Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Last Seance: Tales of the Supernatural by Agatha Christie

Well, if I've done anything in 2019, it was to finally read some Agatha Christie. Another author I've admired from afar, but never felt compelled to read. This new short story collection caught my eye, and I'm so glad it did. 

First, I'll say this book isn't a casual, read it in a few hours collection of stories. It's actually quite lengthy--over 350 pages. Just goes to show how prolific Agatha Christie was in her writing career. Only one of the stories had never been published in the U.S.: The Wife of the Kenite. All the other stories had been published multiple times in short story compilations and magazines over the years in both the U.K. and the U.S. The publishing reach of Agatha Christie was astounding. 

There are twenty short stories in The Last Seance, and each was gripping and smartly written. I quickly fell victim to Agatha Christie's style of writing, and I couldn't even begin to pick one of the stories as my favorite. Some were straight out murder mysteries; others had a paranormal bent. People murdered for money or spite, others were frightened to death. Clever killers were outdone by simple deductive reasoning from some of Agatha's prime characters: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Each story was fairly short, and that made it easy to read a few, take a break, then return for more. I don't read many short story collections, but when I do, I realize how much I enjoy the built in breaks between stories. 

This collection has it all: haunted houses, mysterious characters, marriages gone wrong, and sly con artists. It was a fantastic introduction to Agatha Christie's style of writing and her world of mysteries. She's got me hooked. 

Rating: 4/6 for a solid collection of short stories that keep you trying to figure out the whodunnit before the characters do. Short stories that dive right into the meat of the mystery, and keep you wanting more. I can't wait to read more Agatha Christie! 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox

I was excited to finally dig into this novel, the second by Hester Fox. Her first novel, The Witch of Willow Hall, was published last year, and it was outstanding. So of course I expected her sophomore novel to be just as good. 

While I did enjoy reading The Widow of Pale Harbor, it didn't match my expectations. Gothic, yes, certainly. A small town--Pale Harbor, Maine is the backdrop for this tale of a woman who lives in a large mansion, alone with her companion Helen, who is reviled and treated poorly by the townspeople. Four years before, Sophronia's husband Nathan had died in a carriage accident, and the town blamed her for his death. The town didn't know Nathan was a cruel, vicious husband. 

It's 1846, and Edgar Allan Poe's short stories are wildly popular. Sophronia has taken over running her late husband's magazine, and deciding which stories will be published. So many Poe copy cats are out there, trying to make it into this popular magazine, and Sophronia fears she has angered someone by rejecting their stories. Strange things have been happening around town, and at her home, the Castle Carver. Dead ravens left on her doorstep, stuffed dolls left in trees...combine that with the endless fog, damp days and rain, and you've got a pretty atmospheric plot. Enter Gideon Stone, a man posing as a minister, who has traveled to Pale Harbor to open a new church. He's not a minister at all, but is doing this all out of guilt for letting his deceased wife down--and he's determined to be successful as a minister to somehow heal his guilt. Poor Gideon. He's no minister, that's for sure. He's a hard working man, large of stature, and he has no business trying to pass himself off as a minister. He knows he's hopeless at it, but struggles to carry on and find inspiration. 

Gideon meets Sophronia, and sparks fly. Both quickly succumb to their attraction, as all the while things are taking a darker turn in Pale Harbor. Now bodies are piling up, and the town blames it all on the Widow Carver. Some say she's a witch. The race is on to figure out who's behind the cruel notes, the mysterious deaths, and the clues that are straight out of Poe's famous stories.

I liked a lot about this novel, but I was a bit surprised at how much romance was center stage. Gideon and Sophie's romance burned pretty bright right from the start, and much of the storyline involved the two of them briefly fighting their feelings, then deciding to give in and admit they loved each other. It did help to have Gideon be the catalyst to understanding Sophronia's character; her background, her terrible marriage, and her complicated relationship with Helen, her companion. Helen is an interesting character, and a bit dark, too. However, I was a bit disappointed in finding out who was behind all the terrible things, and what their motive was--it seemed a bit far-fetched. I was hoping for something a bit more paranormal, I guess. This was definitely a gothic tale, but far more a historical romantic thriller than a spooky nail bitter. 

I'll read more of Hester Fox, for certain. A fun read for my cool and windy October nights.

Rating:  3/6 for a gothic romantic thriller that had an interesting idea in the plot, but fell short at the end. I was hoping for something more out of this world. You may, however, find yourself in a swoon over Gideon. He's pretty swoon-worthy. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

A friend loaned me her copy of this novel (months ago, I shamefully admit) and I decided now was the time to read it. Jennifer McMahon has had me curious for quite some time. I know her novel The Winter People received great reviews, but of course I didn't get a chance to read it. 

I've been tussling over what to read for my book group this next week. I'm supposed to read something that scares me, and I've got to tell you, not much scares me in the reading world. It's a rare book that unnerves me. I was hoping The Invited would at least make me slightly uneasy at night, but it didn't. However, it was an excellent tale and I couldn't put it down. 

Helen and Nate are two school teachers that decide to leave their jobs and move to Vermont to pursue their wish to start over. Using Helen's inheritance money, they purchase some land outside the small Vermont town of Hartsboro. Forty acres of mostly woods and bog, and one perfect spot to build their dream house. The realtor laughingly says the land is haunted, and Helen's ears perk up. She's a historian, and she longs to create a place that has some history attached to it. A haunted piece of land will certainly help. 

Helen and Nate begin building their home-yes, by themselves. Helens' father built houses, and Helen often helped him. Saving their money, doing most of the labor themselves, Helen and Nate should stretch their money to build the house and live off the land. Living in a crappy trailer on the land while they build their home, things start to get tense pretty quickly. It's a lousy trailer, and neither sleeps well at night. Tools begin to go missing, and money, too. The bog is very tempting, but dangerous. Nate begins getting into watching the wildlife (he's a science teacher), and Helen becomes intrigued in the story of Hattie Breckenridge, who lived on the land they now own, and was hung by the townspeople for witchcraft in 1924. Yes, I said 1924. Hung by a mob, next to the bog. They then burned her home down. Hattie was known by all to have a gift--she could see the future, and while everyone was afraid of her, they also came to her for help, too. But a tragic fire at the schoolhouse kills three children, and Hattie had warned the town that something tragic would happen. They blamed it on her, and killed her for it. Now everyone believes Hattie haunts the bog. And they believe Helen and Nate have invited her back with their purchase of the land and building their home. 

Olive lives not far from Helen and Nate's land, and she's also really mad they are there. Olive, a young girl, and her mother Lori heard the tales of buried treasure on Hattie's land, and were convinced they were meant to find it. However, Lori disappears (everyone says she ran away) and Olive is not only traumatized by her mother disappearing, but the gossip in town, and her father's constant renovating their home. He thinks if he keeps fixing it up, Lori will come home. Olive keeps searching for the treasure, and making mischief for Helen and Nate. 

However, Olive isn't all to blame. There is some weird stuff happening, and the more Helen uncovers the dark past of Hattie's murder, the more she's convinced Hattie is there, leading Helen to solve a mystery. 

This was a really good blend of mystery, history, and paranormal. The story of the Breckenridge women was the best part of the novel-and the most tragic, too. Olive is a spitfire, and one smart young lady. Helen is teetering on the edge-the deeper she digs, the more fascinated she gets, and it's putting a strain on her relationship with Nate. It seems that Hattie wants her help, but someone else doesn't want her around at all. She feels an increasing sense of urgency to put all the pieces together, before someone else ends up hurt. 

This had just the right amount of spooky moments without going overboard. The land itself played a big part in creating the atmosphere. The brief chapters that go back to Hattie and her descendants, and show what happened to each of them from their viewpoint are key to putting things together, and provide a good break from the present day plot. 

I'd recommend this novel to anyone who wants a slightly haunting tale of righting wrongs, familial love, and tenacious women. The past always remains with us, and restless souls need closure. 

Rating: 4/6 for a solid novel about ghosts, a dark town secret, the thin line between science and the unknown, and the restless dead. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Ghost Manuscript by Kris Frieswick

This was an excellent mix of thriller, history, antiquities, libraries, and action-adventure. I wasn't sure what to expect when I started this, after picking it up at the library on a whim. 

Carys Jones is a rare book authenticator who works for an auction house. She's worked on tracking down British Dark Age manuscripts for John Harper, a super rich man who has created a one of a kind library at his estate. 

Harper has been committed to an insane asylum because he's been hallucinating and insisting he's talking to a monk who was the personal holy man to the man known today at King Arthur.  Carys has been called in to look over the collection and to catalog it and prepare it for sale. Harper's son JJ is selling the library, along with the estate. 

Carys thinks she's just there to prepare the library for sale, but her meeting with Harper reveals something a bit too hard to believe: a rare manuscript written by a monk telling the true story of King Arthur, and his burial site. That site contains priceless treasures from the Dark Age, when Britain was under attack by Anglo Saxons and under constant siege. If this manuscript is the real deal, the world may finally know for sure that King Arthur was an actual person, not a myth. And it will contain treasures of a long lost age. 

Carys digs deeper and deeper, and soon finds herself being chased from Boston to Wales, where the manuscript leads her on a wild chase. There's so much to this story, I can't possibly tell you everything. It's pretty wild. Is Carys also falling prey to hallucinations, or is she really conversing with the long dead monk? Will the bad men chasing her, determined to kill to get the manuscript, succeed in tracking her down? Who can she trust? 

Oh, it's so good! I love novels that explore legends, ancient mysteries, and lost treasure. This novel is chock full of history and mystery, and I was enthralled. There were a few plot twists that gutted me, for sure. I was very invested in Carys' journey, and the supporting characters are such a part of the plot I had a few stressful moments in the thick of the action. Let's just say no one is safe in this adventure. The bad men are really bad, and will stop at nothing to succeed. 

I would highly recommend this novel for anyone who is a King Arthur fan or a  history buff. For sure I'd recommend it for fans of Clive Cussler, James Rollins, and Dan Brown. It's a solidly written tale that will keep you breathless. I hope hope hope there's a sequel, because there's room at the end for more adventures. 

Rating: 5/6 for a thrilling dive into the legend of King Arthur, set in contemporary Boston and Wales, where history could be rewritten if long lost secrets come to light. So good!  

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio book. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

No One's Home by D. M. Pulley

I finally sat down and finished this novel after having it checked out from the library for quite some time. Sometimes I get in trouble starting too many books and then have to finish them all in a big readathon. Part of my lagging on this novel was due to my hot and cold feelings about the plot. 

The plot switches back and forth between four families who have each lived in Rawlingswood, a rambling old mansion in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Moving from the early 1930's through 2018, each family has had plenty of bad experiences. The Rawlings family built the home, and Walter Rawlings overextends himself, and the failing stock market dooms his financial security. His wife and young son pay the ultimate price for his failings, setting the state for the dismal history of the home. The Klussman family also deals with tragedy. Frannie's marriage has ended with her husband leaving because he can't cope with their special needs child, Benny. Benny has to be locked in his room to protect himself from leaving the house and hurting himself. But Benny sees something outside that leads his mother to wrong conclusions, and disaster follows. Next up is the Martin family; Toby and Ava are foster children left alone with their foster father while their foster mother travels for work. Papa Martin is not a very nice man. No indeed. 

And finally, there are the new owners of Rawlingswood, the Spielman family. Myron and Margot, and their teenage son Hunter, arrive from Boston. Myron is a doctor with a new job, leaving a scandal behind in Boston. The house has undergone a lot of renovations and there is still the original, unsettling third floor attic, which were servants quarters decades before. There's something weird about the space...the bathroom light keeps turning on, footsteps are heard overhead, and the family keeps finding the attic door open. There's a sense of being watched...The tragic history of the home slowly unfolds, as we watch the Spielman family realize things just aren't quite right in the house. 

Well. I thought the family histories were interesting, and at first I was convinced this was going to spin out into a paranormal thriller. I think the author had great intentions, but I feel like there's just too much stuff in this plot. It seemed a bit cumbersome and bulky. Too many stories, background info, and characters make it seem like a slog sometimes to get through it. I had to keep reminding myself which family was what for every new chapter. The bones were good, but just too much plot. And the conclusion just seemed a bit far fetched and bizarre. 

So. I will give this author another chance. I almost would have preferred that this novel did take a good paranormal spin. It felt like it was moving in that direction, until the last moment, when it took a sharp turn and got a little too out there. Darn it. I'd hoped this would be a good spooky read for October, but it wasn't. 

Rating: 3/6 for a really long book about a whole lot of unhappy families living in one very troubled house. Dysfunction abounds, and what could have been a thriller about a house that is out of the ordinary instead became a laundry list of really messed up folks. 

Available in paperback. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

October...Cooler Nights, Yes, But No Snow Yet Please!

Well, I failed getting all of my books read in September. I just couldn't dig in and pay attention long enough to read Their Eyes Were Watching God, so back on the shelf it goes. I will read it. It's become a personal goal for me. I started What We Talk About When We Talk About Books and became stuck pretty fast. I may return to it when it's in paperback. I did read Nora Robert's Blood Brothers, and liked it enough to want to read the two other books in the trilogy. I've read a few of her trilogies, and unfortunately they all seem very much alike, so unless she pulls something out of her hat, I may not read anymore. I'll finish this one, and review all three together soon. 

October was always the gateway to the fun part of the year for me as a child. Halloween, quickly followed by my birthday, then Thanksgiving and Christmas. So much candy, treats, and yes, birthday cake! I still love the last few months of the year, even if they are a bit frantic sometimes. October is also a great reading month, too. I get to snuggle down and relax at night. Here's what I'm reading this month:

I'm almost done with this novel--a contemporary quest to find King Arthur's actual resting place--and the treasure people will kill to obtain. Loving it! 

A widow is accused of witchcraft, and someone is playing tricks on the town with inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe's short stories. Eek! Gothic goodness. 

YA novel about a mysterious road in the woods that leads to...nothing good. Nope. Ghosts, thrills, and teen horror. 

An apocalyptic tale set off the coast of Ireland. A young teen has to leave the island to save her mother...will they survive what has killed humanity?

A collection of Agatha Christie's supernatural short stories, with a bonus story included. Perfect for Halloween! 

Of course, I'll have a few other titles to talk about. If you haven't like my Facebook page, please do--I put up videos where I blab on about what I've picked up at the bookstore and the library. 

Take care everyone! Let me know what you're reading this month! 

The Bookalicious Babe

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Bakeshop at Pumpkin and Spice by Donna Kauffman, Kate Angell, & Allyson Charles

Fall has been reluctant to arrive in Iowa. Today, finally, it feels like it. Chili in the crockpot, slight chill in the air, but not enough to not wear a t-shirt outside-just remember to bring a jacket for later. Ah. While I enjoy the ease of summer, I do get tired of it, so I'm ready for cooler nights, comfort food, and  not doing any yard work!

This trio of romances is pure fun. I caution that you'll probably want to eat your weight in cookies and scones while you read it. But if you're looking for a fun read full of feel good romances and happy endings, this is your ticket. 

Moonbright, Maine is a delightful small town that goes all out for Halloween. As in having a huge parade, everyone in town dresses up, shops are open late at night, and it's one big party. Bellaluna's Bakeshop is a family business run by Sofia and her granddaughter, Abriana. The bakeshop is known for out of this world sweets, and if you're someone special, you might just get the special Italian cookie that is sure to bring you your true love. Abriana (Bree) keeps trying to make the cookies, and failing. They taste awful. Until one day, when Caleb stops in to introduce himself and Sofia offers him one of the cookies. Before Abriana can stop him, he bites into it and swoons. No, it doesn't taste awful...it tastes like heaven. Bingo! Abriana tries one, and darn it all, it tastes pretty wonderful for her, too. Attraction sizzles for these two, but a few obstacles stand in the way of happy ever after. 

The second story also takes place at the same time, with Cassie trying everything she can to make her boss notice her. She's decided he's the one, but he has no clue. Sofia has given Cassie two of her special cookies to take back to the office, and before she can get her boss to eat one, Chip, a hot home flipper, eats one. He's pretty taken with Cassie, who, despite her attraction to Chip, stubbornly keeps trying to snag her boss. When a Halloween project puts Cassie and Chip together, sparks fly. Will Cassie see what's right in front of her eyes? 

And finally, there's the story of the Mayor, Jack, and Lara. Recently dumped by her oaf of a boyfriend, she's also been notified her rent is going up, and her part-time job at the antique store is probably going to end. Running into the Mayor at the bakeshop, they both eat one of Sofia's special cookies, and what has always been an attraction to each other kicks into high gear. Jack offers Lara a position with the city as events coordinator. He's overwhelmed by organizing the Halloween parade, and needs help. Lara is a natural. They've known each other since high school, and both secretly crushed on the other, but nothing happened until now. Their love story moves pretty fast!

There are a few recipes included at the end of each story. Kind of made my mouth water. The men are hot, hot, hot! And while the cookies may prove magical, they only bring couples together long enough to get that spark started. 

Snuggle down with your blanket, hot cocoa, and a delicious pumpkin or apple treat. I'm glad I'm trying to maintain some healthy eating habits, because otherwise I would have inhaled a loaf of pumpkin bread and some apple cider donuts while reading this delightful seasonal novel. There is a previous novel called The Cottage on Pumpkin and Vine, but I could only find it offered as an ebook. I may end up getting the ebook and reading that, too. 

Rating: 3/6 for a simply sweet trio of stories about a magical town in Maine, true love, and some tasty treats. Pure fun for when you need a little escape. 

Available in paperback and ebook.