The Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence

I received a free copy of The Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion  of the book.

Image via Penguin Random House

When their grandmother Sylvie has an accident and is rushed to the hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her older brother, Seb, are worried, but have no idea about the adventure before them. When they arrive back at her house, the place has been ransacked. Soon, very strange and sinister policeman appears, armed with a toilet brush.

Before they know it, Ivy and Seb are beneath London in a hidden city called Lunidor where everyday objects have uncommon powers. Soon they discover that their family has a very deep connection to this world and it becomes a race against time to save their family, uncover a dark family secret and save a powerful uncommon object before it’s too late.

This book was very unusual, uncommon, if you will. (C’mon. Don’t pretend like you didn’t know where I was going with that.)

In all seriousness, what an absolute blast. You couldn’t always be quite sure where things were going next, so there was never a lack of excitement. I’ve made no secret of the fact that while YA books are my passion, middle grade books are really giving them a run lately. Middle grade reads definitely seem to have the “fun” factor going for them. YA can take itself pretty seriously so often and while that’s not always a bad thing, middle grade books, though they still have high stakes, definitely don’t weigh you down with all the solemnity.

Overall, great writing and a completely original world. Lunidor is whimsical and fascinating, certainly the kind of fantasy world that will make you wish you could visit for real. This is definitely a series I will be buying for my collection and cannot wait to read more. Check out the book trailer, info about the next book in there series (!!!!) and more here.

And I nearly forgot! The illustrations by Karl James Mountford are icing on an already awesome cake: fanciful and fun! Enjoy!

The Shadow Land (Elizabeth Kostova)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Image via Random House

When Alexandria Boyd arrives in Sofia, Bulgaria she hopes that some time abroad will help heal the wounds from losing her brother. Shortly after arriving in the city, she helps an elderly couple into a cab and too late realizes that she has one of their bags in her possession. Inside the bag is ornately carved wooded box with the name Stoyan Lazarov engraved on the lid. When she peeks inside, she realizes that this is actually an urn. Along with the cab driver she befriends, Alexandria sets off through Bulgaria to return the urn to the family, an adventure that she soon learns is full of dangerous she couldn’t have imagined. Along the way she will learn about the talented musician who’s life was shattered by unthinkable political oppression.

I’m so happy Elizabeth Kostova chose to return to Eastern Europe for this book, because I really feel like her passion for it shows. The Shadow Land follows the typical format for her books, the modern mixed with history, moving back and forth through time. Somehow, it’s never disorienting. I find her books to be very satisfying, slowly unfolding mysteries, and The Shadow Land was no different for me.

It’s definitely a hefty tome and being way behind on my reading commitments, I was concerned about the time it would take to finish the book. I shouldn’t have worried. I started on a Saturday morning and had devoured the entire book by Sunday night.

It’s sad and beautiful and touching all wrapped together. While it definitely touches on some uncomfortable history (forced labor camps in Bulgaria after WWII), it’s still somehow beautiful. While it doesn’t have that paranormal angle that The Historian has, it still has a dark mysteriousness that I can’t resist.

If you are already a fan of Elizabeth Kostova, then I really don’t need to sell this. You know what kind of quality to expect. If you are not, I cannot recommend enough that you pick up this book and give yourself a thorough introduction. I really don’t think you will be disappointed.

Sweet Lake (Christine Nolfi)

I received a free copy of Sweet Lake in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Linnie Wayfair has single handedly helped save her family’s inn from the brink of disaster. She knows people are counting on her, but will she be able to hold it together when her scoundrel of a brother returns to Sweet Lake, Ohio, with mysterious intentions? Between family drama, the Sweet Lake Sirens pushing her to open herself to possibilites and her best friends pushing her into the arms of sexy attorney Daniel Kettering, Linnie has her hands full. Will she help return the Wayfair Inn to its former glory and have the life she always wanted? Or will she be forced to turn her life in a whole new direction?

Let me start by saying that overall, Sweet Lake was charming with great characters and a setting I want to get to know better. I did have a few issues with the story, but on the whole, I really enjoyed reading this. Be wary… there are some slight spoilers ahead.

The biggest thing for me, was that the romance between Linnie and Daniel already seemed like a foregone conclusion. I know that they have a history together, in that they’ve known each other for years and Daniel has pined for her all this time. While they had some slight disagreements, I didn’t really feel like they really had to work at it. I know… in reality, not everyone has to earn their happy ever after like one does in a romance novel, but there isn’t as much story if they don’t. I have to remind myself this isn’t just a straight-forward romance. Also, Freddie’s reason for being there seemed a little flimsy. I did, however, love the Sirens. They are kooky, well meaning and definitely added some extra humor to the story.

But, ultimately, this was a warm story with a feel good ending, and I enjoyed it. It would be perfect to stretch out by the lake with a fruity beverage on a warm day. And be sure to check out more from Christine Nolfi here.

The Bone Witch (Rin Chupeco)

I received a free copy of The Bone Witch from the publisher in exchange for a review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Tea comes from a family of witches, but after she accidentally raises her brother from the dead, it becomes clear that she’s nothing like her sisters. She is a Bone Witch, feared and often reviled. After being taken under the wing of the Bone Witch Mykaela, Tea finds herself in a completely different world from the small village she has grown up in: training to become an asha.

The simplest way for me to sum up The Bone Witch is Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Kingkiller Chronicles. I’ll admit, it took me quite awhile to get over the similarities to Memoirs of a Geisha in particular. If you’ve read it before, it’s difficult not to see the tribute. If you haven’t, well, you’re golden. It will pretty much be an all new thing for you.

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed The Bone Witch.

The asha themselves are more than just pretty faces. These are some seriously ass-kicking ladies. Asha are more than just witches: they are also graceful artists and skilled fighters. The are sort of a deadly combination of ninja, geisha and witch. While Tea feels adrift and out of place among the asha, she is extremely well suited to it. She is smart and powerful. I look forward to seeing more of her in the future.

The ending really left me ready for more. There is a HUGE twist at the end. I cannot wait for the next book in the series. Considering I finished this book in August, I think I’m going to have an unfortunately long wait… in the mean time, my preordered copy should be here soon!

The Last of August (Brittany Cavallaro)

I know I have mentioned before that I have a definite fondness for things relating to Sherlock Holmes. It was this fondness and a really good deal on an ebook that led me to buying A Study in Charlotte, Brittany Cavallaro’s first book in this series. I read the book during my recent vacation and was so enthralled that it largely took my mind off the searing pain from sore muscles and blisters on my feet.

While I have read a few very good homages to the great fictional detective this year (see my post on The Daemoniac and The Lost Property Office), this series might be my favorite. In the first book we are introduced to Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes, descendants of the original Watson and Holmes who just so happen to be attending the same boarding school. There is plenty of mystery, mayhem and a Moriarty. Bloody brilliant. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long for the next book. Sometimes, there are advantages to being late to the game.

In The Last of August we join our dynamic duo as they are spending their Christmas holidays together, first with Watson’s mother and sister and then with Holmes’ parents. Both are working through messy emotional situations (particularly their feelings for one another) when Charlotte’s uncle Leander goes missing while working on a mystery involving an art forgery ring. They head across Europe to search for clues and find a mystery deeper and more dangerous than they could have imagined.

I definitely found this book to be more tangled than the first in the series. I’m going to have to give the ending a more thorough read because there was a lot going on. Still, I loved it.

Not only do you get a better glimpse into the messy lives of the Holmes and Moriarty clans, but there were a few chapters narrated by Charlotte herself. I really found this helped shine some insight into her typically sphinxian character. It makes Watson’s fascination with her seem much more understandable. Plus, it was fun to see more of Milo Holmes and the (mostly) villainous Moriarty siblings.

So, since it’s been awhile since I’ve done a giveaway, I’ve decided that one lucky winner will receive copies of both A Study in Charlotte AND The Last of August!! Giveaway ends March 3, so get your entries in!!

A Study in Charlotte and The Last of August Giveaway!

A Lucky Day (Carlos J. Server)

I received a free copy of A Lucky Day in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Someone in the small French town of Sainte Marie has won the biggest prize the EuroMillions lottery has ever offered. Problem is, no one knows who that winner might be. What started as the happiest day the little town has had quickly sours as it becomes a race against the clock to find the winner and cash in the ticket before time runs out.

I’ll admit, it took me a little time to get into A Lucky Day. Each chapter is dated, and it turns out, you sort of need to pay attention to what those dates are. I didn’t. Since the story does not unfold in straight chronological order, I spent a few chapters totally confused. So, do yourself a favor and pay attention. It all makes much more sense when you do that.

There is also a fairly good sized cast of characters to try and keep straight. However, it is well worth the time to do so. From the village priest who just can’t seem to keep his mouth shut once he’s had a little wine to the mailman cherishing a flame for the wife of a not-so-nice baker, A Lucky Day is filled with quirky, often endearing characters.

The book definitely keeps you guessing right up until the very end. It can also be counted upon for a happy ending for pretty much everyone… including those I would consider to be the villains of the piece. After a few weeks where there doesn’t seem to be much good news coming out of the world, A Lucky Day served as a nice break from reality. It was a little reminder that sometimes things do work out.

Star Struck (Meredith Michelle)

I received a free copy of Star Struck in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

If you’re close to my age, you might remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I absolutely loved those books. For those not in the know, you would start with the same basic beginning and throughout the story you would be given different options that would lead to different outcomes. They were fun.

Turns out, as an adult, they are still just as fun.

In Star Struck you become Anna Chambliss, irresistible A-list actress engaged to a gorgeous Hollywood star. One day there are rumors splashed across the tabloids that your fiancee is cheating on you. What do you do? Confront him? Find a new man? Have a fling? Each of your choices leads to different consequences, different endings.

Although at times it was a little cheesy or predictable, it proved to be a wonderfully entertaining escapist read. Some of the endings are dark, some are happy with plenty of naughty fun in between. Don’t overthink it. This isn’t Shakespeare. So settle in with a nice glass of wine and enjoy.

The biggest problem for me, was that the format didn’t work especially well in an electronic form. The pages on my reader didn’t always match up with where it was telling me to turn. It took a little searching occasionally, but I could typically find what I was looking for.

All in all, this is a great book for when you want to grab a little “me” time. It would go great with a few little luxuries: some chocolate and wine, maybe a nice bubble bath?

Left Hand Tree (Jay Gunter)

I received a free copy of Left Hand Tree in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

“I looked into darkness
And there I did see
The Dead Ones dancing ’round
The Left Hand Tree.”
        -From the Book of the Left Hand Tree

To put it simply, Left Hand Tree is a collection of horror stories.

However, I didn’t find it was simple to categorize. The tales within seemed to cover a fairly broad range. Much of the horror was subtle and sort of crept up on you, while some relied a little more on gore or shock value. Then, there was still yet some a little more like your classic ghost story. There seemed to be a little something for many types of horror fans here.

One of the stories, The Fourth Son of Adam, to me had definite shades of Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot in particular. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, that’s a good thing, as ‘Salem’s Lot is one of my favorite horror stories. Flowers, the final story in the book, was also a favorite for me. It reminded me of the ghost stories I devoured as a kid. The title story, Left Hand Tree, started a little slow for me, and while it had a few moments that had definite creep factor, I ended up slightly unsatisfied with it. I wish that particular story had fleshed out those scary moments a little more.

Honestly, I can’t say that I read a great deal of horror as an adult, but Left Hand Tree certainly left me with the feeling that I need to be reading it more often. I don’t recommend reading it while home alone at night (or do, whatever floats your boat), but I think it’s certainly a worthy addition to your horror collection.

The Blazing Star (Imani Josey)

I received a free copy of The Blazing Star in exchange for an honest review. This definitely did NOT change my opinion of the book.

Sixteen-year-old Portia is used to playing second fiddle to her genius twin sister, Alex. After having a strange reaction when she holds a scarab in her history class, Portia finds herself braver and stronger than she was before. But, the second time she comes into contact with the scarab, what happens is even stranger: she wakes up in Ancient Egypt, along with her twin and a freshman girl.

While trying to find a way back to their own time, they discover that they are not there by chance and their connection to Ancient Egypt runs far deeper than they ever could have imagined.

Let’s be real here: my regular readers can probably figure out what initially drew me to this book. Did you see that cover? It’s gorgeous. Scroll back up and look at it if you didn’t look before. See? Gorgeous. BUT, even more importantly, this book was about Ancient Egypt. I’ve only been obsessed with Egypt since 3rd grade. Of course I was going to read it.

Lucky me: it’s an awesome book. Things start out just a little slow, but they pick up fairly quickly. Although I’ve never had sisters, I felt that Portia and Alex’s relationship seemed pretty authentic. It’s not perfect, but they love each other. In fact, I really liked almost all the characters. The priestesses are all pretty fantastic, very well written and interesting.  I have a particular fondness for sweet Prince Seti.

Public Domain,
I imagine he’s more of a dreamboat than this more recent picture of the actual Pharaoh Seti I

I made the mistake of reading several other reviews before I started The Blazing Star. There were a few that mentioned that the setting was vague and could have been anywhere ancient. I have to disagree. The whole thing felt pretty Egyptian to me. Could it have been more detailed? Probably, but too much detail would have bogged everything down. As someone who has spent the better part of two decades or more fascinated with the Ancient Egyptians, most things seemed to ring fairly true to me.

You have Egypt and magic, what more can you want?? For a first novel, Imani Josey KILLED it. I pretty much finished the book and immediately ordered myself a signed copy. I cannot wait to read more.


Fatal Dose (Russell Atkinson)

I received a free copy of Fatal Dose in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

When former FBI agent and current attorney Cliff Knowles is hired by a company that manufactures equipment for radiation treatment, he has no idea how dangerous the case will become. Hired to investigate a series of overdoses, he finds himself in the line of fire when he strays too close to the truth.

Typically, I don’t liked to start a series in the middle. I got lucky with this book. While it is the third book in the series, it didn’t really require you to read the prior books to know what was going on. There were a few references here and there that I didn’t really get, but it did not take away from the story and was not really integral to the plot. It certainly got me interested in catching up on the rest of the series.

I found Cliff Knowles to be a little inconsistent. In one moment he was a super good guy who always walked on the side of the law and in the next he was being super judgemental or roughing people up a little. I suppose if I’m really being honest, this makes him more human. Logically, I should like him more for it, but it was occasionally a little jarring. I didn’t dislike him, but I was super enamored of him either. But, like with a date that was a little off, but ultimately charming, I’ll probably give him another chance to wow me.

I thought that I would connect more with the medical clinic aspect, but ultimately, it wasn’t that part that hooked me. The medical clinic staff were sort of not super great people. In the end, it was just a really entertaining story, with a little action (but not so much that it gets bogged down) and a well put together mystery. Russ Atkinson is a former FBI agent himself, which helps lend realism to the story.

If you are a fan of mysteries, Fatal Dose is definitely one you’ll want to check out. While it started just a little slow, once it picks up, it’s hard to put down.