Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review: A Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney

A Different Kingdom
Author:  Paul Kearney
Publisher:  Solaris, January 28, 2014
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-186-0 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

A different kingdom of wolves, woods and stranger, darker, creatures lies in wait for Michael Fay in the woods at the bottom of his family's farm.

Michael Fay is a normal boy, living with his grandparents on their family farm in rural Ireland. In the woods there are wolves; and other things, dangerous things. He doesn’t tell his family, not even his Aunt Rose, his closest friend.

And then, as Michael wanders through the trees, he finds himself in the Other Place. There are strange people, and monsters, and a girl called Cat.

When the wolves follow him from the Other Place to his family’s doorstep, Michael must choose between locking the doors and looking away – or following Cat on an adventure that may take an entire lifetime in the Other Place.

Doreen’s Thoughts

Paul Kearney is a new author for me, and all I can wonder is how I ever missed him! His A Different Kingdom starts off in rural Ireland sometime in the 1950s, after the Second World War, and while Ireland is deeply divided along religious lines between the Catholics and the Protestants. Much of Ireland is still farmland or unsettled wilderness. Modern luxuries such as mechanized farm equipment and motorcars are few and far between. It was a time of transition, and as such, a terrific environment to set his coming-of-age story for Michael Fay.

Michael Fay is an orphan whose parents were killed as collateral damage in a bombing in Belfast. At the start of the book, he is about six years old. The opening chapter focuses on his extended family -- the grandparents who run the farm, his uncle who is eager to take over running the farm, two aunts, various cousins, and any number of field hands who work the land around the homestead.

However, in the middle of the first section, Kearney introduces an older Michael with his lover, Cat, fleeing for their lives in a world distinctly different from the placid farmlands where he played as a child. Then the story cuts back to the young boy who discovers that past the river that separates the fields from the forest is an Other Place, more wild and mysterious than his everyday life. From there, the story jaunts to an even older Michael, living alone in a city as a bartender and trying to forget the magic that once surrounded him. Kearney continues to intertwine the three narratives back and forth, rather than tell his tale simply from start to finish. While it seemed a little startling at first, I came to enjoy wandering around with Michael at various ages and trying to put together the pieces of his life in some straight line. It was almost impossible to do, which may seem unsettling, but actually worked the way that Kearney presented it.

Juggling timelines and locations just added to the overall mystery of the story. Kearney has a terrific eye for detail, and his descriptions are extremely well done, painting vivid pictures of his characters and their environments. The Other Place has several different races that may have evolved from different time periods of our world – seemingly wild men who could have evolved from Neanderthals, fae creatures that might be the original Fairy folk, missionaries/Templers who dictate their religion to the folk scratching out a living in return for protection, and the werewolves working for the Dark Huntsman who may well be the Devil himself.

This story is almost dreamlike in its telling. The language is lyrical, and the action is raw. I definitely enjoyed A Different Kingdom, although it was not an easy novel to read. It requires a reader to take it in great chunks. For someone like me who bounces between two or three books at a time, I had to focus all my attention on this one, but it was well worth the investment.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Review: A High-End Finish by Kate Carlisle

A High-End Finish
AuthorKate Carlisle
Series:  A Fixer-Upper Mystery 1
Publisher: Signet, November 4, 2014
Format: Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
List Price: $7.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780451469199 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher


In the seaside town of Lighthouse Cove in northern California, everyone knows the best man for the job is actually a woman—contractor Shannon Hammer. But while Shannon can do wonders with a power drill and a little elbow grease, she’s about to discover that some problems aren’t so easily fixed....

Shannon’s home-renovation and repair business is booming, but her love life needs work. On a blind date with real estate agent Jerry Saxton, she has to whip out a pair of pliers to keep Jerry from getting too hands on. Shannon is happy to put her rotten date behind her, but when Jerry’s found dead in a run-down Victorian home that she’s been hired to restore, the town’s attractive new police chief suspects that her threats may have laid the foundation for murder.

Determined to clear her name, Shannon conducts her own investigation—with the help of her four best friends, her eccentric father, a nosy neighbor or two, and a handsome crime writer who’s just moved to town. But as they get closer to prying out the murderer’s identity, Shannon is viciously attacked. Now she’ll have to nail down the truth—or end up in permanent foreclosure....

Jennifer's Review

This novel is the first in the new Fixer Upper Mystery series that follows home-renovator Shannon Hammer. Shannon runs a contracting business in the town she grew up in, Lighthouse Cove, a small seaside town in Northern California. Shannon’s troubles start when she goes on a disastrous blind date with real estate agent Jerry Saxton that results in her threatening to kill him when he gets too aggressive. This sets off a chain of events starting with Shannon discovering the lecherous Jerry’s murdered body in one of the houses she is renovating and progressing to Shannon fighting for her life.

Shannon is a fabulous lead character. She is strong and practical but has the soul of an artist. The real gems of this novel are the set of friends and family Shannon surrounds herself with along with two suitably hunky love interests. The friends and family are numerous, but easily kept track of. The best of the lot are Shannon’s best friends Lizzie, a local shop owner and the mother of two, and Jane, who is poised to open the town’s newest inn. Lizzie is determined that all her friends, including Shannon, find true love as she has, thus the ill-fated blind date at the beginning of the story. Jane has been Shannon’s best friend since childhood and is extremely loyal and protective of her. The aforementioned hunks are police chief Eric Jensen, who resembles a golden Norse God (think Chris Hemsworth in Thor) and Mac Sullivan, a famous crime writer reminiscent of James Bond. Both men are so dreamy it is kind of hard to decide which one Shannon should go for, but I found myself rooting for Eric. Along with looking for a murderer and trying to run her business all while trying to stay alive, Shannon is plagued by her nemesis from high school, Whitney, who happens to be married to her ex-boyfriend, and her bestie Jennifer, both of whom epitomize the stereotypical mean-girl.

This story is well paced, having just the right amount of downtime between the action scenes; even the quieter passages keep the reader’s interest with snappy dialogue. All of the characters are either completely lovable or relatable or even more fun to hate. This series is going on my must read list and I can’t wait for the next installment so I can see who Shannon ends up with. I’m still rooting for Eric.


This Old Homicide
A Fixer-Upper Mystery 2
Signet, January 27, 2015
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
(Clicking on the image will take you to the publisher's page)

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Bibliophile Mysteries and A High-End Finish comes the second Fixer-Upper Mystery...

Contractor and part-time sleuth Shannon Hammer specializes in improving the quirks and flaws of the Victorian homes in Lighthouse Cove, California. The quirks and flaws of their residents are another story....

Valentine’s Day is approaching, and while Shannon is delighted to be friends with not one but two handsome men, not everyone in town is feeling the love. After her elderly neighbor Jesse Hennessey fails to make his daily appearance at the local diner, Shannon swings by his place to check on him. Not only does she find Jesse dead—of an apparent heart attack—but she also realizes that his home has been ransacked.

Someone suggests that a thief was searching for a priceless necklace Jesse claimed to have retrieved from a capsized sailing ship, but Shannon doesn’t believe it. Everyone knows Jesse had a penchant for constructing tall tales—like the one about him having a hot new girlfriend. But his death is soon ruled a homicide, and shady suspects begin popping out of the woodwork. When another victim turns up dead, Shannon is convinced she must find the killer before someone else gets nailed....

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review: Thief's Covenant by Ari Marmell

Thief’s Covenant
Author:  Ari Marmell
Series:  Widdershins Adventures 1
Publisher:  Pyr, February 21, 2012
Format:  Hardcover and eBook,  273 pages
List Price:  $16.95 (print)
ISBN:  978-1-61614-547-7 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher
Cover Illustration:  © Jason Chan

Once she was Adrienne Satti. An orphan of Davillon, she had somehow escaped destitution and climbed to the ranks of the city 's aristocracy in a rags-to-riches story straight from an ancient fairy tale. Until one horrid night, when a conspiracy of forces—human and other—stole it all away in a flurry of blood and murder.

Today she is Widdershins, a thief making her way through Davillon's underbelly with a sharp blade, a sharper wit, and the mystical aid of Olgun, a foreign god with no other worshippers but Widdershins herself. It's not a great life, certainly nothing compared to the one she once had, but it's hers.

But now, in the midst of Davillon's political turmoil, an array of hands are once again rising up against her, prepared to tear down all that she's built. The City Guard wants her in prison. Members of her own Guild want her dead. And something horrid, something dark, something ancient is reaching out for her, a past that refuses to let her go. Widdershins and Olgun are going to find answers, and justice, for what happened to her—but only if those who almost destroyed her in those years gone by don't finish the job first.

Brannigan's Review

Ari Marmell opens with a bang, introducing a mystery at the beginning of his newest fantasy series. The setting is the city of Davillon, which could be swapped out with any European city set around the 17th Century. Widdershins or Adrienne, depending on the time frame of the book, is either an orphan, noble-in-training or a thief. Shins, as she's known by the few friends she has, is a loner who attracts several different friends in her life, depending on the time frame of the story. She comes across as a rough and tough thief, but has a heart of gold. She's a fun character to spend time with, but I never felt connected to her. I also felt that most of the supporting characters were not fleshed out as well as they could have been. That being said, I still enjoyed my journey with Shins for pure entertainment value. I really enjoyed the fact that the thieves guild was a major part of the story as I always seeing how an author creates a guild's leadership structure and headquarters. Plus, I always enjoy a good rogue's tale.

Olgun, an almost forgotten god, spends all his time focused on Shins, who is the last person to count herself as a believer. Olgun aids her by performing simple acts of 'magic' that end up being little more than giving her a little extra luck. There's no other real magic used in the story other than the magic from gods. One of the most interesting questions posed in the book is 'what happens to a god when there is no one left to believe in him any longer?' I wished the author would have spent a little more time exploring this idea, but there's a chance he does in the other books of the series.

Marmell did a great job of pacing his story with plenty of action with moments of humor. The only thing that worked against his pacing was the structure of the story. Marmell bounced back and forth between the past, further past and the present. It got a little excessive and I was unable to see any real need for it. It didn't add to the story or create any tension or add to the climax of the story. I would have enjoyed a clean chronological progression of the story much more, especially with all the identity changes the main character takes throughout the story.

Thief's Covenant is a fun quick read for anyone who enjoys spending some time with a bunch of rogues. Even with the few issues I had with the book, I would really enjoy reading the other books in the series. Marmell's ending was rewarding while still leaving plenty of open questions to be explored in future books. There are acts of violence and minor language, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommended it to teens and adults. If you like a fast-pasted rogue's tale you'll enjoy Thief's Covenant.

Additional Novels in the Widdershins Adventures
(Clicking on the novel image will take you to 
the publisher's page for that novel)

June 26, 2012

December 3, 2013

Coming February 3, 2015

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reviews: Alchemystic, Stonecast and Incarnate (The Spellmason Chronicles 1 -3 ) by Anton Strout

Series:  The Spellmason Chronicles 1
Publisher:  Ace, September 25, 2012
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN9781937007799 (print)


Alexandra Belarus is a struggling artist living in New York City, even though her family is rich in real estate, including a towering Gothic Gramercy Park building built by her great-great-grandfather. But the truth of her bloodline is revealed when she is attacked on the street and saved by an inhumanly powerful winged figure. A figure who knows the Belarus name…

Lexi’s great-great-grandfather was a Spellmason—an artisan who could work magic on stone. But in his day, dark forces conspired against him and his, so he left a spell of protection on his family. Now that Lexi is in danger, the spell has awoken her ancestor’s most trusted and fearsome creation: a gargoyle named Stanis.

Lexi and Stanis are equally surprised to find themselves bound to each other. But as they learn to work together, they realize that only united can they save the city they both love…

Stacey's Thoughts

This is a great book! It is original, funny, and full of action. Lexi Belarus has lived in New York City her whole life. Her family has lived there for many generations and has a successful real estate business there. Lexi’s great-great-grandfather, Alexander Belarus, left quite a legacy for his family, but not in real estate…in art. Alexander was a great stone sculptor but he also knew magic. He was a spellmason. He could bring the stones to life. Before his death, he left a protector for the family behind him: Stanis…who happens to be a gargoyle. (Don’t worry…he’s a handsome gargoyle!)

Lexi’s older brother has just been killed in an accident and now it’s up to her to take up the family business of real estate. Sadly, it rips her away from her true passion: art. Up in the study that belonged to Alexander she learns about the true family legacy and how to work spellmasonry. When Lexi is attacked, questions arise. Was her brother’s death really an accident? Who could have wanted to hurt the Belarus family? With Lexi’s friends Rory and Marshall (who delightfully remind me of Clary and Simon from The Mortal Instruments Series) Lexi finds out things she did not want to know about her brother and her great-great-grandfather’s past before he came to America.

Stanis, the stone flying man (who prefers to be called a grotesque…like that somehow is better than gargoyle!), is a pretty awesome character and quickly learns about the fragile humans in his care, emotions, and Lexi. He feels a strong bond with “his maker’s kin” and always knows when she is going to be in trouble. Don’t worry, this book was not about a helpless damsel in distress with a strong man to save her. Lexi and Rory kick some ass themselves but gladly use Stanis as backup. Even though it is dangerous, Lexi makes it her mission to restore four pieces of his soul that were removed, placed in stones, and hidden around New York City.

The ending of this book was totally unexpected…I’m going to start the second one tonight. I’m already chomping at the bit for the third installment. I love it!

Series:  The Spellmason Chronicles 2
Publisher:  Ace, September 24, 2013
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN:   9780425256404 (print)


Alexandra Belarus was an artist stuck working in her New York family’s business…until she discovered her true legacy—a deep and ancient magic. Lexi became the last practicing Spellmason, with the power to breathe life into stone. And as her powers awoke, so did her family’s most faithful protector: a gargoyle named Stanis. But when a centuries-old evil threatened her family and her city, Stanis sacrificed himself to save everything Lexi held dear.

With Stanis gone, Lexi’s efforts to master Spellmasonry—even with the help of her dedicated friends—are faltering. Hidden forces both watch her and threaten her, and she finds herself suddenly under the mysterious wing of a secret religious society determined to keep magic hidden from the world.

But the question of Stanis’s fate haunts her—and as the storm around her grows, so does the fear that she won’t be able to save him in her turn.

Stacey's Thoughts

The story opens up about six months after Alchemystic wraps up. During this time, Lexi has been studying the spellmason ways, but sadly, without Stanis. We still get Stanis’s point of view in this story, which I think is a really great feature. It really shows off the author’s skills to switch characters like that, especially because they are so different! In Stonecast, a new character is introduced. Is he a friend or foe? Whose side is he on? Can he be trusted? 

Rory and Marshall are still best buds with Lexi, along with the cool little creation, Bricksley. Awww. I love that little guy. With Lexi experimenting in animating stone, especially more life-sized creations, life gets a little dangerous for the fragile humans…including Lexi. A creepy secret society presents itself and demands Lexi help them, which understandably leaves everyone on edge. To make matters worse, the Servants of Ruthenia are still causing trouble and Devon with them! But the biggest problem: the magical binding agent to bring stone to life, called Kimiya is running out. Without that, there can be no more spellmasonry…ever! Despite all of her great-great-grandfather’s works, books, and puzzle boxes, there doesn’t seem to be a recipe for it anywhere. Is this going to be the end of the Lexi’s spellmasonry, even though it just started?

This series makes me smile. I love the witty comebacks, the nerdy references, and the mystery of the grotesques. I’ll have you know that Mr. Strout writes one hell of a woman! I was about halfway through with the first book (Alchemystic) when I flipped to the back of the book and discovered the author was a he! His writing only gets better in Stonecast.

Series:  The Spellmason Chronicles 3
Publisher:  Ace, September 30, 2014
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780425273555 (print)


When Alexandra Belarus discovered her family’s secret ability to breathe life into stone, she uncovered an entire world of magic hidden within New York City—a world she has accidentally thrown into chaos. A spell gone awry has set thousands of gargoyles loose upon Manhattan, and it’s up to Lexi and her faithful protector, Stanis, to put things right.

But the stress of saving the city is casting a pall over Lexi and Stanis’s relationship, driving them to work separately to solve the problem. As Stanis struggles to unite the gargoyle population, Lexi forges unlikely alliances with witches, alchemists and New York’s Finest to quell an unsettling uprising led by an ancient and deadly foe long thought vanquished.

To save her city, Lexi must wield more power than ever before with the added hope of recovering a mysterious artifact that could change her world—and bring her closer to Stanis than she ever thought possible…

Stacey's Thoughts

And the bad guys just keep on coming! Alexandra, Rory, Marshall, and Stanis have been trying to gather the new grotesques that have been flying around NYC, and it’s no easy task. The gang is glad to do it since the spell that made the grotesques did save their butts six months ago. Spirits who did not pass on are now inhabiting Alexandra’s great-great-grandfather’s work and not all of them are friendly! A murderer’s spirit is now in a heavenly and nearly indestructible form and he’s picked up right where he left off when he was alive.

Can’t everything just be like it was? Oh, how I long for the good old days! Everyone has messy, busy, crazy lives right now: Alexandra is with Caleb now but once Alexandra finds out about an interesting conversation Caleb and Stanis had, is he even worth it? Marshall is now a budding alchemist with his own tricks but has he been hanging out with the right crowd? Stanis and Emily. Are they meant to be?

I’m very sad that this will be the last we hear from the gang. I will miss them a lot! The bickering, gaming and nerd references, and yes, even the fighting. I sincerely hope Strout will consider continuing this world, even if is just with ebook shorts. Until then, I’m making up my own sequels. Thank you Anton Strout for a wonderful series!