Saturday, October 19, 2019

Review: One Step Ahead by Denver Murphy

Author: Denver Murphy
Publisher: The Book Folks
Publication Date: January 2019

Retired from the force, Detective Superintendent Jeffrey Brandt goes native. He stabs a woman but holds back from killing her. Frustrated that no one takes any notice, he ups his game. Next time, he’ll kill.

Brandt fully knows how the police work. He’ll use this knowledge to win a sick game; after all, he’s chosen the rules.

The crime scenes are spotless, Brandt’s covered his tracks. There is no forensic evidence. Yet each killing has his unmistakeable print.

Faced with the challenge of discovering his identity is DCI Stella Johnson. Quick-witted and uncompromising, she rises to Brandt’s macabre challenge. But if she finds the killer, what will she do given that he is always one step ahead?

Who will win this mortal battle of wits between hunter and hunted?

One Step Ahead was a pleasant surprise.  It was a random pick off my library's Overdrive site.  The first in a trilogy, it features a disgruntled retired Police Detective who decides to turn into a serial killer.  The story is told in the  duel perspectives of DS Jeffery Brandt (the serial killer) and DCI Stella Johnson.  

What I really liked about this book was getting into the head of Brandt and seeing his rationale for turning to this particular life of crime.  We also get to see his slow decline into madness as well as how he progresses to get more and more violent in his attacks.  I really liked the main character, Stella.  She is a very smart and intuitive detective.  Even though we, the readers,  know who is committing the murders, it was still interesting to watch Stella and her partner figure things out.  

The book ends on a major cliffhanger.  I definitely want to continue with the trilogy to see what comes next for these characters.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Review: Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Author: Stephen Chbosky
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: October 2019

Christopher is seven years old. Christopher is the new kid in town. Christopher has an imaginary friend.

Single mother Kate Reese is on the run. Determined to improve life for her and her son, Christopher, she flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with Christopher at her side. Together, they find themselves drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It's as far off the beaten track as they can get. Just one highway in, one highway out.

At first, it seems like the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. For six awful days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a tree house in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone in the town will never be the same again.

Soon Kate and Christopher find themselves in the fight of their lives, caught in the middle of a war playing out between good and evil, with their small town as the battleground.

I really wanted to love Imaginary Friend.  After reading the synopsis, I was expecting a scary read.  Instead, I got a strange, not completely clear, religious diatribe about the devil, angels and possibly the virgin Mary (?).  I'm not sure.  I mean I think the author was going for a good vs. evil theme.  However, it really failed to produce.  The book was way too long.  There were too many perspectives.    Don't get me wrong, the book started out great.  Very creepy and I wanted to know more.  But somewhere about the midway point, it lost momentum. 

I also want to comment on the age of the main character, Christopher, and his friends.  I really wish that authors would be more accurate with children's ages and behaviors.  There is no way a seven year old would be able to get away with or do the things that these kids did throughout this entire book.   There is a scene where the parents drop their second graders off at a hill for sledding and then leave them there for the day with no adult supervision.  What parents do that?  They all talked more like they were in middle school. Even right down to the way the two "mean" kids in their class acted.  Their insults were too mature for seven.  I probably would have bought into it more had they been in middle school. 

I'm not sure I would really recommend this one.  The synopsis really didn't prepare me for all of the religious symbolism.  Not that I am opposed to it, I just wasn't really sure what the author's goal was with the book.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Blog Tour: Review of A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie

Author: Deborah Crombie
Publisher: William Morrow
Date of publication: October 2019

Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James, have been invited for a relaxing weekend in the Cotswolds, one of Britain’s most enchanting regions, famous for its rolling hills, golden cottages, and picturesque villages.

Duncan, Gemma, and their children are guests at Beck House, the family estate of Melody Talbot, Gemma’s detective sergeant. The Talbot family is wealthy, prominent, and powerful—Melody’s father is the publisher of one of London’s largest and most influential newspapers. The centerpiece of this glorious fall getaway is a posh charity harvest luncheon catered by up-and-coming chef Viv Holland. After fifteen years in London’s cut-throat food scene, Viv has returned to the Gloucestershire valleys of her childhood and quickly made a name for herself with her innovative meals based on traditional cuisine but using fresh local ingredients. Attended by the local well-to-do as well as national press food bloggers and restaurant critics, the event could make Viv a star.
But a tragic car accident and a series of mysterious deaths rock the estate and pull Duncan and Gemma into the investigation. It soon becomes clear that the killer has a connection with Viv’s pub—or, perhaps, with Beck House itself.

Does the truth lie in the past? Or is it closer to home, tied up in the tangled relationships and bitter resentments between the staff at Beck House and Viv’s new pub? Or is it more personal, entwined with secrets hidden by Viv and those closest to her?

A Bitter Feast is the 18th book in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series.  It's only the second one that I have read.  Taken as a police procedural, I did really enjoy the mystery.  There were a number of suspects, so it was hard to figure out who the culprit was.  Through flashbacks, we learn a little about the victim and why he was in town.  I also enjoyed the working dynamic between Gemma and  Duncan.

Since, I have only read the first book in the series, I did feel like I was missing out on a lot of relationship back story.  In the first book, Gemma and Duncan are only partners and not even romantically involved.  There were also a lot of references to earlier cases of which I didn't understand the context.  However, I didn't find any of this took away from my enjoyment of the mystery.  In fact, I want to go back and read the earlier books to see how Duncan and Gemma got to this point in their relationships and careers. 

Purchase Links

About Deborah Crombie

Deborah Crombie is a New York Times bestselling author and a native Texan who has lived in both England and Scotland. She now lives in McKinney, Texas, sharing a house that is more than one hundred years old with her husband, three cats, and two German shepherds.

Find out more about Deborah at website, and connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Instagram Features
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Thursday, October 17th: Thoughts From a Highly Caffeinated Mind
Thursday, October 17th: From the TBR Pile
Friday, October 18th: Staircase Wit
Tuesday, October 22nd: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Wednesday, October 23rd: Jathan & Heather
Thursday, October 24th: Amy’s Book-et List

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Review: Killing November by Adriana Mather

Author:Adriana Mather
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 2019

It’s a school completely off the grid, hidden by dense forest and surrounded by traps. There’s no electricity, no internet, and an eye-for-an-eye punishment system. Classes include everything from Knife-Throwing and Poisons to the Art of Deception and Historical Analysis. And all of the students are children of the world’s most elite strategists—training to become assassins, counselors, spies, and master impersonators. Into this world walks November Adley, who quickly discovers that friends are few in a school where personal revelations are discouraged and competition is everything. When another student is murdered, all eyes turn to November, who must figure out exactly how she fits into the school’s bizarre strategy games before she is found guilty of the crime…or becomes the killer’s next victim. 

For the most part, I enjoyed Killing November.  It is, in some ways, a typical boarding school YA mystery.   I liked the setting and the main character.  I kind of felt badly for her because she had been lied to and found herself in a strange situation.  I also liked most of the supporting characters, especially the ones that became her allies.  I won't say who because you can't really trust anyone in this book.  I was kept guessing as to the identity of the murderer.  So why didn't I love it?

If there is one thing I have can't stand in books is when a character ends up some place, like a school, secret island, or facility that has rules.  Why would that annoy me?  Well, when the main character has no idea what the rules are and no one around said main character will give a clue as to what the rules are, yet they expect the character to follow them. (Can we say The Maze Runner?) Sorry for that mini rant, but that is what really frustrated me about this book.  That entire scenario went on way too long and just irritated me.  Had November not been such an interesting character, I might have DNF'd the book.   However, I did end up liking the book enough to want to read the next book to see what happens with November and the search for her father.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Review: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

Author: Jenn Bennet
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publiocation Date:Arpil 2019

After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that the most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

Serious Moonlight is the latest YA romance and the second one I have read from this author.  I really enjoyed Starry Eyes, so I was excited to read this one.  I ended up really enjoying this story. It's not just a romance.  It deals with grief, loss and figuring out where you fit in life.  

The main characters were wonderful. I appreciated Birdie's love of mysteries and how she would build a profile of the people she met.  I loved her relationship with her godmother. I also loved the relationship Daniel had with his family  The slow burn of the romance between Birdie and Daniel was greatly appreciated.  There was no insta-love. Despite their initial encounter, I liked that they became friends first.  I also appreciated the way the author handled the subject of sex in the story.  The characters actually talked about it maturely and responsibly.  That was refreshing.

I probably would keep this one to older YA readers.  Along with the sexual content, there is talk of suicide and depression. That could be a trigger for some readers, so keep that in mind.  Ms. Bennett has another hit on her hands.  I am looking forward to her next book.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Spotlight: Invisible as Air by Zoe Fishman

Author: Zoe Fishman
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks 
Publicatin Date: (September 24, 2019) 

 A provocative and timely new novel by the author of Inheriting Edith, one that will haunt you long after the final page is turned…

Sylvie Snow knows the pressures of expectations: a woman is supposed to work hard, but never be tired; age gracefully, but always be beautiful; fix the family problems, but always be carefree. Sylvie does the grocery shopping, the laundry, the scheduling, the schlepping and the PTA-ing, while planning her son’s Bar Mitzvah and cheerfully tending her husband, Paul, who’s been lying on the sofa with a broken ankle.  She’s also secretly addicted to the Oxycontin intended for her husband. For three years, Sylvie has repressed her grief about the heartbreaking stillbirth of her newborn daughter, Delilah. On the morning of the anniversary of her death, when she just can’t face doing one…more…thing: she takes one—just one—of her husband’s discarded pain pills. And suddenly she feels patient, kinder, and miraculously relaxed. She tells herself that the pills are temporary, just a gift, and that when the supply runs out she’ll go back to her regularly scheduled programming. But days turn into weeks, and Sylvie slips slowly into a nightmare. At first, Paul and Teddy are completely unaware, but this changes quickly as her desperate choices reveal her desperate state. As the Bar Mitzvah nears, all three of them must face the void within themselves, both alone and together. 

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Karen Shacham

About Zoe Fishman

Zoe Fishman is the bestselling author of Inheriting EdithDriving LessonsSaving Ruth and Balancing Acts. She’s the recipient of myriad awards, including a NY Post Pick. She’s been profiled in Publisher’s Weekly and The Huffington Post among others. Her writing has been published in The Atlanta Journal Constitution as part of their moving “Personal Journey” series. Zoe worked in the New York publishing industry for thirteen years. She was recently the Visiting Writer at SCAD Atlanta and currently teaches at Emory Continuing Education and The Decatur Writers Studio, at which she is also the Executive Director. She lives in Decatur with her family.
 Find out more about Zoe at her website, follow her on Twitter, and connect with her on Facebook.

Instagram Features

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Review Stops

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Thursday, October 10th: Stranded in Chaos
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Wednesday, October 16th: Literary Quicksand

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Blog Tour: Review of Jesse's Girl by Tara September

Author: Tara September
Narrator: Verla Bond
Length: 3 hours 37 minutes
Publisher: Plus it Up2019
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release date: Sep. 6, 2019

Successful Texas lawyer, Reade Walker, curses that damn song every time it plays, all too aware of the irony of its lyrics. After all, he has been secretly and painfully enamored with Jesse's girl, Gwen, for nearly a decade. It was love at first sight for him, but sadly she's not his girl. She belongs to the one man who betrayed him and knows Reade's hidden family secret. Yet, Reade can't seem to love anyone except the one woman he can't have. Or can he make her mine? 

When Gwen Clark's senator husband runs off with his intern and all their money, the ensuing scandal turns her life upside down. Deserted, penniless, and desperate to provide for her six-year-old daughter, Gwen has no one to turn to but Reade Walker. The one man her heart desperately wants, but her pride dreads having to ask for help. Despite welcoming them into his home, it seems like Reade can barely stand being in the same room with her anymore, let alone under the same roof - in the same bedroom. But Gwen is determined to get her life back on track. It is past time to rediscover her own dreams...if only she can keep her aching heart from breaking all over again.

Buy Links
Buy on AmazonAudibleiTunes

My Thoughts:

Jesse's Girl was an enjoyable novella.   Gwen and Reade have loved each other for a long time, but Gwen has been married to Read's best friend.  When Gwen's husband takes all of their money and leaves the country with his mistress, Gwen must turn to Reade for help.

 The audiobook was very well done.  It's only about 31/2 hours long.  Even though it is short, it's got a pretty slow burn romance. I really liked that aspect as it's unusual to find in a short story. I enjoyed the couple.  They had great banter and excellent chemistry.  I only wish that the book was a little longer or had an epilogue.  I definitely recommend this one if you are in the mood for a short and sweet friends to lovers romance.

Click the play button for an audioclip!

Jesse’s Girl Giveaway: $50 Best Buy gift card & Jesse’s Girl audiobook

About the Author: Tara September

Tara September is an award-winning... and losing contemporary romance writer living in Southwest Florida.
Tara is proud to be the world's most okayest mom to clones (identical twin boys). When not writing out her daydreams, she blogs over at When Tara Met Blog @tarametblog, a lifestyle and parenting blog of 14 years.
Holding a master's degree in journalism from NYU, she previously was the Corporate Communications Manager at WWE and PR Manager for The Walt Disney Company, Consumer Products.

About the Narrator: Verla Bond
Verla Bond is an American actor, improvisor, and storyteller, who makes her home in Los Angeles, California. She enjoys performing on the stage and screen, but especially loves recording audiobooks, where she gets the privilege of playing all kinds of diverse characters, such as British vampires, Irish leprechauns, and Southern gentlemen.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Blog Tour: Review & Excerpt of The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller

Author:Diana Biller
Publisher: St. Martins' Press
Publication Date: October 2019

It’s 1875, and New York’s Gilded Age is in full swing. After fleeing her abusive husband, Alva Webster spent three years being pilloried in the newspapers of two continents. Now he’s dead, and she’s returned to New York to start over, restoring Liefdehuis, a dilapidated Hyde Park mansion for her new home decoration book and hopefully her reputation in the process. So when the eccentric and brilliant Professor Samuel Moore appears, threatening her fresh start with stories of a haunting at her house, she refuses to give him access. Alva doesn’t believe in ghosts. A pioneer in electric lighting and a member of the nationally-adored Moore family of scientists, Sam’s latest obsession is ghosts. When he learns about a house with a surprising number of ghost stories, he’s desperate to convince its beautiful owner to let him study it. Can he find his way into her house…and her heart? About the 

The Widow of Rose House is a debut novel and a perfect paranormal romance for the season.  The story follows Alva who has returned to the US to start over after her husband is murdered.  She originally left the US under an umbrella of scandal.  Determined to make a life for herself, she buys a house that is rumored to be haunted with the intention of making it over and publishing a book about it.  

The best part of this book is Sam and his determination to woo Alva.  I loved this character and he is on my book boyfriend list.  He's a genius, inventor, sometimes scatterbrained and hopelessly enamored with Alva.  Their first love scene was so refreshing.  His patience and understanding of Alva 's past made me love him more.  I was just so fun to watch these two fall in love.  I also loved Henry and Sam's family.  I'm not sure if this is going to be a stand alone, but I would love to see Henry, Benedict and Maggie get their own books.

As for the ghost story, I liked the twist on the ghost and how it worked.  That's all I will say about it so I don't spoil anything.  The setting was sufficiently creepy and good way to get you in the mood for the spooky season.   I highly recommend this debut novel.  I am excited to see what this author some up with next!

Enjoy this excerpt!

New York City, February 1, 1875

“Excuse me,” a deep voice said. “Mrs. Webster?”
Oh, for heaven’s sake. Couldn’t she stand outside for one minute without some intrepid lothario assuming she must be wait­ing for him? In the less than seventy­two hours she’d been back in the States, she’d been propositioned eleven times. Twice by friends of her father’s.
She glanced over her shoulder at the man, receiving an instant impression of big, though he stood mostly in the shadows. “I don’t know you,” she said, her voice flat. “Go home to your wife.”
“But I don’t have a wife,” the man said. He took a hesitant step towards her, leaving the shadows, and her eyebrows lifted. He looked more like a laborer than a man finishing a dinner at Delmonico’s, for all he was dressed in a suit and tie. Sort of dressed, she amended; the suit looked like it had been made for someone two inches shorter and two inches narrower across the shoulders. “Do I need a wife to talk to you? Is it a chaperone sort of thing? I have a mother, but she’s in Ohio.”
Alva blinked. “You’re not very good at this,” she observed. “I’m not a man, but I don’t think it’s standard behavior to invoke one’s mother at a time like this.”
They stared at each other in puzzlement. He was attractive in the sort of way she’d always imagined the heroes of western folktales to be: tall, broad shouldered, with a strong nose and a square jaw. He could stand to add barber to the list of people he needed to see, though, the one that started with tailor. Actually, looking at the way his dark blond hair fell into his eyes, she thought he’d better have it start with barber and go from there.
“There’s been a misunderstanding,” he said finally. “Perhaps if I introduce myself—my name is Professor Samuel Moore.”
He held out his hand. She looked at it, looked up at him, and did not extend her own. Bafflingly, he smiled at her, as though she’d done something rather clever.
Was he really a professor? He certainly didn’t look like one, not that it mattered, because she made it a policy, these days, never to talk to strange men—
“A professor of what?” she heard herself saying, although she was pleased it at least came out with a nice air of sarcasm and disbelief.
“This and that,” he said, still smiling. “Engineering, mostly.” She looked at his rumpled clothes. Yes, she could see that, one of those men who always had a tool in one hand and a grease can in the other. She didn’t know they were giving professorships out to men like that, but why not, after all? She was as appreciative of things like trains and working carriage wheels as the next
And now she’d gone and encouraged him. Stupid. “I see,” she said as coldly as she could manage. “Well, I’m not interested, so I’ll wish you good evening.”
“But how can you know if you’re not interested?” He shook his head in confusion, still smiling at her. The smile was . . . impressive. “I haven’t even explained my proposition, yet.”
“I find that if you’ve heard one proposition, you’ve heard them all,” she replied. Stop talking to him, you idiot. “They’re not as unique as men would like to believe.”
“But—who else has approached you? Was it Langley, from Yale?” His tone turned plaintive. “How did he hear about this before me?”
“Piers Langley,” he said. “No? I can’t think of anyone else reputable—look here, if you’ve been approached by anyone from that quack Santa Fe institute you should know they’re absolute frauds.”
“Institute?” Alva said faintly. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“Your house, of course. I hadn’t realized I was so behind on the news.” His face fell—What must it be like to let all your emotions float freely on your face?—but he nodded gravely. “If it’s Langley, though, he’s an excellent researcher, and a decent human, too.”
“It’s not Lang—what do you want with my house?” It was her turn to sound plaintive.
“But that’s what—” He stared at her, his brows crunched together. “Oh god. I wasn’t—I wouldn’t—”
To her astonishment, a distinct touch of pink appeared in his cheeks. He cleared his throat.
“I beg your pardon, ma’am. Henry warned me—that is, I shouldn’t have; my proposition is not of an intimate nature.”
“I’m coming to understand that,” she said.
“You thought . . . do men . . . they must—good lord.
She began to feel in charity with this befuddled giant. “In­ deed,” she said. “I quite agree. But I must ask again—what is it you want with Liefdehuis?”
“To study it,” he said. “One of my personal interests is in metaphysical energies, you see, and from what I’ve heard, your house may prove a most interesting case. Your ghost story is so recent, you know. I hardly ever hear one claiming to be that new—”
He broke off as she shook her head. “You almost had me convinced that you were unlike the majority of your sex,” she said. “And now I see you are. I’m just not sure insanity is much of an improvement.”
To her surprise, he smiled again. “You’re not the only one who thinks so,” he said. The embarrassment had left his face; he was quite relaxed once more. A man who apologizes for a propo- sition and grins at an insult, Alva thought. Where did you come from, Professor Moore?
“And I’ll admit there’s no conclusive evidence yet,” he continued, “but what I have collected looks extremely promising. Certainly promising enough to warrant extensive study.”
A hint of cold pierced her thoughts. Firmly, she banished it. “You’re talking about ghosts,” she said.
“Maybe,” he replied. “Or I could be studying some kind of alien intelligence that just happens to concentrate in areas cor­ responding to local folklore.”
“Alien intelligence.”
Invisible alien intelligence,” he clarified. “At least invisible to the naked human eye. But ‘ghost’ is probably the easiest term.”
“People tend to go a bit strange when you talk to them about invisible alien intelligences,” he confided. “Which is odd, when you think about it, because why are the shades of one’s dead ancestors any less unsettling?”
She found herself nodding before the rest of her wits caught up with her. “No,” she said, not because the word corresponded with any particular question, but because she had the feeling the only way to survive here was to stick to very black­and­white words. His nuances were both compelling and sticky. “I’m afraid I won’t give you access. I don’t believe in ghosts, and I’m about to start several months’ worth of building work.”
“Don’t decide yet,” he begged. “I’m willing to pay you for the privilege, and I promise I won’t be in the way . . . although there is rather a lot of equipment, so I suppose—”
The boy hailing cabs caught her eye and gestured as a hansom pulled up beside him.
“That’s mine,” she said. “I’m sorry I can’t help you. Good evening.”
“Wait!” he said. “I’ll—I’ll send you a letter. Henry said that was the way to do it—I’ll write you and explain more.”
“It won’t help,” she said as the cab boy helped her into the carriage. “I’m sorry. Good­bye, Professor Moore.”
Finally, he sighed acceptance and raised his hand. “Good evening, Mrs. Webster.”
As the cab pulled away from the sidewalk, though, she looked back at him, to find him staring after her with his hands shoved in his pockets and that apparently irrepressible grin back in place. An uncomfortable lightness expanded in her chest as she watched him standing head­and­shoulders taller than the passersby around him, looking back at her as though he would be perfectly happy never to look at anything else ever again.
What couldn’t I get, if I could look at people like that? she thought, and settled grumpily back against her seat.

About the author:
Credit: Lantz Simpson

Author DIANA BILLER lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their very good dog.

 THE WIDOW OF ROSE HOUSE is her debut novel.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Joint Review: The Institute by Stephen King

Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: September 2019

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

I'll be honest, I didn't ultimately care for this latest from King.  I think I'm pretty much done with this author.  Which makes me really sad because I am a HUGE fan of his earlier stuff.  The Institute was just OK.  When i finished it I thought...meh.  It felt like it was a YA version of Firestarter and Carrie.  As Autumn said to me in our discussion of the book, "Maybe he is out of ideas?". 

The characters were forgettable.  The ending was a big let down.  There was no real tension except maybe toward the end.  There was a lot of potential here, but it just fell flat for me.  I think the only character I really liked was the ex-cop, but I can't even remember his name.  It's long, so if you have the time, maybe try it, otherwise go back and read one of his earlier books.

I'm kind of on the fence with this one.  Yeah, I kinda liked it.  But I also found myself thinking that various parts reminded me of other things.  I know King likes to pull little tidbits from other books into the story, but this wasn't like that, it felt like recycling.  

I always say I'm gonna give him one last chance and I keep expecting more.  Maybe my expectations are too high?  I'm not really sure.  Will I give him another chance?  In all honesty, probably, but it better be something spectacular!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review: The Babysitter's Coven by Kate Williams

Author: Kate Williams
Publisher: Delacourte Press
Date of publication: September 2019

Adventures in Babysitting meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this funny, action-packed novel about a coven of witchy babysitters who realize their calling to protect the innocent and save the world from an onslaught of evil.

Seventeen-year-old Esme Pearl has a babysitters club. She knows it's kinda lame, but what else is she supposed to do? Get a job? Gross. Besides, Esme likes babysitting, and she's good at it.

And lately Esme needs all the cash she can get, because it seems like destruction follows her wherever she goes. Let's just say she owes some people a new tree.

Enter Cassandra Heaven. She's Instagram-model hot, dresses like she found her clothes in a dumpster, and has a rebellious streak as gnarly as the cafeteria food. So why is Cassandra willing to do anything, even take on a potty-training two-year-old, to join Esme's babysitters club?

The answer lies in a mysterious note Cassandra's mother left her: "Find the babysitters. Love, Mom."

Turns out, Esme and Cassandra have more in common than they think, and they're about to discover what being a babysitter really means: a heroic lineage of superpowers, magic rituals, and saving the innocent from seriously terrifying evil. And all before the parents get home.

Back in the day, I was a huge Buffy fan.  (OK...I still am) So when I saw this synopsis, I knew I had to give it a try.  Esme is a great babysitter.  She and her friend are the best in town and make good money doing it. When a new girl shows up at school and wants into their "club" things start to get strange.  

I wouldn't say this was necessarily a YA.  It read more like a middle grade book or a younger YA.  I think that demographic will think this was a lot of fun.  As for me, I thought it was cute.  The characters were funny and interesting.  There were some great one-liners and I did laugh in a few places.  I liked that Esme and her friend had their own style.  Overall, it was a cute read.

What brought my rating down to about 3 stars was the blatant rip-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but with demons not vampires...right down to town having its very own Hellmouth and a Watcher.   I mean, the show is referenced in the book several times.  I guess if it's mentioned, that makes it OK?  I wanted something original, like a new twist.  But, it just wasn't there.  I also feel that the author needs to spend some time with actual teens.  They don't speak using acronyms.  I know because I have one and I asked her.    So that didn't feel authentic and took me out of the story.

I would probably recommend this to middle grade level readers.  I think it could be a fun introduction into the paranormal genre.  I may pick up the next one to see the fallout of the events of this one.   

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Blog Tour: Excerpt of The Ninth Session by Deborah Serani

Author: Deborah Serani
Publisher: TouchPoint Press
Pages: 190
Genre: Psychological Suspense/Thriller

Dr. Alicia Reese, a recent widow and a CODA – a child of Deaf Adults, takes on a new patient. Lucas Ferro reveals the reason for his consultation is that he wasn't really open with his previous therapist. After gaining Reese’s trust, he shares aspects of his life that are clearly disturbing – experiences that create anxiety and panic, but also reveal horrifying psychopathology. Instead of referring Ferro elsewhere, Reese chooses to continue working with him, feeling reinvigorated by the challenge of his case.    
As sessions progress, and Ferro’s disclosures become more menacing, Reese finds herself wedged between the cold hard frame of professional ethics and the integrity of personal truth – and learns just how far she’s willing to go, willing to risk and willing to lose to do the right thing.


Amazon →

Make sure to check out October's Mini Musings later this month for a mini review.  Until then enjoy this sneak peek!

Book Excerpt:
First Chapter
Session One
Monday, June 5

The light slowly filtered in from the other room as I opened the door. This was the last moment of the unknown, where two strangers meet and a life story begins.
Most times, I've no idea which seat in the waiting room a new patient will choose. Sometimes, though, I can make a good guess from the initial phone call. Usually, the depressed patient, feeling weak with fatigue, sits in the first seat available, whereas the anxious person, eager to feel relief, selects the seat closest to the consultation room.
Not that it really matters. There are only six chairs in my waiting room.
 “Mr. Ferro?” I rolled my neck around the waiting room. Then checked my watch. Eight o'clock on the dot. Seeing no one, I pressed my lips together. Did I make the appointment for eight or eight fifteen?
I left the door ajar, walked to my desk, and re-checked my schedule. I slid my finger down the Monday, June 5th grid in my appointment book to the eight o’clock hour, and there was his name: Lucas Ferro. He’d be my last appointment of the night.
Okay, it’s for eight o’clock.
Maybe he’s running late.       
While I waited, I reviewed my notes from my telephone conversation with Ferro. I opened the crisp manila file and heard a shuffling, then a sputtering hiss of air in the waiting room. I turned toward the sound, unsure of what it was.       
A magazine falling on the floor?                                                                                           
The air conditioning shutting off?                                                                 
I listened for another moment or two and, hearing nothing more, went back to my desk.                                                                                                                         
My office suite was a beautiful setting and one I didn’t mind spending so many hours in. The waiting room, a spacious rectangle, was lined with several Ficus trees and exotic plants, paintings from local artists, and burled wood furniture contemporary in design. The thickly upholstered leather chairs were caramel in color, and the teal-flecked carpet stretched from wall to wall. The vaulted ceiling housed three skylights, flooding the room with an abundance of natural light.                                                                                                                                  
My consultation office was just as large, and there was ample room for my desk, two chairs, and the proverbial psychoanalyst's couch–and of course, an etched nameplate on the door: Alicia Reese, Ph.D. Psychologist.                                         
Across from the built-in bookcase was a long picture window overlooking Oyster Bay. At this time of night, the evening sunset gleamed across the water, layering the inlet with a silvery orange hue.                                                                 
I turned my attention back to the Ferro file, and I heard it again.
Thumping movements.
Hissing sounds of air.
Then silence.
“What is that?” I asked aloud with growing curiosity.
I'd been working in this building fifteen years and knew all its creaks, thuds, and mechanical whirrs. But I couldn’t decipher these sounds. They weren’t familiar.
I tapped my pocket, confirming the presence of my panic remote. In all the years I’d been in practice, I never found a need to use it.
I got up from my desk and moved toward the door that led to the waiting room. An emerging sense of uneasiness took hold. I heard a hollow voice say something I couldn’t catch and then trail off.
I jolted forward, took out the panic alarm, and held my thumb on the button, ready to send the signal. I entered the waiting room but saw no one.
Again it happened.
The bang of something hitting the ground.
Then a rush of air.
I focused my vision on the sounds, turning my gaze toward the far right corner of the reception room.
The darkened bathroom.
I walked in willed steps toward the nearly closed door. Drawing in a deep breath, I opened it all the way with a poke of my index finger.
There, standing against the corner wall, was the shadow of Lucas Ferro having a panic attack.
“The’s cool,” Ferro said, breathing raggedly like a drowning swimmer.
Hissing sounds of air.
“It’s okay, Mr. Ferro.” I followed his frenzied movements with my eyes. “I’m gonna step away and give you some room.”
I flicked on the bathroom light as I moved away. As the room brightened, I saw Ferro's face. It was sweaty and chalk white. His black hair flopped in wet patches across his forehead, and his eyes were narrow slits of blue. His body moved in spasms, halting and then starting again.
Ferro tugged at his shirt collar as he drew in rapid breaths. Watching him, I felt the anxiety leave my body and the return of my clinical posture. This was a crisis, and I went into crisis mode.
“I want you to listen to my voice as you take in a deep, slow breath.”
 Ferro lifted his shoulders, straightening himself from the stooped position against the wall. His knees bent several times as if unable to bear his own weight. Then, all at once, his body buckled toward the sink, but he anchored his two hands on the porcelain base to steady himself. As he drew in a series of deep breaths and huffed them coarsely through his mouth, his feet wobbled and slapped the tiled floor.
Thumping movements.
“You’re doing great,” I said. “You're gonna be just fine.”
Soon, color began to return to his face.
“I want you to slow your breathing even more. Like this.” I modeled the technique for him.
Ferro followed my instructions and formed a slower breathing pattern, ending the hyperventilation that gripped him. Bit by bit, he raised himself to a solid standing posture. A self-conscious impulse took over as he saw his reflection in the mirror. Ferro slicked back his hair with his fingers, smoothed his clothing, and blotted the sweat from his face with a swipe of his arm. Then he smiled at me weakly.
The crisis was over.
As he found his way back from this acute attack, I realized there was no longer a need for me to be holding the panic alarm. I tucked it back into my pocket. I waited for what I thought was a good moment to ask my very first question.
“Can you move out of the bathroom?”
Ferro nodded his head and walked toward the reception area. Upon moving into the waiting room, his eyes sought my approval to sit down.
“Yes, of course,” I said.
He slumped into the chair and tilted his head back against the wall. I moved a few seats away and waited for him to find a sense of balance.
In the long stretch of silence that followed, I studied him in sidelong glances, trying not to be obvious. He was young, probably mid-to-late twenties, and his dark blue eyes glowed with intensity. He was dressed in a green and white Abercrombie & Fitch shirt. There was a moose logo on the left chest pocket. His slacks were washed in a dark tan hue, and he wore no socks with his deck shoes. On his wrist, a flash of gold—a watch with chunky links. He was vulnerable right now, but as the panic faded, I noticed he was muscular in build. And tall. Six feet or more.
We remained quiet in the room for a while. I was always good with silence. It was a comfortable experience.
“I’m worried you won’t be able to help me,” Ferro said finally. His voice was dry, cracking slightly.
“What makes you say that?”
He was silent as he regarded me. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to find the right words or still seized by panic. The silence stretched as he continued looking at the ceiling, occasionally rubbing his hands over his eyes and face. He cleared his throat several times, fighting the dryness.
“Let me get you some water,” I said, getting up. I filled a paper cup with cold tap water in the bathroom.
Ferro drank it down in one large gulp. He crumpled the cup and rolled the shapeless form between his hand and fingers.
“Been in therapy before. Nothing’s helped,” he spoke again.
“But you’re here tonight. Something made you feel hopeful.”
Ferro said nothing but shifted restlessly in his seat. I gave him a few moments before leaning forward to talk again. Just then, he stopped moving altogether and turned his gaze toward me. It was a searching look, and at that instant, it was as if he was seeing me for the first time.
"I guess... I’m hoping you can help me.”
“How about we move into my office?”
A beat later, Ferro nodded.
Wanting him to find a level of comfort, I avoided unnecessary words or actions as he made his way into the consultation room. He walked and sat in a nearby chair. He drew in a few deep breaths trying to get comfortable, but it felt like he could take flight at any moment—leaving the session altogether.                   “I’m not exactly sure where to begin.”                                                              “Why don’t you tell me how long you’ve had these attacks?” It seemed a good starting point.
“About two years.”
My eyes widened. “A long time.”
“Yeah,” Ferro replied.
“Any idea why they happen?” 
“It’s –uh—it's complicated.”
“Complications are my specialty.”    
Ferro laughed and sat back a little further in his chair.
"Tell me about your work with Dr. Karne," I asked, giving him another place to start. Dr. Paula Karne was a well-regarded psychologist who practiced cognitive behavior therapy in Great Neck.
“Saw her for a few months, y'know, trying to stop the anxiety."
"What kinds of things did you work on?"
"Changing how I think, replacing bad habits with better ones. Stuff like that."
"I see."
Cognitive behavior therapy focuses on in-the-moment issues and how to change them to find greater well-being. Though I worked differently than Dr. Karne, my goal would be the same: to help the patient feel better.
Ferro cleared his throat and spoke again. "I wasn’t always totally honest with her, though.”
“How do you mean?”
“Didn’t exactly tell her what was really bothering me. Thought I’d just go there and learn how to control things. That’s all I really wanted anyway.”
“To control the panic on your own,” I said, reframing his thoughts.
“Yeah. But I know I gotta be more open. That’s why I decided to try again.”
“Being honest is important in therapy.”
Silence came down like a curtain, and we lingered in its folds for a while.
"Why do you think it was hard to be more open with Dr. Karne?" I asked him.
"Well, she doesn't really work like that."
"True," I eased back in my seat. "She works just with the behaviors you have. She doesn't get into the nitty gritty things like emotions, memories."
Ferro nodded in agreement.
“Well, what’s honesty mean to you?” I asked when it was clear he wasn’t going to speak again.
“Showing all the cards, I guess. Talking about things I don’t wanna share.”
“And feeling things."
Ferro nodded. "Makes me feel weak.”
“How so?”
“I really don’t like needing other people.”
“Dependency makes you feel weak?”
"Have there been times in the past where needing others wasn’t easy?” This was a gentle probe to move him deeper into his thoughts. Ferro said nothing, shutting down by looking away. Sensing I might be moving too quickly, I shifted my approach. “We can talk about those kinds of things at a later time.”                                             “It’s hard to just open up to someone you meet.”
“I get that.”
Keeping track of time, I checked the clock on the end table where Ferro sat. The session was nearing its end. So much occurred and yet so little was done to obtain a formal clinical interview. 
“We have just a few more minutes. How about scheduling another appointment?”
“Uh, okay,” he said, handing me the shapeless cup.
I took it from him, wondering why he hadn’t placed it in the trashcan himself.
“How about seeing me on Wednesday?”
“Twice a week?” 
“Actually, I was thinking three times a week.”
            Ferro glanced out the window and then raised his eyes to mine. As he did this, he shrugged his shoulders. "All right."                                                           
“We’ll look at why you're feeling anxiety, explore your early childhood, your connections to others.” 
 Ferro nodded.                                                                                                           
“Do you know much about Psychoanalysis?”                                                           
“A little. Dr. Karne talked about it.”                                                              
“We’re going to explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but in a deeper way.”                                                                                                                                   
“The unconscious.”                                                                                                
“Yes,” I said, pleased he was familiar with the term. “These techniques will help us kick your anxiety to the curb."                                                                                 
“I'd like that.”                                                                                                
“How does seven o’clock work for you?”                                                                      
Ferro nodded. I picked up a pen and filled in the Wednesday, June 7th slot. Taking an appointment card from the holder on my desk, I completed his name, the time, and the date. His eyes seemed glued to my every movement.                                 
“Here you go,” I said as I held out the card. “We have to stop.” 
“That’s it, then?”                                                                                                        
“For now.”                                                                                                                 
The arc of the session went from one extreme to the other. Lucas Ferro walked into my office at his worst and left seemingly in control.                                   
“See you Wednesday, Dr. Reese.” Ferro paused, looked at me, and extended his hand.                                                                                                                        
Many classical analysts hold back from any form of touch in sessions. I was a modern analyst, and incidental touch wasn’t something taboo to me.                      
  “See you Wednesday,” I said and met his hand with my own.                                    
His grip was firm and tight.

About the Author

Deborah Serani is an award-winning author and psychologist who has been in practice for thirty years. She is also a professor at Adelphi University and is a go-to media expert for psychological issues. Her interviews can be found in Newsday, Psychology Today, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and affiliate radio programs at CBS and NPR, among others. Dr. Serani has also been a technical advisor for the NBC television show, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The recurring character, Judge D. Serani, was named after her.