Friday, 31 January 2020

The Wolf Of The Baskervilles by Majanka Verstraete + #Giveaway + Excerpt


The Wolf Of The Baskervilles by Majanka Verstraete
To be published by Firefly Hill Press on the 31st March 2020.


Add The Wolf Of The Baskervilles to your Goodreads

Who is Marisol Holmes?

She's a teenager.

Detective.

Jaguar shifter.

And don't forget, she's also the descendant of the great Sherlock Holmes.

Our heroine had been in some pretty tight spots before, but now? She's about to face her biggest challenge yet: a powerful shifter with a taste for blood. No one has faced down the deadly wolf of the Baskervilles and lived to tell the tale.

Even so, Marisol Holmes plans to do just that.


Excerpt

The next frame showed Roan. He too looked like he hadn’t slept in days, but to me, he was still… Handsome. Amazing. Strong. Everything I’d ever dreamt of. Roan, my Roan. 
A hand that wasn’t mine but looked like mine, complete with Serpent Sigil and all, lifted and caressed Roan’s face. The pain that rocketed through me was horrible, sharp like a knife. 
“Stop it,” I said to Melinda, even though I knew she wouldn’t end the torment. “I don’t want to see this.”
“For a moment there, I thought I’d lost you,” Roan said to my impostor. “I thought that…” He stopped mid-sentence, his eyes glazing over. “You shouldn’t have gone in there alone. It was too risky.” He grabbed Indra’s hand. “Promise me you won’t do it again. That from now on, we’re in this together.” 
“Together,” Indra said in a voice eerily similar to mine. “Always.” 


Meet the Author 
Author Majanka Verstraete has written more than twenty unique works of fiction. A native of Belgium, Majanka's novels explore the true nature of monsters: the good, the bad, and just about every species in between. Her young adult books include the acclaimed Mirrorland (YA Dark Fantasy) and Angel of Death (YA Paranormal) series of novels. At MHB, Majanka is currently developing a new YA shifter series with a fresh take on fierce female detectives called THE ADVENTURES OF MARISOL HOLMES. When she's not writing, Majanka is probably playing World of Warcraft or catching up with the dozens of TV series she's addicted to.
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Author links:

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prize includes print and digital copies of the first two Marisol Holmes novels, a Sherlock Holmes puzzle book, and jewellery.
Open internationally until the 29th February.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



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Thursday, 30 January 2020

Newcomers (Book 2) by Lojze Kovacic


Newcomers (Book 2) by Lojze Kovacic
First published in Slovenian as Prisleki in 1983. English language translation by Michael Biggins published by Archipelago Press in November 2019.

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The second part of the famous Slovenian writer's autobiographical novel describes his half - German family's life in Ljubljana during the Second World War. The young protagonist Bubi is a perpetual outsider - exiled from Switzerland in 1938, his family returns home to Ljubljana, where their half-German background makes them stick out in local society. Reeling from the loss of his home in Switzerland, and surrounded by a language he can't quite master, Bubi confronts the challenges and humiliations of growing up in a strange environment. Narrated with uncanny naivete, the novel flits between memories of tenderness and shocking violence as Bubi navigates friendship, family, and his burgeoning sexuality in a land under hostile occupation.


I wish I had discovered Newcomers when its first volume was on on NetGalley (if indeed it was) because I would love to experience the whole three volumes of Kovacic's novelised autobiography. As it is, for the moment at least, I am grateful to Archipelago Press for having made this English translation of the second volume available. Book Two of Newcomers essentially takes us through the years of the Second World War in Ljubljana for this half-German, half-Slovene family. Their fortunes aren't completely determined by the course of the war, but we see their decline run in parallel to that of the German army.

I loved the way Bubi understands himself in relation to his language. In the early part of this book, his spoken Slovenian is phonetically written with a Germanic accent which fades as the years pass by. Biggins has also translated all the Slovenian speech into English, but left the German dialogue in German (with English translation footnotes). As Bubi's mother and eldest sister only speak German and, seemingly, refuse to learn Slovenian this makes the whole family visible for their difference to the population surrounding them. Later, as teenage Bubi begins to try and make use of his writing talent, he struggles with feeling unable to really point his point across in either language. His childhood German is no longer his mother tongue, but he doesn't have a true breadth of expression in Slovenian yet either. This is an aspect of emigration that I hadn't given a lot of thought to before. I am aware of the difficulty of trying to make oneself understood to others in a new language just to get by in daily life. However here, Bubi cannot effectively address ideas in his own mind because he lacks the language tools.

Newcomers is written in the first person and in a kind of stream of consciousness style which I loved. I can see from other reviews that not everybody agrees with me though! I felt the prose style helped me gain a stronger understanding of what Kovacic tried to put across. There was a strong sense of being within each scene rather than viewing it as a passive observer. I would have appreciated a recap of Book One as a prologue to Book Two as, obviously, I had no idea what had gone before and previous events aren't explained as they generally are in a series novel. Instead this book simply continues from where Book One left off and abruptly stops where, I presume, Book Three will pick up the thread. That aside though, I was gripped by Newcomers Book Two. I knew very little about the Slovene war experience so appreciated the opportunity to read this compelling first hand account.


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Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Dead Ringer by Kat Ross + #Giveaway


Dead Ringer (Gaslamp Gothic #5) by Kat Ross
Published in America by Acorn Publishing on the 19th December 2019.


Add Dead Ringer to your Goodreads

A poisonous secret.
A terrifying curse.
And a client she’d just as soon see dead in a ditch….

Summer 1889. Harrison Fearing Pell hoped for adventure when she signed on with the Society for Psychical Research as an occult investigator. Slogging through New York’s sewers in pursuit of a “mud man” wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. But the reeking monster terrorizing the dance halls of the Tenderloin leads her to an even more peculiar mystery — and the last man on earth Harry wishes to become entangled with.

James Moran is a prodigy in music, mathematics . . . and crime. Harry’s older sister, the famed detective Myrtle Fearing Pell, has vowed to put him behind bars. But Harry owes Moran a personal debt, so when he demands her aid she can hardly refuse. It turns out that the brilliant black sheep of New York Society is part of a secret club at Columbia College whose members have started dying in bizarre ways that may not be accidents.

Thus begins one of the strangest cases of Harry’s career, a tale of murder, cold-blooded revenge and fairytale bogeymen to make the Brothers Grimm shudder. As the bodies pile up, each preceded by sightings of the victim’s doppelgänger, Harry and her stalwart friend John Weston must race against time to save a man who arguably deserves his macabre fate.


Dead Ringer is the first Kat Ross novel I've read so immediately I can say that, although it is the fifth in its series, the story works very well as a standalone! (On the strength of it I have now got myself the first Gaslamp Gothic book, The Daemoniac, so I can start to catch up on the rest of the series.) Dead Ringer is set in late 1880s New York and I loved this historical aspect which fitted surprisingly comfortably with the paranormal investigations undertaken by Harry and her colleague, John. There's a touch of the Sherlock Holmes about the atmosphere and Ross shows us New York scenes ranging from the refined Columbia College library to a crimelord's nightclub, and starts us off chasing a monster through the city's smelly sewers. Charming!

Harry is a character to whom I could easily warm. She doesn't always make good decisions, but her heart is in the right place. Her prickly sister, Myrtle, is fun to read about too and I enjoyed their verbal sparring with and about the criminally-minded Moran. The mystery itself is great. It has enough complexity that Ross kept me guessing at the complete answer pretty much until the end of the story, but I liked that the pace didn't get bogged down with too much unnecessary explanation. I appreciated the little details that made such a fantastic story feel plausible. I would recommend Dead Ringer to fans of Vered Ehsani's Society of Paranomals series (and vice versa) and am now looking forward to finding out how Harry's paranormal investigation journey began.


Meet the Author 
Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She's the author of the Fourth Element and Fourth Talisman fantasy series, the Gaslamp Gothic paranormal mysteries, and the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day. She loves myths, monsters and doomsday scenarios. Check out Kat's Pinterest page for the people, places and things that inspire her books.

Author links:

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prizes are a $20 Amazon gift card and 5x ebook copies of A Bad Breed (Gaslamp Gothic 3) by Kat Ross.
Open internationally until the 6th February.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



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Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver


Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
Published in America by Harper in April 2013.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at her local Iowa airport, she literally doesn’t recognize him. The once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened?

Soon Edison’s slovenly habits, appalling diet, and know-it-all monologues are driving Pandora and her fitness-freak husband Fletcher insane. After the brother-in-law has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: it’s him or me.

Rich with Shriver’s distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat: why we overeat and whether extreme diets ever really work. It asks just how much sacrifice we’ll make to save single members of our families, and whether it’s ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.


This review was first blogged at Stephanie Jane in October 2014.

I didn't read anything about Big Brother before I starting on the book itself so was initially intrigued by the premise of Pandora's dilemma at having to accommodate her morbidly obese brother within her family's home for an extended visit. I was drawn into the relationships despite said brother, Edison, being overly irritating and Pandora's husband, Fletcher, feeling somewhat two-dimensional and cartoonish. Something else I noticed early on was that all Shriver's characters have odd first names! After a while I began to wonder where the storyline was as I had read around a quarter of the way through the book and it still felt like scene-setting.

I found it hard to buy into Pandora's decision to dump her husband and his kids in favour of her brother. We are continually told that they are very close siblings and it's impossible to refuse a 'family thing' but this didn't ring true from the way the pair actually behaved at this point. It was like Shriver was contradicting her writing and I wasn't convinced. The diet the pair follow, Edison apparently for a whole year, is dangerous to undertake cold and with just a single doctor's visit and I didn't like that such a drastic measure is being publicised in a best-selling novel. It may work in fiction, but could increase health issues in real life, not solve them.

Finally, after much repetition and the odd inclusion of an Iowan flood, we get to the final climax and its aftermath. Obviously, I'm not going to state what happens as not everyone who reads this will already have read Big Brother, but REALLY?! That's the best you could come up with? It's a disappointing ending!


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Monday, 27 January 2020

Blood Bound by R.J. Blain + #Giveaway + Excerpt


Blood Bound: A Lowrance Vampires Novel by R.J. Blain
Published in America by Pen And Page Publishing tomorrow, the 28th January 2020.


Add Blood Bound to your Goodreads

After waking in a shallow grave and clawing her way to freedom, Penelope Francis hunts for the rogue who stole her life and transformed her into a vampire. Despite being corrupted into a feared preternatural, she clings to her humanity and refuses to prey on innocents, instead slaking her thirst on other miscreant vampires.

In exchange for a chance at revenge, she joins forces with the charismatic master of the Lowrance brood, a choice that may spell the salvation—or destruction—of humanity as she knows it.


Excerpt

Another night, another vampire, another double-dead end. If I didn’t get lucky soon, I’d run out of miscreants to drain, stake, decapitate, and decorate with holy wafers. In reality, I only needed to stake the toothy bastards, but I figured if I was going to kill every damned unclaimed vampire in New York City, I’d do so with style and get a free meal out of the deal at the same time.
In life, I’d done well for myself; I’d become my father’s perfect daughter, dedicating every waking moment to my budding career as a corporate lawyer on a mission to protect his business interests. In death, or undeath as it was, I’d become a big nothing. I couldn’t even claim I’d become a big fat nothing, as I kept losing weight instead of gaining it, no matter how many of my kind I tagged, bagged, drained, and tossed out with the trash.
Penelope Francis was dead and gone to everyone who mattered, even me.
My stomach reminded me of my neglect with a displeased gurgle. Grunting my dismay over having completely drained another vampire without slaking my hunger, I checked his pockets for cash and found nothing but lint, not even a wallet, ID, or pocket change.
If he’d had food hidden in his pockets, I might’ve been tempted to try my luck. If I ever ditched the relentless hunger, I’d never take food for granted again. I resented my maker’s decision to abandon me in a shallow grave, forcing me to fend for myself. The bastard could’ve left a damned note with a few clues, especially in the feeding department. A manual about life as a vampire would’ve been appreciated. I still wasn’t sure what I could eat. Shortly after I’d risen, I’d tried a slice of pizza once and only once. It hadn’t ended well. I dodged food, afraid I’d throw it up along with my literal guts.
Just to be sure, I rechecked my victim’s body to confirm his lack of cash, ID, or food.
Nothing. Color me not surprised.
I hated killing those as destitute as I, but I refused to harbor guilt over ridding the world of a vampire who hunted homeless teens struggling to survive New York’s harshest streets.  While I hoped the kids would survive, I had my doubts.
Miscreants—unclaimed, rogues, or whatever society called the illegal vampires lurking on the streets—couldn’t afford to let their prey live to tell the tale. When found, humans and preternatural alike hunted us to ensure we never bothered anyone again.
Living on borrowed time sucked, as did homelessness. When I found the vampire who’d turned me, I’d take my time draining him. I’d enjoy every swallow. I’d turn his last moments into a masterpiece of brutality.
All I knew was that my maker had been a man, and he’d left some dark mark on me, something that tainted my soul. I could still feel his corrupting influence deep within, a pressure on my heart.
Until I breathed my last for the second time, I’d spend every night seeking him out so I could end his miserable existence. I still wasn’t sure why I’d been targeted or how I’d survived the transition from human to vampire without help. My desire for revenge confirmed one unassailable truth: I was no better than the filth I hunted.



Meet the Author 
RJ Blain suffers from a Moleskine journal obsession, a pen fixation, and a terrible tendency to pun without warning. In her spare time, she daydreams about being a spy. Her contingency plan involves tying her best of enemies to spinning wheels and quoting James Bond villains until satisfied.

Author links:

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prize is a $25 Amazon gift card and a mystery box of autographed RJ Blain books.
Open internationally until the 6th February.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



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Sunday, 26 January 2020

Tomorrow's Ancestors: The Base of Reflections by AE Warren


Tomorrow's Ancestors: The Base of Reflections by AE Warren
Published in the UK by Locutions Press on the 6th July 2019.

The first of my 2020 More Than One Challenge reads.


What happens when the future abandons the past?

Elise and her companions have made it to the safety of Uracil but at a price. Desperate to secure her family’s passage, she makes a deal with Uracil's Tri-Council. She’ll become their spy, jeopardising her own freedom in the process, in exchange for her family’s safe transfer. But first she has to help rescue the next Neanderthal, Twenty-Two. 

Twenty-Two has never left the confines of the steel walls that keep her separated from the other exhibits. She has no contact with the outside world and no way of knowing why she has been abandoned. With diminishing deliveries of food and water, she has to start breaking the museum’s rules if she wants a second chance at living.

One belongs to the future and the other to the past, but both have to adapt—or neither will survive…


This second novel in AE Warren's Tomorrow's Ancestors series, The Base Of Reflections, carries on from the first book, The Museum of Second Chances, and I would suggest that the series does need to be read in its intended order. Warren does drop welcome brief reminders about the first book's events, but I don't think this would be enough for a new reader to really appreciate the detail of her imagined future world. In this story we are given a vision of life for the people at Uracil, a community beyond the structured society existing elsewhere. We also get to see inside a second of the official bases when we meet a fourth Neanderthal, Twenty-Two. I loved how Warren has created Twenty-Two's character very differently from Kit's. It would have been easier to envisage a single Neanderthal mindset, but instead Warren takes into account their disparate early lives. Twenty-Two is so much more guarded and almost expects to be let down and abandoned again.

The little details of Uracil's physical appearance really appealed to me, especially the ingenious ideas to keep this settlement obscured from prying eyes. The contrast between the people's flamboyant dress styles and their paranoia about remaining hidden makes for an interesting dynamic. I'm glad I don't have to traverse those tree house walkways though. Just imagining the ropes swaying brought on my vertigo!

The Base Of Reflections is a great title, in both senses of 'to reflect' because I felt the story contains many of uncomfortable truths about our own ways of living in the present day. Warren doesn't thump an environmental drum however, but seeing her characters dealing with this convincingly plausible aftermath is certainly thought-provoking. That said though, the novel itself is a fast-paced and exciting page-turner which, again, kept me gripped from start to finish. I understand AE Warren is writing a third Tomorrow's Ancestors novel at the moment and it can't be finished soon enough for me!

Meet the author   

AE Warren lives in the UK. A not-so-covert nerd with mildly obsessive tendencies, she has happily wiled away an inordinate amount of time reading and watching sci-fi/ fantasy and gaming. She is interested in the ‘what ifs’.

The Museum of Second Chances is her first novel and she is currently writing the third book in the 'Tomorrow's Ancestors' series.

Author links: 
Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram




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Saturday, 25 January 2020

Not as Nature Intended by Rich Hardy


Not as Nature Intended by Rich Hardy
Published in the UK by Unbound on the 23rd January 2020.

N for my 2020 Alphabet Soup Challenge and a Book With a Vegan

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Relying on a hidden camera, a bluff and a little bit of luck, award-winning investigative journalist Rich Hardy finds imaginative ways to meet the people and industries responsible for the lives and deaths of the billions of animals used to feed, clothe and entertain us. What he discovers will shock, but it may just inspire you to re-evaluate your relationship with all animals and what role you let them play in your life.

Sometimes dangerous, often emotional and occasionally surreal, this one-of-a-kind perspective examines what it's like to live and work amongst your adversaries and what you can achieve if you feel strongly enough about something.

This review was first blogged on HirlGrend

Not As Nature Intended is a hard-hitting collection of ten essays by Rich Hardy, each recounting his undercover experiences to document factory farm animal cruelty across the globe. From chickens to quail, rabbits to reindeer, England to Australia, what each of the accounts has in common is Hardy's continued witnessing of a stunning lack of compassion towards the animals that farmers so often claim they 'really do care about. Honest!'

I frequently felt nauseated by the scenes Hardy describes. Dead animals or birds decomposing amongst the living, buckets full of empty antibiotic containers used to ward off epidemic diseases, animals left in obvious pain and distress with infected injuries, clouds of black flies everywhere. How can anyone remain convinced that this is how food should be produced? I was amazed too to discover that it's not just cheap pie fillings and pet foods that result from such unsanitary conditions. While I still ate meat, I had bought into the marketing inventions of free range meaning outdoor pastures and organic indicating animals fed food that was healthy for them. Hardy's peeping camera shows these concepts to be painfully untrue.

Not As Nature Intended felt like a different style of animal welfare book for me. Hardy is often obviously very upset by what he encounters, but this isn't an angry book. I never felt hectored or preached at, but at the same time this isn't by any stretch an cosy tale of the Old MacDonald's farm that so many consumers like to pretend is still the norm. I hope this collection is widely read and manages to find an audience beyond those of us who are already vegan because I believe it would be instrumental in making a lot more people really care about the provenance of their food.

Hardy's brave activism has already had results in chipping away at the secrecy of this massive industry, and his closing message has an uplifting tone. When people en masse become aware of individual acts of cruelty they generally will swiftly act to stop it. Not As Nature Intended opens the doors of cages, barns and slaughterhouses across the world. Now everyone needs to step up and look inside.


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