2 Mysteries for the Price of One

murdersugarlandexpressIt’s time to get away from the ghosts and have a live people only vacation. Ellis, Verity’s boyfriend, has surprised her with tickets on the maiden voyage of the Sugarland Express. The ghosts have other ideas though. Frankie wants to tag along to provide a romantic getaway for his girlfriend.

This book is a hat tip to Murder on the Orient Express. As it turns out, there was a murder on the original Sugarland Express and there is a ghostly detective still searching for the culprit. Closely following the original mystery, a second murder takes place in the present day. The tracks have been blocked, the wifi and communications have been destroyed. And there is a dead body. Ellis and Verity spring into action to try and solve the present day murder before anyone else is killed. Frankie and Verity get sucked into solving the ghostly murder before the ghost train derails and plunges into the river as it did so many years ago. So much for a relaxing vacation.

I gave this mystery 4 out of 5 stars. It’s well-written. And it’s paced well. As the mystery goes on, the pace increases until the climactic ending. The characters are interesting, both the living and the ghostly. It can be read as a standalone – enough background information is given to follow along and enjoy it. For me though, I found it perhaps more enjoyable having more background from reading earlier mysteries in the series. If you enjoy humorous cozy mysteries with some paranormal involvement, this would be a good reading choice for you.

Murder on the Sugarland Express by Angie Fox is the 6th mystery in the Southern Ghost Hunter series. It was published November 25, 2017 from Moose Island Books.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions herein are my own and freely given.

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To See the World

Girl_in_towerVasya is back in this follow up to The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. The Girl in the Tower is the second book in the Winternight trilogy.

The first part of the book is mostly about Sasha and Olga. They are Vasya’s siblings. At the close of part one, Sasha and Vasya have just met up for the first time in years.

The second part of the book is told mostly about Vasya and what is happening in her life after the close of The Bear and the Nightingale. Vasya feels that her life is in danger if she stayed in the small village she was raised in. She goes to Morozko, the frost demon, and asks for help. She wants some of the dowry he promised to her so that she can go out and find her place in the world. Adventures ensue.

The third part of the book is mostly about Vasya and Sasha and their cousin Dimitri. There is also a little about Olga. Vasya must keep up the charade that she is a boy. Not only does her life depend on it, but her sister’s and brother’s lives are deeply affected by this as well. There are more adventures and conflict. I don’t want to give away spoilers.

Vasya continues to have her bond to the supernatural throughout the book. She can see the spirits of the bathhouse and the hearth as well as others. This puts her at both an advantage and disadvantage. They can be helpful at times, but she can’t tell anyone that they are there or else she will be marked as crazy and perhaps a witch as well. Only her young niece can also see them and has been warned by her mother, Olga, not to mention this to other people.

The story is well written. This is a crucial time period for the spirits as many of them are disappearing or losing power as the Christian God gains followers. Medieval Russia is an interesting backdrop for the story. The pace of the story is good as well. There are ups and downs throughout, but by about 50% on my Kindle, the story is becoming very dangerous for Vasya and her siblings. The tension continues to mount for the rest of the book until the ending.

My favorite characters in the book are Vasya, her horse Solovey, and Morozko the frost demon. It was hard sometimes watching Vasya’s missteps. But they were necessary for character building and plot advancement.

Overall, I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. It’s well written. The character of Vasya grows and develops as the book progresses. The adventures are interesting. And the book is well-paced. I can’t recommend this series enough. And, I can’t wait for the third book in the trilogy.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions herein are my own and freely given.

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Under the Emerald Big Top

Emerald_CircusThe Emerald Circus is a collection of short stories by Jane Yolen. All of them are previously published with the exception of The Bird, a tale based on Edgar Allan Poe. All of the stories in the collection are either based on another tale or a riff on a famous person. Three of the stories are based on Alice in Wonderland. Examples of inspiration for some of the other stories include: Hans Christian Andersen, Emily Dickinson, Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast, Robin Hood, and Merlin.

All of the stories are well-written. The book includes an introduction by Holly Black. And at the end of the book, there are notes on each short story as well as a poem relating to each. I found even these endnotes enjoyable to read.

I enjoyed all of the stories, but I had a few favorites. Among those are: Sister Emily’s Lightship, Andersen’s Witch, Blown Away, and Evian Steel. All of them had excellent prose. And I felt the characterization of Emily Dickinson to be right on target in Sister Emily’s Lightship even though it is a fantastical tale.

I gave this collection 5 stars out of 5 stars for the quality of the writing. While each was a riff based on another tale or a historical person, I can say I’ve never read anything quite like them. And I love retellings and have read quite a lot of them.

This book is perfect for those who enjoy Jane Yolen’s writing as well as those who enjoy retellings.

The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen was published November 14, 2017 from Tachyon.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions herein are my own and freely given.

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Bound for The American Dream

paradoxboundEli meets a mysterious traveler a few times over the course of his life. It’s years for him, but days for her and not necessarily in a linear fashion. Harry, the traveler, discourages his interest, but not quite successfully enough. When he finds out that there is a faceless man after her, Eli goes to great lengths to warn Harry. As a result, they become reluctant partners in the search for The American Dream, a tangible object. They and the other searchers, for they are not alone, are all pursued by the faceless men.

The way they travel is a form of time-travel frequently. But, they are limited to traveling through the history of the United States. So, Harry dislikes the term time-travel.

The book has a few flaws, but overall it is well-written and enjoyable. There are some slow spots,  but I found I still wanted to know what happened next and that carried me through. The only other thing that bothered me a little was Eli’s willingness after meeting Harry just a few times to go to the great lengths he did to warn her.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It’s an enjoyable time-travel story.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions herein are my own and freely given.

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Will Ghostly Poe Aid Hunters?

wickeddeedsVickie Preston and Griffin Pryce have been an item for 2 cases now, Dying Breath and Dark Rites. In this, their third outing, they tackle a murder mystery.

Vickie and Griffin stop in Baltimore for a romantic few days on their way to Virginia so that Vickie can enter the FBI academy. Alas, peace isn’t in the cards for them. A famous writer is found dead at the Edgar Allan Poe themed restaurant that they ate at the night before. The writer’s wife calls on the Krewe of Hunters to prove that this wasn’t a suicide and to catch the murderer. More Poe themed crimes follow and additional Krewe members join the hunt.

At the same time, Vickie begins having vivid dreams involving Edgar Allan Poe. Will these dreams, nightmares, help solve the case in the present?

The mystery is fast-paced with few well-timed lulls. There is also a touch of romance between the two main characters.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this mystery, was the history added by Vickie. The reader learns more about Poe in his later years, a relevant few of his works, and a possible theory as to his demise.

Overall, I give this paranormal mystery 4 out of 5 stars. The mystery is well-written and fast-paced. There are enough satisfying twists and turns. And the information shared about Poe makes it all that more interesting.

Wicked Deeds is #23 in the Krewe of Hunters series by Heather Graham. It’s due to be published September 19, 2017 from MIRA Books.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions herein are my own and freely given.

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Not a Docile “Widder Woman”

bloodOfEarthBlood of the Earth by Faith Hunter is the first in an offshoot series from her Jane Yellowrock series. It features Nell Ingram who is anything but a docile “widder woman” (a widow in the church dialect.)

Nell grew up in a polygamist cult. She was married off in the church when she was 15 yrs old. She was married in the eyes of the law at 18. The second marriage allowed her to become more of the woman she is at the beginning of the book – independent and perhaps what her church people would call uppity. Her husband left her the land when he died instead of leaving it to the church. This gave her the independence she craved. But it comes at a price. She is harassed by some of the men from the church on a fairly regular basis it seems. And it also feels like it’s just a matter of time before something bad happens to Nell at the rate things are going.

Nell has a talent for growing things. But, it’s more than that. She finds that she has a connection with the woods on the land – Soulwood. She has an awareness of all that the wood is aware of. People on her property? The wood feels unsettled.

PsyLed, a Homeland Security agency policing paranormals, contacts Nell and offers her a position as a consultant. They want to see if a group called the Human Seekers of Truth is in contact with the church people she was brought up with and maybe more. There are kidnappings to boot. Who is responsible is just the tip of the iceberg.

Nell agrees to work with PsyLed and begins to form bonds with some of her co-workers. They are a team, but Nell has to learn to be a part of a team. She isn’t used to trusting people, especially men, with her back.

I enjoyed the story. Overall I give it a 4 out of 5 stars. It’s well written. The church could have been a caricature, but with all the relationships involved, it becomes complex. I enjoyed the relationship building in the team as well. And I liked that while the overall story is settled, there are still a few things you want to know more about to keep your interest into the next book in the series. I look forward to reading more about Nell and her Soulwood.

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Good vs. Evil in Anthology

urban_enemiesHere the emphasis is on the evil part of the Good vs. Evil. Seventeen stories from diverse urban fantasy series showcase their villains. There are stories from the following authors: Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files), Kelley Armstrong (The Cainsville and Otherworld series), Seanan McGuire (InCryptid), Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles), Jonathan Maberry (Joe Ledger), Lilith Saintcrow (Jill Kismet), Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville), Joseph Nassise (Templar Chronicles), C.E. Murphy (Walker Papers), Steven Savile (Glasstown), Caitlin Kittredge (the Hellhound Chronicles and the Black London series), Jeffrey Somers (The Ustari Cycle), Sam Witt (Pitchfork County), Craig Schaefer (Daniel Faust), Jon F. Merz (Lawson Vampire), Faith Hunter (Jane Yellowrock), and Diana Pharaoh Francis (Horngate Witches).

Most of the stories are told from the villain’s point of view rather than just being about the villain. Some of them are written in such a way that you can actually feel a moment of empathy for them. Others showcase just how evil they really are. My favorite story was probably the one from The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. I found myself empathizing with the main character. Also well written, but definitely falling into the catagory of scarier villains was the story about beings that are like cuckoos from Seanan McGuire.

I wasn’t expecting to empathize with any of the villains. I was not familiar with all of the series. In fact, I was hoping to gain some idea of other urban fantasy series I might enjoy. It was a success in that regard. All of the stories were well written no matter the angle they took. In truth, I would reread this whole anthology in addition to seeking out other works by the authors. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

Urban Enemies is due out August 1, 2017 from Gallery Books. If you enjoy urban fantasy, definitely check this book out.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and freely given.

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Cult Runs Wild in Massachusetts

dark_ritesVickie Preston and Special Agent Griffin Pryce are preparing to go to Virginia to the FBI headquarters when someone starts attacking people in Boston seemingly at random. The people are beaten and left with a note that is a copy of a historical warning about witches. Then, Vickie’s friend Alex Maple disappears after his attack. She is sure that he’s been taken for nefarious purposes.

It becomes clear that the attacks are the result of cult activity and that the perpetrators would rather die than be apprehended. Who is behind this? Where is Alex? Why are the people willing to die rather than be caught? And who is the woman with her throat slit in Vickie’s bloody visions?

Heather Graham once again successfully blends history and fiction. This time the action is drawn to the wilds of Massachusetts as well as Boston. The characters are well written and sympathetic. The plot moves along at a good pace. And I wasn’t able to guess who the leader and the head murderer was until the very end. And even then, I got it wrong. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Dark Rites by Heather Graham is #22 in the Krewe of Hunters series. It’s due out July 25th 2017 from MIRA.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of the book from the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and freely given.

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Picture it… Peru 1859

bedlamstacksPicture it, Sicily… but not really. Really it’s South America – Peru in fact, circa 1859, the home of some very important trees that are the source of quinine, a treatment for malaria.

The Bedlam Stacks opens in a run down estate in Great Britain. Merrick and his dog are wandering the grounds. He thinks he sees one of the statues move.  A tree explodes. His brother questions Merrick’s sanity.

Merrick is approached to go on an expedition to Peru to get some cuttings of trees that produce quinine by the India Office. India is in the throes of a major malaria epidemic. Faced with the decision to stay in England and work as a man of the cloth or have one last adventure, Merrick chooses adventure. He and a close friend ship off to Peru in search of the trees they need. It’s awkward and dangerous because of his injured leg, his friend’s altitude sickness, and the fact that often expeditions in search of the cinchona trees end up dead or missing.

The characters are well-developed and flawed. No one is perfect reflecting the real world. Merrick has physical flaws and some mental ones that are revealed as the story goes on. His friend Clem makes me think of the phrase “ugly American” even though he is quite British. Raphael is multilayered. He comes across at first as only a bit of a scoundrel. Only later is he revealed for what he truly is. I also liked the minor character of Inti. She was a take charge kind of woman and accomplished in spite of being physically handicapped.

The story has elements of magical realism. There are, for example, statues that move, lamps that are powered by glowing pollen and bits of clockwork, and exploding trees among other things.

The plot jumps around a little in place and time. The sections are clearly labeled though, so it’s not hard to follow. The story of how Merrick’s leg got hurt is interesting. And it goes to further characterize him as well. All the parts ultimately blend together. Everything is useful and not as extraneous as it might seem at first.

The way the community of Bedlam functions is interesting as well. There is a salt and bone border between the community and the jungle. Merrick and Clem are told that no one passes over the boundary from the community without risking certain death.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. Overall it’s well written both plot wise and character wise. It’s a good book for people who enjoy a bit of an adventure story with some fantastical elements.

Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley is due out August 1, 2017 from Bloomsbury USA.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions herein are my own and freely given.

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Serial Killer in Boston with Historical Tendencies

dying_breath

Vickie Preston survived an attack by a killer when she was in high school while babysitting. It was the first time she saw a ghost, but not the last. And it was her first encounter with Griffin Price, then a policeman.

On to present day, Griffin Price is now a Special Agent with the FBI unit known as the Krewe of Hunters. Griffin and his fellow agent Jackson are in Boston helping with the hunt for a serial killer known as The Undertaker.

Vickie, now a historian, becomes involved in the case when the killer mentions her by name in one of the notes sent to the police as clues to find the victims before their air runs out. Her vast knowledge of the history of Boston becomes a tool in the Hunters’ arsenal. And, she and Griffin meet again for the first time since that fateful night of her youth and are drawn together.

This is one of the best Krewe of Hunters novels that I’ve read. Heather Graham does a great job blending history and geography in the clues given to Vickie, Griffin, Jackson, and the police to solve. It makes the mystery even more fascinating. I was guessing at who the killer(s) were right up until the end.

Griffin and Vickie are both good characters. Vickie is a little more fleshed out than Griffin in that she has more details about her character in the book. As they work together to solve the mystery, they are drawn together as well. This leads to some sex scenes which are tastefully done. The mystery takes the forefront of the book. The romance is slightly secondary to it.

The paranormal mostly figures in with the ghosts of Dylan and Darlene. They are used as more as plot devices than people, but not overly so.

Overall, I give Dying Breath 4 out of 5 stars. It’s a well-written mystery with romance. I was guessing at who did it right up until the end.

Dying Breath by Heather Graham is #21 in the Krewe of Hunters series. It was released May 30, 2017 from MIRA.

My copy of the book was an ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and freely given.

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