Book Review: Things in Jars by Jess Kidd @JessKiddHerself @AtriaBooks

Things In Jars
Jess Kidd
Atria Books, February 2020
ISBN: 978-1-9821-2128-0

When I first laid eyes on this novel I wasn’t going to read or review it. Not my kind of crime novel, I thought. But I read the first page. Then I read the entire thing, almost without stopping. This woman has a way with words and even more significantly, with story.

Here is London of the Victorian Age, but not the London of royalty and means. This is the London of disease, of violence and brutality, of starvation and lives too often begun and played out in darkness and misery, unseen, unremarked and unconsecrated. Here is London in myth and reality. More, here is a story that takes one to the edge of the sea and dares you to look deep, below the surface and just consider the possibilities.

Bridie Devine is an unusual anomaly in London. She’s a middle-aged single woman who supports herself as a private investigator. It’s the middle of the century and while prisons like Newgate are well-known, well-established protective police departments are not. The story chases Bridie back and forth from significant childhood among Irish contemporaries to recognition of her prodigious intellect at an early stage to considered analysis of facts and evidence.

Make no mistake, though this story deals prominently with other worldly manifestations, it is rooted in the mean and fraught world of the lower classes and with real human emotion and attitude. Here is a story that will grab you and not let go, even after the final page.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2020.
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Beauty of the Beast by Rachel L. Demeter


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Book Reviews: This House is Haunted by John Boyne and Open Source by M. M. Frick

This House is HauntedThis House is Haunted
John Boyne
Doubleday, April 2013 (UK edition)
ISBN: 9780857520920
Other Press, October 2013 (US edition)
ISBN 978-1-59051-679-9
Trade Paperback

Eliza Caine has never been a beauty but her father adored her and together they led a simple but contented life. But since he died unexpectedly, she is forced to uproot herself into a new life at Gaudlin Hall. Left to care for two young children by herself, she becomes increasingly convinced that she’s not the only one looking after them. Forces beyond her control are trying to get rid of her and she has to fight to survive. But just how far can a mother’s love go?

I had read John Boyne’s more well known title, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and loved it and since I’m also a fan of gothic horror, this book seemed right up my alley. It opens with the line, ‘I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father’ and so begins a very Victorian jaunt into the Norfolk countryside. Eliza foolishly answers an advertisement for a job without checking references or questioning why no one has come to meet her first. But upon arriving, she finds that she has two charges, an unsettling girl and her younger, more loveable brother. Soon after arriving, strange things start happening and Eliza becomes more and more concerned as she discovers the dark history of the house. She is up against obstacles at every turn as the villagers close rank and refuse to answer her questions.

This was essentially a good book with a good storyline and the writing was pretty authentic in terms of style and prose. The only thing that let it down for me personally was a heavy dose of sentimentality towards the end when she discovers an unlikely ally in her fight for survival. I’ll not spoil the book by revealing just what happens but I found it too cheesy-pie for my liking. I would still recommend it to others, so if you like lashings of sentimentality and gentle scares then this is the book for you. But if your bent is more towards bone chilling, sleeping-with-the-light-on thrills, then try The Woman in Black instead for that’s a woman who was born to scare.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, June 2013.


Open SourceOpen Source  
M .M. Frick
Matthew M. Frick, July 2010
ISBN: 978-1-453-719985
Trade Paperback

Here is a fascinating premise, in this newly shaped world of aggressive social media and instant information exchanges. This review will be posted on several blogs, a few book store sites and will be seen by some number of people all over the world. Suppose, for an instant, you are a special operative for a foreign power—any foreign power. You have been assigned to monitor blogs from certain sources in order to determine certain attitudes of leaders regarding the drilling of a new oil field in, oh, Canada. Your employer wants early warnings about possible strikes that could lead to a change in oil prices on the world market. You have a search bot which employs an algorithm you have designed. The bot travels the world of the Internet matching words and collecting data.

Now let’s assume you are a bright and inquisitive citizen with an ordinary job. You live in Georgia and one of your hobbies is searching the Internet for odd events of interest. When you find such an event, you blog about it. Perhaps your interest is oil fields. You read open sources on the internet, construct a possible scenario, just for fun perhaps and then this casual activity of yours triggers the operative’s search bot. That sends ripples through shadowy organizations and suddenly evil people are questioning how you know certain things and where you get your information. You, of course, are merely a bright person raising questions based on readily available information.

But your innocent blog begins to look dangerous to people who are suspicious of everybody and everything. YOU begin to look dangerous. And soon an operative is dispatched to deal with you, an operative who knows how to kill.

My scenario, like that of author Frick, is fiction. But this world-spanning thriller is as real as it gets and might cause you, gentle reader, to think thrice about what you post.

Open Source is a clean, well-constructed thriller with only one serious deficiency, one which detracts very little from a gripping, fast-moving story. One of the characters seems to me to have some personality defects which are troubling enough that she would not have been hired into the important position she has with a private data-mining company.  However, she is in most other aspects a competent, bright and charming woman who fits nicely into the scenario constructed by Mr. Frick in his debut novel. A very interesting and challenging story.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Some Teeny Reviews

The First LieThe First Lie
Diane Chamberlain
St. Martin’s Press, June 2013
ISBN 9781466839403
Ebook Short Story

From the publisher—

An e-original short story that sets the stage for bestselling author Diane Chamberlain’s novel Necessary Lies (September 2013).

The First Lie gives readers an early glimpse into the life of thirteen-year-old Ivy Hart. It’s 1958 in rural North Carolina, where Ivy lives with her grandmother and sister on a tobacco farm. As tenant farmers, Ivy and her family don’t have much freedom, though she and her best friend, Henry, often sneak away in search of adventure…and their truest selves. But life on the farm takes a turn when Ivy’s teenage sister gives birth—all the while maintaining her silence about the baby’s father. Soon Ivy finds herself navigating the space between adolescence and adulthood as she tries to unravel a dark web of family secrets and make sense of her ever-evolving life in the segregated South. 

First, I want to point out that this is a short story intended as a lead-in to Necessary Lies, the author’s new full-length novel coming out in September . I’m sorry to say that Ms. Chamberlain has received quite a few “reviews” castigating her for it’s length and cost (99 cents) despite the fact the description very clearly labels it as a short story which, in the publisher’s words, sets the stage for the new book. It could not have been stated any more plainly.

Set in the rural South, this tale introduces us to a young teen and her very limited world. It’s easy to imagine what Ivy’s life is like amid the societal issues of the day including teen unwed pregnancy and the possibility of forbidden interracial relations at a time such a thing was potentially dangerous and certainly life-altering. The first lie might be the identity of the baby’s father but an even greater lie festers and reminds us of one of the most shameful episodes in our collective past. I have never read anything by this author until now but these few pages have really engaged me in Ivy’s story and make me want to see what her future will be.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.


How to Talk to Girls at PartiesHow to Talk to Girls at Parties
Neil Gaiman
William Morrow, June 2013
ISBN 9780062293572
Ebook Short Story

I’ve read a lot of Neil Gaiman‘s work but not Fragile Things, his short story collection that includes this story, so it’s new to me. As much as I love pretty much anything Gaiman-esque, I have to say “Huh?” about this one.

A shy, geeky teenager and his more socially experienced buddy head out to a party where they expect to meet lots of girls and, hopefully, manage a kiss or two but they somehow end up at the wrong party—a VERY wrong party.  Enn and Vic soon discover that girls are, indeed, a most alien species and it’s no wonder they’re so hard to understand.  Gaiman‘s usual weirdness is in full flow here with moments of tension (are the boys in danger of being eaten?) and humor (one of the girls informs Enn that she loves being a tourist) but all seems to be going well when Vic suddenly drags Enn away and the two boys race to escape.  Escape from what? Well, let your imagination do the walking, dear readers.

Reading anything by Neil Gaiman is worthwhile but, to be honest, I can’t figure out why this story was chosen to introduce a teaser for his new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane rather than another one or even a new one. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. This little ebook is no longer available so, to get your Gaiman fix, go buy the new book!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.


Black CabBlack Cab
David Bain
A/A Productions, 2010
ISBN 9781458043252
Ebook Short Story

From the author—

The black cabs kidnapping citizens off the streets of Chicago were thought to be just another urban legend – until the day Benny decided to hail one.

Benny noticed there was something strange about the cab he almost got into that night but he was tired and cranky, he and Maria had had another argument and he’d been living in the flower truck for two days so hailing a cab seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t.

Benny should have listened to his barmate, Ty. Ty knew things because he was a cop and he tried to tell Benny and Luckey, the bar owner, that black cabs were involved in some strange doings all over the world and that it had all happened once before, years ago.

So why is the black cab following Benny?

Black Cab is a delicious little story, only a few pages, that will leave you creeped out and wondering…

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.


Spartan FrostSpartan Frost
A Mythos Academy Novella
Jennifer Estep
K-Teen Books, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-7582-9477-7
Ebook Novella

From the publisher—

I’m Logan Quinn, the deadliest Spartan warrior at Mythos Academy. At least I was–until the day I almost killed Gwen Frost.

Professor Metis and Nickamedes say that I’m fine, that Loki and the Reapers don’t have a hold on me anymore, but I can’t risk it. I can’t risk hurting Gwen again. So I’m leaving Mythos and going somewhere far, far away.

I know Gwen wonders what’s happening to me, whether I’m safe. I can’t tell her, but this is my story. . .

Before anybody jumps to the mistaken conclusion that they’ve gotten ripped off when they buy this book, please note this is a novella, not a full-length novel. Yes, it says “Novel” on the cover but I don’t think there is any intent on the publisher’s part to trick anyone; using that word is just a carryover from the rest of the series. I also want to warn you about one other thing—I jump into the middle of a series all the time because, as a reviewer, I rarely have a choice. I can do it without feeling completely lost because I’ve become accustomed to it but I’m pretty sure many other readers will not want Spartan Frost to be their introduction to the series because there’s so much that’s unknown to the initiate. Having said that, I enjoyed this a lot.

One other warning—the review section on has been highjacked by an RPG group. I reported it but Barnes & Noble almost certainly will do nothing about it. As a result, you should be aware that a number of the so-called reviews have nothing to do with this book.

Considering the fact that I’m an initiate to the Mythos Academy series, what did I learn from this particular title?

A guy named Logan tried to kill a girl named Gwen
Logan is riddled with guilt, so much so that he can’t bear to be around Gwen or his other friends
Logan has left North Carolina and gone to live with his dad in upstate New York
Logan and his dad, Linus, are uncomfortable with each other because of animosities that developed after Logan’s mom and sister were murdered
Gwen knew something had “possessed” Logan, driving him to try to kill her
Logan was possessed by Loki, the unruly Norse god
Logan’s stepmother is a royal beyotch with a mean streak that won’t quit and you might say Cinderella’s stepmom could take lessons from this one
Linus is the head of the Protectorate and has a pair of very cool warrior buddies
The four guys head out on a mission to destroy a sleeper cell of Reapers
There are two opposing groups, Reapers and Spartans, and they seem to be fighting about gods and goddesses among other things
Reapers are bad
Spartans are good
Reapers have been stealing museum artifacts but the Protectorate doesn’t know why
Linus has a cool table with gargoyle legs

You see, even though I’m new to the series, I learned a lot from this brief introduction. Some longtime fans may feel there’s nothing new here but it was perfect for me, just a small taste. It’s enough to make me want to go find First Frost and Touch of Frost so I can start to catch up with everyone else.

One thing confuses me—this is Logan’s POV and all about him so why is there a girl (Gwen?) on the cover?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.


The Secrets of the SibylThe Secrets of the Sibyl
Nancy Adams
Green Fern Press, May 2012

From the author—

A decaying villa filled with secrets… A mysterious box that belonged to a dead girl… A spectral woman in white… All of them hold the Secrets of the Sibyl.

A short Gothic tale set in the Roman world of 382 A.D.

When her father buys a dilapidated villa on the wild, rocky coast of Cumae, city of the ancient Sibyline oracle, fourteen-year-old Cellina encounters mysteries at every turn. Following the trail of a mysterious silver box, Cellina uncovers the secret of a decades-old crime committed within the villa’s crumbling walls.

Fans of historical fiction and/or historical mystery will appreciate this little tale that revolves around a silver box and the secrets it contains. Cellina is a young girl I’d like to know more about and an unspoken mystery to me is why her father would spend his money on a summer home that is mostly in quite shabby condition. The desire to own property is understandable but he seems to be really enamored with this particular place despite its serious shortcomings and his wife’s objections.

Cellina and her family are interesting characters and I hope the author will be able to share her novels with us soon so we can spend more time with these ancient Romans—I enjoyed them too much to want to let go.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.


Book Review: The Devereaux Legacy by Carolyn Hart

The Devereaux LegacyThe Devereaux Legacy
Carolyn Hart Classics
Carolyn Hart
Seventh Street Books, February 2013
ISBN 978-1-61614-704-4
Trade Paperback
Originally published in 1986

From the publisher—

Leah Devereaux is a dead woman. At least, that’s what the folks now running the Devereaux plantation tell her: Leah has been presumed dead for nineteen years—since the day that both her parents died.

Leah, very much alive, has returned to South Carolina to uncover the untold story of her parents’ deaths. While some, like her cousin Merrick, welcome her, Cissy and John Edward tell her to stay away, tell her to stop meddling in secrets long kept.

When a ghost known only as the Whispering Lady appears once again at the Devereaux plantation after years of absence, the locals know it’s an omen of death. Merrick and Leah may be the next targets. . . .

Many moons ago, more than I care to admit, I had a real hankering for gothic mysteries, the kind with dark atmospheres, troubled men, women with a need to establish themselves in the world and who endanger themselves with their naïveté, brooding surroundings including such structures as locked towers, and, frequently, a violent storm; if you’ve read them, you know that you recognize such books immediately, sometimes just by the cover. Anyway, as time went on and I got older, my reading tastes changed. I won’t say those tastes changed for the better because there is absolutely nothing wrong with gothics. Some of the best-known authors have written such books, authors like Daphne Du Maurier, Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, Emily Bronte, and Charlotte Bronte  and, eventually, this subgenre began to morph into the romantic suspense novels we see today. The big difference is that the women involved have grown a pair, so to speak, and are much more likely to get themselves out of trouble or even to avoid it in the first place.

Although I moved on to reading other things, I’ve always held a soft spot for those old gothics and was delighted to hear that The Devereaux Legacy was being re-issued. I’ve long been a fan of Carolyn Hart but never knew about this book from her earlier period before the Death on Demand series which brought her the attention she deserved. So I found two of my long-time loves, gothic mysteries and Carolyn Hart in the same book. What more could I want?

The good news is Ms. Hart hits all the hot spots of a classic gothic mystery and, surprisingly, it’s only slightly dated. Really, the only notable difference from a gothic that might be written today is the lack of cell phones and, frankly, I think that’s a good thing. The advent of cell phones has, in my opinion, taken away a lot of the suspenseful ambience we used to see. After all, the protagonist who’s out of communication with everyone who could come to her aid if necessary is much more likely to cause gasps and tingles of alarm than today’s heroine who can just whip out her cell. When Leah begins to see and hear disturbing things and comes to believe that murder is part of her heritage, I felt the same sense of growing fear that she did. When she dares to go where she shouldn’t, as the heroine almost always does in any good gothic, I heard myself (in my mind so no one nearby would think I’m crazy) yelling at her, “No! Don’t go!”

The even better news is that, although The Devereaux Legacy shows the occasional weaknesses you could expect to find in an author’s earlier work, this is still a well-written and fun read and I’m very glad to add it to the long list of Carolyn Hart books I’ve read and loved. The only thing I would quibble with is the cover—I think the publisher missed a good opportunity to play up the gothic look—but, in the end, that’s really not important, is it?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2013.