Guest Post by Author Brooke Johnson: More Steampunk + Giveaway

If you can’t get enough steampunk after reading today’s featured book, The Brass Giant, author Brooke Johnson has a few more series that will keep you in the steampunk mood until we can discover Petra and Emmerich’s next adventures. And this reader would also include Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, starting with Cinder. Read my review of The Brass Giant to see why.

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Young Adult Steampunk Series You Absolutely Must Read
According to Brooke Johnson

The Leviathan Trilogy (Leviathan, Behemoth, Goliath)
          By Scott Westerfeld
leviathan trilogy by scott westerfieldWesterfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is a page-turning adventure set in an alternate timeline where science has evolved in two distinct ways: mechanical inventions and guided biological evolution, divided between the Clankers and the Darwinists, respectively. The science is at times fantastic and alien, but it is seamlessly entwined into the setting, creating this multifaceted world that almost seems like a completely different reality, not just an alteration of our own. The whole series is rife with conflict, science, and mayhem, and filled with a number of colorful characters: Deryn, the brash young airman in disguise; Alek, son of Archduke Ferdinand; and the brilliant Dr. Nora Barlow, female scientist and the granddaughter of Charles Darwin himself, easily my favorite character in the series, hands down. Nikola Tesla even makes an appearance in the third and final book of the series. It’s a must read for anyone who loves steampunk, biopunk, historical science fiction, and military-focused novels.

The Infernal Devices (Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, Clockwork Princess)
          By Cassandra Clare
infernal devices by cassandra clareThe Infernal Devices trilogy falls under the gaslamp fantasy subgenre of steampunk, focusing less on the science—much of the steampunk elements are brought together with magic—and more on the paranormal Victorian setting, but it still delivers a wonderfully engaging story. The trilogy follows Tessa, a girl with the power to transform into others—a power others would kill to possess—and her time with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons. There is romance aplenty as Tessa is drawn toward and torn between boorish, blue-eyed Will and fragile, silver-haired Jem, and there is plenty of teen angst to go along with the save-the-world plot. I enjoyed the series  immensely, and each book is better than the one before. Definitely recommended for anyone who is looking for something dark, romantic, tragic, and magical set in a surreal Victorian London.

The Finishing School Series (Etiquette & Espionage, Curtsies & Conspiracies, Waistcoats & Weaponry, Manners & Mutiny)
          By Gail Carriger
etiquette and espionageSophronia is a kick-ass heroine with an unfathomable sense of adventure, and I immediately fell in love with the characters and setting the moment I started reading. I mean, this is a story that takes place in a flying school for assassin ladies. What’s not to love? This series relies on an equal measure of fantastic and mechanical throughout the books, instead of heavily erring on the side of magic like many other paranormal steampunk fantasy novels. I haven’t read Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, but Sophronia’s adventures are set in the same alternate version of Victorian England as those books. It’s extraordinarily silly and a lot of fun to read. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read more books with  tomboy heroines, assassins, mad scientists, unusual schools, and a lot of humor.

Brooke JohnsonAbout Brooke: Brooke is a stay-at-home mom, amateur seamstress, RPG enthusiast, and art hobbyist, in addition to all that book writing. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she adventures through life with her fiercely-bearded paladin of a husband, their daughter the sticky-fingered rogue, and their cowardly wizard of a dog, with only a sleep spell in his spellbook.
They currently reside in Northwest Arkansas, but once they earn enough loot and experience, they’ll build a proper castle somewhere and defend against all manner of dragons and goblins, and whatever else dares take them on.
For More Information
Visit Brooke at her website, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+


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Review: The Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson

brass giant by brooke johnsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genre: steampunk
Series: Chroniker City #1
Length: 236 pages
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse
Date Released: May 5, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Sometimes, even the most unlikely person can change the world

Seventeen-year-old Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, wants nothing more than to become a certified member of the Guild, an impossible dream for a lowly shop girl. Still, she refuses to give up, tinkering with any machine she can get her hands on, in between working and babysitting her foster siblings.

When Emmerich Goss—handsome, privileged, and newly recruited into the Guild—needs help designing a new clockwork system for a top-secret automaton, it seems Petra has finally found the opportunity she’s been waiting for. But if her involvement on the project is discovered, Emmerich will be marked for treason, and a far more dire fate would await Petra.

Working together in secret, they build the clockwork giant, but as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy from within the Guild council … and their automaton is just the beginning.

My Review:

The story outline is a familiar one, but the steampunk setting changes up some of the elements in some very interesting ways.

The plot is simple – underprivileged girl with big dreams meets highly privileged guy who will help her realize her dreams, but only if she helps him with super-secret project. This is a society where no one believes that women have intelligence or capability, so no one important will suspect she is really helping him. And of course they fall in love, and get caught, not necessarily in that order, and discover that the entire enterprise is much more serious, and much, much more dangerous, than they ever imagined.

Add in one final element – that underprivileged girl is an orphan, who turns out to be the heir of someone very, very special.

The steampunk setting gives us somewhat of a time and place reference. Chroniker City is definitely in England (that turns out to be important later) and it is a university town like Oxford or Cambridge. It isn’t London, because London is referred to as the capitol far away.

As steampunk, The Brass Giant is set in a quasi-Victorian era. There is a queen on the throne, and some of the historical worthies who have their portraits in the great hall are familiar, most notably Charles Babbage, inventor of the difference engine that evolved into computers in our world.

In the late Victorian era, England was playing what has been called “The Great Game”, an undercover war of diplomacy and proxies. In the Chroniker City world, their main rival seems to be France instead of Russia. But then again, Britain and France were perpetual rivals, from the point where Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine ruled England in 1154 until well after the end of the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s. This was a conflict that never seemed to end.

Petra Wade is an orphan. She works as a shop girl in a pawnshop, and has learned how to be a fantastically good practical engineer with the help of the clockmaker who co-owns the shop. More than anything else, she wants to become a Guild Engineer, but that dream is forbidden. Guild Engineers must graduate from the University, and women are allowed in neither the University nor the Guild.

But Petra wants more than her life is mapped out to be. In spite of constant humiliation, she pursues her dream, even attempting to enter the University pretending to be male. All she faces is more and more embarrassment.

Until one young Guild Engineer, Emmerich Goss, discovers her talent. He needs her help to build a giant automaton. It’s a top secret project for the Guild, and he can’t enlist the aid of anyone they might suspect. The project is so secret that it is treason for Emmerich to reveal it. So of course he does.

Petra is good at clockworks, and Emmerich has invented a remote control mechanism. Together, they create a marvel. Only to discover that someone plans to use their great invention to start a war. And that Emmerich is forced to save Petra’s life by condemning her as a traitor.

They say you always hurt the one you love. Emmerich finds that true in more ways than one.

Escape Rating B: This is fun steampunk. While there is a romance between Petra and Emmerich, it is very sweet and almost innocent for most of the book. Petra falls in love for the first time because Emmerich both shares her interests and treats her as an equal. Emmerich loves her brilliance and her dedication. They are good together.

One of the plot twists in the story is that the orphaned Petra is the daughter of the city’s founder and first engineer, Lady Adelaide Chroniker. Which both makes Petra kind of a secret princess and puts the lie to the current Guild malarkey that only men can become engineers.

The way that Petra and Emmerich find each other, and all the political secrets they get stuck dealing with, along with Petra’s lineage, reminded me more than a bit of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. (The original version of The Brass Giant came out before Cinder was published, so this is an interesting coincidence that just shows that great plots can come out of the same seed with no knowledge of each other).

While I like Petra as the heroine a lot, she is also an example of the plucky heroine who always “knows” that she doesn’t belong in the place where tragedy has dropped her.

On that other hand, one of the characters who seemed a bit too bad to be true was her childhood friend Tolly. Although they were clearly playmates as little children, when they grew up Tolly became an overbearing bully who spouted the same filth and degradation about women as his father, and then blamed Petra for not choosing him over Emmerich. The scene where Tolly attempts to beat and rape Petra into compliance, blaming her for his thuggery, came out a bit too much like a modern-day Men’s Rights Activist. He’ll give Petra everything she ought to want if she’ll just give in, and he’ll beat her until she admits that he’s right and it’s all her fault he has to beat her.

The plot that Petra and Emmerich find themselves caught in the middle of is suitably politically underhanded. Someone wants to start a war, and is looking for plausible causes and convenient scapegoats. The way that Petra and Emmerich try to either escape the evil clutches or foil the plot has many hair-raising moments, but is ultimately unsuccessful in the main. The small victories give Petra and Emmerich (and their readers) hope for the future..

They will live to fight another day. I’m looking forward to reading their further adventures.

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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

black water rising by attica lockeFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery suspense
Series: Jay Porter #1
Length: 448 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins
Date Released: June 9, 2009
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Writing in the tradition of Dennis Lehane and Greg Iles, Attica Locke, a powerful new voice in American fiction, delivers a brilliant debut thriller that readers will not soon forget.

Jay Porter is hardly the lawyer he set out to be. His most promising client is a low-rent call girl and he runs his fledgling law practice out of a dingy strip mall. But he’s long since made peace with not living the American Dream and carefully tucked away his darkest sins: the guns, the FBI file, the trial that nearly destroyed him.

Houston, Texas, 1981. It is here that Jay believes he can make a fresh start. That is, until the night in a boat out on the bayou when he impulsively saves a woman from drowning—and opens a Pandora’s box. Her secrets put Jay in danger, ensnaring him in a murder investigation that could cost him his practice, his family, and even his life. But before he can get to the bottom of a tangled mystery that reaches into the upper echelons of Houston’s corporate power brokers, Jay must confront the demons of his past.

With pacing that captures the reader from the first scene through an exhilarating climax, Black Water Rising marks the arrival of an electrifying new talent.

My Review:

It’s 1981 in Houston, Texas, and the black water that is inconveniently rising is something that is sometimes called “Texas Tea”. But no one is going to strike it rich this time, because this isn’t an oil well. This crude is rising somewhere that it isn’t supposed to be in the first place.

The story in Black Water Rising is edge-of-your-seat, thrill-a-minute scary, because that oil isn’t the first or the only thing that isn’t staying where it was put. And Jay Porter is right in the middle of the mess.

In Catch-22, Joseph Heller famously said that “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” That’s Jay Porter in a nutshell. He’s been paranoid all of his adult life, but he’s not just certain that they are out to get him, he knows it’s true because it happened before.

In college, in the tumultuous late 1960’s, Jay was a black activist who gave speeches and raised money for the cause that he believed in. Until one day he was betrayed by someone both close to him and inside the movement, and found himself on trial on a trumped up charge of murder. Although he was found not guilty by the grace of God and one black woman on the jury who would not give in, he never lost his sense of betrayal.

It’s 1981, and he finds himself in the middle of something that he shouldn’t have had any part of. He was in the wrong place at the right time. Or the other way around.

He takes his wife on a very cheap anniversary cruise on what had been proposed as a Riverwalk through Houston to rival San Antonio. It’s a concrete ditch leading to the bayous, but someone owes him and he needs to do something special for his anniversary. His wife is 8 months pregnant and he needs to treat her to something nice.

This wasn’t it.

On the way back, they hear a scream. He rescues a white woman from the shoreline – she’s frightened and bruised. He knows that there is no way that a white woman should have been in that part of town, and the gunshots they heard just before she started screaming make him certain that this is trouble with a capital T.

He’s right. He knows that there is no good that can come of a black man rescuing a white woman. Even with witnesses, it can only turn out badly for him. He just doesn’t know how right he is. And how wrong.

It’s not because of the event itself. Because of Jay’s long-simmering certainty that someday the government will get him, just the way it has so many of the others he was involved with in the 1960s. He’s innocent of any wrongdoing now, but he is certain that the police won’t see it that way.

So Jay covers up his involvement, only to eventually discover that someone is using him to cover up something deeper and darker. His paranoia, justified as it is, nearly gets both him and his wife Bernice killed.

In the end, it both saves him and sets him free.

Escape Rating A: The depths of Jay Porter’s fear, and exactly how ingrained it is and how utterly reasonable it is has been reinforced for this reader by recent deaths of black men in Baltimore, New York, Ferguson, Florida and too many other places to list. Which is just wrong.

So Jay doesn’t trust the police, because he knows from his own experience that they are not trustworthy. He is a black man with a felony arrest record, and even though he was found not guilty of the fabricated charge, he is certain that he will be beaten first and asked questions later, if at all. It happens all the time, and he knows it.

The events in the book bear this out, as a white union organizer beats up an unarmend young black union member, and is not merely let go, but his fake alibi is corroborated by one of the city’s most influential oil men. And it is all in the service of killing a union movement by black dockworkers to get equal pay for equal work.

Meanwhile, the woman that Jay rescued has finally been charged with murder, but the fix is in. The question in the story is about who is fixed. Whether it’s Jay, involved by accident in a mess that is none of his making; Elise, the young woman who killed a man in self-defense, or the influential businessman who contracted the hit, but is now paying for her legal defense.

Jay conducts his own investigation into the original crime. At first, he’s just trying to discover whether his inadvertent role has been revealed to the police. It becomes a race to see if he can uncover and reveal the depth of the coverup before his own body becomes part of the collateral damange.

Ironically, it takes a long time for Jay to finally figure out what this is all really about. Because it’s not about the murder, not really. It’s about a lot of big corporations and big unions manipulating everybody in Houston, and the U.S.

Jay initially only cares that they are manipulating him, using his long-standing fears to keep him in line. When that stops working, they threaten his family and his life, and they try to make him complicit in a crime that he still hasn’t discovered the depths of.

Jay carries the story along with his guilt and innocence, on his back the entire length of the book. It is so easy to see that doing the right thing in the beginning would have saved him so much grief. At the same time, the author makes is easy to understand what motivates Jay to hide as much as he can for as long as he can.

He’s a complete mess, and his fears threaten to wreck his entire life. But the author makes those fears real, and we understand how it all falls into place, and nearly into pieces.

Black Water Rising is a compelling story of betrayal and corruption. It is also a story that it is impossible not to keep thinking about. It won’t let me go.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Diamond Head by Cecily Wong

diamond head by cecily wongFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical fiction
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: April 14, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

At the turn of the nineteenth-century, Frank Leong, a fabulously wealthy shipping industrialist, moves his family from China to the island of Oahu. But something ancient follows the Leongs to Hawaii, haunting them. The parable of the red string of fate, the cord which binds one intended beloved to her perfect match, also punishes for mistakes in love, passing a destructive knot down the family line.

When Frank is murdered, his family is thrown into a perilous downward spiral. Left to rebuild in their patriarch’s shadow, the surviving members of the Leong family try their hand at a new, ordinary life, vowing to bury their gilded past. Still, the island continues to whisper—fragmented pieces of truth and chatter, until a letter arrives two decades later, carrying a confession that shatters the family even further.

Now the Leong’s survival rests with young Theresa, Frank Leong’s only grandchild, eighteen and pregnant, the heir apparent to her ancestors’ punishing knots.

Told through the eyes of the Leong’s secret-keeping daughters and wives and spanning The Boxer Rebellion to Pearl Harbor to 1960s Hawaii, Diamond Head is a breathtakingly powerful tale of tragic love, shocking lies, poignant compromise, aching loss, heroic acts of sacrifice and, miraculous hope.

My Review:

This is a story of contradictions. On the one hand, not a lot happens, well at least not in the present. In the present of the novel, in the early 1960s, the entire story is wrapped around the funeral of Bohai Leong.

But during those few hours, the entire span of the past is revealed – not just Bohai’s own past, but the past of his entire family, from his father’s marriage and eventual decision to emigrate to Hawaii just before the start of WWII, to his wife’s contract with his mother to his daughter’s unplanned pregnancy.

All the events revolve around one quiet man who never talked much but seems to have exuded a quiet and unexpected strength.

It feels like this is a story about family secrets – both the ones that families tell and the ones that are deemed to be too dangerous to reveal. It is also about the effect those secrets have on the ones that come after them, whether they are revealed or not.

Especially, perhaps, when they are not.

While it is daughter Theresa’s perspective that we see in the present, in the past we see every hidden story come to light, especially the inner stories that belong to the women in the family – her great-aunt Hong; Lin, her formerly indomitable grandmother who is now nearly senile, or at least broken; and her mother Amy, who she feels is a fraud.

Possibly they all were.

In China, wealthy Frank Leong rescued a girl who was being abused by her father. He took her from a life of severe beatings and vile servitude, and married her. He rescued her because his father had done the same thing to him, and because he felt she was his soul mate.

Maybe she was, but Frank had two other wives before Lin, and they were both still alive. He was even still supporting his children. He just never told Lin. The house of cards of his life collapsed when he died suddenly, and by that time Amy had become involved.

Just as Frank rescued Lin, Lin felt the need to rescue Amy, because Amy could solve her own dilemma. Lin had two sons, Bohai and Kaipo. But Bohai wasn’t hers, except in law and in her heart. She bought a concubine for her husband in China. The girl died after childbirth, leaving behind a little boy who was never quite normal, but wasn’t completely abnormal either.

Today we might say that Bohai was autistic, although from the descriptions of his behavior, I’m not sure that is the real case. He was certainly quiet and withdrawn, and Lin thought he might never come out of himself enough to marry.

She made a bargain with Amy, a poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Honolulu, but who was both beautiful and Chinese. Lin rescued Amy from her life of poverty, and Amy married Bohai.

But Amy never forgot the love she left behind in order to secure her family’s future. And he never forgot her.

As Bohai’s funeral progresses to its final concluding shovels of earth, we see each generation of the Leong family’s women, how they have kept both secrets from each other, and faith with each other. Theresa’s self-righteous anger at what she sees as her mother’s lies is just one more link of secrets in the chain that binds them all.

Escape Rating A-: Every family has secrets. It has stories that are only told inside the family, and those stories are part of what binds the family together. When those secrets are not revealed, they can often be the spark that explodes them apart.

Part of the universality of this story is that all families have secrets that pass their effects on from one generation to another. Mine certainly did. Perhaps yours does too.

Amy’s secrets are the catalyst in this story, but we don’t find that out until the end. Some of those secrets are ones that she kept, and some are secrets that were kept from her. The biggest secret that she seems to have kept, both from herself and from her late husband, is that in spite of everything, in spite of all her regrets and his mother’s machinations and his own quiet and withdrawn nature, she really did love him. Unlike Bohai, however, Amy was never able to express it. And that seems to have been the greatest tragedy of all.

Frank’s secrets were the most destructive. Like so many hard-driving, hard-charging men, Frank thought that he would live forever. Or, he knew that the only way the mess of his life would come to light would be in the wake of his death, so he’d be out of the picture. He took care of every business but his own family, and the cataclysm nearly destroyed them all. It certainly destroyed Lin.

But it’s that pattern of secret-keeping that seems to be the tie that binds. No one is ever told all the stories, no matter how much they still matter in the present.

As each layer is peeled back, the reader dives deeper in the past, and becomes more a part of this one family. They may be flawed, but they are also compelling.


This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Chaos Broken by Rebekah Turner

chaos broken by rebekah turnerFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Chronicles from the Applecross #3
Length: 225 pages
Publisher: Escape Publishing
Date Released: April 1, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

The final installment of the Chronicles of Applecross trilogy finds Lora left in charge–and quickly losing control.

Lora Blackgoat is in charge. But after losing a lucrative contract, it looks like she’s also running her beloved benefactor’s mercenary company into the ground while he’s away on holidays. Her problems double when she discovers Roman, exiled nephilim warrior and current confusing love interest, is brokering a dangerous peace agreement.

When a new enemy emerges from across the ocean, threatening to tear the city apart, Lora finds herself taking on new and surprising allies, finally acknowledging the prophecy that haunts her and using it to her advantage.

My Review:

At least this time the cover picture of the guy looking over his shoulder actually makes a bit of sense. Not that every man, woman and otherkin doesn’t need to be looking over their shoulder (and in every other direction) just to stay alive in this story.

But the picture probably represents Roman, the exiled nephilim who is central to entirely too many people’s plots and plans, and many of those plans are not ones he would approve of or want to take part in.

In spite of Roman’s importance to the outcome of this particular story, it is still Lora Blackgoat’s show, and we still see events from her perspective. Unfortunately for her, one of those events is the financial catastrophe that the Blackgoat Runner and Mercenary Company has become under her watch.

Her adoptive parents, Gideon Blackgoat and Orella Warbreeder, left Lora in charge while they take a much-needed vacation. Unfortunately for everyone, Lora is no good at being in charge. She’s not terribly good with people, and she mostly does an excellent job of pissing possible clients off. The town of Harkin is going through an economic downturn, and paying clients are far and far between.

She doesn’t want to call her parents back to bail her out, but she knows they are expecting to return to a going concern, and not a bankrupt business.

Because Lora is always the center of chaos, things just go from bad to worse.

The only two jobs Lora can turn up are weirder than normal. She is contracted to find the cat belonging to the school headmistress (and her former teacher). Lora just thinks that job is beneath her. The other one is even worse – telling her life story to a playwright so he can turn it into his masterpiece. Lora hates talking about herself, her very messy origins, or how she feels or thinks about anything. The writer doesn’t like her either, but he needs a big hit every bit as badly as she needs the money.

But finding a cat should be (relatively) simple. Instead, she finds a dead teacher and what seems like a budding psychopath. Oh, and a magic calling circle around the dead body. Getting the local religious hierarchy into the middle of her business is the last thing Lora needs, because they suspect her of dark magic, they exiled one of her boyfriends, and they fired her.

In spite of that, the local chapter isn’t all bad. But the fanatics from the capital are a whole other matter, and they’re coming for a visit.

And that budding psychopath – well, that situation is even worse than Lora can imagine, even though if there is one thing Lora is good at, it’s finding the dark cloud around the silver lining. This time, she just isn’t thinking dark enough.

Escape Rating B: Once this story really gets going, it is impossible to put down. I absolutely adore Lora as a point of view character. It’s not just that she is a chaos magnet, although she certainly is – but that she is so human in the midst of her heroism.

She always needs more coffee and more sleep. Her love life is a confused mess. She misses her parents but knows that she needs to be independent. She dreads taking over Blackgoat Company, but knows that Gideon wants to retire. She can’t be diplomatic to save her soul, but she’s not afraid to step in and help people when they need it. She does what she thinks is right, even when everyone around her tells her that it’s wrong.

I’ll also admit that I loved her reaction when her friend kept handing her the baby. She has the same reaction I do. She isn’t sure what to do with the child, she doesn’t have a biological clock ticking, and she is uncomfortable as hell and scared of doing the wrong thing. Not all women want babies, and Lora certainly doesn’t.

That she is having a serious problem committing to anyone isn’t the issue in this case. She just isn’t pining for motherhood. Period. There may also be a bit of being correctly concerned about whatever genetic craziness she might pass on, but that definitely isn’t all of it.

The big, overarching story here is about freedom – especially freedom from religious fanaticism. Harkin is fairly far from the capital, and it has developed a kind of live and let live attitude toward all the otherkin in the city. The local Witch Hunters Guild is even relaxing some of the rules that their nephilim are forced to live under. That matters not just because Roman is a nephilim, but because the Guild’s treatment of nephilim is slavery.

Nephilim who agitate seem to go berserk, but the ones who have managed to leave the Weald for our Outlands are instantly cured. So is the berserker stage truly inevitable, or are they being poisoned to keep them in line?

The head honcho of the Guild descends upon Harkin in order to nip any possible resistance or rebellion in the bud. He starts witch burnings and otherkin exiles just after he threatens the local government into complete submission.

He decides that Lora is the biggest threat to his reign of terror out there (he’s actually kind of right) and tries to take her out. Everyone in town comes to her rescue, which was awesome.

This is a story with plots within plots, and wheels within wheels. Everything falls into place (or gets dropped, or is killed) in order to bring this series to an absolutely slam-bang conclusion – complete with lots of real slams and bangs.

However, the Chronicles from the Applecross are definitely a case where it is absolutely necessary to have read the entire thing for all the plots and all the players to fit together. In fact, it’s probably best to read the whole thing in a gulp. I read the first two books, Chaos Born and Chaos Bound back in December 2013. It took a good chunk of Chaos Broken for me to remember all the players and find my old scorecard. But it was definitely worth it.

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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-26-15

Sunday Post

Yet another week where I managed to tie myself up for the week. This past week all the books were for blog tours. I enjoyed the hell out of all of them, but there wasn’t much flexibility in the schedule. This coming week is almost as constrained. The one day that isn’t tied up, well, for once I’m managing to read the book before the book in next week’s schedule. Sometimes it works out. But there are days when I would give my kingdom for a clone!

Current Giveaways:

$25 Gift Card + ebook copy of Officer Elvis by Gary Gusick
Kindle Voyage, $50 Amazon Gift Card and 2 $20 Amazon Gift Cards from Catherine Bybee
3 ebook copies of Seduced by Sunday by Catherine Bybee
$25 Gift Card + ebook copy of Medium Dead by Paula Paul
3 Scandals That Bite book bundles by Brooklyn Ann

medium dead by paula paulBlog Recap:

A- Review: Bite at First Sight by Brooklyn Ann + Giveaway
B+ Review: Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert
A- Review: Medium Dead by Paula Paul + Giveaway
A- Review: Seduced by Sunday by Catherine Bybee + Giveaway
B+ Review: Officer Elvis by Gary Gusick + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (132)


brass giant by brooke johnsonComing Next Week:

Chaos Broken by Rebekah Turner (blog tour review)
Diamond Head by Cecily Wong (blog tour review)
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (review)
The Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson (blog tour review)
Pirate’s Alley by Suzanne Johnson (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (132)

Stacking the Shelves

The good and bad news about midnight impulse buying, all in one tidy list. This was a week where it seemed like everything I read was a mid-series book where I not only hadn’t read the previous books, but in some cases hadn’t even known there were previous books.

After I finished each of them (Medium Dead, Seduced by Sunday and Officer Elvis) I decided that I’d had so much fun and/or enjoyed them so much that I had to get the rest of their respective series. And after I reviewed M.J. Scott’s The Shattered Court over at The Book Pushers, I discovered that she writes contemporary romance as Melanie Scott. So damn many books, so very little time.

For Review:
After Midnight (Denver Heroes #1) by Kathy Clark
After the War (Homefront #2) by Jessica Scott
Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Potting Shed #3) by Marty Wingate
Cities and Thrones (Recoletta #2) by Carrie Patel
Lawless in Leather (New York Saints #3) by Melanie Scott
The Paris Time Capsule by Ella Carey
Risk It (Rule Breakers #4) by Jennifer Chance
Ruthless by John Rector
The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
This Wedding is Doomed by Stephanie Draven, Jeannie Lin, Shawntelle Madison and Amanda Berry

Purchased from Amazon:
Angel in Armani (New York Saints #2) by Melanie Scott
The Devil in Denim (New York Saints #1) by Melanie Scott
Fiance by Friday (Weekday Brides #3) by Catherine Bybee
Half a Mind to Murder (Dr. Alexandra Gladstone #3) by Paula Paul
An Improper Death (Dr. Alexandra Gladstone #2) by Paula Paul
The Last Clinic (Darla Cavannah #1) by Gary Gusick
Marcus 582 (Cyborgs: Mankind Redefined #3) by Donna McDonald
Married by Monday (Weekday Brides #2) by Catherine Bybee
Single by Saturday (Weekday Brides #4) by Catherine Bybee
Symptoms of Death (Dr. Alexandra Gladstone #1) by Paula Paul
Taken by Tuesday (Weekday Brides #5) by Catherine Bybee
Wife by Wednesday (Weekday Brides #1) by Catherine Bybee


Review: Officer Elvis by Gary Gusick + Giveaway

officer elvis by gary m gusickFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: mystery
Series: Darla Cavannah #2
Length: 202 pages
Publisher: Random House Alibi
Date Released: April 21, 2015
Purchasing Info: Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

After performing at a local old-folks home, off-duty police officer and part-time Elvis impersonator Tommy Reylander smoothes out his pompadour, climbs into his pink Caddy, and gets all shook up—fatally so, when a bomb explodes. Whether he was killed for his police work or bad singing is a mystery that detective Darla Cavannah is determined to solve.

Though it’s been several years since Darla (reluctantly) partnered up with Tommy, she convinces her boss to let her lead the murder investigation. As the new regional director of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, Shelby Mitchell can think of better uses for his star detective’s time, but not even the most hardened good ole boy can resist Darla’s smart, savvy persuasions. She soon embarks on a roller coaster ride through the world of Elvis tribute artists while tracking down one of the most bizarre serial killers in the history of the Magnolia State. Aiding her pursuit of the killer is recently reprimanded officer Rita Gibbons, fresh from the trailer park and described by Shelby as “half a licorice stick short in the manners department.” But Rita’s plenty smart, even when this case takes their suspicious minds in an entirely unexpected direction.

My Review:

This seems to be a week where everything I read turned out to be in the middle of a series – and I hadn’t figured that out beforehand.

last clinic by gary gusickSo like several of my early reviews this week, even though Officer Elvis is the second book of Darla Cavannah, I can attest that it is not only possible to read this without having read the first (The Last Clinic), it is a whole lot of fun to read this one, with or without having read the first one.

Officer Elvis is an absolute hoot from beginning to end. Not that there isn’t a very serious series of murders to investigate, but the surrounding events are just way too much fun.

There are at least 85,000 Elvis impersonators (really) in the world, and someone seems determined to cut that number down. In other words, there’s a serial killer targeting Elvis impersonators, and Lieutenant Darla Cavannah of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation has caught the case.

She doesn’t start out thinking this is a serial killer cases. She starts out investigating the death of one of her former police partners. Tommy Reylander may have been one of the worst Elvis impersonators ever in the history of Elvis impersonators, but he was also a cop. Not terrible good at that, either, but still a cop.

In Jackson Mississippi, just like everywhere else, cops take the death of other cops very seriously, no matter how strange or unusual the circumstances of that death might be. Tommy died when his pink Cadillac Elvismobile exploded.

Tommy even dressed his girlfriend like Priscilla Presley, and the lookalike “Cill” is one of the first suspects – except that Tommy had almost no assets. He wasn’t even a good enough cop to have pissed off very many criminals, although there are a few.

But when Darla discovers a string of Elvis impersonator murders, everyone in the office is forced to conclude that someone wants Elvis to permanently leave all the buildings.

Some of the murders are inherently tragic, especially the one that misses its intended victim. Almost all of the circumstances contain an element of Elvis trivia and a whole lot of gallows humor.

The string of crimes is pointing directly to the upcoming Ultimate Elvis competition in nearby Tupelo Mississippi, Elvis’ birthplace. As all the contestants (and potential victims) gather for the high point of their year, one man is determined to take back what he believes is rightfully his. He just has to get Elvis back to Graceland to carry out his plan.

It’s up to Darla and her new partner, disgraced detective and Elvis fan Rita Gibbons, to let just enough, and not too much, of this last tribute play itself out.

Be prepared to be all shook up by the ending.

Escape Rating B+: This was way too much fun. I laughed through all of the early set up of the story, and just couldn’t stop. There are too many joke possibilities in the idea that this many people are seriously, or not so seriously, pretending to be Elvis. Particularly all the variations. The yodeling Elvis was probably my favorite, although I’m very happy not to have to listen to him.

But underneath the humor there is a very serious investigation of a serial killer – and one who is both organized in the way that he is committing the crimes, and psychotic in his motivations.

At the same time we have a dive into this rather strange offshoot of the entertainment industry – the world of the Elvis Tribute Artists. Some people take it seriously, some people don’t, but it looks like the Dixie Mob has its dirty fingers in this particular pie – just as it does in other parts of the entertainment industry.

What Darla can’t figure out is why the Dixie Mob and two of her own local criminal kingpins cared two hoots about Tommy Reylander. He may have been a cop, but he was seriously bad at it. She can’t help worrying at the puzzle of why the local meth kingpin, the local sleazy club owner, and the head of the Elvis Tribute Artists association and his hired goons had any interest in Tommy in the first place. If he was killed as part of the string of Elvii murders, why do these villains care?

And if he wasn’t, what did these crime lords have in common with Tommy, who wasn’t even smart enough, or venal enough, to be on the take?

Darla is determined to find all the answers, and as a viewpoint character she is fascinating to follow. She’s a terrific cop, but it’s more than that. As a Yankee in the Deep South, she has an outsider’s perspective on all the players, but as someone who has lived in Mississippi for ten years, even though she is still not accepted in a lot of ways, she has figured out how things (and people) work. That she is not involved with any of the various families and factions makes her a good person to see through all the connections and assumptions.

She’s smart, and she’s tough when she needs to be, but she has developed her own set of friends and colleagues who help her navigate a place where she will always be on the periphery. And it works for her and the reader.

Darla’s first adventure is The Last Clinic, where she investigates and falls for her husband. I can’t wait to see how she got started.


This tour includes a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 eGift card to the eBook Retailer of the winner’s choice + an eBook copy of OFFICER ELVIS.

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Seduced by Sunday by Catherine Bybee + Giveaway

seduced by sunday by catherine bybeeFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Weekday Brides #6
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Date Released: April 14, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

She swore off love forever…but he just might change her mind.

Meg Rosenthal: Matchmaker by day, realist by night, Meg is not about to get swept away by a charming, darkly handsome businessman in a designer suit. She’s come to a beautiful secluded resort to evaluate the private island’s potential for her agency, not to ogle its owner. But there’s something about the magnetic man that’s hard to resist, even for a woman who refuses to fall in love.

Valentino Masini: A successful and drop-dead sexy businessman, Valentino is used to having the finer things in life. Yet he’s never wanted someone the way he wants Meg, who’s stirring up a hurricane of trouble in his heart. But just as he decides to convince her to stay, someone else decides it might be time to get Meg off the island…permanently.

My Review:

The romance in Seduced by Sunday is marvelously sweet and super hot, but what got me in the end was the intense feeling of danger that is faced by all the characters involved in this story. There were a lot of times where I was reluctant to read further, not because I wasn’t enjoying the story (because I absolutely was) but because I was so afraid for the characters that I didn’t want to see anything else bad happen to them.

Another very strong factor in this story is the power of friendship. Not just women’s friendships, although that is in full force and is the ultimate saving grace for several of the characters, but the strength and importance of true friendship, particularly in very stressful lives.

And last but not least, there is an element about the healing and saving power of being self-sufficient and self-reliant. It feels as if all of the women in this series have been through their own personal hells, have rescued one another by giving each one an important and fulfilling job, and then letting romance happen later as the icing on an already quite satisfying cake.

No one seems to get rescued by Prince Charming. It looks like occasionally they rescue each other, or the woman does the rescuing. I love that.

I’m saying all this even though I haven’t read the earlier books in this series. I loved Seduced by Sunday, and was on the virtual edge of my seat during some of the nastier events, but the sense that these people are all there for each other through thick and thin, because they’ve already been through hell together, shines strongly through the story even though there are only hints of the previous books. Those hints are more than enough to carry the reader along into their world.

Which doesn’t mean I don’t now have a yen to read the rest of the series, because I most certainly do. These women (and the men who deserve them) are awesome.

When Seduced by Sunday begins, the skullduggery that Meg Rosenthal hopes not to find at Valentino Masini’s modern-day version of Fantasy Island is not the evil she eventually uncovers. Val turns out to be one of the good guys, but he has been hoodwinked, and so has most of his family.

Meg is currently running the Alliance, an agency that very, very discreetly arranges contract marriages for people who need to fake being married in a way that no one can discover. Discretion isn’t just the Alliance’s middle name, it’s their first and last names too. These contacts are not about sex, they are about appearances. At the end of the year, the women walk away with a divorce and a sizable settlement. No one is supposed to fall in love with their contractual spouse-in-name-only, but occasionally they do.

Val Masini owns a private island resort that just might be secure enough for the Alliance to send their fake married couples on their equally fake honeymoons. Meg decides to investigate by taking her friend, and former client, Michael Wolfe to the island. They are not a couple, and Michael is gay. No one would care, except that Michael is a very successful leading man in Hollywood, and no one is quite sure whether Hollywood is ready to embrace a gay romantic/action-hero.

So the test is to see whether Val’s security is tight enough that no one is able to find them on the island, and that no one comments on their non-relationship. Meg doesn’t count on her attempted subterfuge being severely tested by her slightly officious host. But behind Val’s anal-retentive desire for security is a man who has been too buttoned up for far too long, and Meg has him breaking all too many of his own rules.

It all starts going sideways when Val discovers he has a security breach. What he can’t see, although the reader will figure it out long before he does, is that what he really has is a security blind spot. One that nearly gets both his sister Gabi and Meg, the woman he has come to love, nearly killed. That it also nearly ruins his entire business stops mattering the instant he is certain what went wrong. Which doesn’t help him save them. It’s all up to Meg to save the day – with a little help from a lot of her friends.

Escape Rating A-: I did figure out who was responsible for the security breach relatively early on. But the reason was way more convoluted, and much more dangerous, than I (or any of the characters) suspected.

I loved Meg as the heroine. She is tough and sassy and takes no nonsense from anyone, including Val. In spite of her need to monitor her own health due to her asthma attacks, she never sits on the sidelines and waits for stuff to happen. Her job with the Alliance is to investigate people and their potential weak spots, and she brings all of her skill and attention to bear the minute she starts thinking that there’s a problem at the resort.

Her “spidey-senses” tingle the minute she meets Val’s sister Gabi’s fiance. There’s something not quite right about Adolfo, even if she can’t pinpoint anything specific. He seems slimy, and Meg knows slimy is as slimy does. That Gabi and Val’s mother can’t stand the man is just another reason to dig and dig deep.

Meg is a force of nature. Once she gets rolling, all that the others can do it come along on the journey and help contain the fallout. She doesn’t just drag Val along (not that he isn’t willing to be dragged) but Michael is right in there digging beside her, even though he knows that the hornet’s nest they are stirring up will unmask all of his secrets. His friendship with Meg is more important than staying in the closet, no matter what the cost.

That all of Meg’s very influential friends pitch in and help when the true evil starts being uncovered is a testament to how much these people care about each other. It really shows.

treasured by thursday by catherine bybeeI like Val, but he just doesn’t come off as strong as Meg. This is her show, and it’s a winner. So is she.

In the end, it is really Meg who rescues poor Gabi. Not just by sweeping in with a virtual army, but by befriending her and giving her hope and purpose at a point in her life when everything has been stripped away.

Gabi’s story is next in Treasured by Thursday, and I can’t wait.




There are two separate giveaways available. The first one is for a Kindle and several gift cards. The second is for 3 ebook copies of Seduced by Sunday. Enter both for more chances to win!

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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Medium Dead by Paula Paul + Giveaway

medium dead by paula paulFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Dr. Alexandra Gladstone #4
Length: 188 pages
Publisher: Random House Alibi
Date Released: April 14, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Under Victoria’s reign, women are barred from calling themselves physicians, but that hasn’t stopped Alexandra Gladstone. As the first female doctor in Newton-upon-Sea, she spends her days tending sick villagers in the practice she inherited from her father, with her loyal and sometimes overprotective dog, Zack, by her side.

After the corpse of village spiritualist Alvina Elwold is discovered aboveground at a church boneyard, wild rumors circulate through the charming seaside village, including one implicating a certain regal guest lodging nearby. Tales of the dead Alvina hobnobbing with spirits and hexing her enemies are even more outlandish—but as a woman of science and reason, Alexandra has no doubt that a murderer made of flesh and blood is on the loose.

Finding out the truth means sorting through a deluge of ghostly visitors, royal sightings, and shifty suspects. At least her attentive and handsome friend Nicholas Forsyth, Lord Dunsford, has come to her aid. Alexandra will need all the help she can get, because she’s stumbled upon dangerous secrets—while provoking a deadly adversary who wants to keep them buried.

My Review:

Medium Dead is the 4th book in Paula Paul’s Dr. Alexandra Gladstone series. I can say with absolutely assuredness that it is not necessary to read the other books in this series to enjoy Medium Dead, because I somehow totally missed that there were earlier books, but I very much enjoyed this one.

I could tell that all the characters had history together, but the author did a good job of giving readers enough background to ensure that this story was an interesting and enjoyable one.

Of course, as soon as I discovered the truth, I went and bought the first three books. I liked this one so much that I wanted to read more of Alexandra’s adventures.

Alexandra Gladstone is an unconventional heroine, but she is in a profession that seems to lend itself to investigating murders. Alexa is a doctor. Admittedly, in the Victorian era women were not supposed to be or allowed to be doctors, but Alexa, and the village of Newton-on-Sea that she serves, have decided not to care.

Alexa inherited her practice from her father. The late Dr. Gladstone also trained his daughter in medicine. She’s all the doctor that her remote village has – or needs. By this point in her history, everyone has come to accept her. She’s good at her job, and she’s the only doctor for a long ways around.

As is usual in small-town series, Alexa has gathered a little group of irregulars around her, people who help (and sometimes hinder) her unofficial investigations. Her nurse Nancy, the two boys who do chores around her house, Rob and Artie, and most especially Nicholas Forsyth, a London barrister who unexpectedly inherited the local title and is now the Earl of Dunsford, to both his delight and dismay.

This case involves Nicholas’ household more directly than is usual. His snobbish mother has come to the estate with a very special and very secretive guest. The intent is that Queen Victoria’s visit to the remote village should be a secret, but when the medium that the Queen consults turns up dead, it turns out that everyone in the village either already knows that Her Royal Highness is at Dunsford, or they find out pretty quickly.

There are secrets within secrets. Someone says they saw the Queen scrabbling around the cemetery where the late medium was found dead. The local Constable saw Nicholas mother searching that same ground for some equally unknown reason.

A village man confesses to the murder, but it is obvious that he didn’t commit it. Alexandra, who also unofficially serves as coroner, finds herself in the middle of a case that has two suspects who can’t be named, and one victim that all too many people believe consorted with evil spirits, or at least could raise the dead.

None of the possible clues make much sense. And nothing is as it seems.

Escape Rating A-: I had no idea whodunnit at the end, and I didn’t even care. I got completely wrapped up in Alexandra’s world and the people who inhabit it, so much so that I bought the other three books in the series so that I can go back and visit them again soon.

Alexa carries the story, and it was easy to like her and empathize with her. She is a career woman at a time when women were not supposed to have careers, and she values her independence and the respect she receives as a doctor. At the same time, she has become very good at maneuvering her way around people who simply cannot accept that she is a trained physician, and she gets her job done anyway, even treating the extremely reluctant.

She also has a great way of using her position to get her into places that she otherwise would not be able to go. Busybodies get shown the door, but doctors get in to treat their patients, even when the patients don’t want to be treated.

Because so much of this case involves secrets within Dunsford House very ineffectively kept by a titled Lady, Alexa needs to use her professional ability to treat the ill older woman as a way of getting into the house to discover where the secrets are being kept.

That Alexa is much better at managing Nicholas’ spoiled mother than Nicholas is does not bode well for the romance he wishes would blossom between them, but I suspect that is an entirely other story.

The kickoff to the mystery, Queen Victoria’s visit to the village to consult a medium, is based in history. Victoria never stopped mourning Prince Albert, and the rise of spiritualism in Britain and America can be traced to her desire to communicate to her late husband.

And, of course, a lot of the mediums were exposed as charlatans. While the truth of this dead medium’s talents are never ascertained, a part of this mystery does revolve around fraudulent seances.

Including the one conducted by Alexa’s nurse along with a couple of the more credulous women in the community. The scene of Alexa, along with Nicholas and the two boys, sneaking around her own house to spy on a seance that none of them believe in was hilarious. It also showed the depths of the relationships that Alexa has with all of her friends and coworkers.

And there are more than a few scenes where Alexa’s dog Zack steals the show.


This tour includes a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 eGift card to the eBook Retailer of the winner’s choice + an eBook copy of MEDIUM DEAD.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.