The Case of the Deadly Doppelganger: A Review

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Title: The Case of the Deadly Doppelganger (Dr. Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural #2)

Author: Lucy Banks

It’s only been a couple of months since his mother died and he discovered that ghosts and spirits are real, but Kester is part of a whole new life now. One with friends, sort of, and a father, albeit an odd one, and maybe even a girlfriend. He’s got a purpose too, working at a supernatural agency that deals with ghosts. Kester can open a door into the spirit world that lets the departed pass over. At least, he did it once. Now he’ll have to do it again – before anyone else is killed.

A malicious spirit is hunting down the residents of Lyme Regis and killing them in their homes. Kester and his friends will have to move fast and overcome some personal rivalries if they want to succeed.

I really liked this series when I discovered it last year and I was so excited to win an ARC from NetGalley for the second book. If you like funny mysteries or mysteries with a little supernatural aspect thrown in, you will totally love these!

Thanks to NetGalley for the chance to read this one for free. My opinions are all my own.

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Flashback Friday

This column appeared earlier, but I’m sharing it again for new readers. Enjoy!

Title: Magician: Apprentice, Riftwar saga

Author: Raymond Feist

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Themes: hero’s journey, friendship, war, magic

Setting: Midkemia

Source: TBR pile. I found this one at the USB. It sounded appealing, very LOTR, with a young hero discovering his powers and a land on the brink of war, dwarves and elves all that stuff. It was the first in a series, so there’s always that hope that I’ll really love it and there will be all those other books to look forward to.

Story: Pug is a serving boy at the castle who was taken in by the duke. Now he has grown enough that he and other village boys his age are ready to become apprenticed and learn a trade. Pug’s best friend gets chosen to become a soldier, but Pug is unpicked until the wizard chooses him. Pug is willing, but has difficulty learning traditional magic. Still he is willing and brave, and discovers a frightening new enemy poised to invade all of Midkemia. At this point, we begin the journey to summon aid from elves and dwarves, and so on. The duke’s youngest son defends the keep against a determined invasion and we’re set up for the next book.

Pros: The setting is well done, and I like the various races. Yes, it is very much what you expect, with the dwarves living in the mountains, and beautiful elves and so on, but just because something is expected doesn’t mean it’s bad.

I liked Pug. He’s brave, clever, and well written. I liked most of the characters, in fact. Princess Carline has a nice character arc, going from spoiled little brat to a determined young woman in a convincing manner. Really liked the ship’s captain Amos Trask who enters the book toward the end. I’m guessing other readers liked him too, as he gets his own book later.

The villains! They are convincingly bad and I’m looking forward to finding out more about their story.

ConsThe length! My version is the “author’s preferred edition” which apparently means longer and with deleted scenes. But you know what? Editors exist for a reason. This is too long. And it’s not the length by itself that’s the problem. It’s the fact that the title is Magician: Apprentice and yet Pug is not even in the last 100 pages. Why is that? This is his book. I really liked the ending, don’t get me wrong, but it’s out of place. That should have been incorporated in the next book.

Also, for a book named Magician: Apprentice, the POV should have been solely his. Instead it shifts quite a bit. It was usually well done, but was unexpected and occasionally jarring.

I wanted more magic! I keep harping on the title, but wouldn’t you expect a lot of magic in a book about a magician and his apprentice? Sadly, there’s not much. Yeah, Pug studies some, but he only does one major spell! There’s no explanation of how magic works in this world, only that Pug is doing it all wrong. Come on, Feist, that’s why I picked up the book!

Finally, why are there only a handful of female characters in this book? It’s certainly an improvement over LOTR, but not by much.

Verdict: This is tricky. I don’t feel this is one everyone will enjoy. It’s a solid book within its genre, but it doesn’t transcend it in any way. But I did like it enough that I’m going to read the next one. I don’t think I’ll put it at the top of my list, but I do want to know what happens next. 3.8 stars

Traitor’s Masque: A Review

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gorgeous cover!

Title: Traitor’s Masque

Author: Kenley Davidson

Free on Kindle Unlimited

So you’re wondering what would be left of Cinderella without the magic? Turns out, a really great story!

Here’s the publisher’s summary:

Trystan has only two goals — to free herself from her stepmother’s household and to live her life on her own terms. But she cannot do so alone. In her desperation, she accepts the aid of a mysterious band of conspirators in exchange for her promise to help protect the kingdom. Trystan is uncertain whether her new friends can be trusted, but then she meets Donevan, a compelling and enigmatic young man whose face haunts her dreams.

Caught between her desire for love and the needs of a kingdom in turmoil, Trystan attends the Royal Masque, where she learns that her quest for a happy ending may have betrayed the man she loves. Plunged headlong into a nightmare of duplicity, espionage and intrigue, she will have just one chance at redemption, though she may be forced to sacrifice everything she’s ever dreamed of to prevent her kingdom from falling into the hands of a ruthless adversary.

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another great cover

I just found this one when looking for new Kindle Unlimited books – I love that program, BTW, so many great books for one price – and I found this one. I’ve never read anything by this author before but I admit to being a sucker for fairy tales. You might think I’d be too old for them, but even at my age, there’s nothing quite like a Happily Ever After.

It didn’t take me long before I was hooked! Trystan is a little bit of a brat at first, but I did like her. Really she’s just awfully young and self-centered at first. By the end of the book though, she’s really learned to be aware of the people around her and not take things for granted. As for Ramsey, he won my heart from the first. I loved this serious, responsible prince who just wants a few minutes privacy. Except this girl keeps crossing his path!

I liked the secondary characters as well and I’m so glad there are more stories out there. I will definitely be reading the next in this series and I see there’s even a prequel about Lizabeth, Ramsey’s aunt. I’m looking forward to reading them. You should definitely check these out!

Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life

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Title: Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life

A somewhat funny collection of short stories about Dahl’s time living in the English country side and some friendships he made there. If you only know him from his children’s books, like Matilda and James and the Giant Peach, then you’re in for a shock. The first story is about a cow he owned that needed to be serviced by a bull. Quite funny, but definitely not for kids! The last story about pheasant poaching was the funniest.

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Goat Castle: A Review

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions, however, remain my own.
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Title: Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South

Author: Karen L. Cox

Summary:

In 1932, the city of Natchez, Mississippi, reckoned with an unexpected influx of journalists and tourists as the lurid story of a local murder was splashed across headlines nationwide. Two eccentrics, Richard Dana and Octavia Dockery–known in the press as the “Wild Man” and the “Goat Woman”–enlisted an African American man named George Pearls to rob their reclusive neighbor, Jennie Merrill, at her estate. During the attempted robbery, Merrill was shot and killed. The crime drew national coverage when it came to light that Dana and Dockery, the alleged murderers, shared their huge, decaying antebellum mansion with their goats and other livestock, which prompted journalists to call the estate “Goat Castle.” Pearls was killed by an Arkansas policeman in an unrelated incident before he could face trial. 

However, as was all too typical in the Jim Crow South, the white community demanded “justice,” and an innocent black woman named Emily Burns was ultimately sent to prison for the murder of Merrill. Dana and Dockery not only avoided punishment but also lived to profit from the notoriety of the murder.

In telling this strange, fascinating story, Karen Cox highlights the larger ideas that made the tale so irresistible to the popular press and provides a unique lens through which to view the transformation of the plantation South into the fallen, Gothic South.

The old opened book is christian Psalter
19st century Psalter. Isolated over white with clipping path

My review:

This was a great book to read this month. It reminded me that no matter how much I push the boundaries of probability with writing, TRUTH IS STILL STRANGER THAN FICTION! Seriously, I could not make this stuff up.

A faded Southern belle murdered during a home invasion, planned by a couple who live in a house full of goat crap?? Who would imagine that? And then to have them get away with the crime, but a random Black woman have it pinned on her? OK, actually, that sounds completely believable. Sad, but true.

As crazy as the plot is, the writer was constrained by what actually happened. I think where she excels is in building a picture of the characters involved. I felt so angry and sad for Emily Burns, the woman chosen to be the scapegoat for the crime. The sheriff never believed she had done it, but after the local police forced a confession from her, his hands were tied. Even then, she had to go to trial, but of course she couldn’t afford a strong defense, so she was found guilty by a local jury. The sheriff figured he was lucky to avoid a lynch mob, but Burns served 8 years for a crime she didn’t commit.

I really enjoyed this one. It reminds me a lot of The Devil in the Grove, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013. I read an ARC edition of this one, and there were some formatting issues, but the story was visceral and real.

The Zookeeper’s Wife: A Review

This is an encore review; it appeared earlier online.

Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife

Author: Diane Ackerman

Summary:

When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw—and the city’s zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen “guests” hid inside the Zabinskis’ villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants—otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her. 

My review:

I was really impressed by this book. It’s the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski who hid Jews in their villa on the zoo grounds in Warsaw, Poland. Some heart-wrenching stories in there. What made it even more amazing is that it is a true story. Most of the book is taken from the diary that Antonina kept during the war, so we get a close look at how she felt. The descriptions of how fear affects you were really well done. The only thing I didn’t like about the book is that I didn’t really find out what happened to Jan and Antonina after the war or how the diary came to be found.

Madam Tulip: A Review

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions remain my own.
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Title: Madam Tulip

Author: David Ahern

Setting: modern Ireland

Summary: Madame Tulip is the first in a series of Tulip adventures in which Derry O’Donnell, celebrity fortune-teller and reluctant detective, plays the most exciting and perilous roles of her acting life, drinks borage tea, and fails to understand her parents.

My review:

Derry O’Donnell is an actor, but acting hasn’t been paying the bills lately. Now her super successful mom is putting her foot down – Derry needs to get a job and start paying the rent. On a whim, she invents a new character – Madam Tulip, medium.

It’s not entirely a lie. Her father is the seventh son of a seventh son, and Derry is somewhat psychic. But when she agrees to her first paying job, things don’t go exactly as planned.

Normally I don’t like cozy mysteries very much, but every once in a while one stands out. This one was much more fun because of the Irish setting and Derry’s entertaining parents. Derry herself is a good character, although the romantic angle was disappointing. I found the mystery angle a little confusing. But all the secondary characters are fun and I loved reading about Derry’s transformation into Madam Tulip. This book is the first in a series and I would love to read more. Thanks for the chance to read this one.

Paving the New Road: A Review

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions, however, remain my own.

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Title: Paving the New Road (Rowland Sinclair mysteries #4)

Author: Sulari Gentill

Setting: Australia then Germany 1933

Summary:

It’s 1933, and the political landscape of Europe is darkening.

Eric Campbell, the man who would be Australia’s Führer, is on a fascist tour of the Continent, meeting dictators over cocktails and seeking allegiances in a common cause. Yet the Australian way of life is not undefended. Old enemies have united to undermine Campbell’s ambitions. The clandestine armies of the Establishment have once again mobilised to thwart any friendship with the Third Reich.

But when their man in Munich is killed, desperate measures are necessary.

Now Rowland Sinclair must travel to Germany to defend Australian democracy from the relentless march of Fascism. Amidst the goosestepping euphoria of a rising Nazi movement, Rowland encounters those who will change the course of history. In a world of spies, murderers and despotic madmen, he can trust no-one but an artist, a poet and a brazen sculptress.

Plots thicken, loyalties are tested and bedfellows become strange indeed.

My review:

I must admit to knowing little or nothing about Australian politics, but I know a good thriller when I read one. Rowland Sinclair and his group of friends have been sent into the very heart of Nazi Germany to put a stop to an Australian politician’s nascent friendship with Adolf Hitler. While there, Rowland want to discover who murdered the last guy sent on the same errand. Along the way he meets lots of historical figures caught up in the same pre-war frenzy. Famous names aside, the real thrill was in seeing whether they would all escape Germany alive. A real page-turner.

This was the first book I read by this author and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I had been more familiar with the characters and their backstory. However I was able to jump in and sort things out, so I’m glad I got chosen for it. I can say it won’t be the last I read by this author! Recommended.

Halloween Horror

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<a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Freepik</a>

Happy Halloween! In honor of the hauntingly horrible holiday, I have a throwback review to share. Enjoy and have a bewitching evening.

Dracula

by Bram Stoker

Themes: love, death, blood, sex, evil, gender roles, mental illness
Setting: Transylvania – duh!, and England, late 19th century

Is there anyone who doesn’t know something about the story of Dracula? I think it would be almost impossible to come into this book, knowing NOTHING about it, but I am sure there are lots of others who haven’t ever actually read the book. (Or seen the real movie, either, for that matter.) But I decided it was time to read this one and see what it’s all about.

It was harder to read at first than I thought. We start off with young solicitor Jonathan Harker, on his way to stay at Dracula’s Castle. WHAT! What are you thinking! Don’t go there! Then I had to remind myself – he’s not being an idiot. He’s never heard of the count. Nobody has. This is where it all begins. It came up again later, when I was exasperated at how slow these people are to recognize what was going on. Don’t they know a vampire when they see one? Well, no. They don’t. This was one of the very first vampire stories, and much of the myth begins right here.

Other than that, it was really very easy to read. It was exciting and well written. The story is told in first person, in journal form and a few letters, which makes it easy to know what the participants are thinking and feeling. It makes it even spookier to here Dr. Seward describe what he saw when they broke into the Harker’s bedroom to find – well, I won’t give it away, but it was VERY creepy.

It wasn’t perfect. There was a long, somewhat slow section when Lucy Westenra is being pursued by this PRESENCE, that comes in through her window at night. I couldn’t believe how long that took. That was when I reminded myself that no one was supposed to know about vampires, so they could hardly be expected to figure it out. But it still took too long. Lucy would be attacked, she would almost die, they would save her, they would relax their guard, and then she’d be attacked again. Hurry it up, already! But once that came to it’s dramatic conclusion, the story picked up pace again and didn’t slow down after that.

I really am not a vampire fan. I am absolutely in the ‘vampires are evil’ camp, Team Buffy for me. But I don’t read vampire books much. Still, this is a classic, and I think that anyone who likes a good scary story would like it. I really liked my edition, which had a couple of essays in it. (As always, don’t read them until you finish the book!) The one in the front covered the history of the vampire myth, and the significance of Dracula in creating many of the things we think of when we think of vampires. It also had a run down on some of the classic movies, including a version starring Christopher Lee as the count, which I would like to see, just for fun. But the essay in the back highlighted some of my basic reservations when it comes to bloodsucking fiends – the sexual perversion inherit in the story. He goes through the book’s most graphic scenes and explores the sexual subtext in each scene. Very well written, and very persuasive as well.

It’s not a total gorefest or anything, but I wouldn’t recommend this book to my 13 year old, for example. But if you haven’t read it, thinking it’s too old-fashioned, or too hard to read, or too over the top, you should reconsider and give this one a chance. 5 stars.

Afterdeath: Review

I was given this book for free in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are solely my own.

35274633Title: Afterdeath

Author: Benoit Chartier

Synopsis:

Death is a country we see through the tiny keyhole of an immovable door.
Raised by their grandmother after their parents’ death, Chloe and Olivia Borders are now in mourning for Rose. The Alzheimer’s that forced them to be split into separate foster homes has taken their last living family member. As a way to rekindle their friendship, the twins commit to a road trip— which spells their demise. Now the question is: What comes after, and how will they get back to life?

Review:

Twin sisters Chloe and Olivia have drifted apart since their parents’ deaths. Now that their grandma is dead, the two decide to become reacquainted with a sister road trip. They both die. That sounds like a spoiler, but it happens early in the book, and the real story is about what happens AFTER Death. Hence the title, get it? Right.

So what does happen next? Let’s just say it’s NOTHING like you might expect. Olivia is a serious Christian, Chloe an agnostic, and both of them are in for a shock when they get to the other side. First of all, there’s still plenty to do and no sign of the Pearly Gates. Instead they meet some dubious new folks who claim to be there to help, but it’s hard to know who you can trust and who wants to kill you. Again.

It all gets a little confusing and kind of depressing, TBH. I had to push myself to keep reading. It doesn’t help that Angelica, their new companion, flips back and forth between seeming like a good gal and then a bitch. I couldn’t decide if I was supposed to like her or hate her, but she just confused me instead.

In the end, this one was quite original, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it. I think it was a case of a bad fit. It sounded like something I would like, but I guess I was in the mood for something lighter.