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.


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


The Meg
Author: Steve Alten


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??


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

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.


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

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.**

Monday, December 3, 2018

REVIEW: Cold Days

Cold Days
Author: Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden is transforming from Wizard for Hire to Winter Knight. Even dying didn't save him from keeping his promise to Queen Mab. When you give your word to an immortal, it's a bit difficult to weasel out of it. So, Harry has to fulfill his new role.....but he chooses to do it on his own terms. Or at least try. He has to become the Winter Knight without letting the power lead him to become evil. And Mab isn't going to make things easy. She immediately orders him to kill someone....someone he shouldn't be able to kill. An immortal. He learns quickly that his new job is dangerous....and might take away what little he has left....his family, his friends and his soul.

I love this series! Dresden mixes magic, humor, fantasy and lots of gritty action. Every story has him facing new adversaries and twisty plots. This time he comes up against several immortal beings, each with their own agenda. Every time I thought I had the twists figured out.....the story would zing off in another direction. Loved it! There's a lot going on in this 14th book in the Dresden Files series....and lots of characters, new and old, join in....everyone from Santa Claus to the Erlking is in this one!

My favorite scene in this book is a great chase and fight involving the Wild Hunt, a horde of supernatural fae and magically disguised humans. The hunt is after Dresden! The scene was just awesome and filled with action! I wish they would make this series into a series of movies or a television show that actually does justice to the books. I would LOVE to see the Wild Hunt in action on the screen!

I listened to the audio book version of this story. Narrated by James Marsters, the audio from Recorded Books is just under 19 hours long. Marsters reads with great style, hitting the characters' different personalities perfectly. He even manages to add in Dresden's signature sarcastic snarkiness. Great audio experience!

Another great book in the Dresden Files series. I'm almost caught up. I have slowly read this series over the last few years because Butcher hit a bit of a delay in his writing and hasn't released book #15, Peace Talks. It's a few years late...   And I hate cliffhanger endings. So I have been moseying my way through Dresden, hoping to not catch up before the new book comes out. One book left -- Skin Games. I will read Skin Games....then backtrack and read Dresden short stories....hopefully, that will get me through the time left until Peace Talks comes out. Or at least has a release date.

C'mon Jim....don't leave me hangin' for very long! :) I can't fault him for being late....he had a bit of a snag in his personal life. And family, real life, kids, relationships always take precedence. I (and the other Dresden fans) can wait. I really look forward to reading the new book with my hubby though! He rushed through the series and has been waiting on me while I just tiptoed through the tulips because I didn't want to catch up before the next book.....    It's really hard to avoid hearing spoilers when your significant other is several books ahead...ha ha.

On to the next! Skin Game!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

REVIEW: Boca Raton

Boca Raton
Author: Lauren Groff

Boca Raton is the story of a woman's descent into madness because she fears the effects of global climate change. It's the 2nd of 7 stories in the Warmer collection from Amazon Originals/Audible.

It all starts when Ange finds dead baby birds on the beach, killed by little bits of plastic they consumed. Then it dawns on her....global warming will destroy the wildlife habitats in Florida, destroy farms that grow food and ultimately destroy her young daughter's life along with millions of others -- humans and animals alike. She starts to drink, growing increasingly paranoid and emotionally overwhelmed.

While I understand the intent of this story and the importance of being good stewards of this planet....I didn't like this story. I just don't really enjoy stories that have no hope...where the characters have no chance. The main character is so out of control....her own descent into mental instability starts destroying her daughter's life...and her own....way before global warming would have had any effect.

I listened to the audible audio version of this short story/novella. Dana Rosenberg narrates the story quite well. Rosenberg skillfully brings across the panic, emotion and fear of the main character. The audio is only about an hour long, so it's easy listening length.

I'm two stories into this collection and not really feelin' it. So far, the stories are thinly veiled commentary on modern issues rather than tales about climate change. I'm on overload when it comes to social commentary at the moment. Because the stories are short, I will keep listening and see if any of these tales actually ends up being predominantly about climate change. So far.....not.

DNF: When to abandon a story

I saw a post on Twitter this morning about a reader's choice to DNF (did not finish) a book and read through some of the replies.  There were those commenting that life is too short to read something that isn't enjoyable....and those on the other side of the spectrum saying that it's a part of mental discipline to always finish a book. I see validity on both sides....and it really got me thinking about what makes me DNF a book.

In 2018 out of 440+ books that I have read so far, I DNF'd one book and one audio book.

The audio book was a physical issue more than anything. I have partial hearing loss and some narrators are difficult for me to understand. This particular recording was a very disjointed story. Rambling, disjointed thoughts. Strange plot. The narrator read at a rushed speed, almost slurring words together using an affected southern backwoods accent. I couldn't understand what he was saying. I tried multiple times to get through the entire 38 minutes of the novella. The nature of the story mixed with struggling to hear/comprehend the narrator just made it a lost cause.  I stopped listening and moved on.

The book I didn't finish was written by an author that I've enjoyed for years. Bestselling author. Understandably so. But he falls back on particular tropes over and over and over and over again in his novels. As I read the book, I just kept thinking how it was like he took one of his earlier books, changed the setting and characters a bit and adjusted the plot slightly to make a new book. Nothing new. I just wasn't enjoying the story. So, I stopped reading. At some point, I might pick that book up again and give it another go. It could have been the day, my mood, my thoughts at the time.....I have read many books by this particular author and enjoyed most of them. But at the time I could not see the benefit of slogging through 500 pages of a story I felt I'd read before....

I read more than 400 books this year in almost every genre. Most of them I enjoyed. Some I did not. I wrote mostly favorable reviews because I'm picky about what I choose to read. I pick things I think I will enjoy and skip over those I know I will not. Just because an author is popular or many people are reading a new book does not mean I need to read it. Not all stories are meant for all readers. I pick and choose.....which means I rarely have to DNF a story before the end.

It is not a reflection on my mental discipline to abandon a story I cannot enjoy. Knowing when to cut bait and move on I think comes with wisdom. I'm 50 years old.  I have a degree in American and English literature. I've read thousands and thousands of books plus written and currently editing 3 of my own. And over my lifetime I have learned (most often the hard way) when it's time to move on. Not all stories are for all readers. That's a lesson that comes with time and experience. Reading a book is not a contract, a commitment, a personal relationship or a job. It's a mental journey that engages emotion, imagination and inner spirit. When a story isn't working.....it's ok to move on to one that does. 

When a story engages my interest, my thoughts and my imagination....I finish it. At times, for various reasons, that doesn't happen.

I have a finite amount of time in this universe. There are millions upon millions of books. I can't possibly read them all. But I'm going to spend my time enjoying as many as I can.

I'm not going to waste my time on stories that are not meant for me, that don't engage my spirit.

And that's perfectly ok.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

REVIEW: Murder in the Dark

Murder in the Dark
Author: Simon R. Green

Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny Balcourt are on another case. This time, a strange black hole has opened up in a hillside in Somerset. A group of scientists have been sent to examine and study the phenomena. Jones has been called in because an archaeologist fell into the hole and disappeared. Upon arrival, they find that communication outside the site is limited to one phone call per day from the mysterious organization that sent them there. No cell phones. No radio communication. And only limited internet. They understand very little about the pitch dark, strange hole they are here to study or about why everything surrounding their work is so secret. What's the truth about the absolute darkness on an isolated hillside?

I love the Ishmael Jones series! Ishmael reminds me of an alien, much more spooky, Fox Mulder. Working for a mysterious government group called The Organization, Ishmael and Penny investigate all things alien, supernatural and downright dangerous. The stories are dark, strange and suspenseful. Murder in the Dark is the 6th book in this series. Simon Green tells a great spooky story. This series has never let me down. I like the shorter length of these novels. I can get in a great supernatural fix without a lot of extra fluff. Green jumps right into the action, sending Ishmael and Penny off to all corners of the world to investigate all sorts of strange, warped and usually top secret happenings. I like how the two main characters compliment each other. Where one is weak, the other is strong. They make a great team. Ishmael's background story is eerie in itself, which really makes the character perfect for this type of series.

Murder in the Dark is an awesome addition to this series. I'm definitely going to keep reading. I like Simon Green's writing style. I still miss The Nightside series, but this new series is equally as enjoyable for me. I can't wait to find out what sort of trouble they will be in next! This is one series I would love to see made into a television series or even movies. It would have to be done true to Green's writing though. I don't want another Dresden Files debacle. I hate it when I get so excited about a film adaptation of a favorite series, only to discover they totally mangled the plot or characterizations!! Do it right, or leave it alone.

Although it isn't completely necessary to read this series in order, to get the full background of characters and past events, it's probably best to start at the beginning rather than hopping in at book six. But, this story would be enjoyable even without all the background on The Organization and Ishmael & Penny.

Great addition to this series! I look forward to their next adventure!

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

Friday, November 30, 2018

REVIEW: The Sorrows

The Sorrows
Author: Jonathan Janz

This story is seriously messed up.

I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean that in a creeptastic horror story way.

Totally.  Messed. Up.

After reading a couple of Jonathan Janz's books, I realize this is his normal MO. Awesome!

With a deadline to produce a music score for a horror movie quickly approaching, Composers Eddie and Ben decide to spend some time at an island estate off the coast of California. Castle Blackwood is nicknamed The Sorrows because of all the twisted, horrible things that have happened there. In 1925, there were several murders on the island. A group that stayed there in the 1970s to research the murders met a similar fate. Now the two composers and two female companions head to The Sorrows hoping to revive their musical muse.

Not a good idea. Very, very bad idea.

Hallucinations. Dark Thoughts. Violence. Ancient Evil.

The Sorrows has plans for all of them.

I'm not going to reveal much about the plot because it needs to catch readers by surprise. There were some parts I really liked....others that felt a bit B-movie....and some were just completely out there. But, all in all, as I finished up this story I felt like it all worked.

What I will say is this --- prepare to dislike every character in this story. They are all pretty reprehensible people for one reason or another. And travelling to a cursed/evil island with a group of folks like that is never, ever a good idea for those involved. Luckily, a reader does not have to like the characters in a horror story to enjoy the creepiness. To be completely honest, I found myself rooting for the ancient evil. Go evil! Eat the awful people! :)

The Sorrows is actually a re-release. First published in 2012, The Sorrows was Janz's first book. There is a sequel, Castle of Sorrows. Definitely adding this second book to my TBR list!

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

REVIEW: Haunted Horror of Haverfordwest

Haunted Horror of Haverfordwest
Author: G.L. Davies

I love haunted house stories. A great creepy tale about things that go bump in the night is right up my alley, especially when the story is supposedly true. So, of course, I had to read the nonfiction account of a haunted house in England.

The Haunted Horror of Haverfordwest is the continuation of a story about a house G.L. Davies wrote about in a prior book, A Most Haunted House. The events in this new book start 13 years before the paranormal events Davies first wrote about. The house is the same, but the experiences are a bit different.

From 1989-1991, a married couple, Dai and Anne, lived in the house in Haverfordwest, until they couldn't stand it any more. Their terrifying experiences finally drove them out of the house. Paranormal events ranged from disembodied voices to physical attacks by an entity. The author interviewed this couple 46 times over a two year period to gather the facts of the case. The specific location of the house and the actual names of those involved are kept confidential.

Davies presents the facts in an interview format with a bit of extra information on the surrounding area, the house, and his thoughts on the interviews and the haunting.

These events predate the occurrences outlined in Davies' prior book, A Most Haunted House. The text of that book is also included. A Most Haunted House outlines another couple's experiences in the house starting in September 2003. Their experiences were somewhat different -- unexplained lights, shadowy figures, cold spots and a menacing atmosphere made it difficult for them to remain in the home. Just like the first couple, they finally abandoned the property.

Davies offers a few non-supernatural explanations -- electromagnetic fields, mold, radiation, infrasound and other possible causes. He also offers a few supernatural suggestions -- ghosts, demons, aliens, or other dimensions.

While I enjoyed reading the accounts of experiences in this house,  I'm not sure I totally believe the story. It's easy to list experiences as fact when the locations, people and events can't be corroborated. Although I would not want to live in a house where I was experiencing any of the events reported by these couples, I didn't find this book particularly scary. I found most of the experiences to be basically trope-y things used in almost every bad movie or book written about ghosts. One scene about a female spirit actually trying some sort of weird sex attack on a resident of the house just seemed ridiculous.....more silly than scary. But, I'm a skeptic. Someone who believes in ghosts and that these experiences could actually happen might be more frightened by the story of this house.

While I don't buy the story, I did enjoy reading both books. I love stories about ghosts and creepy occurrences. Stories about hauntings are one of my most guilty pleasures. But, I don't believe the tales are true. I am not a believer in the supernatural. Dead is dead. Ghosts or hauntings just don't exist. I firmly believe that most hauntings are just misinterpretations or hallucinations brought on by suggestion, or environmental issues like magnetic/electrical problems. But....in the event of factual proof being brought to light....I would be willing to admit I'm wrong and change my mind. For now, I will just continue to love stories about hauntings, and leave the actual ghost hunting to others.

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

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Paring down my TBR pile!

On January 1st 2018 I made a resolution to read whatever the hell I wanted to all year long! And.... I did!

I re-discovered old favorites. Read some awesome backlist stuff and new releases just 'cause I wanted to. Discovered some new-to-me authors. And, I cleared a lot of books off my over-filled shelves! I learned to use my library's physical and digital offerings more, and even joined a nearby urban library system to expand the digital books available to me. 

I think the one major change in my reading habits is I came to love audio books. I used to hate trying to listen to books. I would get distracted and miss large sections....or I didn't like the narrators....or the thought of listening for hours and hours to a story just didn't interest me. But....since I have been using my library's digital offerings more and forced myself to try more audio, I find I actually enjoy listening to books now! I have an audible account that I use to buy books I know I will listen to more than once. I used Kindle Unlimited to listen to free books that come with audio (they are adding more all the time) and my library has thousands to choose from. Nice change! I can "read'' now even when I'm busy driving, doing housework, or whatever! Yay! 

I'm so happy with my results for 2018 that I'm going to do it again! I don't have my reading totals for 2018 yet as the year isn't over. I have a tradition of doing a New Year's Eve post ringing out the old year of reading and starting the new....I will put totals in that one. 

My goals are simple: 

In 2019: 

I am going to continue to read anything and everything that interests me.....any genre, any audience (children's, middle grade, YA, adult, giant gila monster....whatever!), just whatever strikes my fancy! And I'm going to review everything I read...new, old or inbetween. 

I am not going to set a # of books goal this year. I'm just going to focus on free-range reading. Both in reviews and TBR/off-my-own-shelves reading, I'm going to read things that interest me and just enjoy. I want that to be the goal...not a #. I will set a Goodreads challenge #....but will just increase it when I get close to hitting that mark. Reading for reading's sake.... 

I love reviewing new releases, but I always end up reading more new books than backlist....and my bookshelves are still crammed full. This year, I'm going to balance new releases with my humongous TBR pile. 1:1 ratio this year! For every new release or ARC I review, I need to get an older book off my shelves and winging its way to somewhere else. I have thousands of books....and I need to pare it down. I have a few keeper books (of course), but everything else....gotta get read and out the door. That makes room for NEW BOOKS! :) Some I donate to the local library....some I give to the local charity thriftshop....others I trade for books I don't have. It all works out. Less on my shelf means more books read...and more shelf space for new books. Win-win all the way around.

I am going to rein in my book buying habits. I do not need to buy every book that catches my interest. Many books are available through my library -- I belong to a consortium of libraries (several small town libraries working together) and a large urban library -- and I use Kindle Unlimited and OpenLibrary/Internet Archive for OOP older books. Plus there is always the Gutenberg Project as well. With that many physical, ebook and audiobooks available to me.....I need to limit my purchases of new books to ones I really want on my keeper shelf until I have my bookshelves pared down. I own too many books. I know....I know. There is no such thing as too many books to a bibliophile. BUT......I have five crammed full full-size bookshelves in my bedroom. Floor-to-Ceiling built-in bookshelves in my office that are crammed full. And two shelves in the livingroom....also full. I have made progress on this. My books are sorted and orderly. They are neatly displayed on the shelves and not crammed everywhere because there are too many. So, I have pared down the collection substantially over the last two years. But.....I want fewer bookshelves so that there is room for a desk in my room. Basically....I want room for ME which is now taken up by my ponderous personal library. 

Those are my basic reading goals for 2019. I will post more specific goals on New Year's Eve. I have a month to think it over and decide! 

REVIEW: A Deadly Chapter

A Deadly Chapter
Author: Jan Fields

The Christmas season brings the Charles Dickens Society to Castleton Manor for a retreat. It's all things Dickens all the time. Unfortunately one of the main presenters is rude, annoying and handsy. Manor Librarian Faith Newberry puts up with Charles' stupid come-on comments and bad disposition for the sake of her job....but she is a bit surprised that nobody seems to like the man, even the members of the society. The week starts off festive but goes downhill when society members start reporting thefts from their rooms. Then it gets worse.....a murder. How much Dickensian drama can one retreat handle?

I enjoy this series.....the characters, the setting, the pets, and the plots. Despite the books being written by several authors, the sweet vibe of this cozy mystery series is present in all the stories I have read so far. The background plots are varied (each retreat has a different theme) and very entertaining. All in all, this series delivers a nice cozy mystery experience each time. The books are sold on a monthly membership basis by Annie's Attic. Luckily, most of the books have been donated to my local library! :) Yay!

I like the fact that guests and staff can bring their pets to the manor. Each book has different authors and retreat guests and their various pets. :) I know an upscale retreat resort would in reality never, ever allow pets, especially in a library.....but it makes for a sweet cozy mystery. :) I love Faith's cat Watson....he has an abundance of cattitude. :)

The hardcover books are high quality and attractive. The cover art is colorful, engaging and cute (as is common with cozy mysteries). The series would look quite nice displayed on bookshelves. But I'm content to borrow them from my local library as I only read mysteries once.

Another enjoyable cozy experience. Moving on...I picked up the next book in the series (An Autographed Mystery) at the library today! Can't wait to find out what Faith and Watson are getting into next! :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

REVIEW: Prose and Cons

Prose and Cons
Author: Amanda Flower

I love this series about a magical bookshop! Customers in Charming Books get mysteriously matched with the books that fit them. Only proprietors Violet Waverly and her grandmother Daisy know the secret. They are the caretakers of the bookshop and the magical oak that grows up through the middle of the building. In Prose and Cons, everyone is gearing up for the annual Food and Wine Festival in Cascade Springs. The bookshop is hosting a reading of Edgar Allen Poe's work. The presenters will dress in period costumes and read selections on the front porch of the bookstore to entice tourists into the shop. It all goes along Poe-fectly until......one of the presenters is found dead just moments before the reading is to begin. When the magical shop starts giving Violet hints that the identity of the killer can be found within Poe's stories, she reluctantly investigates. Violet has learned in the past that chasing after killers can be dangerous and she doesn't want to be the next one that turns up......nevermore.

I know when I start reading a book by Amanda Flower that it's going to be magical and entertaining. I read this book when it first came out, but decided to re-read the first two books in this series before the third book comes out. Murders and Metaphors releases in February...so this is a perfect time to enjoy this enchanting series again. Although it isn't completely necessary to read the books in order, I would recommend it. There is a lot of character development, history of the shop and other details in the first book. I'd highly recommend reading it first before delving into this story. But.....a reader could piece together most of the characters and plot if they had to skip over book 1 and start with this one.

I listened to the audio book version of this 2nd book in the Magical Bookshop Mystery series. At just under 8 hours long, the audio is narrated by Rachel Dulude. I liked her reading and voice. She read at a nice, even pace and did a great job voicing the different characters...even Faulkner the Crow. :)

I did have a hard time with one thing though. And this is just me. Because the poetry reading is from the works of Edgar Allen Poe, it's called a poe-try reading. So the characters say that word over & over & over again....poe-try, poe-try, poe-try. For whatever reason I found this grating on my nerves. At first, I thought the narrator was mispronouncing the word. When I was fussing about it, my husband remarked that it might be written that way. I got down my print copy of the book and looked....sure enough....Poe-try reading.  If I had been reading that over and over in print, I would have found it cute. But pronounced that way in an audio book more than 1000 times.....it got annoying by chapter 3. Overused. But....most people would probably not find that irritating. [Mental note to self: When you start getting annoyed by cute, quirky things in cozy mysteries, it's time to drink more coffee, relax and just enjoy literature.]

This second book in the series is just as enjoyable as the first for me. I love the concept of a bookshop enchanted by a magical tree. I love the fact that the shop owners are caretakers of the tree. And, any shop where books magically choose readers.....OMG....I would be there every day! There is a bit of a spooky edge to this story....Poe lends that splash of darkness. I loved it!

Luckily I don't have to wait for the 3rd book to come out....I have a review copy waiting for me on my digital TBR. I'm so glad I took the time to go back and re-read this series before jumping into the new book. It's just a magical, entertaining, feel-good cozy mystery experience.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

REVIEW: The Body in the Attic

The Body in the Attic
Author: Judi Lynn

I enjoy discovering authors who are new to me so I jumped at the chance to read this first mystery novel by Judi Lynn, a romance novelist. I don't usually read the romance genre at all....but decided to give this a try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The Body in the Attic is the first book in the "Body in the.....'' mystery series. Judi Lynn is the author of several romance books including the Mill Pond Romances series.

The basics: Jasmine "Jazzi'' Zanders flips houses along with her cousin Jerod. After four years they are pretty good at it. Most of the time they make good money. This time, their project is a home of a recently deceased family friend. In fact, the man was engaged to Jazzi's Aunt Lynda before she ran off to New York more than 25 years ago and never came back. Lynda was a bit of a wild, free spirit having been engaged multiple times, breaking it off with each man when she found someone more interesting. Jazzi and Jerod are both completely shocked when they begin cleaning out the attic and find a stained cedar trunk. Inside is a skeleton, red hair still clinging to the skull and a silver locket around its neck.   Aunt Lynda.....she never ran off to New York after all.....

When I request review copies of books, I promise to give an honest review. I carefully read each book....and then I give my honest opinion. And I'm going to do that with this book just like all the others. That being said.....

I really wanted to like this book. I tried....but it really felt like a formula romance novel with a bit of mystery sprinkled on top. A lot of fluff and little substance. The plot of a long-time missing family member being discovered dead is one that has been used so many times, it just fell flat for me. The minute I read the first chapter and learned about the missing aunt, I knew they would find the body in the house.  There is very little character or setting/background theme development. The writing style is choppy, and the mystery is just too simple with very little suspense or investigation. I knew the identity of the killer before I even reached the half-way point of the story.

This book just isn't for me. That doesn't mean that others won't read it and absolutely love it.

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

Monday, November 26, 2018

REVIEW: Trixie Belden and The Mystery of the Emeralds

Trixie Belden and the Mystery of the Emeralds
Author: Kathryn Kenny

Leave it to Trixie Belden to discover a mystery while cleaning the attic at Crabapple Farm! The Bob Whites of the Glen are helping the Beldens clear out their attic and barn. Trixie accidentally damages a wall in the attic and finds a forgotten room. Inside the room, she finds a letter dating from the Civil War era about the Sunderland family and a cursed emerald necklace. The Bob Whites travel to Williamsburg, VA to try and track down the lost jewels.

Trixie Belden was my favorite teenage sleuth when I was a kid. I had the entire series of books and read them over and over again. This story was one of my favorites. I had a great time re-visiting the story. The gang has to track down clues, do some research, and even visit an old cemetery! Great fun! :)

The Mystery of the Emeralds is the 14th Trixie Belden book. It was first released in 1965.

The Trixie Belden series has 39 books and was written from 1948-1986. The first six books were written by Julie Campbell. The rest of the series was written by various authors using the pen-name Kathryn Kenny. I really wish I knew which authors wrote which books in the series! I'm slowly reading my way through the series again, and enjoying it just as much as I did back in the 80s. Most of the books are out of print (Random House owns the rights and re-released the first 15 books in 2003), but it's relatively easy to find used copies.

On to the next book! #15.....The Mystery on the Mississippi!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

REVIEW: The Way the World Ends

The Way the World Ends
Author: Jess Walter

The Way the World Ends is a short story/novella included in the Warmer Collection from Amazon/Audible. This is the second Amazon Originals Collection I have come across. The first -- The Dark Corners Collection -- included 7 horror tales with a lot of commentary on the modern world swirled into the mix. The Warmer Collection is along the same lines with climate change (cli-fi) being the basic theme. I'm always up for creative storytelling....so jumped on this second collection.

I have to say I expected something completely different from this piece. But I really shouldn't have. What starts out as a tale of people enduring a snow storm in March in Mississippi quickly becomes musings on the changing concerns facing gays coming out, and how to navigate in a world that is partially warming towards acceptance while still holding on to some bitterly cold winds, or forming new obstacles for those seeking to just openly be themselves. When is it ok to jump in to a pride event? Is there such a thing as being too "new'' at being gay? As the weird weather rages outside and forces the characters to deal with it, there are musings about inner changes. Interesting and creative. But.....a bit all over the place. I think with this story that works though. The mix of humor (the bits about middle aged people having sex made me chuckle) and serious, along with the characters' confusion about navigating a changing world  and information on environmental climate change required that confusion.

All in all, an enjoyable story. I wonder if any of the stories in this collection will actually be about climate change for the planet? lol Hopefully one will be more disaster oriented and less pure introspective. Sometimes I just want a good action-filled story.....not another reflection on current issues. I've been current issued to death lately.....I wanted some good, old-fashioned disaster action. But.....despite my slight disappointment....I enjoyed this story for what it offered. Everyone faces confusion in learning what the world is about, and their place in it. Careers change. People change. Momentous moments in life occur. Choices have to be made. Those really are climate change moments on a more personal level. 

The sun'll come out tomorrow....bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there'll be sun...

Yeah....when I get introspective, I pop out the show tunes. :)

On to the next story in this collection! There are 7. Very curious about the rest.....climate change....or Climate Change? Can't wait to find out!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

REVIEW: Ready Player One

Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline

OMG.....as a child of the 80s, this book.....I can't even describe how happy this book made me. It brought back so many memories.

.....the six months I was The Coolest Kid in the neighborhood because I was the only one with the newest thing....an Atari gaming system. We called it "TV Game'' because the console hooked into the back of my family's television with prongs. Some of the games we all played together during those early years of video games are still some of my favorites -- Centipede, PacMan, Space Invaders, Asteroids.....   I even had the infamous ET game (and I can understand why they buried thousands of copies in the desert....it really was a horrible game ha ha)

.....The day I played Asteroids all day and beat the game. All the way to the credits at the end....which had a screen that told me to take a photo of the credits screen and send it in for a prize. I grabbed my camera and took several photos. When I took the film in to be developed, none of the photos came out. The flicker of the TV made them all fuzzy and horrible....so I never found out what you got if you mailed in the photo. Did anybody actually do this?? I'm still curious all these decades later.

.....Saturday afternoons laying down on my parents horrid 1970s puke green shag rug watching Johnny Sokko on television. Or hurrying home from school so I could watch G-force at 4 pm.

.....and reminders of video game titles, television shows, movies and other parts of my childhood that I haven't heard mentioned in decades.

I loved every moment of this book!

I listened to the audio book version of this story, enjoying the ending fight sequences while cooking Thanksgiving dinner. It was the perfect accompaniment to my holiday prep. Read by Wil Wheaton, the audio from Penguin Random House is almost 16 hours long. Wheaton was the perfect choice for narrator. He gave an outstanding performance.

And now that I've enjoyed the book....I can finally watch the movie! :)

Anybody who grew up in the 80s or who loves classic video and arcade games, manga, comic books, etc....will love this story. The author is currently writing a sequel....I will definitely be reading it! He also has another similar book called Armada (published in 2015) that mixes video game adventures with an alien invasion. I'm waiting in the queue for the audio book on my local library's digital site. :)

I read a lot of books....and I can honestly say that this story was the most enjoyable adventure I've come across in years. Definitely earned full stars from me. I own the print book.....it's going on my keeper shelf. :)

REVIEW: A Scandal in Scarlet

A Scandal in Scarlet
Author: Vicki Delany

While walking her dog late one night, Gemma Doyle sees the local museum is on fire and calls the fire department. Her quick action saves the building, but much of the antique furniture and items inside The Scarlet House could not be saved. The town of West London and its businesses decide to work together and hold an auction to help repair and re-open the museum. The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium donates a basket of Holmes-related items, and Gemma's uncle donates a signed first edition copy of The Valley of Fear. The fundraiser never gets started though because the chairwoman of the museum board is found dead in a back room filled with donations for the auction. A local businesswoman is the top suspect. She's rude, difficult and annoying....but Gemma knows she isn't a murderer. Can she solve the case?

I love this series...not just because of the Sherlock Holmes theme, but also because the author mentions many Sherlock related books in each story. I end up with quite a few new titles on my TBR each time a new book comes out in this series! I love the idea of a Sherlock Holmes book and gift shop with a tea room right next door! And located on Baker Street, too. :) As a devout Sherlock Holmes fan, it makes me smile. Gemma is a great main character...she is intelligent, loyal and feisty when required. Her friend Jayne and all the rest of the secondary characters round out the theme and the plots quite well. Quirky, sweet and awesome.

A Scandal in Scarlet is the 4th book in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery series. I enjoy this series and will definitely continue reading! The mystery was nicely paced this time with plenty of suspects and twists to keep me interested. All in all, an entertaining cozy mystery!

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

Friday, November 23, 2018

REVIEW: House of Ashes

House of Ashes
Author: Loretta Marion

Cassie Mitchell is 37 and in trouble. She lives in her family's historic Victorian house on Cape Cod...but the house comes with ghosts. Literally. Or bad memories. Or a curse. Whatever you want to call it. Three generations of her family have met with sadness and death because of a long-ago curse placed on the family by an unhappy lover...a lighterman named Robert Toomey. 80 years ago Toomey supposedly started a fire in the house, killing Cassie's great-grandmother Celeste. Percy Mitchell then jumped from the nearby cliffs clutching his dead wife's body, yelling that he was not yet finished with Toomey. Flash forward 80 years....the house is in need of repairs, but Cassie is out of money, in the midst of a divorce, and despondent. She loves Battersea Bluffs at Lavender Hill -- or just The Bluffs as modern residents of Whale Rock, MA call it now -- and doesn't want to lose the house, or the lovely vanilla and caramel scent reminiscent of baking cookies that means the ghosts are about. Mysteriously a young couple and their dog show up one day asking about the house and the legend of the curse. Cassie instantly befriends them. Vince and Ashley start helping renovate the carriage house. Cassie can rent it out and bring in some money to start paying off the debt her ex-husband racked up before leaving. She comes to love them as friends. Then one day Vince and Ashley head out on a biking excursion and never come back. The bikes and picnic basket are found abandoned. She files a missing person report but it seems law enforcement really doesn't want to solve the case. Where are her friends? And why did they just disappear?

I love a good haunted house story! And this one fit the bill perfectly! House of Ashes is a nice mix of mystery and supernatural. The house clearly has a mind, or spirit, of its own. And as Cassie works to find out what happened to her friends, she learns more about the background of the house, her family, and the curse. She also has to battle small town gossip. Nobody really wants to find the young couple. The residents of Whale Rock don't trust outsiders and seem glad they are gone. The local police are pulled off the case by the FBI. And the FBI doesn't seem all that interested in solving the matter.

I enjoyed Cassie as a main character. She is intelligent and learning to stand on her own and fight for what she wants in life. She's creative -- a very talented painter. Plus Cassie is loyal and determined. She isn't just going to let this go and forget about the two people who stayed with her for four months and helped her at her lowest.

On the front cover of House of Ashes it says "A Haunted Bluffs Mystery'' so I'm assuming this is the first book in a series. I will definitely be reading more books by this author -- and more books about Battersea Bluffs, if this does turn out to be a continuing series. This story was perfectly paced and nicely suspenseful. There were plenty of twisty developments to keep me guessing what the final outcome would be. I binge read this book in one sitting -- I couldn't put it down. I had to know how it ended!

Loretta Marion is the author of another unrelated suspense novel, The Fool's Truth. I've added it to my tbr stack! I like her writing style and will definitely be watching for more by this author.

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

REVIEW: Twas the Knife Before Christmas

Twas the Knife Before Christmas
Author: Jacqueline Frost

It's Christmastime in Mistletoe, Maine once again. Holly White is gearing up for all the holiday festivities and helping out with the family business, Reindeer Games Christmas Tree Farm. They are renovating and expanding to add an Inn for guests, but construction is way behind schedule. She's also trying to cheer up a friend who just had a really bad experience at a benefit dinner. Her date, the son of a local judge, behaved badly...and they had a fight. To kick off the holiday season, everyone goes to the town's tree lighting ceremony. What should be a fun holiday gimmick -- guessing the number of holiday mints in a giant glass bowl -- turns for the worst when Caroline's handsy date is found dead inside the glass bowl, covered in Christmas candy. Not only is that a terrible waste of lovely mint candy.....but Caroline is a murder suspect. A knife from her cupcake business emblazoned with Caroline's initials is the murder weapon. It might just take a Christmas miracle to prove that Caroline didn't stab Derek.....

This cute, enjoyable holiday cozy mystery got me in the mood for the Christmas season. :) I love the background theme of a Christmas tree farm...especially in a small town named Mistletoe. :) Finding the murder victim in a huge dish of candy was also a nice touch. I wanted the killer arrested not only for killing Derek the Handsy Jerk, but also for ruining the lighting ceremony and huge glass container of candy gimmick. I just kept imagining how pretty that big glass bowl filled with peppermints under all the lights would have been....until a body was stuffed into it. What sort of grinch does something like that?  All is revealed by the end of the book! The mints however were a lost cause....

I enjoy this series. The characters are fun...from Holly White the main character clear down to Theodore the pet goat. I'm always a sucker for holiday themed cozy mysteries...and this series never fails to entertain me. The mystery is nicely paced....it's just Christmas-y enough to be fun....and there are enough twists and turns to keep the plot interesting. And, a couple special Christmas miracles are thrown in for good measure. All in all, an enjoyable holiday cozy with lots of feel-good moments. I will definitely continue reading this series!

Ho, ho, ho....Merry Christmas! :)

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Crooked Lane via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. My guess....there were 20,947 candies in the giant bowl before the addition of a Dead Derek.**

Thursday, November 22, 2018

REVIEW: Trapped

Author: Michael Northrop

Weather conditions develop that are just right to stall a heavy winter blizzard over the upper east coast of the United States. New Englanders are used to Nor'easters, but this storm is something much worse. Seven kids and a teacher wait at their high school. The kids were waiting for rides home, but the snow is coming down so fast that the roads become impassable. They soon realize that nobody is coming for them. When the teacher ventures out into the storm to get help and doesn't come back, the kids are left alone in the school to fend for themselves. Then the power goes out.....and the snow keeps falling.

I enjoyed this story for the most part. I had a hard time believing that seven kids would be left with one teacher in a locked down building during a weather emergency....but I guess since they were waiting for their usual rides it might be plausible. I really think a teacher or law enforcement would have evacuated them from the building with or without parental permission before the roads completely snowed shut. But....if a storm could truly intensify that quickly without warning....then I guess I can see how the last stragglers might be stuck in the building. But, as an adult, I would not have left them alone to wander out into the night trying to get help. Not only does that leave the kids alone....but it also leaves them without keys to the building, knowledge of where emergency supplies might be or other info a teacher could provide them. Plus....where was the principal (surely they can't leave the building before all the kids are gone?) or school security? Even the schools in the small town I live in have security officers....why didn't this school have more than one teacher who stayed until all of the kids were out of the building? In the end, the kids figured things out the best they could. I think their reactions were pretty close to realistic....jokes and fun in the beginning when it was novel to be stuck inside their school with no adults, changing to a bit of panic and fear when the power and heat went off.

The ending of the story was a bit abrupt. I wanted more of a finish with more information on what happened to the kids and the aftermath of the storm. But it got to a point and just.....stopped. I felt it ended before the story was really complete.

Despite a bit of adult incredulity at some aspects of the basic premise and my need for more of a finish, I enjoyed this story. My 14 year old read some of the story and we talked about it. He had the same concerns with the tale that I did -- administration would never leave the building following an early dismissal until all students were safely out of the building, and they would never have been left alone like that. But, he did say the premise was interesting and agreed that their reactions would be realistic. It would be fun for the kids for awhile.....until the situation became dangerous.

Michael Northrup has written several other YA books including the TombQuest series and Surrounded by Sharks. The shark story sounds like it's similar to this book in that teens are put in a life or death situation. Sounds like an exciting story! I will definitely read more by this author.

The story is complete age appropriate for teens. No gory deaths, sex, inappropriate language/topics, etc. Just a survival story. Quite enjoyable!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

REVIEW: City of the Lost

City of the Lost
Author: Kelley Armstrong

Casey Duncan is running from her past. Years ago she killed a man and she knows his relatives are mixed up in organized crime. Someday they will be coming for her. Casey's best friend, Diana, isn't fairing much better. She is in a relationship with a violent man and just can't seem to escape from him. When Diana gets beat up once again, the two women decide to disappear. There is a town, Rockton, where people can pay to disappear. No phones. No internet. No outside contact. People have to apply to be admitted to Rockton. Normally they don't accept murderers and other violent offenders. Casey wouldn't normally be admitted to town, but she's a detective and they need her investigation skills. There's been some disappearances, murders....  Something is going on in Rockton. And Casey can help them solve the case.

I listened to the audio book version of this story. Narrated by Therese Plummer, the audio is almost 14 hours long. I liked Plummer's voice and reading style. She read at a nice steady pace, did the character's voices convincingly and helped build the suspense of the story. All in all, a nice listening experience!

The story had me hooked from the start. A cop who murdered someone and was never caught......a cop who lives with real guilt and self doubt, but still manages to excel at her job. Awesomely creative and very suspenseful plot! I enjoy thriller/crime novels. But when I come across a series that has a plot angle that's new to me, creative and different....it makes me so excited! I loved every moment of this story, and I'm going to jump right into the next book! There are 3 books in this series so far, with a 4th (The Watcher in the Woods) coming out in Feb 2019.

I like Casey Duncan as a main character. She is intelligent and driven, but also very flawed. She has a hard time with real relationships and carries the scars, both physical and mental, of her past.  She is always ready to jump into an investigation and gives it her all...even when it might be incredibly dangerous. She is also a loyal friend. This first book has a lot of character and place development. The concept of a hidden settlement completely off the grid for people who need to disappear is intriguing. And the side characters fit that concept. Most are rough. Some are dangerous. But they all pitch in and help in an emergency. They all need each other to survive off the grid.

This is the first book by Kelley Armstrong that I've read. She has written several other series that look so interesting! When I have caught up on the Casey Duncan series, I'm definitely going to read some of her others! I love it when I discover a "new to me'' author that I really enjoy! I already have book two of this series, A Darkness Absolute, checked out at the library! Binge read! Binge read! :)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

REVIEW: The Grim Reader

The Grim Reader
Author: Margaret Welch

It's Simmering Suspense Week at Castleton Manor. Three authors are in-house for the suspense themed retreat...one is quite famous and the other two are lesser known writers. Castleton Manor librarian Faith Newberry is excited about the suspense retreat because it has gone over well. The event is sold out! Her excitement quickly turns to panic when famous author Gloria Bauer disappears after leaving her first event of the week early. Then a ransom note turns up. Maybe this won't be such a great week after all? Faith is on the case to search for the missing author. Turns out much more is at stake than a ruined retreat.....

I am really enjoying this series so far! The Grim Reader is the 3rd book in the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library series. I love the background theme of a writers retreat that holds writer and book enthusiast retreat weeks with interesting themes. This time, suspense novelists are at the manor....makes for a great mystery! The plot develops at a nice pace with plenty of suspects and surprises along the way. I like how the guests and authors are allowed to bring pets with them. Faith's cat Watson is a great side character. This time one of the authors brought a pet that has the cutest dog name I have ever come across -- Sir Arfer Conan Doyle. Love it!

This series is published by Annie's Fiction (part of Annie's Attic) and released as part of a book club with a monthly subscription. Luckily, a wonderful person donated most of this series to my local library! :) I had to look online to find the reading order and book list because the books do not have a list of the books in this series. The series is written by various authors. The books are hardcover with nice cover art...quite attractive.

All in all, an entertaining cozy series. I will definitely continue reading. :)

Monday, November 19, 2018

REVIEW: Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian
Author: C.S. Lewis

Prince Caspian is the only novel in the Chronicles of Narnia series that disappointed me as a child. Now...before Narnia fans bristle and start leaving hate comments....hear me out. After I read this book I was always hopeful on every first day of school that I would magically be whisked away to a magical other land while waiting for the school bus. And, it never happened. Every year, the school bus showed up and I was whisked away to prison the new school term. No Aslan. No Reepicheep. No DLF. Sigh. Utter disappointment.

But it certainly did make me understand the disappointment of so many children decades later when they didn't receive an owl with a letter from Hogwort's. I too have felt this pain....

But isn't it lovely that there are stories that can make us hope (even as adults) that magic exists? :) I was sorely tempted at 9 to check the back of my clothes closet just in case it was a hidden doorway to Narnia. But nope.....only clothes and the back wall. But it was worth a try, right? And I will admit that I was happy when we removed the old gas logs from our fireplace this year and refurbished the chimney. Not only does that allow Santa a way in....but perhaps the owl can deliver my Hogwort's letter now. Better late than never! :)

The reading order of this series has been moved around since I first read these books. I stick with the original publication order. Prince Caspian refers multiple times to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe...it makes sense to read it in 2nd place. I do understand why many people read The Magician's Nephew first since it does explain where the Wardrobe came from....but it really isn't necessary to read it first. Kids don't need things in order....I understood the story just fine as a child and didn't mind the main characters changing. Kids are not stupid....they are, at times, smarter than adults who get all bogged down with stress, work and adulting that they can't use their imaginations anymore. BUT.....in all fairness, it really doesn't matter if someone reads the books in publication order....or the new reading order. Prince Caspian is a wonderful story if it's 2nd or 4th!  I choose to read it second. But the key really is....read it! :) The Chronicles of Narnia is a wonderful series of books! :)

Reepicheep is introduced in this book....the most valiant of mice! And I always loved how the Pevensies nicknamed their dwarf friend their DLF (Dear Little Friend). :) A wonderful adventurous story for children (and adults!)

I have re-read the Narnia series many, many times. This time my return to Narnia was prompted by The Great American Read. I was very happy when at the conclusion of the PBS show, the series was voted #9 in the list of 100 books that got the American public reading and talking about literature! Yay!

Great series! I have loved it for more than 40 years!

I read the audio book version of this book. Read by Lynn Redgrave, the audio is almost 5 hours long. Redgrave reads the story masterfully. All in all, a great listening experience!