The Bone Farm (and some series spotlights)

⇒This week I review Dean Koontz’s The Bone Farm and shine a spotlight on some of the other book series I’m addicted to.⇐


Author: Dean Koontz

(3.76 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Published April 25, 2018by Brilliance Audio

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Elisabeth Rodgers

Pages: 100

#TheBoneFarm #JaneHawk


Let me say first that if you are looking for a series to get invested in, Dean Koontz has some wonderful, easy reads that will keep you on a series train for a nice, pleasant (tense, suspenseful, thrilling, sometimes scary) ride. The Bone Farm is book #0.5 (a case file that precedes the events of the Jane Hawk series), and is every bit as engaging as its older, bigger siblings. But if death-defying females aren’t your thing (hmm, who are you?), then you could try any of Koontz’s other appealing series: Odd Thomas, 9 books that will have you seeing death in a whole new light; Frankenstein, a new look at an old monster in 6 books; or Moonlight Bay, 3 books (2 pub & 1 on the way) that will test if you can survive the darkness of night. I’ve read all of Odd Thomas (love, love, love) and Moonlight Bay (well, not book 3 because it isn’t out yet (and may actually never happen). And I read Prodigal Son of his Frankenstein series last year (sooooo good). Dean Koontz has yet to disappoint me.

But let me back up a little and give you the Goodreads blurb on The Bone Farm:

Katherine Haskell, a young college co-ed is on her way back to school, but she never makes it there. Instead, she becomes the latest prey of the rapist and murderer dubbed by the tabloids the “Mother Hater.” He is a twisted soul who kidnaps young girls for pleasure then discards them. Katherine is missing, but she’s not yet dead. FBI agents Jane Hawk and her partner Gary Burkett must descend into the hell of this killer’s mind to solve the case before it is too late. The question is – will they both get out alive?

This novella is presented as a case file which only hypes me up that there will be more of these – oh book gods, please don’t fail us on this one. The bad guy is bat$&!# cuckoo, Jane is smart and ruthless, there’s a controlling mother, and an old creepy farm house – I’m here for ALL of it!!!! I almost wrote a spoiler right there because I got excited, but stopped myself right in time. Y’all lucked out. But just know, it gets twisty and good!

The Bone Farm is part of the Jane Hawk series, which includes 6 other books to date. The series features a strong heroine in an all-out battle against a new world order. The books are suspenseful, thrilling, and addictive. In a word, readthem. (I know, I know. Just do it.)


So since we’re talking about series, I thought I’d spotlight just a few of the other series that I have followed unfailingly over the years. Most of them are in my preferred genre of mystery/thrillers, but there are a few deviants in the bunch. And you might be surprised by what you won’t find on my list: namely, Harry Potter. (No shade! I just haven’t read them!)

Pendergast Series

One of my longest-standing series, I got hooked on Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child’s series featuring the enigmatic Aloysius X.L. Pendergast from the very first book, Relic (read the book, skip the movie) – even though he was only a supporting character way back then. The authors obviously saw something in him and took off running with his story, and it has been a favorite ever since.


Stephanie Plum Series

Many readers will own up to the fact that they have at least one numbered (or alphabetical) series on their reading list. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series is mine. She just released book #25 last year and Twisted Twenty-Six is expected in November 2019. These books are cozy crime fiction with hilarious characters that become as familiar as your own family members. I don’t care if this series goes to 200, I am never not going to read a Stephanie Plum book. And oh, by the way, #teamRanger.


Jack Reacher Series

Please, please, please do me a favor and tell me that you did not watch the movies that were supposed to depict this character. And if you did, just forget all that you saw. This Jack Reacher – The REAL Jack Reacher (yes, he’s real to me) – is bigger than life and yet can disappear at a moment’s notice (just thought about that – Sasquatch tendencies? Hmmm…). He is such a fascinating personality with such an amazing skill set (think Taken, but with a brilliant, powerful, Matrix-like Army drifter). Reacher is BIG and BRAWNY, but he is not beautiful. He’s a brawler that doesn’t want to fight unless he has to. And then he’s deadly.


Crazy Rich Asians is a new series for me. I only started reading it because I saw that the movie was releasing soon and I happened to find the first book on the shelf at my neighborhood Goodwill store (where I buy most of my books). After I read it, I went back and found the other two there as well (I have some very generous, good-taste readers in my area, apparently)! I love the humor of this series, as well as the way they sneak social commentary into the text without being preachy or judgy. (It’s a word!)


OTHER SERIES I LOVE:

4MK Thriller series by J.D. Barker

(The 3rd book may release in 2019 – fingers crossed)

Illuminae Files series by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

(I’ve reviewed all of these and I wish it wasn’t over!)

Archie Seridan & Gretchen Lowell series by Chelsea Cain

(A sadistic female serial killer. Nuff said.)

Court series by Sarah J. Maas

(YA romance with faeries. Yep.)

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

(Seriously, these are as good as – or even better than – the HBO show)

So if you’re a dedicated series reader, stick with it because series = goals! And if you haven’t found a series you love yet, keep looking – there’s a perfect succession of books out there just waiting to be discovered. Happy Reading!


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

SmellRating4

(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

Facebook

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 Fifth to Die, (4MK Thriller #2)

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, and the author for the opportunity to read and review a free ARC of this book.

by J.D. Barker
SmellRating4.5
(4.48 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published July 10, 2018, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing

Genre: Crime Fiction / Thriller / Mystery

Format: Kindle Edition

Page Count: 416 pages

#TheFifthToDie  #NetGalley

The Fifth To Die (4MK Thriller, #2)A girl can’t just disappear in today’s world, not with cameras and the Internet everywhere. A girl disappears completely, and you gotta know something bad happened.

I didn’t think I was that person. Those people are hilarious to me. They lack any self-control and it’s utterly ridiculous what they do. You know the ones: The ones who talk to their books.

I have been that person in the past, but I thought it was just a fluke – a one-off. After The Fifth to Die, though, I know now that I am that person. I talked to this book. I yelled at this book. I urged the characters, “Don’t go in there!”, “Don’t do that!”, and to “Run you fool!” It’s amazing that no one committed me.

OK, so if you aren’t familiar with this series, it all started with The Fourth Monkey – and no, it has nothing to do with viral contagions or pandemics. (See my 5-star review of the series’ debut novel by clicking the link above.) Detective Sam Porter and his Chicago PD Homicide team initially think that, after five long years, the Four Monkey Killer (4MK) has finally been stopped. By a bus. But there’s one victim that may still be alive that needs to be found. That’s when the twists begin and they don’t stop, even as Porter tries to settle his own tragic personal issues.

So – because this is the sequel – obviously the serial killer, Anson Bishop (that’s technically not a spoiler, so don’t yell at me!), is still wreaking havoc in the Windy City.  Maybe. Girls are disappearing, families are being threatened, and none of the clues are adding up. On top of that, more than one person on the team is concerned that Porter may be too personally involved with the 4MK case that has now been turned over to the FBI.

This thriller is perfectly-paced, entirely unpredictable, and maddeningly mysterious. We also get some well-earned backstory on Detective Sam Porter, which only enriches his character even more. And then there is Anson Bishop. While he certainly adds color to this procedural, he is definitely the villain you love to hate. But is there a little molecule of sympathy you feel for him after some of Bishop’s backstory is revealed too? I’ll let you decide.

I prefer not to collect my psychological and spiritual guidance from psychopaths.

Initially, I deducted a full star from my rating because, at certain points in the book, Bishop is just a little too smart. He is good at everything: tech, surgery, espionage, blackmailing, and torturous murder. He’s always a full three or four steps ahead of everyone else. And he’s dong all this right under the nose of countless witnesses including neighbors, hospital employees, prison guards, and the police themselves. Really? I don’t like it when anyone – hero or villain – is invincible.

However, I had to restore half a star because of Barker’s stealthy allusions to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character (more than once) and the fact that he makes The Princess Bride (my all-time favorite movie) the reason that Porter married his beloved wife. Swoon!

So if you find yourself talking to, yelling at, or crying with your books, you’ll feel right at home reading this one. If you’re already a fan of The Fourth Monkey, action-heavy police procedurals, or mysteries that aren’t easily solved, you’ll like this book. And if you’re a fan of twisty cliffhangers, grab a parachute and dive in because you WILL like this book.

Bravo, J.D. Barker, you’ve done it again. Looking forward to Book #3!

*Also, do yourself a favor and check out another J.D. Barker book, Dracul, that he co-authored with Dacre Stoker (Yes! Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew). It’s a prequel to the classic Dracula story and it was so good it kept me up at night!


About the Author

Related imageJ.D. Barker

Website

Twitter

Instagram

J.D. Barker (Jonathan Dylan Barker) is an international bestselling American author whose work has been broadly described as suspense thrillers, often incorporating elements of horror, crime, mystery, science fiction, and the supernatural.

(Bio courtesy of jdbarker.com)


 

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Ace of Shades

by Amanda Foody
SmellRating3
(3.87 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published April 10, 2018, by Harlequin Teen (Owlcrate Exclusive Edition)

Genre: Fiction / YA / Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 408 pages

Triggers: Drug use, mild sexual references, altered profanity, pedophilia, and violence

#Ace of Shades  #Owlcrate

Ace of Shades (The Shadow Game #1)Some say the City of Sin is a game, so before you arrive – ask yourself, dear reader, how much are you prepared to lose?

-The City of Sin, a Guidebook:
Where to Go and Where Not To

Tropps is the game of choice in New Reynes, otherwise known as the City of Sin. The players begin with 3 cards. Here are yours: A gangster, a schoolgirl, and a mystery? That’s a questionable hand, for sure. If this were a typical round of Tropps, I’d advise you to fold. However, the game you are playing is far grander and deadlier than your standard casino offerings. To win is to become a legend. To lose is to die.  -Amanda Foody

Ace of Shades is the story of Enne Salta, a proper, disciplined young school-girl whose virtue is tested in New Reynes, the City of Sin when her mother, Lourdes, goes missing for months. Enne meets Levi Glaisyer, one of New Reynes’ resident gang leaders, and together they try to solve the mystery of Lourdes’ disappearance.

Image result for ace of spadesTo be frank, reader, you’d be better off not visiting the city at all.

Hey, nice quote. Maybe that was good advice because Ace of Shades did not wow me. Sorry! (Not sorry.)

New Reynes is a bad place. It’s deceitful, dangerous, and everyone inside of it is evil. We are reminded of this over and over again. Maybe if we had been introduced to a kinder, gentler city first – like Bellamy, Enne’s hometown – for contrast, we’d be able to tell the difference for ourselves instead of being reminded of it over and over again.

Enne only enters New Reynes to find her missing mother, Lourdes. She does not intend to stay because she needs to return to Bellamy in order to graduate and finally become a true and proper lady. But once New Reynes has its grip on you, corruption is inevitable (or so we keep getting told).

Image result for ace of spadesIn the City of Sin, secrets are their own sort of currency, and reputation holds more power than fortune.

This is going to read like a non-sequitur, but you know what I like best about Star Wars and The Hunger Games? You win the hand if you said, “Not the politics!

Although politics is central to each story, keeping track of affairs of state becomes tedious in the middle of an otherwise great action tale. However, just like in those blockbusters, politics is an essential part of this story too and it’s part of the world-building strategy Amanda Foody uses to furnish all the characters with motivations for surviving in the City of Sin. With several different street gangs, Mafia families, and blood-thirsty ruling governments – each with their own powerful leader, there are a lot of moving parts in this story and you’re not sure who Enne and Levi should fear the most.

The inclusion of politics did, however, give AoS the perfect vehicle to introduce some pretty important themes: The Dangers of Classism, How Power Corrupts, and The Individual vs. Society. Important? Yes. Interesting? Marginally.

Avarice, pride and lust — these are all modest desires. What the City of Sin truly Image result for ace of spadescraves is destruction.

Foody drops us into the City of Sin in this dual-perspective (Enne’s and Levi’s) YA fantasy laced with gang wars, dark magic, and a deadly card game that won’t be denied a soul or two. 

There’s a lot of backstory vital to Enne’s self-discovery that doesn’t become clear. Ever. (Like, what made Lourdes leave Bellamy in the first place? What made the Mizers so hated? How did Enne escape the House of Shadows as a baby? Etc.) And while there is a good amount of world-building, a lot of it feels initially like a big info-dump with several strings that are left hanging even after the epilogue’s last period.

Three stars because the book wasn’t un-enjoyable, but I was left with questions that shouldn’t require a series to resolve.

But for people that rated this one higher than I did, the epilogue was good enough to yank them right into the next book of the series, King of Fools, due April 30, 2019.

Not sure if I will be interested in traveling back to the City of Sin. Ask me again in April next year (if my TBR hasn’t stretched into infinity by then!)

Check out the first chapter of Ace of Shades for yourself courtesy of Amanda Foody HERE.


About the Author

Amanda FoodyWebsite

Twitter

Instagram

Tumblr

Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. After spending her childhood longing to attend Hogwarts, she now loves to write about immersive settings and characters grappling with insurmountable destinies. She holds a Masters in Accountancy from Villanova University and a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature from the College of William and Mary. Currently, she works as a tax accountant in Philadelphia, PA, surrounded by her many siblings and many books.

ACE OF SHADES is the first novel of THE SHADOW GAME series. Her debut, DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY, released in July 2017.


 

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The Getaway Girls

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Bookouture, and the author for the opportunity to read and review a free ARC of this book.

by Dee MacDonald

SmellRating4

(4.8 stars – Goodreads rating)

To be published July 30, 2018, by Bookouture

Genre: Women’s Fiction / Humor

Format: Kindle Edition

#TheGetawayGirls  #NetGalley

Getaway[Connie] should never have set off on this trip with two women she scarcely knew. She must have taken leave of her senses.

Connie McColl isn’t new to spontaneous road trips. Dee MacDonald documented Connie’s first impulsive journey from England to Scotland in her book The Runaway Wife. Now Connie is on the road again, but this time she has two more passengers, a bulky motorhome, and dreams of possibly locating extended family in a little town in Italy. What starts out as a leisurely sight-seeing trip from London to Amalfi, Italy, becomes a grand getaway as seventy-year-old Connie and her equally mature friends evade a dangerous criminal who is dead set on pursuing them along their route!

It could have been a disaster, it should have been a disaster, and it could still be a disaster. But at least they were having fun.

The Getaway Girls is a satisfying departure from my usual heavier book fare, yet it does not lack any thrills or drama. Connie, Gill, and Maggie are definitely forces to be reckoned with: resourceful, strong, and determined to live their lives to the fullest regardless of the cost.

This book has a nice, easy flow and features instantly likable characters who are full of… well, character! It is a light-hearted, enjoyable, and humorous summer read. It will make you long for the sights, sounds, (and food) of France and Italy, and may put a little wanderlust in your own heart!


About the Author

Image result for author dee macdonaldGoodreads Page

Twitter

Dee wrote – and illustrated – her first book somewhere around the age of six (and then sewed the pages together neatly down the side), but then life got in the way and she didn’t pick up that pen again until retirement and, after having some short stuff published, decided she had to write The Book.

(Bio courtesy of LBA)


 

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Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2)

by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
SmellRating4
(4.55 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published January 16, 2018, by Ember (first published October 18, 2016)

Genre: Fiction / Sci-Fi / YA

Format: Paperback

Page Count: 659 pages

#Gemina #IlluminaeFiles

Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2)Now, children, watch closely. Hold your breath. Listen. And I will show you the components of calamity.

I’ve decided that any sequel to a highly-rated series debut is like tofu – either you love it or you hate it. Knowing this, I went into reading Gemina with my tongue out and eyes squinted just waiting for it to start tasting bad.

It never did.

How? How is that possible? How could I love the dynamic between Kady and Ezra from Illuminae SO MUCH and then fall equally in love with Hanna and Niklas?

And how, also, can I be equally as interested in a story where the characters are literally just spinning in circles The.Entire.Time? It shouldn’t be possible. But, folks, I’m here to tell you that Kaufman and Kristoff pulled it off.

Gemina is the story of Hanna Donnelly trying to go to a party. No, seriously. That’s the initial premise. Hanna, daughter of the commander of the space station, Heimdall, just wants to attend the Terra Day celebration and get wasted with her friends and boyfriend after.

And Nik, local bad boy, drug dealer, and member of the intimidating House of Knives gang  (whose presence on the ship isn’t registered), just wants to deliver some “Dust” to Hanna (his crush), get his money, and have some fun of his own (after HoK duties are finished with, of course).

Is that too much to ask? Apparently so.

Just like they were taking a page from all the best (worst?) teen horror flicks, the party is prematurely interrupted by strange goings-on. And by “strange”, I mean that by the end of the night Hanna and Nik are battling both a team of highly-trained killers sent to annihilate everyone on their space station AND twenty or so slimy eel/squid-like multi-headed brain-sucking alien parasites. So there’s that.

They fan out across the room, swift and surgical, the steps of this brutal ballet known by heart.

So Hanna turns out to be much more than the pampered daughter of the commander. She is highly trained in self-defense, a strategist, extremely athletic and resourceful. And she’ll need every bit of those attributes to get her through the occupation by the BeiTech forces. Oh, did I not mention that they are the ones who let loose the killers-for-hire? Yep, it’s them, at it again.

BeiTech is trying to clean up its mess from the Karenza attack (from Illuminae). And by “clean up” I mean “eliminate all possible witnesses”. But Hanna, Nik, and Ella – Nik’s computer wiz of a cousin – will not go quietly into that dark night.

Their time is short for victory, however. The wormhole is acting crazy, the killers on board the station are closing in, and so are the Lamina (the brain-sucking alien parasites). And by this point in the book – all the drama starts pretty early on – my nails are chewed down and I’m turning the pages like a madperson!

Patience and Silence had one beautiful daughter. And her name was Vengeance.

Gemina is fast-paced, well-written, and it’s sufficiently sci-fi and sufficiently YA to please fans of both genres. It is definitely a fitting sequel to Illuminae and a suspenseful sci-fi novel all on its own. I would recommend reading Illuminae first so that you’ll be familiar with some of the supporting characters and how they fit into the matrix of the files, but if you refuse (your prerogative), this is a very good book all on its own. And the format of all of the books in this series (Illuminae, Gemina, and Obsidio) is so unique and compelling that you’ll be sucked into the story before the first 100 pages have passed.

So why not 5 stars? There was only one thing that this book lacked that I found I needed to make it 100 percent perfect: MORE AIDAN!!! Yes, he (it?) is a psychopathic, hyper-moral mass murdering AI, but I love him (it)! He makes cameo appearances throughout, but a little AIDAN is just not enough. Hopefully, Obsidio will set that right and I will be able to see if AIDAN can truly redeem him-(it) self in the end.

And please, please please don’t be intimidated by the size of these books! I know 600+ pages sounds like a lot but, trust me, the style of it (written like file docs, illustrations, and summaries of surveillance footage) will make the pages fly by. I am not the fastest reader, but I managed to get this read within two days. Plus, the fast pace will keep you turning pages to find out what happens next. That’s why, after I hit “save” on this blog entry, I’m headed out to pick up Obsidio. I have to know how the story ends!


About the Authors

Amie’s Twitter

Jay’s Website

Jay’s Twitter

Jay’s Blog

Amie Kaufman is a New York Times, USA Today and internationally bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy. Her multi-award winning work has been published in over 35 countries and is in development for film and TV. A couple of her career highlights so far include professional wolf-howling lessons, and working as a story consultant at NASA.

Jay Kristoff is the #1 international, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, THE ILLUMINAE FILES, and THE LOTUS WAR. He is the winner of five Aurealis Awards, an ABIA, has over half a million books in print and is published in over thirty-five countries, most of which he has never visited.

(Bios courtesy of Goodreads)


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Select Few

by Marit Weisenberg

SmellRating3

(3.95 stars – Goodreads rating)

To-Be Published October 9, 2018, by Charlesbridge Teen

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy/ Sci-Fi

Format: Kindle Edition

Page Count: 368 (Hardcover)

#SelectFew  #NetGalley

Select Few (Select, #2)I couldn’t shake the feeling of something pulling me down from this sunny world into a dark place waiting just beneath.

Select Few, Marit Wiesenberg’s 2nd book in the Select series, begins with Julia Jaynes essentially hiding from the world. She’s avoiding the FBI, avoiding the paparazzi, avoiding nosy neighbors, and – most of all – avoiding being discovered by her dangerous and powerful father, Novak. She’s also desperately trying to keep her boyfriend, John, and his newly discovered powers off of Novak’s radar. Julia’s doing a lot of hiding and all the while hoping to someday be able to live a normal life.

One of Julia’s problems is that she doesn’t have a clear idea of what “normal” looks like for her. Does it mean college and a future with John, or does it mean constantly running and staying undercover with Angus in order to keep John safe? These are the decisions that Julia waffles through keeping her conflicted throughout most of the story.

John’s point of view added depth to the narrative and helped cement the romantic undercurrent between Julia and John despite their intense conflicts and separation throughout the book.

Although the resolution was fast-paced, the action of the main story was very slow. It seemed like most of the excitement came while reading the characters’ flashbacks to activities performed in the first book. And for a fantasy/sci-fi story, I expected a tad more fantasy and sci-fi.

Many thanks to NetGalley, Charlesbridge Teen, and the author for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of this book.


About the Author

Marit WiesenbergWebsite

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

Marit Weisenberg has a master’s degree from UCLA in Cinema and Media Studies and worked as a film and television executive for a number of years in Los Angeles. She currently lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two daughters. SELECT is Marit’s debut novel for young adult readers.

(Bio courtesy of Teenreads.com)


 

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Illuminae

by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
SmellRating4
(4.32 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published October 20, 2015, by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Genre: Fiction / Sci-Fi / YA

Format: Paperback

Page Count: 599 pages

#Illuminae #IlluminaeFiles


Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)I am the ship and the ship is I. If I breathed, I would sigh. I would scream. I would cry.

If a nuclear missile hits a battleship in the dark void of space and there are less than 1,000 people on board (but 99% of them are afflicted with a zombie virus), does it still make a sound?

Kady Grant is about to find out.

Her only resources are her techy brain, her trusty datapad, and the possibly insane (definitely murderous) AI system with a God complex known as AIDAN.

I know them. All of them. Better than they know themselves. All this in the time it takes God to blink.

I don’t know what you were doing when you were 17 years old, but I wasn’t exactly a tech-savvy hack-master with the capability to rescue thousands of people and escape a cadre of virus-riddled infectants who are bent on revenge. I mean, if you were that bad-ass then please accept my congrats and a standing ovation. However, I get excited when I can just get Microsoft Word to perform correctly.

So, Kady Grant has a lot on me. She escaped the BeiTech Industries attack on the colony established on planet Kerenza, and now all she has to do is survive so that she can tell the story of that attack to the Universe.

BeiTech killed the people of Kerenza, and if you find this, you have to tell the ‘verse what happened.

This was a book like none I’ve ever read before. The events that play out in deep space between the Alexander fleet (including ships Alexander, Copernicus, and Hypatia) are relayed to us via intercepted emails, IM chats, transcribed video surveillance, classified office memoranda, etc. The 6000+ people on board the three vessels are flying for their lives from the one remaining BeiTech battleship, the Lincoln, that is bent on eliminating all witnesses.

AIDAN has also let loose a squad of passengers infected with the fatal and mind-bending  Phobos Beta virus, and now they’re spreading it to others on board. There’s chaos among the stars and eventually, it all comes down to 17-year old Kady to save everyone.

They don’t need this girl in neuroprogramming, they need her in psych ops, eyeball to eyeball with the guys who need to see things a little differently.

The action is constant and fluid, and the format of Illuminae will keep you turning pages long past your bedtime. Even now, AIDAN’s creepy voice (as I imagine it) is ringing in my head, “Am I not merciful?

Although there were familiar themes present (AIDAN is obviously 2001: A Space Odyssey -inspired; HAL could be “his” generation 1.0), that doesn’t take anything away from what makes this book remarkable.

Read it.

Illuminae is followed by Gemina (published in 2016) and Obsidio (published in 2018), and each book in the trilogy focuses on the same invasion of Kerenza from the perspective of a different pair of surviving teenagers. If you’re into science fiction and lots of YA action (with just a touch of romance), you’ll enjoy this futuristic space adventure.


About the Authors

Amie’s Website

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Jay’s Website

Jay’s Twitter

Amie Kaufman is a New York Times, USA Today and internationally bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy. Her multi-award winning work has been published in over 35 countries and is in development for film and TV. A couple of her career highlights so far include professional wolf-howling lessons, and working as a story consultant at NASA.

Jay Kristoff is the #1 international, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, THE ILLUMINAE FILES, and THE LOTUS WAR. He is the winner of five Aurealis Awards, an ABIA, has over half a million books in print and is published in over thirty-five countries, most of which he has never visited.

(Bios courtesy of Goodreads)


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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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A Court of Frost and Starlight

by Sarah J Maas
SmellRating4
(4.23 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published May 1, 2018, by Bloomsbury YA

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 229 pages

**Warning – Mild spoilers follow**

To the stars who listen…A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

I know this is basically a book review, but this novella also taught me a lot about my own reading weaknesses. I present to you:

EASY WAYS THAT AUTHORS CAN DISTRACT ME WHILE I’M READING…

1- Start writing about renovations. My mind immediately jumps into HGTV mode. So while Rhysand and Feyre are concerned with rebuilding Velaris after the Hybern attack, I’m thinking, “Hmmm, I wish they would talk some more about the renovations – Are there competent builders in Velaris, Are they using a specific color theme, Ooh is there shiplap???

2- Add a character like Amren with such quirky qualities that she seems to dominate every scene she appears in. This book had that in spades. Amren’s adjustment to being fully High Fae now was grossly hilarious and disturbing. I love thinking of scary, dangerous Amren as this book’s comic relief.

And 3- Include a scene where three hot, Illyrian males are naked in a sauna. No explanation needed.

I snorted. ‘So the three of them are just in there. Naked. Sweating.’ Mother above.

Despite my mental distractions while reading, A Court of Frost and Starlight is a much-anticipated little novella that whets our appetites while we wait for the next installment of Night Court magic coming from the SJM camp in 2019.

But… not a lot happens.

Am I disappointed in that? Nope. Why? Because we get some picture-perfect scenes with Rhysand and Feyre, some classic boy-behavior from Rhys, Cassian, and Az that makes us remember that they are friends first and warriors second, and some truly LOL scenes with Amren who is still – hilariously – learning to not be an alien.

Amren: I should have selected a male form. At least you  can whip it out and go wherever you like without having to worry about spilling on —

This is an important character-building installment where we see more of our favorite – and not-so-favorite (i.e. Tamlin) – characters as they are normally, without the added pressures of war or catastrophic kidnappings and torture. We learn more about Mor, who I personally can’t wait to see act out her revenge on the entire Court of Nightmares and rulers of the Autumn Court as well. And now it seems that Rhysand isn’t planning on holding her back whenever she decides to do exactly that.

Honestly, I was a little underwhelmed by the paltry Winter Solstice celebrations of the Night Court. We didn’t get to experience how Velaris rings in the changing of the seasons. After the descriptions of such a spirited celebration in the Spring Court during Calanmai the year before, hanging pine boughs, eating a big meal and exchanging presents feels… uninspired. Surely the Night Court could have come up with more creative traditions than those. For example:

  • Magical ice sculpture competitions in the city. The Velaris citizen that creates the best one wins dinner with the High Lord and High Lady.
  • Ice skating on the frozen Sidra river. The banks could be lined with faerie lights. And after the sun goes down, the males of the village could race on it by starlight.
  • There could be a huge Winter Solstice Ball. That would be a much better reason for Feyre, Mor, and Elain to wear the fancy gowns they love so much. And then Amren could have a perfect excuse to wear some of her exquisite jewelry – as if she needs a reason!

While those suggestions still pale in comparison to the feverish excitement and long-standing tradition of the Calanmai celebration, they’re still better than a meal and drinking until passing out, which is all our beloved characters seemed to do. Dull.

Still, while I was disappointed by the Solstice, Nesta’s continued personal exile, and Lucien’s put-upon behavior, I was satisfied that Elain seems to be coming out of her shell, Feyre finally has a hobby, and Rhysand remains utterly perfect.

Plus, there’s more than one mystery in store: Mor encounters something dark and shadowy skulking in the woods. Who/what could it be? Bryaxis, maybe? What was in the small box that Varian gave to Amren? What are Keir and Eris plotting during their not-so-casual meetings in the Hewn City? Could they possibly join up with the butt-hurt Illyrians and begin a civil war right there in the Night Court? And why is Lucien so convinced that Rhys and Feyre will need Tamlin as an ally in the not-so-distant future?

And please, please, please, SJM, please bring back Emerie the Illyrian shop owner! I can’t wait to see how she could eventually fit into the cozy little family in the Court of Dreams. I have my own ideas about how that could happen 😉

4 stars for this little novella which was a sip of cold water on a hot day. And yes, it left me thirsty for more.


About the Author

Sarah J. MaasWebsite

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Sarah J. Maas is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series, as well as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Sarah lives in Bucks County, PA, and over the years, she has developed an unhealthy appreciation for Disney movies and bad pop music. She adores fairy tales and ballet, drinks too much tea, and watches an ungodly amount of TV. When she’s not busy writing, she can be found exploring the historic and beautiful Pennsylvania countryside with her husband and canine companion.

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)


 

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