The Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James- ARC Review

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For more than two centuries, Winterbourne Hall has stood atop a bluff overseeing the English countryside of Cornwall and the sea beyond.

In 1947, Londoner Alice Miller accepts a post as governess at Winterbourne, looking after Captain Jonathan de Grey’s twin children. Falling under the de Greys’ spell, Alice believes the family will heal her own past sorrows. But then the twins’ adoration becomes deceitful and taunting. Their father, ever distant, turns spiteful and cruel. The manor itself seems to lash out. Alice finds her surroundings subtly altered, her air slightly chilled. Something malicious resents her presence, something clouding her senses and threatening her very sanity.

In present day New York, art gallery curator Rachel Wright has learned she is a descendant of the de Greys and heir to Winterbourne. Adopted as an infant, she never knew her birth parents or her lineage. At long last, Rachel will find answers to questions about her identity that have haunted her entire life. But what she finds in Cornwall is a devastating tragic legacy that has afflicted generations of de Greys. A legacy borne from greed and deceit, twisted by madness, and suffused with unrequited love and unequivocal rage. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on March 17th, 2020.

Eerie and compelling, this is a perfect rainy day read. I had a hard time putting this book down; I was so completely immersed in the odd, spooky story of the Winterbourne women.

This book took place in two separate times, with the narrative switching easily back and forth. Alice went to the Winterbourne estate in 1947 to become a governess (why is it always a governess in spooky stories?), the previous governess having vacated the position abruptly. Alice immediately falls in love with everything about Winterbourne, from the two children she nannies to the widower who also lives there. However, all is not idyllic. Something is off, and things start to spiral out of control.

In many ways, this made me think of The Turn of the Screw. At times, I wasn’t sure whether Alice was the most trustworthy of narrators. As she descended into madness (or did she?), it became more and more difficult to discern what was really happening. The changeable nature of both the book and Alice were fascinating.

The other part of the narrative took place in present day and followed a woman named Rachel. She learns that she’s inherited Winterbourne, as well as a host of unanswered questions about who her relatives were. I didn’t connect with her character at all; in fact, she really annoyed me for a good chunk of time. I didn’t like that she was so wishy-washy. The parts with her in it were less interesting to me than the parts about Alice.

The atmosphere of the book was excellent. There was something about the way it was written that conveyed tension and a sense of wrongness, without ever overdoing it. Each word was placed with care and used to great effect.

My big quibble with the book is that the female characters had terrible taste in guys, every last one of them. I really couldn’t understand what the draw was to the widower, in particular. He was a world-class jerk. However, the rest of the book was excellent.

I highly recommend this one.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau- ARC Review

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The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

The invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on January 16th, 2020.

I was first drawn to this book because of the cover. It spoke of danger and thrills. I can say with certainty that this book delivered.

Peggy Batternberg is part of a wealthy, snobbish family. They throw their money around and thinks it exempts them from the same treatment as the working class. Unfortunately, in many cases they are correct. Peggy herself hates the way her family acts. When the book opens, she’s working in a bookstore. Not for the money, which she doesn’t need, but for a sense of freedom. She’s pulled away to spend the summer on Coney Island with her family, and her sister’s fiance, who is an absolute jerk.

While in Coney Island, Peggy falls for an artist, but when women are found murdered, he’s the main suspect. Peggy has to prove he’s innocent- provided he actually is. Her efforts show the disparity between how the wealthy and working class are treated. The more Peggy pries, the more dangerous things become.

Peggy herself annoyed the living snot out of me at first. She looked down on her family’s privilege, but was perfectly okay with enjoying them herself. Her hypocrisy really bugged me. However, as the story went on, she began to change and mature. I liked her much more by the end of the book.

The story itself was really good. I liked the wealth of detail the author provided, and the pictures she painted with her words. I was able to picture every part of Coney Island, and it made the book incredibly enjoyable.

While I could see the ending from a mile away, it didn’t dull my enjoyment of the book in the slightest. This is one of the better mysteries I’ve read this year, and I’ll happily read more of Nancy Bilyeau’s books.

 

The Manor House Murder by Faith Martin

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Monica Noble and her husband Graham, the local vicar, are invited to participate in a high-flying church conference being held at a swanky manor house hotel in their village.

At the Saturday night dinner, the ambitious female cleric Celia Gordon tragically dies, seemingly of a peanut allergy.

But when Chief Superintendent Jason Dury arrives on the scene he quickly discovers that it’s a case of murder.

AND MONICA’S HUSBAND IS THE PRIME SUSPECT

Other suspects include an eminent bishop, an archdeacon viciously opposed to female clergy, and his wife, the curator of a local museum, who is definitely up to something.

But if Monica is to find out who killed Celia, and free her husband from suspicion, she must grapple with a very ruthless — and increasingly desperate — killer, putting herself and those around her in mortal danger. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This is available to purchase now.

Disclaimer: I haven’t read the first two books in this series. I was able to pick up on things very easily, however.

This is one of those fun and cozy mysteries that are good to pull out on a rainy day. A simple read, it held my attention and made me smile. The characters aren’t all that developed, and I called the ‘who dunnit’ before the reveal, but it didn’t dim my enjoyment of the book. In a story like this, the fun is how you get to the end.

I didn’t love the setup: the multiple uses of the words “whore” and “prissy bitch” in the prologue grated on me. I do understand that the whole purpose was to point out how bad the baddie was. It still irked me, though. It didn’t jive with the feel of the rest of the story.

It’s a small complaint, and the rest of the book was highly enjoyable. I kind of loved the glossary of English terms that was added for us Americans. I found it helpful and a ton of fun to see the differences in language.

Have you read this? What did you think?

The Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency and the Case of the Missing Ghost by D.L. Dugger- ARC Review

The Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency: And the case of the missing ghost by [Dugger, D.L.]
When a ghost disappears from a local house he was haunting, his sister in the OtherWorld spirit realm hires the Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency to find him. Eager to locate the missing ghost, the youthful sleuths, Abby, Toby and Billy, and their grumpy Medium Arthur Monsento jump right into the investigation. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on November 11th.

What first drew me to this book was the old-school kids’ detective agency idea. I loved that sort of story when I was young, and this seemed a fresh take on an old favorite. There was a Scooby-Doo vibe, except that the ghosties happen to be actual ghosts.

This is the third installment in the Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency series, but it was easy to understand what was happening, thanks to explanations given throughout the book. The explanations didn’t necessarily fit into the storyline nicely; rather, they just sort of popped up. However, it was good to have them. I don’t think they are long enough to bore repeat readers, which is also a plus.

The premise of this particular mystery is the search for a missing ghost. He’s no longer haunting the house he normally appears at, and his recently deceased sister is concerned about him. I laughed pretty hard at that idea.

The detective agency consists of three kids (Abby, Billy, and Toby), and a cranky old medium. They follow clues of an unusual kind to attempt to find the missing ghost. I don’t want to give too many details away, since half the fun of a mystery is following the twists and turns.

This book is a lot of fun. It’s a new take on the usual trope and I quite enjoyed it. If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining read, this is a good one to check out. I’ll know I’ll be going back and reading the first two in this series.

How to Become a Hipster Reader (books to read before they’re on TV)


Admission: whenever possible, I read a book before I watch the show or movie it’s based on. It doesn’t always happen nowadays, what with homeschooling, toddler chasing, and taking college classes, but I do my level best.

In order to join the Book Hipster Collective, read the book first (unless you’re capable of growing a man bun. Then…go for it, I guess). Here are some book suggestions for a jumping off point.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: If you haven’t seen the wonderfully done show, you need to get on that. If you haven’t read the book: what on earth, in heaven, or in hell, are you waiting for?

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According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.

And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .(taken from Amazon)

The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice: According to imdb, a Vampire Chronicles series is in the works. If or when this will actually come to fruition, I really can’t say. However, it’s absolutely worth reading the first few books in the Vampire Chronicles anyway, since they’re bloody (pun intended) brilliant.

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Follows the three-century life of Lestat, from his boyhood in eighteenth-century France to 1992 Miami where the immortal vampire finds himself alone, yearning to regain his soul and to once again experience the joys and anguish of being human. (taken from Amazon)

Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (the last few were continued by Brandon Sanderson) : You’ve got some time before the series releases (sometime in 2021), which is great because this is quite the undertaking. However, if you’re a fantasy fan at all, these books need to be on your “to read asap” pile.

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The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs—a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts— five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light. (taken from Amazon)

The Stand by Stephen King: With a new star studded mini-series in the works, make sure to read the book before watching. I think I’ve read this book before but, since I’m not entirely positive, I think I need to read it again before watching the show.

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A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks. Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge—Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence. As the dark man and the peaceful woman gather power, the survivors will have to choose between them—and ultimately decide the fate of all humanity. (taken from Amazon)

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss: The first book in an epic fantasy series (only the first two books in the chronicles are out right now), the show actually doesn’t follow the novel, instead focusing on the world. I’m hesitant to watch the show because of that, but The Name of the Wind is excellent. The first paragraph of the book alone is incredible.

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My name is Kvothe.
 
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
 
You may have heard of me.
 
So begins a tale unequaled in fantasy literature—the story of a hero told in his own voice. It is a tale of sorrow, a tale of survival, a tale of one man’s search for meaning in his universe, and how that search, and the indomitable will that drove it, gave birth to a legend.  (taken from Amazon)

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie: Agatha Christie is the preeminent voice in mystery literature. If you haven’t read this book, you definitely need to. The fact that a movie adaptation will be released next year, well…it gives you a bit of a deadline.

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Beloved detective Hercule Poirot embarks on a journey to Egypt in one of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries, Death on the Nile.

The tranquility of a cruise along the Nile was shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway had been shot through the head. She was young, stylish, and beautiful. A girl who had everything . . . until she lost her life.

Hercule Poirot recalled an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: “I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.” Yet in this exotic setting nothing is ever quite what it seems. (taken from Amazon)

Are you excited for any of these adaptations? What am I missing? Are you a book hipster like me, or does it depend on the book?

 

Markus by David Odle- ARC Review

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Markus Blue is one of the most powerful men alive. Fire from his hands can destroy armies and his battles are legendary. He is one of a rare breed called the warlock, one of the last of his kind and he is dying. But he must face one more battle, one more challenge or it will mean the end of the world as we know it. (taken from Amazon)

                     Thank you Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

When I read the description for this book, I thought it would be a fantasy adventure, the sort that pits one against many. Instead, this book is a modern story that just so happens to also include vampires, werewolves, and a crotchety once-powerful old man. It was a blast.

The premise was simple: a big, bad vampire rampaging around, causing no end of trouble. Battles ensue. I loved it. It was so much fun! I enjoyed the daylight out of myself. This book pairs well with 90’s nostalgia and popcorn.

There wasn’t a lot of character depth, but with a book like this, there doesn’t need to be. It sounds like I’m just listing negative traits, but what would normally be considered a negative is actually a very good thing in this story. Markus was a fun character with a tough exterior, experience and power to back up his ego, and a hidden soft heart.

Every now and again I have one of those days where the only solution is to watch a movie like Blade. One that’s not heavy on the plot, it’s easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys, and there are cool sunglasses. Markus didn’t have the sunglasses, but in every other aspect it felt like a simple, fun vampire flick. Check it out!

Pulling Strings by Nick DeWolf

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The feeling you’re being watched. Knowing what card is next out of the deck. Guessing what someone’s thinking… and always being right.Or maybe you can move things. Maybe you can hear people’s thoughts. Maybe you can make fire out of nothing. Maybe, just maybe, you’re different. Maybe, you’re psychic. And maybe, there’s a place for you.Rebecca Colt was different, and used her abilities to become the best psychic Secret Agent in America. She traveled the world, hunted down foreign agents, had wild car chases and adrenaline pumping shoot outs. Until one day, in Austin, Texas, when everything went wrong. When a little girl died. When Agent Colt’s life fell apart.Now, she’s sitting around a field office in Kansas, thinking of the good old days, begrudgingly awaiting retirement. She just wants one last shot, one thing to put her back on top for a while.So when people start turning up in hospitals nearby, their minds broken into a thousand pieces, she thinks she’s found just that chance.But once she starts her investigation, every answer she gets only leads to more questions. Things don’t add up. She starts to realize she’s dealing with something bigger and badder and scarier than she’s ever dealt with. It’s not a foreign sleeper agent she’s tracking. It’s a puppeteer, the most dangerous kind of psychic there is.And she has no idea what to do.Or even who it is.But she knows she’s alone.She’s caught.And she’s going to have to fight her way out. (taken from Amazon)

              Thank you to the author for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This book, and others by Nick DeWolf, are available now.

How to describe my feelings about this book? I can’t say I’ve ever read a book that gave me such a physical reaction. I had to set it down on a few occasions because I could feel myself working up to a panic attack (I don’t say this disrespectfully; I have an anxiety disorder). I think I mean this as a compliment. The fact that the author was able to create such a visceral reaction is pretty stinking amazing.

That being said, I didn’t love this book. The main character, Rebecca, had a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas. She’d been through a lot and was tough as nails, but she was kind of a jerk to people that didn’t deserve it in any way, which made her an unpleasant character to read.

While the book has a supernatural premise, it quickly becomes more of an action book than anything else. The idea of the Puppeteer was truly terrifying, and the writing was confident and solid.

If you like heart pounding action, and characters that kick butt, this book is for you.

One Way by Jeff Lane

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Barry Griffith doesn’t know it yet, but tonight is the night fate has chosen to be the night of his death… his murder. At a gas station in the middle of nowhere, late at night, his wife Jenny appears… no car… no coat and looking older than when he saw her last. That’s because this is not the woman he received a good-bye kiss from this morning. This woman has been a widow for over four years and has made an impossible journey back in time to try to stop her husband’s murder. Will they be able to escape the killers or does fate only have one plan… one possible outcome… ONE WAY? (taken from Amazon)

                     Thank you to the author for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion.

This book was a mixed bag for me. I’ve read time travel books before, but never one that centered around preventing the murder of your spouse, and most definitely not one that was this action packed. This was an emotionally charged thriller, that started quickly and kept on going at a heart pounding pace. However, there were a few things that just didn’t work for me.

I went back and forth on how I felt about the characters of Jenny and Barry. I can’t put my finger on it, but there was something that really bugged me about Jenny. I’ve been thinking it over and I honestly don’t know what. Barry was a bit of a jerk, but I loved that he didn’t suddenly become Rambo while on the run from a deadly threat. He got very lucky, which was much more interesting. I really liked the grief counselor, Dr. Van Der Vehn; he was an fascinating mix of sympathy and selfish professional mania.

There were a few writing choices that I found a bit jarring. The beginning chapters of the book had several sentences foreshadowing future events, worded similarly to “little did they know that the shadow of death hung over…” which isn’t a literary choice that I love.

The other writing issue that I had with this book is one that probably would be completely unnoticed by many people: the use of the word “seizure” instead of spasm or convulsion. There is one example in particular: “There were cords standing out in her neck, and she was shaking like she might go into a seizure at any moment.” The thing is, I have grand mal epilepsy,  and seizures being used as descriptors when the author is discussing stress or fear really rubs me the wrong way. This is just one of my pet peeves, but I wish different wording was chosen.

I did like how the issue of a set path vs. changing your fate was explored. It was fascinating seeing it as the theme in a game of cat- and- mouse.  Incidentally, this has been adapted into a movie, and Jeff Lane also wrote the screenplay. Talk about wearing multiple hats!

While I didn’t love this book, I found it a solid addition to the thriller genre, one with a one-of-a-kind twist.

Have you read this? What did you think?

The Somnambulist by Johnathan Barnes

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“Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It’s a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in dreadfully pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and willfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.”
                                                                                                                                  -The Narrator

I don’t think I’m smart enough for this book. It’s set in London, in the late Victorian era. It’s about Edward Moon, a has-been magician and amateur detective. Together with The Somnambulist, a huge, silent man who doesn’t bleed when stabbed, Edward Moon sets out to solve what may be their last big case.

It starts as a simple murder, but soon evolves into a complicated morass that is simultaneously interesting and incredibly confusing. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this book. There are good things about it- like the unreliable narrator-, but there are also things I really didn’t like (there are a ridiculous amount of unimportant characters to try to keep track of). I’m not entirely sure I even understand the ending, although that might be because I was sick and groggy when I finished the book.

Usually, I love ambiguous endings, but this book left so many threads dangling, that I’m left unsure as to whether or not it actually ended. There is a sequel, but it was written many years later. I wonder if it was written specifically to answer some of the many questions remaining.

Regardless, the author is very talented. Whether you end up enjoying the book or not, you will be unable to deny that it is one of the most original out there.

Needful Things by Stephen King

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I’ve read a few Stephen King books in the past, but not too many. To be honest, my opinions on the books I had previously read ranged from indifference to dislike, so I was a bit uncertain on how I’d feel about this one. I decided to read Needful Things because I loved the show “Castle Rock”, which is loosely based on Stephen Kings’ works.

Needful Things takes place in Castle Rock, Maine, which is the setting for several of King’s stories. It’s a sleepy little town. At least, it would be if it hadn’t been the site of some seriously bizarre violent happenings over the years. Leland Gaunt, a charming man, comes to town and opens a store called “Needful Things”. It seems to be a curio shop, or an odd antique store. People from the town start coming in and, luckily for them, find the thing they most want.

Leland Gaunt sells things for an intriguing price- what the shopper can pay in cash plus one prank. Just a harmless little prank. Except, it’s Castle Rock, Gaunt isn’t who he seems, and suddenly these pranks have less than harmless consequences.

The idea is fascinating, Not because someone who deals in more than currency is a new idea; it’s not. But someone who uses pranks as currency is very original and the way the story progressed is unique. I’ve never heard any version of the Peddler who deals in that sort of trade. So, right away, I was intrigued.

Stephen King is an incredibly talented writer, no one will deny that. At times, I did feel like there were too many background characters, and there were a few parts that I think could have been condensed (for example, there were multiple Elvis Presley sexual fantasies, which seemed redundant). Overall, though, I really liked it. By the end, the story was barreling along at a breakneck pace and taking me with it.

I especially liked Sally because she had so much to lose. More than anyone else in the book, her “needful thing” was really needed. Leland Gaunt was truly terrifying, while being an incredibly complex character. I loved the way things ended between Gaunt and Pangborn (I won’t say, don’t worry).

There was one scene in particular that was extremely difficult for me to read; I ended up a little sick to my stomach. Be aware that Stephen King never pulls punches. His books are not for the faint of heart.

All in all, I enjoyed it. The snowball effect was fascinating, the ending was unexpected, and I got chills during the epilogue. If you enjoy Stephen King, or horror in general, I’d recommend this book.