Category Archives: paranormal

Sunday Post – 19th February 2017

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Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Himself has had the week off work. We have mostly stayed at home, because my half term break is next week *sigh*… That said, we did manage to have a couple of days when we chilled together and had lunch at our favourite place.

The weather has been variable, starting cold and wet but steadily getting warmer and sunnier – yesterday was fabulous so we went for a walk over Kithurst Hill. The views were wonderful and for the first time this year, it felt more like spring than winter. I’m not kidding myself – I’m aware that next week it could quite easily snow, but still… there it was – a slice of sunshine! The bonus was during the walk I talked through my ideas for Miranda’s Tempest, as since Christmas I’ve felt like I was wading through concrete on the rewrite. J is a really good listener and together we discussed some of the issues that I’d got stuck on, so I’m hoping to make much better progress this coming week, when I can fully concentrate on it.

As you can see, I’ve had a great reading week with a tranche of entertaining and in one case, outstanding books to read – though it looks a tad more impressive than it is, given one was a novella and one was a children’s book.

This week I have read:

The Vanishing Throne – Book 2 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May
Aileana took a stand against the Wild Hunt, and she lost everything: her home, her family and her thevanishingthronefriends. Held captive by her enemy, and tormenting herself over her failure, escape seems like only the faintest possibility.

I encountered the first book, The Falconer, at the beginning of the year and loved the intense, brutal writing style of this YA genre mash-up, so was delighted when this offering became available at the local library. There’s no second-book slump here – May continues where the first book leaves off in this adrenaline rush of an adventure. I will be reviewing it in due course.

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
mirandaandcalibanMiranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?

This beautifully written love story is mostly the prequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest though you don’t have to know a thing about the play to become engrossed in the events of the enchanted island. I loved this one – it is my favourite book of the year to date.

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds
A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at slowbulletsan end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

This space opera novella offers a cracking adventure with plenty of twists and turns, along with some interesting concepts. The slow bullets of the title are identity chips buried deep within a person that record all their major life events. They are impossible to change or over-write. So what happens in a crisis when your life and who you are can be read for all to see?

Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club – Book 1 of the Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries by Robert J. Harris
thegravediggersclubOne day Arthur Conan Doyle will create the greatest detective of all – Sherlock Holmes. But right now, Artie Conan Doyle is a twelve-year-old Edinburgh schoolboy with a mystery of his own to solve. While sneaking out to explore Greyfriars Kirkyard by night, Artie and his best friend Ham spot a ghostly lady in grey and discover the footprints of a gigantic hound. Could the two mysteries be connected?

This entertaining historical mystery adventure for children tripped along at a fair clip, with the main protagonist, Artie Conan Doyle, seeming very familiar with fans who have read any Sherlock Holmes stories.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 12th February 2017

Review of A Closed and Common Orbit – Book 2 of the Wayfarers’ series by Becky Chambers

Teaser Tuesday featuring Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Friday Face-off – Drivin’ Along in my Automobile… featuring Ill Wind – Book 1 of the Weather Warden series by Rachel Caine

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club – Book 1 of the Artie Conan Doyle mysteries by Robert J. Harris

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

10 of the Best Wendy Cope Poems Everyone Should Read https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/17/10-of-the-best-wendy-cope-poems-everyone-should-read/ Once more this great blog has produced an entertaining informative article I really enjoyed.

Girl from Mars, on the telephone https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/girl-from-mars-on-the-telephone/ I love the sheer quirkiness of this pic…

Take My Hand, We Will Walk https://bitesizedhamma.com/2017/02/14/take-my-hand-we-will-walk/ I love the simplicity of this short poem, which also has been very apt this week. Himself and I had a walk just like this one – something we should do more often.

When Dedications Leave Something To Be Desired https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/02/16/when-dedications-leave-something-to-be-desired/ Oh, this is hilarious! I howled with laughter and then shared the fun with J…

Interview with Sir Kipling from the Lily Singer series by Lydia Sherrer http://lolasreviews.com/interview-with-sir-kipling-from-the-lily-springer-series-by-lydia-sherrer/ I’ve seen book characters interviewed before, but never with more entertaining snark than this gem…

Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Friday Faceoff – Drivin’ Along in My Automobile…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is cars, so I’ve chosen Ill Wind by Rachel Caine.

 

willwindThis is the offering produced by Roc in December 2003 and was the reason why I selected this series of covers and it is the only one that features Joanne’s beloved car, Mona… I really like it, though I could do without that ugly black strip across the top of the cover.

 

willwind1This cover produced by Alison & Busby in January 2011 may have the inevitable beautiful girl scowling out at us, but at least she does look as if she’s in the middle of some serious weather. I also love the font design, which gives a real sense of movement and menace. This is my favourite.

 

willwind2This cover, produced by Eclipse in November 2010, is another good effort, with the tornado swirling in the distance and the girl representing Joanne Baldwin looking suitably storm-tossed.

 

willwind3This Czech edition, produced by Triton in 2006, is certainly different. I love the seascape and that magnificently stormy sky – but that oddly stilted tentacle female plonked in the middle of it rather ruins it, I think.

 

willwind4This Portuguese edition, produced by Underworld in 2010, features yet another grumpy beauty glaring out at us. She is certainly eye-catching, but I still prefer the covers featuring the dire weather as I think she is simply too generic.

Do you agree? Which of these covers do you like or loathe?

 

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

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The minute I saw this one, I knew I would have to read it. I have to declare an interest here – I’m working on my own retelling of The Tempest, so I was very interested to read this one…

Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in mirandaandcalibanthe abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?

This books is written as a dual narrative, with both Miranda and Caliban giving their different version of events from the time Caliban enters Miranda’s life when she is a six-year-old. If Shakespeare’s The Tempest is told from the viewpoint of Prospero, then this story is from the point of view of two of the characters who are most impacted by the events unfolding around them. Miranda and Caliban are in thrall to Prospero and suffer the consequences of his abusive, controlling behaviour.

Carey’s lyrical prose drew me into the closed world of the enchanted island and the deserted Moorish palace inhabited by Prospero, Miranda and Caliban. As the years roll past, Miranda and Caliban grow up, while Prospero grows older, always working away at his magical studies. The pacing works well, with the first half of the book moving relatively slowly – and then as we approach the more familiar events covered in Shakespeare’s play, the book’s momentum suddenly rockets forward.

Miranda and Caliban is more of a prequel to The Tempest, with Carey’s version of what happens once Prospero raises his magical storm and wrecks King Alonso’s ship, differing in major ways from Shakespeare’s version. Though the main events are still recognisable and I love the twists and variations which work very effectively, still keeping to the spirit and form of this, one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays. However, if you’ve never seen or read The Tempest and have absolutely no intention of doing so – there is nothing here that prevents you from appreciating this bittersweet story of young love, as Carey ensures the tale is completely standalone.

Both young people are utterly convincing in their desperate loneliness, while caught up in Prospero’s elaborate scheme to escape his island exile. Their feelings for each other are completely understandable and both struggle to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. As for the ending… oh my word. It blew me away, leaving me with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Wonderful and memorable, this is my favourite book of the year so far. Very highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Miranda and Caliban from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Turn – Prequel to The Hollows series by Kim Harrison

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As soon as I caught sight of this one on the NetGalley catwalk, I knew I had to have it. Like many fantasy fans, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed The Hollows series – see my review of Every Which Way But Dead – where in each book Harrison invariably alludes to the game-changing catastrophe that brought the Interlanders out from the shadows. It is now a delight to have that keynote time actually charted in this entertaining read.

Kim Harrison returns to her beloved Hollows series with The Turn, the official prequel to the theturnseries that will introduce fans and readers to a whole new side of Rachel Morgan’s world as they’ve never seen it before! Can science save us when all else fails?

I reserve the right to abbreviate book blurbs as I see fit, as far too many toss one spoiler in after another. But I’m not even giving you the beginning of the this one, as it immediately lurches into Spoiler territory – unnecessary as I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who have never read Kim Harrison and this is an excellent starting point. So long as you haven’t already been told half the story, already.

We are in the viewpoint of Trisk, a female dark elf and brilliant geneticist whose outstanding work is consistently passed over due to her gender – and her swarthy looks and lack of breeding. Elves are supposed to be blue-eyed, pale-skinned and blonde, like Kal, the spoilt, entitled jerk who made Trisk’s life at school a complete misery. Given that he, too, has gone on to study genetics, he continues to blight her life. And then they go their separate ways – until she makes a major breakthrough in a relatively small, human lab. Could this save the elves from the genetic damage inflicted by demonkind?

I loved this one. Harrison excels at writing nuanced, driven characters who frequently make disastrous mistakes. The worldbuilding is brilliant and the supporting cast every bit as charismatic – for Harrison fans, half the fun of this book is seeing familiar characters pop up at the start of their journey – or their ancestors. I loved Orchid, the gutsy pixy, desperately looking for a buck and refusing to believe that she is the last of her kind and seeing how the imperturbable Quen was before he got to be that way. While vampires regularly appear in urban fantasy reads, few writers manage to evoke the sheer terror and unpredictability of this creepy species the way Harrison does. As for Kal – I keep banging on about how important it is that we have a clear insight as to why the antagonist behaves the way he does and this is a masterclass in how to write one. He has been gifted with so much, but he knows only too well that what he lacks is that touch of brilliance Trisk brings to her work.

The way this book leads up to the disaster that overtakes the world and what happens next is masterfully handled. I very much hope that Harrison will be writing another in this series. I loved this one and it comes highly recommended.
10/10

Sunday Post – 5th February 2017

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Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

I’ve had a more normal week, having fortunately recovered from the never-ending Headache Hell – thank you everyone for your good wishes and sympathy. Last Monday I had an unexpected treat in the form of Frances accompanying me for the day as her school had an Inset Day and Rebecca’s arrangements for her care were blown apart at the last minute. Unfortunately, it’s my busiest day but she was an absolute sweetheart, uncomplainingly sitting in the corner of Sally’s lounge reading and drawing as I taught Tim, then coming along to Fitstep, where she joined in. We had some time together in the afternoon before she went home and I had to start getting ready to teach again in the evening.

On Wednesday evening I managed to make my writing group for the first time this year – it was lovely to touch base with writing friends getting much-needed feedback, accompanied by cups of tea and fabulous home-made cake. Mhairi and I met up on Friday afternoon as we hadn’t seen each other for faaar too long. We sat in the Sea Lane Café, watching the white-caped waves pounding the shore through a grey rainy veil while we put the world to rights.

As you can see from my blogs – I’ve rather binged on NetGalley and had a series of new releases all coming out in quick succession, but I’m delighted at the quality and variety of the books I’ve been reading recently. I’ve also managed to get a bit more writing done, thank goodness.

It has been raining every day this week, except Saturday and Himself says the Arun has flooded around Pulborough – not a surprise given how saturated the ground is. Still, at least it isn’t snow…

This week I have read:

Traitor to the Throne – Book 2 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alywn Hamilton

Mere months ago, gunslinger Amani al’Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a traitortothethronemythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she’s fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne. Forget everything you thought you knew about Miraji, about the rebellion, about djinni and Jin and the Blue-Eyed Bandit. In Traitor to the Throne, the only certainty is that everything will change.

This one was a joy. I loved Rebel of the Sands but Hamilton has produced an even better sequel, managing to provide an interesting dynamic in amongst the kidnappings, mayhem and murder where Amani is forced to consider the consequences of what she is doing. This was an aspect of the story I particularly appreciated. And that ending – what an amazing twist right at the very end! I’m now waiting impatiently for the next slice of this adventure.

 

Griffen: Shadows of a Mirror Realm by A.J. Blakemont

griffenShe has nothing—not even a roof above her head. She has unimaginable powers, but these powers come at a price: she has to feed on the mental energy of human beings, killing them in the process. Her name is Griffen and she is a newborn. She is a copy, a paranormal twin of a young woman, Letitia. Griffen is not the only one of her kind—there are others like her, living among humans or hiding underground. Romantics called them doppelgangers, ghostly twins, the harbingers of death. Scientists who know that they exist call them simulacra. They call themselves mirror souls. Who are they and what are their goals?

The above blurb caught my attention on NetGalley and the worldbuilding in this paranormal adventure is the book’s strength – I really enjoyed learning about Blakemont’s superbeings. However, I didn’t particularly bond with Griffen until well into the book.

 

The Turn – prequel to The Hollows series by Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison returns to her beloved Hollows series with The Turn, the official prequel to the theturnseries that will introduce fans and readers to a whole new side of Rachel Morgan’s world as they’ve never seen it before! Can science save us when all else fails?

This is a wonderful treat for those of us who have real any of Harrison’s The Hollows series and followed Rachel’s adventures in a world where humanity was decimated by a virus. And in this book, we discover exactly how that happened… A great introduction to this series if you haven’t yet had the pleasure – and if you have, don’t miss this one. It’s Harrison at her awesome best. I shall reviewing this one in due course.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 29th January 2017

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Radio Boy by Christian O’Donnell

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Traitor to the Throne – Book 2 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alywn Hamilton

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Old Bones – A Detective Inspector Slider mystery by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2017 – January roundup

Friday Faceoff – Welcome to the Hotel California… featuring Hav by Jan Morris

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Griffen: Shadows of the Mirror Realm by A.J. Blakemont

 

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Meet Guest Author Richard Ankers https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2017/02/04/meet-guest-author-richard-m-ankers/ Regulars who read this spot will know I frequently post Richard’s quirky short fiction. This moving and well written article explains what persuaded him to try his hand at writing.

10 Classic Children’s Poems Everyone Should Read https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/03/10-classic-childrens-poems-everyone-should-read/ And every poem featured here is a gem. Some have entertained generations of children – some are more modern, but I love them all…

Save Money on Professional Edits – 6 Easy Ways to Clean Up Your Own Manuscript
https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2017/02/03/save-money-on-professional-edits-6-easy-ways-to-clean-up-your-own-manuscript/ Any advice by the great Kristen Lamb is worth reading – but she’s right, this article could save you cold hard cash as good editing is expensive and you don’t want your editor to waste time on issues you can fix.

Increasing Discoverability – The 2017 Challenge https://hierath.wordpress.com/2016/12/31/increasing-discoverability-the-2017-challenge/
After reading Jo’s article a few years ago, I started taking part. As a result I have encountered a number of talented authors who deserve to be better known.

Creative Writing and Resources for Writers: an Interview with Teacher and Sci-Fi Author S.J. Higbee https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/30/interview-s-j-higbee/
I was a bit poleaxed when Kristen first approached me, asking for an interview. But I really enjoyed answering her questions and sharing some tips I’ve picked up after 8 years of teaching Creative Writing classes.

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Indie Ebook Griffen: Shadows of the Mirror Realm by A.J. Blakemont

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I liked the sound of this one and requested it from NetGalley…

She has nothing—not even a roof above her head. She has unimaginable powers, but these griffenpowers come at a price: she has to feed on the mental energy of human beings, killing them in the process. Her name is Griffen and she is a newborn. She is a copy, a paranormal twin of a young woman, Letitia. Griffen is not the only one of her kind—there are others like her, living among humans or hiding underground. Romantics called them doppelgangers, ghostly twins, the harbingers of death. Scientists who know that they exist call them simulacra. They call themselves mirror souls. Who are they and what are their goals?

This feels like the start of a series about this group of superbeings who have existed in our world alongside us for millennia. We see this world through the viewpoint of this newly created being, who has the memories and emotions of Letitia – yet needs to kill in order to stay alive. Traumatised and loathing the need to kill in order to keep alive, Griffen attempts to learn more about who she is and what she is capable of, in order to continue to be able to cope with her abilities.

It is a nifty idea – provide someone right at the start of their journey and give the reader a front row seat as she begins to learn more about who she is and what she is capable of. I very much liked the idea of how the mirror world is created and the factions and politics of the power struggles between those factions is by far the strongest part of the book. Blakemont nicely blends parts of our history, such as the Knights Templar being one of the early powerbases of the mirror beings for instance. And there are pleasing echoes of the vampire legends embodied in some of their attributes that I enjoyed.

What hampered my full reading enjoyment was my inability to bond with the main protagonist, Griffen. Perhaps had I known a bit more about Letitia before Griffen’s creation, in order to get a real sense of what she feels she has lost, I would have found her more interesting. It wasn’t until well into the book, I really began to care more about her aims and goals and with many books that would have been a dealbreaker, but I found the alternate world Blakemont has created sufficiently engrossing that I was able to continue enjoying the read. For while I didn’t fully identify with Griffen, neither did I actively dislike her. Overall, this is a pleasing adventure about an interestingly original set of superbeings, whose opposing aims and cultures pulled me into this story.

While I obtained the arc of Griffen from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
7/10

Sunday Post – 8th January 2017

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Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Christmas now seems a distant dream, but I’ve still been having a lovely social time as my sister has been staying for the past week. She lives in France, so it’s been brilliant catching up with her. As a result, I haven’t been online quite as much as usual – and have also been busy working on this term’s course at Northbrook, which starts on Monday.

On Tuesday I hosted my first blog tour, which was something of a milestone – I’d like to do more. On Wednesday, Mhairi came over for the day and we set our Shoot for the Moon targets together for the coming year and looked at how we’d done in 2016 – both posts I’ll be publishing in the near future. Readingwise, the start of 2017 has been mixed – I’ve read a couple of great books, but also encountered my first DNF of the year which was something of a disappointment as it doesn’t happen all that often these days. Hopefully, it will be an aberration.

This week I have read:
Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn
martiansabroadPolly Newton has one single-minded dream, to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. Her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly’s plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever. Homesick and cut off from her desired future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly maneuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. Strange, unexplained, dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up. Charles may be right—there’s more going on than would appear, and the stakes are high.

I really enjoyed this interesting school-based, science fiction YA offering. The twist with this one is the protagonist and her brother come from Mars, so find Earth with its heavier gravity and profusion of life very difficult. Some of their classmates aren’t all that friendly, either – so when stuff starts happening around them, they are dangerously isolated. I like Vaughn’s writing and this one is great fun – those of you who enjoyed Janet Edwards’ Earthgirl series may also like Martians Abroad.

 

The Falconer – Book 1 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May
She’s a stunner. Edinburgh, 1844. Eighteen-year-old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the thefalconerMarquess of Douglas, has everything a girl could dream of: brains, charm, wealth, a title—and drop-dead beauty.
She’s a liar. But Aileana only looks the part of an aristocratic young lady. she’s leading a double life: She has a rare ability to sense the sìthíchean—the faery race obsessed with slaughtering humans—and, with the aid of a mysterious mentor, has spent the year since her mother died learning how to kill them.
She’s a murderer. Now Aileana is dedicated to slaying the fae before they take innocent lives. With her knack for inventing ingenious tools and weapons—from flying machines to detonators to lightning pistols—ruthless Aileana has one goal: Destroy the faery who destroyed her mother.
She’s a Falconer. The last in a line of female warriors born with a gift for hunting and killing the fae, Aileana is the sole hope of preventing a powerful faery population from massacring all of humanity. Suddenly, her quest is a lot more complicated. She still longs to avenge her mother’s murder—but she’ll have to save the world first.

I’ve seen recommendations for this series by various bloggers and so was delighted when Himself brought it home from the library and plonked it front of me with a command to read it. He was right – it’s a storming read. May manages to balance the rarified life of a gently bred heiress with the vicious savagery of her regular battles very effectively. I’ve now ordered the second one and am waiting eagerly for its appearance.

 

Strangers by Rosie Thomas
strangersSometimes the victims of tragedy are the ones who survive. Annie and Steve are from different worlds. She is a wife and mother, he is a wealthy executive with a stream of broken relationships in his wake. They do not know each other exists until one morning, on a shopping expedition, they becomes victims of a bomb blast, thrown together in the debris to fight for their lives. As they lie in the darkness and the rubble, the hours slowly tick by. To ward off fear and death they talk: of everything they have to live for, of their disappointments, loves, failures and their hopes. And so a bond is created that binds them deeper than family, than friends, than lovers. With such strange intimacy, such strange trust, how can they get through the future without each other?

Well this book starts with a bang. Trapped in the debris of a department store, Annie and Steve are injured and afraid. But the bomb doesn’t just snare them in a nightmare scenario – it blasts apart their former lives and leaves them to pick up the pieces. Thomas’s vivid writing really captures the desperation and pain these two endure, however I did have difficulty in believing they wouldn’t have been offered counselling and help to get through the mental trauma they suffered.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 1st January 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Graveyard Shift – Book 10 of the Pepper Martin mysteries by Casey Daniels

BLOG TOUR – Freeks by Amanda Hocking

2016 Discovery Challenge and Tackling my TBR – December Roundup

Review of Just One Damned Thing After Another – Book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor

Friday Faceoff – Undernearth the spreading chestnut tree… featuring Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Series I Want to Continue in 2017

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Edyth and Andrew kissing on top of taxis https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/01/07/edythe-and-andrew-kissing-on-top-of-taxis/
There is a steady stream of lovely photos from this quirky site – and this is one of them…

Tsundoku: The Art of Not Reading https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/tsundoku-the-art-of-not-reading/
For word nerds everywhere, but particularly those who are avid readers – and surely as we are all feverishly spending our book tokens, this is especially apt.

Caramel https://richardankers.com/2017/01/04/caramel/ Another thought-provoking micro fiction story from this insanely prolific author.

Happy Birthday Mabes! https://readlorigreer.com/2017/01/05/happy-birthday-mabes/ A poignant and beautifully written article about that most interesting and loaded of relationships – a young wife and her mother in law.

Five Fascinating Facts about The Merchant of Venice https://interestingliterature.com/2017/01/06/five-fascinating-facts-about-the-merchant-of-venice/ Once more this informative site produces another readable article that teaches me something I didn’t know about a much-loved classic.

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

BLOG TOUR – Freeks by Amanda Hocking

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blog-tour-bannerI was delighted when I was asked to take part in Amanda Hocking’s blog tour to spread the word about her latest book Freeks.

Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act… Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night. When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing. Until people start getting hurt…

This YA paranormal mystery has plenty of pace – and the explosive prologue certainly sparked my freeks-cover-2interest, although I’m still in two minds whether it is necessary. While that action scene is a defining moment in the book, I don’t feel Freeks requires such a blunt instrument as a hook – the initial scene pulled me into the story, anyway.

I really cared about Mara, a beautiful, edgy character whose previous experiences with townies has left her wary, while yearning for a more settled life as she watches her mother’s mental health deteriorate under the pressure of her Gift. Hocking’s depiction of the closed community of the carnival and the strong bonds between the performers is excellent. While it is undoubtedly a source of strength and solidarity, it is also a small gossipy village where everyone invariably discovers everyone else’s business – not necessarily a place to feel wholly comfortable as her own dark talents are starting to emerge just as her mother’s abilities start chewing her mind.

The growing tension as the worrying events escalate is well handled, as is the relationship between Gabe and Mara. I liked the fact that it is Gabe who makes the running, while Mara – preoccupied with the mounting problems at the carnival – is less emotionally invested. In order for this story really work, I needed to also care about the cast of supporting characters and again, I felt Hocking did a really good job in providing a cast of interesting misfits who joined the carnival because normal life doesn’t have space or acceptance for their particular abilities.

As for the mystery – I had already guessed what Gabe was before he revealed himself to Mara, but I don’t think Hocking intended it to be a huge shock. However, the denouement came as a surprise as did the conclusion, which also left a grin on my face.

It’s just as well I was reading this one during the holidays, as once I started it was difficult to put it down – to the extent that I broke off working and gave myself permission to read during the daytime, something that doesn’t happen all that often. If you enjoy a slice of paranormal escapism, then go looking for this one – it’s a cracking read. Receiving a copy of Freeks from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
9/10

AMANDA HOCKING Q&A

1. Your characters are sent into the Hunger Games. Who wins?

If it’s just the characters from FREEKS, and only one could win, I would put my money on Luka or maybe Roxie. Luka because he can heal from injuries, which gives him a crazy advantage, but Roxie is smart and she’s a survivor. Plus, she has the power of pyrokinesis, which I think I would come in handy in a battle to the death.

2. What do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer silence?

I almost always listen to music when I write, unless I’m writing a really difficult scene. Sometimes the silence helps me focus, but most of the time, I prefer music. For FREEKS, I got to make a really fun 80s playlist, so I especially enjoyed working to that.

3. What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think the government has maybe flagged you for?

There are sooo many things. For FREEKS, I had to do fun stuff like, “What does a dead body smell like?” and “How much blood can a human lose?” And then after those macabre questions, I did a bunch of googling on fireflies and tarot cards. My search history when I’m working can be pretty exciting like that.

4. What was your favorite part of writing FREEKS?

I love Southern Gothics and I love pulpy 80s horror movies, so I was excited to be able incorporate those things in FREEKS. But my favorite part was actually Mara and Gabe. I think they complement each other well, and it was fun writing their banter and flirtations.

5. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from FREEKS?

For Mara, I envisioned Cassie Steele from the start. I used to be a hardcore Degrassi fan, and I loved Cassie Steele on that. For Gabe, I like Ryan Guzman. I saw him in a Jennifer Lopez movie, and I was like, “Yep. That could be Gabe.”

6. Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

I usually write between 11 am and 7 pm. I’ve tried to write earlier in the day and have more of a 8-5 type schedule, but I am not a morning person. My brain just doesn’t want to work much before noon.

7. Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

I usually have a goal in mind before I start writing, but it varies. Some days, it’s slow going and I hope to get at least 500 words out. Other days, I fly through with thousands of words. So it depends on where I’m at in the book, when it’s due, and how I’m feeling about the whole thing.

8. When you develop your characters, do you already have an idea of who they are before you write or do you let them develop as you go?

With all my main characters, I have a really good idea of who they are, and it’s just a matter of showing that to the readers. With the side characters, they tend to be rather one-dimensional, and they grow into the story as they’re needed.

9. How did writing FREEKS differ from your writing your previous novels?

FREEKS was the first thing I had written in awhile that was started out just for me. For most of the past ten years, I have been writing my books with the intention of publishing them, with the audience and readers and trends in mind. I think I had gotten a little burnt out on trying to make everyone happy (mostly because it is impossible to please all readers all the time), and I just wanted to write something that for the sake of writing it.

And that turned out to be a gothic love story about a teenage girl travelling with a band of misfits in the 1980s. It was a very cathartic writing experience for me, and it reminded me of exactly why I loved writing in the first place – I love getting lost in the world, with the characters.

10. If Freeks had a theme song what would it be?

Either “Hush” by Limousines or “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears.

11. Can you please tell us a little bit about FREEKS and where you got the inspiration to write it?

I was going through a rough patch, creatively speaking, and so I just sat back and tried to think of my favorite and what I loved most that I would want to write about.

When I was a kid, I used to get old books at garage sales all the time, and I distinctly remember getting Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King and a few old V. C. Andrews novels, which are pulpy Southern Gothic-esque novels. I also watched The Lost Boys and Pretty in Pink over and over again (I think I literally ruined the old VHS of The Lost Boys from watching it too much).

So I basically threw all those things together in a soup, and I picked apart the things I liked and wanted to explore more. That became a travelling sideshow in the 80s stopping Louisiana, where a supernatural monster is afoot, and a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is smith with a local boy with secrets of his own.

12. FREEKS is full of many amazingly talented characters and I imagine it was really fun to create some of them, but which one was your favorite and why?

Mara and Gabe are my obvious favorites, since they’re the main characters because I was drawn to them and their story the most. Both of them of them have complex feelings about family and personal identity, and their instant chemistry was fun to write.

But I think Gideon – the namesake and head of sideshow – was actually the biggest surprise, which made him fun in a different way. In the original outlines of the story, he was much a different character – very one-note and cruel – but he completely changed and evolved as I was writing.

13. The book is based off of a type of traveling circus that is full of many mysterious acts. If you were to attend a Freekshow, which act would you want to see most?

My favorites are usually the acrobatics, but I think if I attended Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, I would be most excited to see Gideon’s magic act. With his skills and knowledge, I think it would be a really amazing show.

14. What do you hope readers will take away from FREEKS after reading it?

With some of my other novels, I deal with heavy themes like life and death, identity, honor, mortality, classism, and family. And while I do definitely touch on those themes in FREEKS, I mostly wrote it as an escape for myself, and that’s what I hope it is for other readers. Life can be hard and frustrating, and I just wanted to write a fun book that readers could get lost in for awhile.

15. What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Probably how chronically shy I am. Writing is a weird profession, because a good 90% of it is perfect for introverts – you sit alone by yourself and make up imaginary friends to go on adventures. But the last 10% – which involves introducing the whole word to your imaginary friends – is the most exciting and rewarding part, but it’s also the most difficult when you’re as shy as I am.

 

amanda-hocking-new-credit-mariah-paaverud-with-chimera-photography-1

EXCERPT: CHAPTER 1 – Premonitions

My feet rested against the dashboard of the Winnebago as we lumbered down the road, the second vehicle in a small caravan of beat-up trailers and motorhomes.
The sun hadn’t completely risen yet, but it was light enough that I could see outside. Not that there was much to see. The bridge stretched on for miles across Lake Tristeaux, and I could see nothing but the water around us, looking gray in the early morning light.
The AC had gone out sometime in Texas, and we wouldn’t have the money to fix it until after this stint in Caudry, if we were lucky. I’d cracked the window, and despite the chill, the air felt thick with humidity. That’s why I never liked traveling to the southeastern part of the country—too humid and too many bugs.
But we took the work that we got, and after a long dry spell waiting in Oklahoma for something to come up, I was grateful for this. We all were. If we hadn’t gotten the recommendation to Caudry, I’m not sure what we would’ve done, but we were spending our last dimes and nickels just to make it down here.
I stared ahead at Gideon’s motorhome in front of us. The whole thing had been painted black with brightly colored designs swirling around it, meant to invoke images of mystery and magic. The name “Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow” was painted across the back and both the sides. Once sparkles had outlined it, but they’d long since worn off.
My eyelids began to feel heavy, but I tried to ward off sleep. The radio in the car was playing old Pink Floyd songs that my mom hummed along to, and that wasn’t helping anything.
“You can go lay down in the back,” Mom suggested.
She did look awake, her dark gray eyes wide and a little frantic, and both her hands gripped the wheel. Rings made of painted gold and cheap stones adorned her fingers, glinting as the sun began to rise over the lake, and black vine tattoos wrapped around her hands and down her arms.
For a while, people had mistaken us for sisters since we looked so much alike. The rich caramel skin we both shared helped keep her looking young, but the strain of recent years had begun to wear on her, causing crow’s feet to sprout around her eyes and worried creases to deepen in her brow.
I’d been slouching low in the seat but I sat up straighter. “No, I’m okay.”
“We’re almost there. I’ll be fine,” she insisted.
“You say we’re almost there, but it feels like we’re driving across the Gulf of Mexico,” I said, and she laughed. “We’ve probably reached the Atlantic by now.”
She’d been driving the night shift, which was why I was hesitant to leave her. We normally would’ve switched spots about an hour or two ago, with me driving while she lay down. But since we were so close to our destination, she didn’t see the point in it.
On the worn padded bench beside the dining table, Blossom Mandelbaum snored loudly, as if to remind us we both should be sleeping. I glanced back at her. Her head lay at a weird angle, propped up on a cushion, and her brown curls fell around her face.
Ordinarily, Blossom would be in the Airstream she shared with Carrie Lu, but since Carrie and the Strongman had started dating (and he had begun staying over in their trailer), Blossom had taken to crashing in our trailer sometimes to give them privacy.
It wasn’t much of a bother when she slept here, and in fact, my mom kind of liked it. As one of the oldest members of the carnival—both in age and the length of time she’d been working here—my mom had become a surrogate mother to many of the runaways and lost souls that found us.
Blossom was two years younger than me, on the run from a group home that didn’t understand her or what she could do, and my mom had been more than happy to take her under her wing. The only downside was her snoring.
Well, that and the telekinesis.
“Mara,” Mom said, her eyes on the rearview mirror. “She’s doing it again.”
“What?” I asked, but I’d already turned around to look back over the seat.
At first, I didn’t know what had caught my mom’s eye, but then I saw it—the old toaster we’d left out on the counter was now floating in the air, hovering precariously above Blossom’s head.
The ability to move things with her mind served Blossom well when she worked as the Magician’s Assistant in Gideon’s act, but it could be real problematic sometimes. She had this awful habit of unintentionally pulling things toward her when she was dreaming. At least a dozen times, she’d woken up to books and tapes dropping on her. Once my mom’s favorite coffee mug had smacked her right in the head.
“Got it,” I told my mom, and I unbuckled my seat belt and went over to get it.
The toaster floated in front of me, as if suspended by a string, and when I grabbed it, Blossom made a snorting sound and shifted in her sleep. I turned around with the toaster under my arm, and I looked in front of us just in time to see Gideon’s trailer skid to the side of the road and nearly smash into the guardrail.
“Mom! Look out!” I shouted.
Mom slammed on the brakes, causing most of our possessions in the trailer to go hurtling toward the floor, and I slammed into the seat in front of me before falling to the ground. The toaster had slipped free from my grasp and clattered into the dashboard.
Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic, but I could hear the sound of squealing tires and honking behind us as the rest of the caravan came to an abrupt stop.
“What happened?” Blossom asked, waking up in a daze from where she’d landed on the floor beneath the dining table.
“Mara!” Mom had already leapt from her seat and crouched in front of where I still lay on the worn carpet. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I assured her.
“What about you?” Mom reached out, brushing back Blossom’s frizzy curls from her face. “Are you all right?”
Blossom nodded. “I think so.”
“Good.” That was all the reassurance my mom needed, and then she was on her feet and jumping out of the Winnebago. “Gideon!”
“What happened?” Blossom asked again, blinking the sleep out of her dark brown eyes.
“I don’t know. Gideon slammed on his brakes for some reason.” I stood up, moving much slower than my mother.
We had very narrowly avoided crashing into Gideon. He’d overcorrected and jerked to the other side of the road, so his motorhome was parked at an angle across both lanes of the highway.
“Is everyone okay?” Blossom had sat up, rubbing her head, and a dark splotch of a bruise was already forming on her forehead. That explained why she seemed even foggier than normal—she’d hit her head pretty good.
“I hope so. I’ll go check it out,” I said. “Stay here.”
By the time I’d gotten out, Seth Holden had already gotten out of the motorhome behind us. Since he was the Strongman, he was usually the first to rush into an accident. He wanted to help if he could, and he usually could.
“Lyanka, I’m fine,” Gideon was saying to my mother, his British accent sounding firm and annoyed.
“You are not fine, albi,” Mom said, using a term of affection despite the irritation in her voice.
I rounded the back of his motorhome to find Gideon leaning against it with my mom hovering at his side. Seth reached them first, his t-shirt pulled taut against his muscular torso.
“What’s going on? What happened?” Seth asked.
“Nothing. I just dozed off for a second.” Gideon waved it off. “Go tell everyone I’m fine. I just need a second, and we’ll be on our way again.”
“Do you want me to drive for you?” Seth asked. “Carrie can handle the Airstream.”
Gideon shook his head and stood up straighter. “I’ve got it. We’re almost there.”
“All right.” Seth looked uncertainly at my mom, and she nodded at him. “I’ll leave you in Lyanka’s care and get everyone settled down.”
As soon as Seth disappeared back around the motorhome, loudly announcing that everything was fine to everyone else, Gideon slumped against the trailer. His black hair had fallen over his forehead. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up, revealing the thick black tattoos that covered both his arms.
“Gideon, what’s really going on?” Mom demanded with a worried tremor.
He swallowed and rubbed his forehead. “I don’t know.”
Even though the sun was up now, the air seemed to have gotten chillier. I pulled my sweater tighter around me and walked closer to them. Gideon leaned forward, his head bowed down, and Mom rubbed his back.
“You didn’t fall asleep, did you?” I asked.
Gideon lifted his eyes, looking as though he didn’t know I was there. And guessing by how pained he was allowing himself to look, he probably hadn’t. Gideon was only in his early thirties, but right now, he appeared much older than that.
That wasn’t what scared me, though. It was how dark his blue eyes were. Normally, they were light, almost like the sky. But whenever he’d had a vision or some kind of premonition, his eyes turned so dark they were nearly black.
“It was a headache,” Gideon said finally.
“There’s something off here,” Mom said. “I felt it as soon as we got on the bridge. I knew we should turn back, but I hoped that maybe I was imagining things. Now that I look at you, I know.”
That explained that frantic look in her eyes I’d seen earlier in the Winnebago, and how alert she’d been even though she’d been awake and driving for nearly twenty hours straight. Mom didn’t see things in the way Gideon did, but she had her own senses.
“It’s fine, Lyanka,” Gideon insisted. He straightened up again, and his eyes had begun to lighten. “It was only a migraine, but it passed. I am capable of having pain without supernatural reasons, too.”
Mom crossed her arms over her chest, and her lips were pressed into a thin line. “We should go back.”
“We’re almost there.” Gideon gestured to the end of the road, and I looked ahead for the first time and realized that we could see land. The town was nestled right up to the lake, and we couldn’t be more than ten minutes outside the city limits.
“We could still turn around,” Mom suggested.
“We can’t.” He put his hands on her arms to ease her worries. “We don’t have any money, love. The only way we can go is forward.”
“Gideon.” She sighed and stared up at the sky, the violet fabric of her dress billowing out around her as the wind blew over us, then she looked back at him. “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Whatever pain I had, it’s passed.” He smiled to reassure her. “We should go before the others get restless.”
She lowered her eyes, but when he leaned in to kiss her, she let him. She turned to go back to our motorhome, and as she walked past me, she muttered, “I knew we should never travel on Friday the thirteenth. No good ever comes of it.”
I’d waited until she’d gone around the corner to turn back to Gideon, who attempted to give me the same reassuring smile he’d given my mom.
“We could go back,” I said. “There’s always a way. We’ve made it on less before.”
“Not this time, darling.” He shook his head. “And there’s no reason to. Leonid assured me there’d be a big payday here, and I’ve got no reason to doubt him. We can make a go of it here.”
“As long as you’re sure we’ll be okay.”
“I haven’t steered you all wrong yet.” Gideon winked at me then, but he was telling the truth. In the ten years that my mom and I had been following him around the country, he’d always done the best he could by us.
I went back and got into the Winnebago with my mom and Blossom. Within a couple minutes, Gideon had straightened his motorhome out, and the caravan was heading back down the road. At the end of the bridge was a large sign that read WELCOME TO CAUDRY, POPULATION 13,665.
As soon as we crossed the line into town, the air seemed even colder than before. That’s when I realized the chill wasn’t coming from outside—it was coming from within me.

Copyright © 2016 by Amanda Hocking and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Graveyard Shift – Book 10 of the Pepper Martin series by Casey Daniels

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Pepper Martin, now Community Relations Director of Garden View Cemetery, is contacted by the ghost of Eliot Ness, one of Cleveland’s most famous dearly departed. According to Ness, the ashes scattered at the ceremony twenty years earlier weren’t his. His were stolen prior to the ceremony by a Ness groupie, and he cannot rest until those ashes are found. Luckily, Pepper has an idea where they may be – but of course it isn’t nearly that straightforward…

graveyardshiftWell this is fun! And the fact that I’d crashed into a series with nine previous books wasn’t an issue, as Pepper is very much into dealing with the current situation. While she occasionally alludes to previous incidents, none were confusing or difficult to assimilate in relation to her more recent problems – which start stacking up very fast. I really like Pepper – she is rather lazy, a bit scatty and not above bending the truth to breaking point if it gets her out of a jam. In short, she is very much like a lot of us. So when the initially light-hearted tone suddenly got a lot darker and Pepper’s very existence is on the line, I really cared.

That said, while this murder mystery gathered momentum with the stakes suddenly becoming a lot higher, this is no grim gorefest. The action moved along at a reasonable clip, while still giving us a ringside seat to Pepper’s feelings and motivation as she becomes increasingly entangled in this mystery, all in first person viewpoint. There is also a strong cast of supporting characters, including her slightly demented mother who seems hellbent on marrying Pepper off, her work colleagues and Quinn, her policeman boyfriend.

Daniels weaves a satisfying whodunit with a really unpleasant villain, a real sense of threat and a denouement I didn’t see coming. Despite this being a long-running series, the main adventure is satisfactorily tied up and I found myself coming to the end of this pleasing tale wanting to read more about Pepper and her previous adventures. So I shall be revisiting this series at some stage during 2017 and this enjoyable, well-crafted mystery comes highly recommended. Receiving a copy of Graveyard Shift from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 27th December, 2016

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tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Freeks by Amanda Hocking
34% “I did, of course, I did.” He moved back into the doorway, and motioned for us to come in. “Come freeks1on in. Welcome to my home.”

Since he was so tall, he had to hunch over to invite us in, and he kept his long arms folded up so we could pass. He looked very much like a praying mantis, and suddenly, I heard Blossom’s voice in my head—as crisp and clear as if she were standing beside me right now—reading aloud from a book of poetry, “ʽWill you walk into my parlor?’ said the Spider to the Fly.”

BLURB: Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night. When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodes are found mauled by an invisible beast. Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

This NetGalley arc is due out at the start of January and I’m part of the blog tour. So far I’m really enjoying this paranormal crime thriller. Mara is an appealing protagonist and the low level tension that something isn’t quite right is steadily ramping up. I’m looking forward to diving back into this one during the holiday break.