Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TTT: And Still They Languish ...

Believe it or not (not!), I started this blog ten years ago this month.  Crazy.  It's evolved a lot since then, as have I.  Weirdly enough, in all those years, my enthusiasm for book blogging has not waned.  I still think it's a grand old time.  Will I still be doing this ten years from now?  Probably.  Here's to another decade of BBB!

I've been inhaling books for a lot longer than ten years so you'd think that I'd have read every book on my TBR list mountain mountain chain by now.  Yeah, not quite.  It's still crammed full of titles I'm hoping to get to someday.  Plenty of them have been on my radar for more than ten years, which makes this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic a cinch.  I could make several TTT lists of Books That Have Been On My TBR List Since Before I Started Blogging.  I'm guessing you could, too, so why don't you join in the fun?  Cruise on over to The Broke and the Bookish for the rules of the game, then make your own TTT list, and share it with the book blogosphere.  It's fun!

Top Ten Books That have Been On My TBR List Since Before I Started Blogging:

1.  Atonement by Ian McEwan (2003)—This Booker Prize-nominated novel seems to be about many things: writing, a crime that changes people's lives, war, and I'm not sure what else.  Lots of people love it and I've yet to read it or anything by McEwan for that matter.

2.  Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick (2006)—I bought this book at Borders back in the day.  I've been meaning to read it ever since.  My Bailey (Bayley) ancestors did not come to America on the Mayflower, but they arrived in Plymouth soon after the famous ship docked.  Mayflower is supposed to be a fascinating account of the Pilgrims and their journey to the New World.  Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea has also been on my TBR list for some time.

3.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2004)—This story about an autistic teen investigating the death of a neighborhood dog sounds quirky and interesting.  I've seen lots of praise for it over the years.  And yet, still it languishes on Ye Olde TBR ...

4.  Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2006)—A sweeping multi-generational tale about fathers and sons, this novel came out the year I started blogging.  Still haven't gotten around to it.

5.  The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst (2004)—This tale about a man who tries to make sense of his wife's death by performing experiments to teach his dog to speak sounds ... unusual.  Also heartbreaking.  I'm still curious about it.  One of these days I'll finally get to it.  Maybe.

6.  Eragon by Christopher Paolini (2001)—Admittedly, I'm not a huge dragon/fantasy fan.  Still, so many people love the Inheritance Cycle series that I need to at least give it a go.  The fact that Paolini wrote the first book when he was just 15 is another reason to check it out.

7.  I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (2002)—Like many people, I've only read one book by Zusak—The Book Thief.  Some of my most trusted book blogging friends (I'm looking at you, Suey and Jenny) think he's written more than one great novel.  I need to see for myself.  This particular Zusak has been on my TBR list for far too long.  It's about time I just read I Am the Messenger already!

8.  The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1998)—I love post-apocalyptic books, but for some reason I just can't ever get very far in this one.  Not because it's not intriguing, just because I always get distracted by newer, shinier books.

9.  Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (2004)—I've heard so many great things about Roach's books, this one in particular, that it's a wonder I still haven't read her.  I need to remedy that right away.

10.  Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon (1992)—I was completely swept away by Outlander when I read it way back when.  Why I didn't grab this sequel immediately I'm not sure.  I'll have to read Outlander again before I can continue on with this series, so who knows if it will ever actually happen?  I like big books (and I cannot lie), but re-reading has never been my favorite thing.

So, there you have it.  What do you think?  Have you read any of these?  Do you consider any of them must-reads or can they linger on the TBR list?  I'd love to have a look at your list.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll gladly return the favor.

Happy TTT!  

(All book images from Barnes & Noble)

Dark, Twisty Thriller as Surprise-Filled as the Thames Itself

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for A Dark and Twisted Tide, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Lacey Flint mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.  Actually, in the case of this author, I recommend reading her books in order of publication to avoid spoilers about secondary, but recurring characters.)

After investigating several harrowing cases with a London homicide team, Detective Constable Lacey Flint has had enough.  She now works for the city's Marine Unit.  As if patrolling the water all day isn't enough, she's also moved into a houseboat on the Thames.  Much to her surprise, the intensely private Lacey actually enjoys being part of the floating community with its laidback lifestyle and quirky residents.  She's even taken to wild-swimming in the Thames, a dangerous hobby that appeals to Lacey's reckless side.  Add in a satisfying relationship with DI Mark Joesbury and the former homicide detective is about as happy as she's ever been.  

Then Lacey makes a gruesome discovery.  Considering the Thames is infamous for producing at least a corpse a week, Lacey shouldn't be shocked to bump into a dead body during one of her clandestine swims.  Still, it's a surprise to find the shrouded remains of a young Middle Eastern woman bobbing in the water.  And that's only the first one.  After several similar finds, it becomes obvious that someone is trying to get Lacey's attention.  Drawn once more into a puzzling murder mystery, she scrambles for answers while a sinister presence stalks her every move.  Already paranoid, Lacey's also hearing disturbing rumors about Joesbury.  With both her personal and professional lives in turmoil, she's got to figure out what's going on.  And fast.  Before her own corpse becomes the next to surface out of the murky depths of the River Thames.

Fresh is not an adjective normally associated with the Thames, but in this case it fits.  That's because the unique riverboat community setting in A Dark and Twisted Tide breathes fresh, new life into Sharon Bolton's already-excellent Lacey Flint series.  It adds an extra element of color and intrigue that makes this, the fourth installment, stand out.  Like its predecessors, A Dark and Twisted Tide also features interesting characters, vivid storytelling, and enough plot twists to make your head spin.  My only complaint is that Joesbury is more off-scene than on in this one.  Otherwise, I really enjoyed this riveting thriller.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Lacey Flint series, including Now You See Me; If Snow Hadn't Fallen [novella]; Dead Scared; Lost; and Here Be Dragons [novella])


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, August 22, 2016

Exotic Setting, Engrossing Plot Make Mesopotamian Adventure/Romance a Unique YA Treat

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Banished, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Forbidden.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

After witnessing the man to whom she's betrothed kill the man she loves, Jayden believes she has lost everything.  Estranged from her tribe, separated from her family, and on the run from Horeb—her bloodthirsty fiancé—the desperate 18-year-old combs the desert to confirm a rumor that her beloved Kadesh yet lives.  Alive, but gravely wounded, Kadesh insists they flee to the far-off southern lands of his birth.  Only there, in a place of peace, can he safely wed Jayden, making her his Princess of Sariba.  Longing for a happily ever after far from the clutches of the vile Horeb, Jayden joins Kadesh's caravan of soldiers for the lengthy and dangerous journey. 

Although she's thrilled to be on her way, Jayden can't rest easy.  She worries about Horeb, who's only weeks away with his own army; about her lost sisters, whom she may never see again; about her young bodyguard, who may not be as trustworthy as he seems; and about Kadesh, who appears to be keeping important secrets from her.  How well does Jayden really know the man she's following to Sariba?  Will he fulfill the promises he's made to her or abandon her in a foreign land?  With danger lurking around every sand dune, Jayden must decide where her loyalties really lie.  All she wants is safety for herself and her family.  Where will she find it?  In Tadmur with a man who's loathsome but powerful or in Sariba with Kadesh, the prince she loves but hardly knows?  As she fights for survival, Jayden must decide whom to trust—with her love, her lot, and the lives of everyone she loves. 

I've been a big fan of Kimberley Griffiths Little ever since I discovered her middle grade "bayou books" a few years ago.  Although her YA trilogy takes place far, far away from the Louisana swampland, the series has everything I've come to love about Little's storytelling—a vivid, atmospheric setting; colorful, intriguing characters; a compelling, fast-paced plot; and a sprinkle of magic that spices her novels with that something special that is hard to describe but easily identifiable as vintage KGL.  Banished, the second book in the series, blends all of these elements to continue the riveting story begun in Forbidden.  Although I found Banished a tad more predictable than its predecessor, I still raced through it, unable to stop until I knew what happened to Jayden.  Since there's one more book in the trilogy (Returned, coming February 2017), it's a given that our heroine will not find her HEA quite yet.  Banished is a satisfying read in and of itself, true, but it will definitely leave you hungering for Returned.  All I can say is, February, come soon!  

(Readalikes:  Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little; also, the publisher compares the trilogy to Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Schecter and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs); violence; blood/gore; sensuality; and (non-graphic) references to rape, prostitution, and sexual slavery

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Banished from the generous folks at HarperCollins.  Thank you!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Creepy Gothic Thriller Utterly Compelling, Deeply Disturbing

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Heptonclough is an idyllic little town on the moors in Northern England.  Gareth Fletcher and his American wife, Alice,  are thrilled to find a beautiful house there that seems perfect for them and their three young children.  Tom, Joe, and Millie have plenty of room to roam, even if their favorite playground has become the old church cemetery next door.  

Expecting a warm country welcome, the Fletchers are dismayed by the chilly reception they receive from the townspeople.  A series of silly pranks convince the family that someone is not only watching them, but also trying to drive them away.  As the pranks become more intense, Tom seems especially disturbed.  Convinced he's being haunted by a dead girl, the 10-year-old tries to convince the people around him of looming danger.

Harry Laycock, a vicar from Newcastle, is also new to Heptonclough.  Charged with re-opening the church next to the Fletcher's house, which has been closed for the last ten years, he's as spooked as Tom.  Something's not right in Heptonclough—he feels it, too.  It can't be a coincidence that three toddler girls died in the church during its closure, can it?  With little Millie scampering around the church grounds, Harry feels a distinct sense of foreboding.  Is the youngest Fletcher in danger?  Or is Harry's imagination working overtime, just like Tom's?  

When Joe and Millie go missing in turn, it's up to the newcomers to figure out what's really going on in a small town with big secrets.  

I've mentioned that I'm a big Sharon/S.J. Bolton fan, yeah?  At least a time or two (or three or ten ...), I'm sure.  This is because the author always delivers a taut, twisty story that hooks me right from the start and keeps me riveted until the very end.  Always.  Hence, my book-binging, blog-burbling, Bolton-bent fangirling.  She's good, y'all.  Her books are not for the feint of heart (or stomach), but if you're down for a gritty, gripping thriller, she's your girl.

Before writing the Lacey Flint series, Bolton penned several standalone thrillers.  Blood Harvest is the third (after Sacrifice in 2008 and Awakening in 2009).  It's a creepy gothic thriller with an atmospheric setting, intriguing characters, and the surprising twist and turns that are Bolton's particular forte.  Both utterly compelling and deeply disturbing, Blood Harvest is another addicting page turner that I just could not put down.  It's not my favorite of Bolton's standalones (that would be Little Black Lies), but it's just as compelling as all her other books.  I should know because I've read—no, devoured—them all. 

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of other Bolton thrillers, especially Awakening)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a dozen or so F-bombs plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, sexual innuendo, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Binge-Reading Bolton Doesn't Stop My Yearning for More DC Flint

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Lost, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Lacey Flint mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.  Actually, with Sharon [S.J.] Bolton, I advise reading her novels in order of publication.  That way you can avoid spoilers for all characters, including minor but recurring ones.)

After barely surviving her last case (Dead Scared), Detective Constable Lacey Flint is in no condition to do her job.  She's on sick leave, a temporary reprieve she wants to make permanent.  Hiding out in her flat, Lacey refuses to accept any communication from the Southwark police.  Not even from Detective Inspector Mark Joesbury, who stands by the confession he made to her on a dark night at Cambridge University.  His feelings for Lacey won't allow him to abide by her request to leave her in "peace."

Although she's not on the beat, Lacey can't ignore the murders that have London on high alert.  Four young boys have been killed and another is missing.  She doesn't want to get involved, but Lacey's concerned for her neighbor, an 11-year-old boy who is often left home alone.  Barney Roberts wants to ask DC Flint to help him find the murderer, but he doesn't want to freak her out, especially since he's pretty sure he knows the identity of the killer.  Instead, he goes to her with a more benign request, a plea to help him find his mother who disappeared when Barney was four.  Lacey agrees, even though the darkness inside her makes it difficult for her to step outside her own pain.  

In the meantime, Lacey's superiors are on the hunt for a killer who handles the bodies of dead boys with a gentle, almost womanly touch.  DI Tulloch has always suspected the intensely private Lacey of harboring homicidal tendencies.  Is this her work?  Barney's suspicions hit even closer to home.  Can Joesbury and Tulloch root out the murderer before more boys end up dead?  Has DC Flint finally gone over the edge?  And what of Barney's mother—can Lacey help a suffering boy find the answers he needs?  Can she protect him from the monster who preys on boys like him?  Or is she, in fact, the killer for whom all of London is searching?

You may have noticed that I'm a little obsessed with the Lacey Flint series by Sharon (S.J.) Bolton.  These mysteries are so addicting that I finally binge-read them all one weekend just so I could get on with my life already!  Even though all the books are gritty and gruesome, I find DC Flint appealing enough to follow anywhere.  She's an intriguing heroine—tough, mysterious, and brave.  And yet she has flaws that are sometimes shocking, but always humanizing.  A fascinating leading lady for sure!  I missed Lacey's narrative voice in Lost, the third installment in the series, which is told mostly from perspectives other than DC Flint's.  Still, the novel's plot is just as twisty and compelling as those of its predecessors, meaning that—once again—I was up until the wee hours rushing to the end of a Sharon Bolton book because I couldn't sleep without finishing.  These books are that addicting.  I literally have a tough time putting them down.  See why I had to read them all in one go?  Only problem is now I'm yearning for more Lacey Flint.  When will she make a re-appearance?  Even her creator doesn't know.  How will I cope with that kind of uncertainty?  I don't know, y'all, I just don't know ... #bookaddictproblems

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Lacey Flint series, including Now You See Me; If Snow Hadn't Fallen [novella]; Dead Scared; A Dark and Twisted Tide; and Here Be Dragons)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, blood/gore, innuendo, mild sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Winning Bolton Formula Makes Gritty Psychological Thriller A Gripping Page Turner

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Dead Scared, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Now You See Me.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.  Actually, the best way to read S.J. [Sharon] Bolton's books is in order of publication—that way you can avoid spoilers concerning all characters, especially minor but recurring ones.)

A string of gruesome suicides at Cambridge University has everyone on edge.  Evi Oliver (whose back story is told in Blood Harvest), the head of student counseling, thinks there's more to the story, especially since the dead women all complained of similar problems—disturbing nightmares, terrifying hallucinations, crippling insomnia, etc—prior to their deaths.  This "coincidence" has all her Spidey senses on alert.  Something strange is going on at the university and she wants to know what.  Luckily, Dr. Oliver has friends in high places.  

Not entirely convinced that anything sinister is going on, Detective Inspector Mark Josebury is nevertheless tasked with finding answers.  The only way to do that, he knows, is to send in an undercover agent.  Unfortunately, Detective Constable Lacey Flint is perfect for the job.  Not only does she look younger than her 27 years, but she's as scarred and vulnerable as the students who allegedly ended their own lives.  If someone is indeed luring susceptible women to their deaths, that someone should find Lacey Flint especially alluring.  Joesbury has more than a passing interest in Lacey's welfare; despite his reluctance, he gives her the job.

Lacey moves into a room recently vacated by a first-year medical student who tried to commit suicide by lighting herself on fire.  As she makes discreet inquiries around campus, the detective finds herself plagued by the same issues the dead women experienced.  Is it just the stress of the investigation getting to her?  Or has Lacey become the target of someone's cruel jokes?  Is she the next victim of a sadistic killer or does her enemy exist only in the murky depths of her tortured mind?  How can Lacey find answers for Joesbury when she doesn't even know what's going on in her own head?

I fell in love with the vulnerable but tough-as-nails Lacey Flint when I first met her in Now You See Me by S.J. Bolton.  She's a complex heroine, a woman who is full of surprises—and secrets.  This makes her endlessly fascinating to me.  I would probably read any story that featured such a rich, compelling lead character, but Bolton is an author who knows how to deliver on multiple levels.  Like Now You See Me, Dead Scared combines an intriguing cast with a didn't-see-that-coming plotline that unfolds with unrelenting tension to create the kind of mesmerizing, mind-twisting page turner that is literally impossible to put down.  Although I've come to expect this winning combination from Bolton, I'm still taken by surprise at how thoroughly she hooks me with this formula.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Dead Scared is grim and gritty, to be sure.  It's also gripping.  So much so that once you start the book, you won't be able to stop.  Consider yourself warned.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Lacey Flint series, including Now You See Me; If Snow Hadn't Fallen; Lost; A Dark and Twisted Tide; and Here Be Dragons)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Treasure-Hunting Mystery/Romance Intrigues But Doesn't Satisfy

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Liv Connelly has always been fascinated by the story of the Patriot, a schooner that vanished without a trace off the Carolina coast in 1813.  No one knows what befell those aboard the missing vessel. Liv's especially curious about the fate of the ship's most famous passenger, Theodosia Burr Alston, the beloved 29-year-old daughter of Aaron Burr.  What happened to "Theo"?  Did she drown in stormy waters?  Was she taken captive by greedy pirates?  Theories abound.  Liv wants the truth.  Although crippling asthma and a paranoid, anxiety-ridden father keep her grounded, she longs to comb the ocean floor for clues, to solve the mystery for herself.

Her obsession with shipwrecks leads Liv to two men, both graduate students in marine archaeology.  Whit Crosby and Sam Felder couldn't be more different—the former is spontaneous, unpredictable; the latter calm and controlled.  The friendship between the three is exciting but rocky.  

Thirteen years after they all meet, Liv is married to Whit; the couple has been estranged from Sam for years.  That all changes when they need his help on a dive.  Sam's return brings a tornado of emotions for Liv.  Sam's obviously looking for a second chance, not just with Liv but at fulfilling their shared dream of finding the Patriot.  With her business in the red and her marriage on the rocks, it's time for Liv to finally decide what—and who—she really wants.

It's difficult not to be intrigued by the mystery at the heart of The Last Treasure by Erika Marks.  I'd never heard of the Patriot before picking up the novel, but now I, too, wonder what happened to Theodosia and her fellow passengers.  It's a puzzle, the possible solutions of which kept me reading this book despite not feeling overly connected to its players.  I'm not fond of love triangles to begin with—I especially dislike them when those involved are fickle, selfish, and just not all that likable, a description which fits Whit, Liv, and Sam.  This, coupled with a loosey-goosey plot that focused more on romance than mystery, made The Last Treasure a bit of a disappointment for me.  I wanted to like it a lot more than I actually did.  Oh well.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)


 If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a few F-bombs plus milder expletives) and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Last Treasure from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Simple Yet Compelling Novella Fulfills Its Purpose and Entertains at the Same Time

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for The Hangman, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Armand Gamache mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

"'There's a killer in every village.  In every home.  In every heart,' Gamache said.  'All anyone needs is the right reason.'"

Three Pines is a peaceful hamlet hidden in the countryside between Quebec and the U.S. border.  It's a place where friends meet in the cozy bistro, out-of-towners relax at the spa on the hill, and broken people from all over the globe come to mend.  Violence seems incongruous with the town's warmth and beauty.  And yet, the village has become a magnet for murder.  Just ask Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Sûrete du Québec—Three Pines has practically become his second home.

The head of homicide is summoned to town once again when a jogger discovers a body hanging from a tree in the woods.  Although the dead man was staying at the spa, he was doing so under an assumed name.  Who was this "Arthur Ellis"?  What was he doing in Three Pines?  Did he come to the village to commit suicide or was he murdered?  Armand Gamache will soon find out.

Although The Hangman features Louise Penny's iconic detective, the author says the novella isn't really part of the Armand Gamache series.  Written as part of a literacy campaign to supply emergent adult readers with material suitable to their reading level, the story is, according to Penny, "Very clear, very simple.  Not really the most complex plot or style, for obvious reasons."  By publication date (2010), the novella fits in between Bury Your Dead and A Trick of the Light.  Despite its shorter, simpler form, I found The Hangman both compelling and surprising.  Naturally, it lacks the fullness of a longer Gamache mystery, which made it a less pleasurable (for me, anyway) read than Penny's thicker tomes.  Still, I appreciate that The Hangman achieves the purpose for which it was created.  I'm not an emergent reader, but I still enjoyed the read. 

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Armand Gamache series, including Still Life; A Fatal Grace; The Cruelest Month; A Rule Against Murder; The Brutal Telling; Bury Your Dead; A Trick of the Light; The Beautiful Mystery; How the Light Gets In; The Long Way Home; The Nature of the Beast; and A Great Reckoning)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Hangman from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.)

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Quick, Timely Read Another Winner for Bolton

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for If Snow Hadn't Fallen, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Now You See Me.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

It's only been a few weeks since Lacey Flint did battle with a Jack the Ripper copycat killer.  Emotionally and physically spent from the ordeal, the 29-year-old detective constable has been ordered to rest up in her South London flat.  Off-duty though she is supposed to be, Lacey can't ignore a call for back-up that comes over the police scanner.  She rushes to the scene just in time to witness a Muslim man being burned to death.

The horrific murder of Aamir Chowdhury—a very private 29-year-old doctor—shocks Lacey to her core.  She can't un-see the flames that consumed his body.  Vowing to find Aamir's killer no matter the cost, she flings herself into solving the baffling case.  Twists abound in the investigation, leading Lacey down more sinister paths than she could ever imagine.

If Snow Hadn't Fallen by Sharon Bolton is a novella that fits neatly between Now You See Me and Dead Scared, the first two books in the author's riveting Lacey Flint series.  Like the other installments, it's an exciting read with a surprise ending.  The problem at the story's core is both timely and compelling making If Snow Hadn't Fallen even more impacting.  The shorter format ensures a quick read, which will definitely appeal to Lacey Flint fans who want a juicy tidbit to snack on between bigger "meals."  If you're a fan of this dark, twisty series (as I definitely am), you won't want to miss If Snow Hadn't Fallen.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Lacey Flint series, including Now You See Me; Dead Scared; Lost; A Dark and Twisted Tide; and Here Be Dragons [novella])


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (two F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of If Snow Hadn't Fallen from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha. 

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Bloggin' Beyond Books: Finding My Own Family Saga

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you've no doubt noticed I have a thing for family sagas.  Give me a thick, juicy multi-generational tale and you won't see me for hours.  Stories like that just have it all—adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, etc.  Have you ever considered that these same elements exist in everyone's family?  That your own history may be just as exciting—perhaps even more so—than those you read about in books?  It's true.  With a little bit of digging, you can uncover remarkable stories about your own ancestors.  Better yet?  You can do it while sitting at home in your PJs.  Check out familysearch.org, a free, user-friendly site where you can build your family tree, search thousands of historical records, and collaborate with others to piece together the stories of your ancestors.

Don't be surprised if after running a few searches you find yourself completely addicted to researching your family history.  It's fun, fascinating stuff.  It can also be frustrating and, at some point, you will probably need some professional advice to help you flush out hard-to-find ancestors.  This is where conferences come in.  I attended RootsTech a couple years ago; it was helpful, but I actually learned more from the 2016 Conference on Family History & Genealogy at Brigham Young University, which I attended last week.  The annual event's smaller, more intimate setting kept me from feeling too overwhelmed, but I still came away from it with some great information and helpful hints and tools to use in my own research.

The conference stretched over four days and offered classes for genealogists at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.  A large variety of topics were discussed, including how to track immigrant ancestors across the pond, how to search un-indexed probate records, ways to do family history work on your phone/tablet, and different approaches to publishing your own story.  There was also a track for teens as well as one for those trying to complete ICAPGen requirements.  Classes were taught by genealogy professionals with years of experience.  I especially enjoyed classes taught by Michael Strauss, Lisa Louise Cooke, and Paul Milner.  The keynote addresses this year were also excellent.  Paul Cardall, a concert pianist with congenital heart disease, gave an inspiring talk about how researching his wife's roots in Slovenia changed his life.  Steve Rockwood, president/CEO of FamilySearch, also gave a touching presentation about making family history more accessible to people all over the globe.  "We are here to save families," he said, "and to save the family."

Conference attendees were reminded many times of the vital role that historical records play in family history research.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been engaged for many years in preserving and digitizing these valuable resources.  Despite long-term efforts to index millions of records (making them keyword searchable for FREE to anyone with an Internet connection), only about 30% of the records published on FamilySearch have been indexed.  That means there is much, much more to be done!  If you're not already in on the Church's online indexing effort, consider volunteering.  It's a fun, easy way to make sure records are preserved and can be easily found.  You don't have to be LDS to join in.  For more information, visit https://familysearch.org/indexing/

Thanks to BYU, my husband and I ("official conference bloggers") were able to lunch in the Morrison Center cafeteria every day.  When we were poor college students, we used to pool our pennies and buy ice cream sundaes there to share, so it was a blast from the past.  It also gave us the opportunity to get to know other attendees, like Diana and Nicole from the Family Locket (they have a fun book club feature you might want to check out).  We enjoyed swapping stories and family history tips with all our tablemates.

As you can tell, my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the conference this year.  We also had fun just being back on BYU campus, where we met each other as freshmen in 1994.  If you've never been to Provo, you're missing out.  It's a beautiful, family-friendly city surrounded by towering mountains.  Although my favorite time to be in Utah Valley is during the splendorous Fall season, summer is an excellent time to visit as well.  The nights cool off nicely, making the evenings perfect for enjoying a drive up the canyon, taking in a play at Sundance, or exploring the restaurants and shops downtown.  BYU is also a fun place to roam around.  It has a large family history center, free museums, a bowling alley, and, most important of all, the BYU Creamery.  I worked at the original Deseret Towers location for two years, so I can say with authority that it has the best ice cream in town (I recommend Pralines and Caramel and Bishop's Bash).

One word of warning: if you're planning to attend the conference next year (and you totally should), bring a seat cushion.  Your buns will thank you.  Also, if you're cruising up from Arizona, consider driving a convertible.  We traveled in my husband's Mini Cooper and had a blast zipping through the desert.  As we rounded both Mormon Lake and Jacob Lake, we got to inhale the most intoxicating elixir ever—pine mixed with rain—while blasts of cool wind ripped through our hair and our faces got misted with rain.  Pure heaven.

Many thanks to BYU and to Mormon Life Hacker for this fabulous opportunity.  We loved this year's informative, enjoyable conference.  We're looking forward to doing it again next year!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

YA Mystery a Chilling Story of Survival, Hope

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Scarlett Contreras has always loved Skywoman, a dazzling comic book superhero who uses her powers to protect the people of Silver City from evil villains.  It was the image of her heroine swooping in to save the world from a deadly meteor crash that Scarlett kept in her mind to give her courage during the years-long abduction that changed her young life irrevocably.  It's what helped her take advantage of a rare opportunity to escape.  It's what led her back home to her father and her younger siblings.  

Still overwhelmed by the ability to make decisions for herself, Scarlett is nevertheless determined to live a normal life.  Getting a job at Five Banners Adventure World, an amusement park based on the Skywoman stories, feels like something an average teen would do.  Her first day on the job, Scarlett hears the shocking news—a teenage girl has vanished from the park without a trace.  Scarlett can't shake the terrifying feeling that the disappearance is her fault.  When a co-worker starts acting strangely around her, saying things that seem like echoes from the time Scarlett is trying so hard to forget, her sense of foreboding heightens.  Is Scarlett being paranoid?  Or have the ghosts of her past come back to haunt her?  

When I read the premise for Never Missing, Never Found—a new YA novel by Amanda Panitch—I knew I wanted to read it.  Unlike romance, dystopian, and sci fi/fantasy, mystery/suspense is not a popular genre in the YA world.  This alone made the book appealing to me.  So, when the good folks at Penguin Random House asked me to be part of the Never Missing, Never Found blog tour, I happily agreed.  What did I think of the novel?  It's a fast, compelling read.  The carnival setting gives it an otherworldly, spooky vibe that adds to the tension of the story.  Scarlett and her cohorts are likable enough, although not terribly memorable.  The writing gets melodramatic at times and the story, which is ultimately about hope, feels pretty depressing.  Although I saw the novel's big twist coming, the plot kept me turning pages.  Overall, I didn't enjoy Never Missing, Never Found as much as I wanted to—still, it made for an exciting read.  I liked it, just didn't love it.  

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of Now You See Me by Sharon [S.J.] Bolton)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, depictions of underage drinking, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Never Missing, Never Found from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My Own Choose Your Comment Adventure

If you've been a blogger for any length of time, you've probably noticed the general decline in not just blog reading but also in blog commenting.  I still spend a sizable chunk of time doing both, but no one has ever accused me of keeping up with trends!  Megan over at Leafing Through Life is also sad that commenting has gone out of fashion.  In order to bring back the blog commenting love, she launched a little thing she calls Choose Your Own Comment Adventure.  To have an "adventure," you choose a book blog, read the most recent post, make a thoughtful comment, then click on the first commenter's link and head over to their blog.  Repeat the process until you've visited ten (or more) blogs.  I love this idea!  I've been meaning to go on an adventure of my own ever since Megan posted about her first one.  Now that she's provided a linky to join in the fun, I'm totally going for it!  Here's the journey I took around the book blogosphere today:

1.  Back to Books:  The first blog that showed up in my Bloglovin' list was this one, written by a Canadian book lover.  I've been visiting Nicola's blog off and on for years and have discovered lots of great books because of it.  Unfortunately, the book she most recently reviewed—Crazy Dead by Suzanne F. Kingsmill—doesn't sound like my cup of tea.  Nicola wasn't wild about it either.  She said the plot was a mess and the characters behaved in ways that just weren't believable.  Hate that!  I'll pass on this book, but I'll definitely return to Back to Books.

2.  Mystica/Musings from Sri Lanka:  Mystica was the first commenter on Nicola's post, so I headed over to her blog next.  She reviewed a book that sounds like the exact sort of read I would enjoy.  Still Mine by Amy Stuart is a mystery about a missing girl and an outsider who refuses to give up on finding her.  She says the book is descriptive, atmospheric, and twisty.  I added it to my Goodreads TBR list.  Can't wait to see what I think of it.

3.  Bermuda Onion:  This blogger has been around for a long time and is well known for her generous commenting.  It's no surprise that her blog came up.  I was intrigued by her Wondrous Wednesday post, highlighting words I'd never heard of.  I learned the definition of "ruminants" (gross!) and "coelacanth" (interesting!).

4.  The Book Sage:  The first comment on that post led me to a new-to-me blog.  Lloyd's most recent post was a recap of an author event he had attended.  Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing—which has been getting excellent reviews—is a local author.  Gyasi, who's originally from Ghana, sounds like a fascinating person.  Her book has been on my Goodreads TBR list for many weeks.

The first comment on this post was from Bermuda Onion, so I went back to my Bloglovin' list and started over, which led me to:

5.  Bart's Bookshelf:  This is another blog that I've been reading for years.  Darren reviews a lot of sci fi/fantasy and dystopian books and has provided me with some excellent reading recommendations in the past.  His newest review is lovely.  He talks about The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Milwood Hargrave, which, he says, is worth the buy just for its gorgeous writing.  However, he insists readers should get themselves a paper copy because the book itself is so beautiful.  Verdict?  Sold.

6.  The Written Word:  The first commenter on that post was Kailana, another Canadian book blogger.  Her most recent post was a "week in review" summary.  Her loved ones have been sick, so it's been a bit of a rough one for her.  On the bright side, she's reading two books that I enjoyed:  Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and The Cutting Season by Attica Locke.  She also posted some gorgeous scenic shots that she took.  Very impressive.

7.  I Wish I Lived in a Library:  Kailana's first commenter was Katherine P, whose blog I visit frequently.  Her most recent post is a review of An Address to Die For by Mary Feliz.  The book revolves around a professional organizer who is moving into a new house.  When she drives up, she's shocked to see that the home is in terrible disrepair.  Even more disconcerting is the dead body in the basement.  The plot sounds similar to The Dead Cat Bounce by Sarah Graves.  I enjoyed that one and am quite sure I'll dig this one as well.

8.  Quinn's Book Nook:  That post led me to Quinn's review of P.S. I Like You, a new YA romance by Kasie West.  Quinn said it took her a little while to warm up to the characters in the book, but that she enjoyed it overall.  Like West's other books, it's a light, cute romance.  I enjoy West as well, so I'll check this one out soon.

9.  Nick and Nereyda's Infinite Booklist:  Quinn's commenter led me to another new-to-me blog.  The most recent post by N&N is a fun guide to their "Favorite Friends to More Romances."  I've only read 1 1/2 of the books on the list, so I got a lot of great recommendations on what to try next.

10.  Lekeisha the Book Nerd:  The last stop on my adventure was another new discovery for me.  Lekeisha's Waiting on Wednesday post featured The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis.  Like me, she's a fan of McGinnis' writing.  Even when she doesn't like one of the characters or plot devices in one of the author's books, Lekeisha said McGinnis' prose is always "on point."  I agree wholeheartedly.

Phew!  So, there you have it.  I had a fun commenting adventure, which led me to new blogs and back to old favorites that I hadn't visited in awhile.  Thanks for the inspiration, Megan!  If you'd like to join in the commenting fun, head over to Leafing Through Life and sign up.  I'd love to hear about the blogs you discover on your own journey.  Until then, happy commenting!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Bolton's Debut Novel Just As Addicting As Her Latest

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although her husband was reared in Unst, 33-year-old Tora Hamilton is a stranger to the remote, weather-beaten Shetland Islands.  She is still getting used to Lerwick, her new hometown, when she comes across a dead body buried on the property she and Duncan recently purchased from a trust associated with the church.  At first, she assumes it's one of the infamous bog bodies—a Stone Age corpse perfectly preserved by the peat.  The post-mortem reveals the truth; not only is the body that of a recently deceased woman, but the victim had her heart cut out.  A few days after giving birth.  

It's this last bit that Tora—an obstetrician who has been trying to get pregnant since she married Duncan five years ago—can't let go of.  Why would someone murder a new mother?  And so savagely?  What are they to make of the runes carved into her body?  Was this a ritualistic killing?  Or something even more sinister?  Obsessed with finding the truth, Tora digs deeply into Shetland folklore and local secrets to solve the mystery.  Everyone warns her to back off, but she refuses to listen.  Even when it becomes apparent that someone will do anything—anything—to silence her.  

I became aware of Sharon (S.J.) Bolton because of her latest book, Little Black Lies.  After being completely blown away by it, I knew I had to read every novel the author had ever published.  So I did.  Sacrifice is Bolton's first novel and it's interesting to compare and contrast it with Little Black Lies.  The former is just as atmospheric, just as unsettling, just as compelling.  It's less sophisticated in some ways, but no less enticing.  With a brave, admirable heroine guiding the story, it's absolutely impossible to look away.  Just like Little Black Lies (which happens to be my favorite Bolton mystery), Sacrifice is a dark, twisty suspense novel that will keep you turning pages until the wee hours of the morning.  Trust me on this—you don't want to start Sacrifice (or any Bolton book for that matter) unless you have all day to inhale it because once you begin reading, you won't be able to stop.  Did I mention that I binge-read all of her books in a matter of days just so I could get on with my life?  Well, I did.  Bolton's mysteries are that addicting.  Consider yourself warned. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a bit of Peter May's Shetland trilogy [The Blackhouse; The Lewis Man; and The Chessmen]; also of Ann Cleeves' Shetland mysteries [Raven Black; White Nights; Red Bones; Blue Lightning; Dead Water; Thin Air; and Cold Earth])


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a dozen or so F-bombs plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, mild sexual content, and disturbing content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Easy Breezy Beach Read (a Little) Enlightening, (a Lot) Entertaining

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Gia Montgomery has the perfect boyfriend.  For two months, she's been dating Bradley Harris, a great-looking older guy who happens to be a junior at UCLA.  Since the two live in different towns, they don't spend a lot of actual time together.  Not that it matters—17-year-old Gia is willing to take on a long-distance romance for someone as great as Bradley.  Even if her friends are starting to doubt his existence.

Prom night is Gia's chance to show off the elusive Bradley.  When he dumps her in the school parking lot right before the dance, she's devastated.  And desperate.  Desperate enough to nab Hayden Reynolds, who's sitting in his car reading a book while he waits for his sister.  The plan is simple; all Hayden has to do is pretend to be Bradley for a couple hours.  It works like a charm, convincing most of Gia's frenemies that she's telling the truth about her older boyfriend.  

Now, Gia has another problem.  She can't stop thinking about Fill-in Bradley (FIB for short).  Neither can one of Gia's so-called friends, who's determined to catch Gia in her lie.  Then, there's Hayden's sister, who doesn't want self-absorbed Gia anywhere near her brother.  Forced to take a harsh look at herself and the increasingly artificial life she's leading, Gia knows she needs to grow up.  Can she do it in time to keep her relationships intact?  Or will lying mean losing everything that's important to her?

From the pastel cover to the frothy plot summary, everything about The Fill-in Boyfriend by Kasie West screams easy breezy beach read.  Which is totally accurate.  It's a fun, fluffy romance that makes for a light, enjoyable distraction between heavier tomes.  Is the novel silly?  Yes.  Predictable?  You bet.  Worth the read?  Definitely.  It's a clean romance with enough substance to be (a little) enlightening and (a lot) entertaining.  If you're looking for the perfect beach bag novel, look no further.  You've found it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Kasie West's other YA romances, including The Distance Between Us and On the Fence)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Love Deanna Raybourn? Then You're Going to Adore This Post. (With a Giveaway!)

Remember back in January when I raved about A Curious Beginning, the first book in a new Victorian mystery series by Deanna Raybourn?  Well, guess what?  I have some great news related to this novel, which I adored.  First off, the next installment in the series—A Perilous Undertaking—will be available January 10, 2017.  Personally, I cannot wait!  Second, the paperback version of A Curious Beginning will be available on July 12, 2016.  Not only that, but it has gorgeous new cover art that matches that of A Perilous Undertaking.  Here, take a gander:

Pretty, aren't they?  I think I prefer the hardcover art, but still, these are lovely in their own right.

The real question is, how would you like to win a pretty paperback version of A Curious Beginning for yourself?  You would?  Good.  Thanks to the good folks at Penguin Random House (Berkley/NAL), I have one to give away.  Details are at the bottom of this post.


Don't go there yet, though!  I had the chance to interview the wonderful Deanna Raybourn recently.  Here's the conversation we had:

BBB:  Although I've had SILENT IN THE GRAVE on my bookshelf for some time now, A CURIOUS BEGINNING is the first and only book of yours that I've read.  I adored the novel so much that I'll definitely be reading everything you've ever written!  For me and authors who are not (yet) familiar with your previous work, would you please describe a Deanna Raybourn novel in five words or less?  

DR:  Twisty, witty historical adventures. (And I’m delighted you enjoyed—thanks for the kind words!)

BBB:  Veronica Speedwell, the star of A CURIOUS BEGINNING, is such a fun character.  What's your favorite thing about her?  Why do you think she will appeal to modern readers? 

DR:  Veronica is an unapologetic badass, by which I mean she sincerely does not care what people think of her. She is intelligent and resourceful and courageous, and she believes those qualities make her the equal of anyone else—and frequently their superior! I think modern readers see themselves in Veronica because, unlike the common impression we have of Victorian women as tightly-corseted and helpless, Veronica goes out and gets what she wants. She lives life on her own terms and is comfortable in her own skin. She is also inspired by an actual Victorian lepidopterist who did exactly as she pleased, so there is a precedent for it.

BBB:  I haven't read your Lady Julia novels, but I have a friend who's a big fan.  She has two burning questions for you:  Will Julia and Nicholas ever have an adventure in America?  She also wonders how prevalent certain "modern" elements that you write about in your Victorian novels (feminism, drug use, homosexuality, etc.) actually were during that time period.  How do you go about researching these sometimes controversial issues?  Also, how did the class/money issues that so affected Victorian society affect a real Victorian's pursuit of such things?

DR:  For now Julia and Nicholas are on hiatus, but with the coming of the TV series, who knows! Although I have to say, I doubt I would take them to America. They are so firmly rooted in Victorian London, pulling them out of that just feels tricky. I did take them to Darjeeling, and I teased an Italian adventure, so I suppose I shouldn’t rule it out entirely.

It’s a very common misconception that those elements are modern. We hear so much about Victorians being sexually repressed and uptight, but the truth is that sort of staid morality only gives a picture of a certain segment of the population. The newly-emerging middle class was all about respectability, but in the lower class, more than 50% of brides were pregnant on their wedding day, and adultery was extremely common amongst aristocrats. (The Prince of Wales himself set the fashion!) Women were agitating for the vote; what we now call street drugs were entirely legal then; there was a lesbian commune in London that was so well established, it had its own newspaper. Vegetarianism, department stores, beach vacations, escalators, free love—we think all these things were 20th-century inventions, but the Victorians had them long before we did.

As to class and money, the 19th-century is the first time in British history that you see the rise of such a large and moneyed middle class. There had always been a merchant class, but under Victoria’s reign, it was possible to vault your way much higher than ever before. That sort of social fluidity, while minor by our standards in America, was unprecedented for the British. It was an exciting time, but also a very alarming one for people who liked things neatly pigeonholed.

BBB:  On your blog, you said, "For me, the holy grail is a novel that is historically plausible and witty."  I know you're a voracious reader—what are your all-time favorite novels that fit this description? 

DR:  I love the Flavia de Luce series by Adam Bradley; Lyndsay Faye’s JANE STEELE is outrageously good, and I recently discovered the Gower Street Detectives books by M. R. C. Kasasian—they’re delicious. And I am devoted to the late Elizabeth Peters, of course.

BBB:  In a blog post you wrote giving advice to new writers, you cautioned them against taking criticism about their work from people who "do not create."  You insist that although these people are entitled to their own opinions, such opinions should not be allowed to live in the writer's head.  As a book blogger but not a "real" writer, I find this idea interesting.  Do you read reviews of your books?  Do you pay attention to those written only by "professionals" or are you one of those writers who trolls Amazon/Goodreads/Barnes & Noble, etc. to get a feel for what the average reader thinks?  Whether you do or do not read reviews, how does this affect the way you write? 

DR:  Much to my kindly publicist’s dismay, no, I don’t read reviews. He will tell me when something great comes along from Kirkus or Library Journal, but I don’t actually read what he forwards. (Sorry, Loren!) I don’t have a Google alert for my name; I don’t go to Goodreads or Amazon or B&N. I just don’t happen to believe that reviews of my books are any of my business. And good or bad, other people’s opinions shouldn’t be part of my process. It’s difficult to get feedback—positive or negative—out of your head, and I don’t want to have to work that hard for serenity. People who like me will continue to read me; people who don’t will move on and hopefully find someone whose work they enjoy.

That specific piece of advice to new writers is meant to caution against taking to heart criticisms from people who don’t know what it’s like to put yourself out there and be willing to fail in order to make something new. It’s incredibly easy to sit back and judge that effort, and I’ve seen writer pals crushed by those judgments. It can be difficult to pick yourself up after that, and it’s even harder if you don’t have the experience and support that established authors do. That’s why I encourage new writers to be cautious about opening themselves up to criticism that can sometimes be gratuitously unkind. (And if you’re writing a blog, you are creating! You’re fashioning a platform and asking people to listen to what you have to say.)

BBB:  Every writer has a unique approach to their work.  You've written extensively about your own writing process on your blog, but I'm curious:  What essentials do you have to have nearby when you're working (music, coffee, a lucky charm, a special pen, etc)?  

DR:  Lined up in front of my computer is a collection of Funko Pop Maleficent figures and a small stuffed dragon—all gifts from friends. They are silly but also reminders of things I find powerful. I always play music; I have playlists for each book and I am smitten with the film scores of Fernando Velasquez. I light a candle on the first day of a new book, and I wear my Virgen de Guadalupe charm that day just for a little extra boost. 

BBB:  Thanks so much, Deanna!


Ready to toss your name into the hat for a chance to win a copy of A Curious Beginning?  Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below.  Please note that giveaway is only open to readers with United States mailing addresses.  Also, it ends on July 30, so sign up today!

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