Thursday, November 30, 2017

REVIEW: The Man From the Train

The Man From the Train
Author: Bill James

In the past, Freight trains thundered through most American communities, big and small, several times a day. I owned a home in a very small Kansas community in the 1990's. Coal trains would clatter through shaking the windows and making that easily recognizable, loud clack-clack whine and whistle. The trains and their noise became a regular, comforting part of life. When the trains became fewer and fewer, the lack of that sound seemed wrong and somehow disturbing. But it is also true that sometimes drifters and criminals rode the trains, jumping off to cause problems in the town and nearby farms. At times they were just travelers, modern day hobos....but at other times they were looking to do harm or steal.

The front cover of this book caught my eye immediately. It's a sight that is disappearing in many towns.....railroad tracks going off into the distance.  In Western NC, the county I live in has re-purposed most of its train routes  into paved fitness rail-trails with the real train traffic going through the more rural, smaller towns. It isn't like in decades past where livestock and freight trains were essential for all communities across the country.

In the early 1900s, trains were the lifeblood of  most communities. But, someone evil rode the rails. Not just another hobo, freely riding, strumming a guitar like in all those country songs. But a killer. A serial killer who murdered from one end of America to the other. He was never caught. Nobody ever noticed the massive scope of his killing streak until now. Bill James and his daughter, Rachel researched and found the killer's trail 100 years after the fact. The Man From the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery presents the facts and their conclusions. It's a tale of a murder and unprepared small town law enforcement and justice systems. The story makes me incredibly appreciative of modern forensic science and investigation techniques. The murders were never linked or properly investigated because of communication and investigation problems, plus lack of modern scientific processes. Plus, by the time the bodies were discovered, the murderer was long gone, riding the rails to another town and other potential victims.

The first section of the book focuses on details and background of crimes that the authors believe were perpetrated by the same man. The second section shares details about law enforcement procedures in the early 1900s and the limitations of forensic testing at the time,and more details of crimes the authors believed can be traced to The Man From the Train.  In the last section, the authors reveal their conclusion and present a suspect that they believe was The Man on the Train. The man who killed multiple families in the middle of the night, in their own homes over several years in the early 1900s.

This book is very different from most true crime books. The information presented combines researched factual accounts of crimes mixed with added conjecture based on the authors' research and opinion. There is no way to jet back more than 100 years in time and put the research and theories to the test, so in the end, readers are left to form their own opinions. The writing style is an interesting mix of factual reporting, humor and conversational tone. I didn't mind the mix, as a former reporter I fully understand that humor makes it possible to more easily discuss horrible details. Plus, the conversational tone and occasional jokes make this a much more readable book. It pulled me in and made me feel more engaged with the writers...like they were sharing their information with me rather than formally presenting bare evidence. I wouldn't have enjoyed 450 pages of dry facts about 100+ year old axe murders. But I enjoyed this book immensely. If this were a book about a more recent crime spree where evidence, documentation and witnesses were still available to interview, then this writing style might be inappropriate. But, given the passage of time, the subsequent limitations on research, and the fact that guessing is pretty much required in this case, the more relaxed style works.

The authors make a lot of assumptions about the researched data, but I enjoyed reading about their theory and the potential suspect. All in all, an enjoyable read that will have me pondering for days, wondering if they got it right. Especially when I'm walking, alone at night, on the rail-trail.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

REVIEW: Ditched 4 Murder

Ditched 4 Murder
Author: J.C. Eaton

Sophie "Phee" Kimball is starting to wish she hadn't relocated to Arizona to be closer to her mother. Her job as an accountant for a detective agency is great....but her mom and her friends sometimes drive Phee a bit crazy. Things are definitely heating up for the little group of older ladies, and Phee is stuck right in the thick of things.....again. Her eccentric Aunt Ina is getting married. First Ina sends out strange, cryptic invitations announcing their wedding at dawn amidst ruins in the nearby state park. The 74-year old aging hippie has the whole affair planned from the bed and breakfast where they will all stay to the catering by a local French restaurant. In fact, the groom has rented out the entire section of the state park surrounding the ruins for the ceremony and reception. Phee soon realizes what a nightmare the event is going to be....bird shaped pastries, wedding tents, floral arrangements.....it's already becoming a total angst-fest. Ina begins asking Phee, Harriet and all the ladies in Harriet's bookclub, Booked 4 Murder, to handle final decisions for her wedding. Tasting the bearnaise sauce at the caterers. Picking the tent material. Making decisions about the pastries. Harriet, Phee's mother, is becoming stressed....calling constantly to complain about her sister's crazy schemes and horrible planning skills. Then, an elderly businessman is killed on the golf course near Harriet's home. And that's just the first dead body that pops up. Phee is definitely caught in the middle between murder investigations at work, and the drama over Ina's wedding at home.

I love the mix of humor and mystery in this series. I laughed just as much while reading this second book as I did when I read the first. The characters are charming. Phee's relationship with her mother is sweet...and hilarious at the same time. Drama and strange events seem to follow after the Booked 4 Murder ladies no matter what they do! :)

Ditched 4 Murder is an enjoyable cozy romp. The mystery moves along at a good speed and there is plenty of action to keep things moving. Between Aunt Ina's wedding drama and dead bodies popping up, there is never a dull moment. The wedding is.....interesting. ha ha. And, there is some nice character development leading into the next book.

The next Sophie Kimball Mystery, Staged 4 Murder, is coming out in July 2018. I can't wait! What trouble will the old gals be in this time??

Another book by J.C. Eaton, A Riesling to Die, will be published in March 2018. It's the first book in the Wine Trail Mystery series.

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: The Mysterious Code (Trixie Belden)

The Mysterious Code (Trixie Belden)
Kathryn Kenny

Trixie Belden and her friends have a club, The Bob Whites of the Glen. They fixed up a clubhouse and work on projects to help their community, Sleepyside, NY. Imagine their surprise when the high school principal tells them that the school board is considering disbanding all clubs. The board thinks that the clubs don't serve a  purpose and form cliques, leaving some kids out. The Bob Whites quickly come up with a project they all believe in so that they can prove their club is productive. The teens are going to hold an antique show and sale to benefit UNICEF. While gathering items for the show at Honey Wheeler's home, Trixie finds a magazine with he key to a secret code inside. The code leads the group to a cool discovery! Unfortunately, publicity for the antique show leads local thieves to the antiques. There is a break in at a local home and at the clubhouse. The teen sleuths are back on the case to discover the identity of the thieves before they ruin the fundraiser.

The Mysterious Code is the 7th book in the Trixie Belden series. The first six books were written by Julie Campbell. Books 7 - 39 were written by various authors using the pen name Kathryn Kenny. Plot wise The Mysterious Code is one of the weaker books in the series. It's still an enjoyable read, but not as well-written as the others. The code portion of the plot is clever, but plays only a small part in the story. There is a bit of character development, but not much really happens in this book. All in all, another enjoyable visit to Sleepyside, but there are much better books in the series.

The Trixie Belden series was my favorite series when I was in middle school. I preferred Trixie over Nancy Drew. I had the whole set with the 80's paperback covers. I babysat my bratty nephew to earn money to buy the paperbacks at Waldenbook s. :) The brat is now 37 years old. ha ha  I still love Trixie but read them with an adult perspective now. Still enjoyable! But I cringe every time the kids decide to chase criminals and thieves themselves rather than calling the police, or when they hide events or evidence from their parents.

Great series! I am enjoying re-reading the books even though I have an adult perspective now. The books are a bit dated (just like Nancy Drew), but fun, quick reads. I like reading a Trixie book in-between thriller or suspense novels to clear my mind a bit. There is no cursing, nothing graphic.....just teens solving simple mysteries while going horseback riding, etc in the woods around their homes. Nice relaxing reading. :)

 The last Trixie Belden book came out in the late 80's, and some of the books can be hard to find. I'm reading scanned ebooks on openlibrary.org. Most of the series is available on that site. Openlibrary is a free site that offers scanned ebooks of many books for checkout, just like a library. It's all legal and does not violate copyright laws.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

REVIEW: Whose Body?

Whose Body?
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers

There are many book series that over the years I have said "I'd love to read those books!'' and then never did. Lord Peter Wimsey is one of those great characters that I vowed to visit, and promptly forgot my promise. In an attempt to turn over a new leaf reading-wise, I am changing this habit. When I find a book that really appeals to me, I make the time and read the book! This does mean that I reshuffle my TBR pile more, but that's ok. I have already read several delightful books that I probably never would have read otherwise. They would all still be lost in wishicouldreadthisland. Recently I read an article listing several female detective writers that wrote before and at the same time as Agatha Christie, and I had never read a single word of any of their writings. When the little voice inside my head started saying "I would love to read that!'' I didn't allow myself to just forget about it . I immediately picked one of the authors -- Dorothy L. Sayers. I went to openlibrary.org and found a scanned copy of Whose Body? and actually started reading! Finally reading Sayers is just the first step. I have a whole list of female mystery writers from that time period....and one at a time, I'm going to actually delve into their fictional worlds and savor their exceptional talent as storytellers.

Whose Body? is the first Lord Peter Wimsey story. He is quite an interesting character. English aristocracy. Wealthy, privileged, a bit of an upper class dandy....but with a difference....he can solve crimes. He's different from Sherlock and Poirot in that he goes after a case with a sense of flair, humor, and upper class sarcasm. He uses his social standing to gain a foothold and his brains to finish the job. I thought I might find him annoying....rather upper class twit-ish. But from the first chapter of Whose Body? I found myself liking Wimsey....he's amusing, capable and at times, pokes fun at himself and his class with witty bad verse and even song. Too much fun!

In his first case, Wimsey teams up with his friend Charles Parker, to solve the discovery of a murdered naked dead man in a bathtub, and the disappearance of a local financier, Sir Reuben Levy. Levy left his house in the middle of the night without so much as a stitch of clothing with him, never to return. The police (namely Wimsey's nemesis, Detective Sugg) want to claim the dead body in the tub as the financier....find a naked man, lose a naked man, they must be one and the same, right? But Wimsey knows the dead man is not the missing wealthy Jewish financier......so who is he? Sugg is quick to rush to judgement in an effort to close the case -- he arrests the man who lives in the apartment where the dead body was discovered, and a servant girl. Wimsey knows Mr. Thipps did not kill the strange man, but he knows he needs to discover the identity of the found corpse and his killer and find the missing banker before Sugg makes more mistakes. With his trusty man servant Bunter and Scotland Yard's Charles Parker in tow, Lord Peter Wimsey is on the case!

At just over 200 pages, this book is a quick and fun read. Wimsey and Parker each take a case and begin investigating, then compare information with each other. And Wimsey's trusted manservant Bunter photographs items and dusts for fingerprints, all while quizzing the servants about their employers and anything they may have witnessed or overheard. All of this is done with Sugg of Scotland Yard seething in the background. Wimsey pulled rank (his mother is good friends with the Chief, of course) and has complete access to the crime scenes. Cue more Sugg seething.  You know, the poor guy isn't that great of a detective, but he is an excellent seether. Too bad there isn't a spot at Scotland Yard for seething. He would be perfect. In the end, this case turns out to have just as many magnificent twists and turns as any Christie novel. And it is just as masterfully executed. I am definitely going to push on to book 2.....Wimsey's brain power and antics are just too fun!

Dorothy L. Sayers wrote 11 Lord Peter Wimsey books and five collections of short stories. Author Jill Paton Walsh completed an unfinished manuscript left by Sayers and also wrote 3 Wimsey books herself. I was led to finally read this series while watching the documentary A Very British Murder featuring Historian Lucy Worsley. She mentions many classic  mystery writers. My TBR grew by leaps and bounds!! The documentary is wonderful for classic mystery lovers (I found it streaming on Britbox). I highly recommend anything by Lucy Worsley! She discusses history with intelligence, understanding, and humor!


REVIEW: The Plot is Murder

The Plot is Murder
Author: V.M. Burns

Samantha Washington's life has completely changed. Her husband of 13 years died, but he made her promise to fulfill her dream of opening a bookshop. She keeps her promise, selling their house, buying a building and preparing to open her mystery bookshop in North Harbor, MI. Not only is she opening her dream shop, but Samantha is also writing a murder mystery. All her dreams are about to come true. Things are moving along smoothly until she discovers the dead body of real estate agent Clayton Parker in her enclosed patio. Parker tried to sabotage her purchase of the building, forcing her to get an attorney to help her complete closing on the property. Now he's dead. Parker had come to her door the day before asking to speak with her, and she had refused to open the door, walking away instead. Feeling guilty that there might have been a way to prevent the man's death (even if he was a shyster), she vows to find out who killed him.

This first book in the Mystery Bookshop series is actually a mystery within a mystery. As Samantha tries to discover who killed Clayton Parker, she is also writing her own British-style cozy mystery novel about Lady Penelope Marsh and her sister Daphne.  As she works to discover who killed Parker, she's also working on her book. I enjoyed the snippets of Samantha's novel and thought the author alternating between the two stories was really creative and fun.

I love the characters in this book! Samantha is a strong woman, realizing her dreams while still grieving for her husband. Her grandmother Jo is a tough old bird, who enlists her friends at the retirement village to help in the investigation. My favorite side character is Irma....the lovely old lady who peppers her conversation with curse words.....well, the group stops her before she finishes saying them, but still....it's the thought that counts. ha ha. :) The colorful characters and humor sprinkled in with the mystery really made this an enjoyable book. The mystery moves along at a nice pace. There are plenty of suspects and sleuthing. Nana Jo's friends are really a huge help -- nothing like a gang of old ladies to dig up gossip and info on anybody!

This is a great start to a new cozy series! A second book, Read Herring Hunt, will be out in April 2018! 

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.vmburns.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**




Sunday, November 26, 2017

REVIEW: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
Author: Laird Koenig

In 1976 Jodie Foster starred in a movie that scared the crap out of me. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. A thriller about a little girl who knew how to survive....how to take care of herself...no matter what. I had no idea that this creepy-cool film was based on a book by Laird Koenig until a few days ago. Remembering the movie that seriously creeped me out, I had to read the book. Luckily, a quick check of openlibrary.org turned up a scanned copy available online.

This book is a serious creep-fest just like the movie. Even better than the movie (of course).

Rynn lives in the large, old house at the end of the lane with her poet father. People who stop by seem to always arrive when her father is busy translating, writing or sleeping -- he is ill, you know. The house was leased for 3 years from Mrs. Hallet -- a pushy, wealthy real estate agent that is used to controlling everything around her. But Rynn won't allow Mrs. Hallet to bother her father. She won't allow her to see him. She also turns away her son, Frank....the neighborhood policeman that stops by....basically everyone. Only when she makes a new friend, Mario, does Rynn allow anyone to get close to her, to learn her secrets.

I had the BEST time reading this book! Awesomely creepy and suspenseful. I have to watch the movie again now as well. Jodie Foster was soooo good in it. Good enough to make me sleep with my light on for days afterwards. :) This story is subtle, psychological. There is no spurting blood or even blood-curdling screams. It's all a mind game.....a kid's game. Well....a kid who isn't really childlike in any way.

Awesome read for anyone who likes thrillers or suspense. The movie version changed the story a bit here and there, but it's a good movie. For those wanting to watch it -- the full movie is available on youtube: https://youtu.be/8z0zRAPBHuk




Friday, November 24, 2017

REVIEW: Cruel Beauty

Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge

Beauty and the Beast is by far my favorite fairy tale. I've read several re-tellings of the classic tale, and Cruel Beauty is one of the best I've read. The story is a bit dark....but beautiful at the same time.

All her life, Nyx has been prepared to give her life to save her people. Their land has been imprisoned outside of the world for years by an evil demon being, The Gentle Lord. Because her father made a pact with the demon, Nyx will be his wife. For years she has been training, gaining the knowledge she needs to kill the Gentle Lord and save her people. She is prepared to hate him....to kill him...to die for her duty, until she actually meets him. Ignifex is beautiful, and strangely compelling. Nyx never expected to love her husband. She's faced with a horrible choice.....love her husband and not save her people, or betray her love and fulfill her duty.

I loved this book! The descriptions of Ignifex's strange house are beautiful. The slow build of the relationship between Ignifex and Nyx definity fits the Beauty and the Beast theme, with a bit more darkness and evil than the classic story.

I was a bit disappointed with events leading up to the ending. Nyx makes some decisions that I had a hard time reading. I wanted to hop into the book, grab her and yell NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. But odds are she wouldn't have listened to me anyway. :) The ending was satisfactory, so I can live with a few bad decisions by the main character. In her place, I think I would have been just as torn, confused and conflicted.

All in all, a great new spin on an old tale. I am definitely going to read more by Rosamund Hodge. I like her writing style and storytelling! There is a novella, Gilded Ashes, set in the same universe. The novella is a re-telling of Cinderella. :)

The cover art work is phenomenal!!

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.rosamundhodge.net/

Thursday, November 23, 2017

REVIEW: NOS4A2

NOS4A2
Author: Joe Hill

A few days ago, I was scrolling through updates on my Goodreads feed while sitting in my car in the middle school parking lot waiting for my son. The front cover for this book by Joe Hill caught my eye immediately.....a bloody license plate with one of the most clever personalized plates I've ever seen. NOS4A2 - Nosferatu. Oh yeah.....I have to read this book! Immediately! It is awesome at times how a smartphone can give instant gratification. I had the audiobook checked out from my local library and downloaded in less than a minute.

Instant. Total. Gratification. Horrifying gratification. Best horror audiobook I've listened to in quite awhile.

Not only did the story instantly have my attention....but the narrator of the audio book is Kate Mulgrew (she played Captain Janeway on Voyager). I knew right away that I would not be wasting almost 20 hours of my life listening to Mulgrew read this tale to me. :) As a narrator, Mulgrew is superb. I have partial hearing loss and at times female narrators can be difficult for me to understand. But Mulgrew's voice is a bit lower than most women's voices, so I had no problems whatsoever. It's not just that though.....her performance is excellent! The voices she does for the characters....the expressiveness.....just PERFECT!!! I will definitely be looking for other audiobooks she has narrated.

The story itself is incredibly creative and viciously horrifying. Charles Manx. Murderer. Sadist. Kidnapper. He lures children into his Rolls Royce Wraith, a magical car that takes the kiddies to Christmasland. In Christmasland, it's always snowing....bright, fluffy holiday snow. The kind Bing Crosby sang about. Holiday music is always playing and kiddos can have all the candy, popcorn, cotton candy and goodies that they want. But....they can never leave. And they really aren't children anymore. While Manx doesn't kill or molest the children, he loves to torture, kill and otherwise completely ruin the day for adults. Or he has his murderous lackey do it for him.  There are a few other people who can travel into this other dimension. They all have something that allows them to enter....an object that catapults them from the real world into Manx's horrible other dimension. For Victoria McQueen it's her bicycle. As a child she discovered she could ride across a nonexistent bridge and find lost things.....but she learned there was much more to that other place than just finding things. It cost her dearly. Later in life she tells herself that she was crazy, mentally ill, that none of it ever happened. But it did. Years later she learns it was all real......and Manx is much, much more than just a murderer who drives a magic Wraith to Christmasland.

Listening to this book just before Thanksgiving was perfect timing. I don't think I will be able to listen to carols or look at holiday decorations this year without thinking about Charles Manx and his sleek Rolls Royce. And the horrors of Christmasland.

This book had great suspense, real horrors and moved along at a nice pace. The audiobook is 20 hours long, so it took me 2 weeks to finish it.....totally worth the time! I definitely recommend it for anyone who likes a bloody dose of holiday horror!

Happy Holidays! If you see a Rolls Royce Wraith driving slowly through your neighborhood this holiday season.....bring the kiddos inside and lock the door! :)

For more information about the author and his other books (which I plan to read, and hope that they are just as grisly and demented as this one!), check out Joe Hill's website: https://www.joehillfiction.com/

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

REVIEW: The Aliance

The Alliance
Author: Jolina Petersheim

Leora Ebersole lives in an Old Order Mennonite Community in Montana. Both of her parents are gone so she is responsible for her younger brother and sister. Life suddenly changes for Leora, the entire community and thousands of other people when an EMP bomb takes out all technology. Anything with computer components instantly stops working -- cell phones, newer vehicles, airplanes, appliances...most of modern technology. Poof! All gone in an instant. A pilot, Moses Hughes, crashes near their community but survives. Hughes and other Englishers who were visiting the Mennonite community join with the community to protect its residents, food supplies and buildings from the hordes of survivors they all know will be coming soon. Thousands of people will be streaming out of cities, looking for food and shelter, desperate to survive. Can the Mennonite Community stay true to its Christian beliefs of non-violence and kindness in the midst of a large-scale disaster?

I'm on a bit of a disaster story kick at the moment. This book sounded interesting, and I wasn't disappointed. It's definitely Christian fiction, but it's not preachy or overdone. The story really brought out the fact that everyone would be effected by a disaster that nullifies technology, even communities that shun modern conveniences. The Mennonites have to deal with dwindling food supplies, waste disposal, clean water, and safety just like everyone else. They have to revert to old ways of farming, building and cooking, and bend their beliefs a bit to protect themselves from violent gangs, thieves and hordes of desperate survivors.

I liked how the characters are thrown together with no warning and have to learn to work together, despite very different views. They learn to compromise for the good of the entire group.

There is a second book in this series, The Divide. I can't wait to read it so I can find out what happens next!

To find out more about the author, check out her website: http://www.jolinapetersheim.com/


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

REVIEW: The Complete Sookie Stackhouse Stories

The Complete Sookie Stackhouse Stories
Author: Charlaine Harris

I am usually disappointed when my favorite books are adapted for television or movies. Sookie Stackhouse was a favorite character of mine before HBO started their seven seasons of True Blood. As usual, the film version bore very little resemblance to the books. The first season was pretty close.....but it veered completely off course after that. In my mind, the books and the show are two completely different stories. HBO changed major plot points, added characters, and left out major portions of the books. And unfortunately most of the things they left out, or changed substantially, were my favorite parts of the series. Not that I didn't enjoy True Blood....I did. I was just disappointed they didn't follow the books. Not surprised. Just disapppointed. Now that the show is over, I want to revisit this entire series and put Sookie, her friends, and Bon Temps back into my mind the way Charlaine Harris created them.

While she was writing the series, Harris published several short stories set in Sookie's world. They added some nice side stories to the series, and were nestled into sweet themed anthology collections alongside stories by other authors I love like Jim Butcher and Rachel Caine. It's a bit difficult to go back and read all the stories since they were originally published in several different books. Then I saw a blurb for this new book -- yay!! All of the Sookie short stories collected in one book!

For anyone who wants to read the entire series in chronological order, the Southern Vampire series wiki page has a list that includes both the books and the short stories: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Southern_Vampire_Mysteries

For those who watched the HBO show but haven't read the books -- I highly recommend reading this series, with these additional stories. There are 13 books in the series, written from 2001 - 2013. The books are SO much better than the television series! I highly recommend the Southern Vampire series to anyone who likes supernatural, urban fantasy. Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress in Bon Temps, LA. She tends to keep to herself because she can hear other people's thoughts. Her abilities tend to make people think she's strange. She's always wanted to meet a vampire ever since they came "out of the coffin," revealing their existence to the world. One night she meets Bill Compton....a vampire who has moved into his old family home in Bon Temps. Her life will never be the same!

There are no new stories in this book....it's a re-release of 10 previously published short stories. Readers can enjoy them all in one place, rather than spread between several anthology books. For me, that's great because I have been waiting to reread the series until I had all of the short stories and I was a couple books short of having them all. I'm just a bit OCD like that when it's time to a revisit to a favorite series. And I can have my Sookie shelf in my bookcase....without having to add anthologies that include other stories.

This means I can move Sookie up to the top of my TBR and start re-reading!! :) I originally read this series with my husband. When new books arrived we used to argue over who got to read it first. Once we even played a boardgame to determine the winner. I lost, of course, and my husband got to gloat for an entire week about how he knew what was happening and I didn't. ha ha :) I ordered a copy of this book today....so soon I will have another fresh new Sookie book arriving on my doorstep to grace my keeper shelf. I'm sure once hubby sees me re-reading the first book he will want to join in and revisit Bon Temps too.

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://charlaineharris.com/

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






REVIEW: The Shade of the Moon

T he Shade of the Moon
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer

I don't think I have read my way through a series of books this fast in years. I couldn't stop reading. The Last Survivors series is the story of what happens on Earth after a large scale disaster completely destroys modern society. Many people die from hunger, disease and violence. Those who are left fight for survival. In this last book of the series, the less noble facets of human nature start to come out. A new society begins to form split between the more essential and upper class enclave residents (called clavers) and the worker class grubs. Clavers are allowed more freedom, better food, and a safe place to live. Grubs reside outside the enclaves in violent, dangerous slums with no electricity and only enough food and necessities to survive. Only three of the survivors introduced in earlier books can live in the enclave...the rest have to become grubs. Surviving the new conditions brought about by the disaster is hard.....but surviving in the new social order turns out to be even harder.

This is my least favorite of the books in this series. Not because there is anything wrong with it....but because it was the most difficult to finish, possibly because it's very realistic. It is hard to admit that human nature is not to be understanding, kind and caring when it comes to survival. We can be a very cruel and violent species. Unfortunately, following a disaster of this type, a horrific society like what is depicted in this book might just be what happens. It isn't all doom and gloom though.....there is hope and there are always those who don't conform. It is those types of people who will keep their humanity in the aftermath of an extinction event. I did not like what happened psychologically to a couple of the main characters in this final book, but most likely because it was just a bit too real for me.

This series deals quite heavily with death, loss, rape, violence and prejudice. It's written for a YA audience so there isn't any graphic sex, violent scenes or language....but the subject matter is very dark and intense. I wouldn't recommend this series for children under 13. The books are well-written and the plot is thought provoking. I found myself wondering how my family would handle such a cataclysmic event. Would we survive? What would happen in the rural area we live in? How would we fare if all modern conveniences -- including medicine and the food supply -- was suddenly gone? Sobering thoughts.

I'm glad I read this series.....at the same time I'm glad I'm done reading. I think I need to read something happy, funny and much brighter now to clear my head of darkness. One good thought I take away from this series is that even when things seem darkest, there is always hope. And where there is hope, there is a chance for life.

Excellent series!

For more information on the author, check out her blog: http://susanbethpfeffer.blogspot.com/

REVIEW: The Massacre of Mankind

The Massacre of Mankind
Author: Stephen Baxter

I have to admit I was a bit hesitant to read a sequel to H.G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds. Usually I am left disappointed by continuations of classic stories that I love. Authors either try too hard to copy the writing style and feel of the earlier tale, or they don't try hard enough. In a majority of cases, sequels leave me feeling a mix of disappointment and annoyance. So when I received a lovely hardback copy of this new book by Stephen Baxter, I have to admit that the book sat on my desk for weeks because I had to build up the courage to read it. The book is high quality and the cover art is wonderful....so it looked quite nice on my desk. But an unread book is an adventure not taken....so I finally took a deep breath and started reading. Immediately I knew that Baxter was not going to disappoint me! The Massacre of Mankind is well-written and a fitting sequal to Wells' classic.

It has been 14 years since the last Martian invasion.....and they are back. Martian technology looted from the remnants of ships from the last invasion has been used to give humanity a huge tech boost. With one eye on the sky, humanity moves on, content that they can thwart any more threats from Mars. One man, Walter Jenkins, tries to caution people.....the Martians might have learned from their loss and become better prepared to fight for control of Earth. Turns out he's right -- the aliens return and attack again, with even more fire power and nastiness than they unleashed the first time.

This book is in an alternate timeline where the  Martian invasion and alien technology have an effect on history and world events. Wave after wave of Martians and colonization of our planet take H.G. Wells vision to an all new level.

Just a lovely and thrilling sequel to one of my favorite classic sci-fi stories!! Before this, I had only read a Doctor Who book by Baxter. I will definitely be checking out more of his books! I thoroughly enjoyed this story!

The cover art is superb as well!

For more information on the author and his books, check out his website: http://www.stephen-baxter.com/

**I voluntarily read a copy of this book from Blogging for Books. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**


Monday, November 20, 2017

REVIEW: This World We Live In

This World We Live In
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer

In this 3rd book in the Last Survivors series, the two groups of survivors depicted in books 1 and 2 come together. Humanity faces possible extinction as natural disasters and climate changes hit Earth following an asteroid strike pushing the moon closer to the planet. It's been a year since the disaster. Very few people remain alive. This group of 10 survivors faces not only the daily fight for survival, but also their own emotions, weaknesses and fears. They must learn to live and work together to survive.

Although it is a bit preachy in places (in my opinion), this book is just as enjoyable as the first two in the series. Although the disaster premise is not scientifically valid, I find the concept of survival after a large scale planet wide disaster to be both thought provoking and horrific. I don't know how I would react to a complete, sudden change in life as I have always known it. I don't know if I would be strong enough, mentally or physically, to survive as nearly everyone around me dies of starvation, illness or injury. What would I be prepared to do to protect my children? I  liked how Pfeffer brought her characters together to form a sort of rag-tag family. The story unfolds in diary format, with the character Miranda writing about their daily challenges. There is a lot of emotion in this book, as the characters all try to live together, survive and deal with uncertainty and danger.

This series is written for a YA audience. Because of the serious, dark theme I wouldn't recommend it for kids under 13. There is no graphic violence, sex or cursing....but Pfeffer doesn't pull any punches with the dystopian theme. Death, starvation, suicide and other dark themes figure heavily into the plot. Pfeffer realistically depicts what it might be like to survive after society ends.

For more information on the author and her books, check out her blog: http://susanbethpfeffer.blogspot.com/

Sunday, November 19, 2017

REVIEW: The Dead and The Gone

The Dead and The Gone
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer

The Last Survivors series continues with Book 2 -- The Dead and The Gone. An asteroid strikes the moon, knocking it closer to Earth. Devastating climate changes and natural disasters immediately strike, ending modern society and starting humanity's downward spiral towards possible extinction. Alex Morales lives in New York City with his family. One day they are a happy, large Puerto Rican family....and the next Alex finds himself trying to survive with his two younger sisters. Alone. In a city filled with death and chaos. Can they survive, or will they join millions of others in death?

While the actual disaster scenario is pretty much scientifically impossible, this series does realistically portray the impact of a large scale extinction level disaster. Alex and his sisters have to grow up quickly when they find themselves without parents in a city almost completely shut down in an instant. Alex has to learn to scavenge from dead bodies and vacant apartments in order to have food, medicine and basic necessities. Thousands of people are searching for missing loved ones, even searching through unidentified corpses laid out in Yankee Stadium. Dead bodies pile up, leading to illness. Starvation causes acts of violence. The city rapidly disintegrates into a very dangerous place. Alex and his sisters lean on their Catholic faith and the last remnants of hope, as the world falls apart around them.

The Last Survivors series is written for YA readers, so there is no graphic violence, sex or bad language. The subject matter, however, is very dark and I wouldn't recommend the series for kids under 13. It might be a bit too much for younger children. As an adult, the series is very thought provoking, making me wonder how my town and my own family would react to a similar large scale disaster. In modern society, we rely heavily on technology for communication, basic necessities and safety....what if all that was removed in an instant? What if life as as we know it was suddenly, and permanently, very different? Where would I turn for hope when things seem hopeless?

Just like book 1, this book is in diary form. The story is very well-written and interesting, yet disturbing. Excellent series so far!

Susan Beth Pfeffer is the author of several YA books. Check out her blog: http://susanbethpfeffer.blogspot.com/

Saturday, November 18, 2017

REVIEW: Life As We Knew It

Life As We Knew It
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer

Life on Earth changes suddenly for humanity when a large asteroid strikes the moon, knocking it closer to the planet. The tides change, weather gets more violent, and volcanoes begin erupting. One day 16-year old Miranda is a typical teenager....and the next she finds herself fighting for her life. What would happen if society ended? Miranda keeps a daily diary about what happens after the abrupt end of modern society.

Life As We Knew it is the first of four books in the Last Survivors series. I enjoy dystopian stories and disaster movies, so I knew I would like this series. And I do....but....

There's always a but, isn't there.....so let's get that "but'' out of the way before I talk about what I like about this series.

It is not possible for an asteroid to strike the moon and knock it closer to the planet earth. I looked up multiple scientific articles on it written by astronomers, scientists, astrophysicists.....and they all basically said it's not a possible scenario. Even if an asteroid measuring 600-miles across hit the moon, it would not alter its orbit. It would just add another huge crater to its surface. It would take a moon-sized object hitting the moon to have a big enough effect on it to wobble it even just a little bit out of its current path.....and that hard of a strike would most likely just obliterate the moon, not shove it into a closer orbit with our planet. The logical side of my brain had a difficult time engaging with this story at first while it was mulling over the moon strike scenario. I had to put the book down, look up the facts and sift through a lot of science before I could return to the story.

In the end, the impossible (or highly improbable) nature of the disaster itself did not hurt my enjoyment of this book. The real impact of the plot is not about what would happen on Earth if the moon was in a closer orbit....but what would happen to humanity and society if there was a permanent, disastrous change to the climate on our world. What would happen in the months and years following an extinction level event? And how would a family deal with surviving surrounded by constant danger, death and uncertainty? This book paints a very real picture of what daily life could become following such an event. Miranda learns quickly about death, starvation, sickness, uncertainty,  natural dangers, and loneliness. Things we take for granted now would be of greater significance in a world where modern society no longer exists.

The series is written for the Young Adult audience so there is no graphic sex, violence or grisly death scenes. But, Pfeffer pulls no punches. Death, illness and human frailty are at the forefront of this story. I wouldn't recommend this series for kids under 13. The theme would be a bit too much for younger kids. There is no miraculous happy ending offered, or sweet love story to cover up the stark horrors. This isn't that sort of YA story.....this is hard hitting and thought provoking. I found myself thinking about how my family would react to a similar incident. Could we survive? And, what would happen in the small town I live in if we were all suddenly cut off from modern conveniences and society? Would we all band together to survive? Or would things rapidly descend into violence? I hope I never have to find out.

Life As We Knew It is a story about love and hope in a time where all hope seems lost. So despite the disaster itself being far-fetched, I found myself completely lost in this story. I couldn't put the book down and stayed up until 3 am to finish reading. Excellent start to a series....I am definitely reading the other 3 books!

Susan Beth Pfeffer is the author of several YA books. Check out her blog: http://susanbethpfeffer.blogspot.com/



Friday, November 17, 2017

REVIEW: The Birth House

The Birth House
Author: Ami McKay

This book is a bit of a departure from my usual reading, but after reading a blurb on Goodreads about it, I was intrigued. Luckily, my local small-town library had this book available, so I checked it out. I'm glad I did. It is an enjoyable story.

Dora Rare is special. She's the first girl born in the Rare family in five generations, and she has the gift of healing. A local midwife, Miss Babineau, begins to teach the young girl what she knows so that Dora can continue the tradition of folk medicine and midwifery in Scots Bay, Nova Scotia. When a medical doctor comes to the area with plans to open a birthing center, he clashes with Miss Babineau and Dora. He wants to begin using anesthesia and modern birthing methods, ending at-home births for the rural women of the area. While families were able to pay Miss Babineau with food and other goods, the new birthing center will require families in the area to pay a fee and travel to the center for births. Soon the doctor is accusing the women of botched deliveries and even dispensing dangerous herbal concoctions that allegedly resulted in the death of one local woman.

I loved the character of Miss Babineau. The wise and caring folk healer was portrayed perfectly. For decades Miss Babineau helped the women of Scots Bay with births, illness, deaths and all sorts of medical complaints. The people of Scots Bay saw her as a healer, and at times a witch....loving and somehow fearing her at the same time. Such a colorful, vibrant character! Her distrust and fear of modern medical medications, procedures and requirements is understandable. The old ways will pass away to make way for the new.....    But modern doesn't always mean better......just different. Dora had such love and respect for Miss Babineau, as did the other residents of the area.

I disliked the doctor. While more modern and safer methods of delivery were being developed to help women, Gilbert Thomas seems more intent on making money, rooting out folk medicine and herbal healing and offering treatments that seem more barbaric and predatory than medicinal. At one point, he offers vibrator treatments for his patients to supposedly prepare their bodies for pregnancy. Sicko. Ugh. Horrible man. But then again, his actions aren't surprising as women were often treated for "hysteria'' in ways that seem cavemanish to modern sensibilities.

All in all, a nice bit of women's fiction.

For more information on the author and her other books, check out her website: http://amimckay.com/


Thursday, November 16, 2017

REVIEW: How the Finch Stole Christmas

How the Finch Stole Christmas
Author: J.R. Ripley

Amy Simms owns a shop for bird lovers, Birds & Bees, in Ruby Lake, NC.  It's Christmas season in Ruby Lake. Amy and her boyfriend, Derek are busily decking the halls in his apartment when they notice a commotion out on the street at Kinley's Christmas House Village. The holiday themed business has been a tradition in Ruby Lake for decades. It turns out that the Christmas village has been sold to Franklin Finch. His name might as well be Grinch because he immediately fires everyone. Finch doesn't care about holiday tradition. He only cares about the bottom line. He has invested a lot of money in the Christmas village and will do whatever it takes to make a profit. Needless to say, he is very unpopular around Ruby Lake. But it still comes as a surprise when his body is found hanging from the ceiling beam of one of the Christmas Village houses. Local police think he committed suicide, but Amy disagrees. With many possible suspects, Amy starts investigating to discover who murdered Franklin Finch.

I enjoyed the holiday theme of this newest installment in the Bird Lover's Mystery series. My favorite character is still the curmudgeonly Esther Pilaster, a renter that Amy got stuck with when she purchased the Birds & Bees building. Esther gets some much needed, and unexpected, character developement in this book. I loved it! Amy's strained relationship with the Ruby Lake Chief of Police continues in this book. I don't think the two characters will see eye to eye when Amy seems to always seems to be one step ahead of him in investigating murder cases. Amy is a delightful main character. She's intelligent and witty, plus very observant. Makes for a great amateur sleuth! I also like the background theme of birds and bird watching. There is a lot less discussion of bird watching in this book, but still a lot of detail about different breeds of bird.

How the Finch Stole Christmas is the 6th book in the Bird Lover's Mystery series. The 7th book, Fowl of the House of Usher, will be out soon.

J.R. Ripley is a pen-name used by author Glen Meganck. For more information on the author and his books, check out his website: http://www.glennmeganck.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: That Olde White Magick

That Old White Magick
Author: Sharon Pape

I absolutely adore the Abracadabra Mystery cozy series! The covers are beautiful and the theme is magical (literally) with a great touch of humor. Merlin (yes, the famous Merlin....) is an added bonus. Go big or go home, right? Love it!

Residents of New Camel, NY are all talking about a proposed new hotel. The town calls a public meeting to discuss the project. Kailyn Wilde, owner of the local magick shop Abracadabra, her Aunt Tilly and a cranky Merlin all attend the meeting. Building a large hotel in town might change the traditions and eclectic feel of New Camel. The Wilde family has been living there and running the magick shop for centuries. Kailyn doesn't want to see drastic changes in the town. But, before any debate about the hotel can start, one of the city board members is found dead. Amanda Roswell's throat has been slashed from ear to ear. Once again Kailyn finds herself smack dab in the middle of a murder investigation!

I love the quirky characters in this series. Tilly is feisty. Kailyn is determined. And Merlin is hilarious and chronically cranky. :) I also enjoy the creative theme of this series. Kailyn is a witch in a long line of witches who have owned the magick shop in New Camel for generations. She often gets visits from the spirits of her dead mother and grandmother, who offer advice on her investigations and honing her magical skills. Merlin loves pizza and television and often gets himself into big trouble.

Although it isn't strictly necessary to read the first book in this series before this one, I do recommend it. A lot of character details -- like how Merlin arrived in New Camel -- are explained in the first book. But, if book 1 isn't available, by all means jump in here at enjoy the story!

I enjoyed this newest addition to the series. The mystery is interesting. The characters are quirky and fun. And, there were plenty of suspects, motives and twists in the plot. I enjoy the humor and creativity of this series. A third book, Magick Run Amok, will be out in May 2018. I definitely plan to read it!

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.sharonpape.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**


REVIEW: A Fatal Collection

A Fatal Collection
Author: Mary Ellen Hughes

Callie Reed travels to Maryland to visit her Aunt Melodie. She hasn't seen her aunt in 10 years. Not only does she want to reconnect with her aunt, but she needs time away to decide what to do about her troubled love life. Her aunt shows her around her music box shop, House of Melody, explaining the long time Reed family tradition of collecting music boxes. House of Melody is one of many collectible shops in Keepsake Cove, catering to the tourist trade on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Aunt Melodie's cottage is located just behind her shop, and the two continue their conversation for hours that night. The next morning Callie is shocked to find her aunt dead in a pool of blood in her shop. The death is ruled accidental. Suddenly Callie finds herself handing funeral arrangements and meeting with Aunt Melodie's attorney instead of spending a peaceful visit with family. Although the death was supposedly caused by a fall, Callie thinks that there is more to it than that. When she is named sole heir to Aunt Melodies shop and cottage, Callie decides to stay in Keepsake Cove. But if someone did kill her aunt, is it safe? She starts hearing her aunt's music box play by itself without being wound up -- is her aunt trying to give hints about who might have killed her and why?

A Fatal Collection is the first book in a new series, Keepsake Cove mysteries. As I read, I kept thinking that I would love visiting Keepsake Cove! A nice lunch at the Keepsake Cafe, followed by leisurely shopping at the various shops. Heaven!  I wonder what interesting goodies I would find? I'm sure I would come home with a lot of great collectibles! :) Realistically speaking, I think shops dedicated solely to the sale of one type of collectible....music boxes, salt and pepper shakers, vintage sewing, etc....would have a hard time making it financially. But....cozy mysteries don't have to be realistic, so those thoughts didn't impede my enjoyment of the story at all.

I enjoy Callie as a main character. She is trying to iron out her life and move past a bad relationship. It's unfortunate that her aunt dies so soon after she arrives, but Callie diligently works to find out what happened to her aunt. I can't wait to see how her character develops as this new series continues. I also like the idea of a music box shop. I have loved music boxes since childhood. I enjoyed reading about all the different boxes in the shop and what songs they played.

The mystery moves along at a nice pace. There are plenty of suspects and some nice twists to the story. I liked the little bit of supernatural edge....it was like a touch of spice added to enhance the flavor of the story. Nice touch. Not overdone.....just a dab will do.

I will definitely be reading more of this series. Great start to a new series!

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.maryellenhughes.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Midnight Ink via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**





REVIEW: Of Spice and Men

Of Spice and Men
Author: Sarah Fox

Of Spice and Men is the 3rd book in the yummy Pancake House mystery series. I enjoy this sweet cozy mystery series, and knew I would enjoy this latest installment. I was not disappointed!

A Hollywood film crew is in Wildwood Cove filming a horror sequel. The crew start coming into The Flip Side Pancake House to eat. They love Owner Marley McKinney's pancakes so much that she is invited  by the lead make-up artist to have a tour of the film set. When she arrives, the set soon dissolves into chaos. The special-effects trailer is on fire with make-up artist Christine inside. The death is ruled a homicide, and lead actress Alyssa Jayde is their number one suspect. Marley can't resist investigating, but it turns out that snooping into the lives and secrets of the horror film actors and crew might be more scary and dangerous than the film itself.

I like the background theme of this series..... mmmmmm pancakes! And I also like Marley as a main character. She meets challenges head-on and uses her intelligence and personality well in her amateur sleuthing. The character has developed and matured as the series moves along. I wasn't completely surprised by the ending....but I liked the twists in the plot. And the ending had lots of action and excitement. And, at the end of the book -- RECIPES! The pumpkin waffle recipe sounds absolutely wonderful!!! MMMMMMM :)

All in all, a nice new addition to this series. It's a light, enjoyable quick read. I can't wait to read the next book in the series!

To learn more about the author and her books, check out her website:  http://www.authorsarahfox.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Random House via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**




REVIEW: A Deadly Eclair

A Deadly Eclair
Author: Daryl Wood Gerber

I am a fan of Daryl Wood Gerber's Cookbook Nook mysteries and also her Cheese Shop series (written as Avery Aames), so I jumped at the chance to read this first book in a new series! I'm glad I did! This book is a fun read with interesting characters, a great plot and interesting theme.

The basics -- Mimi Rousseau has always dreamed of owning her own french bistro, but personal issues and financial problems stood in her way. With the help of a financial backer, Bryan Baker, she was able to get enough capital together to open a bistro and inn in Nouvelle Vie in Napa Valley. Now, she's working hard to pay back the money she borrowed to make her dreams come true. Baker tells her the best way to showcase the new inn is to host a celebrity wedding. The wedding of his niece, Talk Show Host Angelica Barrington, will be the bistro & inn's first destination wedding. Mimi needs things to go off without a hitch. If everything goes perfectly, her new business venture will get a great boost to help it grow during its first year. The wedding party arrives and all seems to be going well, despite the bride's father showing up drunk. Things take a dark turn, however, when Bryan is found dead in the bistro, an eclair shoved into his mouth. Mimi finds herself a murder suspect, and begins investigating to clear her name.

I know next to nothing about bistros and french cuisine, but enjoyed this book immensely! The story is well-written and moves along at a fast, but nice, pace. There are a lot of suspects and some neat twists before the end. I like Mimi as a main character. She is strong, intelligent and working so hard to realize her dreams. She doesn't fall apart when things go wrong, she just takes a deep breath and starts working to find out the truth. Nicely done! I am never disappointed by Daryl Wood Gerber!

A Deadly Eclair is the first book in Gerber's new French Bistro mystery series. The second book, Souffle of Suspicion will be out in July 2018.

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.darylwoodgerber.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Crooked Lane Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: Slay Bells Ring

Slay Bells Ring
Author: Karen Rose Smith

Slay Bells Ring is the 7th book in the Caprice De Luca Home Staging Mystery series. I enjoy this series and happily jumped at the chance to read Caprice's newest adventure. But even if I hadn't read prior books in this series, I think the incredibly cute, festive cover would have pulled me in! Such a Christmas-y happy cover! Love it! Cozy mysteries have the BEST titles and covers!

In this newest mystery, Caprice is hired to put a holiday theme in a historic home in Kismet, PA. Homeowner Chris Merriweather is a toy maker and has played Santa at the local park for years. Something seems a bit off with him this year though. He seems tired and just not himself, plus he shows up at the local community theater looking like he was just in a fist fight. His behavior seems strange. He and his wife, Sara, are at odds about selling the house as well. Then Chris is found dead, murdered on Santa Lane of all places. Caprice and her family are once again on the case to find out what happened to the Vietnam vet who loved to play Santa. Turns out he had a lot of secrets.....and enemies.

This story is a bit emotional, touching on the subjects of PTSD and other after effects of war, plus the pain of discovering dark secrets. It's a well-written and enjoyable cozy mystery though, with plenty of bits of humor and brightness among the more dark aspects of the theme. The mystery moves at a perfect pace, and there are plenty of suspects and twists along the way.  The ending wasn't a huge surprise. I had my suspicions earlier in the story, but it was well executed and a good ending for the story.

All in all, another great addition to this series! I like the characters and theme for this cozy series, and can't wait to read the next book!

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: https://karenrosesmith.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**




REVIEW: The Quiche and The Dead

The Quiche and The Dead
Author: Kirsten Weiss

Val Harris loves her bakery shop, Pie Town. It offers everything from mini pastries to quiche, and almost makes up for the disastrous last five months of her life. She expected to start a new life and marriage when she moved to San Nicholas, CA with her fiance, but now all she has from that relationship is a beautiful wedding gown she never got to wear. Val has been so busy starting her new business that she hasn't had a chance to make friends or really learn much about her new home, but she's hopeful that things will start to come together. When a personal trainer opens a gym next to her shop and shames her for selling products that promote obesity and a customer drops dead in her store while eating one of her breakfast pies, her future seems bleak at best. One of her employees, Charlene, becomes a suspect in the killing. Val realizes to help her and save Pie Town she needs to do some snooping around to discover the murder's identity.

I like Val as a main character. She is intelligent, resilient and spunky. I had to chuckle a bit each time she cringed at seeing her ex-fiance's face plastered all over local real estate signs. That would really suck. I would go around with a sharpie and draws horns on all of them. :) Not mature, I know....but therapeutic. Charlene is also a hoot with her belief in conspiracy theories of all sorts and her white cat that seems to go everywhere with her. The cat reminded me of the Boneless Cat from old Peanuts cartoons.



This mystery is a great start to a new series! It is a nice mix of humor and mystery. The story moved at a nice pace, with plenty of suspects and surprises. I will definitely be reading more of this series! The next book in the series, Bleeding Tarts, will be out in April 2018. :)

For more information about the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.kirstenweiss.com/

I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Kensington via Netgalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: How the Finch Stole Christmas

How the Finch Stole Christmas
Author: Donna Andrews

Meg Langslow's husband, Michael is directing the annual charity benefit production of A Christmas Carol. Instead of Michael's usual one man show, this time they have hired a big-name actor to star in the production, but Malcolm Haver has been a problem from day one. He's a raging alcoholic, chronically late, and just a complete pain. Both Meg and Michael hope that having Haver in the cast will boost ticket sales, if his out of control drinking doesn't wreck the entire production. Haver's contract prevents him from being fired so Meg and her extended family struggle to keep him sober enough to perform. This means following him around town and hiring a "minder'' to be sure nobody sells or gives him alcohol. Add in the annual Christmas pageant at church, the discovery of an animal smuggling ring, and her grandfather pestering everyone to foster finches seized from the smugglers, and the holiday season is keeping Meg extremely busy. When a dead body is discovered in the snow and their cantankerous star actor is a murder suspect, the holiday season gets even less jolly. Can Meg and her rag tag group of friends and family make sure the Christmas productions go off without a hitch, solve the murder and break the ring of animal smugglers before the holiday season becomes a complete disaster?

This is the first book by Donna Andrews that I've read. It's #22 in the Meg Langslow series, but I was able to jump in and enjoy the story without having read any of the previous books. I could tell that I wasn't up to snuff with some of the background or personalities of the characters from previous stories, but I was still able to very much enjoy this Christmas-y cozy mystery. My favorite character by far is Meg's grandfather. He is a side character and not as developed as some of the other more main players....but his personality is just delightful. His attempts to sneak multitudes of finches into the 12 Days of Christmas display at the theater and his habit of discussing inappropriate topics (like murdered hunters and how to fingerprint dead bodies bloated by laying in water for days) at the dinner table just made him the shining star of this book, in my opinion. There wasn't a single character I didn't like (well, except maybe for the horrific Malcolm Haver), and I liked the nice mix of mystery and humor. The plot moved along at a nice pace, and the mystery definitely had a few unexpected twists and turns. All in all, a very enjoyable cozy mystery!

I liked the fact that this book wasn't in a hurry to get to the murder. There was a nice bit of story before the body popped up. The side mystery of the animal smugglers didn't over-power the murder mystery portion of the plot.....the two intertwined to make a wonderfully complex investigation. The story moves along at a nice pace, and had several surprises! Nicely done!

This is a fun book to read. It's a nice mix of holiday theme, humor, fun characters and mystery. I will definitely be going back to read the earlier books in this series. I think this will be a cozy series that I will enjoy!

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://donnaandrews.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from St Martins Press via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

REVIEW: Wheel of Darkness

Wheel of Darkness
Author: Douglas Preston & Lee Child

Following the horrors of their last adventure, Special Agent Pendergast knows his ward, Constance Greene, needs a breather, a trip to renew her physically and psychologically. What better place to renew and become mentally stronger than a Tibetan monastery? Although the monks don't normally admit women, Constance is special. She learns much from them during her time there. Then the monks discover that a dangerous artifact that has been in their keeping for centuries has been stolen. They ask Pendergast and Charlotte to get it back for them because in the wrong hands the artifact could destroy humanity. The duo find themselves on board a cruise liner, The Brittania, searching for the artifact. Unfortunately, the passenger who possesses the cursed item is already attempting to use its power. Will Pendergast be able to retrieve the artifact before its evil is released on all of humanity?

Wheel of Darkness is the 8th novel in the Agent Pendergast series. I found this book to be a bit weaker than the others I've read so far. Still enjoyable.....but the story felt like a "mop up'' of the prior Diogenes-centered storylines. But, I do have to mention that I listened to an abridged audiobook version of this story. I am not sure how much was gleaned out to shorten this book to just over six hours, but my guess is about half of the story was removed. So it could very probably be that I felt this was a weaker story because I didn't get to hear the entires story the way Preston & Child wrote it. I don't like abridged audiobooks, but in this case, it was the only option I had at my local library. I enjoyed Rene Auberjonois as narrator. He reads at a nice even pace, and I like the accent he uses for Pendergast. But I don't like the fact that so much of the story was removed. In a few places it was quite obvious that portions of the storyline were absent.

Plotwise, I found the story interesting, and it was a bit of a departure from Pendergast's usual behavior. Although some of the differences were due to the effects of the artifact. The action being on a ship at sea made for some exciting suspense. I for one would not want to be in the middle of the ocean on a ship with a powerful and evil artifact causing mayhem onboard. That's a basic fear for a lot of people, I think. Being faced with danger and a possible excruciating, torturous death while stuck somewhere that prevents escape. You can't exactly jump off a cruise ship and swim for it. The setting really made this story a lot more creepy. For the most part, I enjoyed the book.....I just wish I had been able to get an unabridged version.

There are 15 books in the Pendergast series, with a new one scheduled for 2018. I already have the next audiobook on hold at the library (unabridged!!!!! yay!!!). I'm hoping to be caught up by the time the new book comes out!

For more information on the authors and their books, check out their website: https://www.prestonchild.com/

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

REVIEW: Subhuman

Subhuman
Author: Michael McBride

I have heard good things about Michael McBride's books, so when this popped up as available for review, I jumped right on it. The story premise sounded a lot like The Thing with a bit of Alien mixed in. Just the sort of scary, red mist horror I love in a monster thriller!

I am glad to say that I was not disappointed!

I got the same vibe from this book that I do from many of Michael Crichton's books. The first part of the book is heavy on set-up and science-y stuff. Then that lovely, complicated science does wickedly cool things, causing the monstrous horror to pop in for the last half of the book. It really is a lovely, suspenseful build, incorporating one of my favorite settings for this sort of story....Antarctica. How isolated and totally screwed can you be when you are stuck in a research center in freaking Antarctica....one of the most unfriendly environments on the planet. It's even more unfriendly when you add violent, crazy monsters to the subzero temps, ice and snow.

I don't know enough about sound, magnetic waves, DNA, etc to know if the science in this book is completely legitimate, but the bits here and there that I did look up were basically factual. If I had stopped each time McBride mentioned some sort of science fact or discovery, I would have spent more time on Google searches than reading. So I kept my curiousity under control and only stopped a few times to look things up. The science is incorporated into the story in an interesting way. I didn't feel like complicated facts were constantly zinging over my head. It wasn't confusing, but helped build the plot and introduce the characters that were about to meet a very monstrous, nasty, ancient set of messed-up humanoids with temper issues. Lovely!! Bravo! Awesome!

All in all, a great scary monster romp! I am so glad I finally read a book by McBride. I am definitely going to be reading more of his books! Fans of Crichton, the Alien series and similar stories will definitely love this book!

To learn more about the author and his books, check out his website: https://author.michaelmcbride.net/

REVIEW: The Dry

The Dry
Author: Jane Harper

Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns to his childhood home to attend the funeral of his friend Luke Hadler. He and Luke were quite close as children, but grew apart over the years. The situation is emotional and tense because it appears that Luke may have committed suicide after killing his wife and their  young son. Aaron has a hard time believing that Luke would do something like that, so he agrees to stay in town to help a local detective do some investigation. The locals really don't want Aaron staying in Kiewarra. He and Luke were suspects in the drowning death of one of their friends, Ellie Deacon, 20 years ago. Aaron has no clue what happened to Ellie. It's still just as much a mystery as it was all those years ago. Could it be that Luke killed Ellie and that he also killed his entire family? Out of love for Luke's parents,  Aaron braves threats from locals, his own past demons and public suspicion to find out what happened that day on the Hadler Farm.

The suspense builds slowly, but convincingly in this thriller set in Australia. There are a lot of flashbacks to Aaron's childhood, and to the day of the killings. Small town gossip and politics make the investigation tense and exciting. At times, the plot moved along a little slowly but it made it seem a bit more realistic to me. They were investigating the deaths of 3 people with possible ties to a 20 year old murder....that isn't solved in a day. And a person doesn't work through 20 years of conscience, guilt and emotion without going through the wringer first. The story is well-crafted, realistic and develops at just the right speed to have full effect on the reader. I didn't see the end coming until it whacked me upside the head.....very well done! Subtle build up culminating in an exciting ending. Just the way I like it!

I listened to the unabridged audiobook version of The Dry. Stephen Shanahan narrates at a steady even pace with good tone. I have partial hearing loss and had no problem understanding Shanahan, even with his lovely Australian accent. The audiobook is just under 10 hours long.

The Dry is the first book in the Aaron Falk series. The second book, Force of Nature, will be released in February 2018. I can't wait to read it!

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://janeharper.com.au/

Monday, November 13, 2017

REVIEW: A Stranger in the House

A Stranger in the House
Author: Shari Lapena

Tom Krupp comes home from work one night to find his wife is gone. He looks around the house. She couldn't have gone far. Her purse and cell phone are still in the house. So he waits. Maybe she had to run to the store. Perhaps she's over at the neighbors. As he begins to get nervous, the police come to the door. There's been an accident. His wife had a car accident -- hit a pole -- in a rough part of town. She's ok....but what was she doing there late at night? Even Karen Krupp isn't sure. She has no memory of the accident or most of that evening. But soon there is much more to the story than just a car accident. Maybe Tom doesn't know his wife of 2 years as well as he thinks he does. Funnily enough, Karen feels the same way. 

I checked this book out of my local library when I finished one of Lapena's other books -- The Couple Next Door. This book has a very similar vibe to it: a suburban couple's lives start falling apart when an event crashes through the facade of lies they have constructed around themselves. This story builds its suspense a bit slower than The Couple Next Door, but once it builds up steam....and the suspense builds up some pressure....it really packs quite a thrilling wallop. I had things partially figured out, but there were a couple twists that caught me by surprise. Just like bad guys in suspense movies are never dead the first time they seem to be.....a good suspense novel is never, ever over until the last twist. This one had some good late wrenches to it....nicely done!

I think what creeps me out most about Lapena's thriller novels is that they are realistic. What happens in A Stranger in the House could happen. There's nothing mystical, magical, supernatural -- it's all base human behavior, lies, cunning and survival instinct. It almost makes me want to start looking at my husband sideways ..... 14 years of marriage.....what's he hiding? Is he really who I think he is? What don't I know about him? My neighbors...extended family.....the in-laws....friends.....all the people I think I know......what are they hiding? What lies lurk in their past? Hmmmm. Maybe I need another lock on the front door. :)

Great thriller novel! I sincerely hope Lapena writes more!

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.sharilapena.com/


Sunday, November 12, 2017

REVIEW: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain
Author: Garth Stein

Ever since I was completely traumatized by Old Yeller in elementary school, my policy is to avoid any books that involve the death or injury of pets. This is further cemented in my Bibliophile Personal Commandments List above even the biggies like "Do Not EVER Dogear Pages, Useth a Bookmark'' and "No Murderous Spine Creasing.''  When my son came home last year from school carrying That-Evil-Book-I-Can't-Stand, I went so far as to completely spoil the ending for him from the start. That book -- known as OY from here on out as I can't even say its name without cringing -- should come with a warning label for children: Warning Warning Warning....young child has to shoot his pet at the end of this book. Make therapy appointment now in preparation.  As it was, my son was the only one who didn't cry in class when they read and discussed the ending.  22 kids traumatized. 1 kid pre-prepared and able to deal.  I call that a Mom-win. 

But I digress.....back to The Art of Racing in the Rain. The above rant does figure in to this -- I promise.

When I saw the blurb for The Art of Racing in the Rain, I immediately started my OY-esque shunning behavior. I avert my eyes from you .....oh dog-killing tome!  But, the cute dog on the cover did bring my eyes back to the page. Then I read a review.  The reviewer said the story is emotional, but kind. That the author gives the dog the love he deserves....not a shot gun blast to the head.

Ok. Commandments get broken all the time, right? Gray areas do happen. It's not a Biblio-sin to do a bit of a side-step and let the right one in. So, I took the plunge. I had to do this as a buddy read though. I needed a hand to hold as I read into a plot area I had avoided like the plague for 40 years.

This is a beautiful book. Lots of emotion, humor and life lessons within its pages. The dog is one of the main characters and talks a lot about what it's like to be a dog, how he wishes he could talk to the people around him, and even how he wishes often that he had thumbs. Oftentimes while the people around him were fumbling around and really making a mess of their lives, the dog was the one that understood and had the answers. But he had to creatively try to impart his wisdom on his family.

Beautiful dog. Beautiful story. A bit of a tear-jerker in spots.....but decidedly hopeful and beautiful as well. The ending was definitely full of joy and hope. Just a lovely book. And I went and hugged all 4 of my dogs when I was done reading. :)

I still hate OY. But I'm glad I broke my commandment to read this book.

For more information on the author and his books, check out his website: http://www.garthstein.com/