Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Winters by Lisa Gabriele

This novel fits into my Halloween reads perfectly: it involves mind tricks, ghosts, and a complicated family dynamic that leads the heroine down a dark path.

The Winters is a thriller that starts off quietly enough: you get foreshadowing from the opening pages; you know something has gone terribly wrong. But then you're introduced to our heroine, who remains nameless throughout the novel. At first I thought I had just missed her name, but no, it never comes up. Hmmmm....

Meeting on the Cayman Islands where she works a drudge of a job for a horrible boss, Mrs. Winters-to-be meets Senator Max Winter, and they quickly fall in love. She's not at all what his first wife, Rebekah, was, and she becomes obsessed with Rebekah. Tall, blonde, beautiful, classy; killed in a car accident on the grounds of Asherley estate, Max's family Long Island mansion. There's Dani, Max's teenage stepdaughter, who is still grieving the death of her mother, and is a handful. She's angry, bitter, and does not like Max's new fiancee. Dani goes to a lot of trouble to make the future Mrs. Winters miserable. 

As our heroine struggles to fit in at Asherley, you sense something just isn't right, and maybe Max isn't the perfect, debonair man she first met. But what is it?! Do we believe Dani, or Max? 

Oh--the last pages are a real kicker. It's like being in a boat, gently riding the waves, and then BAM! Here comes a big one, and it rocks the boat violently. You  feel for Mrs. Winters, because she really is trying to grapple with a new life, a new husband, and the ghost of Rebekah. Will she figure things out in time to save herself? 

This was a great thriller and a big thank you to Viking for sending me an an advanced copy. It takes the domestic thriller and turns it up a notch. It has a modern gothic feel to it that I appreciated and it almost lent a timelessness to it, even though it is firmly set in contemporary Long Island. For those who enjoy thrillers, pick this one up! 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel that leads you down the path, and you know something is wrong...but wow it all happens quickly and you read with baited breath. A very good thriller!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

The World of Lore: Dreadful Places by Aaron Mahnke

I haven't listened to podcasts since I stopped commuting 100 miles a day a year ago.Let me tell you, those podcasts and audio books kept me company on early mornings and afternoons when I was sleepy and in danger of nodding off. Oftentimes I couldn't wait to get in the car to start listening again!

Lore is a podcast that I haven't listened to, and I probably would if I was in the habit of listening to podcasts at home. I prefer music when I'm working in the yard, and my commute is now less than 10 minutes. So I'm glad Aaron Mahnke decided to put his podcasts stories into book form. Dreadful Places is the third book; Monstrous Creatures and Wicked Mortals are also available in hardcover. I dove right into Dreadful Places, because it's Halloween Eve Eve and I love my spooky stories. 

Full of myths, folklore, and some tragically true tales, this book is a fun (yes, fun for me), easy read told in a conversational style. You can read a few pages, put it down, and return to it very easily. Tales from around the world, but mostly set in the U.S. reveal some of the spooky and haunted places that send chills up our spines. Some, like Leap Castle in Ireland, have been haunted for centuries. Others, like the Queen Mary in California, have echoes of World War 2 and tragic accidents from the 1960's to keep guests quaking in their shoes. There's a little bit of everything in this book, and it keeps you engaged and turning the pages. I enjoyed the black and white illustrations-just enough to give me an Edward Gorey vibe. 

It's always interesting to read legends and ghost stories that have been handed down over time. How much is real, and how much has been added and embellished by all those storytellers? Aaron Mahnke does attempt to demystify some of the tales, and others...well, you're left to wonder. 

Fun stuff!  There's also a show on Amazon Prime called Lore, for those who want to watch. It recreates some of the podcast stories so you'll be able to watch and then have colorful nightmares. 

This is exactly the kind of book I would have inhaled as a middle schooler. There's nothing overly graphic or horrible about the tales, just good old-fashioned spooky stories.  For fans of folktales, mythology, and local history. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, audio, and if you like to listen to podcasts, it's available through iTunes. Lore the show is available through Amazon Prime. 

Rating: 4/6 for a perfect pre-Halloween read-a mix of spooky tales that ask the question: what's true?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

This was a quick read I found at the library as I was checking in books. At first I thought it was a YA novel, but I discovered shortly after that is was actually a middle school novel. I never would have guessed, because it was well written, had great pacing, and well developed characters. I can't wait to read the next in the Cassidy Blake series!

Cassidy is pretty young; I think she's about 12 in this novel. She has a gift: she can see the dead. Not only that, but she can cross over into the "Veil" and see all of the restless spirits, and how they are each in their own little time bubble, trapped between life and death. Her sidekick, Jacob, is a young boy who saved her from drowning--and yes, he's a ghost. After her accident, she's got this crazy gift. And to add to the story, her parents are famous authors of ghostly tales. She doesn't dare tell her parents what she's capable of now, a year after her near fatal accident. 

Expecting to go on the family's usual summer beach vacation, she's disappointed to find out her parents have agreed to film their own tv program on ghostly haunts around the world. No beach vacation this year. First stop: Edinburgh, Scotland--reported to be one of the most haunted places around. She's reluctant to go, but doesn't really have a choice. 

Once in Edinburgh, Cassidy feels the tug of the Veil and the tap tap tapping of spirits everywhere she goes. A visit to Greyfriars cemetery exposes Cassidy and Jacob to an evil spirit that will stop at nothing to cross the Veil...

I throughly enjoyed this book--it's absolutely something I would have gobbled up as a kid. It's the kind of book I always wanted to write. I've visited Edinburgh, and I can say it has a very special feel to it. I've gone underground, visited Edinburgh Castle, and yes, if you stand still and be quiet, you can feel the vibrations of the past. I hope to go back someday. 

I'd recommend this novel to anyone who likes a good ghost read. It doesn't matter that this is a middle school novel. It never felt like one, and the story moved along well. Plenty of room for more adventures for Cassidy and Jacob. If you have any young kids in your life who love to read paranormal novels, this would make a great Christmas gift! I'm going to look at Victoria Schwab's other novels. If you're interested, check out her Goodreads page: Victoria Schwab.  

Rating:  4/6 for an unexpectedly good ghosty read. First in a series. Suitable for young readers and everyone who likes paranormal reads. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

I put myself down for a hold on this at the library, but while I was at B&N I saw it, and couldn't wait. My time to read spooky tales in October is quickly coming to an end. This month has flown by, with much to do that has kept me from my favorite hobby: reading. I started this novel after hearing about it from friends and reading about it online. I was in the mood for a good historical tale. And I got it from this talented first-time author. I can't wait to read more from Hester Fox. 

Quick plot info: The Montrose Family is forced to leave Boston for the quiet town of New Oldbury after a scandal involving daughter Catherine. You don't know exactly what the scandal is, but I figured it was probably something to do with being caught with a young man-it is, after all, 1821, and even wealthy families aren't immune to rumors and whispers. Off to New Oldbury they go, to live in what is their new summer home-now permanent home, Willow Hall. Make no mistake-this is a very nice place. Beautiful, spacious, but isolated and...well...creepy. 

Catherine is the eldest sister-the beauty who's also not so nice. Lydia the middle sister, is a book nerd, beautiful in a quiet way. She's been dumped by Cyrus after the family scandal. Her engagement was purely a business deal between families, and she's not heartbroken as much as she's furious her sister ended what may have been her only chance to get married. There's little Emeline, youngest daughter, and Lydia's darling sister. 

The family settles into Willow Hall, and meets John Barrett, Mr. Montrose's business partner--and a young cutie pie. He's shocked and disturbed to find out the whole family has moved into Willow Hall. You soon find out why, as Lydia keeps seeing a woman wandering out by the garden, hears horrible gut-wrenching wails at night, and feels something sinister keeping her company. 

Oh, the family secrets that they all keep. Those secrets keep the plot moving;  Catherine's secret is so scandalous I was gobsmacked. Lydia's instant attraction to John Barrett also keeps the plot moving along; you hope that the feelings are returned, but bratty Catherine likes to interfere. Lydia doesn't think she stands a chance. And Cyrus, the toad, returns to beg Lydia's hand in marriage again-his father is in financial trouble after turning his back on Mr. Montrose and their business. Apparently Mr. Montrose has the midas touch, because this family doesn't suffer financially. However, the rumors that sent them fleeing from Boston have followed them, and no one is really very interested in socializing with the family. 

Let me tell you-the creepy factor is pretty good in this novel. It's always apparent; the little boy Emeline talks to by the pond; the horrible voice Lydia hears in her head egging her to do bad things; the noises throughout the house. The woods. Yikes--the woods. This is truly a case of a haunting, but not of the house, but of the land. I don't want to give anymore away. You need to read it and watch it all unfold. What secret is Lydia holding? What about Catherine? What about their mother? Who can help Lydia before it's all too late?

This was a great read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. High schoolers and up will gobble it up. A good blend of paranormal, history, romance, and tragedy. Sometimes letting go is all we can do, even when we want to hold on tight. Lydia is a rock star. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Rating: 5/6 for a novel that has a whole lot going on, but it all works together to deliver a supernatural read complete with ghosts, witches, evil, tragedy, forgiveness, the joy and quiet strength of love, and owning your power. Good stuff. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Pale as Death: A Krewe of Hunters Novel by Heather Graham

I've been reading Heather Graham since I was a teen. First her historical romances; now I try to read every Krewe of Hunters novel that comes out. There are usually a few a year and I've got two on my bookcase that I still need to read. They, along with Pale as Death, are a mini-arc in the series; three brothers join the Krewe and get involved in ghostly happenings. And find love, naturally. 

I've read a lot of series, but most of the time they jump the shark (see: the Happy Days episode where Fonzie actually jumps the shark--and so does the show)and I stop reading them before I get to the end. I didn't even finish the Sookie Stackhouse series, and I had been reading it since the beginning, when they were cheap paperbacks and Charlaine Harris' name was in tiny print at the bottom of the cover. 

But for some reason, I keep reading the Krewe of Hunters novels. Part of the charm is the ghosty element. As you all know, I'm a HUGE fan of anything paranormal, and I do love a good paranormal romance. Another part of the charm of this series is that each novel centers around new characters, with a sprinkling of some returning characters--specifically, Jackson Crow, the head of the Krewe, a "secret" FBI unit that investigates crimes with a paranormal twist. Everyone on the Krewe can see the dead, and they solve murders and mysteries that otherwise would remain cold cases. 

In Pale as Death, someone is killing young actresses, and recreating the Black Dahlia murder. Gruesome, indeed. Every detail is replicated; even the young victims resemble Elizabeth Short, the original Black Dahlia. LAPD investigative cop Sophie Manning has been assigned the case, and Bruce McFadden, a private investigator, is sent out to LA by Sophie's friend (and Bruce's soon to be sis-in-law) to help her on the case. Of course they clash, and of course they are wildly attracted to each other. The formula for these novels is pretty predictable. 

So who is committing these horrible deeds? Could it be someone in the LAPD? Someone close to Sophie? How can Michael, the spirit of an investigative reporter murdered during the original Black Dahlia case help Sophie and Bruce? 

I have to say. I know how these novels go, and I still enjoy reading them. They're like popcorn for me. If you're interested in reading from the beginning, where Jackson Crow first enters the scene, here's a link from Goodreads on the list of titles, in order: https://www.goodreads.com/series/57401-krewe-of-hunters.

I'll be reading the other two novels with Bruce's brothers: Brodie and Bryan. Can't wait to tuck in--this series is pure escape for me. 

Rating:  3/6 for a look at the Black Dahlia unsolved case, Old Hollywood, and of course, a romance. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Life on the Leash by Victoria Schade

It seems like forever since I've read something a bit lighter with a touch of romance. Gallery/Simon & Schuster sent me an ARC of this novel, and I'm so glad they knew I needed a novel about dogs, friendship, and romance before I realized it myself. 

Cora Bellamy is an ex-corporate woman who has taken her passion and natural talent for dog training and created a full-time business in the Washington, D.C. area. Her main squeeze, Fritz, is adorable, as are all the dogs she trains for well-to-do clients. Cora's world is filled with some lovely people: her roommate Maggie, their friend Darnell, and Cora's client Fran. Then there's the delicious Charlie, boyfriend of one of Cora's clients, and owner of Oliver, a dog in need of training. 

Charlie's a hottie, and he knows it. Cora is attracted, but obviously he's taken! Is he flirting with her, or is she reading him wrong? Meanwhile, Eli, a charming, quirky gentleman, is crushing on Cora, but she's got him in the friend zone. Will her hormones choose Charlie, who's clearly wrong for her, or will Eli win the day? 

Cora's chance at fame comes with the chance to audition for a new dog training show. It's her life passion, and she's damn good at it. But being on national tv is something she's not so sure about. Will what comes naturally to her--that effortless bond with dogs, translate onto film? 

I liked Cora, just hated that she let her hormones override common sense and her douche-meter. The many dogs she trains are a big part of the novel, and they are all delightful and distinctly different in personality. Cora's got a pretty great life, no doubt. But as always, change comes when it's least expected, and that's exactly what happens to Cora. I don't know much about dog training, and even though it's a big part of this novel, it's not dry and boring. There is clearly some author experience (Victoria is a dog trainer) shining through, and that made Cora a credible character. 

Love dogs? I do. I can't wait for the day when I have the space and time to have a dog again. I grew up with dogs, and haven't lived with one since my early 20's. Someday...

Rating:  4/6 for a novel full of dogs, delightful supporting characters (with a cad and an evil dog owner for contrast), a strong and charming central character, and a romance that doesn't happen quickly, but takes some time. You don't have to be a dog lover to enjoy this refreshing read. 

Available in paperback and ebook.  Thank you Gallery/Simon & Schuster for the ARC! 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Time's Convert by Deborah Harkness

I finally finished Time's Convert yesterday afternoon, after two weeks of reading a little bit, setting it down, then coming back to it. I wanted to take my time, and enjoy it, since I've been waiting some time to get back to the world of Diana and Matthew de Clermont.  

So I'll just blurt it all out: I enjoyed it, but wasn't blown away by it. 

There. I said it. 

Settling into this novel felt a bit like revisiting old friends, and I was pretty happy to be back with Diana and Matthew, and Ysabeau, and the whole world of the de Clermont vampire family. It was pretty great to see how Diana and Matthew are fairing as parents to Becca and Philip, their adorable twins--who are a mix of witch and vampire. Where their talents will lie, no one knows. And the rarity of these two little people (witches and vampires have never been able to have offspring, and normally avoid each other) means that there will come a day of reckoning for their parents and for both of them. That is an underlying tension in the novel, but I kept saying to myself "They're just babies, so there's plenty of time."  I suspect, and I hope, Deborah Harkness crafts a compelling tale of adult Becca and Philip.  

But, the big part of this story concerns Phoebe Taylor, a warmblood, and Marcus MacNeil, a vampire. They're in love, and were featured in the first three novels that make up the All Souls Trilogy. Now Phoebe has decided to become a vampire, so she can wed Marcus and live with him for, well, a very long time. It's not just a matter of biting someone, draining their blood, and bingo! vampire presto. There's a protocol to follow, and Phoebe and Marcus aren't allowed to see each other for 90 days after Phoebe has turned. After the 90 days, they reunite, and she officially claims Marcus as her mate. But within those 90 days, she has to learn how to move through the world as a vampire. There's a lot to learn, and it's not easy. 

Marcus stays with Diana and Matthew, who is his maker, and in vampire families, that makes Matthew Marcus' father, and Diana his step-mother. Another big chunk of the novel is about Marcus; who he was as a human, how he was turned by Matthew, and what he's done until present day. It's an interesting tale that centers on the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the horrible childhood Marcus had at the hands of an abusive and alcoholic father. You get to know Marcus very well, and follow him on his journey as a young vampire. He makes plenty of mistakes, and gets in trouble with his family over and over again. Much of what he does haunts him, and he is concerned when Phoebe does drink from him, she will be disgusted at his deep secrets. Cause when you're a vampire, when you drink blood, you see everything about that person--no secret is hidden. 

There really wasn't much tension in this novel, and that was good and bad. The trilogy was so damn good, in part because Diana and Matthew as a couple were so forbidden, and Diana was struggling to accept her family history as witches, and come into her own immense power. There was none of that in this story, which I kind of missed. But seeing Diana and Matthew as parents, and happily living their lives (as well as they can as de Clermont) was sweet. It was all enough to keep me turning pages, and enjoying what I read. But it wasn't OMG THIS IS SO GOOD I CAN'T STAND IT!

Thank you, Deborah Harkness for another peek into the wonderful world you created. I am ready for more!

Rating:  4/6 for the continuing tale of the de Clermont family, and their fascinating experiences living through some of history's most dramatic and legendary moments. 

Available in hardcover, audio, and ebook. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

I had not heard of Rachel Hollis before this book was published, and I began to see other women reading it and connecting to Rachel's message. I decided to buy it, and I'm glad I did because I underlined and starred passages that particularly resonated with me. 

Rachel talks about the many lies we tell ourselves, and how they can damage our self-worth. We spend so much time comparing ourselves to other women, and think everyone has it all together in a perfect life. Rachel is here to tell us what we already know: it's just not so. We know this, she knows we know this, but sometimes we have to be reminded over and over again until it sticks. Rachel is pretty brave in telling her story; from a young girl who finds her brother after he commits suicide, to a woman struggling through her early relationship with her now husband; to her missteps and feelings of being a walking disaster. She frames each chapter with her own experience, and every "aha" moment that lead her farther down the path of self-acceptance and ultimate badass. 

Rachel believes we all need to be our own heroes. We have lived through difficult times, and yes, some really great times. All of those create who we are, but how we use those building blocks matters. Don't let anyone else determine your journey: you determine your journey, and your story. You determine how to rise above the setbacks, the tragedies. You write your own story--you are your own hero. No, this isn't easy, and yes, it can take months or sometimes years--but start now. Set goals, create a vision board that you see every day to remind yourself of your dreams. Keep that focus. Learn from mistakes. Believe deep in your soul that you are strong enough, smart enough, capable enough. And dammit, if you don't feel that, take the steps to get to it. Have your moments of crying into your coffee cup, but then get your ass in motion and make the changes. 

I usually don't read many books that would be labeled as self-improvement. Rachel's book is more of a confessional and a "this is what I've learned" approach. It wouldn't have felt as genuine if she hadn't revealed some pretty private parts of herself and her experiences. In making herself vulnerable, she turned what could have been an ordinary "you can do it!" book into something that spoke to me. Parts of it, of course, don't apply to me: I'm not a mom, and I'm not a wife, so I don't have those joys and struggles. But I do have the struggle of being a single woman, building a career, and feeling at times that I am not smart enough, not strong enough, and not knowing what I want-or knowing and struggling to find my way to it. But I will continue to savor every small victory I achieve, knowing I did that-I dreamed it, I worked hard, and I achieved it. Whatever it may be, big or small, it matters. 

I think every woman, no matter what age, should read this. You may recognize yourself in some of Rachel's chapters, and realize you've been rocking your best life for years. Or you may realize the heaviness on your shoulders isn't necessary, and you have the power to change it. Instead of looking at what keeps you down, look at how to get up and dump that crap. 

Rating:  5/6 for an empowering read that will have you reflecting on choices you've made, goals and dreams, and how you feel about yourself. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.