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The Clockmaker’s Daughter

⇒A story spoken with multiple voices across the centuries that simultaneously warms your heart and freezes your bones. ⇐


Author: Kate Morton

(3.80 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery

Format: Audiobook

Published October 9, 2018, by Atria Books (Bolinda Audio)

Pages: 485 (Hardcover) ; Audio: 14 discs (17:03 hrs)

#TheClockmakersDaughter #ClockmakersDaughter


Human beings are curators. Each polishes his or her own favoured memories, arranging them in order to create a narrative that pleases. 


I have other hobbies besides reading. GASP! What?! No, I really do. One of them just happens to be putting puzzles together. I like the challenge, the repetitive motions, the feeling of satisfied accomplishment once it’s completed. A challenging puzzle soothes my anxiety and clears my headspace.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is like a 485-page puzzle. It has characters coming at you from the left and right – from different centuries, in fact – and more than one mystery needs to made clear before the book can successfully end. It is a challenge. But if you’re up for it, Kate Morton rewards you with a rich story and a heady feeling of accomplishment once you’re done. Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing, and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.
Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.
Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?


…the truth depends on who it is that’s telling the story.

There are a lot of moving parts to this book; the timeline jumps around from the 19th century to the 21st. Plus, it is told from multiple perspectives and in first and third person depending on whose side of the story you’re exploring in each chapter. That’s a lot to keep track of.

Reading a book that has a large cast and an equally large timeline can be a daunting task. An author can either do it successfully or botch it up miserably. Botching it isn’t hard to do, but getting it right is infinitely harder. Morton got it right. It is a puzzle, make no mistake, but in the end, the pieces fit so well together that you have to just sit back and appreciate the symmetry.

I think it would be a mistake (and terribly confusing) to discuss all the characters and their motivations here – plus, it would take up too much of your time because there are a lot of them. A lot. But the main protagonists are worth a mention: Elodie, who is an archivist in London, discovers the sketch of Birchwood Manor – the house that becomes a character all unto itself – and goes in search of the answers to why that house seems so familiar to her. Elodie, besides having an annoying name, is like a dog with a bone – she just won’t let it go, and that type of personality always makes for a good mystery-seeker.

Edward Radcliffe also deserves a mention because he’s definitely a linchpin to all the happenings. He’s passionate and headstrong, a character to be envied and pitied all at the same time. It is because of Edward that the story has as many players as it does, and because of him, too, that it is equally tragic and beautiful.

And now we come to Birdie Bell, the actual Clockmaker’s Daughter for whom the book is named. It is her part of the story that Morton chooses to relay in first person. It is her point of view that looms over several of the other characters’ tales. She is the one who knows the most because she has seen the most, but she still does not know everything – there are mysteries waiting to be revealed to her as well.

One generation passes to the next a suitcase filled with jumbled jigsaw pieces from countless puzzles collected over time and says, “See what you can make out of these.

So I’ve told you that this book is long, it has a huge cast of characters, and that it jumps around in time. So, why should you read it? Read it because it’s a love story. The deepest kind of love. The kind that takes over your whole life and ends up affecting everyone around you. Without Edward’s falling in love, there would have been no story.

You should also read it because it’s not just a love story. It’s a story of war and loss. Survival and fortitude. Music and artistry. Abuse and neglect that is conquered by strong wills and lively spirits. Good and evil. Plus, there are ghosts and fairies, magic, demons, treasure-hunters and princesses. No, really. I’m not kidding. It’s all in there!

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a well-written book, with rich imagery and masterfully fleshed-out characters that will each draw you into their stories as easily as picking up one more piece to place into a puzzle.

Did I have questions at the end? Yes. Did I have to go back and re-read (replay) some parts? Yes. Was it worth it? Oh, yes. This wasn’t my first Kate Morton book, but so far it is her most memorable.


Kate Morton

Kate Morton is the author of five novels, all of which have been New York Times bestsellers, Sunday Times bestsellers, and #1 bestsellers around the world. Kate’s books are published in 42 countries, in 34 languages. – Bio adapted from katemorton.com


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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)


Guess Who

⇒RELEASE DAY REVIEW (almost): Fame and fortune turn out to be a lot less fun than anticipated for a TV detective when he awakens in a room full of strangers, handcuffed to a bed – with a dead man in the tub. ⇐

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

by Chris McGeorge

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(3.66 stars – Goodreads rating)

Publish Date: September 18, 2018, by Hanover Square Press

Genre: Thriller / Mystery

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 368 pages (Hardcover)

#GuessWho  #NetGalley

Guess WhoTime was escaping from the room. They were standing in an hourglass, with hands out trying to catch the sand.

I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but reading a book that I am not enjoying makes me angry! I feel obligated to finish it – especially if I have promised a review, but I’m never happy about it.

So I guess you know by now what my emotion is as I write this review. To put it mildly, I didn’t care for this book. To put it less mildly, @#$%^&*()_(*&^%$#!!!!!!!!!!!

If you’ve seen the movie Saw, you’ve already experienced (a much better version of) this book. But besides the fact that it seemed derivative and unimaginative, ultimately, you discover that it was also extremely unrealistic and improbably in its execution! I don’t want to be more specific because, spoilers.

Trust me, I REALLY HOPE I HAVE THE UNPOPULAR OPINION HERE!

It doesn’t give me any kind of pleasure at all to hand out low ratings for books that an author has obviously toiled long and hard over. It pains me. But this book pained me too, so tit for tat.

Was his really a wasted life – only half lived? Maybe this was to be a fitting end.

OK, so let me stretch past my anger and at least tell you what Guess Who is about…

Morgan Sheppard rose to celebrity status on the wings of a scary event in his youth. His teacher was found hanging in his own classroom, and Morgan gave the police information to solve the case. From there, he became TVs “Resident Detective”, with his own show, fans, and substance abuse issues.

When he suddenly finds himself waking up in a strange hotel room handcuffed to the bed, at first he thinks its just another night of partying gone a little wrong. But when he sees that there are five other people in the room with him – strangers – and a dead man in the bathtub, things start getting real.

Sheppard is then forced to put his over-hyped (nonexistent?) detective skills to work to find out why they’re all there and who killed the man in the tub. Does he? Do they all live? Who put them there? Honestly, in the end, it really isn’t all that interesting – even though it sounds like it should be, and I hate that it wasn’t.

I didn’t care about these characters at all. The most interesting one was the girl called “Headphones” who only spoke a handful of times. Maybe that’s why I liked her – she was the least annoying (and the least transparent).

The writing was clipped and, at times, disconnected. I know this is an ARC, but I felt like I was reading the first draft. Initially, the dual timelines flowed and brought more depth to the story, but that effect fell apart toward the end, making the story feel disjointed and, at one point, like you had entered a different (almost better) story altogether.

I felt like I labored through the second half of the book – already knowing who the perpetrators were and just waiting for the MC to realize it. Turns out, surprise! I was right and the denouement was easily apparent, but more than that – it wasn’t even interesting getting there.

If you have read Guess Who and enjoyed it, please tell me why you did so that maybe I can see it in a different light. I don’t think I’ll change my mind, but I welcome the different perspective.


About the Author

PictureCHRIS MCGEORGE

Twitter

Chris McGeorge has an MA in Creative Writing (Crime / Thriller) from City University London where he wrote his first crime novel Dead Room for this thesis. He constantly told stories from a young age, whether they took the form of comics, short stories or scripts.

He is a lover of Golden Age crime, like Christie and Conan Doyle, leading his crime stories to be a mix of the old and the contemporary. He likes weird and wonderful plots, with plenty of intrigue and twists. 

His often coherent ramblings about everything pop culture can be found on his blog Festival of Blood and occasionally he produces the Sarcasmicast podcast with a group of friends.

(Bio from www.dhhliteraryagency.com)



 

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The Cha-Cha Babes of Pelican Way

⇒What do you do when your neighbors are dropping dead and the police are closing in on you? Well, you Cha-Cha, of course! ⇐

**Many thanks to Andrea at Smith Publicity and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Frances Metzman

SmellRating3

(3.25 stars – Goodreads rating)

Publish Date: June 21, 2018, by Wild River Consulting & Publishing LLC

Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 451 pages

#TheChaChaBabesofPelicanWay

The Cha-Cha Babes of Pelican WayWe’re the amazing cha-cha babes who live on Pelican Way. We dance till we drop or they haul us off to jail. Do they dance in prison?

Celia found new life with her retirement community in Florida, and in particular with her two friends Marcy and Deb. They all Cha-Cha together and Celia has found the greatest freedom just from dancing and being with her new best friends. But when other residents start dying inexplicably, suddenly Celia and her friends find themselves in danger and the targets of a police investigation.

The Cha-Cha Babes of Pelican Way was initially engaging and seemed to be a kooky, off-beat mystery with characters that aren’t the usual mystery book personalities. But as the book went on, I found it a little repetitive and slow. Plus, I couldn’t shake the Golden Girl references that kept popping into my head. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I felt like these characters deserved to have their own personalities and didn’t deserve my constant comparisons to Dorothy, Blanche, and Sophia (Rose was kind of mixed up in there too).

Another negative for me was that these women were only in their sixties, but the impression from the story is that their age group is slow, decrepit, and basically at death’s doorstep (until they randomly broke out into the Cha-Cha or playing doubles tennis). That bothered me. I have plenty of relatives and friends in that age group who are very active and healthy and who aren’t on 1000 different medications for all kinds of ailments.

The ultimate mystery, however, was well thought out and clever, but by the end, I think my interest in the story had waned too much for me to get excited over the ultimate resolution. (Plus the daughter in the story, Allison, totally put me off and I couldn’t stand reading her chapters!) Errrggghhhh even now her disrespectful attitude makes me want to spit!

Three stars because, although it wasn’t the book for me, a certain audience might identify more with these characters and find it an enjoyable read; however, there are things about it that might keep me from recommending it to everyone.


About the Author

Frances MetzmanFrances Metzman

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Award-winning author Fran Metzman is a graduate of the Moore College of Art and the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to publishing numerous short stories and co-authoring her first novel Ugly Cookies with Joy E. Stocke, she also teaches writing at various local colleges and universities. Her blog “The Age of Reasonable Doubt” can be found at Wild River Review, and deals with the mature (and sometimes immature) dating/ relationships and aspects of society that influence all relationships. Her short story “My Inheritance” was nominated for a Dzanc Books Award for Best of the Web. On February 1st 2012, a short story collection, The Hungry Heart Stories, was published. The stories feature tales of people in crisis, yearning for emotional sustenance, and where food occasionally intersects the empty spaces in their hearts.

(Bio taken from her website)



 

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The Hangman’s Secret (Victorian Mystery, #3)

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

by Laura Joh Rowland

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(3.88 stars – Goodreads rating)

Expected Publication: January 8, 2019, by Crooked Lane Books

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical Fiction

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 304

#TheHangmansSecret  #NetGalley

The Hangman's Secret (Victorian Mystery, #3)When we’re confronted with a mystery, we feel compelled to solve it, even if it’s none of our business.

Was there ever a kinder, gentler time? You would want to think so. I know I read a lot of fiction, but I’d like to believe that an age actually existed where people were more respectful, more polite, and they valued each other.

After reading this book, it made me doubt that such a time ever existed. So many bad guys (and gals), and all of them mean, nasty, and physically violent – especially against the main character, who is a woman! Those instances left a bad taste in my mouth. But that is not an overall reflection on this book, which I enjoyed reading and felt was a suspenseful, engaging mystery!

I’m interested to hear that a hangman has met the same end that he inflicted on others. It’s as if his past has caught up with him, and fate has exacted justice.

Harry Warbrick, a London hangman, is found hanged in his own pub – hanged and decapitated. Sarah Bain and her friends are called upon to photograph the scene for the Daily World newspaper, but is it a suicide or murder?

Soon it’s the paper vs. the police in a spiteful contest to see who can solve the case first. Sarah, Lord Hugh, and Mick have previously solved two other dangerous cases, but this could be the one that could finally do them in. Plus, Sarah’s relationship with officer Thomas Barrett is also on the line and Sarah isn’t sure if their love can outlast another case.

With a laundry list of possible suspects, Sarah & Co have their hands full solving the mystery of the hanged hangman while trying to stay alive while the murderer covers his/her tracks.

But I thrill at the prospect of a new crime to solve, and all my life I’ve been attracted to danger. Fear makes me feel alive. It’s a quirk of my nature.

The Hangman’s Secret is full of action and suspense. Its characters are loyal to each other, but I found them to be a bit cookie-cutter. I enjoyed the unique friendship between Sarah, Lord Hugh, and Mick, but the three of them had so many antagonists – perhaps a few too many for my taste. 

You know how you feel when the main character has a few too many enemies and not enough allies? That’s how I felt while reading this book. Enemies to the left and right; and not just regular “bad guys” either – disrespectful, vindictive, violent, spiteful buggers.

But the pacing was good and the setting of the mystery was enough to keep me entertained. There were also enough suspects and distractions to delay the actual culprit-reveal in a satisfying way. I do wish that Sarah was a bit more assertive. Maybe then she wouldn’t get pushed around (literally and figuratively) as much as she does.

Four stars for this Victorian historical mystery!


About the Author:

Laura Joh RowlandWebsite

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Laura Joh Rowland is a bestselling author of historical mystery novels. Her newest series stars Miss Sarah Bain, a photographer in Victorian London. The latest book is A Mortal Likeness. Laura’s previous series, which is set in medieval Japan and features samurai detective Sano Ichiro, has been published in 21 countries, been nominated for the Anthony Award and the Hammett Prize, won RT Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award, and been included in The Wall Street Journal’s list of the five best historical mystery novels. Laura has also written a historical suspense series about Charlotte Bronte, the famous Victorian author.

Laura holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Michigan. She is a former aerospace scientist, a painter, and a cartoonist. She lives in New York City with her husband Marty.



 

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The Crooked Staircase (Jane Hawk #3)

by Dean Koontz
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

(4.0 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published May 8, 2018, by Bantam Books

Genre: Fiction / Thriller / Suspense

Format: Kindle Edition

Page Count: 512

#TheCrookedStaircase  #NetGalley

The Crooked Staircase: A Jane Hawk NovelJane stood in the dark, and the dark stood in her, the latter being the darkness of both her past actions and letal potential.

OK, be honest, did Dean Koontz have a clandestine meeting with George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones) before he wrote The Crooked Staircase? Because he definitely broke readers’ hearts and left a bitter taste in my mouth with this book.

In this 3rd book in the Jane Hawk series, former FBI agent Jane is bent on climbing the Who’s Who ladder within the Arcadian Society to exact some revenge for the death of husband and the ruination of her career and peace. With her son safe in hiding, Jane makes major moves to settle some scores and get closer to cutting off the proverbial head of the beast.

There is no honor anymore. No integrity. Treachery is everywhere. Machinations, hollowness, treachery, and ruinous disorders!

In this series, Koontz capitalizes on our fear of losing control of our true identities and succumbing to another’s whims and agendas. He is a master storyteller, and he conveys as much of the story by what he leaves out as he does by what he includes. And although this installment is action-packed, fairly little ground was gained.

The bad guys are truly brutal. The protagonist is still amazingly resourceful, but she seems to be stretched a little thin. Plus, readers may start to cringe now every time she asks any of her friends for help of any kind. The body count rises in heartbreaking ways right along with the level of intensity. Lovers of fast-paced action will especially appreciate the final two sections of this novel.

I think to myself, I play to myself, and nobody knows what I say to myself.

I’m a Koontz fan, but I had to take off a few stars because of my extreme distaste for the brutal violence (triggers include rape, torture, and child abuse) and for the all-too-convenient way the bad guys were able to track down every single one of their targets regardless of the paltry clues they had to go on. Even in today’s high-tech society, I found that incredibly inconceivable. And finally for the abrupt ending that felt less like a cliffhanger and instead like the book was just unfinished.

Fans of this series will rush on to read Book 4, “The Forbidden Door”, and hopefully, they will be rewarded with an ending (if it ends) that is completely satisfying.

**Many thanks to NetGalley, the author, and Bantam Books for the opportunity to read and review this book.


About the Author

Credit EngstromWebsite

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Acknowledged as “America’s most popular suspense novelist” (Rolling Stone) and as one of today’s most celebrated and successful writers, Dean Ray Koontz has earned the devotion of millions of readers around the world and the praise of critics everywhere for tales of character, mystery, and adventure that strike to the core of what it means to be human.

Dean R. Koontz has also published under the names Leigh Nichols, Brian Coffey, David Axton, Owen West, Deanna Dwyer and Aaron Wolfe.

Dean, the author of many #1 New York Times bestsellers, lives in Southern California with his wife, Gerda, their golden retriever, Elsa, and the enduring spirit of their goldens, Trixie and Anna.

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)


 

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The Tuscan Child

by Rhys Bowen
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(4.15 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published February 20, 2018, by Lake Union Publishing

Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction

Format: Kindle

Page Count: 329 pgs (Kindle version)

TuscanI felt incredibly free, as if I was a butterfly just released from my cocoon.

Historical novels usually have to be very good in order to capture and hold my attention, and this one fit the bill. In this story, we travel with Joanna Langley from Surrey, England in the early 1970s into the lush, rolling hills of Tuscany and the little village of San Salvatore as she searches for clues about her recently deceased father’s past. Along the way, we are also treated to her father’s story of survival and romance at the end of German occupation of Italy during WWII.

The story was well-written and compelling. The dual timelines were not distracting, but instead lent even more drama and build-up to the story as a whole. Both perspectives were given equal attention and were very well represented by the author. Bowen’s writing was crisp and colorful without being muddled in unnecessary details. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the Tuscan landscape and the delicious food – it made me long to visit Italy.

Fans of historical fiction will appreciate this novel for its skilled placement in two distinctly different eras of history. Lovers of romantic fiction will also appreciate the tender love stories that develop as well.

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Lake Union Publishing, and the author for the opportunity for me to read and review this book.


About the Author

Rhys BowenWebsite

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Rhys Bowen is the New York TimesBestselling Author of the Royal Spyness Series, Molly Murphy Mysteries, and Constable Evans. She has won the Agatha Best Novel Award and has been nominated for the Edgar Best Novel. Rhys’s titles have received rave reviews around the globe.

 


 

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Bad Man

by Dathan Auerbach
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

(3.94 stars – Goodreads rating)

To Be Published August 7, 2018, by Doubleday

Genre: Fiction / Horror (ish) / Mystery / Suspense

Format: Kindle

Page Count: 320 pgs (Kindle version)

badmanThey’d seen flyers for Eric here and there over the years… they never really looked. No one ever does.

When I think about what makes a good horror story, one of the most important components is the atmosphere. Auerbach sets us up in a small Floridian town and then strips us of all sense of security and comfort. He surrounds his characters with grief, poverty, and suspicion, and therefore creates a perfect setting for this creepy tale that weaves real-life horror with a little something extra.

Eric has been missing for five years and no one has any answers as to what could have happened to him. His big brother, Ben, was the last one to see him and seems to be the only one committed to still searching for him. When Ben takes a job at the same store where Eric went missing, strange things begin to occur that convince him that someone does know what happened to Eric and they’re trying to reach out to him. But is it to help him or to stop him from asking questions?

The Bad Man will leave you guessing. The unreliable narrator, the creepy store setting, and Ben’s shady coworkers and friends all manage to introduce more questions as you read than they answer. I found the book to be quite engrossing; however, the ending was wholly unsatisfying in that there were several strings left hanging that made even the epilogue seem incomplete.

I would recommend this book to lovers of horror and mystery that don’t mind a story that leaves you with lots of questions at the end. This one isn’t tied up with a neat little bow. And if you don’t mind filling in the blanks for yourself, this is definitely the book for you.

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Doubleday Books, and the author for providing this ARC for me to read a review.**


About the Author

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Dathan Auerbach was born in the southern United States and has lived there for most of his life. He is the author of Penpal.

(Biography taken from Bad Man)


 

The Chalk Man

by C.J. Tudor
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(3.85 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published January 9, 2018, by Crown Publishing Group (NY)

Genre: Thriller / Mystery

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 280

chalk manHistory itself is only ever a story, told by the ones who survive it.

Last night I had a bad dream. Yes, even adults have them at times. It left me dazed and wary – like my space had been invaded. Like I wasn’t quite safe. It was still early, around 5:30 AM, so it was quiet and dark and I just lay still for several more minutes trying to shake that ominous feeling the dream had left with me.

We’re used to them – the scary bedtime stories of boogeymen and monsters under the bed. As you grow, you become less afraid. Or, at least, that’s supposed to be the case. Right? I mean, when you’re little, vampires and goblins could easily ruin your night; but now Hollywood has made them glittery and fluffy and no longer so scary. But what if your childhood nightmares don’t quite go away?

That was the premise (sort of) for The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor. Eddie and his friends are just average American pre-teen boys riding bikes, building forts, and avoiding bullies. On the advice of an enigmatic teacher who was new in town, they began leaving codes in the form of little stick figures drawn on one another’s driveways in sidewalk chalk. The chalk men were messages to each other: meet me in the park, go to the playground, etc. These were the games of children before the events that corrupted their fun and took them – quite literally – down a horrifying path.

…I understood how things can change in an instant. All the stuff we take for granted can just be ripped away.

C.J. Tudor takes us on a thrilling ride, deftly transitioning through Eddie’s past and present to tell the secrets of his youth that resulted in one dead girl, accidents and incidents, and one well-planted accusation that would change Eddie’s future forever. We walk with him through every frightening flashback and feel his present paranoia seep through the pages as the chalk outline begin to reveal the dark story that has been living in Eddie’s subconscious for all this time.

A very well-told, well-paced, and thrilling story, The Chalk Man left me off-kilter and questioning everything at every chapter. Nothing was quite what it seemed to be. It is a great whodunit. Anytime I read a book and I waffle three or more times over who I think the ultimate antagonist is, I consider that a triumph.

This book carries with it that same feeling that I had this morning after my bad dream – that something was not-quite-right. Like the universe had tilted slightly and let something bad come in. That, even at the end of the book when “the lights are on” (so to speak), you still get that inkling at the back of your neck that something is still amiss. So, children, hold your teddy bears tight and always remember to watch for the chalk men. They will point the way.



About the Author

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C.J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, where she still lives with her partner and young daughter.

While writing the Chalk Man she ran a dog-walking business, walking over twenty dogs a week as well as looking after her little girl.

She’s been writing since she was a child but only knuckled down to it properly in her thirties. Her English teacher once told her that if she ‘did not become Prime Minister or a best-selling author’ he would be ‘very disappointed.’

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)

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The Bluegrass Files: Down the Rabbit Hole (Book 1)

by F J Messina
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

To Be Published April 1, 2018, by Blair/Brooke Publishing

Genre: Mystery / Romance

Format: Kindle Edition

#TheBluegrassFiles:DownTheRabbitHole  #NetGalley

bluegrassfilesYou get what you can get when you can get it. That’s how it goes in this business.

Down the Rabbit Hole is FJ Messina’s first novel and the first in a planned series of mysteries featuring private investigator Sonia Vitale and her business partner Jet. The Bluegrass Files series will follow the adventures of the women of Bluegrass Confidential Investigations as they solve big cases in their small town.

This novel is set primarily in Lexington, KY with attention given to Lexington Castle, the sprawling farms, and of course, the bourbon! It is in this small-town setting that Sonia takes on a case to catch a man cheating on his girlfriend and winds up uncovering much, much more than infidelity. At the same time, she attracts the attention of more than one man – both of whom may end up being instrumental in solving her case, ending her recent romantic drought, and saving her life. 

Messina’s debut novel has the potential to grow into a well-loved series. Readers who fall in love with Sonia and Jet will forgive the sometimes clunky flashbacks and their weepiness and will revel in the constant action: car chases, shoot-outs, and clandestine night stakeouts.  Plus, there are plenty of clever traps set for “bad guys” which don’t work out just as often as they do.

I would recommend Down the Rabbit Hole to fans of complicated love triangles who don’t mind a little I Love Lucy-type humor with their mysteries. At times the main character comes off as a bit fragile and indecisive, and that can be annoying for those who appreciate a more assertive lead character. However, the author may have been trying to portray her as a more believable personality.

Messina’s second and third books in this series, The Bluegrass Files: Twisted Dreams and The Bluegrass Files: The Bourbon Brotherhood, are already in the works and planned for 2018 releases.

I gave the book 3 generous stars mainly because I believe in rewarding a genuinely good first effort.

*Many thanks to NetGalley and Blair Brooke Publishing for the opportunity to read and review the ARC of this book.


About the Author

Portrait of Frank MessinaWebsite

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Messina was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a German-immigrant mother and a first-generation Italian-American father, neither of whom could speak English until they entered public school. It wasn’t until early high school that Frank found his life-long passion─music.

Messina really didn’t begin writing fiction novels until the summer of 2015 when he and his wife used the beautiful backdrop of Asheville, NC to lay the foundations of what would eventually become the novel, Down the Rabbit Hole.

(Bio fragments from author’s own website)