Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Pretty Girls
by Karin Slaughter
Release Date: September 29th 2015
2015 William Morrow
Hardcover Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062429056
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from TLC Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia's teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that's cruelly ripped open when Claire's husband is killed.

The disappearance of a teenage girl and the murder of a middle-aged man, almost a quarter-century apart: what could connect them? Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago . . . and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it.

My Thoughts
Pretty Girls is one of those books where I really thought the themes in the novel were much more thought-provoking than the actual suspense or the plot.  Yes, there were a couple of twists that I wasn't quite expecting, enough at least to keep the book interesting enough to read, but it was the threads running through it that I enjoyed quite a bit.

First of all, I do need to mention that I wasn't overly fond of Claire at the beginning of this novel.  I thought she was vain, arrogant, and just plain unlikeable; unfortunately, as the novel progressed, it took quite a while for me to empathize with her as she just seemed to live in a fantasy world that quite frankly drove me nuts.  Although I came to understand why Claire felt this need to escape so much, and felt the need to always be protected by others, it still drove me crazy, and I was constantly thinking to myself that she needed to grow a backbone.  That being said, her moments of anger were quite uncharacteristic and actually made me like her more, the anger not the actions, as she seemed more human and not so statue-like.  With all of this, I have to admit that I wasn't overly crazy with her reactions and how things panned out towards the end as it was a bit over the top for me.  For all of these years, she lived in blissful ignorance, and that is something I don't understand at all; how is it possible to miss the signs that the person you are living with is completely psychotic?  It's something that really made me question a few things and how far people will go to avoid facing what is right in front of them because they don't want to see the truth. 

I thought the plot was quite interesting, especially the parts that described the sisters' lives and how things were different after Julia's disappearance.  I thought the author did a great job showing the breakdown of the family unit and how each person coped differently to the stress in their lives and how it affected them throughout the years.  There were quite a few threads for the author to play around with here and I thought she did a good job keeping them tightly woven into a story that was believable and a bit scary, considering the police involvement.  Who do you trust if you can't trust the people who are supposed to help you?  Although some of the plot was a bit predictable and it was quite easy to figure out who the sketchy people were, the plot twists were interesting and even I wasn't sure if the ending was going to be a good one or not.  For those who are not into the violence, this book does tend to border on the graphic in some areas, so this may not necessarily be the read for you.

Pretty Girls was an enjoyable book, although I will admit that I liked the first part of the book a bit more than the second half, simply because I liked it when the sisters finally came back together after twenty years in order to do some snooping over Claire's husband and I found that shocking and interesting.  The concept of discovering that someone you dearly loved is not who you thought they were is definitely not a new concept, but the author managed to make it her own and make it interesting.  There were some plot points that, for me, did push a bit too far, but the novel is well-written and most of the characters were interesting.  I wasn't overly crazy over the last third of the novel as it felt overdone and was too dramatic, but not in the best way possible, for me. There is definitely a lot to recommend in this one, but while I found it interesting, it didn't really keep me on the edge of my seat like I hoped. 
Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review: Avelynn by Marissa Campbell

by Marissa Campbell
Release Date: September 8th 2015
2015 St. Martin's Griffin
Softcover Edition (ARC); 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250063939
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

It is 869. For eighteen years, Avelynn, the beautiful and secretly pagan daughter of the Eadlorman of Somerset has lived in an environment of love and acceptance. She hasn't yet found a man to make her heart race, but her father has not pressured her to get married. Until now. With whispers of war threatening their land, her father forces Avelynn into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status. The dreaded marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik the Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.

Alrik is unlike any man she has ever known, strong and intriguing. Likewise, he instantly falls for her beauty and courage. The two stumble into a passionate love affair, but it's more than just a greedy suitor who will try to keep them apart.

As the Saxons and Vikings go to war, Avelynn and Alrik find themselves caught in the throes of fate. Can they be true to their people as well as to each other?

My Thoughts
Avelynn is one of those books over which I had mixed feelings because I really enjoyed the historical aspects in the story and the difficulty the people faced during the Viking invasion, but I wasn't overly crazy about the romantic story line as I really thought it didn't fit in very well with the overall plot structure.

First of all, the beginning to the book seemed extremely promising.  Avelynn was a very strong character and demonstrated a strength that I thought would be quite interesting if it continued developing the same way the book began; Avelynn trying to show her father, the Earl, that the education he gave her, far beyond that given to girls during this time period, would give her the necessary qualities to rule if anything should happen to him.  She was headstrong, if a bit impulsive, but she was also young and inexperienced in a lot of ways and her faults kind of endeared her to me as it made her seem more likable.  She was also trained in warfare, a war-maiden, and was quite capable of taking care of herself during these dangerous times, something I also liked, as she wasn't dependent on a man to keep her safe all of the time.  Unfortunately, the leeway given to her by her father didn't sit well with everyone and Avelynn had to learn some hard lessons over the course of the story as she butted head with servants and local lords over issues thought to be dealt with only by men.  I liked how she stood up for her beliefs and for those around her, even if she didn't necessarily go about it by the smartest way at times; like I said, some lessons had to be learned the hard way and experience does count for something.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was the time period, the setting, as it is not a specialty of mine, and I like learning about different historical eras when I get a chance.  This does make it a bit challenging as I am not always sure if things are historically accurate and I have to trust that the author did her research; there was a resonance of the modern throughout the book, but I wonder if that was done on purpose as some readers, like myself, might have needed a guideline in order to understand where everything took place in relation to modern-day England.  Unfortunately, there was no author's note in this ARC to let me know of any additional information or any changes that were made deliberately.  

I definitely liked the overlap of the old religion (Druid) and the new religion (Christian) and the difficulties this posed to those who continued to worship in the old way.  Avelynn is a high priestess in the old pagan religion, but had to keep that knowledge secret or risk death; luckily those around her who knew about her passions, kept her secrets.  This did help save her life when she came face to face with the Vikings for the first time, a people who still worshipped the old gods and kept faith with the old religion.  

The Vikings were quite interesting and I wished there was more to them in this novel than just their brutality, although I'm really grateful to the author for keeping her descriptions to a minimum as some of the things she described were quite awful.  Unfortunately, the appearance of Alrik though, is where I had difficulty with this novel as I had trouble accepting that two people could fall in love after meeting only a couple of times, and risk the lives of both their peoples on those meetings.  I understand that Avelynn was looking for a way out of her upcoming marriage to an awful man, but I wish the author had kept the romance aspect to a minimum for now, and just focused on Avelynn the warrior, the woman who would save her people from the brutal Vikings.  The historical aspect to this story was interesting enough that it didn't need the addition of a romance, and I thought it just slowed things down and took away from the other interesting plot points that were occurring.

Avelynn is one of those novels whereby I had mixed feelings with reference to the romance as I thought it really slowed down the more interesting aspects of the story line, the Saxon culture and the impending Viking invasion.  I really enjoyed the pagan flavour to the story and the conflicts that arose between the pagan and Christian religions and how things were changing for women because of this influx of changes.  I really enjoyed all of the characters and was disappointed that I didn't get to know a couple of them better due to regrettable circumstances.  I am also hoping that some of the characters will develop into more prominent players as this series unfolds as the way it ended left no doubt in my mind that we will see Avelynn and Alrik in the future as they battle to stay alive. 
Monday, September 21, 2015

Review: The Girl in the Glass by James Hayman

The Girl in the Glass (McCabe & Savage Thrillers, Book #4)
by James Hayman
Release Date: October 6th 2015
2015 Witness Impulse
Ebook Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062435163
ASIN: B00WR18S72 (August 25th 2015)
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars


Two identical women.
Two identical murders. Two lives brutally cut short
108 years apart
June 1904.
Aimée Garnier Whitby, a beautiful French artist and wife of one of Maine's richest and most powerful men, is found near death on the Whitby family's private summer island, the letter "A" mysteriously carved into her chest.

June 2012.
Veronica Aimée Whitby, the eighteen-year-old descendant and virtual double of the first Aimée, becomes the victim of a near perfect copycat murder. With another beautiful, promising young Whitby woman slain, the media begin to swarm and pressure builds for Mike McCabe and Maggie Savage to bring the killer quickly to justice. But the key to solving Aimée's death just might have been buried with her beautiful ancestor.

My Thoughts
The Girl in the Glass is a bit different from the previous installments of the McCabe & Savage Thrillers and although it wasn't my favourite in the series so far (the first one was), it definitely had an interesting story to tell, with a few twists and turns that will please many readers of this genre. 

First of all, I really liked learning about the two Aimee's and wished that there was more story to tell, especially about the earlier one as her life seemed so interesting and quite bohemian for a woman married to a rich, well-respected man of the community.  An artist, who also taught part-time in Boston, would certainly have turned heads during that time period and would have liked that explored a bit more, especially as her husband's anger and the marriage difficulties seemed a bit 'forced' to make them fit into the story. And I will admit that I didn't catch the twist to this one, although I should have as the clues were right there in my face. 

I didn't really like the second Aimee very much and didn't really empathize with her situation; in all fairness though, her character was killed off before giving the reader a chance to get to know her very well, but what the reader saw a spoiled, pampered young lady of eighteen, used to getting her own way, thinking everyone around her should worship the ground she walks on because of who she is and because of her looks.  Not a set-up for sympathy.  McCabe and Savage haven't really changed much over the course of the series, except for a few broken relationships, and a teaser that perhaps the two will finally get together, and personally, I would like to see their characters develop a bit more as I feel they have stalled in their personal situations.  For whatever reason, they felt a little flat to me in this one.

Luckily, the plot was interesting enough to deflect from the McCabe and Savage character situation, and the other characters were intriguing enough to keep me flipping the pages.  I thought the mystery was well-written, with quite a few twists and turns, and although I suspected who it was who committed the crime, I didn't exactly get it right, or get all the details right, which I enjoyed. 

The Girl in the Glass in an easy mystery to read, with an interesting plot, and a few twists to keep you guessing.  I liked the comparison between the two Aimee's from the past to the present, and it goes to show that sex, adultery, murder, and mystery haven't really changed in one hundred years, just the methods of detecting it have; discovering the two endings to the two crimes was absorbing.  Although I didn't feel that McCabe and Savage really grew and developed as characters in this one, I am curious enough about their personal relationships to look forward to the next book when it is released.  Will they or won't they finally get together?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review: Time of Death by Mark Billingham

Time of Death (Tom Thorne, Book #13)
by Mark Billingham
Release Date: June 2nd 2015
2015 Atlantic Monthly Press
Ebook Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-0802123633
ASIN: B00SRVAES2 (Hachette)
Genre: Fiction / Murder
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

The astonishing thirteenth Tom Thorne novel is a story of kidnapping, the tabloid press, and a frightening case of mistaken identity.Tom Thorne is on holiday with his girlfriend DS Helen Weeks, when two girls are abducted in Helen’s home town. When a body is discovered and a man is arrested, Helen recognizes the suspect’s wife as an old school-friend and returns home for the first time in twenty-five years to lend her support. As his partner faces up to a past she has tried desperately to forget and a media storm engulfs the town, Thorne becomes convinced that, despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, the police have got the wrong man. There is still an extremely clever and killer on the loose and a missing girl who Thorne believes might still be alive.

My Thoughts
Time of Death is the thirteenth entry into the Tom Thorne series, and this one did not disappoint.  The last book in this series was quite intense so I was glad to take a break from the intensity and go back to a more 'leisurely' investigation.  However, leisurely is a deceptive word when talking about a Billingham murder/mystery as this author really knows how to deliver a complicated story that is fairly easy to follow while also making the reader think about what is going on behind the scenes.
Tom and his girlfriend Helen are supposed to be on holiday, but that is really an oxymoron for anyone who has followed this series from the beginning as loyal followers understand that Tom doesn't really know how to relax anywhere or anytime.  He is nosy, curious, impatient, and when Helen involves herself in the case because the suspect's wife happens to be an old friend of hers, Tom simply can't help himself by becoming involved as well as he doesn't know what to do with the extra time he has on his hands.  While this type of personality has won him his fair share of cases, it has also gotten him into a lot of trouble and loyal fans have had to sit through many situations with Tom as he was demoted, promoted, demoted, and returned to his position throughout the years, then threatened with demotion yet again.  It has been quite the ride, but the author has a way of drawing in his readers and you become emotionally invested in what happens to his characters and Tom can put you through the ringer sometimes. 

The first part of the novel moves a bit more slowly than we're used to, but I didn't actually mind as I enjoyed the descriptions of the fictional towns of Polesford and Dorbrook and the struggles the people were going through as they dealt with both the disappearances of the girls as well as the recent flooding in their towns from the heavy rains.  I do have to admit the author did a great job throwing those red herrings in my path as I struggled to figure out who committed the crime as I changed my opinion quite a few times in this one, and that doesn't happen very often, especially with an author I have read since the first book.  I also enjoyed learning more about Helen and her past, glad to see her opening up a bit more, as the author explored Tom and Helen's relationship.  I like the fact their relationship isn't perfect, and it certainly is different to see Tom in this role as partner, one who is more loving and kind, as he does tend to be rather brusque and hard at times.  And although I love Phil Hendricks as a character, I'm still undecided as to whether his appearance in this novel was an asset or a hindrance; the whole situation felt a bit jarring to me and didn't quite fit into the atmosphere and tone set by the rest of the story.

Time of Death had an intriguing premise and I enjoyed it very much, even if it didn't have that pulse-pounding feel of the previous novel.  To be honest, I think I liked it for that very reason as it gave you room to breathe a little bit before the real intensity hit you again.  I was glad to see the further development of the characters, and the learn a bit more about Helen and her past; hopefully, we'll get to learn more in the next few novels as I think she has an interesting story to tell.  Sometimes when an author gets to this stage in a series, the novels tend to get a bit boring, but this author is continuing his amazing storytelling with rather intricate and interesting plots and fascinating characters and continuing rather strongly.  I am definitely looking forward to the next installment of the Tom Thorne series.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Review: The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

The Dead House
by Dawn Kurtagich
Release Date: September 15th 2015
2015 Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Ebook Edition; 419 Pages
ISBN: 978-0316298681
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Part-psychological thriller, part-urban legend, this is an unsettling narrative made up of diary entries, interview transcripts, film footage transcripts and medical notes. Twenty-five years ago, Elmbridge High burned down. Three people were killed and one pupil, Carly Johnson, disappeared. Now a diary has been found in the ruins of the school. The diary belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly’s identical twin sister. But Carly didn’t have a twin . . .

Re-opened police records, psychiatric reports, transcripts of video footage and fragments of diary reveal a web of deceit and intrigue, violence and murder, raising a whole lot more questions than it answers.

Who was Kaitlyn and why did she only appear at night? Did she really exist or was she a figment of a disturbed mind? What were the illicit rituals taking place at the school? And just what did happen at Elmbridge in the events leading up to ‘the Johnson Incident’?

My Thoughts
The Dead House is one of those books where I gave up trying to figure out what was going on about half way through the book and just went along for the ride.  I figured I could spend my time thinking about it afterwards, once I had all the facts and know how it all played out.  Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way as there are some things over which I am vacillating and I am still not sure exactly what I think, although I am leaning more towards the psychological aspects of this story, the dissociative identity disorder (DID). That doesn't make this book any less creepy however; in fact, to me it actually make the events far creepier if you remove the paranormal element and assume they are the result of mental illness.

First of all, I have to say right from the beginning that I loved the way this book was written.  Using journal entries, video footage (including creepy photos from said videos), transcripts of police interviews, emails, newspaper articles, etc..., the novel had a really twisty narrative to it that made it seem unreal.  And because many of the journal entries and video clips were partially destroyed or without dates, they were put in sequence where the 'author' thought they should fit, so they could have been out of sequence.  It made the novel seem a bit disjointed, but it was so much creepier this way.  I thought the concept was quite brilliant.  Looking back at the narrative, I also see how much was manipulated by the author; in one sense we get these clinical interviews with the psychologist and the police officer, and in the other sense, we have these very emotional journal entries by the principal character, both of which are very effective in drawing you in and making you empathize with Kaitlyn, trying to remove your objectivity.  It took quite a bit of effort on my part to look at events more objectively in order to try and figure them out.

The story itself however, does require some suspension of belief, but that will depend on which side you take, the paranormal or the psychological.  I did feel at times that the author was withholding a bit too much information and there were some things I really wanted to know.  For example, I would have liked to have a clearer picture of the death of Kaitlyn and Carly's parents and a bit more background on that.  While I have a good idea as to what happened, it's just what I pieced together and it may be completely different from what others perceived.  And while the events built up rather nicely, I wasn't completely crazy over the ending as I just felt like there were too many loose ends, or some things were learned a bit too late, taking away from that great creepy feeling that existed earlier in the book.  Nothing about the earlier parts of the book felt rushed, just a great building up of tension, and although I figured out the antagonist quite early, it really didn't matter as the focus was on Kaitlyn and Carly.  Don't get me wrong; I am always complaining that books do too much thinking for their readers so I love the fact that this is what I call a 'thinking' book, but there are some things a reader just cannot figure out without some help from the author.

The Dead House contains quite a lot of ambiguity in it, but that's one of its strengths.  It's very unsettling and perturbing because it makes you think; you spend the entire book wondering if you are reading a paranormal novel or a psychological one, and the answers, unfortunately, are not given to you easily.  Is Kaitlyn simply seriously mentally unstable, or is she experiencing a serious paranormal experience?  I did think the ending wrapped up too quickly for the nice buildup we got throughout the novel, and I wasn't crazy about the romance as I felt it didn't really fit into the story. And the so-called evil person twist at the end was a dead giveaway because of the romance.  I would also like to see a novel where the psychologist gets a good deal in the story instead of always being the bad guy.  Most of the them are not incompetent or inadequate at their jobs.  In any case, this is one you should go into knowing very little about and decide for yourself what you think.  It's interesting, to say the least.
Thursday, September 17, 2015

Review: A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd

A Pattern of Lies (Bess Crawford, Book #7)
by Charles Todd
Release Date: August 18th 2015
2015 William Morrow
Ebook Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062386243
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

An explosion and fire at the Ashton Gunpowder Mill in Kent has killed over a hundred men. It’s called an appalling tragedy—until suspicion and rumor raise the specter of murder. While visiting the Ashton family, Bess Crawford finds herself caught up in a venomous show of hostility that doesn’t stop with Philip Ashton’s arrest. Indeed, someone is out for blood, and the household is all but under siege.

The only known witness to the tragedy is now at the Front in France. Bess is asked to find him. When she does, he refuses to tell her anything that will help the Ashtons. Realizing that he believes the tissue of lies that has nearly destroyed a family, Bess must convince him to tell her what really happened that terrible Sunday morning. But now someone else is also searching for this man.

To end the vicious persecution of the Ashtons, Bess must risk her own life to protect her reluctant witness from a clever killer intent on preventing either of them from ever reaching England.

My Thoughts
A Pattern of Lies is the seventh book in the Bess Crawford series, and I definitely liked this installment much better than I liked the previous one.  The whole concept of "a pattern of lies" was intriguing, and I liked how it was developed; the idea that one person or a group of persons could spread malicious ideas and lies and how a mob mentality can take over and bring such grief to others is quite horrifying.  Just the thought of what other people can do to others, brought about through vicious gossip and innuendos, is quite shocking.

In 1916, a gunpowder mill exploded killing over 100 men and injuring many others, leaving the nearby town devastated and without an income it had depended on for over 100 years.  The mill's production was eventually moved elsewhere, leaving devastation and heartbreak in its wake.  The events in this story were very loosely based on a real event so I found that quite interesting and did a bit of research myself.   I am amazed sometimes at the laxity in investigative procedures and what 'official' reports will overlook in order to come to a solution.  And the law during this time was very different; the Ashtons, on the receiving end from even the police, really had no one to turn to and were feeling very pressured on all sides.  As much as we complain about the law today, we definitely have it better than 100 years ago.

Bess Crawford is a trained nurse serving on the front during WWI.  I love the comparisons between what she did on the front, treating all of those injured soldiers so capably, to the situations where she had visitors and almost got in trouble for being seen with several different men, even though Simon is an old friend of the family's.  The limits on her behaviour, while loosening because of the war, are still quite prevalent, but for a woman like Bess who has traveled quite extensively and who has seen so much on the front, she is finding it more and more difficult to live up to the expectations and limits placed on her by society.  Personally, I can't wait until she breaks those bonds and finally loosens up  a little as I really feel like her development has stalled; while she is very inquisitive and very creative, with high standards and morals, I didn't get a solid sense as to what was really feeling.  The world has been changing for the past two years, quite drastically, and with what she has seen, you'd think she would have changed as well, but I feel like her character has gotten a bit boring, or rather stuck.  I would love to see her get involved in some personal entanglements, develop some stronger female friendships, and really show her personality as it would make her so much more interesting. 

A Pattern of Lies was a thoughtful mystery, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I liked the sleuthing, the slow buildup of clues, the deciphering of pieces of information; I didn't mind that it took a bit to build up as I rather enjoyed it, trying to figure out what was happening.  Having a history background, I loved the scenes at the war front, and got a good feel for how things were like, enjoying things from a nursing perspective.  I even liked the little addition of the Red Baron in there.  As this series enters peace time, I am curious as to where the authors will take it.  Perhaps we will finally see some romance for Bess; and the set-up begins our quest to discover which one she will choose, Simon or Sergeant Lassiter.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Interview: The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees

The Sleeping King
by Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin
Release Date: September 8th 2015
2015 Tor Books
Hardcover Edition; 496 Pages
ISBN: 978-0765335142
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy

The Sleeping King is the start of a new fantasy series by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Cindy Dees.

Dees has won a Golden Heart Award, two RITAs for Category Suspense and Adventure and has also twice snared RT's Series Romantic Suspense of the Year. She is a great storyteller, and the adventures in her more than fifty novels are often inspired by her own life. Dees is an Air Force vet-the youngest female pilot in Air Force history-and fought in the first Gulf War. She's had amazing adventures, and she's used her experiences to tell some kickass stories.

But as much as she loves romances, Cindy's other passion has been fantasy gaming. For almost twenty years she's been involved with Dragon Crest, one of the original live action role-playing games. She's the story content creator on the game, and wanted to do an epic fantasy based on it, with the blessing and input of Dragon Crest founder Bill Flippin.

The Sleeping King is the first in an epic fantasy series, featuring the best of the genre: near immortal imperial overlords, a prophecy of a sleeping elven king who's said to be the savior of the races . . . and two young people who are set on a path to save the day.

Interview with Cindy Dees

1)    To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?  How did you become interested in writing?

First, thanks for inviting me to curl up by your virtual fireplace. Please join me in having a cup of virtual hot chocolate…

      Okay, the short version of my life story.  Grew up on a horse farm in Michigan. Dropped out of high school at 15 to get a degree in Russian and East European Studies at the University of Michigan. Pilot in the Air Force (VIP Airlift at Andrews Air Force Base followed by C-5’s, which are REALLY big cargo airplanes). Part-time spy. Left Air Force, moved to Texas. Started writing. 50 books published and a bunch of awards for military romance and thrillers. Long-time live-action gamer. Lost mind and started writing epic fantasy.

The story of how I started writing is fairly well known. My mother bet me a dollar I couldn’t write a publishable book. I went home, wrote my first book and was hooked. What most people don’t know is that I had to wait ten years to publish that book. My security clearances when I made the bet would not allow me to publish anything. I had to get out of the military and then wait seven years for my security clearances to expire before I could submit the book to a publisher and subsequently win the bet. Hardest dollar I ever earned!

2)    Can you tell us a little about your novel, The Sleeping King? What is it like to create your own world?

The Sleeping King is old school epic fantasy—big, sprawling, and complex—it’s being compared to Tolkien and Jordan in scope. Hopefully, we bring modern style and pacing to it that make it a fast, fun read.

The story itself is ultimately about hope. An evil, omnipotent empire has all but crushed any memory of freedom, and only a few brave (likely foolish) heroes dare to oppose it. For differing reasons, two young people go in search of a legendary sleeping king who, when woken, is prophesied to save them all and restore freedom throughout the land.

A trend in fantasy literature today seems to be fairly grim and gritty, the whole, “life sucks and then you die” take on imaginary worlds. Bill and I choose to take a more optimistic view that common people can achieve great deeds if they strive greatly. Good may not triumph completely over evil, but with heroism and hard work, the good guys can make a space for happiness and peace to exist until the next generation of heroes is called to defend freedom.

As for what it’s like to create a world, that has been a collaborative effort for the past twenty-five years, led by the brilliant Bill Flippin, whose brainchild the Dragon Crest universe is. Many hundreds of smart, creative players in the live-action game have added to it over the years. They helped it come alive and gave it heart and soul. I feel like my job is more about archiving the collective effort than it is about making stuff up in my one tiny brain.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Spotlight: Night's Surrender by Amanda Ashley

Title: Night's Surrender
Author: Amanda Ashley
Publisher: Zebra
Pages: 352
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Format: Kindle/Paperback

“A master of her craft.” —Maggie Shayne“Amanda Ashley is a master storyteller.” —Christine FeehanRT BOOK REVIEWS Career Achievement winner in Paranormal Romance!

Aspiring actress Abbey Marie Cordova knows more than most people do about vampires—she was born among them, the only human child in a centuries-old family of the undead, and determined to stay that way. But a chance encounter with dark, mysterious Niccola Desanto rocks her to the core. Nick is a vampire, and he’s the only man who has ever made her feel so beautiful, so cherished, and so passionately desired …

Nick has spent hundreds of years on his own, and the decadent pleasures of the world have lost their appeal. Rumor has it the vampire who made him has regained her humanity—the temptation to find her and demand to know the secret is overwhelming. But one glance at innocently alluring Abbey changes everything. Drawn to her with dangerous, consuming passion, Nick will need more than a lifetime to love her…

More Children of the Night

Monday, September 7, 2015

Review: The Forgotten by Heather Graham

The Forgotten (Krewe of Hunters, Book #16)
by Heather Graham
Release Date: July 28th 2015
2015 Mira
Ebook Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778317890
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 Stars

A woman named Maria Gomez is murdered in Miami, apparently by her husband—who'd been presumed dead, slain by a crime boss. FBI agent Brett Cody can't believe it; dead or alive, the man had loved his wife. He also can't help feeling guilty, since he was responsible for protecting Miguel and Maria Gomez.

A few miles away, Lara Mayhew has just begun working at a dolphin research facility. She loves her new job—until a dolphin brings her something unexpected from the deep. A human hand. More body parts show up, and when Brett looks into the situation, he discovers that the dismembered corpse is Miguel's.

Soon, rumors of crazed zombies abound in the Miami media, and the Krewe of Hunters, an elite FBI unit of paranormal investigators, is called in. Brett and Lara find themselves working with the Krewe—and working closely together. An elderly crime boss who's losing his memory seems to be key to solving this case, but…there's no motive. Unless Brett and Lara can uncover one in the Miami underworld. And that means they have to protect themselves. And each other.

The Forgotten is the next installment in a paranormal series that I really enjoy; even though I know the story will probably follow the same predictable story line as the previous books, I still enjoy reading them and learning more about some of the characters that appeared in previous books.   You have the romance between the main characters, you have the usual mystery with a touch of paranormal, you have the beautiful settings full of sun and water and beach (usually), and you have the mystery, while formulaic, is still intriguing. All of these elements combine for a fun, easy read and one that I return to time and again.

One of the things I have always enjoyed about a Graham novel is the setting and the historical background that is given to readers.  No matter where a novel is set, there is always plenty of information about the cultural background, the historical background, and the diversity that make up so many of these places, all done in such a way that is interesting to read about and makes you want to go there and visit.  Graham's vivid descriptions of the Florida Keys have added that place to my bucket list years ago and because I've been to Miami, I can actually visualize the city through her eyes and see what she is trying to get across.  I really enjoyed some of the background story of the Haitian population in Miami and refreshed my history of Papa Doc and his so-called zombie army.  

That being said however, I did find the overall story in this installment to be a bit dull compared to previous novels, and thought the paranormal element kind of fell flat; it really felt as if the paranormal element was thrown in there just to remind us that this was a Krewe novel and the Krewe typically dealt only with very unusual cases.  Every novel also has a different FBI agent as the principal character who falls in love with someone involved in the case in some way, and this novel was no different.  While I enjoyed the two main characters very much, I didn't really buy into their romance as much as in previous novels as it felt like it was just tossed in there rather than really worked into the story.  I'm glad they got together, but I don't think it would have mattered to me a whole lot.  However, I was rooting quite a bit for Diego as I really liked his character and thought his loyalty and bravery were really appealing. I think it says quite a bit when you are rooting more for the other guy than the main character, doesn't it? 

The Forgotten was still very enjoyable, and there were elements in there that I really liked.  I really enjoyed the cultural and historical descriptions of Miami and could really feel the vibe of the city through the written language.  I also liked learning about the dolphins as I don't really know a lot about them so I found that pretty interesting.  I thought the concept of this book was intriguing, but felt the paranormal element and the romance were not as well-blended into the mystery in this one.  It was fairly predictable as most of the novels do follow a fairly predictable pattern, but that doesn't usually deter from the fun of reading these books.  I do feel that this is one I probably wouldn't re-read in the future. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Spotlight: Roman Mask by Thomas M.D. Brooke

Large copy of CoverPublication Date: June 29, 2015
Formats: Kindle & Paperback
Pages: 388
Genre: Historical Fiction/Adventure/Action  


Rome AD 9
Augustus Caesar rules Imperial Rome at the height of its power, as the Roman Empire stretches across the known world. Cassius, son of one of her most powerful families, is the personification of Rome’s imperial strength: wealthy, popular, a war hero with a decorated military career – none of Rome’s fashionable parties are complete without him – except, he hides a secret.

After his nerve is broken in Germany, the thought of genuine armed combat is enough to send him into a cold sweat of fear and shame. But this doesn’t dissuade him from living off a false reputation so he can continue a life of casual affairs, wine, and parties, as he is seduced by the many vices of Rome.

However his scandalous life is soon upset by a summons from the Emperor’s wife. It ends his happy decadent life and returns him to Germany to assist the Roman legions in their greatest ever trial, and the events that will resound down in history, in the dark forests of the Teutoburg…


"Thomas Brooke brings vividly alive the Rome of Augustus Caesar. Violent, sex obsessed - not unlike our own century - we see the savage pleasures of the ancient world through the eyes of a charming rake back from the wars with a not entirely justified reputation for heroism. Brooke's debut is an undoubted success. I thoroughly enjoyed Roman Mask - the first of a series, I hope." - David Roberts, Author of Sweet Poison and The Corinth crime novels.



Thomas Brooke lives in London where he works in the exciting, and sometimes crazy, fashion world. He is also a committed writer and he spends as much time as he can in his beloved Northumbrian hills, where up until recently could be seen walking with his black Labrador Fergus, who sadly passed in January 2015. Fergus was a constant companion to the writing of the novel and prevented many writers’ tantrums.

Roman Mask is Thomas Brooke’s second novel, although this will be the first available for sale. As well as writing novels, he also writes a blog on both historical and fantasy genre novels.

For more information on Thomas M D Brooke, visit and You can also find him on Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.


Monday, August 24 Kick Off & Giveaway at Passages to the Past  
Tuesday, August 25 Excerpt & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books  
Wednesday, August 26 Spotlight at A Literary Vacation  
Tuesday, September 1 Spotlight at Curling up by the Fire  
Wednesday, September 2 Excerpt at Boom Baby Reviews  
Thursday, September 3 Review at Just One More Chapter  
Saturday, September 5 Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book  
Monday, September 7 Review at Ageless Pages Reviews  
Tuesday, September 8 Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views  
Thursday, September 10 Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews
Sunday, September 13 Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More Friday, September 18 Review at Broken Teepee
Wednesday, September 23 Review at Genre Queen
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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Review: The Fixer by Joseph Finder

The Fixer 
by Joseph Finder
Release Date: June 9th 2015
2015 Dutton
Ebook Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0525954613
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

When former investigative reporter Rick Hoffman loses his job, fiancée, and apartment, his only option is to move back into — and renovate — the home of his miserable youth, now empty and in decay since the stroke that put his father in a nursing home.

As Rick starts to pull apart the old house, he makes an electrifying discovery — millions of dollars hidden in the walls. It’s enough money to completely transform Rick’s life — and everything he thought he knew about his father.  Yet the more of his father’s hidden past that Rick brings to light, the more dangerous his present becomes. Soon, he finds himself on the run from deadly enemies desperate to keep the past buried, and only solving the mystery of his father — a man who has been unable to communicate, comprehend, or care for himself for almost 20 years — will save Rick... if he can survive long enough to do it.

My Thoughts
The Fixer is one of those books over which I have very mixed feelings.  First of all, I was not very fond of the principle character, Rick Hoffman, for the first half of the novel, although he grew on my slightly towards the end.  Second, while I enjoy his writing style and he does tell an interesting story, there were not enough of the twists and turns that I like to see in a novel such a this; in other words, it was kind of predictable.

As an investigate reporter, Rick Hoffman didn't really seem all that bright to me, especially in the first half of the novel.  He finds three and a half million dollars in his father's house and the first things he does is think about all of the things he could purchase or do with the money, and not really investigate where the money came from in the first place.  Then he is shocked because there are people out there who try to kill him, repeatedly, and suddenly, he is thrown into this great mystery about his father and how he managed to accumulate all of this money.  After the first time he was abducted, you'd think he would have taken steps to protect himself, especially being a top-notch investigative reporter, but then he makes the same mistakes over and over again. And the fact that he really didn't think about his father bothered me a great deal, but I got the impression that his father wasn't at the top of his priority list anyways; the visits to the nursing home were just a requirement done to satisfy society that he was doing his duty as a son and nothing else.  And yet, as Rick investigates, he learns that his dad was indeed an upstanding man, a man who fought for the rights and freedoms of others, who took on 'sketchy' clients in order to support his family, but who did it right in the end.  I know there are a lot of people who don't really pay attention to their fathers and to the things they did in the past, and I find that really sad.

The plot had many themes running through it and I thought the author did a good job reigning them all in and keeping the plot tight and together.  The most interesting theme, by far, was the concept of 'fixing', but I was skeptical about the whole plot, considering the amount of insurance that construction companies take out for such situations.  On the other hand, you hear about companies getting fined all of the time for keeping things 'quiet', or for people getting paid to keep 'quiet'; all you have to do is surf the Net and there are loads of cases such as these, so it does make you wonder... I was more interested however, in how someone would get involved in such a thing and I guess desperation and family could definitely do this to someone, compromise your integrity to a point where you can no longer look at yourself.  It was an interesting theme and I liked how Finder explored it in this novel.

The Fixer was one of those novels where I didn't really care for the protagonist a whole lot, but I liked the author's writing style and I liked the themes that were explored; I also think it was Rick's dad's story that really kept me interested as his life fascinated me.  The pace was fairly quick, but it didn't really carry the suspense or the unpredictability that I like in a suspense novel.   To be honest, I'm not really sure how to recommend this novel; I think you should just decide for yourself if you wish to read it.
Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen (Red Queen, Book #1)
by Victoria Aveyard
Release Date: February 10th 2015
2015 HarperTeen
Ebook Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062310637
Genre: Fiction / YA / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

My Thoughts
Red Queen is the first book in a planned trilogy and basically is the story of two types of people, one with silver blood who control the land and have immense powers, one with red blood who serve the silvers in every way imaginable, and of course, there is the red blood who is discovered to have immense powers and crosses that imaginary boundary that divides the two people.  Personally, I thought the book was well-written and enjoyable, but ultimately very predictable.

First of all, I really liked Mare as a principal character, even if she is a bit selfish and self-centered at times, unwilling to pay attention to what is really happening around her.  For a character who is portrayed as tough and a bit rebellious, I actually found her to be quite naive and a bit silly sometimes, but she reminds me of a typical person who thinks they know everything until they are dumped into a situation and then realize they really didn't know what they were doing. Or how big the world actually is out there.  This didn't bother me a whole lot about her as it gave her character quite a bit of room to grow and develop, and although she's not there yet, I am curious as to how the author will develop this character.  As for the other characters, I don't really feel as if the author has given them much of a chance to grow and develop as of yet so I didn't really empathize too much with them.  Maven was okay, but his character could be so much more than how he was portrayed in here as he is much more intelligent to be playing the games he played in the end; it was too childish and I'd like to see some real adult politics be involved in his games as it would so much more fun to read about. 

That brings me to my next point, the political situation in this novel, which was kind of non-existent. The premise was kind of intriguing and Maven's mother showed some promise at being politically adept, but then it kind of petered out and we were left with more petty political intrigues and under-developed intrigues.  I was left feeling a bit disappointed as there seemed to be a lot of hope that the political situation would be more developed than it was, but it was vague and skipped around quite a bit as if the author was trying to decide what to do.  The world-building was interesting, and definitely had a dystopian feel to it that I liked, with some elements that I hope are further explored in the next novel.

I still have a lot of mixed feelings about the plot though, as it did move along rather slowly, and it was fairly predictable.  While some people might find the plot to be full of twists and turns, I found them quite bland and easy to figure out what was coming.  And Maven - could have spotted that one a mile away.   Like I said, Mare is pretty naive and pretty trusting for a rebellious red.  I am glad however, that the author didn't really develop the romance too much as it didn't really seem to suit the novel; while I am curious to see what happens in that department, it can wait for future books to develop although I know who I am rooting for already and you may be surprised by my choice.

Red Queen was a fairly interesting novel when it came to world-building and the premise was certainly intriguing.  I did enjoy it quite a bit, but found it predictable and a bit on the shallow level. I would like to see the political intrigues and the character development taken to deeper levels as there is a lot of potential to really explore those depths without being the same as everyone else.  It could be very intense at times, and there were some gritty sections in here that I enjoyed.  And I really enjoyed the conclusion, a perfect set-up for the next book in this series, Glass Sword, to be released February 2016.