03.19.15

Hellfire & Damnation III by Connie Corcoran Wilson

Posted in Review at 8:50 am by Amber

Title: Hellfire & Damnation III
Author: Connie Corcoran Wilson
Publisher: Quad Cities’ Press
Source: The author in exchange for an honest review

Hellfire & Damnation III

As evidenced by the title, this book is the third short story collection in the Hellfire and Damnation series by Connie Corcoran Wilson. The unifying theme for the series is Dante’s nine circles of hell. It’s been a while since I had a chance to read a short story collection and this was a nice change of pace.

The not so good: A few of the stories have abrupt endings as though the author was trying to stay within a word goal. At least one seemed to have excessive repetitiveness which kept jarring me out of the story.

The good: The stories have an element of reality or truth as the starting point. This will give the reader a slight chill of recognition. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of gore and this was perfect to read during my lunch hour. These stories aren’t overly long but aren’t too short either. The characters are varied in ages, backgrounds and circumstances. Some short story collections suffer from similar stories and each has enough differences to set them apart. I’m willing to read more by this author.

Thank you to the author and Virtual Author Book Tours for arranging this stop on the book tour. Tomorrow’s tour stop is at Lisa’s Writopia which will include her own thoughts on this short story collection.

 

About The Author

Award winning author, Connie (Corcoran) Wilson (MS + 30) graduated from the University of Iowa and Western Illinois University, with additional study at Northern Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Chicago. She taught writing at six Iowa/Illinois colleges and has written for five newspapers and seven blogs, including Yahoo, which named her its 2008 Content Producer of the Year. She is a member of ITW (International Thriller Writers), where she is a writer for their online newsletter, and a member of IWPA (Illinois Women’s Press Association, Chicago chapter), which awarded her its Silver Feather Award in 2012 and 2014, MWA (Midwest Writers Association), AWP (American Writing Program) and MWC (Midwest Writing Center), which named her its Writer of the Year in 2010. She has won numerous E-Lit awards, a NABE Pinnacle award, an ALMA (American Literary Merit Award), Lucky Cinda competition and two IWPA Silver Feather Awards (2012, 2014). Connie’s third book in “The Color of Evil” series, ‘Khaki=Killer’ was just named a Page-turner of the Year 2014 by “Shelf Unbound” and Writer’s Digest magazine in its December/January 2014-2015 issue!

 

03.04.15

Lock In by John Scalzi

Posted in Review at 8:11 pm by Amber

Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor
Source: Columbus Metropolitan Library

Lock In by John Scalzi

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four per cent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

New technologies emerge to help those who suffer from the condition—a virtual reality network and a system of “riding” in the bodies of other individuals—which are quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse…

I read this for my Geek Girls Book Club and I really enjoyed it. I started reading it on a Sunday and had it completely read in time for book club on Tuesday. It starts with a prologue disguised as a web site entry. I’m not a fan of prologues in general but in this case it worked. It setup the world and answered questions the reader would have without dragging down the action.

One of the questions posed to the group: “Was Scalzi trying to make a point or statement with this book?” Some of the answers were really serious and tied into the other book discussed that night (The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker). I felt really inadequate when I said I thought there was some kind of bet between Scalzi and Joe Hill and this was the result. As a nod to Hill, Scalzi even incorporated a mention of Corgis near the end.

Overall, it’s an entertaining book. It has a mystery to solve in a future that has enough in common with the present that everything seems plausible.

01.05.15

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Posted in Review at 10:14 am by Amber

Title: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Graphia
Source: Columbus Metropolitan Library

Graceling

 

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

She never expects to fall in love with beautiful Prince Po.

She never expects to learn the truth behind her Grace—or the terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.

One of my resolutions for 2015 is to write my reviews within a week of finishing a book. So far I’m doing well! I started Graceling around the Christmas holiday and finished it a few days ago. If I keep this up, you should have lots of reviews to read this year.

If I had a grace it would be the ability to find something nice to say about anyone (with the exception of myself). What would your grace be?

Katsa is a strong female protagonist who I really enjoyed reading about. During the course of the novel she gains friends, learns to stand up for herself when it really matters, and faces the unknown.

Katsa and Prince Greening Grandemalion, nicknamed Po, spend quite a bit of time in hand to hand combat. This could’ve been really boring but Cashore knows just the right amount of details to give to keep the reader engaged. The pacing is right whether Katsa is riding a horse to make sure an alibi stays intact or Katsa is sitting with a weakened old man.

This is the first in a series and I’m looking forward to reading the others.

01.01.15

Black Lake: A Novel by Johanna Lane

Posted in Review at 9:36 pm by Amber

Title: Black Lake: A Novel
Author: Johanna Lane
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Source: ARC from the publisher

Black Lake by Johanna Lane

A debut novel about a family losing grip of its legacy: a majestic house on the cliffs of Ireland.

The Campbells have lived happily at Dulough–an idyllic, rambling estate isolated on the Irish seaside–for generations. But upkeep has drained the family coffers, and so John Campbell must be bold: to keep Dulough, he will open its doors to the public as a museum. He and his wife, daughter, and son will move from the luxury of the big house to a dank, small caretaker’s cottage. The upheaval strains the already tenuous threads that bind the family and, when a tragic accident befalls them, long-simmering resentments and unanswered yearnings Both hasurface.

As each character is given a turn to speak, their voices tell a complicated, fascinating story about what happens when the upstairs becomes the downstairs, and what legacy is left when family secrets are revealed.

I was asked to review this by the publication date (end of May) and I had read it by then but froze up when trying to think of what to say about this book. It’s one that deserves reflection and pieces of it will stay with the reader for a long time.

Have you heard of the Piatt Castles? They’re in a serene part of Ohio and one of the castles was opened up for tours in 1912 while the family was still living in it. The Piatt family certainly had its ups and downs. If there were any tragedies like the Campbell family, the Piatt’s have kept them hidden from public view and prying eyes. While I recently walked through these castles from the 1800s it was easy to reflect on the differences and similarities between the real and fictional families.

Both families have intertwined fates with their estates. Both have been faced with how much of their home should be turned over to the public and what improvements/updates should be made to retain the integrity of the original build while adding to the comfort of the residents.

This was one of my memorable reads of 2014.

04.30.14

Her Loving Husband’s Curse by Meredith Allard

Posted in Review at 4:00 am by Amber

Title: Her Loving Husband’s Curse
Author: Meredith Allard
Publisher: Copperfield Press
Source: Premier Virtual Author Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Premier Virtual Author Book Tours

Her Loving Husband’s Curse is the second book in Meredith Allard’s Loving Husband Trilogy. It’s not necessary to have read the first book as Allard is adept at sprinkling bits and pieces of the backstory in this novel.

And then, as if he could read her mind, he said, “We’ll be all right, Sarah. Just the two of us. I’ll never leave you ever.”

Finally, after many long and lonely years, James Wentworth’s life is falling into place. With his wife, Sarah, the only woman he has ever loved, he has found the meaning behind her nightmares about the Salem Witch Trials, and now they are rebuilding the life they began together so long ago.

But the past is never far away for the Wentworths. While Sarah is haunted by new visions, now about the baby she carried over three hundred years before, James is confronted with painful memories about his time with the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears. Through it all, the persistent reporter Kenneth Hempel reappears, still determined to prove that the undead walk the earth. If Hempel succeeds in his quest, James and Sarah will suffer. Will the curse of the vampire prevent James and Sarah from living their happily ever after?

Her Loving Husband's Curse

What happens when you mix historical fiction, romance, and the supernatural? In this case, a book I kept finding an excuse not to keep reading. It has a lot going for it but I couldn’t connect to the characters.

Allard picks a historical event (The Trail of Tears) to parallel the storyline in which James is forced to leave his home and family behind. It’s a famous event but I can’t recall off the top of my head any fiction that uses it as a backdrop. This was smart as the reader wouldn’t be tied to points of historical accuracy and gave Allard room to fictionalize events along the march.

The vampires aren’t exactly stereotypical – sure, they have strong bodies without a pulse but they also shed bloody tears. And they aren’t superhuman. The reader won’t find any vampires carrying humans long distances in hopes of keeping the human from harm’s way.

The book tour for Her Loving Husband’s Curse continues until May 2nd. Check out the other stops (and a chance or two to win a copy of your own) at the Premier Virtual Author Book Tours site.

Meredith Allard

About The Author

Meredith Allard has taught creative writing and writing historical fiction workshops at Learning Tree University, UNLV, and the Las Vegas Writers Conference. Her short fiction and articles have appeared in journals such as The Paumanok Review, Wild Mind, Moondance, Muse Apprentice Guild, The Maxwell Digest, CarbLite, Writer’s Weekly, and ViewsHound. She is the author of the Loving Husband Trilogy, Victory Garden, Woman of Stones, and My Brother’s Battle (Copperfield Press). She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Visit Meredith online at www.meredithallard.com.

Meredith on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authormeredithallard
Meredith on Twitter: https://twitter.com/copperfield101
Meredith on Google+: https://plus.google.com/101687256587444508026/posts?hl=en 
Meredith on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/meredithallard/

04.01.14

Lowcountry Bribe by C. Hope Clark

Posted in Review at 9:02 pm by Amber

Title: Lowcountry Bribe
Author: C. Hope Clark
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Source: Personal Library

Book cover of Lowcountry Bribe

A killer wants to make certain she buys the farm.

Threats, a missing boss, a very dead co-worker, a high-level investigation and a sinister hog farmer: Lowcountry Ag Department manager Carolina Slade is a bean-counting civil servant in hot water.

Carolina Slade is a by-the-book county manager for the Department of Agriculture—a civil servant who coordinates federal loans for farmers in the coastal Lowcountry of South Carolina. When one of her clients, a hog farmer named Jessie Rawlings, offers her a bribe, Slade reports Jessie to her superiors. The next thing she knows, she’s besieged by Resident Agent-In-Charge, now a Contract Investigator, Wayne Largo from the Feds’ IG Office in Atlanta. He and his partner have come to investigate Slade’s accusations, and if possible catch Jessie in the act of handing over money.

However, the IG isn’t telling Slade everything. The agents are also investigating the disappearance of Slade’s boss the year before in connection to possible land fraud. And when the sting on Jessie goes bad, the case is put on hold and Wayne is called back to Atlanta, leaving Slade to fear not only for her life and job, but for her children’s safety.

I’ve received Hope Clark’s email newsletters over the years which have provided progress updates on her debut novel so I was eager to read Lowcountry Bribe when it became available. Clark knows Slade intimately. Clark worked in the US Department of Agriculture and is married to a former federal officer. They met during a bribery investigation. Sound familiar? 🙂

Everything Bell Bridge Books has published, that I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed. Lowcountry Bribe is no exception. The opening scene reels the reader in. The book is well-paced and Slade is relatable. Slade is put into some dangerous situations and it’s only the first novel! This is a good novel to read while cozying up to the fireplace or sitting on the porch with a cold lemonade.

The Borgia Betrayal by Sara Poole

Posted in Review at 3:05 pm by Amber

Title: The Borgia Betrayal
Author: Sara Poole
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Source: St. Martin’s Press in exchange for a review

Book Cover of The Borgia Betrayal

In the summer of 1493, Rodrigo Borgia, Alexander VI, has been pope for almost a year. Having played a crucial role in helping him ascend the chair of Saint Peter, Francesca, haunted by the shadows of her own past, is now charged with keeping him there. As court poisoner to the most notorious and dangerous family in Italy, this mistress of death faces a web of peril, intrigue, and deceit that threatens to extinguish the light of the Renaissance.

As dangers close in from every direction, Francesca conceives a desperate plan that puts her own life at risk and hurls her into a nightmare confrontation with a madman intent on destroying all she is pledged to protect. From the hidden crypts of fifteenth-century Rome to its teeming streets alive with sensuality, obsession, and treachery, Francesca must battle the demons of her own dark nature to unravel a plot to destroy the Borgias, seize control of Christendom, and plunge the world into eternal darkness.

This book came out after the first season of The Borgias began to air. I began watching the tv series but I don’t recall if I finished the first season or not. The premise behind this book, about a court poisoner was most interesting. This is the second book in the Poisoners Mystery series. I did not read the first book, Poison. According to the Reading Group Gold interview with Poole, each was written as a stand alone book. Poole felt there could be as many as a dozen books in the series but to date only three have been written. In fact, the Sara Poole site is no longer in existence and Goodreads indicates Sara Poole is a pseudonym for a New York Times bestselling author who wanted to write historical fiction. As the Twitter and Facebook accounts haven’t been updated in a few years, I think it’s unlikely there will be more than the three books.

I’m disappointed as I fell a little bit in love with Sara Poole’s Francesca. Francesca could easily have an ordinary life with a husband and child and she sometimes thinks about it. She learned poisons from her father and her profession puts anyone who cares about her in danger. She wishes to avenge the death of her father and the life of an ordinary woman would not allow that. Francesca’s intelligence and the trust Borgia places in her provides her with opportunities she otherwise might not have. Francesca’s complexity is why I liked her so much.

Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes by Betsy Woodman

Posted in Review at 12:00 pm by Amber

Title: Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes
Author: Betsy Woodman
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Source: ARC from Henry Holt and Company

From Henry Holt’s site:

Meet Jana Bibi, a Scottish woman helping to save the small town in India she has grown to call home and the oddball characters she considers family

Janet Laird’s life changed the day she inherited her grandfather’s house in a faraway Indian hill station. Ignoring her son’s arguments to come grow old in their family castle in Scotland, she moves with her chatty parrot, Mr. Ganguly and her loyal housekeeper, Mary, to Hamara Nagar, where local merchants are philosophers, the chief of police is a tyrant, and a bagpipe-playing Gurkha keeps the wild monkeys at bay. Settling in, Jana Bibi (as she comes to be known) meets her colorful local neighbors—Feroze Ali Khan of Royal Tailors, who struggles with his business and family, V.K. Ramachandran, whose Treasure Emporium is bursting at the seams with objects of unknown provenance, and Rambir, editor of the local newspaper, who burns the midnight oil at his printing press. When word gets out that the town is in danger of being drowned by a government dam, Jana is enlisted to help put it on the map. Hoping to attract tourists with promises of good things to come, she stacks her deck of cards, readies her fine-feathered assistant—and Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes is born.

Are you looking for an escape from the winter weather in your area? Or are you already planning your summer beach reads? Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes will transport you to a small Indian town in 1960. Like any small place, Hamara Nagar is full of characters who aren’t likely to be found anywhere else.

Jana Bibi is lonely and doesn’t feel as if her son understands her. Mary, who has been with her for years, understands Jana Bibi’s kind nature and anticipates her employer’s house won’t hold just the two of them for long. Mary’s correct.

Woodman perfectly captures how one woman can win over a town by engaging people in conversation and listening to their concerns. The secondary characters, while interesting on their own, really reveal the kindness and determination of Jana Bibi.

I’m sure more adventures for Jana Bibi and her neighbors is just around the corner.

L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories

Posted in Review at 6:30 am by Amber

Title: L.A. Noir: The Collected Stories
Author: Rockstar Games (Edited by Jonathan Santlofer)
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Source: Bought it!

Rockstar Games has partnered with Mulholland Books to publish a collection of short fiction expanding the world of the newest groundbreaking achievement in storytelling: the interactive crime thriller L.A. Noire.

1940s Hollywood, murder, deception and mystery take center stage as readers reintroduce themselves to characters seen in L.A. Noire. Explore the lives of actresses desperate for the Hollywood spotlight; heroes turned defeated men; and classic Noir villains. Readers will come across not only familiar faces, but familiar cases from the game that take on a new spin to tell the tales of emotionally torn protagonists, depraved schemers and their ill-fated victims.

With original short fiction by Megan Abbott, Lawrence Block, Joe Lansdale, Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, Jonathan Santlofer, Duane Swierczynski and Andrew Vachss, L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories breathes new life into a time-honored American tradition, in an exciting anthology that will appeal to fans of suspense and gamers everywhere.

L.A. Noire

The month before we turned 40, my husband and I spent a week in New York city to celebrate our upcoming milestone. We dined at fancy (and not so fancy) restaurants, sampled goodies from The Magnolia Bakery and Donut Plant, visited several art galleries and museums, and saw some unforgettable stage performances. I recall the sidewalk advertisements for the video game and short story collection. Upon learning of the various authors in this collection, I purchased it. Don’t we have to hear or read about an item eight times before we’re moved to purchase it?

Fortunately, none of the stories in the collection are repetitive. Each story has its own cover and covers different themes and characters from the genre. It’s a nice survey of Hollywood in the 1940s. I read some of the characters are also in the video game but I can’t say if it’s accurate or not. I’ve never played the game.

Several of the authors were known to me through previous work and I’m sure this was a fun exercise for them. Some of the stories are quite dark in tone so you probably don’t want to read them while eating in a diner or waiting at the bus stop. They may hit a little too close for comfort.

The Shimmer by David Morrell

Posted in Review at 3:01 am by Amber

Title: The Shimmer
Author: David Morrell
Publisher: Vanguard Press
Source: FSB Associates in exchange for a review

Book Cover of The Shimmer

Creator of Rambo and the co-founder of the International Thriller Writers organization, David Morrell has been called “the father of the modern action novel.” Now this award-winning, New York Times bestselling author delivers The Shimmer, a novel of chilling impact.

When police officer Dan Page’s wife disappears, her trail leads to Rostov, a remote Texas town where unexplained phenomena attract hundreds of spectators each night. Not merely curious, these onlookers are compelled to reach this tiny community and gaze at the mysterious Rostov Lights.

But more than the faithful are drawn there. A gunman begins shooting at the lights, screaming “Go back to hell where you came from!” then turns his rifle on the innocent bystanders. As more and more people are drawn to the scene of the massacre, the stage is set for even greater bloodshed.

To save his wife, Page must solve the mystery of the Rostov Lights. In the process, he uncovers a deadly government secret dating back to the First World War. The lights are more dangerous than anyone ever imagined, but even more deadly are those who try to exploit forces beyond their control.

With The Shimmer, David Morrell takes readers on a brilliant, terrifying journey. Suspenseful, yet thought-provoking, it is the master at his very best.

Before reading The Shimmer I’d never heard of David Morrell although he’s most famous for creating the character, John Rambo. I suppose this is one case where the author has been eclipsed by the creation.

The lights in Rostov, Texas are based on similar lights in Marfa, Texas (someplace I’d like to visit). I liked how he took a remote, yet known place, as the setting for the book and turned it into somewhere else. The story is well plotted. It’s difficult to pin it down as a political thriller or science fiction so it’s best not to even try. Overall I found it solidly written and a worthwhile vacation read.

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