Teeny Reviews: The Sister Pact by Stacie Ramey, Home By Nightfall by Charles Finch, Powerless by Tim Washburn, The Ark by Patrick S. Tomlinson, and Merry Mary by Ashley Farley

The Sister PactThe Sister Pact
Stacie Ramey
Sourcebooks Fire, November 2015
ISBN 978-1-4926-2097-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Who holds your secrets?

Allie is devastated when her sister commits suicide-and it’s not just because she misses her. Allie feels betrayed. The two made a pact that they’d always be together, in life and in death, but Leah broke her promise and Allie needs to know why.

Her parents hover. Her friends try to support her. And Nick, sweet Nick, keeps calling and flirting. Their sympathy only intensifies her grief.

But the more she clings to Leah, the more secrets surface. Allie’s not sure which is more distressing: discovering the truth behind her sister’s death or facing her new reality without her.

I never had a sister and my brother and I were too far apart in age to be close when we were growing up—although that changed later in life—but I think losing a sibling through suicide must be so devastating it’s nearly impossible to recover. What an inordinate amount of pain and confusion the survivor must feel, especially as a teen! Ms. Ramey writes this story with an incredible empathy and understanding that brings it to life for teen readers but also for those of us well past those years.

A major side effect of any death is the discovery of the things you didn’t know about that person’s life and that’s the essence of Allie’s journey through all the pain and betrayal and the questions that go with any death but especially a suicide. Her trauma leads her down some dubious paths and I found myself both sad and appalled as I watched her struggle with truths she might not have wished to learn.

I’ve dealt with, and still am dealing with, a lot of grief this year and The Sister Pact has made it all just a tiny bit easier even though my “events” haven’t been due to suicide. Thank you, Ms. Ramey 🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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Home By NightfallHome By Nightfall
A Charles Lenox Mystery #9
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books, November 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-07041-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s London in 1876, and the whole city is abuzz with the enigmatic disappearance of a famous foreign pianist. Lenox has an eye on the matter – as a partner in a now-thriving detective agency, he’s a natural choice to investigate. Just when he’s tempted to turn his focus to it entirely, however, his grieving brother asks him to come down to Sussex, and Lenox leaves the metropolis behind for the quieter country life of his boyhood. Or so he thinks. In fact, something strange is afoot in Markethouse: small thefts, books, blankets, animals, and more alarmingly a break-in at the house of a local insurance agent. As he and his brother investigate this small accumulation of mysteries, Lenox realizes that something very strange and serious indeed may be happening, more than just local mischief. Soon, he’s racing to solve two cases at once, one in London and one in the country, before either turns deadly.

The private detective I’ve come to know and love so well is back and in fine fettle as he balances his life between the occasionally seedy world of criminal activity and the aristocratic society he and his wife, Lady Jane, are part of. In this latest adventure, Charles Lenox is pulled in two directions, intrigued by the case of a missing celebrity but also needing to help his recently widowed brother in his grief and get to the bottom of a series of odd events in his childhood home.

Charles Finch is one of a handful of authors who, quite simply, never let me down and that holds true here. Lenox is a man who believes he can make a difference in people’s lives and he has great compassion in addition to intelligence and a perceptive mind. That’s the core of a truly good detective, don’t you think?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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PowerlessPowerless
Tim Washburn
Pinnacle, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-7860-3653-0
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

Nothing Can Prepare You. . .

It strikes without warning. A massive geomagnetic solar storm that destroys every power grid in the northern hemisphere. North America is without lights, electricity, phones, and navigation systems. In one week, the human race is flung back to the Dark Ages.

Nothing Can Save You. . .

In Boulder, Colorado, weather technicians watch in horror as civilization collapses around them. Planes are falling out of the skies. Cars are dead. Pandemonium and terror grip the Northern Hemisphere. As nuclear reactors across North America face inevitable meltdowns, the U.S. President remains powerless in a heavily guarded White House. From London to Boston to Anchorage, there is no food, no water, no hope. It’s every man for himself. . .and it will only get worse.

Survival Is Everything.

Only one man–army veteran Zeke Marshall–is prepared to handle a nightmare like this. But when he tries to reunite with his family in Dallas–across a lawless terrain as deadly as any battlefield–he discovers there are worse things in life than war. And there are terrible and unthinkable things he’ll have to do to survive. . .

I really do wish this hadn’t been written in present tense because it was an annoying distraction, not an enhancement to a story premise that I usually look forward to. I enjoyed this, in spite of the choice of tense, and in spite of the hyperbole in the book’s description (only one man is prepared to handle a nightmare like this? seriously?). Zeke is a character I came to respect and like very much and the depiction of the devastation is evocative and realistic.

I’m not a particular fan of the Department of Homeland Security but I can’t help but wonder…has any author presented them in a positive light? In Powerless, as in every other thriller I’ve read that features them, incompetence and obstructionism seem to be their strong suits and, to be honest, I’m tired of it. With all their failings, I just don’t believe that this agency is so completely wrong.

All in all, while I felt this was rather simplistic in spots, lessening the tension too much, I do recommend Powerless to anyone who appreciates a good disaster novel.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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The Ark 2The Ark
Children of a Dead Earth #1
Patrick S. Tomlinson
Angry Robot, November 2015
ISBN 978-0857664846
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

Humankind has escaped a dying Earth and set out to find a new home among the stars aboard an immense generation spaceship, affectionately named the Ark. Bryan Benson is the Ark’s greatest living sports hero, enjoying retirement working as a detective in Avalon, his home module. The hours are good, the work is easy, and the perks can’t be beat.

But when a crew member goes missing, Benson is thrust into the centre of an ever-expanding web of deception, secrets, and violence that overturns everything he knows about living on the Ark and threatens everyone aboard. As the last remnants of humanity hurtle towards their salvation, Benson finds himself in a desperate race to unravel the conspiracy before a madman turns mankind’s home into its tomb.

Oh my goodness, I SO enjoyed this book! It’s got so many of the elements I look for in a good crossgenre—a nifty mystery with the ultimate locked room (can’t get any more locked room than a spaceship racing towards humanity’s hope of a new home), a man who loves his job as a detective (largely because it’s really, really easy), a dark scenario and yet some light humor and a potential end to our species. What more could a girl want?

These people have been floating around out there for something like 200 years and Mr. Tomlinson does an excellent job creating a believable but also intriguing setting which really is a character in itself. Benson is a likeable man and his detecting skills are on high alert now that he has a murder to work with. Can he solve the crime before his fellow travelers meet an untimely end? Well, yes, we know he’ll have at least some success because there’s a second book coming but his detecting is entertaining all the way.

The second book in this duology, Trident’s Forge, will be out in April 2016 and I can barely stand to wait. Time needs to move faster 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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Merry MaryMerry Mary
Ashley Farley
Leisure Time Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-9861672-3-2
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A young woman longing for a child stumbles upon a Christmas miracle. Investigative journalist Scottie Darden is photographing the homeless for her Lost Souls series when she makes a discovery that could change her life forever. Under a makeshift tent in subzero temperatures in a downtown city park, she finds a woman’s dead body with her infant child. Without her cell phone to call for help, Scottie makes the split-second decision to take the baby home. Her initial instinct is to provide the baby with food and shelter until her family can be located. But as her fondness for the baby grows, she finds herself facing a life on the run or worse—prison time for abduction. Curl up with Merry Mary this holiday season. A heartwarming story of the powerful connection between a caring soul and an innocent child in need.

I’ve been a fan of Ms. Farley‘s work for quite a while now but, for the first time, I have to say this one doesn’t work for me. I won’t go into a lot of detail because I think Merry Mary will appeal to others; suffice it to say I didn’t like Scottie and that’s pretty important when it comes to connecting with a story. Scottie seems to be unusually clueless and her behavior is senseless, particularly when she decides to take the baby home with her for some very thin reasons. There are also some noticeable plot holes.

At any rate, I think this is just a misstep for me personally and it certainly won’t put me off Ms. Farley‘s future books. In fact, the author is working on a full-length novel featuring Scottie and I’m looking forward to getting to know her better and, perhaps, understand her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

Book Reviews: Skulduggery by Carolyn Hart and City of Dreams & Nightmare by Ian Whates

SkulduggerySkulduggery
Carolyn Hart Classics
Carolyn Hart
Seventh Street Books, November 2012
ISBN 978-1-61614-706-8
Trade Paperback
*****

Skulduggery, a lively novel of action and suspense, was first published in 2000 and is being re-released as a Carolyn Hart Classic. The story is every bit as riveting and relevant today as it was thirteen years ago.

The heroine of the story is Dr. Ellen Christie. Not a medical doctor, but one who nevertheless works with human bones. She is a curator at a San Francisco museum and is known as “the bone lady.” One evening after work, she’s contacted at home by a man desperate to consult with her regarding a skull. This skull, aside from exciting the daylights out of her as a way to further her career, draws her into a magnificent adventure. Ellen has immediately recognized the skull as that of a specimen of Peking Man. The skull, as well as other bones, had mysteriously disappeared from China during WWII. Now the bones have apparently reappeared and are up for sale to the highest bidder.

Ellen is a major player in this tale of present day San Francisco’s Chinatown, powerful criminal elements, kidnappings, and murder. That Ellen also finds romance along the way only adds to the drama. More than a simple suspense story, Skulduggery is also a learning tool as the reader follows the known history of the Peking Man bones–to a certain point. The rest of it? Well, it could of happened!

Characterization is good, setting is good, plot is good, the writing is good. There’s nothing in this short novel not to like. I’m looking forward to others in Ms. Hart’s classic series.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

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City of Dreams & NightmareCity of Dreams & Nightmare
The City of a Hundred Rows Vol. 1
Ian Whates
Angry Robot, October 2010
ISBN 978-0-00-734524-3
Mass Market Paperback
*****

In this perfectly realized fantastical city, the neighborhoods go up–or down, depending on which strata of society a being belongs. Urban sprawl on the vertical, a terrific concept.

In the lower levels, called Rows, of this city, life is hard. Adolescents belong to violent gangs, which are used by outside forces to administer their will on the population. Competition within the gangs is fierce as to who is the most daring member. Thus begins young Tom’s adventure, a dare to climb up the Rows until he reaches the forbidden topmost level. Even he doesn’t believe he’ll ever reach the top—but he does. And witnesses a murder by Magnus, one of the most powerful men of Thaiburley City.

Magnus knows Tom has witnessed the murder, and sets Tylus, a Kite Guard (you’ve got to read the book to discover a Kite Guards function. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.) on Tom’s trail back down through the Rows. An alien being steps in to help Tom, enlisting Kat, a female survivor of the Pits, to aid the boy in reaching his home territory. As they make their way through the mean streets, they are pursued by more than just the Kite Guard, including an assassin as well as a deranged madman and his gruesome constructs. Fast paced action ensues.

Every character has a story within this novel, and Mr. Whates develops them well within the overall concept. No one seems alike, which is a good thing, and the reader is given just enough background to maintain individuality. In a long story like this one, with a large cast, it helps keep each one separate.

I definitely enjoyed this book and will be looking for the sequel.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Known Devil by Justin Gustainis—and a Giveaway!

Known DevilKnown Devil
An Occult Crimes Unit Investigation
Justin Gustainis
Angry Robot, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-85766-166-1
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

My name’s Markowski. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.

A new supernatural gang is intent on invading Scranton – as if I didn’t have enough to contend with!

Supernatural gang warfare? Not on my watch!

Mix some elves, vampires, goblins and werewolves; add turf wars among the vampire fangsters, sleazy politics and drug-addicted supes (supernaturals); toss with a human police detective and his vamp partner and what do you get? Why, impending chaos in the streets of Scranton, of course!

Stan Markowski and his partner, Karl Renfer, have been my favorite pair of crossgenre detectives since I read Hard Spell, first in the Occult Crimes Unit series, in 2011. My enjoyment continued with the second book, Evil Dark, and I’m just as happy now with Known Devil. Stan and Karl fight crime just as police detectives everywhere do but it just so happens that many of the bad guys they have to deal with are supes. Some of those—elves, for instance—are just annoyances compared to the vampire gang run by the vampfather, Don Pietro Calabrese, so the guys are caught by surprise when they run  into a pair of clearly high elves in an armed robbery because everyone knows no supes are susceptible to drugs except goblins.

The questions about this mysterious drug known as Slide soon lead to more disturbing events and then shootings and other attacks on the vamps begin to escalate. Much to everyone’s discomfort, it becomes apparent that the evil the Scranton cops know may not be nearly as alarming as what’s come to town.

Any reader who is bothered by vulgar language should be prepared to see a lot of it in this book. Personally, I don’t much like it but I do feel it’s pretty appropriate in a noir tale such as this. Let’s face it, gangsters and cops don’t sugarcoat their language and the story would be weak if such word choices weren’t included. That aside, there’s really nothing about Known Devil that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy and it was a real pleasure to spend time with Stan and Karl and their colleagues and even some of the bad guys. Mr. Gustainis ties off the ending with a hint of things to come and I wish I didn’t have to wait so long for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2014.

************

One lucky reader will win a copy of Known Devil
by Justin Gustainis and you have two chances

to enter the drawing. For the first entry, leave a
comment here on today’s review. For the second
entry, come back tomorrow, February 7th, and
leave a comment on Justin’s guest post. The
winning name will be chosen at random on the
evening of Monday, February 10th. This drawing
is open internationally and the winner
can choose print, Epub or Mobi.

My Favorite Books Of 2011—And We Have A Winner!

Judythe Morgan is the lucky winner of Underdead by Liz Jasper.

Congratulations and happy reading, Judythe!

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My 2011 list of books that enticed and tantalized me

wasn’t easy to come up with but here they are with my

great thanks to all these authors and publishers—

1.   Hounded by Kevin Hearne (Del Rey Books)Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old–when in actuality, he’s twenty-one “centuries” old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.  Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power–plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish–to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

2.   Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick (Egmont)—An electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, destroying every electronic device, wiping out every computerized system, and killing billions. Alex, a resourceful seventeen-year-old running from her incurable brain tumor, hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons. Now desperate to find out what happened after the pulse crushes her to the ground, Alex meets up with Tom–a young soldier who has left the war in Afghanistan–and Ellie, an angry eight-year-old girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP.  For this improvised family and the others who are spared, it’s now a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human.

Review of Ashes

3.   Ashfall by Mike Mullin (Tanglewood Press)—Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano, so large that the caldera can only be seen by plane or satellite. And by some scientific measurements, it could be overdue for an eruption. For Alex, being left alone for the weekend means having the freedom to play computer games and hang out with his friends without hassle from his mother. Then the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, plunging his hometown into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence. Alex begins a harrowing trek to seach for his family and finds help in Darla, a travel partner he meets along the way. Together they must find the strength and skills to survive and outlast an epic disaster.

Review of Ashfall

4.   Skating Over the Line by Joelle Charbonneau (Minotaur Books)—Rebecca Robbins is desperate to sell her inherited roller-skating rink in small-town Indian Falls, and—finally—she has a buyer. She can’t wait to head back to Chicago, especially now that her long delinquent father has blown back into town, but Lionel, her veterinarian boyfriend, thinks she should stay put. Also, the gang at the Senior Center wants her to track down the thief who’s been hot-wiring rusted-out classic cars. Unable to resist, Rebecca soon has the Sheriff’s Deputy threatening to arrest her for obstruction, and strange but scary men threatening her life. Then cars start exploding, with people in them, and Rebecca’s father goes missing. With the help of Pop, her Elvis-impersonating grandfather, Rebecca must find the pyromaniac car thief and put a stop to him—before he stops her first.

5.   The Dog Who Knew Too Much by Spencer Quinn (Atria Books)—Bernie is invited to give the keynote speech at the Great Western Private Eye Convention, but it’s Chet that the bigshot P.I. in charge has secret plans for. Meanwhile Chet and Bernie are hired to find a kid who has gone missing from a wilderness camp in the high country. The boy’s mother thinks the boy’s father–her ex–has snatched the boy, but Chet makes a find that sends the case in a new and dangerous direction. As if that weren’t enough, matters get complicated at home when a stray puppy that looks suspiciously like Chet shows up. Affairs of the heart collide with a job that’s never been tougher, requiring our two intrepid sleuths to depend on each other as never before.

Review of The Dog Who Knew Too Much

6.   Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis (Angry Robot)—Stan Markowski is a Detective Sergeant on the Scranton PD’s Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit. Like the rest of America, Scranton’s got an uneasy ‘live and let unlive’ relationship with the supernatural. But when a vamp puts the bite on an unwilling victim, or some witch casts the wrong kind of spell, that’s when they call Markowski. He carries a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.

Review of Hard Spell

7.   The Providence of Death by Bronson L. Parker (Self-published)—Joe McKibben refuses to accept the emotional reality that his wife of thirty years was killed in a vehicle crash. Like the good cop he once was, he ignores his feelings of grief, telling himself he’s still married. Eleven months of living alone has him asking why he’s still alive. His ignored feelings of grief explode into anger when he finds the brutally slain body of another retired detective and close friend. Evidence indicates his friend’s death may be linked to an older murder in the city, one that has remained unsolved for three decades. McKibben, now the owner of a historical research firm, begins to dig into the older murder, using computerized data that did not exist in the 1970s. His research unearths a trail of crime and tragedy that leads back a half-century into the city’s history and forward to the wife of the man who will be the city’s next police chief. McKibben’s search, which takes him across three states, also leads to a chance encounter that gives his life a new beginning.

8.   The Shattering by Karen Healey (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)—Seventeen-year-old Keri likes to plan for every possibility. She knows what to do if you break an arm, or get caught in an earthquake or fire. But she wasn’t prepared for her brother’s suicide, and his death has left her shattered with grief. When her childhood friend Janna tells her it was murder, not suicide, Keri wants to believe her. After all, Janna’s brother died under similar circumstances years ago, and Janna insists a visiting tourist, Sione, who also lost a brother to apparent suicide that year, has helped her find some answers.  As the three dig deeper, disturbing facts begin to pile up: one boy killed every year; all older brothers; all had spent New Year’s Eve in the idyllic town of Summerton. But when their search for the serial killer takes an unexpected turn, suspicion is cast on those they trust the most.  As secrets shatter around them, can they save the next victim? Or will they become victims themselves?

Review of The Shattering

9.   I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins)—It starts with whispers. Then someone picks up a stone. Finally, the fires begin. When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . . . Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren’t sparkly, aren’t fun, don’t involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy. But someone–or something–is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root–before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her.

10. Ranchero by Rick Gavin (Minotaur Books)—Repo man Nick Reid had a seemingly simple job to do: talk to Percy Dwayne Dubois– pronounced “Dew-boys,” front-loaded and hick specific–about the payments he’s behind on for a flat screen TV, or repossess it. But Percy Dwayne wouldn’t give in. Nope, instead he saw fit to go all white-trash philosophical and decided that since the world was stacked against him anyway, he might as well fight it. He hit Nick over the head with a fireplace shovel, tied him up with a length of lamp cord, and stole the mint-condition calypso coral-colored 1969 Ranchero that Nick had borrowed from his landlady. And he took the TV with him on a rowdy ride across the Mississippi Delta.  Nick and his best friend Desmond, fellow repo man in Indianola, Mississippi, have no choice but to go after him. The fact that the trail eventually leads to Guy, a meth cooker recently set up in the Delta after the Feds ran him out of New Orleans, is of no consequence–Nick will do anything to get the Ranchero back. And it turns out he might have to.