Provided for Review: Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

Welcome to Harrow Lake...
Someone’s expecting you.

Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker – she thinks nothing can scare her.

But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s swiftly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot. The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map – and then there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.

And there’s someone – or something – stalking her every move.

The more Lola discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes. Because Lola’s got secrets of her own. And if she can’t find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her . . .

This book was provided for review by NetGalley and The Write Reads. Thank you!

When The Write Reads approached me on Twitter to join the book tour for Harrow Lake, I immediately accepted. As someone who grew up in the 80’s, horror films are as much a part of my growing up as anything else. And while yes, I did have my share of nightmares from them, I also came to appreciate them as the works of art that some of them are.

Harrow Lake is a story that centers around horror films and the hold they can create. It focuses on Lola Nox, 17 year old daughter of horror film director Nolan Nox. Having grown up around her father’s films, Lola believes that nothing can frighten her. Those beliefs are put to the test when Lola is sent – rather unwillingly – to her maternal grandmother’s home in Harrow Lake.

Harrow Lake reminds me very much of the older tv series The Twilight Zone. Any one who remembers the original show will recall that the stories they told were built on the premise of suspense and barely hinted at ideas. Where the shadows lurking in a dark corner could be a hideous monster or could simply be a pile of clothes. Where not everything is as it seems and looks are definitely deceiving.

Like some horror movies, the action in Harrow Lake is a bit choppy. Scenes jump from one to the next with almost no indication. It can be a little disconcerting at times. Also, the main character of Lola can be irritating. This can be explained by not only her age but also by her unique upbringing. Any one raised immersed in the horror genre from a young age is likely to be more than a bit jaded as well.

This is the first novel by Kat Ellis that I’ve had the opportunity to read and review. I enjoyed her style of storytelling and have already looked in to what others books she has written.

Readers who enjoy a good suspenseful story will likely enjoy Harrow Lake. It is the perfect creepy read for a dark night. I recommend it and hope others enjoy it as I did.

Provided for Review: If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Kyuri is a heartbreakingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a “room salon,” an exclusive bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake with a client may come to threaten her livelihood.

Her roomate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the super-wealthy heir to one of Korea’s biggest companies.

Down the hall in their apartment building lives Ara, a hair stylist for whom two preoccupations sustain her: obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that is commonplace.

And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to get pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise and educate in the cutthroat economy.

Together, their stories tell a gripping tale that’s seemingly unfamiliar, yet unmistakably universal in the way that their tentative friendships may have to be their saving grace.

This book was provided for review by Netgalley. Thank you!

It is my opinion that the purpose of a book – whether fiction or non-fiction – is to introduce the reader to new ideas. To take them out of the familiar and in to the unfamiliar. To introduce new people and hopefully have them stay with the reader far after the book has been finished.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha is an excellent example of this. In it we are taken to Seoul Korea and surrounding suburbs. We are introduced to several young women who live in the same apartment building. Through them we step foot in to a society that is as familiar as it is unique. And through them hopefully understand that despite the differences in language, the desire for a better life is universal.

While the four young women who are the main characters live in the same building and close to one another, their stories are separate. Yes, they are all acquaintances and interact with each other throughout the story, but each woman is her own person. And while there is an underlying thread that connects them, each young woman approaches it in their own way.

I absolutely loved each of the female characters in If I Had Your Face. They are all so relatable in one way or another – because honestly, who hasn’t fantasized about meeting their favorite artist and falling instantly in love? Cha’s writing makes each one of them so believable and it is easy to imagine them sitting around and gossiping over food and drinks.

Whether you are a fan of k-pop, Korean dramas, or not, I honestly believe most readers will enjoy If I Had Your Face. I found it to be a fascinating look at a slice of the world that is so familiar and yet so different than our own.

No Man Can Tame (The Dark-Elves of Nightbloom #1) by Miranda Honfleur

After a failed courtship in an ally kingdom, twenty-one-year-old Princess Alessandra returns home to a land torn apart by mutual hatred between the humans and the dark-elves. The “Beast Princess,” as Aless is known by courtiers, confidently sets her mind to ways of making peace, but her father has already decided for her: she is to marry one of the mysterious and monstrous dark-elves to forge a treaty, and go on a Royal Progress across the kingdom to flaunt their harmonious union. While she intends to preserve the peace, the Beast Princess has plans of her own.

Prince Veron has been raised knowing his life is not his own, but to be bargained away by his mother, the queen of Nozva Rozkveta, to strengthen the dark-elf queendom. When his mother tells him he is to marry a self-absorbed, vile human, he is determined to do his duty regardless of his personal feelings. After arriving at the human capital, he finds the “Beast Princess” rebellious and untamed—and not to be trusted.

Aless and Veron face opposition at every turn, with humans and dark-elves alike opposing the union violently, as well as their own feelings of dissonance toward each other. Can two people from cultures that despise one another fall in love? Can a marriage between them bond two opposing worlds together, or will it tear them apart for good?

The idea behind an arranged marriage to secure peace between two families/countries is one that is not just based in reality but has been used in fiction numerous times. Often times the two individuals who are having to get married come to some kind of agreement. In romance novels the two usually fall in love and live happily ever after. And usually the reader is drawn in to their story and is rooting for them by the end.

I came across No Man Can Tame in an ad on Facebook. There was a small snippet of the book as well as the description above. I was intrigued, especially by the words “Beast Princess”. Would this story be a kind of reversal of Beauty and the Beast? Just what about Aless makes her so beastly?

In the blurb above, Aless is described as “self-centered” and sadly these two words could not be more accurate. She is so completely self absorbed in building a library like her mother wanted that she makes plans to run away after marrying Veron. It doesn’t occur to her that in doing so she would shatter the peace treaty her father and Veron’s mother have agreed to. It doesn’t occur to her that her actions would doom his people to starvation and ruin. All she sees are the things that she wants.

Veron, at least tries. He is not perfect either, but he at least has an understanding of the consequences. He is flexible and willing to change some to make a better impression on the humans. Something Aless has difficulty doing.

The world and backstory of No Man Can Tame is sadly lacking. Very little time is spent on describing events that happened either to certain characters or to certain whole races. Brief mention is made that the Dark Elves and other mythical creates fell in to a kind of sleep for over 2000 years. What caused the sleep? What caused them to wake up?

The same can be said for Aless’ nickname of “Beast Princess”. What garnered this nickname? Again, brief mention is made of her being forced to wear a brace of some kind, but it’s almost treated like a throwaway line. Considering so many know of this nickname, what happened?

As much as I was looking forward to reading No Man Can Tame when I first heard about it, when it came to the actual book I was sadly disappointed. There is so much potential and it could have easily been something excellent. I honestly cannot recommend this one my dear readers; skip it and move on.

Provided for Review: A Different Time by Michael K. Hill

While searching through a pile of old VHS videos, comic book collector Keith Nolan comes across one with a hand written label. With only the number “3” on it, Keith has no idea what is on the tape in his hand.

When he plays the tape he sees Lindsey Hale. Enamored, Keith talks to his television screen. And somehow, despite the tape being from 1989, Lindsey answers back.

This book was provided for review by the author. Thank you!

A Different Time by Michael K. Hill is one of those books that I could easily see being made in to a movie. Either for the big screen a la The Lake House or in to a Hallmark movie; either way I think it would translate to that format quite well.

Switching between the two characters, Lindsey and Keith, we are introduced to them separately and follow the sequence of events that leads one person to make the video tape and the other to find it.

The love story in A Different Time is very sweet. Keith falls hard for Lindsey and she in turn falls hard for him.

Because of the vast time difference between when Lindsey makes her tapes and Keith sees them, there is really only one way for their story to end. Still, when we learn what happens it comes as a shock just as it does for Keith. Knowing how it will end does not make it any easier.

And for any reader, once you reach the end of the book and know what happens with Lindsey and Keith – I advise them to go back and re-read the beginning. And smile.

Many thanks to Michael for contacting me and asking me to read his book. I sincerely enjoyed it and can easily recommend it for any one who enjoys a bittersweet romance.

Provided for Review: The Die of Death (The Great Devil War II) by Kenneth B. Andersen

Philip’s adventures as the Devil’s apprentice have changed him—in a good way. Although he misses his friends in Hell, he has made new friends in life.

But when the future of the underworld is threatened once again, Philip’s help is needed. Death’s Die has been stolen and immortality is spreading across the globe.

Philip throws himself into the search—and discovers a horrible truth about his own life along the way.

This book was provided for review by the author and The Write Reads. Thank you!

The Die of Death by Kenneth B. Andersen is the second book in his very popular The Great Devil War series. Picking up roughly six month after the events of the first book in the series – The Devil’s Apprentice – we are once again reunited with the main character Philip.

Much has changed for Philip since his time in Hell. No longer the ‘goody two shoes’ that he was in the first book, he has made new friends from old enemies. He still remembers his old friends from Hell though and after a terrible storm one night, he is reunited with them on an all too familiar staircase.

As in the first book, the majority of the story takes place in Hell. And again, as with the first book, Andersen has out done himself in bringing the place to “life”. His descriptions of the places Philip and Sabine visit make it quite easy to picture. The addition of the lands of Purgatory and of Death’s domain also serve to expand this particular universe.

While the actual setting of The Die of Death is wonderfully rounded out further in this second book, it is the changes that the actual characters go through that truly help move the story along. Mortimer – aka Death – is better rounded out and as the book goes on we truly see the kind of person he is. And we come to realize, just as Philip does, that death is a part of life and is not something to be feared.

Sometimes, the second book of a series is not as strong as the first. This is simply not true with The Die of Death. It easily holds its own and is as enjoyable as the first book. I loved reading it and look forward to reading the rest of the series.

The Watchmaker's Daughter (Glass and Steele #1) by C.J. Archer

India Steele is desperate. Her father is dead, her fiancé took her inheritance, and no one will employ her, despite years working for her watchmaker father. Indeed, the other London watchmakers seem frightened of her. Alone, poor, and at the end of her tether, India takes employment with the only person who’ll accept her – an enigmatic and mysterious man from America. A man who possesses a strange watch that rejuvenates him when he’s ill.

Matthew Glass must find a particular watchmaker, but he won’t tell India why any old one won’t do. Nor will he tell her what he does back home, and how he can afford to stay in a house in one of London’s best streets. So when she reads about an American outlaw known as the Dark Rider arriving in England, she suspects Mr. Glass is the fugitive. When danger comes to their door, she’s certain of it. But if she notifies the authorities, she’ll find herself unemployed and homeless again – and she will have betrayed the man who saved her life.

The Watchmaker’s Daughter is the first book in C.J. Archer’s Glass and Steele series. Like most first books in a series, it’s primary purpose is to introduce the readers to the characters of the series as well as give them a feeling for the universe they live in. For Glass and Steele, on the surface the characters reside in Victorian era London. But further reading shows that there is more beneath the surface.

Like in her other books, Archer has done a good job in creating a universe that is both familiar and new. As this particular series is to be set in Victorian England, not as much time is spent world building as Victorian England is already a fairly well known time period. What was disappointing though was that while there is supposedly magic in this universe, it is hardly mentioned.

Another thing I found disappointing was how little time was spent on some of the characters. More than enough time is spent on Mr. Glass and Miss Steele; not surprising since these two are the main characters of the series. But as far as the rest of Glass’ crew – these individuals that are his close friends and that he supposedly trusts with his life? Very little is given on them aside from physical descriptions and barely a hint towards any kind of back story. It is my hope that in future books this is rectified and these incredibly interesting characters are given more page time.

For the first book in a series, The Watchmaker’s Daughter does pretty well. It offers enough story to stand alone while hinting at possible future plots. The main characters are interesting without being too cliched and the slow burn romance between them is a nice treat. At current count there are over 10 books in the series and I’ll slowly but surely be making my way through them.

Provided for Review: Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

In 2153, cancer was cured. In 2189, AIDS. And in 2235, the last members of the human race traveled to a far distant planet called Pearl to begin the next chapter of humanity.

Several hundred years after their arrival, the remainder of humanity lives in a utopian colony in which every want is satisfied automatically, and there is no need for human labor, struggle or thought. But when the machines that regulate the colony begin to malfunction, the colonists are faced with a test for the first time in their existence.

With the lives of the colonists at stake, it is left to a young man named Samuel to repair these breakdowns and save the colony. Aided by his friend Penny, Samuel rises to meet each challenge. But he soon discovers a mysterious group of people behind each of these problems, and he must somehow find and defeat these saboteurs in order to rescue his colony. 

This book was provided for review by the author. Thank you!

In 2153 cancer is cured, and every disease known to man follows shortly thereafter. This allows the human population to skyrocket even though the cost is unknowingly high. When scientists find an earth like planet, it is deemed as humanity’s savior and those who are sent to the distant planet are tasked with bringing about a new age.

Our Dried Voices poses an interesting look in to the idea of ‘What happens next?’. What happens when a virtual paradise is established on a faraway planet? What happens when every need is met and the struggle to survive is taken away? What happens when we no longer have to think for ourselves?

The answers are both frightening and enlightening. With nothing to worry about the people of Pearl live a carefree life. They are perpetually children, never having to worry about a thing. As everything is completely automated, their largest decision is which of the meal halls will they go to that day. It is both a utopia and a dystopia.

I found Our Dried Voices to be a very interesting read. There are parallels with our own society in that every day more and more of our lives are becoming automated. To have an individual thought, to not ‘go with the flow’, is seen as strange.

There is very little dialogue save towards the end; something that adds to the otherness of the book. Most of the story happens in action, in thoughts and deeds. At times I found things teetering close to purple prose in terms of description. Yet again that also adds to the strange planet and unique lands the colonists reside in.

For readers who wonder “What if…?” or would be interested in seeing what could happen when the idea of a utopia is taken to the extreme, Our Dried Voices should be added to their reading list. If nothing else, it gives a frightening look in to a future that could possibly occur.

Provided for Review: Five Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Maurice Barkley (Edited by David Taylor)

Five new short stories for fans of Sherlock Holmes!

1 – Children are disappearing mysteriously from the streets of London. The only clue is a strange old woman who is seen shortly before the children disappear. Who is she and what does she have to do with the missing kids?

2 – Two sisters and their half brother beseech Holmes to help them with a riddle their father left behind. Will Holmes agree when he realizes what the adult children are truly after?

3 – A train disappears in to seemingly thin air between one village and the next. Just as strangely as it disappeared, it reappeared three years later. How could something so strange happen?

4 – Mycroft Holmes seeks the aid of his younger brother in a unique case. Top level politicians are being blackmailed by someone who has photographs of high level secret contracts. In a room with no windows and only one door, just how did this person get these photos?

5 – An abandoned moving cart and horses is found on the London docks. Beside it lies a man dead, his chest crushed by some unknown force. With no clues pointing to who the man was or what was in the cart, how is Holmes expected to solve this one?

This book was provided for review by The Write Reads and by the author. Thank you!

I have said it once and I will say it again, I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes. So when I am offered the opportunity to read new stories featuring the great detective, I eagerly agree.

5 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Maurice Barkley is one such collection. Originally published separately, this is the first time the stories have been combined in one compendium.

Personally, I greatly enjoyed reading these stories. Barkley has done a very good job in capturing the ‘voice’ of the original tales. His writing is very much like Conan Doyle’s as is his portrayal of both Watson and Holmes. This is especially true in the second story – The Legacy of Doctor Carus – where Barkley not only shows Holmes’ serious side but also his more mischievous side, something that is not often seen even in the original tales.

As these are all short stories, every one is a quick and delightful read. It would be quite easy to finish the whole book in an afternoon though I do recommend the reader take it slowly and see if they can figure out whodunnit before Holmes and Watson can.

For fans of the great detective (like myself) I urge them to give these stories a try.

Provided for Review: Postcard from Paris by Holly Willow

When Poppy finds a postcard from Paris, sent by an aunt she didn’t know existed, she books a flight to France to investigate. Just days after arriving in Paris, she accidentally lands herself a job thanks to a case of mistaken identity. To complicate matters further, she soon starts to fall for her new boss. Falling in love with your boss is never a good idea and she knows it. But when he makes her an offer she can’t refuse, her heart just might win the battle against reason and logic.

This book was provided for review by the author. Thank you!

Trigger Warning: Mentions of mental illness, emotional abuse, and suicide. While the actual events happen before the book begins, they are still mentioned.

Poppy Parker is a self confessed workaholic. All of her adult life she has been focused on her career at Belle Cosmetics, working her way up the corporate ladder. Just when she has the position she has been working towards in her sights, it’s snatched away. And when she tries to resign, her boss refuses and instead instructs her to take a small sabbatical.

To add insult to injury, Poppy’s fiance Daniel agrees to take a job in Hong Kong just weeks before their wedding. A job that will have him away for six months. Poppy is sure she can handle things on her end but even that is put in to doubt when she learns that Daniel hasn’t been all that honest with her.

Take all of that, plus a postcard from an aunt that Poppy never knew existed, and she finds herself booking a ticket to Paris, France.

Postcard from Paris is pure fluff. Of the best kind. It’s like cotton candy, ice cream, or any other sweet treat. It’s like a Hallmark movie, complete with dramatic moments and of course a happily ever after.

As I was reading Postcard From Paris, I was reminded of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. In it there too is a large apartment building with an eclectic cast of characters presided over by a loving, larger than life landlady.

The characters themselves are all quite likable, even the ones who are supposedly more gruff. Poppy is immediately relatable and most any reader will see an aspect of themselves in her. The same can be said for the majority of the characters, a reader is likely to identify with at least someone.

The book itself is quite well written. Willow uses language in a wide variety of ways – to evoke the pain of being passed over for a job to the joy of finding oneself in a new city and hopefully on the path to a new life. She also a nice grasp with pacing as the story moved along at a decent clip without ever feeling too laggy.

There was one small plot point that I didn’t particularly like and felt kind of shoehorned in. To go further in to it could be constituted as spoilers so I will only say that if you have read the book, then you likely know what I am talking about. It had no real bearing on the rest of the book and in my opinion, it wasn’t necessary.

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed reading Postcard in Paris. With the summer months fast approaching, I think this would be the perfect poolside read. Or the perfect sunny read on an otherwise dreary day. Many thanks to the author, Holly Willow, for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this book. I urge my readers to go check it out!

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Müller (translated by Philip Boehm

Romania—the last months of the Ceausescu regime. Adina is a young schoolteacher. Paul is a musician. Clara works in a wire factory. Pavel is Clara’s lover. But one of them works for the secret police and is reporting on all of the group.

One day Adina returns home to discover that her fox fur rug has had its tail cut off. On another occasion it’s the hindleg. Then a foreleg. The mutilated fur is a sign that she is being tracked by the secret police—the fox was ever the hunter.

Images of photographic precision combine into a kaleidoscope of terror as Adina and her friends struggle to keep mind and body intact in a world pervaded by complicity and permeated with fear, where it’s hard to tell victim from perpetrator.

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter is one of those books that it is quite difficult to write a review for. Simply because – at least for me – the book itself is quite difficult to describe. Told in a lyrical kind of prose, the book has a stream of consciousness feel to it. Müller puts so much attention in the settings, bringing them in to such sharp focus, that the human characters fade in to the background.

Looking at other reviews over on Goodreads, I find that I am not alone in my opinions. There are just as many there who are like me, who just do not “get it” when it comes to this book. Likewise, there are a goodly number who sing its praises. The Fox Was Ever the Hunter did win a Nobel Prize, so there is that as well.

Perhaps much of what makes this book appealing is lost in translation. Perhaps I am just too dense to understand.