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Recommendation: Postmortem

Postmortem

by Patricia Cornwell

“ The dead have never bothered me.

It’s the living that I fear. ”

About six or seven years ago, I borrowed a bunch of books from a friend who had an impressive library. Most of the books that I borrowed, I read and returned. But this one. . .

. . .see, I ended up moving shortly after borrowing those books and this particular little novel was still mixed in with my own books. It was a well-worn mass production paperback and you could barely read the title on the spine because it was so broken. I threw it up on my new set of bookshelves in my brand new place, and didn’t think much of it.

Another couple of years later, I was home alone. It was a quiet, dreary day and I was bored. I grabbed a book off of the bookshelf at random and piled up on the couch to log an hour of two of reading. Trying to pass the time before my boyfriend got home.

And I stayed on the couch the entire night, in a feverish rush to finish this book.

Postmortem is the first of 24 – and counting – novels in the Kay Scarpetta Mystery Series. This particular series is the one that Patricia Cornwell is best noted for, the collection spanning nearly 30 years of writing. After devouring this first book, I ran out and got the second and third, and thankfully Christmas was right around the corner – my boyfriend bought all the rest of the books for me (wrapping them individually and piling them all under the tree). I was hooked.

While I have come to love many of the books in this series for a variety of reasons, Postmortem is one of my favorites, mainly because it is the first. We meet and get to know the dark and twisty parts of Kay Scarpetta that she allows us to see. She’s a woman playing in a man’s world, and while she’s excelling, it takes an infinite amount of determination and work to stay on top. Kay is the Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Virginia, and each book is centered around a particular case (or cases) she’s working to solve. Some books carry the killer(s) across several novels and some are solved by the last page of just one particular book.

The other characters featured, such as Detective Pete Marino, FBI profiler Benton Wesley, and Kay’s niece, Lucy, grow throughout the series. They age, they change careers, they have romantic interests, and they become thickly embedded into the storyline and under Kay’s skin. They become people that you feel like you really know, and that is a writing characteristic that has always appealed to me. I am a sucker for a good series, because I become the happiest reader when I can invest heavily in characters and their development.

As Postmortem begins, Dr. Kay Scarpetta is called to the scene of an apparent death by strangulation. There appears to be a serial killer on the loose in Richmond, and this murder is just one in a string of recent unsolved murders in the area. Cornwell pulled inspiration for this particular type of serial killing straight from the headlines;  Timothy Wilson Spencer, who terrorized the the Richmond area over a fateful fall season, killed in the same manner.

 Also on the scene is the cantankerous Pete Marino, who’s persistent moodiness is a perpetual thorn in Kay’s side. Marino has a knack for inserting himself into her cases and always makes sure she knows he’s around, either with his loud and obnoxious conversation or with his body — always too close for comfort.

” I wondered where Marino was going with this. He was hard to read, and I’d never decided if he was a good poker player or simply slow. He was exactly the sort of detective I avoided when given a choice — a cock of the walk and absolutely unreachable. He was pushing fifty, with a face life had chewed on, and long wisps of graying hair parted low on one side and combed over his balding pate. At least six feet tall, he was bay-windowed from decades of bourbon and beer. His unfashionably wide red-and-blue-striped tie was oily around the neck from summers of sweat. Marino was the stuff of tough-guy flicks — a crude, crass gumshoe who probably had a foul-mouthed parrot for a pet and coffee table littered with Hustler magazines. “

One thing that is fascinating to read is the use of technology and forensic science. This book was published in 1990 and it’s ridiculously crazy how far the medical examining system has come since then. There is mention of a criminal database but not one in actual existence. DNA’s help in catching criminals something that can only be dreamed of at this point. As the series and modern science in criminal justice advances, the author goes to great lengths to become as well-versed as humanly possible on the subject and again, it’s fascinating to watch that progression.  Cornwell is meticulous in her description and logic, having immersed herself into the world of criminology and forensic science as a passion in her personal life.

The killer has left behind several clues – most of which are nearly unseen to the naked eye. With the use of black light analysis, Dr. Scarpetta discovers unsettling bodily fluids, and she’s also intrigued by an unusual smell left behind on the victim. Kay begins to work on finding links between the murdered women, as well as trying to navigate through her murky personal life. Her precocious niece, 10-year old Lucy, is spending time in her home and keeping Kay on her toes. Lucy comes from a bit of a broken home; her mother is far more interested in her flavor-of-the-week boyfriends or her creation of children’s books to pay attention to her daughter. Lucy has smarts that border on genius-status, and she’s proficient in the relatively new art of computer science. The evolution of Lucy throughout the series is probably the most dramatic, and one of the most interesting. The love that Kay has for Lucy is that of a mother and daughter, and both fill a void in the other’s life.

“ I didn’t want her to be like me, robbed of innocence and idealism, baptized in the bloody waters of randomness and cruelty, the fabric of trust forever torn. ”

Kay is perturbed to have her case spun out into the mainstream media, and dismayed when several classified items are brought to light for the public. It seems there may be a leak coming from the inside, and that further perpetuates Kay’s sense of paranoia about the people surrounding her. Finding it difficult to trust anyone leaves Kay in an unsettling position, and leaves her coming across as cold and uncaring to the people in her life. She has built walls around her for the sake of her sanity; her job can be difficult and taxing on the emotional state. She has had to learn to cut parts of herself off in order to solve murders, catch rapists, and put awful people behind bars. This theme is seen throughout the series of books in their entirety, as Kay struggles to maintain personal relationships that invade her work space.

As Dr. Scarpetta learns more about the victims, she unknowingly puts herself in harm’s way. Crucial bits of information leave her vulnerable to the killer and in the end, she must rush to figure things out before it’s too late, relying on her wits and instincts to get her through alive.

” These strangling cases were the most difficult of my career, and I was gripped by the fear I was becoming too caught up in them. Maybe I was losing my rational, methodical way of doing things. Maybe I was making mistakes. “

I give Postmortem 4.5 out of 5 stars. This is a fast-paced and easy-to-read mystery that, regardless of the science involved, is easy to follow. Some of the things that Cornwell comes up with over the entirety of the series is genius and unique, and fans of shows such as Criminal Minds and CSI will appreciate the depth into which the solving of the murders go.

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Review: The Cellar

The Cellar

by Natasha Preston

“ Four vases sat proudly on the side table behind the dining table and chairs; one held roses, one violets, one poppies.

The fourth was empty. “

Natasha Preston began her writing career on an online platform called Wattpad – and I hate to say it, but it shows.

I try not to judge books by their cover and in keeping with the trend, I try not to judge authors by their bios. But when Preston boasts ” I stumbled into writing completely by accident. I was searching the ‘app store’ and came across Wattpad – an amateur writing site,” the writer in me cannot help but be offended. She stumbled upon a site, threw some stuff against the wall, and as luck would have it – for her – some stuck.

One of the books that stuck relatively well was The Cellar.

The title gives you a great understanding as to what the book is about. While the storyline was not original, I was willing to give it a shot. A $2 book found in clearance by a NY Times bestselling author can’t be that bad, right?

A mentally deranged psychopath kidnaps women and keeps them trapped down in his cellar. He visits a few times a day to spend time with his hostages, and every once in a while, brings another woman down with him – to kill.  I feel like I’ve heard all this before. . . oh, wait –

Not too long ago, my daughter and I saw the movie Split, starring the enormously talented James McAvoy. The storyline is extremely similar, and so I think my expectations for this book were a little high, as the film was highly entertaining. I also figured if a story is so good that it is been plucked off of a highly-rated website and subsequently mass produced as a published work, then I figured it must be worth reading, right?

Um. Well.

I rarely consider leaving a book unfinished. I have this thing within me that forces me to finish all things that I begin. Call it a compulsion, call it a control issue (as I have many), but I have to end something before I can begin something else. And this book almost made me quit in the middle, which is something I’m not sure I can forgive it for. I really disliked this book. And I think I disliked it so much because I felt like it bamboozled me. The first 30 pages or so were not the best quality of words, but there was definitely an element of “becoming hooked.”  I’ve learned that expecting stellar writing styles from YA authors is a little unfair, and in my opinion, the same can be said of thriller writers. Thriller writers are there to get you into and through the story/mystery in a fast-paced manner because typically, there is just a lot going on while the person or persons tries to solve the crime or is involved in the crime. There isn’t a whole lot of fluff, especially if the book is not a part of a series. But one thing that YA authors consistently do well is character development, and that is something that I really love. I am a fan of detail and elaborations, and YA authors love to give it to their readers. A lot of focus is given on characters so that the focus of the young reader tends to stick; young readers are more visual retainers, and as such, they need detail. The storylines are typically not deep – although there are exceptions – but I can look beyond that and appreciate a good YA novel for what it is.

Not so much with this book, on either front. As I said earlier, I felt as if I’d read and seen this plot many times before. It wasn’t original in the least. Again, I could look past that if the author gave me something. . . and the character development? Forget it. I couldn’t tell you what anyone in the entire story looks like, what their hopes and dreams were, or even their last name. I was annoyed that the book hooked me  quickly with the action of the main character being kidnapped, her boyfriend on the hunt to find her, and her realization that she was now stuck in a basement with three other mysterious women. But as the pages were turned, chapter after chapter, the book became a monotonous monologue of “Oh my God, like, I hate it down here so much” and I wanted to throw this book out of the window.

Teenagers are not stupid, and a)writing them like they are and b)assuming that they are, as a reader, really pisses me off.

Colin grew up the son of a single mother, his father having been banished from his only son’s life when he was caught in bed with another woman. As a product of a broken home via adultery, Colin has come to hate women and crave family, even more now that his mother has passed away. His twisted solution to this is to create his own family by kidnapping women and holding them hostage in his fortified basement, where they will serve him meals, entertain him with Movie Nights, and generally listen to his day to day grievances. Occasionally he uses these women for sexual gratification, but only after he’s fallen in love with them and only on a very strict schedule (cue rolling of the eyes).

He also combats his childhood issues by murdering women that he feels are of a certain persuasion. There seems to be literally no shortage of prostitutes in his neighborhood and he goes out several times a week, picks one up, brings her home, and then murders her with a pen-knife in the basement in front of his “family.” Yes, you read that right – a pen-knife. That is his only weapon of choice (seriously, no other weapons whatsoever in this novel) and one that he uses to murder women with one stab. Yes, just the one. I have no idea what type of neighborhood Colin lives in that he is surrounded by prostitutes, but. . . there you have it. He must also be one lucky stabber, because it only takes one jab in the gut to kill the women he brings down to the cellar.

“Loneliness was like a terminal disease. With every passing day you faded just that little bit more. I had felt as if I were dying for the past four years and I’d had enough. Combing my hair one last time, I slid my wallet in my black pocket and picked up my keys. The girls’ room was finished and had been for three days now. There was just one thing missing before I would be ready for them — their clothes. 

On the way to the department store, I stopped off at my local florist to buy a bunch of yellow tulips for my mother. They were her favorite. I never liked them, but I appreciated their natural beauty and purity. “

Sometimes the women in his “family” act up or smart off, and when this happens, they get smacked around or pricked with the dreaded pen-knife. On occasion, he accidentally kills one of his family members and then has to replace her. He has this weird thing about needing four women in the basement at any given time – a Lily, Rose, Violet, and a Poppy. He keeps flowers representing each woman in a plastic vase on the table, and when one of these flowers dies, the woman counterpart gets a beating. As you can imagine, this happens quite a bit, as the flowers are cut and deprived of all sunlight. I’m sure there is some deeper meaning here, but it’s beyond me.

After he kills a “Lily,” he begins the hunt for a new one. He finds 16-year old Summer in a park on her way to a party. Why she is wandering around out at night alone, I have zero clue, but I do know that she can’t believe her boyfriend let her leave the house unattended. The reason I know this is because the author reminds the reader of this fact no less than 10 times, via Summer and her boyfriend’s point of view. Colin kidnaps Summer and throws her down in the cellar, where she spends the first few days cowering in fear and wishing she could see her boyfriend again. Not her mother, her father,  or her brother. . . just her boyfriend.

She took a few steps toward me, still holding out her hand as if she honestly expected me to take it. ‘Come on, Lily, it’s okay.’ I didn’t move. I couldn’t. She took another step. My heart raced in panic, and I pressed my back farther into the wall, trying to get away from her. What did they want from me?

‘I — I’m not Lily. Please tell him, please? I’m not Lily. I need to get out. Please help me,’ I begged., backing up the rest of the stairs until I came to the door. Turning, I slammed my fists against the metal, ignoring the pain that shot through my wrists. “

Several flashbacks of Summer and her boyfriend Lewis are actually quite sweet. He is her brother Henry’s best friend, and as such, he’s been involved in her life for a few years. The only engaging parts of this novel involved Lewis, and I enjoyed reading about their innocent progression from being friends to falling in love;  with the exception of one (very, very mild) sex scene, it’s all very above board. There is only one other sex scene, and it is between Summer and her captor, but again it is very mild (basically showing a scene before the incident, and a scene after. No in-between).

Summer spends the entirety of her captivity trying to escape, obviously. Why she and the other three women don’t band together and beat the you-know-what out of Colin is glossed over a bit and explained rather poorly. In fact, there are so many literary discrepancies in this book, it made my head hurt. The plot holes and writing style in this book were at times so difficult to bear, I had to force myself to plow through this book so I would be sure to actually finish it. I truly believe I’ve read better developed and written stories by 12-year olds.

The point of view begins to change about halfway through the book, becoming a combination of Summer-Lewis-Colin. I found Lewis to be the most interesting character in this entire book, and his quest to hunt Summer down is admirable and heroic, and something teenage girls will be sure to swoon over. He never gives up (and he’ll tell you about 500 times so you don’t forget – he is not giving up!) and of course, there is a very happy ending. Summer is thrilled to be reunited with not her mother, her father, or her brother – but her boyfriend!

I give The Cellar 2 out of 5 stars, and I am being generous. I only give The Cellar those two stars because of Lewis. Seriously. I am appalled by the 4 out of 5 star rating on Goodreads, and I have no idea what book they were reading because it obviously wasn’t this one. As a fan of the YA genre, I’ve read a lot of it, and I don’t appreciate authors who dumb things down for that audience. But I’m guessing that Preston didn’t dumb anything down on purpose; the bio she wrote about herself leaves a lot to be desired and her follow up to The Cellar has so many typos that it’s embarrassing. I suspect her style is just sloppy, uninformed, and shallow. If your child has read any of Natasha Preston’s work, has actually enjoyed it and wants to read more, I would recommend this book for any reader ages 13 and up (unless they are mature). The kidnapping is a bit scary, as is the murdering, and of course there are the two suggestive sex scenes.

And if you just have to have more – there is a sequel on Wattpad entitled You’ll Always Be Mine. I won’t be reading it.

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Recommendation: The Selection

The Selection

by Kiera Cass

” 35 girls. 

1 crown. 

The competition of a lifetime. “

There are few books that I have come across that have such beautiful covers as those of The Selection Series, by Kiera Cass. The series spans three books with an additional two in a spin-off series, along with one companion book full of novellas. All six books are undeniably lovely with vibrant colors and elaborately dressed young ladies.

It was the cover of the first book, The Selection, that made me pick it up off the shelf at Barnes and Noble a few years ago. It was the middle of summer and I was looking for a book to throw in my purse to read at karate lessons, gymnastics classes, and by the pool. I’d never really been into YA books until then, but the mysterious young lady in blue peeking over her shoulder at me pulled me in. And while I guess this novel is technically considered YA, it is my opinion that it is appropriate for mid-grade as well, appealing to ages as low as 10. The dialogue and subject matter are not overtly unique or high-end, but it’s an entertaining fairytale that young girls will swoon over.

The Selection’s plot is in short, a combination of the caste system and culling of The Hunger Games and the awkward and strange romance of The Bachelor. The time period appears to be set in the future, not quite dystopian, but with major faults.  Countries that are in creation in our modern day are now called by different names and are grouped together differently. The United States of America no longer in existence. The entire population is sorted into castes that each have their own way of life. Some are singers, some are actors, some are factory workers; it all depends upon your caste. There are a few hints as to what has happened to the former world, but a clear answer is never given. In any event, Caste 1 is the royal family, and their crown prince is in need of a wife.

Cue, the Selection.

America Singer is a member of Caste 5, set almost directly in the middle of the system. She is neither rich, nor poverty ridden. As a family of artists, her family has nearly everything it needs but not nearly enough of the things they want. Work is guaranteed but a few times per year, and times can definitely be hard with a family of seven. When news of the Selection breaks, her mother and younger sister May encourage her to enter, caught up in the hope that America could win and their situation could have forever stability. America is of the right age and has a quiet beauty; she’s also hardworking and talented. But the love she carries in secret for a boy in a caste lower than hers gives her severe pause. Only when Aspen, the sweet boy she’s known all her life, pushes her towards entering does she agree. He also sees the Selection as a step forward to a better life – for them both – as any young lady who participates will be rewarded with an immediate elevation of caste. For the people in America’s life, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime.

” ‘I think you should do it,’ he said suddenly.

‘Do what?’

‘Enter the Selection. I think you should do it.’

I glared at him. ‘Are you out of your mind?’

‘Mer, listen to me.’ His mouth was right to my ear. It wasn’t fair; he knew it distracted me. When his voice came, it was breathy and slow, like he was saying something romantic, though what he was suggesting was anything but. ‘If you had a chance for something better than this, and you didn’t take it because of me, I’ never forgive myself. I couldn’t stand it.’

I let out my breath in a quick huff. ‘It’s so ridiculous. Think of the thousands of girls entering. I won’t even get picked.’

‘If you won’t get picked, then why does it matter?’ His hands were rubbing up and down my arms now. I couldn’t argue when he did that. ‘All I want is for you to enter. I just want you to try. And if you go, then you go. And if you don’t, then at least I won’t have to beat myself up for holding you back.’

‘But I don’t love him, Aspen. I don’t even like him. I don’t even know him.’

‘No one knows him. That’s the thing, though, maybe you would like him.’

‘Aspen, stop. I love you.’

‘And I love you.’ He kissed me slowly to make his point. ‘And if you love me, you’ll do this so I won’t go crazy wondering what if.’ “

America is (of course) picked to join the formal group of Selection candidates and heads off to the castle for her extended stay with much trepidation. She is anxious about leaving Aspen behind and worried about fitting in. She’s never had fancy dresses, nor does she possess any refined skills; and the other ladies in the Selection have been culled from every caste from 2 to 8. She quickly befriends a sweet girl named Marlee and just as quickly, makes a frenemy with a higher-casted girl named Celeste.

Overcome with emotion and anxiety, America attempts to take solace in the castle grounds. The trees, grass, and flowers are nearly the only thing about the massive castle that seems the least bit familiar. But as she soon finds out, no one is allowed out of the castle proper without express permission, especially the Selection ladies. As she struggles to regain composure and push down her panic, she is met with a surprise – the handsome Prince Maxon. He escorts her outside and they share a few private moments together where she finds herself surprised to see that this process may not end up being as terrible as she’d initially thought.

All of the challenges, heartbreak, and frivolity of the Selection process is captured by cameras that are stream the footage to the outside world. Everyone in Illéa is anxiously awaiting each elimination, hopeful that their favorite will pass through to the next round. America and Maxon soon strike a deal – she will stick around to keep him company and help him make his final decision as long as he understands that he will never have her heart, and he will allow her to stay so that she may continue to send money and favors home to her family.

” ‘Wouldn’t it be much better for you if you had someone on the inside? Someone to help? Like, you know, a friend?’

‘A friend?’ he asked.

‘Yes. Let me stay, and I’ll help you. I’ll be your friend.’ He smiled at the words. ‘You don’t have to worry about pursuing me. You already know that I don’t have feelings for you. But you can talk to me anytime you like, and I’ll try and help. You said last night that you were looking for a confidante. Well, until you find one for good, I could be that person. If you want.’

His expression was affectionate but guarded. ‘I’ve met nearly every woman in this room, and I can’t think of one who would make a better friend. I’d be glad to have you stay.’ “

When Aspen, the boy from home, shows up unexpectedly, America is put in a terrible position. Having feelings for any other man while engaged in the Selection is considered treason, and she must choose which path to go down. Does she follow her heart? Or does she play the game?

The Selection is not a book that goes deep into any physical romance, so it is appropriate for most ages. It’s definitely a fairy tale and not written in an elevated form, so it is easy to grasp the concept and follow along. All in all, it’s a fun and quick read that any budding teenage girl would love to get wrapped up in. America is a strong and faithful girl with a great heart, and her love interests are positively dreamy. I give The Selection 3.5 stars (mostly because I am quite a bit older than the targeted audience).

The Selection is followed up by The Elite and The One. Several novellas have been compiled into The Prince and the Guard, and readers who enjoy America’s story will also enjoy The Heir and The Crown, two books that follow the Selection process of King Maxon’s daughter, Eadlyn.

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Review: All The Missing Girls

All The Missing Girls

by Megan Miranda

I couldn’t sleep in the house, worrying that there was something I was missing — someone who’d been in my house, possibly out there right now.

I came out to the back porch sometime after midnight for the cooler air, the clearer head. I sat on the back steps but kept the outside lights off — I felt too exposed otherwise, with nothing but my dad’s words echoing in my head:

The woods have eyes.

I stared off into the night — the shadows against the dark — drifting in and out of consciousness. The shadows shifting as clouds passed in front of the moon. The dark shapes in my peripheral vision, creeping like monsters. “

Nic left her hometown right after high school graduation, trying to put the past behind her. Trying not to look back.

Trying not to remember that her best friend went missing. And that they never found the body.

And desperately trying to forget the boy she was leaving in the rear view window.

But a decade later, Nicolette gets the phone call she’s spent years dreading – the one from her brother, asking her to come home for a while.

Daniel needs help preparing their childhood home to sell. The fixing up, the cleaning out, and the paperwork. He also needs her to convince their stubborn and confused father to sign the documents that will allow the sale to happen. Nic has been home very few times since she left a decade before. One of those times was to shuffle her father off to an assisted living facility, his dementia finally forcing his time of living alone to come to a close.

She hates coming home. It reminds her of everything bad that she left behind. And Tyler.

All the Missing Girls is a thriller that fans of perplexing Gone Girl and gritty The Girl on the Train will enjoy. In the spirit of what-the-hell-just-happened writing, the story is told mostly in reverse – something I had to get used to but quickly found riveting. Reading about the consequences of the events of the day before before reading about *today* kept me hooked; I anxiously turned page after page, trying to figure out what happened. And even better – I wasn’t able to figure it out, like I am with so many other mysteries.

The day that Nicolette returns home, another girl mysteriously goes missing. This time, it’s the beautiful and young blonde who lives behind Nic’s familial property. The dense but familiar woods between the houses is where the search begins, and what is found (and not found) spins a tale of deceit, blackmail, and the truly unexpected. The disappearances are related, as far as Nic can tell, but figuring out what they have in common is going to be a difficult and convoluted task.

 ” The cops were all from around here, had been here ten years ago when Corinne disappeared. Or the’d heard the stories through the years, over drinks at the bar. Now there were two girls, barely adults, disappearing without a trace from the same town. And the last-known words from Annaleise were about Corinne Prescott. 

It made perfect sense if you came from a place like Cooley Ridge. 

If the entirety of Corinne’s official investigation existed inside that single box I pictured at the police station, I’d imagine this was all the evidence you would see: one pregnancy test, stuffed into a box of candy and hidden at the bottom of the trash can one ring with remnants of blood pulled from the caverns; cassette tapes with hours of interview reports to sort through — facts and lies and half-truths, wound up in a spool; Corinne’s phone records; and names. Names scrawled on ripped-up pieces of paper, enough pieces to pad the entire box, like stuffing.

Until recently, I imagined that this box was taped up and hidden in a corner, behind other, newer boxes. But now there’s the feeling that all it would take is a simple nudge for it to topple over, and the lid to fall free, and the names to scatter across the dusty floor. The box is exactly like it is in Cooley Ridge. The past, boxed up and stacked out of sight. But never too far away.

Open the top because Annaleise mentioned Corinne’s name and disappeared. Close your yes and reach your hand inside. Pull out a name.

That’s how it works here.

That’s what’s happening.  ” 

Although Nic has made it perfectly clear that she now has a flawless and faithful. rich and handsome fiancee (the huge rock on her finger proof of his love for her and the money he has in the bank), her ex-boyfriend just can’t stay away. Tyler keeps showing up at the house and against her better judgement, she can feel the familiar spark shooting off in her belly. Back when she was a teenager, she and Tyler thought they could take on the world; and seeing him now transports her to that exact same headspace. Being around the easy and comfortable Tyler all while being bossed around by her big brother has her flashing back to  those clear and crisp nights when they were kids; running around in the woods, crashing parties, and generally getting into teenage mischief. Nic and her brother Daniel were left to their own devices as they grew up, and the mismatch motley crew of friends they collected along the way were in much the same boat.

Corinne was one of those friends. She was beautiful. She was enigmatic. She was someone who could draw you in and make you want to stay, even while she was being cruel and cutting you down to the bone. But she had secrets.

Were they secrets that got her killed? No one knows. Maybe she just ran away. Maybe it was all a bitter joke. Or maybe it was something else.

When the second girl, the blonde photography student Annaleise Carter, goes missing, it’s like deja vu. All of the old suspects from Corinne’s disappearance a decade earlier are reluctantly brought back into the limelight and questions start spreading around the town. Was it Jackson, Corinne’s old boyfriend? Daniel, the not-so-happily married neighbor? Tyler, the playboy around town? Everyone is on edge and uncomfortable, and it doesn’t help that Nic’s dad is starting to run his mouth about things that he surely knows nothing about.

As Nic begins to unravel the worn threads of what happened on the night she came home to rural Cooley Ridge, other things about the past begin to come to light. And as she gets closer to finding out what really happened to Corinne, she pushes herself deeper and deeper into the strangling arms of the town she fought so hard to get away from all those years ago.

” ‘Goodbye, Nic.’

‘Your daughter is beautiful,’ I said.

She started leaving, tossed her hair over her shoulder, gave me one last searing look. ‘I hope she isn’t like us.’

I heard the ride beside us, the gears shifting, metal on metal as the cars came to an abrupt stop and began spinning the pposite way. The squeals of delight from inside. I tried to focus on that, on every individual sound, so I wouldn’t think about me and Bailey and Corinne oat the top of the Ferris wheel. 

I must’ve seemed so pathetic to Bailey, standing here pretending not to know what she was talking about when that whispered word had become louder and louder over the years. So that sometimes when I thought of Corinne, it was the only thing I heard. 

Her cold hands at my elbows. Her breath in my ear. Bailey’s laughter, tight and nervous, in the background. The scent of Corinne’s spearmint gum. Her fingers dancing across my skin. Jump, she said. 

She told me to jump. “

While I found myself confused at times because of all of the backtracking, I really enjoyed this book. I’d love to read it again knowing what I know now because I bet I missed a lot. The author, Megan Miranda, did a beautiful job at holding the truth back from the readers until the very last second. What I loved most was that I really thought I had it figured out – that I’d solved the mystery – but it turned out I was only half correct. The twist thrown in wasn’t weird or wonky, like in some books I’ve read, but made complete sense once you really thought about it. Miranda has up until this point been a YA author, and this is listed as her first psychological thriller. I’m now pumped to read her second, The Perfect Stranger, that just came out on April 11.

I give All the Missing Girls 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s an easy read that will keep you guessing all the way up to the end (or beginning, depending on how you want to look at it).

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Recommendation: Outlander

Outlander

by Diana Gabaldon

“ Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone,
I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One.
I give ye my Spirit, ’til our Life shall be Done. ”

 The Second World War is at an end and British Army nurse Claire Randall can finally pick things up where they left off with her husband, Frank. On a second-honeymoon spent in cozy Inverness, she spends her days gathering interesting herbs and flowers along the rich hills and lush valleys while Frank becomes immersed in the task of researching his family lineage. After hearing of an ancient ritual involving a secret cult of women around a set of standing stones on nearby Craigh na Dun, Claire decides to sneak down and have a look, finding herself mesmerized by the dancing and traditions of years long past. But when she backtracks to the area to recover something, she gets more than she intended, essentially falling through the stones into another era.

Dazed and confused, Claire rushes through the thick trees in a panic, trying to find some semblance of normal. She runs into a man who looks uncannily like her husband, putting her even more off balance. Claire can tell by his uniform that he is from no time period even close to the one she came from, and she begins to suspect that she is stuck in some crevice of history. Captain Jack Randall spends the few moments they are together showing Claire that he and her husband, while they may look the same, have absolutely nothing in common. How her gentle Frank could be related to this brute of a man, she has no idea. Before the Captain can arrest her, he is knocked out by what appears to be some sort of band of Scottish bandits, and while she is initially grateful for the help, she is unwillingly taken as a hostage anyway.

Upon arrival at a secluded shack in the woods, her nursing skills are put to the test. One of the bandits has an arm out of socket and various other injuries. Under the tough and intense scrutiny of the rest of the supposed outlaws, she mends the man as best she can, all while trying to ferret information out of her captors. But as they suspect her of being a British spy, she does not get far in her queries, and is spirited off instead to their Laird’s home, Castle Leoch, despite her pleas to the contrary.

” ‘You’re hurt!’ I exclaimed. ‘Have you broken open your shoulder would, or is it fresh? Sit down and let me see!’ I pushed him toward a pile of boulders, rapidly reviewing procedures for emergency field treatment. No supplies to hand, save what I was wearing. I was reaching for the remains of my slip, intending to use it to stanch the flow, when he laughed. 

Nay, pay it no mind, lass. This lot isna my blood. Not much of it, anyway,’ he added, plucking the soaked fabric gingerly away from his body. 

I swallowed, feeling a bit queasy. ‘Oh,’ I said weakly. 

‘Dougal and the others will be waiting by the road. Let’s go.’ He took me by the arm, less as a gallant gesture than a means of forcing me to accompany him. I decided to take a chance and dug in my heels. 

‘No! I’m not going with you!’

He stopped, surprised at my resistance. ‘Yes, you are.’ He didn’t seem upset by my refusal; in fact, he seemed slightly amused that I had any objection to being kidnapped again. 

‘And what if I won’t? Are you going to cut my throat?’ I demanded, forcing the issue. He considered the alternatives and answered calmly. 

‘Why, no. You don’t look heavy. If ye won’t walk, I shall pick you up and sling ye over my shoulder. Do ye want me to do that?’ He took a step toward me, and I hastily retreated. I hadn’t the slightest doubt he would do it, injury or no. 

‘No! You can’t do that; you’ll damage your shoulder again.’

His features were indistinct, but the moonlight caught the gleam of teeth as he grinned. 

‘Well then, since ye don’t want me to hurt myself, I suppose as you’re comin’ with me?’ “

While under house arrest, Claire can think of nothing but finding a way back to the standing stones that brought her here – back to Frank. She is able to ascertain that she is trapped in the year 1743, in a precipitous and politically-charged Scotland. But although getting back to Frank and the 1940’s is occupying the better part of her mind, Claire is drawn to the russet-haired man she helped back in the shack. His name is Jamie Fraser, and in addition to being a resident horse-breaker at the castle, he is also the Laird’s nephew, a fugitive from the Crown, and a bit of a ladies man.

Because of her skills as a nurse, she is ordered to accompany Dougal MacKenzie and his men to collect rents around the area. Although she thinks this will finally be her opportunity to escape back to the stones, Claire cannot deny there is a hold on her here in the past. The trip to collect rents is an arduous one and full of all sorts of interesting characters. But Claire is not a fool; she can see that on top of the rents collected, Mackenzie is also soliciting funds for a Jacobite rebellion against the Crown. His tactics are, in her opinion, barbaric, and again she is drawn towards the young and roughy handsome Jamie Fraser. Much to her digress, Captain Jack Randall floats back into her life and begins to try and cause trouble, insisting that she is a spy that needs to be dealt with accordingly. While it is again disarming how much his face resembles Frank’s, their demeanor and character could not be more different. Jack Randall is cruel and sadistic, and to escape his evil clutches,  Claire is forced into a position that she does not want – she must marry a man for protection. Namely, she must marry young Jamie Fraser.

” It was a ‘warm’ Scottish day, meaning that the mist wasn’t quite heavy enough to qualify as a drizzle, but not far off, either. Suddenly the inn door opened, and the sun came out, in the person of James. If I was a radiant bride, the groom was positively resplendent. My mouth fell open and stayed that way. 

A Highlander in full regalia is an impressive sight — any Highlander, no matter how old, ill-favored, or crabbed in appearance. A tall, straight-bodied, and by no means ill-favored young Highlander at close range is breath-taking. 

The thick red-gold hair had been brushed to a smooth gleam that swept the collar of a fine lawn shirt with tucked front, belled sleeves, and lace-trimmed wrist frills that matched the cascade of the starched jabot at the throat, decorated with a ruby stickpin. 

His tartan was a brilliant crimson and black that blazed among the more sedate MacKenzies in their green and white. The flaming wool, fastened by a circular silver brooch, fell from his right shoulder in a graceful drape, caught by a silver-studded sword belt before continuing its sweep past neat calves clothed in woolen hose and stopping just short of the silver-buckled black leather boots. Sword, dirk, and badger-skin sporran completed the ensemble. 

Well over six feet tall, broad in proportion, and striking of feature, he was a far cry from the grubby horse-handler I was accustomed to — and he knew it. Making a leg in courtly fashion, he swept me a bow of impeccable grace, murmuring ‘Your servant, Ma’am,’ eyes glinting with mischief. 

‘Oh,’ I said faintly. “

Back at the castle as a newly married woman, Claire attracts not only new friends but also her share of enemies. While Jamie is keeping her occupied in most arenas, she finds time during her days to journey down into the village and make acquaintance with Geillis Duncan, a peculiar and somewhat eccentric woman, the two bond over their collected knowledge of herbs and natural remedies. There is more to Mrs. Duncan than meets the eye, and when the two women are accused of witchcraft, Claire learns something shocking about her red-haired friend.

After the unfortunate incident, Jamie and Claire flee to his childhood home of Lallybroch, and there stay under the care and judgmental eye of his older sister. Jenny is happy to have her little brother home for the time being, but she cannot help her suspicions about his new wife – Sassenach that she is. Jamie struggles with his desire to be man of the house and the ever-watchful eye of his stubborn older sister. He is eventually taken by British soldiers and in a reversal of roles – Claire must save him. . . from none other than Captain Jack Randall.

What comes next is a story not just of romance, but of deep-rooted love and genuine affection, of undeniable courage and the upmost honor, and of the understanding that using your wits and intellect is imperative. Claire finds herself thrust into an unknown and initially unwanted world, but she soon finds that the past can bring you to your future in more ways than one.

The Outlander Series is a set of novels that reach epic proportions, spanning 8 (and counting) novels and several companion books. They are not easy reads due mainly to their size (the debut novel clocks in at over 625 pages, in the large paperback version, with each novel growing larger and larger) and also to their somewhat elevated vocabulary. It is very obvious that the author, Diana Gabaldon, is an educated and intelligent woman, and the fact that she has spent many hours doing extensive research on each historical fact is extremely clear. Over the year that it took me to read all 8 of the novels and the Lord John Grey accompaniments, I did occasionally find myself groaning at all of the intricate detail. But my grumbling wasn’t enough to ever cause boredom or make me put the books down. It is very easy to fall under the spell of Claire and Jamie, and the rich history that surrounds them. It’s also very easy to stay trapped in that spell.

Outlander has been made into a popular television series by the Starz Network, and is currently filming it’s third season, on location. The first two seasons followed the path of the first two books closely, with few adjustments. The costumes are beautiful and the scenery is impressive, making it difficult for anyone to not want to book a plane ticket straight to Scotland in an attempt to fall through the stones.

The order of the Outlander books can be found on Diana Gabaldon’s website. Lord John Grey’s books are wonderful additions to the world that any fan will come to love, and I highly recommend them as part of the series proper. I also recommend the few novellas featuring other characters from the books, and they can be found separately or in compilation form on Amazon.

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Review: Dream Magic

Dream Magic

by Joshua Khan

” The six legendary princes who’d brought magic into the world and founded the great houses of magic. Her ancestors.

Djinn, the master of fire.

Coral, lord of the seas.

Typhoon, ruler of the endless winds.

Herne, the antler-headed sorcerer who commanded the earth and the beasts.

Solar, the great shining one. 

And Solar’s twin, Prince Shadow. The first and greatest of the lords of darkness, and the founder of her family. “

When Dream Magic was sent to me for review, I was intrigued. The cover art by Ben Hibon is stunning, and after a quick flip through the pages, I was delighted to find that more of the superbly intricate and uniquely dark illustrations were included. My only complaint about these drawings is that there are so few – they are spread throughout the book almost like the tease of freshly baked bread wafting from a French bakery as you pass by, leaving my mouth watering as I craved more. The talented illustrator has many impressive credits attached to his resume; most notably for readers is his contribution to the animation direction of The Tale of The Three Brothers in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The cover is as alluring as it is mystical, with shadows oozing from every corner and crevice, and an eerie white light hovering over the character’s heads. I was hooked.

I was eager to crack this book open and reveal the secrets hidden within, already curious about the archer and apparent witch featured on the front cover, who seem to be teaming up against something that appeared to be spiders made from crystal. But before I entered into the world of Dream Magic, I did my due diligence, as I do with any book I am about to begin, and discovered that this was actually the second book of a mid-grade fantasy series.

I have to admit, learning that this was a series made me even more excited. I know that series that are not already published in their completion can sometimes put readers off, as they are afraid of getting caught up in a story only to have to wait an undeterminable amount of time for the next book to be published, but I’m hoping that’s not the case with this particular set of books. The first book, Shadow Magic, came out in April of 2016 and this second book is due to be out for general sale next Monday. So here’s hoping that the trend continues and author Joshua Khan can crank another book out by this time next year.

My goal this year with my blog is to feature a review and a recommendation each week and not repeat authors all year long. I’ve found that this is going to be a lot harder than I’d originally thought. While, yes, I’ve read literally 1000’s of books, I’ve noticed that what I love most is getting caught up in a series and falling into a deep and meaningful cadence with a set of characters. I love watching them grow up and evolve. I love the transitions of relationships and the familiarity that serial books can lend. And as a result of my attachments to serial literature, I tend to read the same authors over and over. I was happy to have a new author thrown into my mix. I’m always on the hunt for a good book in this age bracket, as I have two children in it.

Shadow Magic is the tale of two characters set on a parallel path. Thorn is the 12-year old son of an assumed outlaw. But don’t let his age fool you. Thorn has grown up rough and tough, and he has a mouth to match. After his father took the blame for a crime Thorn committed, he had to leave the family home and strike out as far away as he could, leading the law away from his wife and children. Thorn waited as long as he could after his father’s hasty departure, but his guilt and shame over what he’d done to break up his family overtook his sense of reason and he had to follow. Instead of catching up to his dad, he is instead captured and sold into slavery – but not for long. He’s bought by a man named Tyburn, the executioner of House Shadow, rulers of the people in the faraway land of Gehenna. Thorn reluctantly travels with the quiet and esteemed executioner to a city that celebrates and honors their dead, and he tries not to become too offended at the strange customs of this dark land. But as is his lot in life, Thorn’s mouth keeps landing him in trouble.

Lily Shadow is an orphan, and has gone from being a typical and, moody 13-year old girl to the ruler of the land. The role of Lady Shadow was never one she intended to have, as she was the youngest child. But since her parents and brother have been murdered by a team of bandits and her family line ends with her, it is up to Lily to take command over everyone and everything, and it is not a task that is to be taken lightly. She’s feeling daunted by the task at hand – her impending marriage to a son of a rival House, but there are problems much closer at hand.

Thorn and Lily’s adventures in Shadow Magic are fast-paced and richly written, and I cannot say enough good things about it. I was thrilled to find a book that I know my son will bite into this summer. Dream Magic picks up right where its predecessor leaves off, throwing us into yet another set of obstacles wrought with magic and deception.

It looks like trolls are beginning to attack the citizens of Gehenna, or are they? Several houses have been broken into and their inhabitants carted off. But the work of trolls is usually a lot messier and with a lot less mystery. Thorn and his band of squires are in the midst of investigating the ongoing problem, but there’s another issue surrounding the castle and it’s lands – zombies. Ever since Lily performed the forbidden art of magic weeks ago, more and more of the dead are becoming UN-dead, and it’s becoming a cumbersome dilemma. What is Lily supposed to do with all of these “new” subjects? Where will they live and how will they make a living when they are literally falling apart around themselves?

And if Thorn doesn’t have enough on his full plate already, the constant train of suitors lining up for Lily’s affections are a burr in his side. Not that he’s into her that way – of course not! – but he’s getting tired of having to appease and bow down to yet another lord around the castle. With every “m’lord” that comes out of his mouth, he is reminding of his peasant lineage. And now Gabriel Solar – everyone’s favorite brat – is back with a new set of grievances, not to mention  the curious alchemist from another distant land that’s poking around. Everything is complicated, including the unspoken feelings swirling around and between Thorn and Lily, but the problems around the castle are taking up too much of their time for any exploration.

” Thorn shoved Devil off. Then, wearily, he dragged himself back out of the mass of twigs. ‘Thanks. You got here quick.’

‘You’ve a talent for getting into trouble, so I had to keep an eye on you.’ Old Colm tapped the snow off his peg leg. ‘And I can move on this if I have to.’ He looked over at the dead dog. ‘I thought you Herne folk had a way with animals.’

Thorn grimaced. The pain was really kicking in. ‘We do. Usually.’

‘So we’ve got the parents.’ Old Colm gestured at the two dead bodies. ‘What about the boys?’

‘Vanished.’ Thorn stood up and regretted it instantly, as a spell of dizziness struck him. He sucked in the fresh air and tried to clear his head. Blood dripped down his sleeve and decorated the snow with small crimson petals. 

He stared at the farmer and his wife. What had happened here? There was a way of finding out secrets even from the dead. ‘Lily will want to see these two.’

‘Will she?’ asked Old Colm suspiciously. He inspected the pair. ‘And why’s that? Seems to me we should bury them here, by their homes.’

Thorn bit his lip. He knew Old Colm had heard the rumors regarding Lily.

She was his friend, and while only thirteen, she was the ruler of Gehenna. She was also a Shadow, descended from the lord of darkness himself, the greatest necromancer the world had ever known. 

And death itself could not stop a Shadow. . . “

Lily knows she’s not supposed to practice magic. She knows it’s forbidden. But there has never been a ruler of the Land of Shadows who wasn’t a sorcerer, and she feels like it’s an important trade to learn. And now that she knows she’s halfway good at it, there really is no turning back. She spends night after night holed up in the Shadow Library, practicing her skills under the careful and encouraging eye of her father’s ghost. But it’s scary to think of how her people would treat her if they knew the truth. Women who are caught conjuring enchantments and illusions are historically put to the stake to burn, and she can’t imagine that she would be considered any different – even if she is the current Lady Shadow.

” The country was suffering a plague of the undead. On Halloween, the dead had come out of their graves, no one knew how many. First the people had been happy, overjoyed at seeing loved ones they’d lost and missed. Families had thrown resurrection parties. 

Now, three moths later, things were different. The undead had come home to roost and would not leave. There was no place for them here alongside the living. 

And not just zombies, but also ghosts and even the odd vampire. One bloodsucker had caused a lot of trouble in Witch Glade, draining livestock and attacking villages until he’d been captured and reburied, this time with an iron stake through his chest. The price of garlic had tripled. 

Lily gazed at the hour candle, wishing it would burn faster. She wanted his over and done with so she could get down to the castle library. A shiver of excitement went through her at the thought. Her studies were going well, learning what it really meant to belong to House Shadow. . . “

But after a strange encounter with a disfigured Court Jester in disguise, Lily is left locked out of the library and sealed off from her teacher and father, pulling her carefully maintained magical teachings up to a screeching halt. Why did the stranger care so much about the box of her father’s old and random correspondence he stole from the library? And why did he steal the key, locking the door to the library for who knows how long? Lily hardly has time to process the incident; news is traveling across Gehenna of a Troll King and an army making their way towards the castle, and she knows she doesn’t have enough guards and military to withstand a fight like that. Especially not with their leader, Tyburn the feared executioner, out of commission.

Thorn’s suspicions were correct. It wasn’t a band of trolls who have been carrying on in the countryside and terrorizing the folk of Gehenna. The culprits are actually crystalized spiders who upon biting their victim, send the fated person into a deep and dreamy sleep. But who is so desperate to put the citizens of the land to sleep, and why? Where are they being hidden, and how can he rescue them? Can he do it before the trolls bring war?

Fans of Harry Potter, How to Train Your Dragon, and Hotel Transylvania will be delighted with this new fantasy series. In a land full of magic, a giant flying bat, a hero with a smart mouth, and a determined female ruler, Dream Magic will keep readers of all ages turning the page in an anxious quest for more. What I loved most about this book was how it spoke to so many ages AND to both boys and girls. I have a 13 year-old daughter and never have a hard time finding books for her to read, but my 11-year old son is another story. We’ve flown through Percy Jackson, The Jedi Academy, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but he always needs something more, and doesn’t latch onto books that are solely female driven. Dream Magic is unique in that it has both a boy and a girl starring as the hero; both with equal billing and equal page time. The story is vividly written and thrilling, with no lull in the plot (which means that the young readers aren’t going to get bored, which I appreciate). I especially loved the scenes featuring Thorn riding his bat – the ever-opinionated Hades –  and how both Thorn and Lily were always so quick to think of things from different angles. Any time a problem came up, they would combat it with a mixture of common sense and ingenuity, always using violence as a last resort.

I recommend this book for readers ages 8 and up, and for boys and girls alike. I give Dream Magic 5 out of 5 stars. Look for it next week when it hits bookstores, libraries, and online markets near you.

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Recommendation: The Little Lady Agency

The Little Lady Agency

by Hester Browne

”Gentlemen! No Little Lady in Your Life?

Call the Little Lady Agency: Everything organized, from your home to your wardrobe, your social life to you.

No funny business or laundry.”

I have so many friends who claim they “just don’t have time to read.”

They go on and on about how much they admire the time I have to read and are jealous of  how many books I can plow through in a year. They cannot believe I have all of this “free time” on my hands to shop for books, read books, blog about books, etc. And they are the same friends who get overwhelmed in bookstores and are afraid of wasting time on a bad book, mainly because books are expensive.

I have a few suggestions for these friends:

  • Make time. You have it – you just gotta make it. A book doesn’t have to be read in a day, a week, or a month. It doesn’t even have to be read in six months. If you can dedicate 5 minutes a day to reading, then dedicate that. If you can dedicate more – then do it. We all have time, it’s just what you do with it. Set a reading goal and stick with it. If you put your devices down (laptop, mobile phone, tablet) for the last hour before you go to bed, studies show you sleep better anyway. So put the electronic device down and grab a book.
  • How do I personally make time? I read an average of a book a week, sometimes two, if the books are shorter. I set a personal goal of 50 pages a day. Most books are between 300-500 pages. I usually read more than the 50 pages, because I read all day. I read ten minutes here and five minutes there. I read while I’m nursing my baby to sleep. I read while I’m eating my lunch. I read while I’m waiting for my son to finish doing his hair in the morning and I’m sitting in my car alone, waiting to take him to school. I read in the bubble bath that I dedicate to myself every night. I read while my kids are doing homework, and I’m sitting near them for moral support. If you just carry a book around with you and stop telling yourself that you need an hour of complete silence to sit down and read, then I promise you that you can get through a book.
  • Don’t have time to shop for books? Amazon is your friend. Not only can you have books delivered to your door next day (same day, in some areas – like mine), you can browse the book section of Amazon based upon reviews, ratings, genre, and about 500 other parameters. Don’t have time to read the back and decide if it’s the book for you? Don’t worry, literally thousands of other people have already done it for you and have blessedly rated books so you don’t have to do the legwork. Don’t know where to start? That’s okay too – Amazon has several lists you can browse from on their main page in the Book Department, such as Best Books of April and Award Winners.
  • Books are expensive. Yes, they can be. Want that new bestseller? Chances are it’s only in hardback and will set you back about $20, even if you have a membership to the bookstore or find it on sale. And what if you don’t like it? What a waste of money, right? Well – that’s why we have libraries! And most libraries have wonderful websites set up where you can have books held for you online and they let you know when it’s available. All, for free! And if you have a Half Price Books near you, you’d be surprised at A) how many beautiful and bestselling books you can find for under $3 in their clearance section and B) just how often they mail you coupons. Sign up on their website to get paper coupons, or they can email/text them to you. A 50% off coupon on a book that is already 50% off can save you….a lot. AND they don’t limit what you can use your coupon on. So if you really want that $25 bestseller, it’s already marked down to about $20 at Half-Price, plus you can use a coupon, so you can take it home for about the cost of a lunch at Chick-Fil-A. Still finding books too expensive? Try the Half Price Books Marketplace website where you can find books listed for $1, with cheap shipping.
  • What if you don’t like the book? Easy, put it down and pick up another. There is no rule that says that once you start a book you must finish it. Give a book three chapters to hook you and if it hasn’t, then don’t waste any more time. Most professionals in the literary world are trained to only read the first three chapters before deciding to sign a book or not, so those words had better be good.
  • The books I like are immature. . . Don’t worry. You aren’t the only adult who likes YA books more than the ones your “own age.” Don’t ever be embarrassed about what you want to read. Just buy it, read it , love it, and join the fandom.

So stop saying you don’t have the time to read. I promise you – you do! I’ve read 17 books this year and I have five animals, three kids, a husband, and a partridge in a pear tree. You can do it.

Most of my friends are women and most of these women like fun and easy reads. The Little Lady Agency is one of those, and it completely fits the bill for a book that you can read a little bit at a time, and not find yourself confused when you pick it back up. Readers who like Sophie Kinsella and Meg Cabot will enjoy this trilogy surrounding an unlikely girl-for-hire named Melissa – AKA Honey.

“ There are many marks of a true lady but I believe that one of them is to walk with her head held high while her world falls apart around her. ”

No one takes Melissa Romney-Jones seriously. Not her father, the prominent member of Parliament, and not her uptight and snobbish co-workers at the estate house. She doesn’t quite feel as if she fits in anywhere unless she’s lounging at home with her flatmate or out on the town (albeit quietly, at a respectable restaurant at a respectable hour, and of course, with proper shoes on) with her best girlfriend. But when she loses her job (sigh, again) and needs to find a way to make ends meet, she is a bit lost. After an unusually fortuitous job interview, she finds herself wrapped up in something completely different than what she’d originally penciled into her day planner – and  she decides to take matter into her own hands by taking a real chance. . . recreating herself as . . . “Honey.”

Honey Blennerhesket, to be exact.

“ Appearances can be deceptive. Just because someone has a generous chest and a romantic nature doesn’t mean they’re EASY. ”

Honey can be all of the things that Melissa cannot. She can be everything Melissa wishes she could be. She’s got luxurious blonde hair (care of a meticulously placed wig) that men find super attractive. She can be no-nonsense and opinionated, and people will actually listen. She can be glamorous and confident, and she can let go and not worry about what others think. Honey is a woman that people – especially men – respect.

As the owner/operator of The Little Lady Agency, Honey expedites of the needs of men. Not sexually, of course, because Honey may be voluptuous and sexy, but she also has strict manners and high values. You never give the milk away for free, and all of that. She handles all of the other things that men just cannot seem to manage. She can take a dowdy and hopeless nerd and turn him into a well-dressed gentleman. She can keep the meddlesome mother off of a son’s back by pretending to be his girlfriend at Christmas parties and events. And she can make sure that a man’s home is decorated tastefully and subtly, all while making sure his dry-cleaning is picked up and he has the right reservation at the perfect restaurant. And even though there is a man or two who come through her program acting like complete immature lechers, Honey can handle almost anything.

“ My golden rule has always been to look on the bright side, no matter what. With all the complications in my life, I had to. Because if you can find three good things in any given situation, no matter how dire, I guarantee you’ll forget the rotten stuff. ”

Well, almost anything. A certain dashing American keeps calling on her for her services, and against her better judgement, she finds herself catching feelings. It feels like he might be too. . .but the trouble is, she can’t quite figure out if Jonathan Riley likes her for Honey or for. . . herself.  And at the end of the day, she has a job to do, and nothing will keep her from making her client happy.

The Little Lady Agency is charming and funny. And although the premise of the story is very close to that of a call-girl, Melissa’s character is always above reproach when it comes to her manners and etiquette. The author has kept everything clean and tidy; no foul language or sexually graphic scenes. The interactions between Honey and her clients are at times, downright hilarious and cheeky. It’s just a good ole’ chick-lit book, akin to the likes of Jane Austen in it’s feminine flair and wit. The characters are likable and not terribly cliche, and  as the story is told over three novels – you won’t get the ending you’re expecting out of this one.

I give The Little Lady Agency 4 stars and highly recommend it for a light and fun read. It is sure to leave you giggling and nodding your head as readers will find they can truly relate to Melissa’s (mis)adventures in dating (even if the men aren’t her real boyfriends). Her struggle to be her own woman and to build confidence in a world that so eagerly and voraciously tries to tear her down is admirable. Melissa is someone I would love to be friends with, grabbing a cocktail after a long week. She’s a good person, and continues to be one no matter what is thrown her way or how others try to put her down. I love how she finds that she is more like “Honey” than she originally thought and her evolution from timid girl to confident woman is paved with wonderful values and dreamy expectations.

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Review: The Music Maker Series – Inharmonic

The Music Maker Series – Inharmonic

by A.K.R. Scott

” Nadja’s eyelids fell shut once more as his breath washed over her. The room spun, threatening her ability to remain standing. She slid one hand down across the hard plane of his chest. She could feel his heart racing and knew hers beat just as quickly. Their chests rose and fell together as Pax’s voice joined hers in the final refrain. 

‘The waves may crash and roll and roar

But I am my love’s forevermore.’ “

A.K.R Scott is an emerging fantasy author and is sure to make a splash onto the scene with her debut novel.  Inharmonic, the first installment of the Music Maker Series,  is full of all of the makings of a successful fantasy novel – a complex setting, cloaked figures with special powers, and a quest to find out the truth. The fictional world of Amrantir is peppered with deep woods filled with mystical trees, busy cities where music is in the forefront of culture and considered the most highly-valued trade, and creaky docks lined by wooden ships carrying precious cargo. Inharmonic transports readers into the depths of a land full of magic, all wrapped in a symphony of the sweetest composition.

Nadja is a girl sitting precariously on the cusp of becoming a woman –  but not in her manner of choosing. Instead, she will transition into her next phase of life by way of a marriage to a fellow member of her tribe, the Wanderers. She has grown up knowing the customs and traditions of her patriarchal society, but she has also been a reluctant participant, albeit silently. The partner that has been chosen for her and whose ways she shall adopt is a good man, and a handsome one to boot. But this does nothing to assuage the feelings that live deep in Nadja’s gut – the feelings of certainty that she is more than capable of forging her own path and making her own decisions without the express permission of a husband.

As the evening of her betrothal celebration unfolds, Nadja’s life begins to take a set of unrepairable turns. She comes across her young cousin, Kizzy, struggling against the nefarious and unwanted advances of an elder tribal leader, and in her haste to save her, Nadja commits what she believes to be murder. This one act spurs the bride-to-be to pack a bag and flee the confines and security of her camp, and she strikes out towards the city of Cantio in search of her uncle, with whom she has been told she can find sanctuary.

” There, the shock of the night dissipated, and the weight of everything she had been through hit her like a blow to the head. And now, with her meager supplies being looted by a pack of wolves, she truly had nothing and no one. To return to her tribe was suicide and continuing on her journey meant almost certain death. Nadja’s heart broke, and she wept as one mourning the loss of a loved one. But for her, it was the loss of everyone she had ever loved. Her body racked with sobs, and she stuffed the edge of her cloak into her mouth in a feeble attempt to muffle the noise. She cried until exhaustion overcame her and swept her away into a fitful slumber. “

When her Uncle Tau suggests enrolling in the local music conservatory as a further cover for the story he’s concocted for her, Nadja is trepidatious. She has some skill with a flute but doesn’t feel she is quite up to par with the elite members of the community who are also competing for a coveted spot in the illustrious school. Fate is on Nadja’s side, however, and she is accepted. The conservatory will provide her a much-needed place to hide from any of the tribal members attempting to hunt her down. It will also allow her to hone her musical skills and learn a thing or two.

Also accepted into the conservatory is Pax, an aspiring wood craftsman that she met while on her journey into the city. He is mischievous and full of flirtation, but for now, Nadja tries to push him to the background of her mind as she focuses on blending in the shadows. Unfortunately for her, Pax has other ideas. No matter how she tries to push him away, he always seems to find a reason to be around. Much to her growing digress, Nadja finds Pax becoming her hero in more ways than one, as he firmly inserts himself into her life.

” A heavy hand landed on Nadja’s shoulder. 

‘I’ll be partnering with Miss. Machinal.’

Nadja spun to face Pax, knocking away his hand. She stared at him in stunned silence for a moment as the amusement in his eyes belied the mask of innocence he wore. She opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again when her mind refused to cooperate with her lips. 

Instead, she whipped back around to tell the grandmaster there was a mistake, and she would most certainly not be partnering with Pax. However, by the time her instructor was halfway across the room, speaking with Petrin and a beet-red Helaine, Nadja desperately scanned the rest of the class, now only a handful of people since most of the students had already left. Finding everyone else paired off, she faced Pax, her eyes blazing. 

‘I did not agree to be your partner.’

Pax feigned surprise. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. I thought that was why you were standing over here clearly not looking for a partner. You seemed to be waiting around for someone to come over and claim you.’ 

‘You have some nerve,’ she seethed.  “

As her time at the conservatory unfolds, Nadja begins to learn more about herself and her supposed heritage, and the questions that begin to appear, are at times, more than she can stomach. Her mind is at war with her beliefs of the balance of nature and the magic running in her veins, and soon she becomes embroiled in a situation that she is afraid she cannot fight her way out of. When her past finally catches up to her, she is not as prepared as she originally planned to be, and Nadja must rely on her instincts and emerging talents to carry her on.

Inharmonic is the first in a set of novels, and if the author’s website is any indication, there will be at least three. You can track the author’s progress with a clever widget on the blog portion of her website. This series has the makings of a trilogy at the very least, with possible spin-off stories involving minor but equally interesting characters. Readers who enjoy Inharmonic can sign up at the author’s website (www.akrscott.com) to receive a free copy of a novella entitled Heart of the Wood, featuring the heroic and engaging character, Pax.

I found the premise of Inharmonic to be original and intelligent, and while I have not read a weighty amount of fantasy books, I believe the underlying storyline to be unique. The story is about Nadja and her journey of discovering who she is outside of tribal tradition and law, but it is also centered around music and the power that sound has on the environment in which it lives. Cultivated melodies have the power to call on rain, can literally move mountains, and grow crops that would otherwise be laid waste by pests and disease. The author is obviously very well-versed in the language of music and while it does lend itself to the story well, at times it can be a bit much. If you don’t know a lot about music and its terms (like myself) you may find yourself lost and a bit bored with lengthy descriptions of the inner workings of song and harmony.

I was also confused as to the audience the author was writing for. I’ve found it nearly impossible to “write for the masses” in the literary world of today. The genres of the modern-day reading circles are very distinct and the lines clearly drawn as certain styles of writing invoke cult-like followings. The Young Adult genre is taken very seriously by the readers involved, and while the ages and subject matter suggested this was a YA book, the language was heavy-handed and almost too elegant and complicated for the average YA reader to understand and navigate without a dictionary. That being said, adult readers would find this intelligently written and appealing. However, the storyline was lost more than once in the face of overly-worded paragraphs full of detailed descriptions and dialogue was slowed to a turtle’s pace in the midst of formality.

I’ve found that most books involved in a series can be wordy with their first installment, as the author is excited to set the world up for their reader and also so that in future books, they are able to focus more on plot than setting. I am looking forward to the rest of the books in this series, as Inharmonic left me in a state of desperate wanting as it came to its close. I also appreciated the map in the front of the book, showing all the points of interest clearly marked. The author’s website has a fantastically interactive map with further detail and descriptions that I found delightful. I’m a fan of a good map, as the wife of a cartographer, and fantasy worlds are always made better with a pure path laid out.

I give Inharmonic 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for music-lovers and fantasy-lovers alike. I recommend this for readers over the age of 15, as the language overall is advanced and may be confusing for the average mid-grade or YA reader.