Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Stillwell: A Haunting on Long island


Fans of suspense movies or those who like a touch of the supernatural will enjoy this book. While set in the present, the story's characters and plot are intertwined with events set during the Revolutionary War. Paul Russo just lost his wife to a harrowing battle with cancer. As he tries to get life back to a "new normal" for himself and his three children, it seems that fate will not cooperate. His son is getting in trouble in school because he cannot control his emotions, especially his anger about his mother's death. His oldest daughter is barely eating. And his youngest daughter claims she is talking to her mother's ghost. Paul is having terrible dreams in which a demonic figure is carrying off his wife while she calls out to him for help. Everyone is having a difficult time.

Take all the issues at home and then add Paul's job. He is a successful realtor and the first big property he is asked to represent when he comes back to work is a family estate where the owners died in a homicide/suicide incident. Not the most propitious of fresh starts. It doesn't get any better when he begins to learn the history of the house and tales of it being haunted. Between not getting any sleep due to the nightmares, several unexplained occurrences at the estate, and the well-meaning idea from his sales partner to call in someone for a psychic cleansing, it seems that he has stepped into the Twilight Zone rather than anywhere near normal.

With help from friends and family, can Paul get a routine set up to meet the needs of his kids, handle the pressure at work (especially the spoiled nephew of the agency's owners who is trying to steal all the best listings), and figure out how to stop the nightmares? Are they really visions from his wife asking for help from the afterlife? And how does it all tie in to the sad history of the Stillwell estate?

In a quick read (under 200 pages), the author ratchets up the suspense, makes the grieving family believable, and mixes in ghosts and demons before wrapping things up. You will have to read it for yourself to see how he accomplishes all that. Due to its size, it makes the perfect book to pack for a weekend getaway or as a vacation read. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Summer Reading 2016 After the Red Rain


Imagine a world with only weak sunshine for an hour each morning, if you're lucky enough to get that much. A world where the air and the water are full of toxins. A place where nothing grows and everything is covered by the crumbling remains of great cities that cover everything with concrete. That is the world Deedra lives in, the world after the red rain. No one knows what caused the rain that ended the world from the past. There are theories, of course. Some say it was aliens. Some claim it was the wrath of God. Some say the world itself turned against humanity. Now citizens live in Territories governed by magistrates who report to the City rulers, who consult with each other. Everyone is branded with the mark of their Territory and mandated to work for the good of all. Work earns rations of genetically engineered food, made from the DNA of extinct species. Air masks are worn and water is filtered before use.

Rose comes into this world. He is like no other boy Deedra has ever met, and not just because of his name. He has no brand. He shrugs off rules like curfew. He is openly curious about everything. Who is he? Where did he come from? When a murder is committed, a stranger can become an easy scapegoat. How far will Deedra go to help him? And how far will the powers that be go to maintain control?

This story evokes the dreary setting and the mind-numbing drudgery of working an assembly line for days on end. The way information is controlled and used to manipulate the citizens has hints of Bog Brother to it, and should make readers question their own habit of accepting what is presented to them without questioning it. Other stories with similar characters or themes include: Stranger in a Strange LandDivergent, and "Soylent Green." 

If you enjoy post-apocalyptic/dystopian type stories, characters that are resilient and determined, or futuristic SciFi in general, then you should give this a try.

P.S. Did you notice that Robert Facinelli, the actor from the Twilight movies (among other film credits), is one of the writers?

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors

Anyone interested in language and all its twists and turns will have a great time reading through this discussion of where different sports metaphors originated. Because of the connection to athletics, it will also appeal to sports fans. Chetwynd has researched sayings from all types of activities, both team endeavors and individual events. He has traced back to the earliest recorded appearances of each idiom and explained what country and sport it can be attributed to. He also tells what writers or medium first popularized it and when it became a part of common parlance.

Everything from baseball to wrestling is listed, with the phrases attributed to each sport listed in alphabetical order. If there is some question or disagreement, then the possibilities are laid out and the merits of each one are explained. Those that cannot be satisfactorily narrowed down to a single starting point are gathered in a final section at the end labeled "Free Agents: Unattached Sports Idioms and Words." 

Something that I especially enjoyed was the author's sense of humor and the way he throws in references to popular culture. Speaking of a baseball player named "Candy" Cummings, he says that "he had a name that was more Willy Wonka than ace pitcher." Discussing the fact that wrestling rings are square, he quips, "You don't have to be a J.R.R. Tolkien expert to know that a ring is supposed to be circular." But my favorite reference has got to be during his explanation about how rounding the bases in a baseball game has come to mean scoring in a romantic sense. He says, "rounding the metaphorical bases reached iconic standing when Meatloaf used it in his 1977 rock anthem "Paradise by the Dashboard Light.""

The phrases that are included in the book range from Monday morning quarterback to wild-goose chase. Some things that you might think logically came from one sport, you learn actually came from something completely different. And some phrases come from the most unexpected places. Not just the humor, or the cool references, but the surprises will keep you turning the pages just so you can see what else there is to discover.

This would make a great gift or be handy to have around as a conversation starter.

You can find more information about the book and the author.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Heroine Complex


Anyone who enjoys the humor behind major celeb drama, snarky heroes and heroines, urban fantasy/super powers, and a bit of a romantic relationship mixed in for good measure - this is your next read. No, I don't have super psionic powers and I'm not using a Vulcan mind meld to perceive your thoughts, this is just a good old-fashioned prediction. Who could resist a story with fanged demonic cupcakes, heroines having meltdowns and punching holes in their heavy bag during a workout, celeb bloggers taking little digs at everyone they write about, and a major battle during a karaoke contest?

Evie is personal assistant and BFF to Aveda Jupiter, demon fighter and darling of San Francisco. Since the day that a portal was opened into San Fran eight years ago, several humans who were in close proximity to the gateway have manifested super powers. Aveda took this as a sign that she was destined to protect her fair city and has become the favorite supe of all the fanboys and fangirls in town. Evie keeps up with her schedule of personal appearances, handles fan mail, and goes along to record every demon butt-kicking session to post on Aveda's website. She also is busy running the entire HQ, liaising with the supernatural division of the police department, trying to raise her teenage sister, and dealing with all Aveda's diva meltdowns. 

But there are secrets beneath the surface of Evie's calm demeanor, and when she has to pose as Aveda for a short while, things start to spiral out of control in her life. And she's not the only one with hidden depths. It seems that her younger sister Bea, her friend Scott, Nate (the resident scientist for Team Jupiter), and even some of their acquaintances around town also have secrets. When everything is revealed, epic meltdown doesn't even begin to cover it.

Some of the things that really work for this story: (1) heroic figures that are not white or male; (2) humor - fanged cupcakes, remember; (3) there may be super powers, but the characters are still human and all those foibles and messy relationships are included; (4) the snarky factor, from many different characters; and (5) the adorably awkward romantic interest that develops between two of the characters. 

Highly recommended for fans of shows like "Buffy" or "Supernatural", who don't mind humor mixed in with the demon slaying, as well as all the readers out there who love stories with super powers and attempts at world domination (and did I mention the fanged cupcakes?). Meant for YA and up intended audience. There are intimate encounters and language of the four-letter variety.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Monstress, volume 1


Monstress takes place in a world where Ancients, beings of various appearances and powers, exist alongside humans. Long ago they lived peacefully enough together to intermarry and have children of mixed heritage known as Arcanics. There are also witch-nuns, an order known as the Cumaea. The world is complex, the plotting going on among the different races (and factions within them) is convoluted, and the loyalties of the various characters is hard to determine. The mix of magic, science (of sorts), and odd weaponry provides danger from every direction. 

The central character of Maika Halfwolf is driven by a need to find answers about her mysterious past, but others are looking for her and have their own plans. While she tries to track down the truth about her mother and what happened when she was a child, it seems like members of every group within her world is out to get her. Whether it is for the power of her blood, magical relics she might have, or to question her over an attack on a Cumaean enclave, everyone wants her for something. 

The illustrations for the story are incredibly detailed. The Arcanic with their wings, fox tails, and other animal features are so carefully drawn and colored that they seem as if they might really exist. The intricate patterns on the robes of the Cumaean witch-nuns and the Council's Inquisitrix officers are beautiful. And the construction of the giant airship would make the heart of any steampunk fan flutter with joy. Bits of history are worked carefully into the story, so that readers learn a little at a time what happened before the events in the book. The lectures from esteemed Professor Tam Tam are very helpful in making sense of the backstory, and it is very amusing to hear a history recitation from a talking cat with multiple tails.

Readers who enjoy a mix of steampunk and fantasy will find this a well-developed world with plenty to delve into and enjoy. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Mystic Tides


Arden has lived his entire life in Alaska with his father, Brogan. All he knows about his mother is her name, Melissa, and that she left him on his father's doorstep when he was a baby. Now he is being uprooted and sent to live with his aunt in Florida, a continent away from his only parent. It's only temporary, at least that's what his father says. Brogan is taking a higher paying job and will be out at sea for weeks at a time, but his sister and niece will have Arden live with them so he won't be alone. Like most teenagers, Arden doesn't want to be moved across the country and go to a new school for his senior year without his best friend. He begins to think the move wasn't so bad when he meets Kailani, a quiet girl with a mesmerizing singing voice.

It would seem like this is the story of a transcontinental YA romance, but strange things keep happening. Arden saw something odd in the ocean during his last night in Alaska, and he thinks he has seen that same flash of color and movement here in Florida. What is it? Is it following him? And he has strange dreams where voices call to him to come home. Is it just homesickness, or something else? Why do Kailani and her sister Katiana seem to glow pearly white in the sun, but look golden and tanned when they are indoors? (No, they are not secretly Cullens.) Why does Kat's boyfriend Liam live with the twins in their grandmother's cottage? And why does Arden feel he is beginning to develop odd abilities? The end of the book leaves readers with answers to some of these questions, but also lays out possibilities for more books with these characters, including the hope for true love and the danger of vicious enemies. Will love conquer all?

As you can see from the blurb, this new YA series is inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen tale of "The Little Mermaid." If you enjoy the original, darker versions of fairy tales, or like the urban fantasy style that mixes paranormal beings in with modern life, then this series will appeal to you.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Girl in Disguise

Move over Abby, Sarah, and all the other women in shows like "NCIS" and "CSI," because Kate Warne is on the case. Need a lock picked? A suspect followed? A kidnap victim found? Then Kate is the woman for you. The fact that this novel is based on a real person makes it even more intriguing. In this day of photos and images of people available from so many sources (everything from cell phones to CCTV cameras), it seems odd to us that there are no existing photos of Kate. And it is even stranger that as the first female Pinkerton agent and someone who collected facts and secrets for a living, she has left so few facts behind about herself. Luckily, Greer Macallister has stepped in to create an amazing story full of the cases she was known to have worked and other period details. 

In Girl in Disguise, Kate is the daughter of an actor and his wife. What better preparation for someone working undercover as a detective? And her family traveled throughout the United States as her father took on roles in various theaters, so she knows all about how to pack quickly and how to survive as a newcomer in a strange town. (Another great skill to have.) The fact that her feckless husband has died and left her destitute only means that she is very motivated to get and keep the job. So, despite the fact that there are no female agents, and in the face of unwelcoming and even hostile attitudes from the male agents, she becomes the first woman to work for Pinkerton.

What follows that momentous decision to apply for the job and prove herself capable, is a fascinating look at life in the mid-nineteenth century. Instead of cellphones and Internet, there are telegrams and handwritten reports. No prosthetic masks a la "Mission Impossible," just spirit gum and make up. And the most important asset is the detective herself as she assumes roles to blend in at all levels of society. She impersonates prostitutes, meek housewives, and social butterflies. Often working alone, she solves crimes ranging from embezzlement to murder. Along the way she encounters many of the famous names of the time period such as Allan Pinkerton (of course), Abraham Lincoln, and Rose Greenhow. 

The author has taken the few facts we have about Kate's career (many records were lost in the Great Chicago Fire), and woven them together with the turbulent time period to create a story that brings Kate to life. She is not perfect, nor is she a saint. But she shines from the pages as a woman of strength and determination, one who is unwilling to let her gender or mistakes from the past stop her. Just imagine how odd it was back then to be a single career woman, even if you were a widow. Although there are a few touches of romance, the book focuses on her career, just as Kate did in real life.

If you enjoy historical fiction based on real people such asGirl Waits with Gun, or pure historical fiction like the Mary Handley mysteries (Second Street Station and Brooklyn on Fire), then you should fall completely in love with Girl in Disguise

I received an advance copy from the publisher for review purposes.