Review | An Easy Death

An Easy Death (Gunnie Rose #1) by Charlaine Harris

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Charlaine Harris has a way of sucking me in to her books.  It isn’t exceptional writing or story lines, in fact I do a lot of eye rolling usually, it’s more about cozy entertainment with strong ordinary female protagonists.

When I saw this new release is the beginning of yet another series, I was like, *sigh* “Another series?  Another series?” *clicks “Place Hold” on library account.
I seriously don’t know where this compulsive need for yet another Charlaine Harris series on my TBR comes from but I went with it and I’m glad that I did because this book was a pleasant surprise.

In An Easy Death, we’re introduced to an alternate history of America where President Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated and a massive influenza outbreak during the Great Depression killed the vice president and caused a large population drop.  The vulnerable U.S. was overthrown and countries conquered large portions.

The setting of our novel is known as Texoma (formerly the states of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and a portion of Colorado) and we follow Lizbeth Rose, a young gun for hire who protects people traveling across the lawless divided countries full of bandits and patrols.

After losing her team on a routine job, she’s hired to be a guide and gunnie for two Russian wizards (c’mon, this is a Charlaine Harris novel, of course there are wizards!) searching for a man believed to be a direct descendant of Rasputin in order to save the life of their young tsar.

On a journey to the border towns of Mexico, the wizards are hiding something from Lizbeth that places them all in danger at every turn …but she has an even bigger secret to keep until she can learn their true intentions.

The Gunnie Rose series, an alternate history/paranormal fantasy Western, is off to a promising start with Harris’s signature formula of an ordinary female protagonist living in a bizarre world.  If you enjoy a light but entertaining read with a little fantasy/paranormal thrown in, this fits the bill!

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Review | A Ladder to the Sky

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

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“And you’ve heard the old proverb about ambition, haven’t you? That it’s like setting a ladder to the sky. A pointless waste of energy.” *

Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and determined to be a writer.  The problem is that he hasn’t had an original thought in his life.

Waiting tables at a West Berlin hotel in 1988, he has a chance encounter with respected author Erich Ackermann.  Realizing the aging novelist is lonely and obviously attracted to him, Maurice uses the man’s kindness to his advantage, becoming his assistant on a book tour.

Maurice travels on Ackermann’s dime while finding a place in the literary community with his charm before he is even published.  He’s surprised during a night cap with his lonely mentor to hear a story from Ackermann’s youth in Nazi Germany that is both heartbreaking and shocking …and perfect for a novel.

“Everyone has secrets, I had remarked. There’s something in all our pasts that we wouldn’t wanto to be revealed. And that’s where you’ll find your story.” *

With the publication of his first novel based on the story told to him by Erich Ackermann, Maurice refuses to let go of his first taste of fame. He doesn’t care that he’s ruined the name and career of his former mentor in the process, he will do whatever it takes to become a legend.

Told in three parts (each from a different character’s perspective) with two interludes, A Ladder to the Sky unravels the life (and crimes!) of Maurice Swift as he destroys the lives of many authors, including his own wife’s, to maintain his relevance in the literary community.

Boyne moves the story along with the help of different perspectives and has created both heartbreaking and infuriating characters.  I was completely invested in their lives and outraged by the audacity of a few.

A Ladder to the Sky looks at the concept of literary ownership and if a story belongs to a person through the life of a great pretender who is really a professional psychopath.

Thanks to Crown Publishing/Hogarth and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  A Ladder to the Sky is scheduled for release in the U.S. on November 13, 2018.

 

*Quotes included are from a digital ARC and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | The Hollow of Fear (Lady Sherlock 3)

The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

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This is the third installment in Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series and the first that I’ve read.  I’ve always been that person who has to read a series in order from the very beginning, so when I cracked this book open I asked myself, “Who are you?  I don’t even know you right now.”

Despite the fear that I’d be totally lost, the story is suprisingly easy to follow!  Thomas does an excellent job of including character back story and plot information from the previous novels so that readers get either a refresher course or the ability to jump right in.

Charlotte Holmes is a scandalous young woman.  After running away from home, she is an outcast in polite society.  She now lives under the guise of being a companion to the older Mrs. Watson, a former actress unimpressed by the gossip surrounding Holmes.  Aided by the intelligent and charming Mrs. Watson, Charlotte is actually a successful consulting detective working under the mysterious identity of Sherlock Holmes.

The story picks up exactly where book two apparently left off:  Charlotte has learned she has an illegitimate half brother who has been working for a dangerous man, Moriarty, and is now on the run after stealing something of great value to him.  Moriarty had recently infiltrated the home of Charlotte’s dear friend (and married love interest) Lord Ingram through his wife, a cold and calculating woman only interested in her husband’s money.  Lady Ingram disappeared after her birthday celebration at their estate, Stern Hollow.

Charlotte’s sister Olivia is invited to stay at a friend’s home but when the cisterns cause flooding, the guests must call on the closest neighbor, Lord Ingram, for his hospitality.

Tongues are wagging over the abrupt disappearance of Lady Ingram after her party and the unexpected guests are in for a shock when Olivia and the two biggest gossips in town discover the body of Lady Ingram in the ice house at Stern Hollow.

When Olivia notifies Charlotte of the grim discovery she’s quick to come to the aid of Lord Ingram, the most obvious suspect, by disguising herself as Sherrinford Holmes, brother to Sherlock.
Evidence is mounting against Lord Ingram but Charlotte’s powers of deduction tell her that Moriarty is behind the murder.  Was Lady Ingram the real target or only a warning?  Is Moriarty using Charlotte as a pawn in a dangerous game to uncover the information her brother holds against him?

Though she lacks conversational skills and social charm, the awkward Charlotte Holmes is a surprising flirt who can make you blush.  While society has labeled her for actions that they know nothing about and cast her out, she uses her superior intelligence to make a decent living for herself and gain the independence she has most desired.  Charlotte is definitely a fierce female ahead of her time in Victorian England.

The Hollow of Fear is a mystery full of betrayal, espionage, passion, and scandal.  No one understands better than Charlotte Holmes that everyone has secrets …and she knows them all.

I’m excited to go back and read the Lady Sherlock series from the beginning now.  Thomas has created a wonderful cast of characters that I immediately felt at home with and I’m looking forward to more adventures with Charlotte Holmes!

Thanks to Berkley Publishing and the Penguin First to Read program for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Hollow of Fear was released on October 2, 2018.

Review | An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten

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88 year old no-nonsense Maud is a former teacher living rent free (thanks to a legal technicality after her father passed away when she was 18) in a spacious apartment in Gothenburg, Sweden.

In a series of short stories, we learn about Maud’s life and her penchant for muder.  While most people see a feeble minded elderly lady who is half deaf and lacking the strength to hurt a fly, Maud uses this illusion to her advantage as she surfs the net for useful information on a stolen laptop and travels the world with the money she has saved up over the years.

A young celebrity sets her sights on Maud’s amazing apartment?  Maud’s not going to let that happen.

Her former lover that she hasn’t seen in decades is about to marry a woman half his age?  Maud will deal with that train wreck.

The upstairs neighbor wants to beat his wife and ruin Christmas?  Maud’s not going to take it.

An antiques dealer thinks he can take advantage of a frail old lady with a collection of valuable heirlooms?  Maud says think again!

This is such a fun and original collection of short stories surrounding the twilight years of a clever and calculating woman who uses old age as a disguise to deliver justice to those who dare to get on her bad side.

Thanks to Soho Crime and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good is scheduled for release on November 6, 2018.

 

Review | Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken?

Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? (Unusual Chickens #2) by Kelly Jones

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We started raising chickens when our daughter was just a baby, so she has grown up with a yard of feathered friends.  She enjoys their eggs (and the song they sing when the lay an egg), chicken jokes, and collecting the feathers when they fall out.

Last year we came across the children’s middle grade book Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer about 12 year old Sophie Brown who has just moved with her parents from L.A. to a farm they inherit from a great uncle Jim.  Sophie finds a small flock of hens on the farm and learns rather quickly that these are no ordinary chickens… they have powers!  Sophie is both determined and resourceful as she learns about chickens and how to care for them (and handle their unusual abilities).

When I found the sequel on NetGalley recently, I had to request an ARC to find out what happens next in Sophie’s adventure!

In Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken?, Sophie is settling in at Blackbird Farm and adding new magical chickens to her flock.  She has inherited Redwood Farm from Agnes, an exceptional poultry farmer who raised and sold unusual chickens for many years.

To continue Agnes’s work with unusual chickens, Sophie is sent a batch of eggs to hatch all by herself in an incubator and she’s excited to learn what their super powers will be!  Since the new flock cannot be added to her existing flock (because of the pecking order), Sophie needs to prepare Redwood Farm for its first new flock of chickens in ages!

With her friends and her cousin Lupe (who has recently moved in to attend a nearby college) they clean up Redwood Farm with the help of their community.

It isn’t long after the eggs have hatched that Sophie finds one chicken has an alarming power that could be dangerous!  While navigating her new school, new and exisiting friendships, Sophie also has to learn how to care for baby chicks, keep up with her chicken chores and Redwood Farm, and face her first inspection with the Unusual Poultry Committee!

This was another fun and quirky novel in this children’s middle grade series told in letters/e-mails, lists, and quizzes.  I enjoy the chicken facts and the information included (brief but accurate descriptions on molting, incubating/hatching, etc.) and my daughter loves the funny powers the chickens have.  Young readers can also learn a great deal from Sophie, who is enthusiastic, determined, and caring.  I look forward to seeing what happens next at Blackbird and Redwood Farms!

Thanks to Knopf Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review!  Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? is scheduled for release on November 6, 2018.

 

Review | The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

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Elizabeth Lavenza is orphaned at a young age and mistreated at the hands of a caregiver who uses every opportunity to remind her that she is a burden.

When Elizabeth is brought to the Frankenstein home to be a companion to their strange child Victor, she will do anything to make herself not only wanted but necessary; she refuses to be a burden ever again.

She aches for acceptance from the Frankensteins and while they never formally adopt her, she proves useful in calming the dangerous temper of their eldest son and entertaining his odd whims.

As the years pass, Victor and Elizabeth come to rely on one another in very different ways for their survival.  Victor feels encouraged in his dark experiments that fuels his obsession for Elizabeth.  Elizabeth depends on Victor to keep her safe and uses his obsession to her advantage.

After Victor disappears to further his studies and he stops sending letters, Elizabeth travels with her best friend and governess to the youngest Frankenstein sons, Justine, to locate him and remind him that he needs her (as much as she needs him).

Elizabeth finds Victor and also his sinister laboratory full of nightmares and she will stop at nothing to keep his secrets and destroy evidence of his horrific experiments.  After all, saving Victor means saving herself as well.

Tragedy strikes the Frankenstein home and Elizabeth grieves the loss of her two closest friends, Henry and Justine.  All that is left is Victor … and whatever it is that he has created.

I absolutely loved this retelling from a female perspective of the classic horror story Frankenstein.  The story covers the very real concerns a woman had of securing a place for herself in the world and having to rely on a man to make that happen.

There were so many unhealthy and toxic relationships in this novel and Elizabeth suffered both physical/mental abuse believing that she wasn’t worthy of love.  These relationships, especially Victor’s growing obsession with Elizabeth, on top of his desire to create immortality, build the story to an intense level of madness.

The novel is divided in to three parts and the final was incredible.  There are a couple of bad ass twists that I honestly wasn’t expecting and I loved that it was mentioned Victor had kept a journal (the original tale we know):

“He was writing an account of his life, but editing out the parts where he murdered people for their body parts.  He made himself the hero. I think he fears his legacy, should anyone discover what he has done, and wants to control what they know.”

This was a fantastic tale that I hope anyone who enjoys horror/historical fiction/sci-fi/retellings will pick up, despite the YA genre tag.  The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a story with an incredible plot (classic but with a twist!) from a fresh perspective covering the plights of women during this time period and how toxic love/abuse enabled the horrors described.0

Review | A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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Oh Paul Tremblay, you and your ambiguous stories.  Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, The Cabin at the End of the World, and now A Head Full of Ghosts.

This was a perfect buddy read for Halloween!  The story pays tribute to classic horror stories like The Exorcist and We Have Always Lived in the Castle with several plot similarities.

The Barretts are a normal family that have been hit hard by the failing economy.  Dad has been out of work for over a year; they’re living on spaghetti and mom’s job as a bank teller.  Things are uncomfortable and only getting worse.

Fourteen-year-old Marjorie is beginning to display signs of mental illness. Her eight-year-old sister Merry doesn’t understand schizophrenia; she just knows her sister is acting creepy.  The creepiness goes from sharing scary stories and late night visits to her little sister’s room while she’s sleeping to climbing the walls and peeing on the floor (and those are the two most tame actions).

With medical bills piling up and devastating changes in Marjorie’s behavior, dad turns to religion and Father Wanderly.  After hearing the stories and witnessing some creepy events, Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism …and contacts a production company interested in documenting the entire thing.

Desparate for money to take care of their family, mom and dad agree to be filmed for a show titled The Possession.
Overnight, the show becomes a hit but the Barretts face a backlash from their community and religious zealots.

What the cameras capture is shocking — but not as shocking as the events that take place once filming is over.

Fifteen years later, Merry agrees to be interviewed by a bestselling writer about the events surrounding the reality show.  What Merry tells the writer is sometimes contrary to what was broadcast and we are soon lost down a rabbit hole of psychological horror: questioning motives, memories, religion, and the true definition of evil.

Tremblay wants the reader to decide the truth and sometimes that is far scarier than a solid ending.  I have about a million theories on what actually happened to the Barrett family and I want to talk about alllllll the classic horror story comparisons but I don’t want to spoil the story!

I’ll just leave it at this: my brain wants a logical answer but the story filled me with such unease I can believe there was a paranormal force at work. Maybe it’s easier to believe in an unknown possessive evil than the evil some people are born with.

If you need answers and complete details – this is not the book for you.  If you want to be creeped out and come up with your own endless theories, grab A Head Full of Ghosts quick before Halloween is over!

Review | The Nightmare Before Dinner

The Nightmare Before Dinner – Recipes to Die For: The Official Beetle House Cookbook by Zach Neil

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After being raised in a religious family that didn’t allow Halloween celebrations, Zach Neil grew up to love the holiday so much he wanted to celebrate it every day.  That dream became a reality when he opened Beetle House, a Tim Burton-inspired restaurant full of creative and hearty autumn comfort food.

This cookbook contains seven chapters with clever names, covering everything from sauces (Sauces & Dips for the Recently Deceased), appetizers (Nightmares Before Dinner), soups and salads (Herbs, Plants, & Cauldrons), entrees (Platos de los Muertos), desserts (Tricks & Treats), drinks (Poisons, Potions, & Elixirs), and dinner parties (Put the FUN Back in Funeral).

Neil includes a list of must-have tools and ingredients, all common enough you probably already have them in your kitchen pantry. Most recipes include substitutes to make the dish plant based and vegan-friendly.

The book design, layout, and color photographs are well done, fitting the Burton/gothic vibe of the restaurant and its menu.

Some of my favorite recipes included:

  • Sweeney Beef (filet mignon served with Sweeney Sauce and garlic mashed potatoes)
  • Shrimpy Hollow (sauteed shrimp covered in Hollow Sauce, served with cheesy grits in chorizo oil)
  • Victor Van Pork (southern style pulled pork in Soul Sauce with jalapeno coleslaw)
  • The Butcher’s Stew (richly flavored chili) – I’m already making this a second time!  A new favorite chili recipe for sure.
  • The Beetle’s Juice (a cocktail of tequila and blackberry schnapps that has non-alcoholic substitutions)
  • Edward Sauce (cream based sriracha perfect for burgers and fries)

If you love food, film, fall, and most importantly Halloween, you’ll love this cookbook full of classic dishes with unique twists.

Thanks to Quarto Publishing Group/Race Point Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Nightmare Before Dinner was released September 4, 2018.

 

Review | To Kill A Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel

To Kill A Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel by Fred Fordham (Adapter/Illustrator), Harper Lee

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To Kill A Mockingbird should need no introduction.  It is an American classic and arguably the most important work in American literature in the 20th century.

I was thrilled to learn that it was being adapted into a graphic novel, which could make the story more accessible to young readers by combining visual art and language to share this enduring story.

The story of a black man wrongly accused of a crime by a white woman in the Deep South of the 1930’s and the neighborhood legend of a man named Boo who never leaves his house are both compelling pieces of the tale surrounding the Finch family.
With the perfect innocence of childhood, Scout and Jem Finch navigate their small town of Maycomb that is starkly divided by race and class.  While most adults seem to believe these are complicated topics, Scout and Jem are learning right and wrong from their father, Atticus Finch, who has a wise way of imparting his values and beliefs without imposing them on his children.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a frequently challenged or banned book due to its content and language.  For me, it is an accurate and heartbreaking portrayal of a time period in the American South told with unflinching honesty through the innocence of a child.  It is timeless story that explores the complexities of human nature and the brutal injustices in our history.

To Kill A Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel is an excellent adaptation that remains true to the story by faithfully following the plot of the novel (though obviously a condensed version) with many direct quotes and bright, emotive illustrations.  This is a perfect way to introduce young people to Harper Lee’s classic novel and hopefully capture their hearts and minds and open a discussion on the many heavy but necessary subjects tackled in the story.

Many thanks to Harper Collins and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  To Kill A Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel is scheduled for release on October 30, 2018.

Review | City of Ghosts

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

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I’ve read several books by Victoria/V.E. Schwab and have been seriously impressed with each.  She creates worlds and characters that are both fascinating, fierce, and complex.

I was thrilled to find out earlier this year that Schwab was releasing her first middle grade novel that is also the beginning of a series.  I decided to read City of Ghosts out loud to my five year old (she’s in to spooky stuff) as part of our bedtime reading since it sounded like a perfect October read.  It turns out my husband and I both enjoyed it as much as our daughter!

Cassidy Blake’s parents are a ghost hunting team known as The Inspectres.  They’ve written several prominent books on the subject of ghosts and their notoriety has caught the attention of a TV network interested in producing a show that will have the family traveling to haunted locations around the world.

What Cassidy’s parents don’t know is that since her near death experience a year ago, she has been able to see ghosts.  Not only that, but she was saved from drowning in the river by a ghost named Jacob who has become her best friend.

Upon arriving at their first stop in Edinburgh, Scotland, Cassidy finds herself surrounded by ghosts and pulled sometimes unwillingly to the other side of the Veil.  The Veil is the space between the living and the dead where ghosts who have not moved on continuously repeat a scene from the life on a loop.

Cass meets Lara, a girl who shares her special ability, who explains that their job as “in-betweeners” is to send ghosts to their final resting place beyond the Veil.

While coming to terms with this news and what it could mean for Jacob, Cass finds the legend of a woman nick named the Red Raven isn’t just a spooky story; she’s haunting Edinburgh, preying on young people to grow her power …and Cass is next.

Unsure of her abilities and the rules of the Veil, Cassidy must navigate the gray world with the help of Jacob and Lara and figure out a way to bring down the Red Raven.

City of Ghosts is creepy enough to put a chill down your spine but not too scary for young readers.  The Veil is a wonderfully crafted world that I’m looking forward to learning more about in future books, the atmosphere was exciting, and the friendship between Cassidy and Jacob is genuine. Lara gives a warning to Cass at the end of the novel that Jacob is going to become stronger over time and I loved that piece of foreshadowing!  I can’t wait to explore the dynamics of their friendship and separate worlds, and hopefully gain more insight into Jacob’s past.

Schwab is hard at work on several projects at the moment but I hope we don’t have to wait too long for the next book in the Cassidy Blake series!