Book Review: The Elusive Elixir by Gigi Pandian

The Elusive Elixir
An Accidental Alchemist Mystery #3
Gigi Pandian
Midnight Ink,  January 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4236-6
Trade Paperback

Who isn’t interested in Alchemy? Can there be anything more intriguing than the ability to transform one thing into something completely different? Lead into gold is probably the conversion of matter most people know of–not that in reality anyone has ever succeeded. But close to that is the search for an elixir to make a living person immortal. And there begins the story.

Zoe Faust, who is 340 years old but appears 30ish, has found the way to transform her own life while keeping her age secret. She moves frequently when her lack of aging becomes too obvious. She states she’s a granddaughter of the original Zoe. And now she’s on a quest to preserve her friend, Dorian Robert-Houdin, a gargoyle who came to life, from turning back to stone. Zoe travels to France, where she once lived, to discover someone from her past, an old lady who says that as a child, she knew Zoe. She also tells Zoe that the police want her for the murder, during WWII, of the man who ran Zoe’s shop and was burned beyond recognition when the shop fell victim to arson.

Zoe flees, which lands her in a peck of trouble when more people from her past follow her to her home–and right to Dorian. These people expect her to provide an old book they believe will show them the way to make the elixir of life–except the elixir needs the sacrifice of a living person. Who will they chose to be this sacrifice? That’s what Zoe has to find out  and prevent. Complicating all she does is the relationship she has with a lover, a partner after more than one hundred years. If he finds out what she really is, what will happen?

This is a good plot. I greatly enjoyed Dorian (although his “brother” not so much) and most of the rest of the cast are good, too. Given her great age, sometimes Zoe struck me as insipid. Well, maybe because of her great age, yes? Some passages are quite repetitive, as well, but overall, I did enjoy the book.

As for alchemy, Dorian is a marvelous cook. He’s found a way to transform common vegan ingredients into wonderful meals. His greatest discovery? Avocado! The book contains the recipe for his special chocolate mousse, which I actually made and found it pretty darn good!

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: The Catalain Book of Secrets by Jessica Lourey

The Catalain Book of Secrets
Jessica Lourey
Toadhouse Books, December 2014
ISBN: 978-0-9908342-1-2
Trade Paperback

The Catalain women share more than a bloodline. Each woman, whether the eldest, now a great-grandmother, or the youngest, a teenager not yet understanding her inborn powers, has a particular magic. Sometimes it seems as small as an overdose of charming sexuality, sometimes a capability to see the future, and sometimes, as we see as the story opens, it is the power of persuasion strong enough to cause murder. The problem is, the one murdered won’t stay dead. And the twelve-year-old murderer, though innocent in intent (remember the power of persuasion aspect) has lived almost her whole life consumed by guilt.

Each woman in this story has her own chapters, so readers are brought into the plot with varying viewpoints. First is Velda, where the story begins, then Ursula, who is central to the murder. Next comes Ursula’s daughters. Jasmine, who, due to a traumatic incident in her childhood totally refutes her magic, and Katrine, who ran all the way to England to escape it. Lastly in this story, although certainly not the least, is Tara, Jasmine’s daughter.

Danger gathers around these women as a swarm of serpents awakens in an earthen hideout and prepares to take over the city to complete a twenty-five year cycle. It will take all the Catalain women and their collective powers to finally put the murder to rest  and save their family.

Well-written, with intriguing characters, I think you’ll find this a fine story to while away an evening or two.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater, The Stone Demon by Karen Mahoney, and Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

SinnerSinner
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, July 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-65457-9
Hardcover

While Sinner, the recently released, highly anticipated, companion book to the Shiver trilogy didn’t take me back to Mercy Falls, it most certainly allowed me an enchanting opportunity to revisit Cole St. Clair and Isabel Culpepper. If you, like me, loved absolutely every single thing about the Shiver trilogy, my best guess is that you will revere Sinner. On the other hand, if this is the very first you’ve heard of said trilogy, I can still unabashedly recommend Sinner as a remarkable stand-alone novel packed with the punch that only Ms. Stiefvater can deliver. Even if you are “not really into the whole werewolf thing”, I stand by my recommendation. To me, the werewolf in Sinner is more an allegory than a creature to be feared or envied.

Ms. Stiefvater’s newest novel is a fast-paced, engrossing read that ebbs and flows with generosity and narcissism, love and hate, determined clinging and letting go. There is love and laughter, heart-ache and tears, mistakes, self-realizations and forgiveness. It is about life, growing up, being true, acting brave and accepting that; sometimes, walking away isn’t a cowardly act; but rather, the hardest and most definite thing you will ever have to do. Lessons generally learned much later in life become imperative in the formation and revelation of the true self as both Cole and Isabel; separately, yet simultaneously, become a bit more open and a little less jaded. Not embracing, but almost acknowledging that options aside from black or white, wrong or right, indeed exist. Grey comes in many shades, the road less traveled still delivers the traveler to his destination; and sometimes, pausing to ponder “what’s the way?” is the only way to keep going forward.

As always, within a Stiefvater saga, there are serendipitous seeds of wisdom that, when nurtured, bloom with breath-taking splendor. The brief glimpse of family on the beach is beautifully brilliant, encapsulating both a smiley and a teary moment (this author is a sneaky, clever, creator). If you’ve read this book, but weren’t captivated, amused and delighted….you may not have been paying close attention.

Leon. Leon’s pictures. The insightful inclusion of this quiet, soft-spoken man adds depth and a certain melancholy, elevating the book to a new level.

Sofia, because every darkness deserves a ray of light; and every home, a little hope.

I closed Forever four years ago with mixed emotions and a heavy heart. I had fallen for these characters, accepted the finality; but longed for just a little bit more Cole and Isabel. The two characters are so vibrant; filled with energy, anger, frustration, confusion, yet appearing confident and collected. They required their very own story and Sinner is it, spot on.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2014.

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The Stone DemonThe Stone Demon
An Iron Witch Novel #3
Karen Mahoney
Flux, April 2013
ISBN 978-0-7387-3340-1
Trade Paperback

Ms. Mahoney epitomizes the ideal conclusion to a trilogy with The Stone Demon. Thankfully void of loose ends, neither was each and every situation systematically closed out, as if checking off a list. Admittedly, some resolutions and explanations are needed; and answers were provided in a very satisfactory way, with any remaining questions providing excellent points to ponder long after the story has been told.

The first book, The Iron Witch, introduces Donna Underwood who wants nothing more than to be a regular teenager. Such a simple request, yet utterly impossible for her. She has been shrouded in mystery and secrets since she can remember. Flashes from her distant memory serve only to remind her that her father died trying to save her; the magical iron tattoos used to restore her arms will forever make her an outcast; her mother is in an asylum and she is left with only her aunt.

Further, Donna isn’t being raised as a typical teen. Rather, she is being “trained” for her rightful position within a Secret Order of Alchemists. So secret, in fact, that she knows almost nothing about the Order, which means she can’t really trust them. One more, tiny detail: Donna is being pursued by faeries and she has no idea why.

Yes, readers. I am telling you about a unique, intriguing story that features Fey, Alchemy, Demons and Ley Lines (oh, my)! Mixed in with the wizardry, and accompanying Donna on her journey of discovery we have her best buddy Navin. He is, hands down, one of my favourite fictional characters of all time. His sharp tongue, quick wit, and self-admiration make him amusing and delightful; particularly when situations are dark and dire. He provides the stability and balance Donna needs, and their friendship typifies the strength, support and unparalleled loyalty that so many teens sweetly maintain.

With a rich, compelling cast of characters, a tantalizing mystery unraveling, and just a dash of romance, The Iron Witch Trilogy is a must read for any fan of Fantasy, Mystery and/or YA. If you have a teen-aged reader in your life, turn him/her on to The Iron Witch Trilogy and you will be revered. You’re welcome.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2014.

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Hold FastHold Fast
Blue Balliett
Scholastic Press, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-29988-6
Hardcover

Step back, Wonder Woman, I have a new heroine in Early Pearl. Captivating, courageous and thoughtful, this spunky eleven year old is simply amazing. Throughout this story, Early’s soft, quiet determination, fueled by hope alone, astounds. And what a story this is.

A mystery of epic proportions unwinds quickly, enveloping the entire Pearl family. From an outsider’s view, it may appear that this family of four is down on their luck; but the love, admiration and respect that they share for each other is a true treasure that eludes so many.

While Dash’s job in a Chicago Public Library may barely cover the bills, it is the right place for him. This is confirmed when he has a chance to make extra money on the side by simply cataloguing old books. Stumbling onto an original print of the Langston Hughes’ The First Book of Rhythms inexplicably sets off a whirlwind of events.

With Dash missing, their tiny one-room apartment broken into and trashed, forced to move into a shelter while being dismissed by the police; the Pearl family seemingly has no reason to hope. Early refuses to let her family down. The lengths that Early would go to while valiantly trying to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance deeply affected this reader.

Although this would be more than enough for one young girl to tackle, the compassion and empathy that fill Early do not allow her to focus on only this goal. Rather, her acquaintances and her new life in the shelter give her ideas bigger than any she could have imagined. Her tireless efforts to make a difference not just for the small Pearl family right now; but for shelter kids in the future are beyond admirable.

Ms. Balliett shares Early’s tale with such phenomenal presentation that the book-steeped mystery becomes almost secondary, in the way that the lyrics to a beloved song fade into the background when sung in a haunting, melodious voice.

I fully admit to feeling somewhat guilty while reading this book; as if I was getting more than I deserved….I got the chocolate and vanilla twist in a waffle cone, when really, I only should have gotten only a small vanilla one. I can’t fathom how a mere human is capable of writing, incorporating so many layers, in sneakily simple prose. Possibly, this book was created by a magic that only Ms. Balliett can harness and control, or maybe Ms. Balliett herself has super-powers, either way, she has a new fan in me!

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2014.

Book Review: The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose

The Collector of Dying Breaths Tour Banner

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Title: The Collector of Dying Breaths
Author: M.J. Rose
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Hardcover; 384p
ISBN: 978-1-4516-2153-2

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Praise for The Collector of Dying Breaths:

“History, mystery, ambition, lust, love, death and the timeless quest
for immortality…a riveting tale of suspense.”
– B.A.Shapiro, New York Times bestselling author of The Art Forger

“Mysterious, magical, and mythical…what a joy to read!”
– Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author

Goodreads

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Buy the Book:

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The Collector of Dying BreathsThe Collector of Dying Breaths
A Novel of Suspense
M.J. Rose
Atria Books, April 2014
ISBN 978-1-4516-2153-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In 1533, an Italian orphan with an uncanny knack for creating fragrance is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. To repay his debt, over the years René le Florentine is occasionally called upon to put his vast knowledge to a darker purpose: the creation of deadly poisons used to dispatch the Queen’s rivals.

But it’s René’s other passion—a desire to reanimate a human breath, to bring back the lives of the two people whose deaths have devastated him—that incites a dangerous treasure hunt five centuries later. That’s when Jac L’Etoile—suffering from a heartache of her own—becomes obsessed with the possibility of unlocking Rene’s secret to immortality.

Soon Jac’s search reconnects her with Griffin North, a man she’s loved her entire life. Together they confront an eccentric heiress whose art collection rivals many museums and who is determined to keep her treasures close at hand, not just in this life but in her next.

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There are few series these days in which I never miss an installment, mainly because I read so much that I don’t have the time to keep up with series no matter how much I may like them. It doesn’t help that I’m not a speed reader. Still, there are a handful that I just don’t want to miss and The Reincarnationist series is one of those.

Technically speaking, this isn’t a true series because the first three books would properly be termed standalones but they all have the same theme of reincarnation and they all have a connection to a past-life research group known as the Phoenix Foundation while the later books also revolve around perfumes and their special properties.

The real appeal to me in The Collector of Dying Breaths is in the historical time period and characters. Catherine de Medici is larger than life even 500 years later and she has always fascinated me, along with her interactions with all the titans of her world. Since René le Florentine was also a real person and did, in fact, have a years-long relationship with Catherine as her perfumer and poisoner, this particular tale became the crux of Ms. Rose’s wonderful storytelling for me.  René was truly as reprehensible a person as one could find in the 16th century but the author wraps him in a cloak of humanity that makes him entirely captivating. Having Catherine such a notable part of the story was the icing on the cake for me. Now she was a woman no one could ignore 😉

This absorption in history is Ms. Rose’s true strength in this series. Her deep research is clear as is her love of her chosen settings and characters. Adding a large dose of suspense makes The Collector of Dying Breaths one of my favorite entries in the series and I thank the author for once again giving us a cracking good read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2014.

About the Author

 

MJ RoseM.J. Rose is the international best selling author of fourteen novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio. Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the ’80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors – Authorbuzz.com. The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose’s novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype. She is also the co-founder of Peroozal.com and BookTrib.com.

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

For more information on M.J. Rose and her novels, please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

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“It is with irony now, forty years later, to think that if I had not been
called a murderer on the most frightening night of my life, there
might not be any perfume in Paris today. And that scent—to which
I gave my all and which gave me all the power and riches I could
have hoped for—is at the heart of why now it is
I who call myself a murderer.”

From The Collector of Dying Breaths

MJ Rose Perfume Bottle

“I miss your fragrance, sometimes I miss it this much that
I can clearly smell you in the air.”—Quaisar Iqbal Janjua

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Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

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