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Saturday, February 17, 2018

REVIEW: Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift

*Thank you to Netgalley and Solaris for an ARC in exchange for a review*


Publisher's Summary:
Determined to escape her old life, misfit and student geologist Hallie packs up her life in England and heads to Paris. She falls in with the eclectic expat community as a bartender at the notorious Millie’s, located next to the Moulin Rouge.

Here she meets Gabriela, a bartender who guides her through this strange nocturnal world, and begins to find a new family. But Millie’s is not all that it seems: a bird warns Hallie to get her feathers in order, a mysterious woman shows up claiming to be a chronometrist, and Gabriela is inexplicably unable to leave Paris.

Then Hallie discovers a time portal located in the keg room. Over the next nine months, irate customers will be the least of her concerns, as she navigates time-faring through the city’s turbulent past and future, falling in love, and coming to terms with her own precarious sense of self.

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The cover is what drew me to this book.  I liked the concept. The novel begins with a bleak glimpse at the future.  The world as we know it is in ruins and the humans left have little hope.  Their only chance is one last mission go back in time, find a particular person and hope that they can re-write history.

Time travel books have a tendency to get messy and often complicated.  In general, I enjoyed Paris Adrift.  The story was engaging and I liked Hallie as the main protagonist.  I did; however, find fault with a few aspects.  Some reviewers argue that the pacing was off.  I did not have to slog through, per se, but I will agree that I wold have liked to see the writing tightened a bit for general aesthetic. The whole purpose for the mission is revealed and wrapped up far too quickly. 

Overall, the general characterization could have been polished, giving more depth to some of the secondary characters and I wanted significantly more world-building for the futuristic premise.  I do not believe that readers need to constant hand holding for science fiction; however, there are a significant amount of undefined terms which need better definitions to round out the reader's experience.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 3, 2018

REVIEW: Phantom of Oz by Cindy Brown

*Thank you to Netgalley and Henery Press for a copy in exchange for a review*


Publisher's Summary:

Creepy munchkins. A mysterious phantom. And a real Wicked Witch. Are you ready for it? 

Actress and part-time PI Ivy Meadows has been hired to uncover the cause of the creepy accidents that plague the roadshow The Wizard: A Space OZpera and find out who dropped a chandelier on the Wicked Witch of the East. 

Was it the ghost who haunts the Grand Phoenician Theatre? A “wicked witch” in the cast? Or is it someone—or something—more sinister? 

It’s Ivy’s most personal case so far. 

Her best friend Candy, who’s touring with the show, is caught in a downward spiral of self-destruction, and is in more danger than she knows. 

To save her friend and the show, Ivy must answer even tougher questions: Do spirits really exist? What is real beauty? What does friendship mean? 

Ivy needs to learn the answers, and fast—before Candy reaches the point of no return. 

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I am a sucker for anything with a Wizard of Oz twist!  This book was my first foray into the Ivy Meadows mystery series, although it is the fifth book!  I enjoyed the Oz theme and joke mixed with dashes of Phantom of the Opera.  I found this to be a strong mystery where I was engaged and entertained. I did not find the whodunnit overtly obvious and Brown's writing is clever with interesting character detail nuggets interspersed throughout each chapter.

I also enjoyed the play between reality and a touch of the paranormal.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 25, 2018

REVIEW: No Contest by Tara Wyatt

*Thanks to Netgalley and Pocket Star for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Expected publication: January 29, 2018

The third book in the Blood and Glory series reveals that sometimes, the power of temptation is stronger than the pull of a championship belt. This is a sexy read full of intensity, unexpected romance and its fair share of intrigue.  Perfect for fans of Katy Evans!

Publisher's Summary:
Leandro Oliveira—hunky MMA fighter, playboy billionaire, and newly crowned champ of the World Fighting Championship’s light heavyweight division—is used to getting his way. But when his party lifestyle threatens to cost the WFC sponsors, he has to clean up his act or he’ll be stripped of his contract. Forced to give up late nights of booze and women, Leandro resents having to change his behavior—until he lays eyes on the sexy publicist hired to manage his image. He plans to seduce her to regain control of the situation, but falling for her wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal.

Freelance publicist Ashylynn Fields has never taken on a client she wasn’t certain she could handle. But her latest project might just be the guy who kills her perfect record. Between his sex tape, his exploits at strip clubs, and his nights spent street racing expensive sports cars—not to mention his smoldering good looks and near constant flirting—Leandro might prove to be impossible. But with a full-time position with the WFC on the line, Ashlynn is more determined than ever to ignore his good looks and charm, and get this bad boy on the straight and narrow. 

No Contest was a quick, steamy read and my first exposure to the series. However, I have definite plans to seek out the other titles.  Author Tara Wyatt follows a successful formula to build suspense.  Not only is there electric sexual tension between protagonists, but there is just enough extra plot outside of their growing attraction to add to the overall narrative. On downside, for me, was that many of the added characterizations of secondary players was all to stereotypical/predictable.  I guessed what would happen very early on but I didn't really have too many complaints since this is what I look for in this type of romance.

Overall, very enjoyable.  

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Highlighted Reads - December 2017

Southern Eclectic #0.5

Molly Harper is back with another charming southern based series full of wit, romance and enough crazy characters to keep readers laughing and begging for more.  Welcome to the charming small town of Lake Sackett, Georgia!

Carl and Marianne were high school sweethearts, loving the way only teenagers can—with no thought to logic or pride, just a bone-headed, optimistic frenzy of unicorns and hormones. That was all they needed. Or so Carl thought.

Scared of being stuck in Lake Sackett, like so many of her friends—without a real shot at a future or achieving her own dreams—Marianne panicked and bolted to college after stomping Carl’s heart. But when she returns for the summer with her family after years away, she and Carl are drawn together like moths to a flame. As they rekindle their old romance and remember what it was like to be in love, they have to wonder: is this, finally, their real chance at happiness?

Everything a Harper fan could ever want in a short story--good structure, memorable characters, humor, romance, a bit of angst and a happy ending! The story's only downside is that is I was left wanting more. I love Carl and Marianne and wish they had gotten their own full length book rather than this little nibble. Audiobook fans will be pleased to know Amanda Ronconi is back for another fantastic performance!

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Southern Eclectic #1

(Publisher's Summary) -- Nestled on the shore of Lake Sackett, Georgia is the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop. (What, you have a problem with one-stop shopping?) Two McCready brothers started two separate businesses in the same building back in 1928, and now it’s become one big family affair. And true to form in small Southern towns, family business becomes everybody’s business.

Margot Cary has spent her life immersed in everything Lake Sackett is not. As an elite event planner, Margot’s rubbed elbows with the cream of Chicago society, and made elegance and glamour her business. She’s riding high until one event goes tragically, spectacularly wrong. Now she’s blackballed by the gala set and in dire need of a fresh start—and apparently the McCreadys are in need of an event planner with a tarnished reputation.

As Margot finds her footing in a town where everybody knows not only your name, but what you had for dinner last Saturday night and what you’ll wear to church on Sunday morning, she grudgingly has to admit that there are some things Lake Sackett does better than Chicago—including the dating prospects. Elementary school principal Kyle Archer is a fellow fish-out-of-water who volunteers to show Margot the picture-postcard side of Southern living. The two of them hit it off, but not everybody is happy to see an outsider snapping up one of the town's most eligible gentleman. Will Margot reel in her handsome fish, or will she have to release her latest catch?

(My Thoughts) -- Let me count the ways I loved this book! 
1) Amanda Ronconi narrates the audiobook. She's perfect as usual.  
2) The humor - no one writes charming, wacky characters and families quite like Harper. 
3) The romance - the perfect blend of fun, angsty, a little sexual tension and a fairy tale ending.
4) The setting - what a great little fictional southern town full of great narrative potential!

I can't wait for the next book!!!!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Oberon's Meaty Mysteries #2

Oberon is off to Portland to smell all the things with canine companions Orlaith and Starbuck, and, of course, his human, ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan. The first complication is an unmistakable sign of sinister agendas afoot: a squirrel atop the train. But an even more ominous situation is in store when the trio plus Atticus stumble across a murder upon arrival at the station. 

They recognize Detective Gabriela Ibarra, who’s there to investigate. But they also recognize the body—or rather that the body is a doppelganger for Atticus himself. The police, hampered by human senses of smell and a decided lack of canine intuition, obviously can’t handle this alone. Not with Atticus likely in danger. Oberon knows it’s time to investigate once more-—for justice! For gravy! And possibly greasy tacos!

Together they navigate by nose through Portland to find a bear-shifter friend with intel, delicious clues at the victim’s home, and more squirrels. Always more squirrels!

This is another super fun  novella meant to serve as a companion read to the Iron Druid Chronicles. Oberon remains one of my favorite supporting characters in any series I read.  His narrative voice (as written by Hearne and literally voiced by Luke Daniels) is honest and hilarious--basically how I imagine Scooby Doo might be if he lived with a 2000 year old Druid rather than a stoner. What's better is Hearne's ability to give each canine their own distinctive personality.  I always love Atticus too, but he really takes a back seat in these mysteries. 

A superb, fun, novella perfect for a hilarious but well developed read.  The audiobook is a real treat too!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Hercule Poirot #10

What more can a mystery addict desire than a much-loathed murder victim found aboard the luxurious Orient Express with multiple stab wounds, thirteen likely suspects, an incomparably brilliant detective in Hercule Poirot, and the most ingenious crime ever conceived?

This read satisfied part of my 2017 Reading Challenge and is our Third Monday Book Club selection for January 2018.  I knew the basic premise of the story even though I'd never read the book or seen any of the film adaptations.  Basic plot - there's a murder on the Orient Express with a limited number of suspects...so...whodunnit?  Poirot is conveniently there to conduct an investigation!

Overall, it is a great basis for a mystery; however, I'm less of a fan of how antiquated and stereotypical Agatha Christie's novels feel in the year 2017. I dislike the biased and rather prejudice voice and characterization that occurs throughout this book and others I've read.  For me, it dampers my ability to connect with the story. I am curious to finally watch the various film versions.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Crown & Key #2

When monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane comes across the gruesome aftermath of a ritual murder in a London church, he enlists the help of magician-scribe Simon Archer and alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther. Studying the macabre scene, they struggle to understand obscure clues in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into the victim’s heart—as well as bizarre mystical allusions to the romantic poetry of William Blake. One thing is clear: Some very potent black magic is at work.
 
But this human sacrifice is only the first in a series of ritualized slayings. Desperate to save lives while there is still time, Simon, Kate, and Malcolm—along with gadget geek Penny Carter and Charlotte, an adolescent werewolf—track down a necromancer who is reanimating the dead. As the team battles an unrelenting army of undead, a powerful Egyptian mummy, and serpentine demons, the necromancer proves elusive. And when the true purpose of the ritual is revealed, the gifted allies must confront a destructive force that is positively apocalyptic.

The series hits its stride with book 2--the characters have developed and are really beginning to function as a group and even like a family. There is romance and some good flirtation between Kate and Simon.  I particularly was intrigued by Malcolm's struggle to accept those he would previously consider monsters. Altogether, this was a fun read that is just the kind of imaginative Victorian steampunk that I enjoy.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Crown & Key #3

Gaios, a deranged demigod, who is hell-bent on summoning the elemental forces of the earth to level London and bury Britain. The Crown and Key Society, a secret league consisting of a magician, an alchemist, and a monster-hunter, is the realm’s only hope—and to stop Gaios, they must gather their full strength and come together as a team, or the world will fall apart.

But Simon, the Crown and Key’s leader and the last living magician-scribe, has lost his powers. As Gaios searches for the Stone of Scone, which will give him destructive dominion over the land, monster-hunter Malcolm , alchemist extraordinaire Kate, gadget geek Penny, and Charlotte the werewolf scramble to reconnect Simon to his magic before the world as they know it is left forever in ruins.  

This book is a page turner from beginning to end. Will Simon get his powers back?  Will the Society save Britain? Will Kate discover a cure for her sister?  So many questions!  Luckily, they are all answered and then some :)

The only downside to this book is that it seems like the final one in the series! I wanted more--there are hints that the Society's mission will still continue but we'll have to wait and see if we ever get any of those stories in the future.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars



Wednesday, December 20, 2017

REVIEW: The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen

*Thanks to Netgalley and Tachyon for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Enter the Emerald Circus and be astonished by the transformations of your favorite tales. Ringmaster and internationally bestselling author Jane Yolen (Briar Rose, Sister Emily’s Lightship) spins modern fantasy classics in tales that go well beyond Wonderland and Oz, down the rabbit hole and back again.

Where is Wendy? Leading a labor strike against the Lost Boys, of course! A girl blown away from Kansas returns as a sophisticate with unusual gymnastic abilities. A talented apprentice, forging her first sword, is suddenly left to the mercies of Merlin. Alice’s infamous nemesis has jaws and claws, but also lacks the essential: a sense of humor.

Witty and bold, and unexpected, these tales go well beyond the rabbit hole and back again.

Table of Contents

Andersen’s Witch - I enjoyed this one and it's rift on Hans Christian Andersen
Lost Girls - quite possibly my favorite of the whole book besides the reimaginings of Oz and Alice.
Tough Alice - LOVED IT!
Blown Away - LOVED IT!
A Knot of Toads - I was very surprised by this story but enjoyed it.
The Quiet Monk - not a standout for me as a reader
The Bird - quite mysterious, loved the Poe vibe!
Belle Bloody Merciless Dame - just okay for me
Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Crown - same, just okay not a favorite
A Gift of Magicians - not a standout for me as a reader
Rabbit Hole - another favorite.
Our Lady of the Greenwood - a spin on Robin Hood
The Confession of Brother Blaise - not a standout for me as a reader
Wonder Land - short but packs a punch.
Evian Steel - extremely intriguing and engaging, sort of a prequel to King Arthur
Sister Emily’s Lightship - Emily Dickinson!!!! 

Overall, this was a well written collection of stories.  Yolen is a master of her craft.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, December 11, 2017

REVIEW: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

*Thank you to Netgalley and Orbit for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Into the Drowning Deep was a stellar horror novel with a truly inventive foe. I'm from the generation where mermaids should be red haired, sing, collection flatware and be BFFs with fish, crabs and seagulls.  Grant has deftly crafted a dark, suspense filled addition to the horror genre that echos Hans Christian Andersen's macabre classic fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid." 

Excellent pacing and build of intriguing characters surrounded by uncertainty and some truly creepy creatures.  What I did like was Grant's ability to give the mermaid/sirens depth and develop the idea that they might be intelligent and deadly but only out of necessity as the characters (and the readers) learn more about them and why they behavior the way the do.  I'm looking forward to the develpment of this as a series since there is huge potential for more narrative based on Into the Drowning Deep's ending. 

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

REVIEW: The Hunt by Chloe Neill

When bounty hunter Liam Quinn discovered that Claire Connolly was a Sensitive and infected with magic, he should have turned her in to be locked up in the prison district known as Devil's Isle. Instead, he helped her learn to control her power and introduced her to an underground group of Paranormals and humans who know the truth about the war and those who fought it.

Now the weight of Liam's own secrets has forced him into hiding. When a government agent is killed and Claire discovers that Liam is the prime suspect, she races to find him before the government can. But she'll discover proving his innocence is no simple matter. Their enemies are drawing closer, and time is running out.

The Hunt picks up several weeks after the end of book two. Liam is MIA after his magical pick me up, Claire is feeling uncertain but readers hope those two will actually communicate and figure out they are better together. Our heroine is also in for some harsh truths about her past that shed light on their current predicament and the future of NOLA and the world itself.

This was an entertaining installment to the series and a good set up for a lot more to come in following books. I did find Liam's last line a bit corny but it works for the next book. Well developed urban fantasy with a post apocalyptic twist. Neill continues to write quality, original works.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars