Monday, December 31, 2018

REVIEW: A Darkness Absolute

A Darkness Absolute
Author: Kelley Armstrong

A Darkness Absolute is the second book in the Rockton series. I first came across this series when I requested a review copy of the 4th book, not realizing I was jumping in mid-stream. The premise of a hidden town where people could go to disappear and lay low for awhile was intriguing, so I immediately grabbed book 1 at my local library and started reading. Rockton is a dangerous place. Most residents are just on the run -- abused women, those who crossed dangerous people, white collar criminals and the like. But some....some are very, very dangerous people. The corporation that funds the town keeps the past of residents secret. That means leaders of the town and law enforcement have no idea which residents are dangerous and which are not.

Casey Butler came to Rockton with an abused friend. She's also avoiding fallout from a mistake in judgement.....a big mistake. She never meant to get pulled into law enforcement in the secluded town, but as an experienced homicide detective it was inevitable. Casey and another Rockton deputy discover a woman in the forest who has been held in a pit for more than a year. She disappeared from Rockton 18 months before. Then they find skeletal remains of two women who disappeared from the town years before. Is one of the residents a serial killer? Or is one of the outsiders, living and roaming the Canadian forest surrounding Rockton, the killer?

I enjoy this series because it's different. I read a lot of suspense thrillers and after awhile they can get a bit tropey....the same plots, the same endings....still exciting reads, but nothing new. The concept of a town hidden in the Canadian wilderness is creative and different. It adds a new dimension to criminal investigations. Casey and the other law enforcement officers in Rockton have very little information about the past crimes of residents, unless the people share the truth about themselves. They are pretty much cut off from normal avenues of assistance like the RCMP. And not only are there criminals living in Rockton, but there are dangerous, violent outsiders who live off the grid in the surrounding forest as well. The stories really keep me on the edge of my seat!

I enjoyed A Darkness Absolute. The plot was filled with suspense and interesting investigation from start to finish. Things progressed at a nice speed and there were plenty of twists and turns on the journey.

I have the next book on hold at the library. I'm 3rd in line, so I can tell that others enjoy this series as well. :) While it isn't strictly necessary to read this series in order, there is a lot of character development and past incidents that are referenced, so it really is best to start at the beginning and read through in order. But, a reader could jump in on a later book and still understand the characters and plot. I decided to start at the beginning and read through before reviewing the upcoming 4th book in the series. I'm glad I did....such an intriguing series!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

REVIEW: An Anonymous Girl

An Anonymous Girl
Authors: Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen's first novel, The Wife Between Us, completely creeped me out. So I was prepared for demented and twisty when I picked up their new novel -- An Anonymous Girl.

Not. Prepared. Enough.

Holy crap. There is nothing scarier than a scenario that could actually happen. This tale of jealousy, lies, manipulation, and madness could happen.....and that makes it the worst sort of mind game. Ok Greer & Sarah....kudos ladies! You got me again. I am totally creeped out.

Awesome story! I picked up this book this morning fully intending to read a couple chapters then get some laundry, chores, etc done. Poof...suddenly it's this afternoon and I got nothing else done but read this book. Total binge.

The basics: A make up artist in NYC needs a little extra cash. She's getting a bit desperate. She didn't hit it big doing makeup for theater productions like she dreamed....she's making calls on clients to pretty them up for dates, events, etc. It's a job....but not a high paying one. She hears about a blind study on morality and ethics that pays $500. She could use the money....so she tells a bit of a fib to get into the study. Little does she know that lying to get into this study on ethics will be more than ironic.....it's going to be twisted and dark.

The story definitely kept my attention from start to finish. Lots of psychological suspense. I felt sympathy for the main character, Jessica. Jess hangs on to guilt and self esteem issues from past decisions and actions....and those hangups are used to manipulate the crap out of her. It was disturbing because we all carry similar emotional baggage. In the hands of a knowledgeable manipulative person...maybe we all could be victimized like she is in this story.

Don't read this story looking for high literature.....this is mind candy of a disturbing nature. It's meant to create a feeling, an unease, discomfort....not existential literary fulfillment. Grab a classic for existential....grab this book for a total mind F. It makes for an awesome afternoon of psychological torment! I loved it!  I can't wait to see what twisted plot they come up with next! I will definitely read it!

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


Saturday, December 29, 2018

REVIEW: The Ghost Squad Breaks Through

The Ghost Squad Breaks Through
Author: E.W. Hildick

In this first book in the Ghost Squad series, Danny Green has come to grips with the fact he's dead. His siblings, Jilly and Mike, at 8 and 10 are working their way through childhood problems without him. Then he meets Joe, Karen and Carlos....other ghosts who want desperately to talk to someone alive. The four ghosts figure out how to talk to Danny's friends from school -- Wacko and Buzz -- by using a word processor. They become.....(da dah daaaaaa!) The Ghost Squad! Joining together to solve crimes and mysteries, the ghosts and live nerdy kids work together to foil bullies, robbers and other nefarious sorts.

This story read like an old ABC After School Special. I loved it!

Published in 1984, this book is cute, but dated. I happened across a copy purely by accident and just had to read it. :) I'm a sucker for old OOP kids books. :) The story is a quick read and enjoyable. The group of friends are like an 80s version of the Scooby Doo Gang sans dog. Fun story. This is actually the first book in a series of six. I'm going to try to weasel up the other books online. I enjoyed this first one enough to want to read the rest. The outdated computer jargon alone made it worth it. I remember the first klunky word processors....nothing more than a glorified typewriter with those lovely glow in the dark green or street light orange letters glowing....and the accompanying loud, shaking, slowwwww dot matrix printers. The mental picture of two living boys leaning into their word processor to talk to four ghost kids while plotting how to foil some bullies and robbers made me smile. Just too fun a story to pass up!

E.W. Hildick wrote many other middle-grade books including the McGurk Mystery series and The Top-Flight Fully-Automated Junior High School Girl Detective (I absolutely have to find a copy of this book just for the title!). This series is a bit dated, but since 80s nostalgia is popular right now, the books would be a fun read for computer-loving middle grade students and adults. :) Updated a bit, this would make a cute premise for a kids' show on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon.


Friday, December 28, 2018

REVIEW: The Girl in the Locked Room

The Girl in the Locked Room
Author: Mary Downing Hahn

Mary Downing Hahn tells a great ghost story! Her stories are written for a middle-grade audience, but even at 50-years old, I love her ghostly tales!

Jules and her parents move around a lot. Her dad restores historic old houses and buildings. So they live in one place only long enough for him to finish a project, then move on to another town and another restoration job. Jules is tired of moving, new schools and having no friends. Her father's newest project is Oak Hill, an old mansion in Hillsborough, VA. Locals say the house is haunted. When Jules sees the ghost of a young girl, she realizes the stories just might be true. She makes a new friend, Maisie, and the two girls start investigating the history of the house and why the spirit of the girl is trapped there.

This story is a bit spooky, but still age appropriate for middle-grade kids. Kids (and adults) who enjoy ghost stories would love this book.

I listened to the audio book version of this story. Narrated by Rachel Dulude, the audio is just under 4 hours long. Delude reads at a nice pace and has a pleasant voice. I have partial hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand the entire book.

Mary Downing Hahn is the author of more than 30 middle-grade/young adult novels. Most of them are supernatural/lightly spooky tales.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

REVIEW: The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert

When Alice learns at 17 that her grandmother has died, she has no clue that the death will set off a strange sequence of events. Alice has spent her entire life running from place to place with her mother, never really knowing why. Her mother never answers questions about her grandmother, the estate called The Hazel Wood, or the strange, fairy tale book that made her grandmother famous. When her mother is kidnapped by dark creatures from The Hinterland, a mystical land that is the setting for her grandmother's book, Alice starts to unravel the dark secrets of her family and their past.

I loved this book! The story flows like a modern Grimm's Fairy Tale. Dark, fantastical, demented. One second I wanted Alice to find The Hazel Wood and discover the truth....and the next second I wished I could tell her to run in the opposite direction. The story sucked me in from the start and kept my complete attention from beginning to end. There were plenty of strange twists and turns in Alice's story. It's just a wonderful, darkly magical modern fairy tale.

I listened to the audio book version of this story. Narrated by Rebecca Soler, the audio is 10.5 hours long. Soler reads at a nice steady pace. I liked her voice and she was easily understandable. I have partial hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand this audio book. All in all, a nice listening experience.

I was excited to learn that there will be a second book coming out in 2019, plus a collection of Tales from The Hinterland set to release in 2020! I will definitely be waiting in line to read both!


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

REVIEW: I'll Be Gone in the Dark

I'll Be Gone in the Dark
Author: Michelle McNamara

Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist, spent years researching a case involving multiple rapes and murders in California. She gave the murderer a nickname -- The Golden State Killer. At the time of her unexpected death in 2016 following an accidental drug overdose, she was still compiling her notes and thoughts on the case. This book was published posthumously in 2018 by her widower, Patton Oswalt, and others who worked painstakingly on her notes to bring the facts McNamara had gathered to light. Two years after her death, and only weeks after publication of I'll Be Gone in the Dark, a suspect was arrested in the case -- Joseph James DeAngelo, Jr.

Thank you, Michelle.

I listened to the audio book version of this story, and it was a hard listen. Not because of anything wrong with the story....the writing is amazing, the facts well researched and the story is compelling. But....it's hard to think about all those people this killer victimized over more than 40 years without getting caught. He started with rapes in the late 70s and progressed to murders. He managed to live his life and walk in the open for decades. Until now. With DNA evidence pointing to him as the killer, DeAngelo is most likely the killer. It's not over until a conviction is handed down....but I have to say that I do not have any sympathy for the 72-year old, frail-looking old man who most likely terrorized multiple people in California for decades. No sympathy at all. At the end of McNamara's book she states that someday she hoped a car would pull up in his driveway and he would open his door to the police. Then his face would no longer be a secret....and he would be finally caught. I hope somewhere in the cosmos, Michelle knows they got him. Finally.

I have total respect for Patton Oswalt, Researcher Paul Haynes, Author Gillian Flynn (she wrote the introduction to the book) and everyone who worked so hard to publish Michelle's thoughts, research and insights into this case. What a brilliant way to honor an intelligent woman who left too soon....who was gone before she was finished.

So, while I found this book disturbing (who wouldn't?) it is brilliant and a triumph. I have to say that some of the descriptions about victims who heard slight noises at night and woke up to this rapist and killer lurking in the dark in their bedrooms was the stuff of nightmares. I slept with my chihuahuas and my pit bull for two nights while listening to this book.....comfort and protection. :)

Narrated by Gabra Zackman, the audio book is just over 10 hours long. Zackman's voice is strong and pleasant. I enjoyed her reading. I have partial hearing loss, but was easily able to hear and understand the entire book. All in all, an informative and enjoyable listening experience, even though the topic itself is disturbing by nature.

HBO is currently working on a docu-series based on this book. I can't wait to watch it! I will probably need all of my dogs....and my cats....sitting with me as I watch it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone
Author: J.K. Rowling

I first read this series back in the 90s with my oldest son. We went to see each movie as it came out. Love this series! In 2018, I made a promise to myself to read more books for enjoyment and to revisit books I love. So I'm going to revisit this series on audio! There is just something so awesome (even as an adult) to have someone read a story to you, especially when it's such a rich, creative, fantastical series as Harry Potter.

I loved every minute of this audio book. Narrated by Jim Dale, the audio is just over 8.5 hours long. Dale does an excellent job of voice acting. He really gets into the spirit of the story. It really made it a fun experience! I did learn something new....even more embarrassing than when we went to the first movie way back in the 90s and discovered we had been horribly mispronouncing Hermione's name....I have been saying Voldemort wrong for 20 years. The American movies pronounced it VoldemorT. But it actually sounds like VoldemorE....no T sound at the end. That actually makes complete sense. Derp derpity derp on my part. But....in my defense....the American movies mangled it. I'm sure as I work my way through these stories again that I will find other things I have wrong....sigh. But, despite another round of embarrassment at screwing up Rowling's character names for YEARS, I loved listening to this audio book! I have the second book on hold at the library already! I can't wait to re-visit the Chamber of Secrets! (and hopefully I don't discover any more derpy errors on my part)

This is an audio book I could listen to over and over.....so I'm going to buy the set. Then I can revisit Harry, Hogwarts and the Gang any time I want to! :)


Monday, December 24, 2018

REVIEW: The Brick Slayer

The Brick Slayer
Author: Harold Schechter

In 1937, Los Angeles was terrorized by a killer wielding a brick. Five women were killed. Their heads smashed in. In 1938, similar attacks started in Chicago. Robert Nixon was arrested following a double murder because he had blood on his clothes and scratches on his hands. The young black man was vilified in the press, called the "Brick Moron'' and described in blatantly racist terms. Nixon was also abused, beaten and threatened while in custody. He was held for a full two weeks without counsel facing constant threats and interrogation by police, until he confessed to multiple crimes. Was he a thief and criminal? Yes. Did he the brutal murders he was charged with? Probably. But he should never have been brutalized, depicted in the press as being like a "jungle animal'' and held without charge or representation. This case was used as the basis for Robert Wright's novel, Native Son.

The Brick Slayer is about the killings in Los Angeles and Chicago that Nixon was executed for. Schechter presents the facts about the killings and the treatment of Nixon while in custody. The story was well presented, but difficult to listen to just because of the nature of the murders and the horrible treatment of Nixon.

I listened to the audio book version of this story. The audio lasts just under an hour and is narrated by Steven Weber. Weber reads at a nice even pace and is easily understandable. I have partial hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand the entire novella. The Brick Slayer is 4th story in the Bloodlands Collection from Audible/Amazon Originals. The collection presents six true crime stories from the past, all written by Schechter.

The Brick Slayer was by far the most brutal story in the collection so far. Not just because of the murders, but also because of the aftermath. Nixon was abused horribly while in custody and then faced an all-white jury. In no way did he have a fair trial. Even if he was guilty of all the murders he confessed to, he still deserved to be treated according to the law and as a human being. Made me sick to my stomach. This is the first time I had heard of this case....I'm glad I listened to this story, even though it was rough to hear.

Schechter is the author of several true crime novels. After listening to the Bloodlands Collection, I will definitely be checking out his other novels.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

REVIEW: The Pied Piper

The Pied Piper
Author: Harold Schechter

Before listening to The Pied Piper, I had never heard of Charlie Schmid. In 1960s Tuscon, AZ, Schmid gathered a group of followers around him. Schmid had a fascination with killing people. He murdered three young women just to do it. He got away with it for awhile....until his friends turned on him.

This story is supremely creepy. I don't see how Charles Schmid had any sort of magnetic personality. His behavior and appearance seems incredibly odd. He loved Elvis...so he dyed his hair black, used mascara and applied pancake makeup to his face. He walked around with a strange sneer on his face, thinking it made him look like Elvis. That would not attract me to follow someone into aberrant behavior....it would repel me. But then again, I guess I can't understand why people followed Charles Manson either.

Bizarre story. I listened to the audio book version of The Pied Piper. The audio is just over an hour long and is narrated by Steven Weber. Weber reads at an even pace and is easily understandable. I have partial hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand the entire story.

The Pied Piper is one of six true crime stories in the Bloodlands Collection from Audible/Amazon Originals. Schechter has written several true crime novels about famous killers including Ed Gein and H.H. Holmes. The Bloodlands Collection gathers together little known stories of crimes from the last 100 years. I've listened to 3 of the stories so far....enjoyable and informative. This one is by far the creepiest. Schmid makes for a disturbing tale of murder and weird behavior.

The photograph is of Schmid at his preliminary hearing in 1965. Doesn't he look creepy?? Yikes!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

REVIEW: The Shining

The Shining
Author: Stephen King

I first read this book when I was in high school just after I watched the Stanley Kubrick film. This was the first Stephen King book I ever read. I carried it to school for days, sneaking in reading time whenever I could. It started a life-long love of King's books. He's been scaring the crap out of me for several decades now. :)

The story starts out rather mild....a down and out man gets a second chance after losing his job as a teacher at a prep school. A friend helps him get a position as a winter season caretaker for a remote Colorado resort hotel. The road to the Overlook Hotel snows shut in winter....there is no getting in or out after the heavy snows hit. Jack just needs to keep an eye on the boiler that heats the huge hotel and maintain things. He brings his wife and young son with him....and they prepare to hunker down for the winter season. The only problem is that the Overlook has a mind of its own....an intrinsic evilness. Jack's son has The Shining...a strange, precognitive psychic power. He can see snippets of the evil that's coming. He knows his father is about to lose his mind.....

As is usually the case, the book is so much better than the movie. I loved the movie....it was creepy and strange. But, it also changed too much and left portions of the story out. The newer miniseries TV movie version from 1997 follows the book more closely, but I still prefer the story exactly the way King wrote it. I re-read this story so that I could read Doctor Sleep, King's follow up novel to The Shining, published in 2013. Supposedly there will be a movie version of Doctor Sleep coming out in 2020.

I listened to the audio book version of this story. The audio is almost 16 hours long and narrated by Campbell Scott. Scott reads at a nice even pace and is easily understandable. I have partial hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand this entire book. Nice listening experience!

I enjoyed re-visiting this story. It was my first experience with King's books.....and one of the first adult horror novels I ever read. Loved it just as much this time as I did back then. Great story!

REVIEW: The Woman in the Strongbox

The Woman in the Strongbox
Author: Maureen O'Hagan

Lori Ruff was a bit different. She avoided talking about her life before college, said she had no living family, and made few friends. Following a divorce from her husband Blake, Lori killed herself. Only after her death was it discovered that she was not the person she said she was. She had stolen the identity of a dead child years before, and her real identity was unknown. The Woman in the Strongbox is the story of the search for Lori's true identity. A reporter, online amateur sleuths and an expert in tracking down similar cases all worked together to piece together this woman's life.

This was such an interesting story! This woman basically erased her real life at the age of 18 and created a new one....then spent her entire life hiding the truth. Even her husband had no idea. Strange, sad and engrossing, The Woman in the Strongbox is definitely worth reading! This is a non-fiction story outlining the facts of the case. Anyone who enjoys true crime or non-fiction stories will enjoy this tale. I read a lot of non-fiction books (and audio books/podcasts on the topic) about history, true crime and interesting facts, so this was perfect for me. Readers who don't enjoy non-fiction/true crime should probably pass this one by.

I listened to the audio book version of this story. Narrated by Cassandra Campbell, the audio is just under two hours long. Campbell read at a nice steady pace and was easily understandable. I have partial hearing loss, but was easily able to hear and understand this entire novella.

The Woman In the Strongbox is the first story in the Missing Collection from Audible/Amazon Originals. The collection has six true stories about life changing events, ranging from the mysterious to the inspiring. I'm looking forward to the rest of the collection!


Friday, December 21, 2018

REVIEW: Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie

Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie
Author: Harold Schechter

I grew up reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pa playing his fiddle. Ma sewing. The kids playing in the great outdoors. Jack running behind their covered wagon. A great adventure! But, moving west and settling in mostly unsettled, still wild areas also held many dangers. Not just from weather and animals....from people, too. Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie tells the story of the Bender family. The Benders ran an inn on the Kansas prairie. They offered travelers hot meals and a place to sleep, but served up murder and robbery as well. The family smashed in the skulls of many guests, stealing their belongings and disposing of the bodies. Sometimes they killed for the money solitary travellers carried....sometimes seemingly just for fun. Either way, the family was horrifying. It just wasn't safe to travel the Kansas prairie alone when the Benders were around.

I had heard this story before. I grew up in Kansas and the tale of the murderous Benders is still told to this day. Schechter gives the facts in an interesting manner, touching not only on the crimes but on the disappearance of the family after their crimes were discovered. It's not known whether the family was quietly murdered by vigilantes or if they escaped off into the night to commit crimes elsewhere. None of the family members was ever seen again. At one point, a woman was put on trial for possibly being a Bender, but her identity couldn't be proven. Laura Ingalls Wilder even added to the mystery by saying she believed her father joined a vigilante group that killed the Benders....but the time lines just don't add up. Her family no longer lived in the area when Benders crimes came to light. It's a mystery that will never be solved.....the answers lost to time.

Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie is the second tale in the Bloodlands Collection from Audible/Amazon Originals. There are six stories of true crime in the collection. I love the mix of history and true crime story...so I'm enjoying the stories in this collection. Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie is a short read....the audio is just under 1 hour and 20 minutes long. This is non-fiction so if documentaries on history/true crime are not interesting for you, it might be best to pass on this collection.Steven Weber narrates. He reads at a nice, even pace and his voice is easily understandable. I have partial hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand this entire audio book. The kindle book version of this story uses Kindle-In-Motion....so the cover, some of the illustrations and text has animations. It adds a bit of entertainment to the story.



The tale of the murderous Benders really brings home the fact that the Wild West was dangerous. People disappeared all the time -- accidents, illness, animal attacks.....and dangerous people. The brutality of their crimes is the reason why their story is still told today. Tricking solitary travelers into a hot meal at their table....only to sneak up and bash their heads in and throw the bodies out like garbage after stealing what little they owned. Horrific!

I'm enjoying the Bloodlands Collection so far. Some of the stories are new to me....some are a refresh on crimes I already know about. Very well done!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

REVIEW: The Pirate

The Pirate
Author: Harold Schechter

Grisly murders at sea. A crew hacked to death and thrown into the ocean. A sloop drifting unmanned into New York harbor with blood all over the decks. One man rowing to shore and walking away....

In 1860, the killings by Albert Hicks drew a lot of attention. His execution was attended by thousands, including P.T. Barnum. Hicks had led a life of violence, killing and robbing all over the world as he worked on various ships. He was caught when he signed on as a mate on the E.A. Johnson to harvest oysters on the Chesapeake and killed the other 3 members of the crew for the money on board. Author Harold Schechter uses newspaper accounts and court records to piece together the story of Albert Hicks (aka William Johnson), a pirate who was executed in 1860 on Bledloe's Island (now Liberty Island).

I'm a big fan of history and historic true crime tales.....I listen to many, many podcasts on the topic. So I knew I would enjoy listening to The Pirate, the first of six bloody tales in the Bloodlands Collection from Audible/Amazon Originals. I listened to the audiobook version of this story, narrated by Steven Weber. The audio is just under 1.5 hours, so it's an easy listening length. Weber reads at a nice, steady pace and his voice is easily understandable even with my hearing loss.

I enjoyed this story. The author presents the facts about the crime, the life of the murderer and the aftermath of his arrest and conviction in an interesting manner. It is a lot like listening to a documentary....so if true crime or history isn't really your bag, you might want to pass this collection by.

Listening to stories about crimes committed far in the past helps me put our present world in perspective. Today's society hasn't suddenly become a world of danger after peaceful times in the past.....the "good old days'' were just as violent and scary as what we face today. There just wasn't insta-news in those days....stories took awhile to get around. Investigations were completely low tech back then -- no DNA analysis, very little forensic knowledge above the very basic....and killers very often got away with their grisly crimes for quite some time before they were caught. Hicks led a life of horrific violence....until he made a mistake and got caught literally red handed. His execution was a public event with the atmosphere of a circus performance. That's almost as grisly as his crimes....

The Bloodlands Collection gathers six true crime stories from the past. Ranging from the 1860's up to 1949, the crimes are varied, but all grisly. Not for the faint of heart. Interesting tales for those who enjoy true crime stories. The kindle book versions use Kindle-In-Motion animation....some of the illustrations, photos and text moves or has slight animations. Kinda cool. I chose the audible version and listened to the story.

I'm enjoying these collections of Amazon Original content. There are several different story collections...horror short stories, global warming tales, true crime, missing persons, etc. I haven't liked all of the selections, but I've had fun trying them. I like having a shorter story to listen to....something I can finish quickly rather than investing 10-15 hours in an entire novel-length audio book.

All in all, so far Bloodlands is my favorite collection. I love the combo of history and true crime narrative!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

REVIEW: Elevation

Elevation
Author: Stephen King

Stephen King is a master storyteller. Usually he uses that power to scare the crap out of me. Zombie pets. Vampires. Curses. Aliens. Evil clowns.

I enjoyed his new novel, Elevation, because he wasn't writing a huge 1000 page tome to give me nightmares, but instead weaving a story about overcoming obstacles, changing prejudices, and being a friend. Scott Carey is a 42-year old pudgy white guy.....with a strange affliction. He's losing weight. Normally that would be a good thing....but Scott's weight loss is different. He weighs the same naked, clothed, carrying 50 pound dumbbells, pockets full of rolls of change......the number is always the same no matter what he does. And....every day that number is going down. Clicking it's way to Zero Day....that day when he will suddenly weigh nothing. He chooses to help his new neighbors find a niche in Castle Rock before it's all over.

Lovely story. It's definitely King's writing....but I love the fact he had a better point than scaring me. It's a pretty obvious point, but I still enjoyed the journey. Elevation is a quick read at only 146 pages. The book is small but mighty. Loved it!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

REVIEW: Fashions Fade, Haunted is Eternal

Fashions Fade, Haunted is Eternal
Author: Rose Pressey

Cozy mysteries are my book candy. When I need something sweet and light, I run right to my favorite cozy writers. I've been reading a lot of horror and hard-hitting thrillers lately, and needed a good palate cleanser. Rose Pressey is one of my favorite cozy authors. Her books never fail to be entertaining and fun, with just a splash of supernatural spookiness.

Fashions Fade, Haunted is Eternal is the 7th book in the Haunted Vintage mystery series. Cookie Chanel owns a vintage clothing shop, It's Vintage Y'all, in Sugar Creek, GA. While I don't really care about fashion, vintage or otherwise, Cookie also sees ghosts. In fact, one of her best friends is....well, dead. Charlotte Meadows, former socialite, now hangs around the shop and helps Cookie choose vintage outfits and solve mysteries. That isn't the strangest thing about Cookie's life though.....the spirit of her deceased grandmother lives inside Cookie's cat Wind Song. Since the cat can't talk, the grandmother gives advice using a Ouija board. Occasionally other spirits stop by...mostly to ask Cookie to help solve their murders. Just par for the course...

This time around it's fall and Photographer Tyler Fields is shooting pictures for the upcoming October issue of Fashion & Style magazine. Cookie helped pick out some vintage outfits for the  models so she's watching the photo shoot at the local Sugar Creek Cemetery.  Tyler is a bit rude, yelling at the models and acting like an ass. Just as Cookie meets a new spirit named Minnie from the 1920s, a gunshot rings out. Tyler Fields will never be rude again. Who killed the photographer? Cookie and her spirit pals are on the case!

This series is just fun to read. The characters are cute and work together well at amateur sleuthing. What Cookie can't ferret out, her spirit buddies generally can. That's one of the perks of working with ghosts that nobody else can see or hear. I like the lovely feline Wind Song....especially since it's also Cookie's grandmother. I don't think I would like it if my cats could talk to me using an Ouija board....I think all they would do is complain. :)

This newest book has some nice character development and sweet moments as well. The end was heart-warming for a couple of reasons and was a great closer for the story. I was also pleased to read a teaser chapter at the end of the book from a new Rose Pressey series -- The Haunted Arts & Crafts Mystery Series -- coming soon from Kensington. I will definitely be reading the first book in that series as soon as I can get it! :) Rose Pressey never disappoints....I love the mix of humor and mystery in her cozies. She develops her background theme quite well with info and tips on vintage fashion and where to find good deals on vintage items. The background theme doesn't over power the mystery or the characters though....just adds a nice flair. The supernatural elements aren't over-done, but just the icing on the story. This series is enjoyable and always well written. It's great as a fun palate cleanser when my brain gets its fill of horror and crime drama. :)

I will definitely keep reading this series! Can't wait for book 8!

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

Monday, December 17, 2018

REVIEW: The Christmas Riddle

The Christmas Riddle
Author: Susan Sleeman

Maggie Watson and her kitty Snickers return in The Christmas Riddle, the 3rd book in the Antique Shop Mysteries cozy series. A long time resident of Somerset Harbor has died. Adele Kessler used to host parties that were the talk of the town....but became a recluse later in life, allowing her 300+ year old home fall into disrepair. Maggie buys a beautiful vase at the estate sale without realizing something is hidden inside. A strange bejeweled key and an urgent note scrawled in haste by an unknown person have Maggie wondering what might be hiding in the old Kessler house. Family secrets? Murder?

The Antique Shop Mysteries series is sold by subscription by Annie's Attic. The books are hardback, attractive and nice quality. There are more than 16 books in the series, written by various authors. The books are relatively short (200 pages or so), quick reads. I like Maggie Watson as a main character. She's rebuilding her life after the loss of her husband and her daughter going to college. The background theme of an antique shop makes for a nice cozy series.

The plot in this book developed at a nice pace and had plenty of suspense throughout. There was a nice even blend of background theme and murder mystery. All in all, a nice cozy reading experience. This series is a great palate cleanser between my usual thriller and horror selections. Sometimes I just need a burst of cuteness and light between heavy reads. I'm thankful for the library patron that donated her books to our local library!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

REVIEW: The Malaise

The Malaise
Author: David Turton

In 2038, technology runs nearly everything in the world -- from smart houses and self-driving cars to emails sent by thought and RazorVision VR glasses -- the modern world runs with technology invented by Rick Razor, Then one day the tech mogul barricades himself in his fortified glass tower and a strange video is released that goes viral. Soon the video has been watched billions of times....literally everyone with access to RazorVision has seen it. More than once. Then the killing starts..... Within 24 hours, there are very few people left alive. Can the survivors start over? Will they ever understand what happened?

For the most part, I enjoyed this story. It some exciting and gruesome moments, plus the concept of the apocalypse coming via technology is an interesting one. Although the concept of a corporation or madman ending life on earth isn't a new plot in dystopian/science fiction, I liked the fact that in this case the weapon of mass destruction was technology itself. The survivors make for interesting characters.....the group is a rag tag bunch from nearly all walks of life. They are all thrown together to start civilization all over again from the basics, while looking for answers to what caused the destruction of modern society. Strong people in a very tough time. There were some parts of the plot I found to be a bit too easy/coincidental to be realistic....but it wasn't enough cheese to pull me out of the story entirely. The plot moved along at a nice pace with good suspense. It definitely kept my interest. The ending was a bit fast for me.....I wanted the final boss fight/altercation to be a little more in-depth. But,overall, the book was an enjoyable read for me. I love apocalyptic/dystopian stories. The Malaise is definitely worth a read! The story has me re-thinking my curiosity about VR and complex, adaptable AI software!

The cover art for this book is awesome! Very eye catching. I wanted to read this story the minute I saw the cover!

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


REVIEW: The Secret Letter

The Secret Letter
Author: Mary Blount Christian

Maggie Watson is settling into her new life in Sommerset Harbor, ME. Since inheriting Sedgewick Manor and Carriage House Antiques from her aunt, Maggie feels like she's getting a fresh start in life. Thanksgiving is approaching and she is unsure about facing the holidays in her new home. She decides to refurbish an old trunk. It needs clean up and relining. As she pulls back the old fabric lining, Maggie discovers an old letter hidden in the trunk. The letter, dating back to the 1930s, hints at a bank robbery. When she starts asking questions about the history of the trunk and the letter, local residents seem less than willing to speak about it. Digging into a past best left alone can be dangerous.....

I really enjoy this series. I like to read cozy mysteries in between heavier thriller, suspense and horror novels to get a bit of a palate cleansing. Cozies are cute, light and refreshing....with a little dab of darkness. Makes for a nice break between heavier adult fiction titles. I like the characters, the background theme of antiquing and the setting for this series. Maggie Watson is a likable main character. She's starting her life all over again after losing her husband and her daughter leaving home for college. All in all, The Antique Shop Mysteries is an enjoyable cozy series. The books are very attractive and good quality. The series would look great displayed on a cozy lover's bookshelf. The cover art is always brightly colored and inviting.

The Secret Letter is the second book in this series. The books are published by Annie's Attic and sold as a subscription. The titles are written by various authors. There are 16+ books in the series. It's a bit difficult to find a complete listing of all the titles or the correct reading order since the series is sold as a subscription. There are websites that list the books in order (just google it), and Goodreads does a pretty good job of keeping up. Luckily, someone donated their collection to my local library so I can enjoy this series! Definitely enjoyable stories!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

REVIEW: Dead Until Dark

Dead Until Dark
Author: Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark is the first book in the Southern Vampire series. The books and main characters -- especially sweet southern waitress Sookie Stackhouse -- were made famous by the HBO series True Blood that was (at times pretty thinly) based on the books.

I started reading this series years ago before the HBO show started. I even got my husband to read the series with me. He liked it just as much as I did. We waited for each new book to arrive and played games, drew straws or had other little competitions to determine who got to read it first. :) And once the HBO show started, we watched it together every week. :) Now that the book series and all the short stories are all published....I wanted to read it all again. I was always a bit disappointed that the HBO show deviated so far from the books. Some very huge plot points never happened in the show, and others were added. Plus the show veered way far off course with its fixation on the sale and use of V as a drug. One change I loved though -- the character Lafayette (as portrayed by actor Nelsan Ellis) on the show was my absolutely favorite character, even though he was much different and much longer lived than in the books.

Dead Until Dark started it all. Sookie Stackhouse finally gets to meet her first vampire. Vampire Bill. She doesn't judge him for being undead. And he doesn't judge her for her....peculiarity. Sookie can read minds...and it's been a huge disability for her. It's hard to shut off others thoughts and most people end up thinking she is crazy, weird or scary. She's drawn to Bill because she can't hear his thoughts. Just blessed silence. Falling in love with a vampire....and getting drawn into vampire drama....can be dangerous.  Soon Sookie finds her life taking strange and new paths she never dreamed of. First love.....Dangerous love.

I still love this series. For my re-read, I'm listening to the audio version of the books from my library. I do have all the books on my keeper shelf, however. And there they shall stay. I'm sure this isn't going to be my last re-read of this series. I like the characters, the setting and the plots. When I need a splash of fangs and foes....this will probably be my go-to series for a vampire fix. It's a nice mix of humor, horror and hotness. :)

The audio version of Dead Until Dark I listened to from Recorded Books is about 9.5 hours long. Narrated by Johanna Parker, it's an enjoyable listen. Parker reads at a nice even pace and does a good job providing the voices for all the characters.

The Southern Vampire series has 13 books and several short stories. I can't wait to re-read each one! :) I need to find another series to read with my husband. The contests to see who got to open the packages and read the new books first was just too much fun....I miss it!

Friday, December 14, 2018

REVIEW: Saban's Power Rangers: Soul of the Dragon

Saban's Power Rangers:
Soul of the Dragon
Author: Kyle Higgins
Illustrator: Giuseppe Cafaro
Also Also wik: Marcelo Costa, Ed Dukeshire, Nick Robles, Jason David Frank

Snow and The South just don't mix. Drop 8-18 inches of snow and ice across the NC foothills and you get a mess. My teenager has been out of school for an entire week....and I've been cooped up inside. A bit stir crazy today....and desperately wanting something entertaining to read. *Bing* Email alert. A lovely email from Bing! Studios with a link to look at this new release graphic novel.

Power Rangers!

Oh yeah! The day got brighter! Got my hot tea.....a nice fluffy blanket to be comfy at my desk...and got ready to get my nerd on. :) I am not the comic book/graphic novel fan that my husband is....he knows every character, every artist, every writer.....I bow to his knowledge. I can't compete. But....I love graphic novels and comic books! The art is amazing. The story lines interesting. And the characters, plots, histories are always creative and fascinating. So I'm not reading this from an uber expert point of view....but just from the simple joy that the art and action hold for me.

The basics: Tommy Oliver has retired from the Power Rangers. He's feeling his age, but sometimes really misses The Old Days. Plus, he's having a bit of a mid-life crisis after getting downsized from his teaching job. Then his son JJ disappears. Tommy comes out of retirement to find his son and bring him home.

I absolutely loved this story! I will admit I have not followed much of the MMPR stuff since the 90s television show in the US, but even I know the origins of the Green Ranger. I read the RangerWiki to catch up on Tommy's story. Green....white....red.....he's quite the legendary character. I love how this story brings him back for a last adventure. I was glad to see that they consulted Jason David Frank to get the continuity for this legendary character right. But even for someone that never watched the MMPR show or read any of the graphic novels/comic books, this story can be a great stand alone story.

The artwork is fantastic. The story is exciting and action-packed (but it wouldn't really be the Power Rangers without lots of action). It really made me feel nostalgic for the days when I watched the television show with my son.

Great story for those who have loved the Power Rangers for decades and new fans alike!




REVIEW: At the Bottom of New Lake

At the Bottom of New Lake
Author: Sonya Larson

Cape Cod. Rising waters have completely changed the area...submerging beach front mansions and creating a new body of water that teenager Chuntao calls New Lake. She dives into the lake, exploring the underwater ruins and recovering items from the long abandoned properties. Chuntao doesn't remember the decadent houses and wealthy residents, the tourists and the lifestyle that used to be a part of Cape Cod. She just knows she now has access to the beach and feels what she finds underwater belongs to her. The sea belongs to everyone now...not just a privileged few. Even with the changes that the flood brought, Chantao still has doubts about herself and her place among her peers. She doesn't feel set apart by class or her Chinese heritage...but by her awkwardness and the fact that she's a lesbian. She's unsure of herself and trying to find her place in the world....as we all do. She doesn't remember things as they used to be....but her biology teacher does. Her teacher remembers the homes and residents that are now gone and feels it's disrespectful to dive in New Lake or recover items from under the water. One sees the world and its changes as her reality....and the other sees it as a destroyed ideal.  How do you find a safe spot in a world so changed?

At the Bottom of New Lake is the sixth story in the Warmer Collection from Audible/Amazon Originals. I liked this story better than most in this collection. Each story deals with climate change....both environmental and social. I didn't like most of selections in this collection. I think in trying to combine the subjects of climate change/global disaster with changes in social/sexual roles is just too much. For me most of these stories are just trying too hard to fit that new age PC/inclusive climate in with a disaster global warming theme. I understand the attempt....the idea of mixing global warming with Global Warming is interesting. But, a bit lack luster in the actual follow through. Only one story left in this collection....and so far, it's just been a dud for me.

Middle of the road rating for this one. I enjoyed the story....but in the end it really didn't have any emotional impact for me. Mixing disaster with social change just didn't work for me. I can't feel empowered/enlightened and doomed/threatened at the same time. Strange, uncomfortable mix.




Thursday, December 13, 2018

REVIEW: Court of Thorns and Roses

Court of Thorns and Roses
Author: Sarah J. Maas

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I loved the beginning....but somewhere around 1/3 of the way through I started getting some weird vibes from this story. For me, there was just a bit too much torture/rape/kidnapping/female slave imagery to put me off my enjoyment. And it just got worse as the story progressed. As a victim of rape at the hands of "a bad boy'' earlier in life....I don't find the idea of bad boy love triangles or fantasy to be appealing, even when the bad boys are magical mystical fairies. And the plot quickly descended into a love triangle situation with a bad boy/bad boy lite situation.

Meh.

Add in a tropey evil queen and it just sort of fizzled before I even got halfway.

I wanted a bit more Beauty and the Beast type magic.....and a lot less male fairy gropes thighs and ogles heaving breasts action.

But.....my meh reaction might be because this book is written for a YA audience and I'm 50 years old. I learned the hard way years and years ago that bad boys are not so sexy and inviting once you actually catch them and have to live with them. Mine tried to kill me....literally. Best to stick with the good guys. Wish women would take my advice and not have to learn the hard way.....but it seems to be a lesson we all have to learn by experience, not shared hard-earned wisdom.

I will say that Sarah Maas does a great job world building. Hence my 3 star middle ground rating on Goodreads for this book. For the first part of this book the plot, imagery and characters were kicking ass, with a few trope-y details. Any fairy tale re-telling is going to be a bit trope-y by design. But then it just got bogged down in weird sex and torture/abuse situations.

Not for me.

I think I'm going to pass on the rest of this series. I know I'm going against the grain here as this is a very popular series....but not every story is for every reader. And this one just isn't for me. I wanted more fairy tale....and less fairy tail, if that makes sense.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

REVIEW: Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here
Author: Rita Mae Brown

I started reading the Mrs. Murphy series years ago before I had kids and life got incredi-busy. Somewhere in the middle of the series I got so busy with life (darn adulting!) and lost connection with this series. I popped back in a year or so ago and reviewed a couple of the newer books. This year...since I declared 2018 to be a Read-Whatever-the-Heck-I-Want-To Year....I decided to re-read some favorite books and series. The Mrs. Murphy series was right near the top of the list! I loved these books....and I'm happy to be re-visiting Crozet, VA and its quirky residents once again.

There are 26 books in the series. Wish You Were Here started it all back in 1990. Mary Minor "Harry'' Harristeen is the postmistress of Crozet. She's smack dab in the middle of a slightly messy divorce from her Veternarian husband, Fair. And being a small VA town, locals are gossiping up a storm about her and the situation. Harry tries to keep calm, enjoying the company of her fur babies -- Mrs. Murphy (a tiger striped tabby) and Tee Tucker (a Welsh Corgi). Suddenly, a string of murders takes the town's attention off Harry's divorce. Harry (who has a habit of reading postcards while working in the post office) knows that each of the victims received a post card before their demise with a strange cemetery picture on the front and "Wish You Were Here'' written on the back. Harry immediately starts a bit of amateur sleuthing to ferret out the killer's identity. Mrs. Murphy, Tucker and their furry friends try to help, but it's a bit difficult as humans are too stupid to understand what's being said to them (Mrs. Murphy's opinion....not mine ha ha). Harry, unfortunately, doesn't think about the fact that her poking her nose in might turn the killer's attention to her......       Oops.

I love this series! Rita Mae Brown interjects a lot of her personal beliefs about land use, politics, taxes, feminism and other subjects.....but I don't care.  The characters are engaging and definitely give a peek into affluent, small town southern life. Some of the side characters are a complete snooty turn off....but it all mixes well into the plot. I like the mix of human and animal points of view. Mrs. Murphy and Tee Tucker are main characters just as much as Harry.

In later books, Brown interjected a bit too much of her personal thoughts and muddied up the stories too much with her rants.......but the first few books are more story/less rant.

I listened to the audio book version of this story. Narrated by Kate Forbes, the audio from Recorded Books, Inc is just over 8 hours long. Forbes has a nice voice and does a good job with character voices. I have partial hearing loss, but was easily able to hear and understand this entire book. Very enjoyable listening experience!

I'm going to enjoy re-reading this series! On to book 2, Rest in Pieces.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

REVIEW: Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River
Author: Diane Setterfield

One cold winter night, all of the regulars are gathered at The Swan, a tavern near the Thames, to tell stories, drink, gossip....the usual. But this night is going to be anything but the usual. An injured man stumbles through the door and collapses to the floor. In his arms he carries a dead child....a little girl of about four years old. The local healer woman is called to tend to the man. When she goes to have a look at the corpse of the little girl, she finds her definitely dead. But, then....either by magic or otherwise....the little girl comes back to life. The mystery of the little girl has a deep effect on many. How did she come back to life? Who is she? And, what happened to them that night?

This book reads like a magical fairy tale. I love Diane Setterfield's writing style! The tale is really many stories within the story, as villagers try to piece together who this little girl might be. There are lots of characters in this story, but unlike most character driven books, it doesn't bog the story down. Everything unfolds in its own time. Bit by bit all sorts of secrets are revealed.

I read this book a chapter at a time, letting the story build slowly over a few days. Setterfield is quite the story-teller! She also wrote The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman & Black. Reading Once Upon a River makes me want to re-read her other two novels! And I'm eagerly awaiting her next book as well!

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




REVIEW: Living Dead in Dallas

Living Dead in Dallas
Author: Charlaine Harris

This year I made a New Year's Resolution that I would read more books that I enjoy....and revisit books that I loved. From Trixie Belden to Sookie Stackhouse, I have enjoyed my year of reading whatever I wanted to read -- with no guilt or book shaming allowed. When you get right down to it, reading is great for learning and exercising the grey matter, but it can also be a wonderful, joyful, fun experience. I have enjoyed this year of free-range reading so much that I have already decided to make the same resolution again. I'm going to read what I want....review it all....and just spend the year loving books. All sorts of books. :)

I started reading the Southern Vampire Series BTHS (Before the HBO Series) and even got my husband to read the novels with me. We watched the TV show faithfully each week and discussed what we thought about the book vs show, characters, etc. It was FUN! When the series ended....and the show ended....I missed our book chats. The books have sat on my keeper shelf since the final book published in 2013. I have fondly gazed at their colorful spines many, many times and promised to revisit the entire story....but never actually did it. Until now. I'm listening to the audio book versions of this series and loving it! So nice to revisit the characters and places that made me love this series!

Now....on to my review of this Charlaine Harris novel....    I do have a point. Really. Promise.

I normally don't read supernatural romance-y books. Most vampire fiction tends to delve down into weird sex, weird vibes and lots of spurting blood. I just don't enjoy the stories. But.....this series, for me, is an exception. The Southern Vampire series mixes Louisiana easy southern manners with humor and supernatural creatures of all sorts. I like the vibe of the series. I can see why they made an HBO series based on these books.

Dead in Dallas is book 2 in the series. After meeting Vampire Bill in book 1 and making a deal with the vampires to use her mind reading powers to help them on occasion, book 2 starts to heat up the clash between humans and vamps. Some groups just don't think vamps should be allowed to live....and are willing to do anything to wipe them off the face of the earth. At the same time, all the supernatural creatures coming out into the open is coaxing some ancient, powerful beings to come out of the shadows. It makes for a dangerous, volatile mix of emotions and violent actions on all sides.....

Dead in Dallas has some great character and setting development and lots of action. A very old vampire has disappeared....and Sookie is called in to help find him. At the same time, an ancient creature called a maenad comes to Bon Temps, loosening the inhibitions, morals and judgement of most of the humans in the area. Sookie finds herself searching for a missing vampire and investigating a murder....makes for an interesting book!

This book is where the HBO show and the books reallly started to veer apart. A minor character in the book series -- Lafayette -- dies in Book 2. Murdered. In the HBO show Lafayette is a main character....and someone else was murdered. Characters and the plot of the show and books were vastly different...so I enjoyed each as different versions of the same story. Lafayette was my favorite character in the show...the actor brought a vibrancy and life to the character that was never in the book version. The short lived character never got a chance to shine in the books. He was murdered at the speed of plot to start the maenad story line.

I am very much enjoying my return to Bon Temps. It's making me want to rewatch the show too!

This series has a lot of sexual references and some adult themes....I would recommend some parental guidance before letting those under 16 read these books. Adults who don't like sexual content might also want to pass on this series. There are some pretty hot and heavy moments in this book because of the maenad...nothing graphic or gross. Just a lot of Bacchus approved moments. Bow-chickie-bow wow. lol The sex is mixed in with the humor and southern charm of the characters.....so it isn't just gratuitous boinking, but part of the plot.

On to book 3! Club Dead.

Just an aside -- but luckily I bought my box set of the first few paperbacks before the HBO series came about and became popular. Most of my books don't have a huge red splotch on the front with "Now an HBO series'' in big letters. I really HATE IT when publishers do that. I get it -- there's a show and they want people to watch it. But I don't like having the covers of my books ruined by advertising. And I don't like it when the covers get changed to pictures of the characters from show/movie versions either. The book version comes first -- leave the cover art alone. By all means include a postcard or bookmark advertising the show -- but don't F with my book! lol Anybody else feel this way? Or am I a book curmudgeon?

Monday, December 10, 2018

REVIEW: There's No Place Like Home

There's No Place Like Home
Author: Edan Lepucki

Vic is 13 years old. In a world ravaged by increased temperatures, her generation will never really grow up. Girls her age, in the extreme heat and stress of everyday life, no longer go through puberty. Lots of people are moving north, abandoning places further south to the baking heat. When her father commits suicide, Vic wants to understand why he took his life, why he let her mother work so hard and why he made some of the choices he made. She discovers that truth isn't simple.

There's No Place Like Home is the 4th story in the Warmer Collection from Amazon/Audible Originals. Each story presents a picture of a world ravaged by global warming.

This story is very dark and Vic learns a rough lesson. Not only does she have to contend with a messed up life in a ravaged, hot, horrible world, but she faces betrayal from unexpected directions as well. The future is pretty much hopeless.

This entire collection so far has been weird and not all that enjoyable. I didn't really like this story all that much either. Very bleak. Not all that believable. And horrible characters. I felt Vic was horribly betrayed by both her parents...by everyone around her....and by life itself. The story itself is strange, rambling and uncomfortable. Not all stories are for every reader....and this collection so far seems to not really be my cup of tea.

I've been listening to the audio versions of these stories. Each one is about an hour long. There's No Place Like Home is narrated by Lauren Ezzo. She does a great job narrating. She reads at an even pace and has a nice voice. I have partial hearing loss, but was easily able to understand the entire story.

I'm going to listen to the entire collection, but so far I'm just not feelin' it. For me, these stories have been strange and disappointing. Moving on to the 5th story -- Falls the Shadow. Maybe I will like the next one better.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

REVIEW: An Unwanted Guest

An Unwanted Guest
Author: Shari Lapena

Upstate New York. Wintertime. A remote inn. No cell service. No wi-fi. Blizzard conditions.

Murders.

What might have been a relaxing get-away for several guests at the Mitchell's Inn in the Catskills quickly turns to a nightmare when the guests start dying. Someone is picking them off one at a time. But who? And why? Separated from the rest of civilization by snowfall and a power outage, the guests scramble to protect themselves and find out which one of them is a murderer.

I listened to an audio book version of this novel. Narrated by Hillary Huber, the audio from Peguin Random House Audio is just under 8.5 hours long. I liked Huber's narration for the most part, although at times she did get a bit monotone. I have partial hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand Huber's voice. All in all, a nice listening experience.

I expected a much different ending. And was surprised by the seemingly lackluster solution at the end of the story. 75% of the story was incredibly suspenseful....and I was waiting for the twisty slam of an ending....but it never came. The story just sort of conveniently wrapped itself up...with a bit of a twisty gouge at the very end. I think I liked the more dramatic ending I envisioned better.....lol.   But -- despite the fact the ending seemed a bit abrupt -- this was a very entertaining and suspenseful story. I have read two other books by Lapena -- The Stranger in the House and The Couple Next Door -- and I love her writing. Putting those two earlier books in perspective gives me more understanding of the ending of this book. What wowed me about her two earlier books was the "This Could Actually Happen'' feeling her suspense stories have -- that realistic feeling that the shit-show unfolding in print could really actually happen to someone. The ending of An Unwanted Guest is that sort of horror as well. How well do you really know those around you? Are they really who and what they say they are? Everyone has secrets. Everyone has things in their past they want to keep in the shadows. And those shadows might be pulled away at any time. What might someone do to protect their secrets? While I did like my ideas about how the story would end.....Lapena's ending is better because......It could happen. Normal people. Normal lives. Abnormal secrets. And just the right push in the wrong direction.

It. Could. Happen.

Great suspense story. I'm definitely going to be looking forward to Lapena's next book! Haven't been disappointed yet! :)

.....and I'm not going to be renting a remote cabin or staying at a backwoods inn anytime soon. Nope. No way.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

REVIEW: The Meg

The Meg
Author: Steve Alten

Shark!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

I am not a biologist or any sort of shark expert. Other than avidly watching documentaries -- and Shark Week, of course -- I know very little about the ocean and its inhabitants. But I do know that I LOVE monster movies with one of two things: crazy angry carnivores or unknown humongous cryptids. This book delivers both. I wanted to go see the movie this summer, but when I found out that it was based on a book....I had to follow My Rule -- ALWAYS read the book first.  So I opted to wait until the movie released on DVD to watch it. Netflix has the DVD available now....so I bumped the book to the top of my list and grabbed the audio book from my local library.

On the one hand, I do have to say that this story has been done before....many times. Rogue scientist touts unpopular belief...gets mocked, "ruins'' career, gets shunned by academia....UNTIL....

....that UNTIL is the most important part......

UNTIL (suspense building music stab inserted here)......the cryptid beast, pending doom, crazy idea he was warning everyone about shows up and starts killing/attacking, etc.

Then....academia and a whole host of other people come rushing back begging him to help them take care of the situation. Godzilla. Volcanoes. Earthquakes. Global warming. Whales. Giant Octopus/squid. Asteroids. Aliens. Dinosaurs. And....sharks.

It's been done. Many times.

But I love it! And this time...it's a GIANT shark. Move over Jaws.....The Meg eats Great Whites for a snack.....and whales, giant squid, submersibles, boats, divers....hell anything that will fit in its mouth.

SO....old plot. Bigger, badder monster. Bigger. Angrier. Hungrier.  Did I say BIGGER??

BIGGER!!!!!

Loved this book! I don't care if it's impossible, faux science, old hat.....it makes me happy. This sort of book is my favorite brain candy.

I love the premise. I like the characters. And I even like the shark. It's only doing what it was made to do.....and very well for that matter. I like Steve Alten's writing....he mixes a scientific feel with an action/monster plot very well.

About the only complaint I have is a bit of an issue with the audio book narration. Sean Runnette reads at a nice pace and his acting is good for the most part. My issue is with his voice. He seems to have a problem pronouncing some consonants, especially S. It sounds like the actor might have poorly fitting dentures or some other speech problem? Or maybe it's just poor quality sound, equipment or editing? Not sure what the exact problem is, but I have partial hearing loss so crisp, quality sound on audio books is essential for me. I had a bit of trouble understanding Runnette's narration.

The audio book I listened to from Tantor Audio is 10.5 hours long and includes both The Meg and Origins (a prequel for The Meg). I was surprised to find out that The Meg is actually a series of 5 books! More large shark mayhem! Yay! I will definitely be listening/reading the rest of the series. And now that I've read the book....I can see the movie! Got it at the top of my Netflix list!

Friday, December 7, 2018

REVIEW: Murder Most Frothy

Murder  Most Frothy
Author: Cleo Coyle

Written by married co-authors, the Coffeehouse Mysteries are some of my favorite cozies. Set in a popular coffee house in NYC, the stories always have a sweet mix of coffee, life in New York and murder. I've read most of the books in this series before, but decided it was time to start all over at the beginning and read them again. :)

Murder Most Frothy is the 4th book in the series. Clare Cosi is spending some time away from Village Blend in the city. She's staying at a posh Hamptons mansion to help her friend, David Mintzer serve coffee at his summer galas. The July 4th party ends with a bang when Clare discovers a barista dead in Mintzer's private bathroom. Nobody heard the gunshots over the fireworks. Clare thinks someone is gunning for Mintzer and shot the wrong person. She's determined to protect her friend and discover the killer.

I listened to the audio book version of this story. Narrator Rebecca Gibel did a great job reading and providing voices to all the characters. At about 7.5 hours, the audio book from Blackstone Audio was an enjoyable listen. I have partial hearing loss and sometimes female voices are hard for me to hear properly. But I was easily able to hear and enjoy this entire book. :)

I love Clare as a main character. She's intelligent, feisty and a great business manager. Her situation is really unique....Village Blend is owned by her former mother in law and she will someday co-own the business with her ex-husband. She lives above the coffee shop in a posh furnished apartment, which she often shares with her ex when he's in town. They get along....with only a few moments of snark here and there. It all works out....Village Blend is a thriving business....even with a murder here and there thrown in to distract Clare.

The Coffeehouse Mystery series has 17 books, with an 18th book -- Brewed Awakenings -- coming out in 2019. Alice Alfonsi and her husband Marc Cerasini, using the pen name Cleo Coyle, also write the Haunted Bookshop series, another of my favorites.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

REVIEW: Controller

Controller
Author: Jesse Kellerman

Controller is the 3rd story in the Warmer Collection from Amazon Originals/Audible. There are 7 stories from various authors in the collection. All have a theme of climate change....sort of.

In Controller, an elderly mother and her son are living together. Both are abusive to each other. Their contempt and disrespect of each other manifests in a fight over control of the thermostat. It's hot outside. The elderly mother who is cold all the time wants the AC off. The son, who is hot, wants it left on. Tempers flare....

I did not like this story. I hated both of the characters. The mother's incessant droning on and on about how having a child ruined her life, how she is old and cold, and nagging her son for ice cream.....OMG I wanted to hop into the story and just scream at her to shut the F up.  And the son, thinking about how he hates being stuck with his aging mother (understandable really as she is completely horrific), is just completely unable to stand up for himself and be an adult. He basically just whines. Two awful people stuck in a hot, awful house basking in their awfulness together. Ick.

I listened to the audio book version of this story. It was just over an hour of pure agony. The narration by Chris Andrew Ciulla is spot on. He does the voices and emotions of the characters perfectly. But....the characters are completely annoying. Therefore, the audio was torture to listen to. It's not Ciulla's fault -- his acting was great. It's the characters that are the problem. I could not stand 5 minutes in a room with either one of them without losing my temper. The whining and complaining mother. The simpering son. Ugh. I'm not a quitter....and I can endure just about anything for an hour....so I listened to the whole thing hoping it would get better.

Nope. Hated it.

Terrible.

But.....a story that causes a real emotional reaction in readers is well-written. If I was rating this story purely on my enjoyment of the tale....I would give this one star and be happy with that. But....this story really made me uncomfortable, angry, annoyed.....so Jesse Kellerman got his point across. I was supposed to feel that way. His characters are both assholes.....I'm supposed to hate them. I don't have to like the point....he's just supposed to make me FEEL his point.

Message received. Two stars. Well-written story -- horrific, unlikable characters.

OMG....that mother. Holy shit. What a nightmare!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

REVIEW: The Mansion

The Mansion
Author: Ezekiel Boone

Years ago two friends had a falling out. One went on to become a tech mogul billionaire. And the other became a drunk. A project they worked on before they went their separate ways -- a very complex AI program they named Nellie -- is now almost a reality. Shawn Eagle -- owner of Eagle Technology -- needs his old friend (or is frenemy more correct?) Billy to come tweak the program. When Shawn installed Her at the now refurbished Eagle Mansion for a trial run, Nellie had some pretty severe glitches. It seems she has a mind of her own.....And it's not a healthy one. Does she turn the mansion into a futuristic smarthouse? Yep. But she's also got evil and murder lurking in her source code.

I love this book! Great mix of techie coolness and creepy suspense! I just like Boone's writing and story telling skills. He scared the crap out of me previously with his The Hatching trilogy (Giant angry super spiders.... AHHHHHHHHHHH!) and definitely gave me the creeps all over again in this tale of a smarthouse gone horribly wrong. Nicely done! I am definitely re-thinking my constant whining about how Siri, Alexa and other available AI programs just aren't as functional as I would like. I think Nellie might be just a bit too high functioning. I think I'd rather my AIs stick to knock knock jokes after reading this story. Nobody dies from bad jokes.

Dark hidden secrets. Jealousies. Hatred. Revenge. Deception & lies. Betrayal. Greed. Bad choices. Technology run amok. This tale has a bit of everything. The pacing is perfect, keeping the suspense going until the very end. The characters are completely F'd up....which makes them perfect for the story. And the ending......yikes! Loved it!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Atria Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. 01001110 01101111 00100000 01000001 01001001 00100000 01100101 01101110 01110100 01101001 01110100 01101001 01100101 01110011 00100000 01110111 01100101 01110010 01100101 00100000 01101000 01100001 01110010 01101101 01100101 01100100 00100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110111 01110010 01101001 01110100 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01101111 01100110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110010 01100101 01110110 01101001 01100101 01110111 00101110**

REVIEW: Cuckoo

Cuckoo
Author: Sophie Draper

When her stepmother unexpectedly dies, Caro comes "home'' to the farmhouse she grew up in. Flooded with bad memories and strange blank spaces in her recollections, Caro hates the house but longs for a chance to have a fresh start. She's both excited and scared when her sister tells her that she's going to turn the house and the rest of the inheritance over to her. Stephanie says she wants nothing to do with any of it. The minute Caro moves in strange things start to happen and Caro wonders if she's losing her mind. Memories start to return. Family secrets are exposed. What happened in that house? And who was to blame?

What a suspenseful and twisty story! I was completely sucked in from the start. From Caro's first actions after returning to her childhood home (pulling out the carpeting soaked in her stepmother's blood) to the completely twisted ending to this tale, I was mesmerized. I couldn't stop reading! I had to know what was going on....    Every time I thought I had things figured out....the story had another twist in store.

I can't imagine going through what Caro did. Coming home....having to clean up your hated stepmother's blood out of your newly inherited house. Enduring unfriendly glances and mean whispers from villagers. Slowly remembering that your horrible, abusive childhood was even worse than you remember. Yikes! This is one suspenseful and totally messed up story! I enjoyed every page of it!

Cuckoo is Sophie Draper's debut novel. I will definitely be eagerly awaiting more from this author!

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

REVIEW: Game of Scones

Game of Scones
Author: Mary Lee Ashford

I have to admit it was the yummy photo of scones on the cover for this book that led me to read it. The photo looks so good! mmmm. I'm a sucker for culinary cozy mysteries anyway...so I didn't need too hard of a push to read Game of Scones.

Rosetta "Sugar'' Calloway recently left behind her career as a senior food editor for a magazine. When profits started declining she was downsized. So, she has relocated to the small town of St. Ignatius and started a cookbook business with her friend, Dixie Spicer. Sugar & Spice Publishing. Now this isn't a Martha Stewart or Paula Deen type cookbook publisher, but one that centers on community cookbooks.....ones with recipes gathered by local organizations, churches, schools, etc. Their first project is the St. Ignatius Founders Day Commemorative Cookbook. Unfortunately, drama has taken over the planning. Elsie Farmer is at war with the owner of the local B&B over which scone recipe will be included in the book, hers or Bertie's. Small town nonsense turns much more serious when Sugar discovers Elsie's dead body on the ground near her house. The dead woman is found clutching a scone. When Dixie's Aunt Bertie faces arrest for murder, Sugar knows she needs to ferret out the real killer!

I really enjoyed this first book in the Sugar & Spice Mystery series. I grew up in a small town....and live in one now....and the characters, gossip, and little oddities of St. Ignatius made me smile. So much like real life in any small town. From disputes over falling leaves to fights over family recipes.....small town life has its own set of peculiarities. Everyone knows everybody's business. And gossip passes through town at the speed of light. I like the setting for this new series, the characters and the background theme of a small community cookbook publishing business.

All in all, a quick entertaining read. The front cover is engaging....and yummy! There are recipes at the end of the book -- two scone recipes (so you can make a choice between Elsie and Bertie's recipes) and a broccoli dish as well. I will definitely be reading more books in this series!

The second book in this series, Risky Biscuits, will publish in July 2019.

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