Thursday, June 22, 2017

REVIEW: M is for Magic

M Is For Magic
Author: Neil Gaiman

I became an avid reader in first grade as I learned how to sound out letters and recognize words. Almost immediately I was reading everything that came to hand, even the back of cereal boxes at breakfast. All the way through the end of my college days, I always had a book in my hand. I even majored in Literature. But, alas, eventually life and adulting rammed it's way into my reality and I had to step back from my love of reading for a 20 year span or so while I worked two jobs, raised children, got married, divorced and married again, had a late baby, etc etc.  Life got in the way, and reading got bumped way down on my priority list.

But, my youngest child is now 12. I'm almost 50 years old and I have more free time than I did when I was younger. I know who I am, and I'm well set in my ways and comfy with my life and who I am. So.....slowly, reading has been climbing back up in priority.

There are a lot of wonderful books and authors that I missed while I was away.

Neil Gaiman is one of them.

I can hear it now.....OMG she never read Neil Gaiman??!!  Nope. Not until recently.

I knew his name.....had a couple of his books on my tbr shelf.....and watched television episodes written by him. But I never actually sat down and read any books by Gaiman until this year. I started with The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Loved it! Then a friend recommended American Gods.

I'm hooked.

I guess I should get to the point since this is a review of M is for Magic. After a huge Gaiman tome like American Gods (plus watching the show on Starz), I wanted to try out some of his short stories. I read a few reviews of M is for Magic and learned the stories in the book are reprints previously published in other books and magazines. But, as a new fan of Gaiman's work, they are all new to me.....so there won't be any complaints here about republishing stories.  For those who have read Gaiman before (which feels like everyone on the planet but me ha ha), be aware that all of these stories have been published before. Four were published in Smoke & Mirrors, another story anthology by Gaiman that I have waiting on my TBR shelf.

Stories included in M is for Magic are: The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Troll Bridge, Don't Ask  Jack, How to Sell the Ponti Bridge, October in the Chair, Chivalry, The Price, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Sunbird, The Witch's Headstone, and Instructions.

I chose the audiobook version of this book. I like to hear Gaiman reading his own stories. :) Luckily, his voice is perfect for it.

All in all, I enjoyed this collection of stories. The themes are varied, but all share Gaiman's particular vintage of creepy-cool strangeness. Chivalry is my favorite. The concept of a woman buying the holy grail at a thriftshop is just too cool. :) The cover art is just fantastic as well!

Because I enjoyed this  little collection of tales so much, I'm going to delve into Smoke & Mirrors next. Very curious to find out what creepy goodness lurks between the covers of that book! :)

For more information on Neil Gaiman and his many books, check out his website: http://www.neilgaiman.com/


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

REVIEW: All The Missing Girls

All the Missing Girls
Author: Megan Miranda

Nic Farrell returns to her small NC hometown after years away to help her brother sell her father's house. Nic has tried to escape the memories of her youth...small town gossip, bad memories, the disappearance of her best friend Corinne, the police investigation and suspicion cast on her and her friends. Now she's back....and all the old memories come flooding in. Then, another girl disappears. Annaliese. She was dating Nic's old high school boyfriend...and now she's gone. Disappeared. Just like Corinne. Once again, Nic finds her family, her friends and her life surrounded by suspicion. What happened to Corinne 10 years ago? And where is Annaliese?

All the Missing Girls is a suspense story told in reverse. Each chapter goes further back in time...another step closer to Corinne and the night that destroyed all their lives. The closer Nic gets to the truth, the more afraid she becomes.

I enjoyed this story! Once I started reading, I couldn't stop! I don't often stay up until 3 am reading, but this book had me hooked from the start. Telling the story in reverse gives this tale a different feel. It reveals details slowly, with real suspense. I didn't see the ending coming. Every time I thought I had the mystery figured out, the plot zig-zagged in another direction. As I read the last chapters, the plot came full circle, finally revealing what happened to the missing girls. Wow. Just wow.

Several months ago I added myself to the wait list for this book on my local library's digital website. I was very curious about the book because so many people were waiting in line for their chance to read it. I'm so glad I waited it out and didn't cancel my spot in line. I don't often wait this long for a book. I definitely see now why this book is so popular -- From chapter 1, I was pulled into the story and couldn't stop reading. Nic thinks she's left her old life, her hometown and all of these past events behind her....made a new life, a new person, a new start. But once she returns to her childhood home,she realizes she just ran away....her old life is still there just hiding beneath the surface. That night 10 years ago when her friend disappeared didn't go away.....the facts from that night were just laying dormant waiting for her to come back and reveal the truth.

All The Missing Girls is a solid, masterful suspense story!I highly recommend it!

Megan Miranda has written several other books including Fracture, Hysteria and The Perfect Stranger. To find out more about the author and her books, check out her website at: http://www.meganmiranda.com/


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

REVIEW: The Titanic Murders

The Titanic Murders
Author: Max Allan Collins

What if there had been a murder on board the Titanic during its disastrous maiden voyage in 1912? Not only one murder....but two.

Famous American detective novelist Jack Futrelle is on board with his wife Mae. They are enjoying a second honeymoon after being gifted First Class accommodations by White Star Line Executive Bruce Ismay.  When a passenger who has been attempting to blackmail others on board is found dead in his stateroom, Captain Smith asks Futrelle to investigate.

Which passenger is a murderer? And, can the case be solved without damaging the reputation of the stellar First Class passengers, or the White Star Line? Futrelle puts his detective skills to the test, determined to identify the killer before the ship docks in New York.

Little does he know.....the ship will never reach New York.

I listened to the audiobook version of  The Titanic Murders. What an interesting story! The plot was a an intriguing mix of historical fact and fiction. Jack (known as Jacques) Futrelle wrote detective stories featuring The Thinking Machine....a detective that was compared to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. And he died in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. The plot of the story enfolds the real life Futrelle, adding a fictional murder mystery to his final days.

The mystery was believable and engaging, with plenty of suspects and suspense. The ending was well done. All in all, an enjoyable mystery!  The book did not make light of the disaster, rather using it as a backdrop for the detective and giving historical facts about the passengers, the voyage and the ship. The book is tastefully done and well-written.

The Titanic Murders is the first book in the 6-book Disaster Mystery series. Each book in the series features a different main character, ranging from famous detective novelist Agatha Christie to Walter Gibson, creator of The Shadow.

I will definitely be reading more of this series! The Titanic Murders was well written, and a great homage to Futrelle.

Max Allan Collins is the author of many detective and crime novels. To learn more about the author and his writing, check out his website: http://www.maxallancollins.com/blog/

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Step Back in Time! Review - Blind Man's Bluff by Jacques Futrelle

Blind Man's Bluff
Author: Jacques Futrelle

First off, I have to admit that I was not familiar with Jacques Futrelle until I started reading The Titanic Murders by Max Allan Collins. The Titanic Murders is the first book in Collins' Disaster Mystery series. The main character is Futrelle, an American author who died in the Titanic sinking in 1912.

After enjoying a few chapters of the audio book, I knew I needed to pause and hunt up copies of Futrelle's stories to read. Futrelle was often referred to as the "American Conan Doyle.''  His detective character, Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen was a Sherlock Holmes type detective nicknamed The Thinking Machine. As a huge Sherlock Fan I just had to find out about this Van Dusen fellow. :) I am SO glad that I took the time to research Futrelle!

I was able to find most of Futrelle's work in digital format. I found a listing of 7 novels and 50 short stories. All but two of the novels and stories were easy to find. After digging a bit deeper I found one more novel. But the final book, Blind Man's Bluff, took a bit more ferreting. I'm a completist you see.....if I start finding writings by an author I have to have all of them. That can get a bit difficult when the books are 100+ years old. After a bit more weasling on the internet, I hit pay dirt and found Blind Man's Bluff (or Buff) in a scanned digital copy online -- Huge heart-felt blessings to the New York City Public Library!!!! And, as it was the hardest to find, I read it first!! Other books and stories by Futrelle are available in other spots around the internet. I found my copies from The Gutenburg Project site and in kindle format from Amazon.com. I'm sure there are other sites as well.

Total love! I love old books.....the odd, archaic turns of phrase, the imaginings of a bygone era....it just makes me supremely happy. From the first chapter of Blind Man's Bluff (published in 1914
posthumously) I was totally in rapture.



 Basics of the plot: Mr. John Smith of Passaic, New Jersey has traveled to Paris on business. Usually Mr. Smith is the assistant paying teller in a bank, but on this trip he is totally out of his element. He does not speak French. He does not enjoy travel. He frankly just wants to go home to Passaic. Eight days at sea on his passage to France from the United States have made him tired, hungry and sleepy. But, he is also a man on a mission.....and he's determined to complete his quest. He is looking for W. Mandeville Clarke, an officer in the bank where Smith works, to confront him about a theft, perhaps even beat him to a pulp. But first he has to find the man, in a large city where he is incapable of speaking even a single word of the language. Unfortunately the language barrier causes misunderstandings, and Mr. Smith ends up followed and arrested by the Paris police who suspect that he is himself W. Mandeville Clarke. Things only escalate from there. But never fear, the lowly bank clerk is not only intelligent, but quite feisty.

The story is witty and fun to read. At 185 pages, it's a quick enjoyable bit of light detective fiction. Alas, I chose a book that did not feature Futrelle's most famous detective, Van Dusen the Thinking Machine....but I think the lowly bank teller did a fine job of ferreting out information and solving a rather serious situation. The plot is peppered with witty humor and plenty of early 1900s references. When John Smith told a cab driver "Skiddo for you! Twenty three!'' I just had to smile. :) I had to look up some references to actors of the day and other sayings I wasn't familiar with....but the internet is a marvelous thing for quick research. Even after 103 years, this story is still funny, light-hearted and an enjoyable read.

Here is the link to the book for anyone else who wants to read it!  https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433112068113;view=1up;seq=1   It's an actual scan of the physical book, so the covers are shown and it has the original old-style formatting and font.

Now that I've read one of Futrelle's books, I'm going to return to listening to The Titanic Murders by Max Allan Collins. After I finish that book (which is awesome,by the way....a great mix of history and fiction! Review coming soon!), I'm going to delve into more Futrelle -- I'm very curious about Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen (with a name like that he has to be brilliant!).






Friday, June 16, 2017

REVIEW: Great Classic Hauntings

Great Classic Hauntings (audiobook)
Various Authors

I love a great ghost story. An entire shelf of my home library is dedicated to ghostly tales ranging from classic haunted house tales to urban legends. When I saw this audiobook available on my local library's digital service, I borrowed it immediately. I never pass up the chance to enjoy a good spooky story!

Great Classic Hauntings gathers six spooky tales from classic authors including Ambrose Bierce, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Edgar Allan Poe. I had read all of these stories before, but there is just something enjoyable about having them read to me, even if the plots are familiar. :)

Geraint Wyn Davies does a superb job of narrating these stories. Davies is a British-Canadian stage, film and television actor/director. He read the tales with perfect clarity, pitch and speed. So enjoyable! I am learning to like audiobooks and already know that the wrong narrator, or an annoying voice/reading style, can ruin the experience. That was not the case with this audiobook -- Davies was a perfect choice for reading these six great tales!

Tales in this audiobook anthology include: A Watcher By the Dead by Ambrose Bierce; The Body-Snatchers by Robert Louis Stevenson; The Adventure of the German Student by Washington Irving; Dickon the Devil by J. Sheridan Le Fanu; The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe; and The Open Window by Saki.

My favorite was The Fall of the House of Usher. Poe is a masterful storyteller, and Davies narration was spine-chilling!! But, every story in this audio anthology was awesome!

All of the stories are unabridged. Running time for the audio book is just under 3 hours.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

REVIEW: Bad Housekeeping

Bad Housekeeping
Author: Maia Chance

There is an old saying: You can never go home again. Perhaps, a more true statement might be that you SHOULDN'T go home again. 28-year old Agnes Blythe has returned to her hometown, only to have her life implode. She can't escape the ghosts of her high school self, her professor boyfriend breaks up with her because he's been sleeping with the local pilates instructor, she loses her job, and then on top of it all, she becomes a murder suspect. One body.....then two bodies....then three.  Seems anywhere but Naneda, NY might be better for Agnes. She teams up with her great-aunt Effie to sleuth and to restore the dilapidated, old family inn. Hopefully it will only be the old inn that's condemned, as the bodies start stacking up.

Bad Housekeeping is heavy on the humor and small-town charm and light on the mystery, as with most cozy mysteries. I love the characters in this first book in the Agnes and Effie Mystery series. Agnes believes carbs will cure all ills, and Effie turns to cigarettes and liquor. Agnes is reeling from sudden life changes, but is supported by her eccentric and outspoken great-aunt. As a team, they really kick some butt. Add in Cousin Chester and local hunk Otis to round out the group and it really turns out to be a fun group of characters working to save the Inn and ferret out a killer. The group reminds me of a grown-up Scooby Doo team, minus the dog. I found myself totally rooting for them all the way! I half expected the killer at the end to be Old Man Smithers in a disguise. :)

I will definitely be reading more of this series. It was a fun, light-hearted read that made me laugh out loud several times. I like the characters and the concept. This was an enjoyable read from beginning to end. The mystery was well-paced, the humor was great, and there were plenty of suspects.

Maia Chance is the author of several other cozy mysteries. For more information on the author and her books check out her website: http://www.maiachance.com/

**I voluntarily read an advance reader copy of this book from Crooked Lane Books via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

REVIEW: The Halloween Children

The Halloween Children
Author: Brian James Freeman & Norman Prentiss

Stillbrook Apartments is a complex much like every other apartment complex in any major city.  It has the usual mix of people....suburban working parents, teenagers who like to bully younger kids, elderly residents who complain all the time, families who break the no pet rules, loud upstairs neighbors, annoying leasing office staff. Harris and Lynn live in the complex with their two kids. Harris is the complex handyman and his wife works from home as a computer help desk tech. All is well (or at least relatively ok) with their little family.....until Halloween. When the Halloween Children come out to play.

This book is a quick, creepy read! It would be perfect for a chilly Halloween night's scare. The tension builds slowly to an ending that caught me by surprise. I was thoroughly creeped out. Awesome scary story! There were a few gross moments...so readers with queasy stomachs be forewarned. No chips and salsa snacking while reading this book. ha ha :) The gore is subtle...not overdone....and adds to the horror perfectly. What this story does in just 174 pages is beautifully horrific.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. So I'm always in favor of a good Halloween theme story. The Halloween Children did not disappoint. The story is told from the point of view of several of the characters. I don't usually like changing points of view, but for this story it worked. It kept the pace and tension building slowly and steadily until the very end. This would be a great quick read for any horror fan looking for an evening of creepy reading or while handing out Halloween candy to the neighborhood kiddos.

Both Brian James Freeman and Norman Prentiss have published many works of horror fiction. I'm definitely going to be checking out more of their writings!

**I voluntarily read an advance reader copy of this book from Random House via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

Monday, June 12, 2017

REVIEW: Cat With a Clue

Cat With a Clue
Author: Laurie Cass

I absolutely love the Bookmobile Cat Mystery series. :) Minnie Hamilton, librarian extraordinaire, and her kitty sidekick, Eddie make me smile. Minnie is independent, intelligent, a bit feisty, but still sweet. The side characters are interesting and more than a little small-town quirky. It makes for a funny and entertaining cozy mystery series.

Cat With a Clue is the fifth book in the series. It isn't necessary to read them in order. A reader could jump in with this book and still enjoy the story. To fully know the background of all the characters, it's best to start at the beginning of the series but Cat With a Clue doesn't really depend on any monumental occurrences in previous books for its plot.

The basics: Minnie comes into work one morning to shelve books. While she's puttering around inside the library, she nearly trips over a dead body. The woman is lying on the floor with a knife sticking out of her chest. Andrea Vennard had recently come to town to attend the funeral of her great aunt. But how did she get into the library before it opened? And who killed her? Before the police really even get started on their investigation into the murder, a baffling string of break-ins begin around town. Even the bookmobile is broken into. The common denominator is books. Minnie wonders if the murder and the break-ins are related somehow, but isn't sure what the murderer might be looking for. Can she and Eddie solve the case before someone else gets hurt or killed?

Since this is my favorite cozy series, I knew I was going to enjoy this book before I even read the first page. :) The mystery was engaging and there were plenty of suspects and surprises. I always enjoy the side plot of Minnie's aunt matchmaking for her summer boarders, and her aunt's lovelife with neighbor, Otto. All in all, this is another fun addition to the series!

To learn more about the author and this series, check out her website at: http://catmystery.com/

The next book in the series, Wrong Side of the Paw, will be coming out in late July! :) I can't wait!!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

REVIEW: Ensnared

Ensnared
Author: Rita Stradling

Take Beauty and the Beast.... add in robots, AI technology and other sci-fi gadgetry...and you've got Ensnared.

Alainn Murphy is determined to keep her father out of prison. He was hired to create an ultra-advanced robot for a reclusive wealthy man and has been working on it for months. But the deadline has come and gone and the Rose project isn't finished. The project's backer, Lorccan Garbhan, has refused to extend the deadline or provide more funds. In his mind, Alainn's father has stolen from him, wasting his money on gambling instead of completing the robot he was hired to design. Alainn's brother and the family's AI robot are working to complete the project. To buy more time, they decide Alainn should enter Garbhan's household pretending to be the completed robot. Then when the project is actually completed, the new robot and Alainn will switch places and nobody will be the wiser.

But, the plan goes wrong. Horribly wrong. Not only is Alainn stuck pretending to be a robot, but she's falling in love with Lorccan.

I love the Beauty and the Beast story! When I saw this book listed as a futuristic retelling of the story, I knew I had to read it! In a lot of ways, the story does mirror the basics of Beauty and the Beast, but it just didn't have that magical feel of the more traditional story for me. The romance between the main characters fell a bit flat because Lorccan thinks she's a robot. When Alainn was unable to suppress her human reactions to things -- laughing, showing desire, needing food -- -how could he not have realized he was being tricked and that she wasn't a robot?

I didn't dislike the book -- I enjoyed reading it! The story line was really interesting -- I loved the sci-fi angle. The retelling is original and engaging. But the characters just fell a bit flat for me.  I really didn't feel invested in the characters or their romantic situation. I think maybe if I wasn't such a big fan of the original story that I would have enjoyed this futuristic retelling a bit more.

This is a retelling aimed at adults. There are sexual scenes in this story and some language, so parental guidance is required before letting anyone under the age of 16 read this book.

To find out more about the author and her books, check out her website: http://ritastradling.wixsite.com/rita-stradling-books


Thursday, June 1, 2017

REVIEW: A Just Clause

A Just Clause
Author: Lorna Barrett

A Just Clause is the 11th book in the Booktown Mystery series. I've been wanting to try out this series for some time, so when I saw the newest book available for review, I jumped right on it. I'm glad I did!

Although it is always best to read a series in order to get all the developing nuances of character and place, I had no trouble following the plot and characters. I will definitely be back tracking to read the rest of the series in order up to this point though, as there were some situations and characters from prior books mentioned. I'd like to know the whole story of Booktown before the next book comes out!

The basics: Stoneham, New Hampshire found a niche to bring in the tourist trade -- bookstores. The streets are lined with bookstores and related businesses of every sort. Tricia Miles runs her mystery bookstore, Haven't Got a Clue. Her sister, Angelica, lives in town as well and owns a couple inns and restaurants. Other than the occasional murder to investigate,  life in Stoneham is great for the sisters.....the one problem they have is with their father. He's a scoundrel. A thief. A liar. The list could go on for quite awhile. And after previously sneaking out of town owing money to nearly every business in Stoneham, he's back. And chaos follows. Their father isn't back in town for a day before a woman, Carol Talbot, is found murdered after slapping both him and an author who was in town for a signing at Tricia's shop. Reluctantly, the girls start investigating the killing because even if their father is a scoundrel, he is still their father and they don't want him prosecuted for a murder he didn't commit. Who killed Carol Talbot and why? And what are they going to do about their father's antics this time?

I enjoyed this book! The characters are quirky and interesting. Main characters, Tricia and Angelica, are independent, intelligent and feisty women. The mystery was interesting and engaging with plenty of suspects and twists and turns. The ending was believable. All in all, a great cozy!

I will definitely be backtracking to read the earlier books in this series! :)

Lorna Barrett writes under several pen names and is the author of several popular mystery series including the Victoria Square series. For more information on the author and her books check out her website at: http://lornabarrett.com/ \\

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. **