Thursday, January 28, 2016

Review: The Ex by Alafair Burke

The Ex
by Alafair Burke
Release Date: January 26th 2016
2016 Harper
Softcover ARC Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062390486
ASIN: B00X3N8S96
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from TLC Book Tours

3.5 / 5 Stars

Olivia Randall is one of New York City’s best criminal defense lawyers. When she hears that her former fiancĂ©, Jack Harris, has been arrested for a triple homicide—and that one of the victims was connected to his wife’s murder three years earlier—there is no doubt in her mind as to his innocence. The only question is, who would go to such great lengths to frame him—and why?

For Olivia, representing Jack is a way to make up for past regrets and absolve herself of guilt from a tragic decision, a secret she has held for twenty years. But as the evidence against him mounts, she is forced to confront her doubts. The man she knew could not have done this. But what if she never really knew him?

My Thoughts 
The Ex was a pretty decent legal thriller in terms of plot; the lawyer defends a man she was involved with twenty years ago after he was arrested for a triple homicide.  While I don't have anything again legal thrillers, they're not usually a genre I tend to read extensively, although I do love the thriller / suspense genre itself.  That being the case, I had prepared myself for some long courtroom drama scenes, but was surprised at how little of that there was in this one; some may argue that it was not a strength, but for me, I gave a little sigh of relief as I thought the legal stuff was quite interesting and just enough to make it informative without going over the top.  

First of all, the legal information blended quite well into the story.  I have found that sometimes, the courtroom dramas can consume a novel which I think is why I have stayed away from them or have been a bit skeptical over reading them lately.  There was a lot of wrangling between Olivia, her office, and the DA's office over different rights and laws and who had the right to what information; I do find this kind of thing fascinating as there is so much misinformation out there that it is nice to learn a bit more.  I also found little discussions about previous cases quite informative as well and enjoyed that aspect, almost enough to make me rethink the whole legal thriller genre (except for Anne Perry's William Monk series which I do read).  Unfortunately for the author however, I did find the actual story to be quite predictable and mundane; it's a been there, seen that, read about it already kind of story so it was really easy to figure out the mystery, which did leave me feeling a bit unsatisfied.  

I did really like Olivia Randall though; I though she was independent, strong, and powerful.  The only thing that bothered me was her denial about Jack's possible guilt; a hot-shot defense lawyer like Olivia should be able to put away her feelings and look at all sides of an issue, and her constant defense of him for no other reason than she knew him twenty years ago drove me crazy.  And it was repeated throughout the novel ad-nauseam. I also took a liking to Scott Temple and wished we could have learned more about him.  I thought the dialogue between Olivia and Scott was quite witty and interesting so I looked forward to their scenes together.  I do wish the other characters had had more depth to them though.  Just when things were getting interesting, the author sort of sidled away from some interesting possibilities and settled on some more mundane ones and I was very disappointed.  it definitely doesn't hurt to take a risk as I think Ms. Burke's readers have been waiting for those risks to appear in her novels.  

I also really liked the author's take on social media and how the public is ruled by it.  I thought she did quite a credible job at showing how people really rely on technology and not everyone over 40 is a technology idiot, capable of using computers quite well and using other advanced gadgets with ease. I also liked how she showed how easy it was to mess up too when you think you know it all about technology; someone is always faster and better than you.

The Ex is one of those novels that I liked because of the author's writing style and because she made her characters somewhat unlikable. I know this sounds odd, but I do like my characters to be somewhat flawed as they seem more realistic and empathetic, and many of these characters were vain and condescending.  And while I enjoyed the author's writing style, I thought the actual murder was predictable and easy to figure out.  That being said, I did enjoy Olivia's personal ruminations about her past and the impact it has had on her present life.  If you are looking for a standard thriller, than this is for you; if you are looking for something darker and more twisted, something more complicated, then I would forego this one. 

Alafair Burke is the New York Times bestselling author of ten previous novels, including the standalone thrillers Long Gone and If You Were Here, and the Ellie Hatcher series: All Day and a NightNever Tell212Angel’s Tip, and Dead Connection. She is also the coauthor of the Under Suspicion series with Mary Higgins Clark. A former prosecutor, she is now a professor of criminal law and lives in Manhattan.
Find out more about Alafair at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review: Dead Lucky by Matt Brolly

Dead Lucky (DCI Michael Lambert, Book #2)
by Matt Brolly
Release Date: January 11th 2016
2016 Carina
Kindle Edition
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

5 / 5 Stars


When a woman is murdered, the twisted killer forcing her husband to watch her slow and painful death, DCI Michael Lambert knows that his next case might be his toughest yet.

And when a second set of killings are discovered, with exactly the same MO, the race is on the find the lethal sociopath before he strikes again.

But Lambert never expected to receive an anonymous call from the killer. This time, it’s personal: if Lambert doesn’t find the murderer soon, his own loved ones will be next…

My Thoughts
Dead Lucky is one of those books I just started reading because I was looking for another mystery story, knew almost nothing about it, and absolutely loved it.  The style of writing reminds me a lot of Mark Billingham, and since he's one of my favourite authors, it's not surprising I was quickly wrapped up into the goings-on of DCI Lambert and company.

First of all, I really enjoy police procedural novels; I like the tedious work that is described, the door-to-door scenes, the interviews, and everything that goes along with detective work as the murder is resolved piece by piece and clues are revealed bit by bit.  I'm not a huge fan of those novels where you know who the murderer is right from the beginning; this is definitely more my kind of thing.  And I also love the rebellious streak that Lambert has, similar to Tom Thorne, Inspector Banks, and Armand Gamache, not quite breaking all the rules, but certainly bending them when he has to in order to get what he wants.

What I really liked about this book is that character development did not get lost in the story or vice versa; both were equally important and an equal focus.  I enjoyed Lambert quite a bit, loved his rebellious streak, but was also really intrigued by his 'illness', something that was not very developed in this story.  I am very curious as to exactly when this illness will land him in a lot of trouble, as I am sure it will.  I also liked that Lambert's personal issues didn't muck up the story but added to it; he's got a wife who had an affair with a lawyer and they had a child together, causing intense emotional pain for Lambert as he deals with his own daughter's death three years ago. Quite interesting to say the least, and provides some interesting dynamics.

I'm still on the fence about DS Mathilda Kennedy as the killer told Michael, in very precise terms, to look up facts on Kennedy's father to see what he discovered.  I'm not convinced it's a diversionary tactic and am wondering exactly what this will lead towards in the future.  And Tillman?  Like him, but when do we ever trust the boss?  Quite a bit of secondary story lines happening in this book, many of which appear to continue on to future novels, leaving me quite in suspense.  While this tactic doesn't always work in novels as it leaves the reader feeling unsatisfied, it definitely works in this one.  I never felt the characters and their story lines detracted from the main arc of the novel, which was about the killer.

Dead Lucky was definitely my kind of novel; for those who was squeamish about these things, there are some disturbing moments though.  The author has a way of writing that just draws you into the story, and I admit to having a difficult time putting it down.  With many twists and turns, and a few red herrings, I admit to being a bit surprised as to the murderer, and as it's not often I don't figure it out, I definitely like this book for that alone.  I was a bit shocked at the ending, partly because I was not expecting it at all, and partly because there were so many unanswered questions that will have to wait until book three is released.  Without question, I recommend this one to anyone who enjoys police procedural. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Review: The Past by Tessa Hadley

The Past
by Tessa Hadley
Release Date: January 5th 2016 (First published September 3rd 2015)
2016 Harper
Softcover Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062270412

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from TLC Book Tours

3 / 5 Stars

These three weeks may be their last time there; the upkeep is prohibitive, and they may be forced to sell this beloved house filled with memories of their shared past (their mother took them there to live when she left their father). Yet beneath the idyllic pastoral surface, hidden passions, devastating secrets, and dangerous hostilities threaten to consume them.

Sophisticated and sleek, Roland’s new wife (his third) arouses his sisters’ jealousies and insecurities. Kasim, the twenty-year-old son of Alice’s ex-boyfriend, becomes enchanted with Molly, Roland’s sixteen-year-old daughter. Fran’s young children make an unsettling discovery in a dilapidated cottage in the woods that shatters their innocence. Passion erupts where it’s least expected, leveling the quiet self-possession of Harriet, the eldest sister.

Over the course of this summer holiday, the family’s stories and silences intertwine, small disturbances build into familial crises, and a way of life—bourgeois, literate, ritualized, Anglican—winds down to its inevitable end.

My Thoughts
The Past is one of those books where I really enjoyed the descriptive writing, but just couldn't get into the story; I did think a few times about putting it aside for a later date, but understood that if I did so, I would never come back to it. To be honest, I actually enjoyed the descriptions of the house and surrounding area better than I did the story line, and although it probably wasn't that way, it did seem like the author preferred the countryside to her characters.  

First of all, I really, really wanted to like this book. Like I'd already mentioned, the writing and descriptions were interesting, and it was very evident the author was delighted by the house and subsequent settings she described.  I love books that are quite ethereal which is why I am probably drawn to gothic stories as well as those about huge houses with big secrets from the past.  This is exactly what I thought this book was going to be like, but it was not quite that way.  There were no really big secrets to be revealed, and the past described in this novel really had no impact on the present day story.  And although I did find Jill's story interesting, I did think it was useless to the story as it really did not go anywhere with the impact on the sisters' lives today, except in some very small and subtle ways that didn't mesh together very well.  There were a lot of hints about things going on, but the plot lines really didn't go anywhere, and I was left feeling disappointed quite often when things just sort of petered out.  

Furthermore, while the descriptive writing was nice, it didn't lend itself to much character development; I didn't really feel like I connected with any of the characters.  I wasn't overly crazy about any of them and none of their stories was actually developed in any way that made them interesting.  While I know a bit about Argentina's "Disappeared" as well as about the illegal adoptions that took place having read about them in a previous novel, I am unclear as to what this had to do with Pilar and her story line; it didn't make a lot of sense to me as to how it all fit together.  And then the dramatic effect of Harriet's fantasies towards Pilar just didn't seem to work here; I'm not opposed to the story line, but it just seemed like the author was trying too hard to develop a plot line for Harriet, but didn't quite succeed at it.  For whatever reason, I liked Kasim the best, which isn't saying a lot, as he tended to be quite lazy, opinionated, and young, wanting everything but not wanting to work for anything.  He just seemed more real to me than the others.  I am also a bit baffled by the story line involving the dog and the cottage; I'm not quite sure exactly what the purpose of it all was, and besides, all I wanted to do was shake Ivy half the time, or put her in time out, with all of the things she did.  Because of all this, I tended to soak up the parts when the sisters went on their walks in the woods or spent time in retrospection as it gave me time to breathe and just enjoy the writing.

The Past was a slow novel with beautiful descriptive parts about the house and countryside; unfortunately, the descriptions and the story line didn't quite mesh all that well together, and while I don't usually mind slow novels, I do have a problem when things are muddled. To me, itt appeared as if the author had a lot of ideas for the direction of this novel, but never really took them in any of the directions that were started, only to start a new one, leaving the reader somewhat confused and unsatisfied.  While I would read another book by this author because of her writing talent, I'm not sure I would recommend this one. 
Monday, January 18, 2016

Guest Post: Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen

by Lawrence M. Schoen 
Release Date: December 29th 2015
2015 Tor Books
Hardcover; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0765377029
Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction

Lawrence M. Schoen shares a scene from Bask: The Elephants’ Graveyard

In Barsk the main characters are anthropomorphic elephants. They’re sapient, they walk upright, have opposable thumbs and science and art, build relationships and cities and governments. But they’re not the only “raised mammals” in the book, and several other characters come from other animal species, or races, and play important roles. I thought I’d share a bit of a scene involving some non-elephants.

I’ve lifted this particular bit from Chapter Four and it’s from the point of view of an Otter named Lirlowil. She’s a very talented young woman with a rare telepathic gift, but she’s also utterly irresponsible and the very definition of a hedonist. Her life to this point has pretty much been a never ending party. She’s availed herself of every vice that comes her way. That all changes when the galactic government has a need for her and shows up to change her life forever. Here’s a snippet of that scene.

A Bear from the Patrol had shown up at her home on Sharv. One moment she’d been fast asleep, dreaming of the debaucheries from the night before, and the next he’d been standing over her bed with a writ of transference in his hand and trailing a small entourage made up of a Prairie Dog wearing a civil parson’s ring in one twitching ear, and an Otter, only a few years older than Lirlowil, garbed like a physician’s assistant.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Review: Dearly Departed by Hy Conrad

Dearly Departed (Amy's Travel Mystery, Book #2)
by Hy Conrad
Release Date: January 26th 2016
2016 Kensington
Ebook Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1617736834
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Paisley MacGregor, a maid to the rich, made a dying request to send all of her wealthy employers on a first-class wake to spread her ashes around the world. Amy has her suspicions about these “mourners,” especially when one has a life-threatening “accident” at the first stop in Paris. And when a mysterious American stranger tagging along with the group has his ticket punched in the shadow of the Taj Mahal, Amy knows she may have a killer on her tour.

Who was this stranger, and what’s the connection to someone in her group? Digging for clues while continuing on with the trip is a lot for Amy to manage, especially when another mourner has a possibly fatal encounter with a Hawaiian volcano. Back in the States, Fanny and Amy start to piece together a secret worth killing for, but someone is hot on their trail, and ready to send them on a one-way trip—to the morgue!

My Thoughts
Dearly Departed is the second book in the Amy's Travel Mystery series and one of the things I liked about this book was the travel portion, simply because I enjoy reading about travel and the things that people do while traveling.  I thought the premise to this book was quite interesting, but sometimes the premise, the promise, and the actual do not quite meet up, and this was the case here; perhaps it was also my higher expectations, as this author is the creator of Monk, a favourite television series of mine, and I was being a unfair in wanting a bit more.

First of all, I thought the actual story line was quite interesting. Amy takes a group of people on a tour around the world, making stops at previously designated locations by a deceased maid in order to pay respects to her and her service over the years.  As the story progresses you learn that not everything is status quo and someone is holding a dirty secret, one that may already have, or will lead to, murder.  The mention of secrets always captures my interest and I was curious to learn what that could be about as a maid would know a lot of things about the people for whom they worked, and Paisley worked for some very wealthy people.  It did take an awfully long time to get to the actual murder though, and by that time, I was actually starting to lose interest in the story for a variety of reasons.

One of those reasons has to do with the story itself.  While I thought the story line and premise were quite interesting, the writing was somewhat disjointed and it seemed to jump around quite a bit.  There was a lot of description, something I am not usually against, but in this book it was distracting and took away from the plot and it's one of the things that made it seem muddled.  There were times when I actually got lost in the dialogue, and didn't know who was speaking, as the qualifiers were often lacking, and I would have to re-read the page to figure out who said what. 

Another reason was Amy herself; I didn't particularly connect with Amy on any level and found her a bit annoying at times. She was a bit bland and wishy-washy. I also had no idea how Peter was connected to her and how and why he was interested in her romantically, but I also didn't care for him a whole lot as I found him weird.  I also didn't find many of the characters to be overly interesting, except maybe for the designer of the fancy glasses as she had a lot of things to say; I did wish she played a bigger role in the story as she was pretty much the only one I wanted to learn more about. There seemed to be hints to a lot of things, but nothing ever seemed to go any further than hints, something that was quite unsatisfying. Amy's mother is quite funny though, although I would definitely not want her as my own mother.  She tends to stir things up and has quite a personality, probably the only really interesting character of the lot; that being said though, there were moments when even her character was too much, and she became rather annoying instead of fun.

Dearly Departed isn't a bad story by any means, but it simply wasn't for me.  I found Amy to be quite indecisive and boring, and Peter was a bit too much for me, not even remotely interesting, not necessarily tour guides I would want for a trip I was taking.  While the mystery was okay, and the concept was fine, it did take a long time to build up to any actual events and I began to lose interest long before that happened; I also didn't have a problem figuring out the murderer although I didn't guess the motive until later in the book.  While I do encourage others to judge for themselves what they think of this novel, and I love Hy Conrad's Mr. Monk (Mr. Monk and the New Lieutenant) series, I don't think I will be continuing with this series in the future.
Sunday, January 10, 2016

Review: When the Music Stops: Dance On by Paddy Eger

When the Music Stops: Dance On (Ballet Trilogy, Book #2)
by Paddy Eger
Release Date: March 3rd 2015
2015 Tendril Press
Softcover Edition; 260 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-9858933-7-8
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from author

3.5 / 5 Stars

Tired and broken, she returns to her childhood home with ‘personal baggage’ from her too short experience with the Intermountain Ballet Company. Marta attempts to choreograph her future to heal not only her body, but also her memories and emotions to move her life forward. As she finds a job to support herself, her dance and personal life take unexpected and sometimes harrowing turns. Will she be able to find a deeper well of strength to meet these new challenges of adulthood head-on? Which suitor will steal her heart?

My Thoughts 
When the Music Stops continues Marta's journey as she recovers from a devastating ankle injury and makes some difficult choices in her life, both in her personal life and in her professional life.  I actually enjoyed this book a bit more than the first one as I found Marta to be much more likable and not quite as whiny and self-indulgent.

First of all, I loved the ballet scenes in this novel. It's not a book about a professional ballet company however, it's about Marta's return to her hometown and her recovery and for her to do this, she had to return to her roots, including the dance studio where she trained.  At first, Marta appeared to be suffering from a bout of depression although the book didn't quite come out and use the terminology. This was the fifties though, so a lot of the psychological recovery would not have been quite the same way as it would today.  Today, Marta would have had a whole team in her recovery process, but back then, she was sort of left to fend for herself and I definitely felt a lot of sympathy for her situation.  Slowly, she began to get involved in the community as she realized she needed a way to support herself and as she became more involved, she slowly began to heal.  While Marta definitely had her moments, she didn't quite have that selfish attitude from the first book so I found her to be much more interesting and likable.  It's not that she didn't make poor choices; she was after all, only eighteen and nineteen years old throughout the novel. Who at that age hasn't made poor choices and then had to deal with the consequences?

I definitely liked Marta's adult dance class members and wished they were more prominent in the story.  The fifties was such an interesting time period and women were becoming much more independent concerning their needs and desires, so exercise classes were becoming a lot more popular.  I really liked the portrayal of women in this book as they were shown to be quite independent, but with that fifties attitude where manners and behaviour were still highly stressed and valued quite highly. And one's reputation was still very important.  Just the simple things, like putting on lipstick for dance practice, made me smile.  Or how using someone's first name would make Marta's mother frown, especially if it was Marta.  

My biggest problem with this story was Marta's love interest Steve.  While he was tolerable in the first novel, I didn't particularly like him in this one.  I found him pushy and demanding, constantly asking Marta to marry him, even when she told him she needed time and space to figure out what she was going to do professionally. And to me, he showed a lot of immaturity by turning the arguments back in her face and blaming her problems for her reluctance to commit.  To be honest, I wanted Marta to dump him and look for someone else, and there were others who were more interesting.  I just felt he was controlling and way too needy.  It actually turned me off the romance in this novel and I found myself skimming through their scenes, looking forward to the ballet scenes again.  

When the Music Stops would have been quite enjoyable if not for Marta's relationship with Steve as I found him to be quite controlling and immature.  I really did enjoy Marta's personal and professional development in this one though, and thought the author did a great job showing the difficulty of recovering from a bad injury and having to re-examine one's choices in life.  I was disappointed to see so little of Lynne in this one although the third book is supposed to be about her adventure in France so that should be quite interesting. I thought the novel was quite engaging, but for those who are looking for a lot of action, you will not find that in here; it's a coming-of-age story about a girl who discovers how to move on with her life when something tragic occurs.
Saturday, January 9, 2016

Review: The Banished of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler

The Banished of Muirwood (Covenant of Muirwood, Book #1)
by Jeff Wheeler
Release Date: August 18th 2015
2015 47North
Ebook Edition: 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-1503945326
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

In a stand-alone series set in the world of Muirwood, eighteen-year-old Maia is the exiled princess of Comoros and heir to the throne. As a result of her father’s ceaseless need for authority, she was left disinherited and forced to live as a servant in her enemy’s home. When the king invites chaos into the land by expelling the magical order known as the Dochte Mandar, Maia finds herself on a perilous quest to save her people. To survive, she must use magic she has learned in secret—despite the fact that women are forbidden to control it. Hunted by enemies at every turn, Maia realizes that danger lurks within her, too. Her powers threaten to steal not only her consciousness but also her sense of right and wrong. Can she set herself free and save the realm she loves—even if that realm has forgotten her?

My Thoughts
The Banished of Muirwood is the first in a trilogy about a young princess banished from her father's court and sent on a quest to secure a tome that could possibly save her people.  Despite a slow and confusing start to this book, it quickly picked up the pace and once I figured out some of the things that were going on, I really enjoyed it.  While it was a bit predictable and cliched, there were still some surprises and twists that I thought were fun. 

First of all, I really enjoyed the world-building as it was more of a traditional fantasy setting.  I liked the descriptions of the different countries and the people. Maia comes from a land where women are not allowed to read or "engrave", the term used for writing; she was therefore taught by the Chancellor in secret and taught things about magic and the Medium, the concept of magic in this novel.  While the use of illiteracy might seem archaic to some people, it has always been an effective way to keep certain knowledge away from certain people and I thought it was used rather efficaciously in this novel.  Her knowledge of magic would have been her death sentence if it had been discovered, but you know that a princess of the realm facing such difficulties due to a defunct father needs to have an edge; what else is she supposed to do to survive and eventually reach the throne?   While the whole concept of the magical system was a big confusing at first, because I decided to be patient, eventually, through a succession of flashbacks and diary entries from an ancestor, everything began to make sense.  It did take a lot of patience though, to understand the concepts of the mastons, the aldermastons, the Medium, the abbeys, and so on, as well as how the different countries worked.  Once I began sorting through it all, I enjoyed the book a lot more.  

Even right now I am not sure how much I really like the main character though.  Let me explain.  While I enjoyed her travels and her difficulties, I did find her to be a bit weak; there were many times when she could have stood up for herself and didn't.  After awhile, this did get kind of annoying and I would have liked to shake her if I could.  Maia is a princess by birth, but her father spent years trying to divorce her mother, almost destroying himself, and his country, in the process.  Shades of Henry VIII anyone?  He treated Maia horribly, yet she continued to defend his actions; it mad her seems rather naive and pitiful. There were many flashes when I thought she would grow up and become a stronger person, but time and again she allowed others to rescue her.  It wasn't until the end that I saw a stronger Maia, so I do have hope for the future.  I do have a special fondness for Jon, Collier, and the Kishion though, for very different reasons. I have no idea who the Kishion is or what his purpose is, but he is definitely the most surprising character in this novel.  Who is he really working for, and what is his ulterior motive?  So interesting!!  

The plot was a bit predictable and full of the usual cliches, but it is really hard to find a fantasy novel that isn't nowadays.  Despite all of this, there were a few surprises that did catch me off guard, although the clues were right there in my face. By paying too much attention to the magic and the history described in the novel, I missed some of the obvious clues going on in the present and was caught off guard.  Not everyone might have the patience to slog through the opening chapters as they were a bit confusing with the talk of magic and mastons and Medium and different things, but like I said before, if you are patient, it will pay off and it will come together.  Because the novel starts in the middle of Maia's quest, you learn the beginning and why she was chosen by her father despite the banishment, through flashbacks.  I thought the use of magic was quite interesting once I understood it, and I am curious as to how it will be developed and use in the future.

The Banished of Muirwood was quite different from what I expected, and I liked it very much.  I thought the characters were interesting, and I have hope that Maia will develop into a stronger personality in the future.  I liked the world-building and the magical system, and how the author incorporates a lot of mythological and historical concepts into his plot.  There was a new and quite imaginative world, dark secrets, ancient magic and tomes, forbidden magic, danger, and even a bit of romance, everything you could want in a fantasy novel.  While the story was a bit inconsistent, and it did have a tendency to slow down, especially over the historical bits which were sometimes difficult to retain, it was still solid and interesting.  I will be continuing Maia's story in The Ciphers of Muirwood.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

10 Things You Need to Know About Virtual Book Tours

10 Things You Need to Know About Virtual Book Tours

By Dorothy Thompson, CEO & Founder of Pump Up Your Book

By now, most authors know what virtual book tours are or at least have heard of them.  They’re that wonderful marketing tool that should be a must have in every new book’s campaign.  With each new book I write, I’m making a game plan before the book is even published and a virtual book tour is the first promotional venue on that list.

While most of us know what they are, there are still a few new authors who might have heard of them but have no idea what they involve.  I give you my top 10 things you need to know about virtual book tours so that you will know what to expect.
  1. Virtual book tours are the BEST way to get the MOST online exposure for your book. Not only are you presenting your book and yourself to thousands of people, all of your interviews, guest posts and reviews are archived which means months down the road, you’re still selling your book because of that one tour.
  2. Virtual book tours ARE a lot of work. Not only are you searching for the perfect blogs to host you, you are acting as the middle man between you and the blogger unless you are using a paid service such as Pump Up Your Book who will do all the work for you.  Even if you do sign up with Pump Up Your Book, there is still lots of work to do completing assignments – filling out interviews and writing guest posts unless you choose an all review tour.  Even though it requires a little bit of your time to fill out interviews and write guest posts, it’s well worth it.
  3. You will learn more about your book than you ever did. I had an author tell me that through the interviews and guest posts she had to complete, she never learned so much about her book which caught her off guard.  Now when she is interviewed on radio shows and makes television appearances, she is better prepared.
  4. Virtual book tours will build up your author platform.  No matter if you’re a fiction author or a nonfiction author, virtual book tours will build up your author platform using your key search words.
  5. Your reviews are guaranteed. Offline publicists while they mean well do it all wrong.  They query a book blogger, make arrangements to send the book, then that’s where it stops.  The review is not a guaranteed thing.  The reviewer can post the review anytime they see fit.  With virtual book tours, your review is guaranteed on a certain date unless the reviewer jumps ship which rarely happens.  I had an author tell me she signed up with an offline publicist who sent out many books and only one or two reviewers actually came through for them.  That was money loss for the author.  Books don’t come cheap these days so coming up with a date you and the reviewer can agree upon guarantees that review will be a given thing.
  6. Many reviewers now take ebooks which save you money. Thank goodness someone was smart enough to invent a device that automatically loads a book in a few seconds (no waiting to go to the book store anymore my friend) and makes it fun to read.  When Amazon lowered their price of the Kindle, sales soared and book lovers started talking about getting one.  What that means is that it opened up a wonderful way to get these books to the book reviewers quickly and less expensively.  Have you noticed how much books are and how much it takes to ship them?  Not saying all reviewers will take ebooks, but as time goes on, most will have an e-reader and, as a matter of fact, will prefer an ebook.
  7. More website hits, more blog hits, more Twitter hits and more Facebook Fan Page hits. All authors should have a website or blog and accounts at Twitter and Facebook.  No matter if you think they’re all a waste of time.  A virtual book tour will definitely give you more hits at all places as long as your links are in your bio.
  8. Going on a virtual book tour raises your Alexa rankings. What is Alexa?  Alexa measures how well you are doing in the search engines.  By going on a virtual book tour, and including interviews and guest posts during that tour, your website and blog links are included in every bio (or should be!).  Those are incoming links which Alexa uses to measure your ranking.  The more your website or blog link shows up on other sites, the more valuable your site is to them and thus, your rankings soar.
  9. You will learn how to sell your book through media exposure. Not all authors take advantage of their interviews and guest posts by gearing them toward their audience, thus luring them to their book and/or website/blog.  I’ve had many authors on tour and the ones who really take the time to make their interviews and guest posts effective selling tools are the ones who profit the most.  The key thing here is to make your audience curious.  One liners in the case of interviews may not cut it.  Of course there are only so many ways you can answer “What’s your book about?” but take your time and get your audience’s curiosity peaked so that they do make your way over to your website or your book’s buying link.
  10. Virtual book tours teach you how to connect well with others. There is no better way to learn how to network.  All these wonderful book bloggers who agree to host you are your new friends in your extended network and they will be there for you the next time you have a book to promote (unless they completely hated it of course).  You’ll also learn how to use the social networks effectively as you study how to get people over to your stops by persuasive wording.  Remember to talk to your audience, not at them.

There you have it.  10 reasons I feel you need to know about virtual book tours in a nutshell.  If you have a tour coordinator as opposed to setting one up yourself, she will walk you through it so that it will be a fun experience for all.  Your book will thank you for it.

Dorothy Thompson is CEO/Founder of Pump Up Your Book, an award-winning public relations company specializing in online book publicity.  You can visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at and Facebook at
Monday, January 4, 2016

Book Blitz: Desert Heat by P.H. Turner

Desert Heat Jan 4th

Desert Heat (The Nation, Book #2)
by P.H. Turner
215 Pages
ISBN: 978-0996844512

Navajo Witchery. Human Treachery. Social worker Jordan Bia finds a child who escaped her captors and a life in the sex trade, but four other girls from her small Mexican village were not so lucky. Smugglers hide their human cargo in the hoodoos of a remote canyon on the reservation—a place the Navajo shun, fearful of the witches who practice their black rituals and feast on the dark energy of evil. Mysterious rites, omens of death, and bodies litter the canyon. When she meets Navajo police officer Sam Tohee, sparks fly fueled by the danger of hunting men who buy and sell little girls. Techno savvy Jordan plots to trap the smugglers and free the rest of the children, but unless she and Sam can find the power to defeat the witches she may not live long enough to save the girls.


About the P.H. Turner

I call Austin, Texas home now after working on the East and West coasts, the Rocky Mountains, and an island in the Gulf of Mexico. I've come full circle to live and work close to the farm my family settled in the 1850's. Truth is stranger than fiction, and years in the news business provided lots of peculiar characters and stories to write about. My books are set in my favorite places, the desert canyons and high mountains of the American West.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Review: The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos

The Mystery of Hollow Places
by Rebecca Podos
Release Date: January 26th 2016
2016 Balzer & Bray
Ebook ARC: 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062373342
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

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

When Imogene is seventeen, her father, now a famous author of medical mysteries, strikes out in the middle of the night and doesn't come back. Neither Imogene's stepmother nor the police know where he could've gone, but Imogene is convinced he's looking for her mother. She decides to put to use the skills she's gleaned from a lifetime of her father's books to track down a woman she's never known, in order to find him and, perhaps, the answer to the question she's carried with her for her entire life. 

My Thoughts
The Mystery of Hollow Places is perhaps misleading in its title as it's more about the mystery of ourselves and trying to define ourselves through our past and present in order to head into the future full of confidence and verve. When Imogene's father suddenly disappeared in the middle of the night, Imogene is convinced her father left her a clue and wanted her to search for him by searching for her mother.  She naturally assumed the disappearance was about her father trying to put the family back together and was all about her, very selfish and egocentric thinking on her part.  The fact that her dad had a new wife, which could create all sorts of problems, never really entered into Imogene's thinking too much.

When I stopped thinking about this novel as a mystery novel, but more as a coming-to-age novel, I enjoyed it quite a bit more.  Many of the things Imogene did in order to find her mother were quite engaging, even if amateurish, which I think was the purpose.  However, it does show that if you really put your mind to something, you can accomplish quite a bit, and Imogene did accomplish quite a bit.

There were many themes running through this novel: family, trust, mental illness, betrayal to name some of the few.  I like how the author handled the mental illness side as Imogene's father seemed to suffer from bipolar disorder and perhaps has some alcohol issues as well.  I do wish the author had delved a bit more into this aspect of the novel as it would have had a profound effect on Imogene as she grew up and definitely shaped her personality. Giving us cursory glances into the past and how Imogene coped as a child was good, but I wanted more.  The solution to it all however, was made to sound as simple as 'take your pills and everything will be fine', something that really bothered me.  She also discusses Imogene's mother's mental illness, but we only get glimpses as to the actual problem. 

As for Imogene herself, there were many times when I disliked her character.  Imogene has this support system, her stepmother, her best friend Jessa, and she didn't really recognize them as such, but used them for her own ends, often treating them badly.  What I did like about Imogene was her self-reflection and her realization that the reason she doesn't really know other people in her class was her own fault, and her resolve to make it better when she is in college.  When she went too far in her treatment with her stepmom and Jessa, she realized that she kept pushing people away because it was easier than to allow people in.  Same with her crush.  It was easier to crush on someone you couldn't have because having him meant getting close to him, something that would have terrified her.  I'm so glad this book didn't turn into a romance; it would have ruined it. I liked Jessa the best, but I wish the author wouldn't have kept harping on her beauty. I get the author was comparing Jessa with Im, but after the first few times it got kind of annoying; and most people don't care about stuff like that if you make the characters interesting enough.

The Mystery of Hollow Places is definitely not what I was expecting; I thought I was going to read a crime novel that would reveal some underlying secrets about Im's mom and dad.  What I got was a neat story about a girl discovering who she was and coming to terms with that, and I enjoyed it a lot.  There was some discussion about family relationships, honestly, betrayal, mental illness, friendship, and trust, and while the author only touched on many of these issues, it was a good way to show us how all of these things shape us into who we are.  While the resolution to the story was a bit too pat for my taste, and just kind of ended, the rest of the story was interesting enough to keep me turning the pages. 
Saturday, January 2, 2016

Review: The Heiress of Linn Hagh by Karen Charlton

The Heiress of Linn Hagh (Detective Lavender Mysteries, Book #1)
by Karen Charlton
Release Date: June 9th 2015 (first published 2012)
2015 Thomas & Mercer
Ebook Edition; 325 Pages
ISBN: 978-1477830086
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Northumberland, November 1809: A menacing figure stalks women through Hareshaw Woods and a beautiful, young heiress disappears from her locked bedchamber at Linn Hagh.

The townsfolk cry 'witchcraft' and the local constabulary are baffled.

Fearing for her safety, Helen Carnaby's worried uncle sends out for help from Bow Street magistrates' court in London. Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods now face their toughest and most dangerous case. The servants and the local gypsies won’t speak to them, Helen’s siblings are sly and uncooperative and the sullen local farmers are about to take the law into their own hands.

Isolated in this beautiful but remote community, Lavender and Woods find themselves trapped in the middle of a simmering feud and are alarmed to discover a sinister world of madness and violence lurking behind the heavy oak door of the ancient pele tower at Linn Hagh. Helen Carnaby's disappearance is to prove one of the most perplexing mysteries of Lavender's career. 

My Thoughts
The Heiress of Linn Hagh had quite a few interesting elements in it, and definitely had an authentic feel for the time period, even to the point of having a gothic element to it, which I really liked.  This is the first in a series featuring Detective Lavender and Constable Woods, both of whom I really enjoyed, for very different reasons; Detective Lavender reminds me of the serious type whom people don't quite trust, while Constable Woods is the Watson, whom people open up to and tell their innermost secrets.  Together, they work very well as a team.

This is definitely an old-fashioned murder, with an heiress having mysteriously disappeared from her locked bedroom, having an unconcerned older brother and sister who seem to be after her fortune, a concerned relative who seems more worried about her virtue than about her whereabouts, and the vast family hall where all the events occur. I was quite interested in the brother and sister as I wondered to what depths they would go in order to grab that fortune, an interesting lesson in human depravity and the depths to which people will succumb.  I loved the setting, right out of any 19th century gothic novel, and this one was set in early 19th century Northumbria, the perfect setting for a Regency gothic mystery.  With gypsies on the land, a natural scapegoat; howling at night, must be supernatural elements at work; secrets galore, must not let those pesky detectives find out anything; and a slew of other events, it all worked together into an interesting, if predictable, mystery.  

My favourite character by far was Anna.  I found her so interesting, and she seemed liked she would have so much to say that I always looked forward to her scenes hoping for some secrets to be spilled.  I thought there was great promise in Detective Lavender as he was quite aloof and secretive, but there were moments when he relaxed and you got a glimpse of what was driving him in his job.  I liked the duality as it made him much more interesting, especially knowing there could be a lot to discover about him.  I wasn't crazy about his relationship with the Spanish woman, Magdalena, not because I objected to his having a bit of romance, but it just seemed so out of place within the context of this story.  I do wonder if the author is setting something up for future novels and maybe it will make more sense later on.  

The Heiress of Linn Hagh is an enjoyable mystery but is fairly predictable; the reader either picks up the clues along with the detectives or knows them ahead of time kind of deflating the 'reveal' moment.  If you enjoy historical fiction, the author stays quite true to the time period, and you get a good idea what it was like to live in Regency England.  Based on actual events from her own family history, the author has woven a tale that demonstrates what happens to people when they begin to lose everything and don't know what to do about it and the steps they will take to keep others from learning about it. I liked the characters, thought they were interesting if not overly compelling, and enjoyed the overall story.  I think fans of historical and gothic fiction will enjoy this series.