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Artemis

⇒The author of The Martian takes us to a bubble city on the moon where a smuggler just might become a savior.⇐


Author: Andy Weir

(3.67 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 305 (Hardcover)

#Artemis


Hey, if you want to play life safe, don’t live on the moon.


I have had Artemis on my TBR for some time now, and I am glad to say that I finally added it to my “Read in 2018” pile because it was a really good book! In recent years I have shifted away from Sci-Fi novels. I called myself branching out into other genres after almost exclusively reading horror, thriller, and sci-fi for many years thanks to my Dad’s reading influence (and the free books he was lending me!). But I’m so glad I picked up this little gem of a book from my local Goodwill store and made it one of my November reads.



Check out the Goodreads blurb for Artemis:     Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. 
Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.


After reading this book, I read other reviews on Goodreads – which is often my habit. I just want to know if any number of people felt the same way I did about the book. Surprisingly, many of them said that this wasn’t the book that they were expecting. Those comments seemed to point to the fact that they didn’t want the sci-fi in this sci-fi novel. Hmmm… As for me, it was exactly the book that I was expecting: a science fiction novel.

He’s right, Dad. I am an asshole. But Artemis needs an asshole right now and I got drafted.

Artemis is the type of book that I read sci-fi for – it’s taut, smart, and still manages to weave saucy humor into every situation – no matter how life-threatening. 
Sci-fi can get technical and often it involves advanced science and math. Those weren’t my favorite subjects in school, but I love to see how those advanced concepts can be incorporated into a thrilling novel such as this one. Plus, it had maps! And who doesn’t love a great story with maps! Extra points!
Jazz Bashara, the protagonist, is brilliant but in an entirely underrated way. She is strong-willed and smart-alecky, but it only makes her more likable. If you’ve read other some of my other reviews, you know how much I appreciate an “average joe” hero. Her cohorts were varied and interesting, especially her Ukrainian super-hacker friend (what? Every hero needs one), Svoboda.

Artemis was intriguing, action-packed, and big-screen worthy. Four moon-sized stars for this genuine sci-fi story by an author who understands what the genres fans really need to make them happy!

Read an excerpt of Artemis here

(courtesy of andyweirauthor.com)


Andy Weir

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ANDY WEIR built a career as a software engineer until the success of his first published novel, The Martian, allowed him to live out his dream of writing full time. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He also mixes a mean cocktail. He lives in California.


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Look Alive Twenty-Five (Stephanie Plum, #25)

⇒Apparently, Cinderella isn’t the only one leaving shoes behind and disappearing anymore. Trenton has a new kidnapper and, unfortunately, Stephanie Plum is on the case!⇐


Author: Janet Evanovich

(3.99 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Humor

Published November 13, 2018, by Putnam Pub Books

Format: Audiobook

Pages: 320 (Hardcover)

#LookAliveTwentyFive


Once again, the key to true happiness is lowered expectations.


What do you love about your favorite literary characters? Are they intrepid travelers? Ultra-genius spies? Are they strong-willed detectives? Beautiful romantics?

Why does that particular character stand out to you? Are they creative problem-solvers? Handsome mavericks? Are they earthy survivalists or alien wise men/women? Are they powerful and heroic or freaky and flawed? Lovers or fighters?

Most consistent readers have at least one lit character that they label as a favorite for one reason or another. One of my faves is Stephanie Plum. Steph is the protagonist of Evanovich’s Plum series that began with the book One for the Money (You may have accidentally seen the 2012 movie adaptation of that book starring a brunette Katherine Heigl – if you did, I won’t judge you because I’ve seen it more than once). The reason I like Stephanie Plum is that she is quirky, energetic and ultimately average, but – when pushed – she becomes brave and heroic. Maybe I see a lot of who I am and who I’d like to be in her.

I’ve been following this Evanovich character from Book 1, so I feel like she and I are friends. I’ve made decisions on love and doughnuts for her (we agree on Boston Cream doughnuts, but she’s stubbornly resistant to my plans for her long-term hookup with Ranger), and her family and friends are as familiar to me as my own. That is why each time one of the Plum books is released I eagerly devour every chapter. Although my anticipation for Look Alive Twenty-Five was no different, my overall opinion at the end of the book definitely was.


Here’s the Goodreads blurb for Look Alive…
There’s nothing like a good deli and the Red River Deli in Trenton is one of the best. World famous for its pastrami, coleslaw and for its disappearing managers. Over the last month, three have vanished from the face of the earth, the only clue in each case is one shoe that’s been left behind. The police are baffled. Lula is convinced that it’s a case of alien abduction. Whatever it is, they’d better figure out what’s going on before they lose their new manager, Ms. Stephanie Plum.


Some readers characterize themselves as “mood readers”. When I’m not under blog or release-day deadlines, I’d say I fit into that category.  One of the reasons I look forward to these Plum books is because I can always count on them for genuine LOL comedy. That’s the feel-good mood that I want to be able to always count on. I want those actual, literal laugh-out-loud moments.

Stephanie’s antics and those of her friends and family – particularly Lula and Grandma Mazur – have sent me into side-splitting spasms. I mean happy tears rolling down my face and everything! I kept waiting for that moment to happen in LA25, but it never came. I was underwhelmed.

I’m like an inept pet, beloved but pretty much a disaster.

The story started off well enough – favorite characters in their true forms doing wackadoodle things and actually achieving little or nothing. Usually, that formula is hilarious; however, in this book the wacky seems more nonsensical than usual, and the buildup to action goes on for far longer than necessary.

So what could have made it better? Here are some of my unprofessional but I’m-seriously-invested suggestions:

  • More, more, more Grandma Mazur. She’s the sole source of so many LOL moments and this book needs more of them and her.
  • Less Wulf. Correction, no Wulf. He is annoying and even though I do get the Wicked series tie-ins, Wulf’s paranormal presence in all-too-real Trenton, New Jersey feels like too much of an incongruent twist when compared with the rest of the action.
  • Pacing. The daily grind for Stephanie and Lula at the deli feels too much like reading about someone’s whole day at a real job. That’s not why I read these books. In fact, that’s the exact opposite of why I read these books.
  • No car explosions! Did I miss a chapter? Usually, I can count on someone blowing up one of Stephanie’s cars in some dramatic fashion. But not in book #25. So disappointing.

Normally, I would be the very last person to have even one critical thing to say about one of Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books; however, her latest effort left me wanting more (or less). Even so, I’m not yet soured on the series, and I am still looking forward to Book #26.

Read an excerpt of Look Alive Twenty-Five here.

(courtesy of evanovich.com)


Janet Evanovich

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Janet Evanovich is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series, the Lizzy and Diesel series, twelve romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and Trouble Maker graphic novel, and How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, as well as the Fox and O’Hare series with co-author Lee Goldberg. 
(Bio from Goodreads)


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Mirage (Mirage, #1)

⇒Daud’s debut doesn’t disappoint! A coming-of-age cautionary tale about preserving one’s own identity in the midst of great oppression.⇐


Mirage Cover

by Somaiya Daud

Author: SOMAIYA DAUD

(3.79 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: YA / Fantasy / Science Fiction

Published August 28, 2018, by Flatiron Books

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 311

#Mirage


The blood never dies. The blood never forgets.

Sabé. Do you know that name? Maybe you do if you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan. I had to look up her name, but I remember her character well. Sabé was Queen Padmé Amidala’s handmaiden and body double. She swore allegiance to the queen and vowed to protect her no matter the threat. Not only did she look like her queen, but she also loved and admired her and willingly served her.

Why am I talking about Star Wars – a classic Sci-Fi story when I’m supposed to be reviewing Somaiya Daud’s new debut YA novel, Mirage? Well, because they have several things in common: body doubles, droids, TONS of politics, and very determined rebels.

Happiness is rebellion.

Furat

Amani, a common farmer’s daughter, has a general sense of the political unrest around her, her loving family, and the villagers she loves. After all, they have lived under alien rule for all of her life. But it is only after she is kidnapped by royal droids and forced to become a body double for the evil Princess Maram that she becomes truly aware of the tenuous plight of her people and their planet. Vathek imperial rule has attempted to subdue everyone, but there are some that are willing to fight it until the end — will Amani be among them?

So the Vathek are the bad guys. They ruined the atmosphere on their own planet, now they’re invading and taking over everywhere else – planets, moons, everywhere. Bullies. They forced their rule, language, and beliefs on everyone in their star system and their main focus now is crushing any opposition to their empire. As with any planetary takeover, there’s a buttload of politics in this story: Alliances, allegiances, appropriation, and autocracy. But there are also lots of fantasy elements, especially in terms of the native people’s belief systems and lore. The story is brimming with symbolism and traditions that marked the rich history of the people before Vath occupation. But that history is slowly fading from minds and hearts as Vathek ways permeate all nuances of life. Amani’s capture only emphasizes this: no one has their own free will – you live or die all at the whim of the Vathek King Mathis.

Which brings us back to Amani. She is kidnapped (against her will), forced to live in seclusion in the royal palace (against her will), forced to alter her appearance and personality (against her will) all to serve a cruel princess who loathes and despises her. So, yeah, the opposite of Sabé in almost every sense. So why the comparison? Because Sabé was a handmaiden, but she made herself indispensable, earned respect, and became powerful even in her service to her queen. Amani will need to learn those same traits in order to survive as Maram’s double. But could there be some kind of humanity left in Maram? Amani plans to find out.

I wanted something else, something more tangible and immediate. I wanted the world.

Amani

Somaiya Daud’s debut novel blends several lit genres into a fast YA read that will leave fans wanting more. The book is packed with rich sci-fi elements including crafty technology and space travel. You won’t find faeries or trolls here, but there are direct references to mythical and supernatural beings and animals alike. And for readers who like a side of romance with their YA, Daud has you covered there too with a sticky little love triangle that almost seems inevitable even from early on.

You are not responsible for the cruelty of your masters.

Amani

Although the “cliffhanger” fell a bit flat for me, the draw towards book #2 is clear. Budding world-building and steady character development are certain lures for readers, even if constant language immersion and inconsistent action are a bit draining (hello, Kushaila/Vathekaar translator app, anyone? If you’ve ever tried to learn Quenya or Dothraki, you’ll love this book!). The primary draw is all the rich, non-traditional characterization and imagery. There’s lots of color and texture here, and as we all know, variety is the spice of life!
All-in-all I’d say there’s a little something for everyone in this suspenseful YA debut. And if you read it and are on the fence about eagerly awaiting book #2, Court of Lions, let the blurb from this back cover convince you:

The crown of Dihya had been stripped from me,

My face changed, my body broken.

But I was not a slave and I was not a spare.

I was my mother’s daughter,

And I would survive and endure.

I would find my way back home.

Amani

Read an excerpt of Mirage here.

(Courtesy of EW.com)


Author's pic: Somaiya Daud

Somaiya Daud

Like most writers, Somaiya Daud started writing when she was young and never really stopped. Her love of all things books propelled her to get a degree in English literature (specializing in the medieval and early modern), and while she worked on her Master’s degree she doubled as a bookseller at Politics and Prose in their children’s department. In 2014 she pursued a doctoral degree in English literature. Now she’s preparing to write a dissertation on Victorians, rocks, race, and the environment. Mirage is her debut.

(Bio adapted from Goodreads)


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Past Tense (Jack Reacher, #23)

⇒NEW RELEASE REVIEW: What happens when a hunt for living relatives turns into a deadly manhunt.⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Delacorte Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Lee Child

SmellRating5

(4.31 stars – Goodreads rating)

Publish Date: November 5, 2018, by Delacorte Press

Genre: Fiction / Thriller / Mystery

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 382 pages (Hardcover)

#PastTense  #NetGalley

Past Tense (Jack Reacher, #23)What kind of bad things could happen at a motel with a roadblock?

If you follow me on Goodreads, or Instagram, or if we are irl friends, you may already know about the not-so-secret love affair I have with the character Jack Reacher. And if this is the first you’re hearing about it, don’t worry. It’s not a mushy, annoying type of love where I am crushing on him and desperately hoping to meet a flesh and bone replica and make him my future Mr. PSquared. Although…

Ok, ok, back to reality. I just really do love Jack Reacher. He is so imperturbable, even in the middle of insurmountable odds and danger that would crumple a lesser man. He is an everyday hero (like Batman sans utility belt), and those are the kinds of dudes I love to see heading up my mystery/thrillers.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst

If you have never read any of Lee Child’s Reacher series where have you been? , here’s what you can expect: an unencumbered man hitchhiking through the country (often just trying to get somewhere warm), he mainly minds his own business, but trouble always finds him. He’s big, he’s not handsome in any movie star or romance novel kind of way, and he’s strong – like hella strong. He’s smart. He’s a strategist. He fights for the underdog and he hates to see injustice in any form. He’s the working man’s hero.

So, in Past Tense, Reacher has hitched as far as New Hampshire from Maine and finds himself near the little town where his father grew up. The pull of family ties leads him to visit and try to learn more about his dad and search for any possible relatives still in the area. But we’ve all heard that old adage about being careful what you ask for and, in this case, it couldn’t be more true.

The Goodreads blurb:

Jack Reacher hits the pavement and sticks out his thumb. He plans to follow the sun on an epic trip across America, from Maine to California. He doesn’t get far. On a country road deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been: the town where his father was born. He thinks, What’s one extra day? He takes the detour.
At the same moment, in the same isolated area, a car breaks down. Two young Canadians had been on their way to New York City to sell a treasure. Now they’re stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. The owners seem almost too friendly. It’s a strange place, but it’s all there is.

The next morning, in the city clerk’s office, Reacher asks about the old family home. He’s told no one named Reacher ever lived in town. He’s always known his father left and never returned, but now Reacher wonders, Was he ever there in the first place?

As Reacher explores his father’s life, and as the Canadians face lethal dangers, strands of different stories begin to merge. Then Reacher makes a shocking discovery: The present can be tough, but the past can be tense . . . and deadly.

Surprise was always a good thing. A wise man never counted all the way to three.

You probably have a favorite series. Even if you love it beyond what’s socially acceptable (for non-readers), you’re aware that there are certain books in that series that are substantially better than others. It’s unavoidable – especially for the number of books that Lee Child has racked up with Jack Reacher. I mean 23 books! There’s bound to be some duds in there (not really, but I felt obligated to say it). But Past Tense is not that dud.

Child’s latest release is easily one of my favorite Reacher books to date. It has everything I love about this character inside a taut, mystery-cloaked thriller. It also has excellent pacing, nail-biting tension, equally likable and despicable characters, and Jack Reacher as his usual unflappable, unintentionally heroic self in the midst of it all.

And Patty and Shorty being unwilling co-stars in this sadistic drama don’t come off too badly themselves. I rooted for them and waited with bated breath for their first encounter with our intrepid traveler. And when they did, it was well worth the wait!

If I’ve got you on the hook and you really want to experience this book (because it is an experience!), but you’re wondering if you’d have to read 22 books before you could enjoy this one, let me ease your mind. There are some Reacher books that do have a certain flow as he journeys back and forth across the country getting into and out of different life-threatening situations on his way to a specific destination. However, each one is its own adventure and you will not miss anything by reading Past Tense as a standalone. My bet is, that when you do, you will want to pick up Killing Floor (Jack Reacher, #1) to see how all this started. And then, my friend, you are hooked!

She looked back at him. There was a man right behind him. A giant.

I’ve said this before – on Goodreads and Instagram – but it bears repeating: If you have watched tiny Tom Cruise on the big screen starring as Jack Reacher in those two films, just know that book fans abhor that casting. (Insert all the frowny face, angry face, squoosh face emojis here).

Tom Cruise is 5’7″ tall and is less than 150 pounds. Some people would say he is handsome (not me, personally), and he has a small, college-kid-turned-older-man frame.

Let’s see how Lee Child describes Jack Reacher: “He was a tall man, more than six feet five in his shoes, heavily built, all bone and muscle, not particularly good looking, never very well dressed, usually a little unkempt.”

Does that sound like great casting to you? Nope. It’s like casting Linda Hunt as Olympe Maxime. But I digress…

So, please do not picture little, wimpy T.C. while you’re reading this action-packed thriller. Think of that massive, ruggedly-dressed dude that sat in the corner of your high school classroom facing the door. He didn’t say much, but he was respected. Not mean, not aggressive, but just edging on this side of threatening. Not one to be messed with. Definitely, the one you want on your side. Cast your own Reacher as you read because I have my own, and I absolutely am enamored with him!

Read the first chapter of Past Tense (courtesy of LeeChild.com) HERE.


About the Author

Lee ChildLEE CHILD

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Lee Child is the author of twenty-two New York Times bestselling Jack Reacher thrillers, with thirteen having reached the #1 position, and the #1 bestselling complete Jack Reacher story collection, No Middle Name. All of his novels have been optioned for major motion pictures – including Jack Reacher (based on One Shot) and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Foreign rights have sold in one hundred territories. A native of England and a former television director, Child lives in New York City.

(Bio courtesy of Delacorte Press)


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Haunt Me Still (Kate Stanley, #2)

⇒Shakespeare will never be the same for you after reading Jennifer Lee Carrell’s Haunt Me Still. A lot of black magic and a whole lot of history collide in this thoroughly bewitched tale.⇐

by Jennifer Lee Carrell
SmellRating2.5
(3.42 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published January 1, 2010, by Plume Books

Genre: Historical Fiction / Thriller

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 406

#HauntMeStill

Haunt Me Still (Kate Stanley, #2)…the spiraling evil of Shakespeare’s witch-haunted tragedy is held to be so strong that it cannot be contained

Remember high school? Wait! Don’t go back to all that teen angst, peer pressure, and SAT prep stuff. But do go back to History class. Did you have that one teacher that could remember the exact date that that one obscure person did that entirely insignificant thing that was so extremely important (but apparently only for the test)?

Well, I had a class like that and a teacher like that, and neither of them was my favorite part of high school. While I thought I enjoyed historical fiction, the combination of history and mystery didn’t work for me in this book. It felt… overwhelming and clunky, like info for a test that I would need to study for later. And while I was prepared for (and eagerly expecting) a bard-based ghost story, I got a bunch of insane homicidal witches instead.

Nothing ever is but that which is not

I picked this book up for $1.00 at my local Goodwill store and I’m thankful that it was such a bargain. I did not enjoy it. And it was not just because of all the history, I just wanted it to be a different story.

Here’s the Goodreads summary:

Caught in a web of evil, Kate Stanley tangles with a legendary curse, a witch-haunted blade, and all-too-modern murder.
What price genius? Macbeth is so famously cursed that many actors refuse to name the play aloud. Kate Stanley, Shakespearean scholar and theater director, dismisses the curse as superstition, but–as the cast begins rehearsals at the foot of Scotland’s Dunsinnan Hill–evil begins to stir. Actors go missing, and a trench is found filled with blood. Then Kate discovers a local woman dead in circumstances that suggest ancient pagan sacrifice. Marked as either suspect or future victim, Kate races to find a dangerous, alternate version of Macbeth said to contain actual rituals of witchcraft–and Shakespeare’s darkest secret.

You’re beautiful when you’re angry, Kate. Not smart, maybe, but beautiful.

This is book 2 in the Kate Stanley series, and I feel that maybe my aversion to this book is because I did not read book 1 and am therefore not connected to any of the characters. Plus, I do not think that Kate is that smart. A few of the deaths that occurred can actually be attributed directly to her. Hello, GPS tracking!!! So, first negative, Kate – not a fan.

When you can’t relate to the main character in a book that is told from the first person perspective, it makes it hard to feel connected to the story as a whole. Her voice became grating and it was difficult to finish this book, but Kate’s character wasn’t the only reason.

There were SO many characters in this book, and they popped in and out faster than folks get killed off in Game of Thrones. Play actors and historians, nieces and secret spies, all of them are fair game in what is supposed to be a mystery/horror, but what ends up more like a Shakespearian snuff book. OK, maybe that’s a little harsh.

And then there were all the ancient artifacts: knives and mirrors and cauldrons and manuscripts and letters, oh my! Seriously, were we really expected to keep up with all those items, their histories, and significance, plus which items had copies and doppelgangers? Geez, Louise Kate!

We have one rule in this house. Don’t go up the hill alone.

Positives: if you do consider yourself a Shakespeare aficionado, you will enjoy this alternate look at his life, his possible “origin story”, and the darkness beneath Macbeth’s most famous scenes. Where did all of his talent come from? Was he in league with witches and dark magic that imbued him with an uncanny knack for telling stories that would impact millions throughout the ages? Well, it’s something to think about.

But really, that’s about all I got from this book. The story I was expecting had a spine-chilling ghostly stage haunting, but the book I got was a witch and warlock-heavy bloodbath (at times literally) that seemed to stretch on forever through dual timelines and across two continents.

If that’s your thing, dive in. I, however, very nearly DNF’d it. Sample the audiobook here (courtesy Youtube).


About the Author

Jennifer Lee CarrellJENNIFER LEE CARRELL

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Jennifer Lee Carrell is the internationally bestselling author of two Shakespeare thrillers, Interred With Their Bones and Haunt Me Still, as well as a work of history, The Speckled Monster. Born in Washington, DC, she grew up in Tucson, Arizona. After earning degrees in literature from Stanford, Oxford and Harvard Universities, she taught literature and writing at Harvard. Later, she became the classical music, opera, and dance critic for the Arizona Daily Star. She’s also written a number of pieces for the Smithsonian Magazine, as well as a few screenplays. She lives in Tucson with her husband, daughter, two dogs, and three cats. She is currently at work on a historical novel about the painter Jan Van Eyck.

(Bio from website)


 

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October Spooky Reads Wrap-Up

⇒October had to be the fastest month of the year; I’m convinced. I got very few of my Spooky Reads read this month – I need 15 more October days! ⇐

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I had such high hopes. If you look back at my October TBR post, I was giddily excited about all the creepy reading I planned at the beginning of last month. Seriously, I had been planning my October reading since early September. So even with all that planning ultimately I only ended up reading 5 books (two of them weren’t even on my TBR list) and 1 additional ARC that doesn’t even qualify for Spooky Reads. Oh well, at least I’m reading. Let’s look at what I managed to get accomplished in the lightning fast month of October:

city-of-ghostsCITY OF GHOSTS by Victoria Schwab

SmellRating4

City of Ghosts was written for middle-grade readers, but it was so engaging and creepy that older readers will enjoy it too. It is the first in a series so anyone can follow Cassidy Blake’s adventures beyond the veil that separates life and death. Click for my review post.

frankensteinPRODIGAL SON: FRANKENSTEIN, #1 by Dean Koontz

SmellRating4

Another Book 1 in a scary series, Prodigal Son tells the story of Frankenstein’s monster centuries after being created and then drummed out of town. He’s been living in Tibet as a monk in the mountains, getting zen and smart. He travels to America, New Orleans to be exact, when he learns about the death of a friend and stays to help detectives solve a murder. I know the premise sounds a little convoluted, but it really works and makes the series one to follow. Click for my review post.

Eliz FrankensteinTHE DARK DESCENT OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN by Kiersten White

SmellRating4

My local library must have known that I was previously reading about Frankenstein and his monster because, conveniently, my request for this book came through. Elizabeth’s story of meeting Victor Frankenstein and becoming his playmate (and conscience) eventually became something more… sinister. A very good read in which Kiersten White does a masterful job by exposing monsters in all shapes and forms and giving us a heroine who chooses to defend the world from them. Click for my review post.

Screenshot_20181026-074829_GoogleA HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay

SmellRating3.5

I felt meh after reading this book. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I picked the book up for either. I wanted a truly scary story of possession or ghosts or something, but it was more of a psychological study of a very disturbed little girl. Mental health disorders can be very scary, and I think this book drives home that point more than anything else. Click for my review post.

 

The Strange Casebook by Syd MooreTHE STRANGE CASEBOOK by Syd Moore

SmellRating4

These short stories are absolutely perfect reading for the Halloween season! I enjoyed “Snowy” and “She Saw Three Ships” the best, but each of them has eerily creepy aspects that fit right into dark rooms with low fires, hot cocoa, and creaky doors. Click for my review post.

So that was it for me as far as Spooky Reads go for October. But I did manage to read an ARC for NetGalley that released on October 16:

alva vanderbiltA WELL BEHAVED WOMAN: A NOVEL OF THE VANDERBILTS by Therese Anne Fowler

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Fowler expertly displays Alva Vanderbilt’s fortitude and resourcefulness when it comes to self-preservation and championing the causes of those who needed bolstering. I enjoyed A Well-Behaved Woman for showing that a woman – even in the 19th century – didn’t have to conform in order to be successful and powerful. Click for my review post.

Six books completed for the month and two more in the hopper that I didn’t finish before Oct 31st ended – hey, I spent time actually celebrating Halloween! I’m still working on Haunt Me Still by Jennifer Lee Carroll and I’m listening to (the seemingly never-ending) IT by Stephen King on audiobook. So, it looks like I found a way to extend my October a little more – at least until the end of the week!

I don’t have a challenge planned for November, so maybe I’ll just use the month to read my Owlcrate books and more from my shelves to clear some space in time for a new year of new releases. Happy reading!


 

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The Strange Casebook (Essex Witch Museum Mystery)

⇒RELEASE DAY REVIEW: Grab some cocoa (and maybe a friend!) and dig into these six spooky stories before the next full moon! ⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Oneworld Publications, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Syd Moore

SmellRating4

(3.65 stars – Goodreads rating)

Publish Date: October 31, 2018, by Point Blank / Oneworld Publications

Genre: Horror / Short Stories

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 106 pages

#TheStrangeCasebook  #NetGalley

The Strange CasebookI can tell you most sincerely sir, I’ve had enough of Death today.

Yes! I finally found a book that is perfect for the Halloween season! It also fits into my October Spooky Reads challenge!

The Strange Casebook is a collection of six short stories – each of them with eerily creepy aspects that fit right into dark rooms with low fires and creaky doors.

Remember those camping trips you took when you sat around the fire and tried to out-scare each other with the most gruesome or most bizarre tales of specters and ghouls? Any one of these stories would win hands down.

Yes, the screaming. I do apologise. The medication has calmed her now. She’ll not disturb us again.

From Goodreads:

Enjoy these six short spooktacular stories, inspired by Rosie Strange and Sam Stone’s work at the museum…if you dare! These stories focus on characters that interact with Rosie and Sam in the Essex Witch Museum series and take place across a number of different time frames. Whether it be Rosie’s old relatives, academic George Chin or the residents of Adders Fork – spooky incidents abound at every turn.

And the six stories:

  • Death Becomes Her: A woman joins the police force to defeat Death
  • Snowy: The widow Norah lives with a lot of discerning cats
  • Madness in A Coruña: A man visits friends in A Coruña for holiday and returns with more than just a t-shirt
  • She Saw Three Ships: What Ethel-Rose witnesses at Lillia Lodge will have her thinking twice about arriving early for holiday ever again
  • Jocelyn’s Story: Jocelyn seeks personal perfection at the risk of all else
  • The House on Savage Lane: Twins are always part of the creepiest stories!

I find myself alert to slipping ghouls, dark-backed creatures, shadows unpeeling from crevices and walls.

I enjoyed “Snowy” and “She Saw Three Ships” the best, but each of them has its own brand of oddity that makes for freakily atmospheric reading. 

Not a fast reader? No prob there either – these are short stories, remember? and you can stretch them out too; read one each night and you’re still done in less than a week.

Once we’d had her cleaned up she looked almost human.

These short stories exist as part of the Essex Witch Museum series which also includes Strange Magic, Strange Sight, and Strange Fascination. Strange Tombs will release in 2019.

But before Strange Tombs, get your hands on The Strange Casebook which releases on October 31st. Yes, Halloween! Told ya, perfect!


About the Author

Image result for author syd moore 2018SYD MOORE

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Syd Moore was a lecturer and a presenter on Pulp, the Channel 4 books program before becoming a writer. She is the author of the mystery novels The Drowning Pool and Witch Hunt.

(Bio adapted from ARC)


 

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A Head Full of Ghosts

⇒My October Spooky Reads book #4 is A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. What do you do when you’re literally living with your deepest fear?⇐

by Paul Tremblay
SmellRating3.5
(3.81 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published June 2, 2015, by William Morrow

Genre: Fiction / Horror / Thriller

Format: Paperback

Pages: 284

#AHeadFullofGhosts

A Head Full of Ghosts…being literally and figuratively haunted by outside forces, is almost as horrible as what actually happened. Almost.

October Spooky Reads month continues, and I’m getting exasperated! I AM NOT BEING SCARED! Ok, ok, so maybe my book picks are at fault because I chose to read primarily from physical books that were already on my shelves instead of lining up some truly, awesomely frightening books from the library. BUT!…. some of these have held the promise of “scary” without quite delivering.

A Head Full of Ghosts for example. I mean, come on! It’s right there in the title! Ghosts. In a Head. Gotta be horrifying, right? Meh, only marginally so.

…there are all these ghosts filling my head and I’m just trying to get them out…

Here is Goodreads’ synopsis:

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show, and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface—and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.

Are you good at keeping secrets, Merry?

The story is told from 8-year-old Merry’s perspective, so we get the innocence and gullibility of youth combined with her faith that her big sister and best friend would only always protect her. With a sister like Marjorie though, that’s blind faith indeed.

Marjorie is fourteen. And we all know how heinous some teenagers can be. Sure, blame it on imbalanced hormones and the awkward state of trying to “find oneself”, but Marjorie had some help with her misplaced aggression and angst: a psychotic break.

Here we tread on thin ice – do we pity her because mental health issues are gravely serious and people suffering from them should be treated not only with medicine but with respect and dignity? Or do we make Marjorie the monster because, hey, she’s “crazy” and this is a fictional book? You decide because I couldn’t.

I mean, this chick was definitely certifiable, but it seemed that her family was too in many ways. They definitely didn’t help her situation. So many different turns could have been taken that weren’t. It feels more like they were all in on it together, so their story really ended in the only way it could have.

What if you expelled the person’s real spirit and only the demon’s spirit was there to take its place?

Gripes: (in my whiny voice) I wanted it to be scarier! I wanted a real horror book. I read psych thrillers a lot, and that is what this book felt like to me. Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad book – and there are some genuinely creepy moments. However, I found myself looking for more of those moments instead of being interested in the rest of the story.

Were these the most irresponsible parents on the planet? I’m thinking yes. Right now, I’m sitting here trying to dredge up one redeeming value about either of them… I got nothing.

And was that supposed to be a twist at the end? Hmmm… no spoilers, but I think what was supposed to pass as astounding information in the final two chapters just felt like a given. Still interesting, but predictable.

… I’m wicked smart, because I have to fill my head with something other than the ghosts.

A Head Full of Ghosts left me wanting more horror, but it was still a creepy book that had me questioning on several occasions whether or not there was really more to Marjorie’s mental health issues than what we’d rationally surmise. Could there have possibly been ghosts? In her head? Extremely willful and manipulative ghosts?  And how does that line up with the scientific definition of what psychosis is understood to be?

In the 1800s, Marjorie would have probably been burned at the stake instead of given her own reality show (19th-century folk didn’t play around with demons or witches), but that age is long gone; the spectacle is now more important than the cure. It’s sad. And that’s how this book makes me feel. Sad, instead of pleasantly scared and jittery like I wanted to be.

But that’s not quite right either. Maybe I really feel horrified, but in a completely different way than I intended.


About the Author

Image result for paul tremblayPAUL TREMBLAY

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Paul G. Tremblay is an American author and editor of contemporary horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction. He is also a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards.

(Bio from Google)


 

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New or Old – That Smell is Incredible

Welcome to my book review blog. Thanks for dropping in!

The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.

–W. Somerset Maugham

Whenever I get a new book, or mooch an old book, or borrow a book from the library, for that matter, I bring it close to my nose… and inhale.

Sometimes the smell is crisp and warm, almost woodsy. Other times it’s ancient and musky, like well-worn furniture. Either way, it’s a great smell. Remember that episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory is showing Anna (future Yale student) around the library and she picks up a book and smells it? Yes, just like that: #bibliosmia.

So now you know I read old books and new – and I love them both equally. So if you’re here to just see reviews on all the hot new releases that everyone else is reading and blogging about, then you’re not in the right place. Sorry.

I do read selective New Releases, but I also have a lot of “Dusty Bookshelf” reads that I am committed to getting through in this upcoming year (I said that last year too), and a lot of books that people have recommended to me that I will finally get around to. The books I read/review won’t always be current, but they’ll always be interesting.

I prefer reading hardcovers or trade-sized paperbacks (there’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands), but I also read several e-books and listen to a few audiobooks each month, so you’ll likely see reviews for publications in those formats as well.

Occasionally, when she lets me, my daughter and I will read her books together. She’s in 4th grade and has a bookcase full of chapter books that we work our way through whenever she’s not bogged down with school-assigned stories. When our read-along books are especially good, I’ll review those too under Daughter Read-Alongs.

I’ll also occasionally be featuring my favorite authors, book events in Georgia, upcoming new releases, links to free e-book deals, and throwback looks at my favorite childhood reads.

I’m a Goodreads member and belong to several groups there. The book cover pics I post will most often come from Goodreads along with mentions of their overall rating of each book. However, I do not – I repeat, NOT – allow the rating from “the masses” influence my personal opinion of any book I read. Reviews are my own individual thoughts and I am absolutely not receiving any compensation for anything I post here.

As you may have guessed, this is my first foray into blogging so I’m sure I have some kinks to work out. If something isn’t working or posting correctly, just bear with me and I’ll get it worked out. Eventually. ♥

Enjoy!

booksniffing

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

⇒My October Spooky Reads book #3 is The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. An unexpectedly compelling and clever retelling of a classic monster story.⇐

by Kiersten White
SmellRating4
(4.02 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published September 24, 2018, by Delacorte Press

Genre: Horror / Historical Fiction / Young Adult

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 304

#TheDarkDescentofElizabethFrankenstein   #Frankenstein

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth FrankensteinVictor was the only person left whom I loved. I would not let the monster take him.

Do you ever read the author’s notes at the end of the book? I have to admit that often I don’t (especially if I’m reading down to the wire and I have to write my review or my blog by a specific deadline). But I am SO glad that I stopped and read this author’s note before closing the cover on this fascinating retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

So over 200 years ago, on a dare, Mary Shelley wrote a book that is referred to now as a classic gothic science fiction novel. In White’s book, she felt it was important to highlight Mary Shelley’s genius in writing that classic through presenting her story through the eyes of a female protagonist. White writes in her notes:

… at publication, for decades after, even today, people gave all credit to the men around her. After all, how could a girl — a teenage girl — accomplish something so great? …

How much of who we are is shaped by those around us? What happens when everything we are depends on someone else? And, as always: Where are the girls? Even Mary’s wild and expansive imagination could not put a girl at the forefront of this story. They’re relegated to the background, mere caricatures. And that was where I found my story. With a girl given to a boy as a gift. With a girl whose whole life revolves around the brilliant boy she loves. With a girl who inadvertently helps create a monster. With a teenage girl, because, as Mary Shelley proved, nothing is more brilliant or terrifying than that.

I had accused Victor of creating a monster, but I had done the same.

Goodreads summarizes the book this way:

Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.

You are mine, Elizabeth Lavenza, and nothing will take you from me. Not even death.

The Dark Descent… is a very good book but it was not the book I thought I was going to read. I wanted a spooky story for the season to flesh out my October TBR that featured a classic monster and a creative retelling to give the familiar story a fresh feel.

I got all of that in addition to an exciting and challenging story about one young woman’s determined struggle to find security and truth in a world that constantly tries to rip both away from her. And yes, it was about Frankenstein too.

Kiersten White has done a masterful job with this book by exposing monsters in all shapes and forms and giving us a heroine who chooses to defend the world from them.

The book is moody and atmospheric and is perfect for fall reading. It’s very well written with characters that grow and become richer with each chapter. And I love, love, love how White inserts Frankenstein’s monster is inserted in fits and spurts throughout the story. We get small doses of him while being overtly exposed to the true monster in Victor Frankenstein himself.

This was a truly enjoyable book that fast readers could definitely finish in one or two sittings as long as they took the time to really let the meaning of the novel sink in as the chapters fly by. I am not a fast reader, but I think that was a benefit when it comes to this book – it left more time for Elizabeth’s personality to grow on me and for Victor’s duplicitous nature to become a heartwrenching tragedy.

Four stars for this female-led novel that is absolutely perfect for fireside reading underneath big blankets with steaming hot chocolate and a dozen fresh-from-the-oven cookies! Go for it!


About the Author

Kiersten WhiteKIERSTEN WHITE

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Kiersten White is the New York Times bestselling author of many books for teens and young readers, including And I Darken, Now I Rise, Bright We Burn, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, and Slayer. She lives with her family near the ocean in San Diego, where she perpetually lurks in the shadows.


 

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A Well-Behaved Woman : A Novel of the Vanderbilts

⇒RELEASE DAY REVIEW (almost): A rags-to-riches story based on real life, A Well-Behaved Woman follows Alva Smith’s rise within the esteemed Vanderbilt family’s bubble of wealth and influence. ⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Therese Anne Fowler

SmellRating4

(3.97 stars – Goodreads rating)

Publish Date: October 16, 2018, by St. Martin’s Press

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 400 pages

#AWellBehavedWoman  #NetGalley

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the VanderbiltsLife was contrast. Light and dark. Comedy and tragedy.

I know that I have mentioned in other posts that my family has ties (albeit loose ones) to the Vanderbilt family. My grandparents lived most of their lives in Asheville, North Carolina where the famous Biltmore House Estate was built by George Vanderbilt. My Uncle Sylvester initially worked with their gardener and later came to be exclusively in charge of their azalea gardens. My mother and her sisters often visited him at the estate and were often allowed to visit inside the house and explore its many rooms.

That connection is through George Vanderbilt’s line, but this is not his story. 

Instead, this is the story of Alva Smith, who had to save herself and her family from starvation. Alva found herself in a position to improve her family’s circumstances, so she took it – she married a Vanderbilt.

A woman’s lot is made for her by the love she accepts. – George Eliot

From Goodreads:

In 1883, the New York Times prints a lengthy rave of Alva Vanderbilt’s Fifth Ave. costume ball–a coup for the former Alva Smith, who not long before was destitute, her family’s good name useless on its own. Marrying into the newly rich but socially scorned Vanderbilt clan, a union contrived by Alva’s best friend and now-Duchess of Manchester, saved the Smiths–and elevated the Vanderbilts.

From outside, Alva seems to have it all and want more. She does have a knack for getting all she tries for: the costume ball–no mere amusement–wrests acceptance from doyenne Caroline Astor. Denied abox at the Academy of Music, Alva founds The Met. No obstacle puts her off for long.

But how much of ambition arises from insecurity? From despair? From refusal to play insipid games by absurd rules? –There are, however, consequences to breaking those rules. One must tread carefully.

And what of her maddening sister-in-law, Alice? Her husband William, who’s hiding a terrible betrayal? The not-entirely-unwelcome attentions of his friend Oliver Belmont, who is everything William is not? What of her own best friend, whose troubles cast a wide net?

Alva will build mansions, push boundaries, test friendships, and marry her daughter to England’s most eligible duke or die trying. She means to do right by all, but good behavior will only get a woman so far. What is the price of going further? What might be the rewards? There’s only one way to know for certain…

Love was a frivolous emotion, certainly no basis for a marriage — every young lady knew this.

Growing up, my interest in the Vanderbilt family extended only to the North Carolina branch of that illustrious family. It makes me embarrassed now to realize how little I knew about that family and their contributions to American culture, politics, and society as a whole.

Therese Anne Fowler uses this novel to walk us through one woman’s rise through the ranks of society after she gained the name Vanderbilt and used its influence to lift herself and that family to unprecedented levels of wealth and power in 19th century New England.

Although Fowler’s book is fictional, she bases her characters on the real people and actual events mentioned in the book. Her writing is so compelling that I found myself Googling along with some of the action – Did that really happen? Did they really get married? Did that actually happen in real life?

This book captured my attention and my imagination because it showed a strong-willed woman who participated in high society while, at the same time, forcing it to conform to her will. Alva Vanderbilt was not to be messed with!

I feel even more invested in Alva’s story once I read the author’s note at the end:

One of the reasons I was compelled to tell Alva’s story (and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s in my previous novel, Z) is to combat the way notable women in history are too often reduced to little more than sensationalized sound bites. Strong women — especially if they elect to lead lives outside of the domestic sphere — are often depicted without appropriate context, are made to seem one-note (as if any of us could be defined by a single act in our personal history or a single aspect of personality), and are described with sexist labels. An intelligent, ambitious, outspoken woman is called “pushy”, “domineering”, “abrasive”, “hysterical”, “shrill”, etc., most often by men but sometimes by other women as well.

I love that Fowler is motivated to depict influential women in this way. It is encouraging for the future of literature and history that more interest is being given to telling more of the truth so that we, our children, and future generations will see history through a wider lens.

Four celebratory stars for an extremely well-written book and a rags-to-riches story with a true hero at its center.


About the Author

Therese Anne FowlerTHERESE ANNE FOWLER

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Therese Anne Fowler is a contemporary American author. She is best known for Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, published in 2013. The work has been adapted for television by Killer Films and Amazon Studios, with Christina Ricci and David Hoflin in the roles of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald.


 

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