her story is all too real. She has family to protect and take care of. She struggles with the fear that her own actions could result in, at the least, her own imprisonment, leaving her parents to fend for themselves. And the worst case scenario is something Hanneke doesn't even want to consider. It's understandable considering she's watched neighbors and acquaintances be taken from their homes by force and arrested on a regular basis! Plus, she's a teen so how much can she really do? 

A lot, as it turns out. Hanneke has a talent for evasion that's due in no small part to the fact that she's underestimated by the Germans because she's a teen and a girl who knows when to turn on the charm. It helps too that she's, as more than one character points out, the epitome of the so called "perfect race." In other words, she knows how to use the Germans' prejudices against them. 

Hanneke grows and changes throughout the story. Sure her initial motivation is money, but as the story progresses, she's driven by a larger guilt the reader isn't quite privy to as well as the knowledge that the boy she loved (a boy who died trying to fight for his country) would have done more. 

Girl in the Blue Coat is fiction, but is obviously influenced by real stories and very real rebellions. The author includes a great note on those, including the photography project mentioned in the book and student organizations in particular, that inspired this tale. Fans of WWII historical fiction, regardless of age, will enjoy this outing from Hesse. It's a great addition to the genre and an inspiring read!

Rating: 4/5

Monday, April 4, 2016

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Happy Monday, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Jenny Colgan's latest, Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery.

Polly's life is finally looking up. She has a great boyfriend, runs two thriving local bakeries, and can now officially call the island lighthouse home. Things are still tight, but it's a great improvement over the previous year for sure!

But then Polly's landlord passes away leaving her sister in charge of the bakeries and Polly's newfound independence takes massive a nosedive. Things get worse when the widow of Polly's married former lover relocates to the island, taking up the lease on the apartment above the bakery. And amidst all of that, Polly's love life seems to be taking a turn as well. 

Jenny Colgan returns readers to the charming setting of Mount Polbearne in this follow up to The Little Beach Street Bakery.

I quite love this series. The setting, the characters, Neil the puffin... but I have to say Polly was annoying the ever living crap out of me in the beginning. I so wanted her to just stand up for herself and she wouldn't! Her cowing down with regards to the bakery in particular was literally driving me bananas!

That aside, I have to say that I very much enjoyed coming back to this world. The small community, the support and closeness of the characters, and Polly's baked creations, of course, make the Little Beach Street Bakery books such warm and welcoming reads. It's comfort reading to the extreme - a feel good series with bread :) (bread not included, but there are recipes for bread in the book's extras!).

This is the second book in the series and while it might actually be fine to read this one first, I think they're much more fun read in order. Seeing Polly's story (and the others) evolve and grow is so much more rewarding, in my opinion. But, if you must start with Summer, I guess that's ok. I won't fuss. And meeting Polly et al in any order is better than not meeting her at all. Be warned, though, as with lots of foodie related titles you will want snacks!

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

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

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble