Book Reviews: Where the Rock Splits the Sky by Philip Webb and The Man Who Was Poe by Avi @chickenhsebooks @avi3writer @avonbooks

Where the Rock Splits the Sky
Philip Webb
Chicken House, March 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-55701-6
Hardcover

Mr. Webb’s Where the Rock Splits the Sky is a stellar sci-fi, dystopian story beyond my wildest imagination. Perhaps because I could not fathom a unique paranormal situation which essentially creates chasms, both metaphorical and literal, all over the continental United States. Rather than banding together, people pretend to be in some sort of survival mode. In reality, society splintered and regressed to the ways of the “wild, wild west.”

Everyone can see that an invasion is underway, but only a select few know why. The Navaho people had prayed to the White Shell Woman believing her to be a goddess; Wife of the Moon, Mother of the Navajo people. They are honest and trusting people but the she is an unabashed liar, master manipulator and nothing resembling a goddess.

In the chaos, Megan’s father is missing. She knows, with an inexplicable certainty, that he is trapped in The Zone. She has yet to learn that she is the only person on the planet capable of freeing him and Megan may never be ready to understand why. Shoving doubt aside, she saddles her horse to head into The Zone.

In a rush, but feeling she owes her best bud an explanation, she makes a quick stop. Since Luis is easily as stubborn as she is, Megan isn’t really surprised when he insists on accompanying her. She’s just not sure how she feels about it. Their old, but seemingly uncertain, friendship may not be destined to survive the journey, even if they do find Megan’s father and miraculously make it out alive.

Once inside The Zone, they encounter Kelly. Determinedly cheerful, Kelly announces her intent to join the duo on their quest. Not a problem for Luis, he always believes there’s room for one more. Megan is not so quick to accept a new acquaintance.

Kelly is a large presence with plenty to say and not too much time for politeness. Her overwhelming attitude has Megan and Luis independently soul-searching and even reevaluating their relationship. The dynamic among the three solidified this sweetly-strange little story. I admit, I did not fully understand exactly what was happening or where the story was heading, but I was absolutely invested enough to be shocked, then tickled by a sneaky twist.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2019.

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The Man Who Was Poe
Avi
Avon, July 1997
ISBN 978-0-380-73022-3
Trade Paperback

I have just “discovered” the author, Avi. Meaning, of course, that one of “my” students brought him to my attention. I had asked the students to fill in a wish-list of books to be added to their classroom library and someone requested a book by Avi. The name stuck with me, and wouldn’t you know, after digging through my stacks o’ books, I actually had something from this very author!

Not just any book, either. This casts Edgar Allan Poe as a supporting character. Famous in his own rights, Mr. Poe is almost legendary here in Richmond, VA, where he occupies a predominant place in history. Clearly, I had to read The Man Who Was Poe right then. Fortunately, this Juvenile Historical Fiction was a fast read.

There’s something completely quirky about enjoying the interactions between two totally different types of people, neither of which I would expect to covet as a companion in real-life. In Avi’s world, however, it is the perfect plot presentation. This mystery moves quickly, even with the hair-pin twists and turns. I wanted to sympathize with young Edmund, or at least his pathetic predicament; but, he’s simply too tenacious and tough to pity. After all, this kid continues to go toe-to-toe with Edgar Allan Poe.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2019.

Book Review: A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman @Difreeman001 @KensingtonBooks

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder
A Countess of Harleigh Mystery, #1
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-4967-1687-3
Hardcover

Frances Wynn may have been born American, but as the widowed Countess of Harleigh, she is highly placed in English society. Her marriage was not for love. Her mother wanted a title for her daughter, and the impoverished Wynns wanted American money to keep the estate afloat. Still, when her husband dies in another woman’s bed–right under Frances’ nose, so to speak–a situation is set in motion. To the heir’s and his wife’s dismay, as soon as her mourning year is over, Frances buys a house in town and vows no more money will be paid into the estate’s upkeep.

But then a letter is sent to the police which accuses Frances of being complicit in her husband’s murder. Murder? And then, in the upper-crust London homes where Frances visits, expensive items begin disappearing. Lily, Frances’ younger sister arrives from America to become an English debutante, and quickly becomes involved with several young men. Could one of them be the thief?

Inspector Delaney of the Metropolitan Police begins questioning Frances’ innocence, and her neighbor, with whom she has a history, becomes her defender. Together, the three attempt to unravel the mysterious goings on. But then a man is murdered in Frances’ back garden and Lily may have been kidnapped.

Still the question looms: Was Countess Harleigh’s husband murdered?

Freeman has penned a Victorian mystery with excellent, well-developed characters, and set them into an amusing plot. This story comes to a satisfactory conclusion, leaving the characters to continue on to yet another intriguing tale.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, January 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Reviews: Misjudged Murderesses by Stephen Jakobi and Dead Silence by Ron Handberg

Misjudged Murderesses
Female Injustice in Victorian Britain
Stephen Jakobi
Pen and Sword, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-52-674162-2
Trade Paperback

Between 1836 and 1900 the wheels of justice often wobbled slowly and erroneously through British society. There were major changes in policing and some changes in social attitudes. However, the balance of justice most often was weighted in favor of the male side of things. Several women were accused of heinous crimes—mostly murder—and, according to this author, mistakenly convicted and executed.

The author, a private solicitor, in 1992 founded Fair Trials International, leading a persistent effort to balance justice world-wide. This volume of true crimes and results is part of his ongoing efforts.

It is a trudging look at the gathering of evidence and its presentation in English courts. The presentation is dense, careful and evokes textbooks of past classes. Indeed, the type on the page is small and readers might be advised to have a magnifier at hand. This is not bed-time pleasure.

However, for anyone intrigued by the evolution of our justice systems, police work and the attitudes of court authorities will find much of this book more than merely interesting.

Another rather fascinating aspect of the book is the role of religion. The author documents a case of torture of a woman prisoner by a chaplain and testimony in court by religious leaders who were supposed to be hearing confession by the female prisoners.

During the time between 1843 and 1900, 53 women were hanged after murder convictions. Thirty of those were poisoners. Fifteen of the poisoners never confessed. Eleven of the 53 were clearly guilty and of the rest, there were various problems that call into question the whole process and outcomes.

It appears that a good deal of the bias toward these women, some of whom were successful in society, was generated by a press that could be accused of being out of control over these sensational cases.

One of the most prolific murderesses described in the book is Mary Ann Cotton. Although convicted and hanged at 40 years of age, only for murdering her stepson, she was married many times, lost many children, and is reliably suspected of have used arsenic in tea to kill at least twenty men and children.

The book documents some appalling miscarriages of justice, as well as describing some appalling acts of murder that were never adequately resolved. Well researched, documented and written, this is not, however, something one would select to take to the beach.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Dead Silence
Ron Handberg
HarperPaperbacks, February 1999
ISBN 0-06-101247-5
Mass Market Paperback

On a steamy July afternoon in 1983, three young boys run gleefully from their front yard to the nearby park and down the bluff to the edge of the Mississippi River. They do not return home ever again.

Fifteen years later, top television anchor, Alex Collier scans a memory item, the disappearance, on this date, of those three Hathaway sons. The story mildly intrigues him. Now readers, introduced to Collier’s co-anchor on the news team, are drawn inside the routine workings of a major station news operation. The author, with vast and varied experience in such operations, is careful to avoid relying on the technical details of such an operation to move the story forward.

Rather, Handberg relies on the interpersonal relationships, decisions and routines of the people who spend their time researching, writing, taping and presenting the daily television news to help move the story forward. It’s an interesting and sometimes tension-filled situation, but the story really focuses on the three missing boys. Collier decides to use his star-clout to get the station to in effect reopen the case.

Careful logical moves, rather than sudden insightful intuition guides Collier and his young co-anchor to the people, many long retired who were involved in the original case, including the still distraught, still seeking answers, parents of the boys.

The novel is rooted in reality and makes good use of the unusual and often exotic internal scenes in a big-time television operation, the evolving life of officials and ordinary citizens, some of whom have moved on, retired or left the Twin Cities. Mysterious threatening phone calls, possible deliberate hit and run and new murder all populate this novel as the clues mount, incidents occur and Collier persists against mounting resistance and tension.

The physical presence of the cities and rural Minnesota are inserted judicially with logical and useful influence on the trajectory of this story. The narrative rhythm is appropriate and although the novel is long, it is a well-paced read that will capture the imagination and attention of anyone interested in missing person cases.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Deep by Alma Katsu @almakatsu @TransworldBooks @The_FFBC

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Title: The Deep
Author: Alma Katsu
Publisher: Transworld Digital
Publication date: March 10, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Dark Fantasy, Thriller

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks // Google Play
Amazon // Book Depository // Indiebound

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The Deep
Alma Katsu
Transworld Digital, March 2020
ISBN 978-0-525-53790-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Someone, or something, is haunting the Titanic.

This is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the ship from the moment they set sail: mysterious disappearances, sudden deaths. Now suspended in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone during the four days of the liner’s illustrious maiden voyage, a number of the passengers – including millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, the maid Annie Hebbley and Mark Fletcher – are convinced that something sinister is going on . . . And then, as the world knows, disaster strikes.

Years later and the world is at war. And a survivor of that fateful night, Annie, is working as a nurse on the sixth voyage of the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, now refitted as a hospital ship. Plagued by the demons of her doomed first and near fatal journey across the Atlantic, Annie comes across an unconscious soldier she recognises while doing her rounds. It is the young man Mark. And she is convinced that he did not – could not – have survived the sinking of the Titanic . . .

Not too long ago, I listened to the audiobook of Alma Katsu’s The Hunger and, truthfully, I was mesmerized by the ominous atmosphere she created. That ambience comes largely from my knowing ahead of time what really happened with the Donner Party, the ineffable tragedy of it all, and the promise of The Deep was that it would give me much of the same feeling. I didn’t do audio on this one but visually reading it didn’t lessen the effect.

Was the Titanic imbued with a supernatural touch as the author suggests? Maybe, maybe not, but there is no doubt that the ship’s story is full of ghosts and belief in the occult was popular among the wealthy at the time so Ms. Katsu taking it a bit farther is not really out of line, is it? Even with a sizeable passenger list and crew, there do seem to be an inordinate number of deaths and peculiar events that the people on the voyage can’t truly explain in “normal” terms and then, of course, there is that awful night.

When stewardess Annie finds herself, four years later working as a World War I nurse on board the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, perhaps it’s not surprising that she would come across a wounded soldier who was also on the Titanic’s fateful voyage. Annie carries her own demons with her, though, so possibly her memories are tricking her into thinking that Mark can’t be there because he could not have survived the sinking. Then again…

Ms. Katsu’s real strength lies in her storytelling and on her ability to bring people and historic events to life. The Deep is a compelling tale that could, if you believe just a little, be truth and, might I add, it’s immeasurably enhanced by including a real woman, Violet Jessop, who has to be one of the luckiest seafaring women ever. Well done, Ms. Katsu!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2020.

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An Excerpt from The Deep

Chapter One

October 1916
Morninggate Asylum,
Liverpool

She is not mad.

Annie Hebbley pokes her needle into the coarse gray linen, a soft color, like the feathers of the doves that entrap themselves in the chimneys here, fluttering and crying out, sometimes battering themselves to death in a vain effort to escape.

She is not mad.

Annie’s eyes follow the needle as it runs the length of the hem, weaving in and out of fabric. In and out. In and out. Sharp and shining and so precise.

But there is something in her that is hospitable to madness.

Annie has come to understand the erratic ways of the insane-the crying fits, incoherent babblings, violent flinging of hands and feet. There is, after days and weeks and years, a kind of comforting rhythm to them. But, no, she is not one of them. Of that she is certain.

Certain as the Lord and the Blessed Virgin, her da’ might once have said.

There are a dozen female patients hunched over their sewing, making the room warm and stuffy despite the meagerness of the fire. Work is thought to be palliative to nervous disorders, so many of the inmates are given jobs, particularly those who are here due more to their own poverty than any ailment of mind or body. While most of the indigent are kept in workhouses, Annie has learned, quite a few find their way to asylums instead, if there are any empty beds to keep them. Not to mention the women of sin.

Whatever their reasons for turning up at Morninggate, most of the women here are meek enough and bend themselves to the nurses’ direction. But there are a few of whom Annie is truly afraid.

She pulls in tight to herself as she works, not wanting to brush up against them, unable to shake the suspicion that madness might pass from person to person like a disease. That it festers the way a fine mold grows inside a milk bottle left too long in the sun-undetectable at first but soon sour and corrupting, until all the milk is spoiled.

Annie sits on a hard little stool in the needle room with her morning’s labor puddled in her lap, but it is the letter tucked inside her pocket that brushes up against her thoughts unwillingly, a glowing ember burning through the linen of her dress. Annie recognized the handwriting before she even saw the name on the envelope. She has reread it now at least a dozen times. In the dark cover of night, when no one is looking, she kisses it like a crucifix.

As if drawn to the sin of Annie’s thoughts, a nurse materializes at her shoulder. Annie wonders how long she has been standing there, studying Annie. This one is new. She doesn’t know Annie yet-not well, anyway. They leave Annie to the late arrivals on staff, who haven’t yet learned to be frightened of her.

“Anne, dear, Dr. Davenport would like to see you. I’m to escort you to his office.”

Annie rises from her stool. None of the other women glance up from their sewing. The nurses never turn their backs to the patients of Morninggate, so Annie shuffles down the corridor, the nurse’s presence like a hot poker at her back. If Annie could get a moment alone, she would get rid of the letter. Stash it behind the drapes, tuck it under the carpet runner. She mustn’t let the doctor find it. Just thinking of it again sends a tingle of shame through her body.

But she is never alone at Morninggate.

In the dusty reflection of the hall windows they appear like two ghosts-Annie in her pale, dove-gray uniform, the nurse in her long cream skirt, apron, and wimple. Past a long series of closed doors, locked rooms, in which the afflicted mutter and wail.

What do they scream about? What torments them so? For some, it was gin. Others were sent here by husbands, fathers, even brothers who don’t like the way their women think, don’t like that they are outspoken. But Annie shies away from learning the stories of the truly mad. There’s undoubtedly tragedy there, and Annie’s life has had enough sadness.

The building itself is large and rambling, constructed in several stages from an old East India Company warehouse that shuttered in the 1840s. In the outdoor courtyard, where the women do their exercises in the mornings, the walls are streaked with sweat and spittle, smeared with dirty handprints and smudges of dried blood. Luckily the gaslights are kept low, for economy’s sake, giving the grime a pleasantly warm hue.

They pass the men’s wing; sometimes, Annie can hear their voices through the wall, but today they’re quiet. The men and women are kept separate because some of the women suffer from a peculiar nervous disorder that makes their blood run hot. These women cannot abide the sight of a man, will break out in tremors, try to tear off their clothes, will chew through their own tongues and fall down convulsing.

Or so they say. Annie has never seen it happen. They like to tell stories about the patients, particularly the female ones.

But Annie is safe here, from the great big world. The world of men. And that is what matters. The small rooms, the narrow confines are not so different from the old cottage in Ballintoy, four tiny rooms, the roiling Irish Sea not twenty paces from her front door. Here, the air in the courtyard is ripe with the smell of ocean, too, though if it is close by, Annie cannot see it, has not seen it in four years.

It is both a comfort and a curse. Some days, she wakes from nightmares of black water rushing into her open mouth, freezing her lungs to stone. The ocean is deep and unforgiving. Families in Ballintoy have lost fathers and brothers, sisters and daughters to the sea for as long as she can remember. She’s seen the water of the Atlantic Ocean choked with hundreds of bodies. More bodies than are buried in all of Ballintoy’s graveyard.

And yet on other days, she wakes to find plaster beneath her fingernails where she has scratched at the walls, desperate to get out, to return to it. Her blood surges through her veins with the motion of the sea. She craves it.

On the far side of the courtyard they enter the small vestibule that leads to the doctors’ private rooms. The nurse indicates that Annie should step aside as she knocks and then, at a command to enter, unlocks the door to Dr. Davenport’s office. He rises from behind his desk and gestures to a chair.

Nigel Davenport is a young man. Annie likes him, has always felt he has the well-being of his patients in mind. She’s overheard the nurses talk about how difficult it is for the parish to get doctors to remain at the asylum. Their job is discouraging when so few patients respond to treatment. Plus, it’s far more lucrative to be a family doctor, setting bones and delivering babies. He is always nice to her, if formal. Whenever he sees her, he thinks about the incident with the dove. They all do. How she was found once cradling a dead bird in her arms, cooing to it like a baby.

She knows it wasn’t a baby. It was just a bird. It had fallen out of the flue, hit the hearth in a puff of loose feathers. Dirty, sooty bird, and yet beautiful in its way. She only wanted to hold it. To have something of her own to hold.

He folds his hands and rests them on the desktop. She stares at his long fingers, the way they fold into one another. She wonders if they are strong hands. It is not the first time she has wondered this. “I heard you received another letter yesterday.”

Her heart trembles inside her chest.

“It is against our policy to intrude too much on our patients’ privacy, Annie. We don’t read patients’ mail, as they do at other homes. We are not like that here.” His smile is kind, but there is a slight furrow between his brows and Annie has the strangest urge to press her finger there, to smooth the soft flesh. But of course she would never. Voluntary touching is not allowed. “Here, you may show us only of your own free will. But you can see how these letters would be a matter of concern for us, don’t you?”

His voice is gentle, encouraging, almost a physical caress in the stillness. Bait. She remains silent, as if to speak would be to touch him back. Perhaps if she doesn’t respond, he will stop pressing. Perhaps she will vanish into air if she is quiet enough. She used to play this game all the time in the vast fields and cliffsides of Ballintoy-the recollection returns with startling clarity: the Vanishing Game. Generally, it worked. She could go whole days drifting in the meadow behind the house, imagining stories, without ever being seen or spoken to. A living phantom.

The doctor stretches his neck against his high collar. He has a good, solid neck. Hands, too. He could easily overpower her. That is probably the point of such strength. “Perhaps you would like to show it to me, Annie? For your own peace of mind? It’s not good to have secrets-secrets weigh on you, hold you down.”

She shivers. She longs to share it and burns to hide it. “It’s from a friend.”

“The friend who used to work with you aboard the passenger ship?” He pauses. “Violet, wasn’t it?”

She starts to panic. “She’s working on another ship now. She says they are in dire need of help and she wonders if I would return to service.” There. It’s out.

His dark eyes study her. She cannot resist the weight of his expectation. She has never been good at saying no; all she has ever wanted was to please people, her father, her mother. To please all of them. To be good.

Like she once was.

My good Annie, the Lord favors good girls, said her da’.

She reaches into her pocket and hands him the letter. She can hardly stand to watch him read, feeling as though it is not the letter but her own body that has been exposed.

Then he glances up at her, and slowly his mouth forms a smile.

“Don’t you see, Annie?”

She knots her hands together in her lap. “See?” She knows what he’s going to say next.

“You know that you’re not really sick, not like the others, don’t you?” He says these words kindly, as though he is trying to spare her feelings. As though she doesn’t already know it. “We debated the morality of keeping you here, but we were reluctant to discharge you because- Well, frankly, we didn’t know what to do with you.”

Annie had no recollection of her own past when she was admitted to Morninggate Asylum. She woke up in one of the narrow beds, her arms and legs bruised, not to mention the awful, aching wound on her head. A constable had found her unconscious behind a public house. She didn’t appear to be a prostitute-she was neither dressed for it nor stinking of gin.

But no one knew who she was. At the time, Annie scarcely knew herself. She couldn’t even tell them her name. The physician had no choice but to sign the court order to detain her at the asylum.

Her memory has, over time, begun to return. Not all of it, though; when she tries to recall certain things, all she gets is a blur. The night the great ship went down is, of course, cut into her memory with the prismatic perfection of solid ice. It’s what came before that feels unreal. She remembers the two men, each in their turn, though sometimes she feels as though they have braided together in her mind into just one man, or all men. And then, before that: fragments of green fields and endless sermons, intoned prayer and howling northern wind. A world too unfathomably big to comprehend.

A terrible, gaping loneliness that has been her only companion for four years.

Surely it is better to be kept safe inside this place, while the world and its secrets, its wars, its false promises, are kept away, outside the thick brick walls.

Dr. Davenport looks at her with that same wavering smile. “Don’t you think, Annie?” he is saying.

“Think what?”

“It would be wrong to keep you here, with the war on. Taking up a bed that could be used for someone who is truly unwell. There are soldiers suffering from shell shock. Everton Alley teems with poor and broken spirits, tormented by demons from their time on the battlefield.” His eyes are dark and very steady. They linger on hers. “You must write to the White Star office and ask for your old job, as your friend suggests. It’s the right thing to do under the circumstances.”

She is stunned, not by his assertions but that this is all happening so quickly. She is having trouble keeping up with his words. A slow dread creeps into her chest.

“You’re fine, my dear. You’re just scared. It’s understandable-but you’ll be right as rain once you see your friend and start working again. It’s about time, anyway, don’t you think?”

She can’t help but feel stubbornly rejected, spurned, almost. For four years, she’s managed things so that she could stay. Kept her secrets. Was careful not to disrupt anything, not to do anything wrong.

She has been so good.

Now her life, her home, the only security she knows, is being ripped away from her and she is once more being forced out into the unknown.

But there is no turning back. She knows she cannot refuse him this, cannot refuse him anything. Not when he has been so kind.

He folds up the letter and holds it out to her. Her gaze lingers on his strong hands. Her fingers brush against his when she takes it back. Forbidden.

“I should be happy to sign the release papers,” her doctor says. “Congratulations, Miss Hebbley, on your return to the world.”

3 October 1916

My dear Annie,

I hope this letter finds you. Yes, I am writing again even though I have not heard from you since the letter you sent via the White Star Line head office. You can understand why I continue to write. I pray your condition has not worsened. I was sorry to read of your current situation, although, from your letter, you do not sound unwell to me. Can you ever forgive me for losing track of you after that Terrible Night? I didn’t know if you had lived or died. I feared I would never see you again.

Excerpted from The Deep by Alma Katsu. Copyright © 2020 by Alma Katsu. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Original link: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/586714/the-deep-by-alma-katsu/

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About the Author

Alma Katsu is the author of The Hunger, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party with a horror twist. The Hunger made NPR’s list of the 100 Best Horror Stories, was named one of the best novels of 2018 by the Observer, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books (and more), and was nominated for a Stoker and Locus Award for best horror novel.

The Taker, her debut novel, has been compared to the early works of Anne Rice and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for combining historical, the supernatural, and fantasy into one story. The Taker was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by Booklist, was nominated for a Goodreads Readers Choice award, and has been published in over 10 languages. It is the first in an award-winning trilogy that includes The Reckoning and The Descent.

Ms. Katsu lives outside of Washington DC with her husband, musician Bruce Katsu. In addition to her novels, she has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly, and a contributor to the Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Program and Brandeis University, where she studied with novelist John Irving. She also is an alumni of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Prior to publication of her first novel, Ms. Katsu had a long career in intelligence, working for several US agencies and a think tank. She currently is a consultant on emerging technologies. Additional information can be found on Wikipedia and in this interview with Ozy.com.

Author Links:

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads // Instagram // Pinterest

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Starts: 10th March 2020 — Ends: 24th March 2020

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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
Hardcover

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.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Hollows by Jess Montgomery @JessM_Author @MinotaurBooks @TLCBookTours

The Hollows
The Kinship Series, Book 2
Jess Montgomery
Minotaur Books, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-18454-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Ohio, 1926: For many years, the railroad track in Moonvale Tunnel has been used as a shortcut through the Appalachian hills. When an elderly woman is killed walking along the tracks, the brakeman tells tales of seeing a ghostly female figure dressed all in white.

Newly elected Sheriff Lily Ross is called on to the case to dispel the myths. With the help of her friends Marvena Whitcomb and Hildy Cooper, Lily follows the woman’s trail to The Hollows―a notorious asylum―and they begin to expose dark secrets long-hidden by time and the mountains.

The Appalachians are a vast and very old area covering all or parts of thirteen states in the eastern part of the US plus some of eastern Canada, a system that includes a variety of mountain ranges, and the descendants of its original settlers are a different breed from most of us. Take it back almost a hundred years and the people are even more distinctive, a blend of European and Native American backgrounds with their own culture, who lived simply, apart from “mainstream” America by choice. In The Hollows, Ms. Montgomery has captured the beauty of this one small portion of the Appalachians and the unique inhabitants of the period.

There are also secrets to be discovered by Lily and her friends, along with the reader, as well as immersion into the racial divides, labor organizing and societal inhibitions that plagued women at the time and the mystery of what really happened to the old woman. The word “hollows” carries a double meaning here, referring to a geographical distinction found in the mountains but also, in this case, to what turns out to be an insane asylum as dark as anything you’ve ever heard of. Meanwhile, Lily is running for re-election against great odds and the Women’s Ku Klux Klan, the auxiliary of the better-known men’s organization, is creating trouble in the community.

A book like this one appeals to me greatly because I came away from it knowing a bit more about our American history and, along the way, enjoyed a journey through a beautiful and compelling setting. The characters are vivid and fully fleshed out, the three women in particular, and they created in me a strong empathy for them. I haven’t yet read the first book, The Widows, but I’ll be doing so forthwith and, in the meantime, I’m adding The Hollows to my list of best books read in 2020.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2020.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iTunes
Books-A-Million // Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

JESS MONTGOMERY is the Literary Life columnist for the Dayton Daily News and Executive Director of the renowned Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Based on early chapters of The Widows, Jess was awarded an Ohio Arts Council individual artist’s grant for literary arts and the John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House in Columbus. She lives in her native state of Ohio.

Jess Montgomery showcases her skills as a storyteller in The Hollows: a powerful, big-hearted and exquisitely written follow-up to her highly acclaimed debut The Widows.

Connect with Jess:
Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram

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Book Review: Dead Ringer by Kat Ross @katrossauthor @PublishingAcorn @XpressoTours

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Title: Dead Ringer
Series: Gaslamp Gothic #5
Author: Kat Ross
Publisher: Acorn Publishing
Publication Date: December 13, 2019
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Mystery

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Apple Books
Google Play // Amazon // Indiebound

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Dead Ringer
Gaslight Gothic #5
Kat Ross
Acorn Publishing, December 2019
ISBN 978-0-9997621-6-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A poisonous secret. 
A terrifying curse. 
And a client she’d just as soon see dead in a ditch…. 

Summer 1889. Harrison Fearing Pell hoped for adventure when she signed on with the Society for Psychical Research as an occult investigator. Slogging through New York’s sewers in pursuit of a “mud man” wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. But the reeking monster terrorizing the dance halls of the Tenderloin leads her to an even more peculiar mystery — and the last man on earth Harry wishes to become entangled with. 

James Moran is a prodigy in music, mathematics . . . and crime. Harry’s older sister, the famed detective Myrtle Fearing Pell, has vowed to put him behind bars. But Harry owes Moran a personal debt, so when he demands her aid she can hardly refuse. It turns out that the brilliant black sheep of New York Society is part of a secret club at Columbia College whose members have started dying in bizarre ways that may not be accidents. 

Thus begins one of the strangest cases of Harry’s career, a tale of murder, cold-blooded revenge and fairytale bogeymen to make the Brothers Grimm shudder. As the bodies pile up, each preceded by sightings of the victim’s doppelgänger, Harry and her stalwart friend John Weston must race against time to save a man who arguably deserves his macabre fate.

When I first picked up this book, I was confused because the main characters and the setting seemed so familiar but “Gaslight Gothic” did not. I soon realized that I had indeed met Harry and her family and friends before; the series name had changed from “Dominion” to “Gaslight Gothic”. I’ve been delighted to spend time with these charming folks again. I also like the way the author mixes and matches various characters throughout the series so we don’t always see the same ones.

Harry is off on another strange case with a little help from her friends and, this time, her client is one she’d really prefer not to be working for but his request/demand is more than she can resist. It’s a tale of murder and doppelgangers that is well beyond anything she and John have encountered before and they’re determined to stop this string of killings. Their special abilities have never been so necessary to solving such a dark fairytale.

Along with truly appealing characters, Ms. Ross continues to enhance a unique and compelling setting in an 1889 New York City that took me right back to that period albeit with a paranormal twist. In fact, I’d say this city is in itself a character, one that’s equally important as the humans and mythical beings. As with the first two books, The Daemoniac and The Thirteenth Gate, I sank right into the story and now I need to go back and find the missing pieces, A Bad Breed and The Necromancer’s Bride. They’ll help keep me busy till the next book comes out 🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2020.

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About the Author

Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She’s the author of the Fourth Element and Fourth Talisman fantasy series, the Gaslamp Gothic paranormal mysteries, and the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day. She loves myths, monsters and doomsday scenarios. Check out Kat’s Pinterest page for the people, places and things that inspire her books.

Author links: 
Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Giveaway

$20 Amazon gift card
5x ebook copies of A Bad Breed

Enter here.

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