A Year In Review: Shining Stars

ShiningDidn’t I warn you about all my “best of” lists? While there is at least one or two more to come, I wanted to share those titles that stood above the rest, the shining stars of my reading year.  This can be for a multitude of reasons. In many cases, my review states why. I’m not saying these are the best ever books released in 2015, just those that held a special meaning for me:

Which books stood out most for you?

Review: Woman with a Gun by Phillip Margolin

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1St Edition edition (December 2, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780062266521
  • Source: Publisher

Stacey Kim saw the photograph at an art museum in New York City.  She’s immediately fascinated by the image:  a black and white photo of a woman in a wedding dress, on the beach. Behind her back she holds a six-shooter.  Stacey, an aspiring novelist, becomes obsessed with learning more about the woman in the picture.   The woman, Megan Cahill, was a suspect in the killing of her husband on their wedding night in 2005. The case was never closed.

Stacey begins her own investigation of sorts into the murder. While some witnesses are willing to speak of what happened a decade previous, the woman with the most involvement, the photographer, is reluctant to speak.  In Stacey’s attempt to create a fictionalized account of what transpired, she finds out so much more.

Told in alternating time periods, the author takes readers back to the first meeting of two key characters in the case, proceeding to the scene of the murder, and finally wrapping it up in the present time.  Woman with a Gun is a truly unique and compelling take on a “whodunit” case.  I’m intentionally being vague in my summary, for it is best for the reader to discover the characters, and aspects of the historic murder, on their own. My highest praise of this novel is that I didn’t realize or discover the identity of the killer until the end, the twists and turns kept me guessing.

While I truly enjoyed this novel, it’s not without its faults. While a few of the major characters were well-fleshed out and developed, I feel more could have been done to expand upon some of the secondary characters.  I wanted to know more about them, their motivation, their history. Even if it added significantly to the page count,  I feel it would have been a worthy and ultimately beneficial improvement upon the reading experience.

All this said, Woman with a Gun is still a well-crafted, excellently executed read. Recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to participate in this tour. Be sure to check out the complete tour listing!

A Year in Review: Series Favorites of 2014

Series

Earlier this week, I kicked off my “best of” series with a list of my favorite Horror/Thriller titles of 2014.  Next up: books in series!  I don’t know about you, but I’m all about series/trilogies! Knowing that a story arc will continue or you’ll be reunited with your favorite characters in a subsequent book is thrilling.  So, following are my favorites from 2014:

 

How about you? What were some of your favorite series/trilogies that released this year?

Review: The Unimaginable by Dina Silver

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (December 1, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781477824962
  • Source: BookSparksPR

After her mother passes away, twenty-eight year old Jessica Gregory packs her bags and leaves her small town Indiana home for Phuket, Thailand, where she’ll work at a school teaching English to the native children.  Her relationship with her mother was less than healthy; as the youngest of nine children Jessica always felt as though she was an accident.  She and her mother butt heads constantly, Jessica never really living up to her mother’s expectations. This trip to Thailand is certainly the riskiest thing she’s ever done. Phuket is certainly a world vastly different than her quiet, Midwestern home.

Shortly after her arrival, she meets Grant Flynn. Like Jessica, Grant is on a journey to overcome and heal from a recent loss. However, Grant’s journey is a far more treacherous one; he plans to sail his boat, Imagine,  across the Indian Ocean.  The journey is riddled with risks, from pirates to dangerous and unpredictable weather. Jessica is desperate for such a challenge and eventually gains a spot on the crew.  The trip takes a deadly twist, forcing Jessica and the crew to endure unfathomable challenges and tests of courage.

While The Unimaginable is an engrossing and inspirational read, it’s not without its faults. Aspects of the characters’ pasts are alluded to, but not handled in depth.  Brief mentions throughout the book serve as a starting point but I feel readers would have a better understanding of the characters, and the rationale for their choices, if there were more backstory.

That’s not to say this wasn’t an enjoyable read; it most certainly was. I appreciated following Jessica’s journey to self-understanding and discovery. The setting Silver created in Phuket was mesmerizing. Jessica’s character obviously had many struggles in life and, rather than succumbing to them she persevered and opted to put her focus and passion into helping others.

This novel was based on two true stories. The first involved  a couple who followed their dream by taking a break from their jobs and everyday life and embarking on a four-year-long sailing journey. More about their story can be read about at www.sailimagine.com.  The second involves a retired couple who provided Bibles and ministries to remote villages. In 2011, their craft was hijacked in the Arabian Sea by a group of Somalian pirates.  Unfortunately, their story ended when their lives were taken.  Knowing that the author based this novel on these two actual accounts adds a depth of reality and plausibility to the story.

If you are looking for a captivating, inspirational read, The Unimaginable is the perfect match. Highly recommended.

A Year in Review: Horror/Thriller Favorites of 2014

BestHorror
Can you believe we are halfway through December?! Egads! With the end of the year comes the traditional “best of” lists. With over 40 titles on my favorites list, I thought it best to break it up into multiple posts.  We’ll start with my favorite genres: horror & thrillers.  From sadistic serial killers and stalkers to children that come back from the dead, 2014 was a great year for terrifying books!

Following are my favorite thriller/horror titles of 2014. Click on the link below to read my review!

The Fever by Megan Abbott 

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes 

The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

The Competition by Marcia Clark

The Troop by Nick Cutter

Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue 

Suspicion by Joseph Finder

The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene

Snowblind by Christopher Golden

The Butcher by Jennifer Hillier

The Three by Sarah Lotz

The Book of You by Claire Kendal

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Revival by Stephen King

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker

 

Stay tuned! I have at least a few more “Best of” posts up my sleeve!

Which thriller/horror titles did I miss?

2014 Cozy Mystery Week Wrap-Up

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It’s a bittersweet moment: another Cozy Mystery Week has come to an end. I’ve quiet enjoyed discovering new cozy mystery series (and reuniting with old favorites). Here’s a quick wrap-up of the week:

Have you reviewed a cozy lately (ok, like in the last year)? Link it up here and you are automatically entered into my Cozy Mystery Week contest! You’ll win copies of nearly all the books listed above (and more!).

While I do host this Cozy Mystery Week each year, I do hope to do a better job of enjoying cozies throughout the year. What series should I not miss?

 

Review: Home of the Braised (White House Chef Mystery) by Julie Hyzy

  • Series: A White House Chef Mystery (Book 7)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley; First Berkley Prime Crime Edition edition (January 7, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780425262382
  • Source: Personal copy (ebook)

With the White House staff adjusting to a new chief usher and plan for a state dinner, there is little time for executive chef Olivia Paras to even think about planning her wedding.   Her fiance, Gav, is wrapped up in the mysterious murder of his long-time friend, Evan.  Ollie and Gav were near victims, walking in on murder scene mere moments after the killing took place.  But when another person, this time a person of power within the government, is killed, tension is high in the White House. The already tight security is increased; an outside security firm is brought in to shadow the White House staff.

Ollie’s habit of getting caught up in the middle of some security fiasco has given her a reputation. That doesn’t stop her from attempting to get to the bottom of these deaths, even when it puts her own life in danger.  These deaths, and a series of other attacks, are clearly connected.  Her investigation doesn’t stop her from preparing a fabulous state dinner or mentor the President’s son in the kitchen. Just another day in the White House kitchen!

There is a reason I waited until the final day of Cozy Mystery Week to review this title. Julie Hyzy’s White House Chef Mysteries is, by far, my favorite cozy mystery series ever. I’ve raved and raved about this series, seven books in total thus far. My adoration has never wavered. As a matter of fact, I think this one may be one of my favorites.

What makes this series stand out is Hyzy’s talent at keeping the storylines unique and compelling. This series isn’t the same story, same characters, told over and over again with a different situation. Instead, with each book, the characters grow, the readers following them along as if in life. Ollie’s character, for one, has matured dramatically. Her relationship with Gavin, especially, has changed quite a bit throughout the series. Sure, it may seem that her potential for getting into trouble regularly may seem routine or tiring, but it’s actually not. I look forward to Ollie’s antics and the method and means she will go to to get answers.

And the recipes!! Pages and pages of recipes of dishes actually served from the White House kitchen!  I always make it a point to create at least one dish!

I look forward to each and every book in this series and I’m thrilled to know I don’t have to wait long for the next book! All The President’s Menus is due out in a month! I’ll be counting down the days until I have that book in my hand!

 

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Review: The Silence of the Llamas (Black Sheep Knitting Mysteries) by Anne Canadeo

  • Series: Black Sheep Knitting Mysteries
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • ISBN: 978145164479
  • Source: Publisher

Ellie and Ben Krueger moved to Plum Harbor to fulfill their dream of raising llamas.  As hosts of a grand opening fiber festival, they are thrilled at the exposure the crowds bring. Their enthusiasm turns terror quickly, however, when someone attacks their prized llamas. This isn’t the first incident; they have a sneaking suspicion their neighbor, Justin Ridley, is responsible. Ridley is a survivalist, of sorts, an individual who prefers his acres of land to exist in a natural state, free of development. The Krueger’s llama farm is a contradiction of everything Ridley believes in. Then again, there’s also Angelica Rossi, owner of a rival fiber farm. She raises alpacas for their fiber and has no qualms with spreading rumors about the quality of the Krueger’s product.

When acts of vandalism morph into murder, the Kruegers’ dreams are shattered.  Members of the Black Sheep Knitters quickly jump in and help get to the bottom of  this devastation.

While this is the fifth book in this series, it is my first experience with the Black Sheep Knitters.  What a fun bunch of women! Originally brought together by their love of knitting, they quickly become fast friends who just happen to wind up in the middle of a mystery.  While I haven’t knitted in years, the addition of knitting patterns (and recipes) were a wonderful addition to this book.  While the cast of characters is vast, the author includes cast profiles of each of the club members at the beginning of the book. Most helpful if you are like me and have a difficult time remembering who is who! And the title? The play on words? Love!

What I particularly enjoyed about this cozy was that the culprit wasn’t obvious from the beginning. Canadeo threw in quite a few red herrings, not revealing the identity until the end. The pacing was fast and fluid, never wavering or waning. A truly enjoyable reading experience; I can’t wait to go back to read the rest of the titles in this series! Highly, highly recommended!

 

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Review: By Cook or by Crook (Five-Ingredient Mysteries) by Maya Corrigan

  • Series: A Five-Ingredient Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington (November 4, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781617731389
  • Source: Personal copy

 

RECIPE FOR A DELICIOUS FIVE-INGREDIENT MYSTERY
Take a burned-out cookbook publicist.
Stir in a crusty codger.
Toss with a large helping of murder.
Add a dash of romance.
Serve with a twist of humor.

When Val Deniston, former cookbook publicist, is involved in a car accident, it changes her life irreparably. She leaves her job in New York and moves to Bayport, MD and hopes to start a quieter life and the opportunity to work on her own cookbook.  Instead, she finds herself mixed up in murder.

When a member of Val’s tennis team is found brutally murdered, Val’s cousin and dear friend is assumed a prime suspect.  Unwilling to accept someone so close to her could be responsible, Val launches her own investigation to uncover the identity of the killer.

What a fun read! Ok, I know that sounds odd. Yes, there is a murder, but surrounding that plot line is a multitude of other side stories. Val’s moved from the Big Apple to a quiet, bay town. That move alone is shocking!  She’s moved in with her curmudgeon Grandfather, who somehow ends up being the food columnist for the local newspaper.  Additionally, the car accident that changed her life is a mystery of its own to be solved, for amnesia has left her completely devoid of memories of the accident.

Corrigan brilliantly weaves all of these vastly different storylines into one perfectly executed cozy mystery. The dynamic characters and discussion of food make the perfect recipe for a truly enjoyable read. And yes, as the series title suggests the author includes five-ingredient recipes (my favorite may very well be the crab cake recipe)!

All this said, I know there are foodies out there that will critique the author’s (and character’s) culinary skills. This is a cozy mystery, people, not some gourmet cookbook. Take it for what it is, a truly fun and delightful read. I can’t wait to check out the next book in the series, Scam Powder, due out next summer. Highly recommended!

Review: Paging the Dead (Family History Mystery) by Brynn Bonner

  • Series: A Family History Mystery
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books; Original edition (March 12, 2013)
  • ISBN: 9781451661866
  • Source: Publisher

Sophreena McClure and her business partner,  Esme Sabatier, make it their business to research the family history and genealogy of  their clients. Esme is a gifted medium and often uses her “talent” to get answers to questions they have been unable to locate in their research.  Their newest client,  Dorothy Pritchett Porter, is thrilled at all the information they have uncovered about her family, one of the town’s most prestigious families.  Dorothy is looking forward to displaying the scrapbooks Soph and Esme have created at Founder’s Day.  Unfortunately, Dorothy won’t get a chance to participate in Founder’s Day, for a few hours after meeting with Soph and Esme, she is found dead, strangled with her family pearls.

As Soph and Esme were two of the last people seen with Dorothy, they quickly become prime suspects in her murder.  Using their investigative skills, and the help of their scrapbooking club, they use their connections with both the living and the dead to narrow down the potential suspects in Dorothy’s family.  They uncover a multitude of skeletons in the family closet and, in a such a small town, there can only be so many suspects. Soph and Esme work desperately to uncover the truth, before they, too, become victims.

Paging the Dead is a quintessential cozy: light, funny, and incredibly engrossing. Fans of genealogy are certain to be rewarded by this incredibly witty series.  I adored the characters and their sense of humor. I was particularly taken by Esme and her talent of conversing with the dead. It certainly put a unique spin on the investigation!

Those new to this series will be thrilled to learn that the second book has already been published:Death in Reel Time. (Both books will are included in the Cozy Mystery giveaway! All you have to do to enter is link up a cozy mystery post or review!) New to this series myself, I can’t wait to dive in to the second book!

Bottom line: looking for a light, engaging cozy? Paging the Dead (and the Family History Mystery series) is a must read! Highly recommended!
 

 

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