Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Before the Devil Fell by Neil Olson

It's fall and I'm all about the creepy reads, so when this one popped onto my radar I knew I had to get to it this month.

Will Connor has made a life and a career for himself in New York but when his mother is injured in a fall, he has no choice but to put that life on hold and go home to take care of her. 

But for Will, home is definitely not where the heart is. He never quite settled into his mother's lifestyle, one he refers to as "hippie" but is, in fact, much closer to the occult than he'd prefer to admit. And then there are the accidents. Deaths that happen maybe a little too often and center around a specific group of families that all have a long connection to the small town. 

Will had pushed most of this to the back of his mind, but now that he's back it's all too viscerally real. But is there really something sinister and witchy to all of this? And if so, is there anything Will can actually do to stop it?

Before the Devil Fell is a quiet sort of dreadful novel. One that's steeped in witchy lore but eases you into it rather than being all up in your face!

It begins with Will in New York, where he teaches classes focused on folklore and legend. He has a strained relationship with is parents, but not so strained that he doesn't feel obligated to take care of his mother in her time of need.

But when he arrives, it's clear he's unsettled for more reasons that just family stress.

And then an old friend pops up. Sam, the neighbor girl, who he'd been having strange dreams about just prior to his return.

Sam makes people nervous, but it's unclear just why that might be even as the story begins to pick up steam.

There's a hum of creepiness that starts to seep in early on. A note that niggles at your brain as you're reading but stays steady in the background, growing oh so slowly more intense as the narrative flows on...

I loved it! It was the perfect blend of atmosphere and history, legend and skepticism, thriller and horror...A cross-genre read that plays on folksy, ritualistic horror!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Old Bones by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Everyone knows the story of the Donner Party. And the ruins of their ill-fated campsite have been studied to no end. But when evidence of a rumored third campsite is found, Nora Kelly can't resist the urge to be part of the discovery. 

Nora is approached by a historian in possession Tamsyn Donner's own journal. While the journal itself is of significant historical value, it's the information inside that's the real treasure: a sort of map that Nora believes they can follow to the third campsite. 

But it's the promise of something much more tempting that leads to the funding of the expedition. Gold that has never been recovered and could be hidden at the site. Enough that would pay for the cost of the entire dig. Enough that would endanger the expedition should the information get out. 

Under a veil of secrecy, Nora and her team set off through difficult terrain in search of the campsite. But someone is following them. Someone who knows the value of what the Donner Party was carrying. Someone who will do anything to find it. 

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child kick off a new series with Old Bones. It's not new, new, just Pendergast-adjacent new. 

Longtime readers will remember Nora from Thunderhead and a number of Pendergast titles. And while she was the main character in Thunderhead, Old Bones is the start of her official series. One that pairs her with another character fans will recognize, FBI Agent Corrie Swanson. 

The book is, as is true of all of the Preston and Child's books, a fun blend of historical fact, science, and fiction with a dash of maybe paranormal. And I loved almost all of it. The build was great. Nora, post Smithback, was great. And I absolutely loved the twist on the Donner story, especially seeing as how it was something of a theme in my reading at the time. 

The only thing I didn't love was the way the story wrapped up. The final reveal wasn't a rich in detail and explanation as I would have liked. It felt a little too quick and easy and ultimately fell a little flat for me. 

Let me stress that it wasn't disappointing to the point that I couldn't enjoy the book as a whole. Nor would it enough to deter me from recommending the heck out of this one, especially if you're new to the authors. In fact, this is the perfect diving in point for anyone who may be Pendergast curious but intimidated by the very large backlist of that series. 

Nora has always been one of my favorite side characters in the Pendergast series and I am so excited to see where they'll take her next!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

In the spring of 1846, a wagon train of over 80 people set off from Missouri on their way to California. They deviated from the well known Oregon Trail, opting to take the Hastings Cutoff, a newly touted shorter route west. Unfortunately, the route was untested and the weather took a turn for the worst. That, combined with even more bad luck, left the travelers stranded, snowed in and starving.

This was, of course, the ill-fated Donner Party. And the subject Alma Katsu tackled in The Hunger. But, Katsu adds a supernatural twist to the story, beginning with Donner's wife, Tamsen, whose talents with herbs and plants are a little more than the average medicinal knowledge.

Tamsen feels a darkness hovering over their traveling party. Something that she tries to ward off and protect her children from. It's a darkness the travelers encounter multiple times along the way, though not all of them recognize it for what it is.

Peppered throughout the narrative are varying points of view, including a traveler who takes his leave of the party to observe the local native tribes. It's through these viewpoints we finally get a full picture of the trouble that plagues the party.

The Hunger reminded me of the 1999 movie Ravenous. Any story about cannibalism in a historical setting kind of has to, right? Especially when you're dealing with horror of this variety. And I have to say, Katsu's story is a really good one. Her twist on the well-known story works smoothly and organically. And the focus isn't too heavy on the supernatural aspects. She gives voice to the characters, the people of the party, fictionalized as they are, in such a way that they are humanized and sympathetic. Which, considering they are real people who experienced something truly, truly tragic, was welcome.

(Tomorrow, I'm reviewing the new Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child release, which is also a Donner retelling!)

Katsu takes on another historical tragedy in her next book, The Deep, a retelling of the Titanic. I have a couple of those in my TBR too, so look to some paired reviews to come!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Lying Room by Nicci French

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for the latest Nicci French thriller, The Lying Room.

Neve is having an affair. A fling with her boss. But when she shows up for a morning together and finds him dead in his flat, she knows she has to do something.

Fearing her secret will ruin her family, Neve scrubs the apartment of her every trace. But the nagging feeling that she's forgotten something is one she can't throw off. And when the detective on the case begins to show an inordinate amount of interest in Neve, it seems maybe her secret is going to get out anyway. 

Husband and wife Nicci Gerard and Sean French are at it again with another page-turning suspense read that will keep you guessing until the very end!

Neve is, as mentioned, cheating on her husband. It's been going on for a bit—still exciting and fun—and she's done everything she can to make sure her family and her coworkers will never find out. But before the affair can come to a natural end, her lover is murdered and an investigation is underway.

An investigation that's hampered by the fact that, in the interest of keeping her relationship secret, Neve cleaned the crime scene of every trace of herself and the killer!

I can't say that Neve is a completely unlikable character. You'd think she would be considering she didn't have any thought as to the killer's identity or her lover's murder but only in making sure her own little world isn't upset by the death. But in spite of all of that, she does care about her family and her kids. And much of the book is focused on her concern about the people in her life. Which balances her terrible decision making in the beginning of the book.

And the narrative moves so quickly that even while you're shaking your head at Neve's poor choices, you're still being pulled along in the whodunit and whodunit and will Neve get away with what's she's done of the story!

Nicci French has been on my must read list for some years now and this latest is yet another example of why that is! Plus, if you haven't read them and have been intimidated by the fact that their latest books were all part of a series, this one is a stand alone!

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

For more on Nicci French and their work you can like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Art of Escapism Cooking by Mandy Lee

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm kicking off the TLC blog tour for Mandy Lee's (aka Lady and Pups) debut cookbook, The Art of Escapism Cooking: A Survival Story With Intensely Good Flavors.

What do you do when your spouse's job takes you to a foreign land where you're increasingly irritated by your surroundings? Well, in Mandy Lee's case, you cook. A lot.

This is a gorgeous cookbook with tantalizing dishes a person can lose themselves in. And that's the point—cooking as escapism! Food makes Lee happy. Intricate dishes as much as easy dishes. It's something she was able to dive into while at the peak of unhappiness. And the reason for that level of unhappiness is made clear in a piece she includes about China called "Meet Richard."

This is a cookbook perfect for reading as much as it is for cooking. Lee heads up almost every section with an essay like "Meet Richard" and "My Days as a Ma-jiang Line Cook" giving you a chance to get to know her in the same way longtime followers of her blog have gotten to know her. And the table of contents itself is a good indication of what you're in for too:

For Getting Out of Bed
For Slurping
For a Crowd
For Snacking
Shit I Eat When I'm By Myself
For Sweets
For Pups

And the recipes are a cool amalgamation of cultural food influences: Buffalo Fried Chicken Ramen, Mochi Challah Bread Stuffed with Proscuitto and Dates, Pizza Tonnato with Chinese Pancetta, and that amazing burger on the cover, Crackling-Studded Pork Belly Burger!

If cooking is your lifeline, your addiction (as Lee puts it), this is the best cookbook you can buy!

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

For more on Mandy Lee you can visit her blog here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm kicking off the TLC blog tour for Deborah Crombie's latest, A Bitter Feast, which releases today!

Gemma and Duncan are set to spend a few days in the country courtesy of their friend and fellow officer, Melody Talbot. Melody, the daughter of a society matron and a newspaper mogul, has invited Gemma, Duncan, their three children, and Doug, another of their friends, to visit her family estate where her mother has been planning a luncheon to show off the talent of local pub owner and chef, Viv Holland. Of course, it's a charity luncheon, meant to raise money and awareness, but Melody knows well that her mother believes she's doing Viv a favor in introducing her talent more broadly. 

Unfortunately, the event catches the eye of one of Viv's old colleagues, a celebrity chef who's fallen on hard times. When he shows up at Viv's pub demanding an audience, it creates quite the scene. And later, when he's found dead in a car accident that involves Kincaid himself, it seems the police have a true mystery on their hands. 

The accident claims the life of a local woman who has no determinable connection to the chef. But his presence in her car is the least of it. It appears the man in question was dead prior to the actual accident. And since Nell, the driver, can't answer any questions herself, it falls to the local detectives to find out what's going on. Seeing as how Kincaid is affected directly, it's no stretch that both he and Gemma soon find themselves involved in the investigation.

This is the eighteenth installment in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series! Eighteenth! Crombie kicked off the series in 1993 with A Share in Death and has been at it ever since.

Diving into a new book in this series is like slipping on your favorite sweater. It's such a comfort returning to characters I've grown to know and love throughout the series. And that's just one of my favorite parts: the characters.

Crombie excels at characters. The development and growth of the series regulars as well as the slew of new characters introduced at the heart of each new book is something not many authors can pull off. She does it, in part, by offering up varying perspectives throughout the book. And in less deft hands this would likely be jarring, but Crombie pulls it off!

In A Bitter Feast, not only are Gemma, Duncan, Melody, and Doug all continuing their own stories, but new and peripheral character are as well. Kit gets to spread his wings a bit, for example. And we also get pieces of Viv's own perspective, Booth (the detective on the case), and other players in the village as well.

This gives us a chance to become truly invested in the characters and their story. It also gives us a chance to try and solve the mystery ourselves!

And that's my other favorite aspect of this series: the mysteries! Crombie's careful plotting and deliberate doling out of clues makes each new book such a fun read! They're also the perfect blend of cozy and dark elements, toeing the line between the two types of mysteries and offering up just enough of the dark stuff to satisfy a reader like myself, while also being perfect reads for folks who shy away from heavier genre fare!

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

For more on Deborah Crombie and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble