Book Review: A Ghostly Mortality by Tonya Kappes

a-ghostly-mortalityA Ghostly Mortality
A Ghostly Southern Mystery #6
Tonya Kappes
Witness, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-246697-6
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

That ghost sure looks . . . familiar

Only a handful of people know that Emma Lee Raines, proprietor of a small-town Kentucky funeral home, is a “Betweener.” She helps ghosts stuck between here and the ever-after—murdered ghosts. Once Emma Lee gets them justice they can cross over to the great beyond.

But Emma Lee’s own sister refuses to believe in her special ability. In fact, the Raines sisters have barely gotten along since Charlotte Rae left the family business for the competition. After a doozy of an argument, Emma Lee is relieved to see Charlotte Rae back home to make nice. Until she realizes her usually snorting, sarcastic, family-ditching sister is a . . . ghost.

Charlotte Rae has no earthly idea who murdered her or why. With her heart in tatters, Emma Lee relies more than ever on her sexy beau, Sheriff Jack Henry Ross…because this time, catching a killer means the Raines sisters will have to make peace with each other first.

The first book in this series, A Ghostly Undertaking, came out two years ago and it’s been on my need-to-find-time-for list ever since but I just never got around to it so here I am jumping in with the sixth title. I’m here to tell ya it’s my own darned fault that I’ve been missing out.

There are cozies and there are cozies. The best of them have an appealing protagonist, a small town atmosphere (even if it’s an urban area), a decent puzzle to solve with red herrings here and there, maybe a bit of romance, and a healthy dose of humor. A Ghostly Mortality hits all those hotbuttons and more.

Ever since I “discovered” the Hitchcock Sewell series by Tim Cockey way back about 17 years ago, I’ve appreciated the humor that be found in a mystery involving undertakers and, after all, haven’t we all indulged in occasional black humor regarding those fine folks? The difference here is that the undertaker in question is a woman…oh, and that she sees and talks to murder victims. With ghosts popping up willy-nilly, Emma Lee keeps busy (inbetween funerals) finding out who killed them so they can finally cross over.

What makes the case unusual this time is that the ghost happens to be Emma Lee’s sister, Charlotte Rae, who pulled out of the family business and joined a much flashier outfit. Certainly Charlotte Rae isn’t the nicest sister in the world and she’s not entirely trustworthy but who on earth would want her dead?

Emma Lee is just the kind of lead character I enjoy in a cozy—intelligent, snoopy without being stupid, and caring about the ghosts she tries to help. The other player I especially liked is Emma Lee’s cantankerous Granny and then there’s Sheriff Jack Henry Ross. All I’ll say about him is yum. Oh, and a stray ghost cat shows up, too, a really nice touch.

So, maybe I did myself a favor being so lackadaisical about starting this series; now I can go back to the first book and catch up with all five that came before A Ghostly Mortality and I’m sure I’ll smile all the way through 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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An Excerpt from A Ghostly Mortality

Lawdy bee.” Granny scooted to the edge of the chair and lifted her arms in the air like she was worshiping in the Sunday morning service at Sleepy Hollow Baptist and the spirit just got put in her.

I sucked in a deep breath, preparing myself for whatever was going to come out of Zula Fae Raines Payne’s mouth, my granny. She was a ball of southern spitfire in her five-foot-four-inch frame topped off with bright red hair that I wasn’t sure was real or out of a L’Oréal bottle she’d gotten down at the Buy-N-Fly.

“Please, please, please,” she begged. “Let me die before anything happens to Emma Lee.” Her body slid down the fancy, high-back mahogany leather chair as she fell to her knees with her hands clasped together, bringing them back up in the air as she pleaded to the Big Guy in the sky. “I’m begging you.”

“Are you nuts?” My voice faded to a hushed stillness. I glanced back at the closed door of my sister’s new office, in fear she was going to walk in and see Granny acting up. I sat in the other fancy, high-back mahogany leather chair next to Granny’s and grabbed her by the loose skin of her underarm. “Get back up on this chair before Charlotte Rae gets back in here and sees you acting like a fool.”

“What?” Granny quirked her eyebrows questioningly as if her behavior was normal. My head dropped along with my jaw in the “are you kidding me” look.

“Well, I ain’t lying!” She spat, “I do hope and pray you are the granddaughter that will be doing my funeral, unless you get a flare up of the ‘Funeral Trauma.’ ” She sucked in a deep breath and got up off her knees. She ran her bony fingers down the front of her cream sweater to smooth out any wrinkles so she’d be presentable like a good southern woman, forgetting she was just on her knees begging for mercy.

“Flare up?” I sighed with exasperation. “It’s not like arthritis.”

The “Funeral Trauma.” It was true. I was diagnosed with the “Funeral Trauma” after a decorative plastic Santa fell off the roof of Artie’s Meat and Deli, knocking me flat out cold and now I could see dead people. I had told Doc Clyde I was having some sort of hallucinations and seeing dead people, but he insisted I had been in the funeral business a little too long and seeing corpses all of my life had brought on the trauma. Truthfully, the Santa had given me a gift. Not a gift you’d expect Santa to give you, but it was the gift of seeing clients of Eternal Slumber, my family’s funeral home business where I was the undertaker. Some family business. Anyway, a psychic told me I was now a Betweener. I helped people who were stuck between here and the ever after. The Great Beyond. The Big Guy in the sky. One catch . . . the dead people I saw were murdered and they needed me to help them solve their murder before they could cross over.

“I’m fine,” I huffed and took the pamphlet off of Charlotte Rae’s desk, keeping my gift to myself. The only people who knew were me, the psychic and Sheriff Jack Henry Ross, my hot, hunky and sexy boyfriend. He was as handy as a pocket on a shirt when it came time for me to find a killer when a ghost was following me around. “We are here to get her to sign my papers and talk about this sideboard issue once and for all.” Granny stared at me.

My head slid forward like a turtle and I popped my eyes open.

“I’m fine,” I said through closed teeth.

“You are not fine.” Granny rolled her eyes so big, I swear she probably hurt herself. “People are still going around talking about how you talk to yourself.” She shook her finger at me. “If you don’t watch it, you are going to be committed. Surrounded by padded walls. Then—She jabbed her finger on my arm. I swatted her away with the pamphlet.

“Charlotte Rae will have full control over my dead body and I don’t want someone celebrating a wedding while I lay corpse in the next room. Lawdy bee,” Granny griped. I opened the pamphlet and tried to ignore Granny as best I could.

“Do you hear me, Emma Lee?” Granny asked. I could feel her beady eyes boring into me.

“Don’t you be disrespecting your elders. I asked you a question,” she warned when I didn’t immediately answer her question.

“Granny.” I placed the brochure in my lap and reminded myself to remain calm. Something I did often when it came to my granny. “I hear you. Don’t you worry about a thing. By the time you get ready to die, they will have you in the nut-house alongside me,” I joked, knowing it would get her goat. The door flung open and the click of Charlotte Rae’s high-dollar heels tapped the hardwood floor as she sashayed her way back into her office. The soft linen green suit complemented Charlotte’s sparkly green eyes and the chocolate scarf that was neatly tied around her neck. It was the perfect shade of brown to go with her long red hair and pale skin.

“I’m so sorry about that.” She stopped next to our chairs and looked between me and Granny. She shook the long, loose curls over her shoulders. “What? What is wrong, now?”

“Granny is all worried I’m going to get sent away to the nuthouse and you are going to lay her out here.” The words tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them. Or did my subconscious take over my mouth? It was always a competition between me and Charlotte, only it was one-sided. Mine. Charlotte never viewed me as competition because she railroaded me all my life. Like now. She’d left Eternal Slumber with zero guilt, leaving me in charge so she could make more money at Hardgrove’s Legacy Center, formerly known as Hardgrove’s Funeral Homes until they got too big for their britches and decided to host every life event possible just to make more money.

Excerpt from A Ghostly Mortality by Tonya Kappes. Copyright © 2017 by Tonya Kappes. Reproduced with permission from Witness. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

tonya-kappesTonya Kappes has written more than fifteen novels and four novellas, all of which have graced numerous bestseller lists including USA Today. Best known for stories charged with emotion and humor and filled with flawed characters, her novels have garnered reader praise and glowing critical reviews. She lives with her husband, two very spoiled schnauzers, and one ex-stray cat in northern Kentucky. Now that her boys are teenagers, Tonya writes full-time but can be found at all of her guys’ high school games with a pencil and paper in hand.

 

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Book Review: Deliverance by Kristy Centeno

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Title: Deliverance
Author: Kristy Centeno
Publisher: Inkspell Publishing

Publication Date: March 19, 2016
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

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DeliveranceDeliverance
Kristy Centeno
Inkspell Publishing, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-939590-79-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

He’s been locked away his entire life. 
He dreams of freedom. 
The only way he can accomplish his goals is by breaking free of the chains tying him to a dark past and gloomy existence. But there’s one catch. He’s not human. 
And he’s never set foot outside his jail. 

Devoted to saving his peers as well as his own life, he sets out to find the one person that can help him achieve his objectives. He knows where she will be and what she will look like, but what he doesn’t anticipate is the fact he finds himself caring for the girl whose life he’s put at risk, more and more each day. 

He has no name. 
He has only known hatred and violence before her. 
However, she will teach him to have faith in humanity, even if she can’t trust him. 
Together they will embark on a journey to bring down a corrupt system responsible for the loss of many innocent lives. But when he finds his feelings compromised, can he still move on knowing that doing so will put an end to the life she once knew? How far is he willing to go to be free? 

From the very beginning, this book was a surprise to me. I’d read the publisher’s description but I still wasn’t really prepared for all the elements that came together to make Deliverance such an interesting and compelling story.

While “dark fantasy” is as good a genre as any, this really is a blend of dark fantasy, mystery, romance and even science fiction, not to mention a large dollop of action adventure. Plot and characterization are equally important and even the less savory players have a strong presence.

Imagine, if you will, spending your entire life closed up and removed from the rest of the world. That’s Tiger’s whole existence and he knows nothing about normal living. Occasionally, I found this to be a little unworkable for the story because it’s hard to fathom how such isolation could still result in a fairly knowledgeable and sane person but it’s also what makes this young man so appealing. His very innocence of the ways of the world have made him a kind, thoughtful individual rather than the mentally troubled and unpleasant person most of us would expect.

Katrina, on the other hand, is a no-nonsense young woman who generally avoids unnecessary attention and, yet, when she’s confronted with a difficult and certainly perilous situation, she chooses to help Tiger. She is aware of the potential dangers but, essentially, Katrina believes in doing the right thing and it’s that sort of idealism that makes her who she is, not to mention her strong devotion to her grandmother, Rose. Rose herself is the third character who pulled me into the story and wouldn’t let me go.

When all is said and done, Deliverance is all about good versus evil and, as such, I was intrigued and the story never let me down. Ms. Centeno has come up with a premise that’s a bit mindboggling and fleshed it out with memorable people; I’ll look forward to more of her work.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

About the Author

Kristy CentenoKristy Centeno is the author of the Secrets of the Moon saga and Keeper Witches series. She has always had a passion for books and after years of being an avid reader, she decided to transform her desire to write into a reality and thus, her first novel was born. When she’s not busy taking care of her five children or holding down the fort, she finds time to sit and do what she loves the most: writing.

Author Links:

Website // Blog // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Book Reviews: The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos and Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace

The Mystery of Hollow PlacesThe Mystery of Hollow Places
Rebecca Podos
Balzer + Bray, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-237334-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

All Imogene Scott knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child. It’s the story of how her parents met: he, a forensic pathologist; she, a mysterious woman who came to identify a body. A woman who left Imogene and her father when she was a baby, a woman who was always possessed of a powerful loneliness, a woman who many referred to as “troubled waters.”

Now Imogene is seventeen, and her father, a famous author of medical mysteries, has struck out in the middle of the night and hasn’t come back. Neither Imogene’s stepmother nor the police know where he could’ve gone, but Imogene is convinced he’s looking for her mother. And she decides it’s up to her to put to use the skills she’s gleaned from a lifetime of reading her father’s books to track down a woman she’s only known in stories in order to find him and, perhaps, the answer to the question she’s carried with her for her entire life.

I was drawn to this book by the very idea of this young girl trying to solve a mystery by using the skills and knowledge she’s acquired through reading mysteries. That’s about as much credibility as an amateur sleuth can hope to have and mighty few do so, in my eyes, Imogene already has an advantage.

Imogene has always known that her mom suffered from debilitating depression but, on the surface, she’s had a happy life with a loving father and stepmother so it’s especially alarming when her father disappears. Besides the expected fears that arise when someone goes missing, Imogene is thrust into a search for herself as well as her dad. She’s a complex girl, quite the loner even though she has a terrific friend in Jessa who is actually my favorite character because she has a strength and loyalty about her that I admire. It’s no surprise that Imogene has a certain lack of self-assurance—after all, her mother left her behind—and that her self-worth takes another swan dive when her father seemingly walks out.

While I had a great deal of sympathy for this girl, I really think her story will have the strongest impact on readers who have experienced similar troubles. The mystery here isn’t a conventional one; rather, this is a psychological study of family and its dysfunctional parts along with a search for two missing people. Ms. Podos is a writer with real talent and I’m looking forward to much more from her in the future.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

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Shallow GravesShallow Graves
Kali Wallace
Katherine Tegen Books, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-236620-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When seventeen-year-old Breezy Lin wakes up in a shallow grave one year after her death, she doesn’t remember who killed her or why. All she knows is that she’s somehow conscious—and not only that, she’s able to sense who around her is hiding a murderous past. In life, Breezy was always drawn to the elegance of the universe and the mystery of the stars. Now she must set out to find answers and discover what is to become of her in the gritty, dangerous world to which she now belongs—where killers hide in plain sight, and a sinister cult is hunting for strange creatures like her. What she finds is at once empowering, redemptive, and dangerous.

Just imagine if you were to wake up one day only to discover that you’re actually dead. That’s what happens to young Breezy and she’s immediately thrust into the midst of her own very personal mystery. Not only that, she can sense those around her who have killed. Add to that the realization that there are others who, like her, are…odd…and you have a “life” that is intensely strange and full of questions crying out for answers. The interesting thing about Shallow Graves is that Breezy may not find all the answers she’s looking for.

Is Breezy a monster because she is/was dead? I suspect each reader will reach their own conclusion about that but, for me, yes, she is a monster by definition but there is much about her that brings out her essential humanity and I ended up liking her a lot. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I was particularly enthused about other characters, mainly because there were just too many and not enough attention was paid to them by the author to really bring them to life.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book and, although it sometimes seems rather jumbled and aimless, I recommend readers push through. In the end, I don’t think you’ll be sorry you did and it will appeal to lovers of mystery as well as dark fantasy. The only real quibble I have with Shallow Graves is that the ending is a bit of a non-ender but I don’t think all things absolutely have to be tied up in neat little packages, do you?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

Book Review: The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

The Accident SeasonThe Accident Season
Moira Fowley-Doyle
Kathy Dawson Books, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-552-57130-2
Trade Paperback

For eleven months of the year, Cara, older sister Alice, her ex-step brother Sam and her mother don’t worry about anything unusual, but come the first of October, everything changes. That’s when the Accident Season begins. Cara’s not exactly sure what started this evil situation, but eight years ago, her father was killed, her favorite uncle died under mysterious circumstances four years later and every year there have been broken bones, scrapes, cuts, gouges and sprains.

This time around, Cara is edgier than usual for reasons she can’t quite explain. Things begin to escalate when she realizes that a strange and ghostly girl in her year (the story is set in the United Kingdom) named Elise appears in every single picture she has. Sometimes she’s fully visible, in others, she’s represented by an arm, a bit of her blouse, etc. When Cara realizes this and shows her siblings as well as her witchy tarot-card reading best friend Bea, they try to rationalize it, so Cara becomes determined to confront Elise at school. Easy to decide to do so, but when she tries to find Elise who has been responsible for the secret box in the library, typing up other students’ deepest, darkest secrets on an ancient typewriter for as long as Cara can remember, the girl cannot be found. Odder still, nobody, not even the teachers seems to remember her.

As Cara becomes more determined to solve this mystery, she’s also wrestling with how she feels about her ex-step brother, what’s happening with her best friend who seems to be slipping away and worried about Alice’s relationship with a musician who is four years older. Most of all, she wonders just exactly how real is the accident season.

This book unfolds like someone might be reading it in an old house by candlelight while a full moon hovers outside the window. There’s an extremely surrealistic and poetic quality to it and these, coupled with the ever-shifting convolutions as Cara and the others try to find Elise, survive the Accident Season as well as throw one of the oddest Halloween parties ever described in a book, will grab not only teens, but many adults as well. Granted there is a bit of profanity, drinking and references to sex, but those pale in comparison to the way this debut novel was written. It would be a perfect one to read on Halloween Night.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

Book Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

ShadowshaperShadowshaper
Daniel Jose Older
Arthur A. Levine Books, July 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-59161-4
Hardcover

To be sure, when a “random old white dude” fancies himself as THE anthropologist guru of urban spirituality systems, and thusly thrusts himself into the mythology of the shadowshapers; no good can come from it. Oddly, the offended fury of the spirits and entities enraged by his pompous presumptions pales in comparison to the wrath of our plucky Puerto Rican narrator.

Sierra is tougher-than-nails-kinder-than-a-kitten, cajoling the reader to dive in and hang with her and the vibrant, charismatic, tightly-knit crew that beautify their Brooklyn with gorgeous graffiti art and energetic, enchanting rap battles.

“She inhaled and the world caught its breath; exhaled
and a tidal wave of space emptied out around her.”

In the quest to find the archetypal spirit Lucera, Sierra’s stumbling blocks signify social issues of today. The answer to her original query, why shadowshapers aren’t well known, is sad but true: “people don’t see what they’re not looking for.” The Columbia librarian, coincidentally examining the very anthropologists that study the spirit worlds, reminds us of potential fallacies when making snap judgments. The horrendous havoc following Lucera’s disappearance is, disappointingly, confirmation that no one realized how crucial she was…..until she was gone.

Mr. Older artfully unravels urban spirituality lore in a mesmerizing mystery that feels fascinatingly fresh, crisply colorful and invigorating; while simultaneously seeming familiar, somewhat nostalgic. The dazzling dialogue amuses and delights. Initially, Shadowshapers can be gobbled up….an indulgent, pleasure-filled immersion. Soon, though, subtle layers leap into the reader, like spirits into shadowshapers’ murals, conveying hope, inspiration and a calming, centering of the soul.

“The true source of shadowshaper magic is that
connection, community…we are interdependent.”

I applaud absolutely every part of this courageous, bold book and recommend it to essentially every reader, middle-grade and beyond. Undoubtedly, I’ll be bouncing around the room for my Shadowshaper Book Talk when I encourage my beloved High School English classes to check this out. Tomes tailored to the open and hungry minds of our young adults build bridges and embolden the youth to join like-minded, Not-So-Much Young Adults.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2015.

Book Review: Aunt Dimity and the Summer King by Nancy Atherton

Aunt Dimity and the Summer KingAunt Dimity & the Summer King
Aunt Dimity #20
Nancy Atherton
Viking, April 2015
ISBN 978-0-670-02670-8
Hardcover

I thought it would be fun to begin my Aunt Dimity adventure with this twentieth book in the series. By now, the series is fully developed and later I could go back and work my way forward, if I liked what I read.What’s not to love in the premise of the series? Lori Shepherd from Chicago has relocated to Finch, a small cottage in England’s Cotswolds she inherited from her Aunt Dimity. And Aunt Dimity has even stuck around after her death, always available to communicate with Lori by mysteriously writing to her in a blue journal whenever Lori looks inside. Aunt Dimity is a guide/best friend for Lori, helping her to develop her thoughts about the current mystery taking place in Finch. That mystery is why the two empty cottages in Finch have not been sold.

Lori also has her newborn daughter in this book and is just as involved with her as she is with solving the current mystery. Unfortunately, this baby is a very normal baby and reading about the details of caring for a baby becomes rather tedious at times (breastfeeding, naps, diaper changes) – nothing really different here than a normal healthy baby. She is much loved and tended and there is barely a conversation which isn’t interrupted by the baby. It is a realistic portrayal of life with a newborn. This might be entertaining or even enlightening for a reader who doesn’t realize how much a baby can change your life and I would recommend it to those readers. For the rest of us, we may need to just skim those parts and not let ourselves get bogged down.

In solving the empty cottages mystery, Lori meets the Summer King who lives just over the town line, and seeks to understand the rivalry between the two towns. We are introduced to lots of colorful characters in the town. I would have liked more of the book to be about them and Aunt Dimity and the Summer King and his family. These sections of the book are delightful and the book is at its most charming when Lori gets to know him and his family and visits his home.

If you are already an Aunt Dimity fan, I think you will enjoy this book too. If you’re not yet a fan, you may want to start with an earlier volume.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, June 2015.

Book Review: Dead Girl Walking by Ruth Silver

Dead Girl WalkingDead Girl Walking
Royal Reaper Book 1
Ruth Silver
Patchwork Press, April 2014
ISBN 9780692202531
Trade Paperback

Note: a re-issue that came out in November 2014 from Booktrope is available (and apparently includes a prequel) but this review is based on the original version provided to me. I do not know what changes might have been made.

From the publisher—

Forget everything you know about grim reapers.

Princess Ophelia Dacre sneaks out of the castle to visit her boyfriend in secret. A perfect night cut short when she’s brutally murdered.

Ophelia is given the rare chance to become a grim reaper. She must become Leila Bele, cut ties with her old life, and follow the rules of the reapers. Her greatest adventure begins with death.

When first we meet Ophelia Dacre, she’s a typical young princess in the fourteenth century who falls in love with a commoner, Larkin, and is afraid to tell her father, King Philip, ruler of the small kingdom of Casmerelda. He would execute Larkin, even though the boy has no idea that Leila is really the princess. This particular problem loses a lot of its punch, though, when Ophelia is murdered during a date with Larkin at a local tavern and an older man named Edon Montgomery offers her a position as grim reaper for the coming two or three hundred years. In the meantime, she can have no contact with her family or Larkin but she’ll have a chance to see how her life might have been. Once she signs the contract, she becomes Leila Bele in name and in new physical appearance.

And the fun—and some very bad things—begin. Naturally, Leila can’t stay away from her family so the new look is handy but she creates even more problems with her meddling. As a princess who defied the king, she already has the rule-breaking mindset and it’ll take a few mishaps to get her to understand the need for rules as a reaper. There are more than a few questions to be answered, though, and this new reaper is determined to find out who murdered her and why.

I can’t say that Leila is my favorite character ever, mainly because she’s a little too interested in a potential new love not long after being snatched away from her beloved Larkin, bordering on the dreaded insta-love. All of the characters fell a little flat for me in varying degrees and the most appealing (to me) were Mara and the other reapers—Violetta Mercier, Emblyn Vernon, Jasper Elers and Wynter Gael. I didn’t dislike Leila, just didn’t have a strong connection.

There’s a table of contents and a nice little map, always a benefit, showing Casmerelda and the surrounding area, including the country of Vera, home to the asylum. I really appreciate it when an author includes these little touches. I do have to confess something a little odd: I was first drawn to this book because of the name, Leila, so close to but not quite my own name. I could spend part of every day telling people they’re spelling my name wrong but I haven’t got that kind of time 😉  Did I fall in love with this book? No, not really, but I liked it very much and will want to read more, especially after the way Dead Girl Walking ends. Ruth Silver is a talented writer and I’m quite sure I’ll continue to enjoy her work.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2015.