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: Oasis by Katya de Becerra @KatyaDeBecerra @MacmillanUSA @FierceReads @The_FFBC

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Title: Oasis
Author: Katya de Becerra
Publisher: Imprint/Macmillan
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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

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Oasis
Katya de Becerra
Imprint, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-12426-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The oasis saved them. But who will save them from the oasis?

Alif had exciting summer plans: working on her father’s archaeological dig site in the desert with four close friends . . . and a very cute research assistant. Then the sandstorm hit.

With their camp wiped away, Alif and the others find themselves lost on the sands, seemingly doomed . . . until they find the oasis. It has everything they need: food, water, shade—and mysterious ruins that hide a deadly secret. As reality begins to shift around them, they question what’s real and what’s a mirage.

The answers turn Alif and her friends against one another, and they begin to wonder if they’ve truly been saved. And while it was easy to walk into the oasis, it may be impossible to leave . . .

Katya de Becerra’s new supernatural thriller hides a mystery in plain sight, and will keep you guessing right up to its terrifying conclusion.

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The first thing that caught my eye about this book was the absolutely beautiful and brilliant cover. Elynn Cohen is listed as the book designer and I assume this also means she designed the cover but can’t be sure. Whoever the artist is, brava!

The second thing that got my attention about this book was the synopsis—there is nothing I like better than an archaeology setting in a crossgenre science fiction and mystery story and this one offers hints of horror and supernatural goings on.

The third thing that struck me about this book was the statement shown above, found on the copyright page, hilarious and very much to the point 😁

So, did Oasis and its author come through for me after so much promise? You betcha, but with a tiny bit of disappointment because I was hoping for a creepy horror show and this doesn’t quite get there. Having said that, I was intrigued by the author’s continual introduction of one strange thing after another, such as a desperate man who walks out of the desert, a mindblowing sandstorm (no pun intended), equipment that doesn’t work, an oasis that seems to mean survival but, hmm, perhaps not…

The oasis has a weird and frightening effect on the six people who have reached it and I enjoyed seeing their darker sides and how Alif, in particular, copes with unexpected personality changes in herself and others. In fact, it was refreshing to have characters whose friendships are not all sunshine and lollipops for a change.

When all is said and done, what’s real, what’s hallucination? Or is there maybe something out there?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2020.

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An Excerpt from Oasis

You don’t really know heat until you come to a place like Dubai. The air was so humid it was like being in a sauna with your clothes on. Every inhale burned and tickled my throat. I tried breathing through my mouth to see if that was any better, but it made it worse. The second we stepped outside, Tommy produced a baseball cap from his pocket and put it on. Watching him, I felt irresponsible for packing all my headgear in my checked-in luggage and not in my carry-on, where it’d be easily accessible. During our short walk to the airport parking lot, the top of my head got so hot I was surely headed for heatstroke. Luke mimicked Tommy and put a cap on, pulling the brim as low as he could to shade his pale, freckled face. Lori unfurled the tasteful silky gauze scarf she had wrapped around her neck and spread it over her head in a casual but stylish way. Only Minh, Rowen, and I remained at the sun’s mercy until we reached Tommy’s monstrous four-wheel drive.

Tommy and Rowen secured some of our luggage to the top of the car, while the rest of our stuff was pushed into the spacious trunk. At last, I climbed inside the blissfully cool car, grateful for air-conditioning.

“Well, this is Dubai, kids,” Tommy said, eyeing our oddball group in the rearview mirror. “I hope you’re ready for the experience of your lives.”

“Yeah, that didn’t come off cheesy at all.” Minh snorted, and I caught a glimpse of Tommy grinning at her. I promptly looked out the window, focusing on the view instead of wondering whether Minh’s exchange with Tommy counted as mutual flirting.

As we drove farther and farther away the airport, the city of Dubai rose from the desert. A mirage of modernity, complete with skyscrapers glistering in the sunlight. The excitement that was pummeling blood against my ears dwindled when we didn’t enter the limits of the city proper, instead veering left and setting course for Tell Abrar, where Dad and the endless sea of dust awaited us. That was the reason we were here—the dig site. I could always check out Dubai with my friends on one of the weekends.

My eyes were glued to the car window, busy taking in the desert’s Mars-like scenery, alternating with modest houses and gas stations. A deafening roar of engines preceded a small group of motorcyclists speeding past us. The riders were wrapped in leather and the spirit of adventure, and I recalled a period of my childhood spent obsessing over Lawrence of Arabia. I imagined T. E. Lawrence himself standing on a dune somewhere, lungs filling with the clean hot air of the limitless desert. Or, perhaps, he was surrounded by the bedouin in the hinterland, or riding his motorcycle through the ocean of sand, leaving it forever haunted by his dagger-wielding white-clad ghost.

I exchanged an excited look with Minh and then with Lori, their eyes equally bright. The three of us had trouble suppressing our burbling anticipation. This was it. We’d made it.

After about an hour on the road, we arrived. Here at Tell Abrar the sand-swept landscape unfolded as far as the eye could see.

Tainting my excitement with unfounded worry, Tommy’s post on Dig It came back to me all of a sudden. Being here, away from modernity and surrounded by sand on all sides, the unforgiving sun over my head, it was easy to surrender to the idea of meteors crashing into the sands, their fiery spirits lingering to haunt the land to this day. I was about to ask Tommy about his strange blog post, but he finished parking our car and it was time to get out and get going.

Let the adventure begin.

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About the Author

Katya de Becerra was born in Russia, studied in California, lived in Peru, and then stayed in Australia long enough to become a local. She was going to be an Egyptologist when she grew up, but instead she earned a PhD in Anthropology and now works as a university lecturer and a researcher. Katya is a short version of her real name, which is very long and gets mispronounced a lot. What The Woods Keep was her first novel (out now), which is followed by another standalone Oasis in 2020. She has also authored and co-authored academic articles, book chapters, guest posts and opinion pieces.

Website // Twitter // Goodreads // Instagram

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Giveaway

Finished copy of OASIS by Katya de Becerra (US Only)
Starts: January 1st 2020
Ends: January 15th 2020

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Book Review: Dorothy in the Land of Monsters by Garten Gevedon @GartenGevedon @XpressoTours

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Title: Dorothy in the Land of Monsters
Series: Oz ReVamped #1
Author: Garten Gevedon
Publication Date: October 11, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Supernatural, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks // Amazon

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Dorothy in the Land of Monsters
Oz ReVamped #1
Garten Gevedon
Garten Gevedon, October 2019
Ebook

From the author—

Shifters, Zombies, and Vampires? Oh my!

My name is Dorothy Gale, and I think I might be dead.

When my dog Toto and I got swept up in a twister, we landed in hell. A very colorful hell. Like a rainbow dripping in blood. Now it looks as though this dreadful underworld plagued with vampires, zombies, and shifters will be the site of my eternal damnation.

They say this terrifying land called Oz isn’t hell or purgatory and escape is possible, but first I must survive the journey down the blood-soaked yellow brick road to the only place in Oz where vampires dare not tread—The City of Emeralds. 

With enchanted footwear and the help of my three new friends—a friendly zombie, a massive shifter lion, and a heartless axe murderer of evil night creatures (who also happens to be the hottest guy I’ve ever seen)—Toto and I have a chance to make it to the Vampire Free Zone. When we get there, I must convince the most powerful wizard in this magical land of monsters to send us out of this radiant nightmare and back to the world of the living. They say he’s just as frightening as this monstrous land, that he detests visitors, and even the most horrifying creatures cower in his presence. But I must seek him out. And when I find him, I’ll do whatever it takes to make him send me home.

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Indeed, Dorothy and Toto are not in Kansas anymore but they’re also not in the Oz we all remember and love. Here, there are all kinds of scary creatures and Dorothy is seen by the Munchkins as a sorceress who has delivered the land from the Vampire Witch of the East. Now, she and Toto must find their way to the City of Emeralds in hopes that the Great Wizard will help them get back to Kansas. To get to the City, they have to follow the yellow brick road that is soaked in the blood of the victims of vampires and they’ll encounter quite the variety of sinister beings.

This is a story that offers a wonderful premise for any of us readers who love zombies and vampires and such things and I did enjoy it despite what I’ll call the Too Much Syndrome. Too much complaining about Kansas, too frequent use of the word “gray” to describe Kansas and Dorothy’s life, too much flowery descriptive language for Oz, too much romance that isn’t actually very appealing, too many words and pages. Essentially, I think a lot of these issues would have been remedied if the book had just been 100 or so pages shorter; its length made me weary at times (but not enough to stop reading because I did want to know how the tale would progress).

On a positive note, the snarkiness and sly humor here works really well and the author is creative without a doubt. That’s a pretty cool cover, too 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

About the Author

Garten Gevedon lives in New York City with her family. She’s a sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal author who loves taking fairy tales and turning them inside out. You can visit her online at www.gartengevedon.com.

Author links: 

Website — http://www.gartengevedon.com/
Twitter — https://twitter.com/gartengevedon
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/gartengevedon/
Bookbub — https://www.bookbub.com/authors/garten-gevedon
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19120383.Garten_Gevedon

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Book Review: The Woman in the Woods by John Connolly

The Woman in the Woods
Charlie Parker #16
John Connolly
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-7192-5
Hardcover

The Charlie Parker series blends a traditional-thriller-mystery with elements of otherworldliness.  This, the 16th novel in the series, as usual, does both.  When a tree falls in the Maine woods exposing the remains of a woman, and her afterbirth, the Jewish lawyer Moxie Castin notes that a Star of David was carved on a nearby tree, leading him to retain private detective Charlie Parker to shadow the police investigation and discover what happened to the infant, since no baby was found buried near or with the mother.

So much for the traditional mystery.  At the heart of the novel are the occult features, especially the baddie Quales, who does not hesitate to murder anyone with whom he comes into contact in his quest for a rare book of fairy tales supposedly with inserts needed to complete an atlas which would change the world by replacing the existing God with non-gods.

There probably is no other author like John Connolly.  His novels offer complicated plots, well-drawn characters and make-believe to keep readers turning pages. His works, in addition to the Charlie Parker series, includes standalone novels, non-fiction and science fiction, as well as literature for children.  Obviously, The Woman in the Woods is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: Medallion of Murder by BR Myers

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Title: Medallion of Murder
Series: A Nefertari Hughes Mystery #3
Author: BR Myers
Publisher: Blue Moon Publishers
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult

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Purchase Link:
Amazon

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Medallion of Murder
A Nefertari Hughes Mystery #3
BR Myers
Blue Moon Publishers, September 2018
Ebook

From the publisher—

Still struggling with nightmares from the past summer, Terry tries to bury her secret guilt and enjoy her family’s first Christmas in Devonshire. But when a murdered man is found with a postcard addressed to her, Terry fears the repercussions from that fateful night in Egypt are becoming a reality.

After she receives a coded message from Awad, Terry and her best friend Maude are thrown into the hunt for a lost medallion, an artifact that possesses a great power—and a gruesome destiny. As each clue leads to more disturbing truths (and bodies), Terry begins to suspect she’s the real target of the search. When Awad goes missing, she becomes certain the Illuminati are involved, and has no choice but to risk losing the thing she cherishes the most to get him back.

But Terry will soon discover the secrets of the tomb cannot be erased by distance or power, because the ghosts of her past are closing in quickly… and this time, they refuse to stay buried.

Nefertari Hughes is a most remarkable young woman. Wearing a prosthesis is no hindrance to her nor does she let the loss of her leg dampen her enthusiasm for life and she’s already ready for adventure. That’s a good thing because, once again, Terry and her friends are drawn into a deep mystery with tones of the supernatural, Terry fearing that a murder is somehow tied to deadly events that took place in Egypt.

Terry, who has some superhuman abilities, and her friend Maude throw themselves into the hunt for a killer and for a medallion that holds special powers. Meanwhile, bodies pile up and her Egyptian friend, Awad, goes missing after leaving a few clues and Terry’s nightmares about those events in Egypt continue to plague her. Then there’s that mural somebody painted under a bridge…Tangentially, Terry and her boyfriend, Zach, have to deal with day-to-day issues that confront teens but the hunt takes precedence.

This is a series that I think is best read in order, especially because there is not a lot of backstory offered to bring a new reader up to date. I do think it’s unfortunate, though, that readers who choose not to buy books from Amazon or read on a kindle have no options; while many small press and independent authors’ books can be found in some version, paper or electronic, on multiple platforms, this series is only available on kindle. I hope that Ms. Myers and her publisher will at least offer her potential fans—for this is a very good series—paperback editions in Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and independent bookstores.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

Update: print editions are available at Indigo and Amazon.ca and will be listed soon at Amazon.

About the Author

Always in the mood for a good scare, B.R. Myers spent most of her teen years behind the covers of Lois Duncan, Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King. Her YA contemporary coming of age novel, GIRL ON THE RUN, was chosen by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre as a BEST BOOK for TEENS for 2016.

When she’s not putting her characters in awkward situations, she works as a registered nurse. A member of the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia, she lives in Halifax with her husband and two children—and there is still a stack of books on her bedside table.

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

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Book Reviews: Wake the Hollow by Gaby Triana and Two to Tango by Kelsey Abrams

Wake the Hollow
Gaby Triana
Entangled Teen, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-63375-351-8
Trade Paperback

A sudden death snatches Micaela out of her senior-year-state-of-mind in sunny Florida, to slap her down in the sleepy little hollow of her past. Never popular with the locals, the eerily empty station is exactly the homecoming she expected. Her mother’s beliefs had always deviated from popular opinion, ostracizing Micaela by association. Perhaps Mami could be a bit peculiar, but for the town’s people to be personally offended by her claim to be a direct descendant of Washington Irving is preposterous.

Counting on compassion from her childhood comrade, Bram, and hoping for help from family friend, Betty Anne; her plan is to quickly take care of business for a rapid return back to her real life. But Micaela was pulled here for a bigger purpose. Legends are coming alive, secrets stuffed into far away corners are seeping out and the myth of a historical treasure may be true.

Resolving to squelch suspicions, to solve the mystery once and for all, Micaela soon sees that someone else has the same goal, but for a greedy reason. After speaking with the few folks unable to maintain the collective stony silence, the only lesson learned was that essentially everyone has lied to her. With only herself to trust, self-doubt surfaces; she’s not sure of her own sanity right now.

One of the first stories that I fell in love with was Mr. Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and it remains a fond favorite. It’s fair to say that I may be a bit biased about any twist of that tale, but I reveled in the reimagination of not just the haunting headless horseman, but also of Washington Irving and another awesome author of the same time. Gripping and keeping me guessing, Wake the Hollow galloped out of the gate, tearing through the narrative to a heart-stopping halt.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2018.

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Two to Tango
Second Chance Ranch
Kelsey Abrams
Jolly Fish Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1631631535
Trade Paperback

Natalie Ramirez loves her life on Second Chance Ranch. She handles the horses, but nothing about their upkeep feels like work to her. Besides, this is the best way to find Rockette’s replacement. Out-growing the pony that she had paired with to win so many junior barrel-racing prizes was inevitable, but still somewhat sad.

When a beautiful bay tobiano trotted onto the scene, Natalie saw the solution to all of her problems. In her enthusiasm, it was easy to over-look the atypical aspects of this rescue. He wore a quality halter with a nameplate. Tango appeared to have been well-cared-for and even trained, at some point. When he followed her commands, it was in a hesitating, confused manner.

For a twelve-and-a-half-year-old, Natalie has a lot on her mind and maybe she misses the obvious at first. But as she begins to see Tango as the horse that he is and not a rodeo-pony-in-the-making, she takes a closer look at herself and finds room to grow.

I cannot imagine a better book for the animal-loving-reader. Quickly captivating, Natalie’s story canters along with humor, action and an impressive equestrian vocabulary (I did not know that a horse has a frog). Two to Tango is one of four in the Second Chance Ranch juvenile-fiction series and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

Book Review: The Hostess with the Ghostess by E. J. Copperman

The Hostess with the Ghostess
A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #9
E. J. Copperman
Crooked Lane Books, January 2018
ISBN: 978-1-6833-1450-9
Hardcover

Alison Kerby returns in the 9th book in the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman.  Alison, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious thirteen-year-old daughter, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, and Paul Harrison, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths, and her deceased father.  It would seem that Alison, her daughter and her mother are the only ones who can see the ghosts.  She now acknowledges the ghostly residents, and advertises the inn as a Haunted Guesthouse, specializing in Senior Plus Tours which include twice-daily ‘spook shows.’   From the publisher: Things are never quiet for long at the Haunted Guesthouse.  Right as Alison Kerby finally gets some peace, long-time deceased Paul Harrison’s recently murdered brother, Richard, shows up looking for the ghostly detective.  But Paul has left for parts unknown months ago – – and Alison doesn’t know how to find him.  As she searches for Paul, Alison discovers that Richard, who was a lawyer, was working a case about a woman accused of murdering her stepfather.  It quickly becomes clear that Richard was getting too close to the truth and was forcibly kept quiet.  Now as Alison continues her investigation, she gets a creeping sensation that the murderer doesn’t appreciate her snooping around.  And if she doesn’t stop, she’ll be next . . .

I found it very helpful to have a “Cast of Characters” on the page before page 1 of the book.  I also loved the first paragraph:  “’Something’s missing.’  I was sitting on a barstool next to the center island in my kitchen, having a conversation with five other people, two of whom were alive.”  But Alison, whose quote that is, quickly goes on to explain, and to introduce those with her, both living and otherwise.  After getting divorced from her 1st husband, who she not-so-lovingly refers to as “the Swine,” she returns to her hometown of Harbor Haven, on the “deservedly famous Jersey Shore,” where she opens her guesthouse. Her euphemisms for the ghosts who reside there, after she introduces the “alive people in the room,” range from “non-living” to those who have been “deprived of life,” but they definitely come to life in this delightful, wholly entertaining book. There is also Maxie’s ghost husband, Everett, who still spends time at the local gas station, where he died. He thinks of it as standing guard at his post.

When first meeting the aforementioned Richard, her “first thought was, “I wonder if he’d do some spook shows.”  Alison et al agree to search for his missing dead brother, who she refers to as her “conscience. He was the Jiminy Cricket of ghosts.”  Alison has now been remarried for four months, to one Josh Kaplan.  Also added to the mix is her daughter Melissa’s little adopted ghost dog, destined to “always be a puppy,” of course.  I loved the comment made when Melissa’s interactions with Alison prompts the latter to think that she couldn’t even be grumpy, which puts “something of a damper on my day.  If you can’t be grumpy, what’s the point of being from New Jersey?”  The plot moves nicely into the investigation inhttp://www.ejcopperman.com/to the murders, which is resolved with contributions from the ghosts, of course.

As I have said in the past about the Copperman books, and it remains just as true, the writing is wonderful, with the author’s s trademark laugh-out-loud wit and intelligence, well-plotted mystery and very well-drawn characters, alive or otherwise.  My preference in mystery genres generally does not include either “cozies” or books dealing in the supernatural (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and many of my best friends love them, I hasten to add).  But this author’s writing overcomes any such reluctance on my part – – his books are always thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended.  His dedication to several brilliant comics of years past ends with the words “there aren’t enough funny people in the world,” a deficit which he certainly helps to overcome.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2018.