Provided for Review: The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

Milly, Aubrey and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they’ve never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they’re surprised…and curious.

Their parents are all clear on one point—not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother’s good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it’s immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious—and dark—their family’s past is.

The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn’t over—and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.

Many thanks to the author, Penguin Publishing, and to The Write Reads on Twitter for providing this book for review. Thank you!

You know what you did…

Those five words were the last each of the four Story children heard from their mother before disinheriting them. Those five words, written on a single sheet of paper, one for each child. Five little words and then nothing. Not for over 20 years.

The Cousins is the latest book by Karen M. McManus, author of the equally thrilling One of Us is Lying. Again we are met with secrets and lies. Of half truths and where what lies on the surface is on the beginning. And where even those who proclaim innocence aren’t as innocent as they might seem.

The Cousins is told from a variety of viewpoints. Not only are there chapters told from each cousin’s point of view, there are also several chapters from summer/fall of 1996 – just before the four Story children are disinherited. I will not say just who narrates those particuar chapters, just that their addition gives some very good insight as to why what happened did.

The main characters of The Cousins are the three cousins themselves; Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah. I found them all to be quite likeable. Each is a well rounded and well thought out character. Written in a believable manner where like almost every one else, they too have something to hide. Each one is a product of the background and upbringing and their actions through out the novel reflect that.

My only real complaint was while the main characters of the three cousins were well rounded, the same could not be said of the secondary characters. I honestly would have liked to have seen more of the original Story children as older adults along with the flashbacks that we see them in. The same can also said for the grandmother, I would have really liked to have seen more of her aside from the very brief glimpses we are given. While I understand that McManus could only include so much background before inundating us, I still would have liked to have had a least a little more.

In the end though, I enjoyed reading The Cousins. I found it to be a very entertaining read and had a good time trying to put the puzzle pieces together just as the cousins themselves were trying to do. Readers who have enjoyed McManus’ other books will enjoy this one and those who are new to her work should definitely give it a try. It was a fun read and I look forward to going back and reading more of her stuff.

Book Tour Review: The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

She came from nothing.
Avery has a plan: keep her head down and work hard for a better future.
Then an eccentric billionaire dies, leaving her almost his entire fortune. And no one, least of all Avery, knows why.

They had everything.
Now she must move into the mansion she’s inherited.
It’s filled with secrets and codes, and the old man’s surviving relatives –
a family hell-bent on discovering why Avery got ‘their’ money.

Now there’s only one rule: winner takes all.
Soon she is caught in a deadly game that everyone in this strange family is playing.
But just how far will they go to keep their fortune?

This book was provided by the author as part of a book tour with The Write Reads. Thank you!

Trigger Warning: Physical and emotional abuse (Avery’s sister Libby receives a black eye from her boyfriend) both past and present, alcohol consumption, mentions of stalking

“…Hawthorne loves a good puzzle as much as he loves a good whiskey. And he loves his whiskey.”

Avery Grimes is your typical teenager. She studies hard and works hard, all with the aim of giving herself and her half sister a better life. So what if she has to sometimes sleep in her car because her sister’s boyfriend is being a jerk again? Avery knows that one day things will be better.

Avery’s “one day” happens sooner than expected. A well tailored, handsome young man comes to Avery’s school, informing her that he comes on behest of his family and she is wanted in Texas for the reading of a will. Avery doesn’t know any one in Texas, least of all any one who would be naming her in a will…

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is the first book in the series with the same title. Much like the acclaimed movie Knives Out (great movie, btw), it centers on a ridiculously rich family and the patriarch’s Last Will and Testament.

The Inheritance Games is a tense, puzzle filled, nail biter of a story. Everyone seems to have a hidden agenda of some kind. With nearly every person holding on to one secret or another, Avery (and the reader) have a hard time knowing who to trust. Even Mr. Hawthorne himself though he’s dead. The puzzles he’s left behind seem to point at something but no one is sure of what.

I deeply enjoyed reading The Inheritance Games. Because of how it is written, the reader goes along with Avery as she tries to unravel the clues and puzzles left behind. We learn the answers as she figures them out – and she is very good at figuring puzzles out.

I wasn’t too fond of the love triangle Barnes introduced between Avery and two of the Hawthorne grandsons. Such a thing seems common in many YA books, so much so as to have become a kind of trope. However since it was such a small part of the overall plot and didn’t really figure in to the story, it was also easy to overlook and ignore.

On the whole I quite enjoyed this book. Not everything was tied up neatly at the end, leaving it open for the next book in the series. It is something I am eagerly looking forward to and will likely review it here given the chance.

I Bring the Fire Parts 1, 2, and 3 by C. Gockel

Sometimes the hero is the wrong guy at the right time.

When Amy Lewis prays for a savior, Loki Norse God of Mischief and Chaos isn’t who she has in mind. Loki can’t resist Amy’s summons, but he can insist she help him outwit Odin, ruler of the Nine Realms. Can Amy trust a so-called God of Mischief? With a powerful evil calling him from beneath the city’s streets, can Loki even trust himself?

In this urban fantasy tale a nice mid-western girl and a jaded, mischievous Loki must join forces to outwit gods, elves, magic sniffing cats, and nosy neighbors. If Loki can remember exactly what he’s forgotten and Amy can convince him not to be too distracted by Earthly gadgets, Earthly pleasures, or three day benders, they just might pull it off…

Part One of I Bring The Fire was reviewed here, while Part Two was reviewed here.

Part Three of I Bring The Fire is aptly subtitled Chaos and picks up immediately where Part Two left off. Loki’s intention on taking the mysterious World Seed for himself still burns as bright as ever. He wants to watch Asgard burn and Odin suffer even if he doesn’t quite understand the reason behind it.

Like with the previous books the story is told from a variety of view points. We see various points from Loki’s past, from when he was a child and from when he was an adult. Moments with his first wife Anganboda and his second wife Sigyn, moments with his children; moments that shape him in to the man that he eventually becomes. There are other moments as well, moments that hint to Loki’s true past.

Loki changes the most in this third book and it isn’t always for the best. Throughout the first two books Cera has done untold psychic damage to him and it is in the third book the results are seen. In Part One Loki was a mischievous character but still likable. Part Two saw him as a darker man even while he had his lighter moments.

In Part Three he is almost a completely different person. While not overtly cruel, he is manipulative even to those he purportedly cares about. He is especially this way towards Amy, taking her to Paris and away from the people who have come to rely on her.

It is only when Loki gets what he wants does he realize in doing so he loses everything.

The way Part Three wraps up makes it clear this is not quite the end. This is only a single story arc with other arcs following behind. Readers who were able to make it through Parts One and Two would do well to read Part Three. It wraps a good deal up while leaving plenty for subsequent books to cover.

Extreme Medical Services by Jamie Davis

Read the book described by one reader as “Like Grimm With Paramedics.” Follow the exploits of new paramedic Dean Flynn as he gets assigned to a backwater station no one has ever heard of, Station U. He soon learns that his unusual patients are far from normal. They are the creatures of myth and legend. His tough, experienced paramedic trainer Brynne is determined to teach him everything she knows. With vampires, werewolves, witches and fairies as patients, will he survive? Will they?

Ever since he was a teenager Dean Flynn has wanted to be a paramedic. Working hard and graduating top of his class, Dean is sure he’ll have his pick of posts. Instead, he’s assigned to Station U – a tiny station at the edge of town that practically no one knows about. Dean thinks he’s being punished until he learns about the unique patients Station U treats.

Extreme Medical Services is one of those books that doesn’t fit neatly in to any one category. It’s not quite a medical style novel nor is it completely fantasy based – it is instead a mish mash of the two. It does rely quite heavily on medical jargon however if the reader has seen even one medical drama (ER, Chicago Hope, The Good Doctor, etc.) they shouldn’t be to lost.

This overabundance of jargon and procedure comes at a price though, and that price is the characters themselves. There just isn’t enough given to create a connection between the reader and the characters. Everyone sounds quite interesting yet as there is so much emphasis put on the actual emergency procedures themselves, no one character is allowed to develop any depth.

I am also rather confused by the picture on the cover. None of the paramedics show even a hint of supernatural abilities.

As someone who has enjoyed the occasional medical drama in the past, I was rather looking forward to reading Extreme Medical Services. Especially as it was combined with another genre I enjoy – fantasy. I was however sadly disappointed. The premise itself was quite promising but the execution was sorely lacking. Readers who prefer a book that focuses on actual medical procedures albeit in a fictional setting might enjoy it. Other readers might want to look somewhere else.

Provided for Review: Ten Days Gone (A.L. McKittridge #1) by Beverly Long

They know exactly when he’ll strike… They just have to find him first.

In all their years working for the Baywood police department, detectives A.L. McKittridge and Rena Morgan have never seen anything like it. Four women dead in forty days, each killed ten days apart. With nothing connecting the victims and very little evidence, the clock is already counting down to when the next body drops. A.L. and Rena will have to act fast if they’re going to find the killer’s next victim before he does.

But identifying the killer’s next likely target is only half the battle. With pressure pushing in from all sides, a promising breakthrough leads the detectives to Tess Lyons, a woman whose past trauma has left her too damaged to appreciate the danger she’s in. Unwilling to let another woman die, A.L. and Rena will put everything on the line to keep Tess safe and end the killer’s deadly spree once and for all–before time runs out again. 

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

Trigger Warnings – mentions of abuse (physical and sexual), mention of animal death,

While I do enjoy reading the occasional murder mystery, police procedural novels haven’t always been my cup of tea. Some of the ones I’ve read over the years have been rather dry and never seemed to hold my interest. When I saw Ten Days Gone available on Netgalley, I decided to take a chance on it. And I am quite glad I did.

Ten Days Gone follows Detectives McKittridge and Morgan as they race against time to find a serial killer lurking in their mid-sized Wisconsin town. The killer has already taken the lives of four women, each murder spaced exactly ten days apart. With no clear connection between them, the two detectives are in a race against time to try and determine who the next victim will be.

Like many book and television police dramas, Ten Days Gone starts in the middle of the action. The fourth victim has just been found and we the reader join the two detectives as they must try and find what joins this new person to the previous victims. Like many television police dramas there is a good deal of talking, of going over evidence and discovering new clues. This book is very conversation heavy. It relies more on the detectives as well as other characters talking – either on the phone or in person – to convey information. Many writers use a “show, don’t tell” approach where with Ms. Long, the opposite approach is used.

Ten Days Gone is certainly not for every reader. It is a dark book, one that deals with subjects that might not be comfortable for some. Those readers who do enjoy a well paced thriller that will keep you guessing until the end would likely enjoy this book. I personally liked the characters very much and will be keeping an eye out for further books in the series.

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.

Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro (translated by Takami Nieda)

For two teens, falling in love is going to make a world of difference in this beautifully translated, bold, and endearing novel about love, loss, and the pain of racial discrimination.

As a Korean student in a Japanese high school, Sugihara has had to defend himself against all kinds of bullies. But nothing could have prepared him for the heartache he feels when he falls hopelessly in love with a Japanese girl named Sakurai. Immersed in their shared love for classical music and foreign movies, the two gradually grow closer and closer.

One night, after being hit by personal tragedy, Sugihara reveals to Sakurai that he is not Japanese—as his name might indicate.

Torn between a chance at self-discovery that he’s ready to seize and the prejudices of others that he can’t control, Sugihara must decide who he wants to be and where he wants to go next. Will Sakurai be able to confront her own bias and accompany him on his journey?

Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro is one of those books where expectation and reality don’t quite meet. This is not always a bad thing, because while the premise of Go points to romance, the book itself is actually much more.

Though the story centers on the blossoming romance between Sukihara and Sagurai, it is only one of the many layers that make up the entirety. The book is also about coming to terms with oneself and with society, for good and for bad. It is about realization, about understanding that just because the world says we should be one way because of the way we look or because of our background, it is not the only option. And while breaking free of a preconceived mold might be difficult, it can be done.

There is some violence and not all of the characters are very nice, but I think that just adds to the realism of the story. The fact that even the main characters, Sugihara and Sagurai, are flawed makes everything more believable.

Go is one of those books that I could easily see being taught to upper level high school students. As many of the characters are of the high school age, it would be easy to relate to them. That does not mean that adults cannot enjoy this book, because I certainly did.

Overall, I recommend Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro. Not only does it give a glimpse in to a foreign society – literally and figuratively – it also holds up a mirror to our own.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Nora hasn’t seen or spoken to Clare in ten years. Not since they were both in high school.

Not since Nora walked away one day and never looked back.

Until, one day an unexpected e-mail arrives. Clare is having a hen do and Nora is invited.

Reluctantly, Nora agrees to go and at first all seems well. But as the weekend goes on, things start to go wrong. And when Nora suddenly wakes up in a hospital with no memory of what happened, she desperately needs to remember because one of the guests might be a killer and she might be next on their list.

In A Dark, Dark Wood is supposedly a dark thriller, but I would be more likely to describe it as a light mystery. Based on the cover and the blurb on the back, one would expect something deeper and far darker than what is delivered. Yes, there is a bit of mystery involved, and yes someone does die, but the actual build up and final resolution left me wanting more.

The characters themselves were difficult to develop any kind of emotional attachment to. Several times I found myself wanting to give the main character Nora, a good shake. For a supposed crime novel writer she can be quite blase at times. Add to that the fact that she doesn’t have a very large online presence. In this day and age of social media, an author like her would at least have a Facebook or Twitter. It comes across that she has nothing like that. She also admits to only looking up her old boyfriend ONCE in the 10 years since the separated. That too I find hard to swallow, especially if we are to believe that they were a very close couple.

While In A Dark, Dark Wood started strong, by about halfway through it began to slow down tremendously. And while Ware tried to set the narrative to point to one character as the baddie, it didn’t quite work. I was able to guess the ending far before the big reveal. It was almost anti-climactic.

Ruth Ware has written some excellent books – her The Death of Mrs. Westaway has garnered some major acclaims. And while there are some readers who enjoyed In A Dark, Dark Wood from beginning to end, I was not one of them. While it started very strong, it finished weak. This isn’t one I would recommend to every one, but if you’re looking for a fast read with a touch of mystery, you could certainly give this a try.

Strange Practice (Dr. Greta Helsing #1) by Vivian Shaw

Dr. Greta Helsing has inherited her family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, family practice. In her consulting rooms she treats the otherworldly citizens of London for a wide variety of worldly ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies – just to name a few. And although she has trouble making ends meet, Greta wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Until a sect of murderous monks arrives on the scene. Killing human and supernatural persons alike. Terror has taken the city in its grip and Greta will have to team up with some strange friends to stop the cult, save her practice, and her life.

Strange Practice was a book I came across while browsing over in Google Play. It was one of those “Recommended for You” type of things. Honestly, I enjoy browsing those areas just to see how accurate – or how totally off base – the recommendations can be. Sometimes I come across a title that interests me, while other times I’m left scratching my head.

Strange Practice is the first book in the Dr. Greta Helsing series and in it we are introduced to the titular character. Greta is a 30-something medical doctor, who after numerous years of study and practice in London’s hospitals, has taken over her father’s practice. It is something she has wanted to do since she was a child as her family has a history of dealing with some of the more unique individuals that walk the city streets. Taking care of others – especially those of the supernatural sort – is something she loves to do and is something she is quite good at.

On the whole, the actual plot of Strange Practice is a tad cliched. A group of young theology students find forgotten information about a long dead sect of Templar Knights. At first, they reenact the rituals for love of the pomp and circumstance, they are not serious in their efforts. That is until an odd, disembodied voice begins to compel them to take things a step further. To rid the world of those deemed “unclean” and “monstrous”.

What sets Strange Practice apart are the characters themselves. Whether human or supernatural – of which there are quite a few mentioned – they are each written in a way that makes them believable. There are moments of joy and of pain, of anger and of self doubt, of surprise and of relief. While the majority of this attention is given to the main characters, even the background characters like Greta’s staff in her clinic, are given this treatment (pun intended). Brief mentions of them as actual people are made so when something happens, we the reader react just as the other characters do. We hurt when they hurt, and at one point even cry when they do.

Though the action can be a bit clunky at times, and some scenes tend to verge in to more morose territory, overall Strange Practice is an enjoyable read. With well written and well rounded characters, it’s easy to overlook it’s small drawbacks. Shaw has given the readers a strong female character that I believe many can relate to. I recommend this one to my readers and hope they enjoy it as much as I have.