Friday, June 28, 2019

#Review - Contagion by Teri Terry #YALIT #SyFy

Series: Dark Matter # 1
Format: E-Galley, 416 pages
Release Date: July 9, 2019
Publisher: Charlesbridge Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction

An epidemic is sweeping the country. It spreads fast, mercilessly. Everyone will be infected…. It is only a matter of time. You are now under quarantine.

Callie might have been one of the first to survive the disease, but unfortunately she didn’t survive the so-called treatment. She was kidnapped and experimented upon at a secret lab, one that works with antimatter. When she breaks free of her prison, she unleashes a wave of destruction. Meanwhile her older brother Kai is looking for her, along with his smart new friend Shay, who was the last to see Callie alive.

Amid the chaos of the spreading epidemic, the teens must find the source of disease. Could Callie have been part of an experiment in biological warfare? Who is behind the research? And more importantly, is there a cure?

Story Locale: the United Kingdom (Scotland)

Contagion is the first installment in author Teri Terry's Dark Matter trilogy.  What is the story about, you ask? A secret scientific experiment at a facility in Shetland, Scotland goes fatally wrong, and it’s up to three teens to put the pieces of this medical mystery together in hopes of stopping an epic human extinction. The story is narrated by three characters: (Kai) (Shay) and the ghostly presence of a young victim (Callie). The story is also told via countdowns, and short chapters. 

12-year old Callie might have been one of the first to survive the disease, but unfortunately she didn’t survive the so-called treatment. She was kidnapped, experimented on, cured, and killed at a secret lab that works with antimatter. When she breaks free of her prison, she unleashes a wave of destruction in her wake. As Callie hunts for the Doctor she calls Doctor # 1, she ends up on a cross country trip that takes her through nearly a half dozen cities. What she doesn't know, is that the contagion has spread every where she has visited.

Sharona aka Shay McAllister sees a missing poster of a girl named Calista and calls Kai Tanzer to tell him so. Shay has photographic memory and may be the last person to see Callie before she was taken away to Shetland to be experimented on. Her brother Kai has been searching for Callie for a year with no assistance from authorities. As the story progresses, more and more people end up quarantined or dead. Those who survive (like Kai) are immune to the contagion. 

Those who catch the contagion (like Shay) wake with some interesting new abilities. They are also hunted down and are considered to be extremely dangerous. But, who is responsible for spreading the contagion? For me, it was pretty apparent. For Callie, and her new found status as a contagion survivor, not so much. Shay is an Okay character. What's impressive about her character is that her photographic memory really helps when she needs answers to certain questions. 

To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to think of Callie until her rash decision at the end of the book that pretty much leads to a huge cliffhanger. I am eager to pick up the sequel and see what happens next. I loved this story locale. I love Scotland, and would not mind if someone were to offer to send me there for a week, or a month or two. I think it is fair to ask questions about the possibilities that are talked about in this story. After all, there's a place in Switzerland (CERN) that absolutely does work with matter. As we've seen, other incidents, including at the CDC, make me weary that some fatalistic scientist will unleash the next contagion and turn it into a world wide pandemic.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

#Review - Rise by Ellen Goodlett #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Rule # 2
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Release Date: June 11, 2019
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Dark Fantasy

Dark pasts and forbidden romances haunt three ambitious sisters as they fight to inherit the throne in this sequel to Rule, which New York Times bestselling author Elly Blake called "dazzling" and "pulse-pounding."

Sisters Akeylah, Ren, and Zofi are all a step closer to their dying father's throne, a step closer to the crown that will allow one of them to rule over Kolonya. But the sisters' pasts continue to haunt them. Each hides a secret marked with blood and betrayal, and now their blackmailer is holding nothing back. When King Andros discovers the sisters' traitorous pasts, the consequences will shake the entire kingdom to its core.

As Kolonya's greatest threat stalks closer and closer, weaving a web of fear and deceit around Ren, Zofi, and Akeylah, even the people they love are under suspicion. If the sisters are going to survive, they'll have to learn to trust each other above all else and work together, not only to save themselves, but to protect everyone and everything they hold dear.

With shocking reveals and suspenseful storytelling, this breathtaking sequel to Rule will keep you guessing until the very last page.

Rise, by author Ellen Goodlett, is the second and final installment in the authors Rule duology. Author combines perennially popular fantasy and adventure tropes--a battle for the crown, dark magic, secret heritages--with a romantic, commercial plot, including a central F/F romance. This is the perfect duology for people who like a little bit of Pretty Little Liars with their Game of Thrones. The story picks up immediately where Rule left off and rapidly moves quickly. It is a story filled with betrayals, surprises, and a mystery that held my attention until the very end.

Sisters Akeylah, Zofi and Florencia (Ren) have come up against a villain who calls themselves "the true heir." They've been told that they must step aside and allow the true heir to take their place or they face dire consequences. After a brutal campaign of blackmail, and putting the characters into difficult situations, including nearly killing Ren, Akeylah becomes the odds on favorite to rise up and become the heir of King Andros. After all, it's pretty apparent nobody knows what she did before being summoned to meet her father.

Meanwhile, Zofi is accused of killing the Silver Prince Nicolen, while Ren's role in what happened in Burnt Bay is exposed in a big way. Someone has intimate knowledge of what Zofi and Ren did before their father summoned them to compete to be his heir. But, Zofi and Ren aren't done fighting just yet. Zofi, banished from the capital rather than face execution, finds her way back to her family (Travelers) where she hopes to find a cure for her father's curse. Zofi finds a companion in Vidal, a member of the Talons who chooses to follow Zofi.

Back in the castle, Ren spends a great deal of time being a prisoner in her own room with few friends, including Ambassador Danton and Audrina, spending any time with her. Ren and her mother surprisingly come up with a few revelations concerning a certain Queen and whether or not she is actually involved in the blackmail against the sisters.  Ren has always been the one with the most experience dealing with court politics. But, now, politics and blackmail stand in the way of Ren becoming the heir.

While her other sisters are struggling with the heir's manipulations, Akeylah is standing in for the King, as well as figuring out her relationship with Queen Rozalind who may or may not be involved in what is happening. I wasn't a fan of the romance between the two. But, I also understand that Rozalind's marriage to the King was for political reasons. But, Rozalind has a few secrets of her own, and ends up just as caught up in the conspiracy as the sisters. 

The ending wrapped up things quite nicely. Although I feel a bit for Zofi, she really does get exactly what she wanted. The relationship between the three sisters is often tested to the breaking point. When things are looking really bad for the heroines, they might waver in their belief and trust in the other, but when all is said and done, they are solid and they wouldn't change a damn thing.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

#Review - Lock Every Door by Riley Sager #Thriller #Suspense

Series: Standalone
Format: E-Galley, 384 pages
Release Date: July 2, 2019
Publisher: Dutton
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Suspense

The next heart-pounding thriller from New York Times bestselling author Riley Sager follows a young woman whose new job apartment sitting in one of New York’s oldest and most glamorous buildings may cost more than it pays.

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story…until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s dark past and the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

Lock Every Door checks off all the right boxes for a perfect mystery/thriller: interesting and unpredictable characters, a sympathetic main character to root for, diabolical villains, intriguing mystery, a creepy setting, and plenty of twists and turns to keep readers guessing. 25-year old Jules Larsen is a down on her luck young woman who has lost her job, and her boyfriend. When she reads about a job paying $4,000 a month for the three months, how can she resist? After all, The Bartholomew is the setting of Jules favorite novel called "Heart of a Dreamer."  

The Bartholomew's deep, dark secrets begin to surface, bubbling over within days of Jules staying there. It's Gothic structure is over a hundred-years old and some disturbing articles have been written about it. There are even gargoyles which appear to watch over not only the building, but the residents as well. Of course, who could forget the rules?  

She must sleep in her apartment every night. She can't have anyone over to visit because the residents of the Bartholomew cherish their privacy. No pictures of anything related to the building on social media. She's also not allowed to bother any of the residents. No receiving of any personal mail. 

Seems easy enough, right? After all, she really only has is her best friend Chloe to check up on her. Her parents are dead, and her sister has been “Missing” for eight years. When another apartment sitter she meets, Ingrid, disappears, Jules becomes an amateur sleuth which pits her against some curious individuals. Ingrid confesses that the dark history of The Bartholomew was starting to frighten her just before she goes missing. Jules refuses to believe that she simply moved out without saying a word, and she launches her own investigation into Ingrid’s disappearance. It turns out Ingrid is not the only one to have disappeared from the Bartholomew. Could she have made a mistake choosing to live here? 

From the very first page, readers get a snippet of NOW, followed by a travel backwards in time to a week prior, and from there we are mostly catching back up to the NOW, with a few present tense moments sprinkled between days. The final chapters of this book had me grinding my teeth. Not because the story was bad. Nope. Because the author dived into a top that I can't talk about without pretty much spoiling the ending of the book. This book touches on class status and those who seem to disappear without a trace and nobody seems to care that they are no longer around.

Lock Every Door is the third thriller from Riley Sager, the pseudonym of an author who lives in Princeton, New Jersey. Riley’s first novel, Final Girls, was a national and international bestseller that has been published in more than two-dozen countries, won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Hardcover Novel, and is currently being developed into a feature film by Universal Pictures. Sager’s second novel, The Last Time I Lied, was a New York Times bestseller.

The elevator resembles a birdcage. The tall, ornate kind-all thin bars and gilded exterior. I even think of birds as I step inside. Exotic and bright and lush.
Everything I’m not.
But the woman next to me certainly fits the bill with her blue Chanel suit, blond updo, perfectly manicured hands weighed down by several rings. She might be in her fifties. Maybe older. Botox has made her face tight and gleaming. Her voice is champagne bright and just as bubbly. She even has an elegant name-Leslie Evelyn.
Because this is technically a job interview, I also wear a suit.
Not Chanel.
My shoes are from Payless. The brown hair brushing my shoulders is on the ragged side. Normally, I would have gone to Supercuts for a trim, but even that’s now out of my price range.
I nod with feigned interest as Leslie Evelyn says, “The elevator is original, of course. As is the main staircase. Not much in the lobby has changed since this place opened in 1919. That’s the great thing about these older buildings-they were built to last.”
And, apparently, to force people to invade each other’s personal space. Leslie and I stand shoulder to shoulder in the surprisingly small elevator car. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in style. There’s red carpet on the floor and gold leaf on the ceiling. On three sides, oak-paneled walls rise to waist height, where they’re replaced by a series of narrow windows.
The elevator car has two doors-one with wire-thin bars that closes by itself plus a crisscross grate Leslie slides into place before tapping the button for the top floor. Then we’re off, rising slowly but surely into one of Manhattan’s most storied addresses.
Had I known the apartment was in this building, I never would have responded to the ad. I would have considered it a waste of time. I’m not a Leslie Evelyn, who carries a caramel-colored attachŽ case and looks so at ease in a place like this. I’m Jules Larsen, the product of a Pennsylvania coal town with less than five hundred dollars in my checking account.
I do not belong here.
But the ad didn’t mention an address. It simply announced the need for an apartment sitter and provided a phone number to call if interested. I was. I did. Leslie Evelyn answered and gave me an interview time and an address. Lower seventies, Upper West Side. Yet I didn’t truly know what I was getting myself into until I stood outside the building, triple-checking the address to make sure I was in the right place.
The Bartholomew.
Right behind the Dakota and the twin-spired San Remo as one of Manhattan’s most recognizable apartment buildings. Part of that is due to its narrowness. Compared with those other legends of New York real estate, the Bartholomew is a mere wisp of a thing-a sliver of stone rising thirteen stories over Central Park West. In a neighborhood of behemoths, the Bartholomew stands out by being the opposite. It’s small, intricate, memorable.
But the main reason for the building’s fame are its gargoyles. The classic kind with bat wings and devil horns. They’re everywhere, those stone beasts, from the pair that sit over the arched front door to the ones crouched on each corner of the slanted roof. More inhabit the building’s facade, placed in short rows on every other floor. They sit on marble outcroppings, arms raised to ledges above, as if they alone are keeping the Bartholomew upright. It gives the building a Gothic, cathedral-like appearance that’s prompted a similarly religious nickname-St. Bart’s.
Over the years, the Bartholomew and its gargoyles have graced a thousand photographs. I’ve seen it on postcards, in ads, as a backdrop for fashion shoots. It’s been in the movies. And on TV. And on the cover of a best-selling novel published in the eighties called Heart of a Dreamer, which is how I first learned about it. Jane had a copy and would often read it aloud to me as I lay sprawled across her twin bed.
The book tells the fanciful tale of a twenty-year-old orphan named Ginny who, through a twist of fate and the benevolence of a grandmother she never knew, finds herself living at the Bartholomew. Ginny navigates her posh new surroundings in a series of increasingly elaborate party dresses while juggling several suitors. It’s fluff, to be sure, but the wonderful kind. The kind that makes a young girl dream of finding romance on Manhattan’s teeming streets.
As Jane would read, I’d stare at the book’s cover, which shows an across-the-street view of the Bartholomew. There were no buildings like that where we grew up. It was just row houses and storefronts with sooty windows, their glumness broken only by the occasional school or house of worship. Although we had never been there, Manhattan intrigued Jane and me. So did the idea of living in a place like the Bartholomew, which was worlds away from the tidy duplex we shared with our parents.
“Someday,” Jane often said between chapters. “Someday I’m going to live there.”
“And I’ll visit,” I’d always pipe up.
Jane would then stroke my hair. “Visit? You’ll be living there with me, Julie-girl.”
None of those childhood fantasies came true, of course. They never do. Maybe for the Leslie Evelyns of the world, perhaps. But not for Jane. And definitely not for me. This elevator ride is as close as I’m going to get.
The elevator shaft is tucked into a nook of the staircase, which winds upward through the center of the building. I can see it through the elevator windows as we rise. Between each floor is ten steps, a landing, then ten more steps.
On one of the landings, an elderly man wheezes his way down the stairs with the help of an exhausted-looking woman in purple scrubs. She waits patiently, gripping the man’s arm as he pauses to catch his breath. Although they pretend not to be paying attention as the elevator passes, I catch them taking a quick look just before the next floor blocks them from view.
“Residential units are located on eleven floors, starting with the second,” Leslie says. “The ground floor contains staff offices and employee-only areas, plus our maintenance department. Storage facilities are in the basement. There are four units on each floor. Two in the front. Two in the back.”
We pass another floor, the elevator slow but steady. On this level, a woman about Leslie’s age waits for the return trip. Dressed in leggings, UGGs, and a bulky white sweater, she walks an impossibly tiny dog on a studded leash. She gives Leslie a polite wave while staring at me from behind oversize sunglasses. In that brief moment when we’re face-to-face, I recognize the woman. She’s an actress. At least, she used to be. It’s been ten years since I last saw her on that soap opera I watched with my mother during summer break.
“Is that-”
Leslie stops me with a raised hand. “We never discuss residents. It’s one of the unspoken rules here. The Bartholomew prides itself on discretion. The people who live here want to feel comfortable within its walls.”
“But celebrities do live here?”
“Not really,” Leslie says. “Which is fine by us. The last thing we want are paparazzi waiting outside. Or, God forbid, something as awful as what happened at the Dakota. Our residents tend to be quietly wealthy. They like their privacy. A good many of them use dummy corporations to buy their apartments so their purchase doesn’t become public record.”
The elevator comes to a rattling stop at the top of the stairs, and Leslie says, “Here we are. Twelfth floor.”
She yanks open the grate and steps out, her heels clicking on the floor’s black-and-white subway tile.
The hallway walls are burgundy, with sconces placed at regular intervals. We pass two unmarked doors before the hall dead-ends at a wide wall that contains two more doors. Unlike the others, these are marked.
12A and 12B.
“I thought there were four units on each floor,” I say.
“There are,” Leslie says. “Except this one. The twelfth floor is special.”
I glance back at the unmarked doors behind us. “Then what are those?”
“Storage areas. Access to the roof. Nothing exciting.” She reaches into her attachŽ to retrieve a set of keys, which she uses to unlock 12A. “Here’s where the real excitement is.”
The door swings open, and Leslie steps aside, revealing a tiny and tasteful foyer. There’s a coatrack, a gilded mirror, and a table containing a lamp, a vase, a small bowl to hold keys. My gaze moves past the foyer, into the apartment proper, and to a window spaced directly opposite the door. Outside is one of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen.
Central Park.
Late fall.
Amber sun slanting across orange-gold leaves.
All of it from a bird’s-eye view of one hundred fifty feet.
The window providing the view stretches from floor to ceiling in a formal sitting room on the other side of a hallway. I cross the hall on legs made wobbly by vertigo and head to the window, stopping when my nose is an inch from the glass. Straight ahead are Central Park Lake and the graceful span of Bow Bridge. Beyond them, in the distance, are snippets of Bethesda Terrace and the Loeb Boathouse. To the right is the Sheep Meadow, its expanse of green speckled with the forms of people basking in the autumn sun. Belvedere Castle sits to the left, backdropped by the stately gray stone of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I take in the view, slightly breathless.
I’ve seen it before in my mind’s eye as I read Heart of a Dreamer. This is the exact view Ginny had from her apartment in the book. Meadow to the south. Castle to the north. Bow Bridge dead center-a bull’s-eye for all her wildest dreams.
For a brief moment, it’s my reality. In spite of all the shit I’ve gone through. Maybe even because of it. Being here has the feel of fate somehow intervening, even as I’m again struck by that all-consuming thought-I do not belong here.
“I’m sorry,” I say as I pry myself away from the window. “I think there’s been a huge misunderstanding.”
There are many ways Leslie Evelyn and I could have gotten our wires crossed. The ad on Craigslist could have contained the wrong number. Or I might have made a mistake in dialing. When Leslie answered, the call was so brief that confusion was inevitable. I thought she was looking for an apartment sitter. She thought I was looking for an apartment. Now here we are, Leslie tilting her head to give me a confused look and me in awe of a view that, let’s face it, was never intended to be seen by someone like me.
“You don’t like the apartment?” Leslie says.
“I love it.” I indulge in another quick peek out the window. I can’t help myself. “But I’m not looking for an apartment. I mean, I am, but I could save every penny until I’m a hundred and I still wouldn’t be able to afford this place.”
“The apartment isn’t available yet,” Leslie says. “It just needs someone to occupy it for the next three months.”
“There’s no way someone would willingly pay me to live here. Even for three months.”
“You’re wrong there. That’s exactly what we want.”
Leslie gestures to a sofa in the center of the room. Upholstered in crimson velvet, it looks more expensive than my first car. I sit tentatively, afraid one careless motion could ruin the whole thing. Leslie takes a seat in a matching easy chair opposite the sofa. Between us is a mahogany coffee table on which rests a potted orchid, its petals white and pristine.
Now that I’m no longer distracted by the view, I see how the entire sitting room is done up in reds and wood tones. It’s comfortable, if a bit stuffy. Grandfather clock ticking away in the corner. Velvet curtains and wooden shutters at the windows. Brass telescope on a wooden tripod, aimed not at the heavens but on Central Park.
The wallpaper is a red floral pattern-an ornate expanse of petals spread open like fans and overlapping in elaborate combinations. At the ceiling are matching strips of crown molding, the plaster blossoming into curlicues at the corners.
“Here’s the situation,” Leslie says. “Another rule at the Bartholomew is that no unit can stay empty for more than a month. It’s an old rule and, some would say, a strange one. But those of us who live here agree that an occupied building is a happy one. Some of the places around here? They’re half-empty most of the time. Sure, people might own the apartments, but they’re rarely in them. And it shows. Walk into some of them and you feel like you’re in a museum. Or, worse, a church. Then there’s security to think about. If word gets out that a place in the Bartholomew is going to be empty for a few months, there’s no telling who might try to break in.”
Hence that simple ad buried among all the other Help Wanteds. I had wondered why it was so vague.
“So you’re looking for a guard?”
“We’re looking for a resident,” Leslie says. “Another person to breathe life into the building. Take this place, for example. The owner recently passed away. She was a widow. Had no children of her own. Just some greedy nieces and nephews in London currently fighting over who should get the place. Until that gets resolved, this apartment will sit vacant. With only two units on this floor, think how empty it will feel.”
“Why don’t the nieces and nephews just sublet?”
“That’s not allowed here. For the same reasons I mentioned earlier. There’s nothing stopping someone from subletting a place and then doing God-knows-what to it.”
I nod, suddenly understanding. “By paying someone to stay here, you’re making sure they don’t do anything to the apartment.”
“Exactly,” Leslie says. “Think of it as an insurance policy. One that pays quite nicely, I might add. In the case of 12A, the family of the late owner is offering four thousand dollars a month.”
My hands, which until now had been placed primly on my lap, drop to my sides.
Four grand a month.
To live here.
The pay is so staggering that it feels like the crimson sofa beneath me has dropped away, leaving me hovering a foot above the floor.
I try to gather my thoughts, struggling to do the very basic math. That’s twelve thousand dollars for three months. More than enough to tide me over while I put my life back together.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

#Review - Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger #Thrillers #Mystery

Series: Standalone
Format: E-Galley, 288 pages
Release Date: July 2, 2019
Publisher: G.P Putnam Sons
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers

From the celebrated and bestselling author of The Banker’s Wife, worlds collide when an FBI agent investigates a string of grisly murders on Long Island that raises the impossible question: What happens when the primary suspect is your father?

FBI Agent Nell Flynn hasn’t been home in ten years. Nell and her father, Homicide Detective Martin Flynn, have never had much of a relationship. And Suffolk County will always be awash in memories of her mother, Marisol, who was brutally murdered when Nell was just seven.

When Martin Flynn dies in a motorcycle accident, Nell returns to the house she grew up in so that she can spread her father’s ashes and close his estate. At the behest of her father’s partner, Detective Lee Davis, Nell becomes involved in an investigation into the murders of two young women in Suffolk County. The further Nell digs, the more likely it seems to her that her father should be the prime suspect—and that his friends on the police force are covering his tracks. Plagued by doubts about her mother’s murder—and her own role in exonerating her father in that case—Nell can’t help but ask questions about who killed Ria Ruiz and Adriana Marques and why. But she may not like the answers she finds—not just about those she loves, but about herself.

Story Locale: Southampton, Palm Beach

Cristina Alger's Girls Like Us is the story of 28-year old Nell Flynn, an FBI Agent who is on leave from the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit for the funeral of her father, Suffolk County Homicide Detective Martin Flynn, who died in what is believed to be a motorcycle accident. It's hard for Nell to return home to the place where her mother was brutally murdered. It's even harder not knowing if she will have a job once her shoulder heals from where she was injured in the line of duty. 

With Nell on paid medical leave, her father's former partner and high school classmate Detective Lee Davis, asks Nell to consult on the case of two apparent murder victims. As she investigates, she can't help but noticed the connection of the new murder case to the one her dad worked on last year. Could her father be involved? To make matters worse, the men that she's known since she was a child may be involved, as well as numerous other corrupt officers of Suffolk County.

Nell soon begins to wonder if her mother's death is being covered up and the real killer has been right in front of her all this time. As the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, Nell begins to wonder how far the people involved in the case will go to keep their secrets hidden. “Girls Like Us” told in a first person present tense narrative, but I, unfortunately, am going against the grain with my review. I thought the villains were pretty clear, and the mystery was pretty predictable as to what actually happened. 

Perhaps I've been reading too many murder mysteries that I formed my own opinion before the author has a chance to reveal her secrets. I liked Nell as a character. She's independent, can do whatever any man can do, and doesn't need to prove herself to anyone. She desires justice for the dead girls and doesn't care that they were once escorts. They were still human beings, and everyone deserves justice. I found the estrangement between her and her father regrettable. 

It hurts knowing the person who you looked up to may have been someone else entirely, and kept secrets from you. But, the ten year distance between the two can never be given back. Especially now that he's dead and she's left picking up the pieces of his life.  This story also touches on the subject of human trafficking which is a HUGE issue in this country. Literally thousands of boys and girls disappear every year into the dark web of dirty money, and God knows where else. While I hate stepping into politics, I damn sure wish that politicians would finally get together and solve this disease that is infecting our country.

Monday, June 24, 2019

#Review - Priest of Lies by Peter McLean #Fantasy

Series: War For The Rose Throne (#2)
Format: Paperback, 368 pages
Release Date: July 2, 2019
Publisher: ACE
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Dark Fantasy

Tomas Piety has been many things: soldier, priest, gangster…and spy. As Tomas’s power grows, the nobility better watch their backs, in this dark and gritty epic fantasy series.

People are weak, and the poorer and more oppressed they are, the weaker they become—until they can’t take it anymore. And when they rise up…may the gods help their oppressors.

When Tomas Piety returned from the war, he just wanted to rebuild his empire of crime with his gang of Pious Men. But his past as a spy for the Queen’s Men drew him back in and brought him more power than he ever imagined.

Now, with half of his city in ashes and the Queen’s Men at his back, the webs of political intrigue stretch out from the capital to pull Tomas in. Dannsburg is calling.

In Dannsburg the nobility fight with words, not blades, but the results are every bit as bloody. In this pit of beasts, Tomas must decide once and for all whether he is truly the people’s champion…or just a priest of lies.

Story Locale: Pseudo-Tudor British industrial town

Priest of Lies, by author Peter McLean, is the second installment in the authors War for the Rose Throne series. The story in Priest of Lies continues 6 months from where Priest of Bones left off. When Tomas and his Pious Men took a stand against the Wheel, little did he know that hundreds of people would be caught in the crossfire. All of Eastern Ellinburg now belongs to the Tomas and his men because of the choice made by Ailsa. 

Tomas is still "married" to Ailsa, an aristocrat from Dannsburg who has used her powers as a Queen's Man to push Tomas into doing some brutal things in order to send a loud and clear message to the Skanians who are looking for a way to overthrow the Rose Throne. Tomas and his people have new adversaries to deal with as well. They are the Northern Sons and they not only have the Governor at their beck and call, but Klaus Vhent, who may be as ruthless and cunning as Tomas.

Tomas has tried to stay above the fray, and let others handle what needs to be done. Including his brother Jochan, his second-in-command Bloody Anne, Fat Luka, Billy the Boy, and Sir Eiland. Tomas is often thought of a sort of anti-hero, and that's perfectly fine. He knows that he is an intruder among the rich men of Ellinburg, but when he is told that he has to travel to Dannesburg, things are even more eye opening once he meets the people who are supposed to be his betters.

One of the best parts of this series for me is the incredible world building. You, as the reader, can actually put yourself in the characters shoes and feel what they do. The secondary characters are more pronounced in this book as well. From Jochan, to Cutter who has always been an enigma, and an unknown, to Billy the Boy who is more powerful than you would think from someone 12-14 years old. Bloody Anne often times is put in the spotlight and has to do things that are bloody and hard. But, that's because she is Tomas's most dependable friend and colleague.

I must say that I am finished with Ailsa. I think her actions throughout this book, especially towards the ending, has left Tomas struggling to find out who he can really trust, and who will betray him for the enemies that would do anything to completely destroy Ellinburg. Being politically ensnared by the Queen's Men and Ailsa has come at a great cost for Tomas and his men.  I do think that readers miss a lot when the story moves to Dannesburg and the story is still told in the first POV. I would love it had Bloody Anne had a chance to narrate what was going on back home as Tomas and Ailsa were playing politics.

Overall: Pretty good second installment. Just the right amount of blood, political intrigue, and betrayal. Can't wait to see what happens next.

Friday, June 21, 2019

#Review - Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody, Joanne Rendell #YALIT #SyFy

Series: System Divine # 1
Format: Hardcover, 592 pages
Release Date: March 26, 2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction / Retelling

In the tradition of The Lunar Chronicles, this sweeping re-imagining of Les Misérables tells the story of three teens from very different backgrounds who are thrown together amidst the looming threat of revolution on the French planet of Laterre. 

A thief.
An officer.
A guardian.

Three strangers, one shared destiny… 

When the Last Days came, the planet of Laterre promised hope. A new life for a wealthy French family and their descendants. But five hundred years later, it’s now a place where an extravagant elite class reigns supreme; where the clouds hide the stars and the poor starve in the streets; where a rebel group, long thought dead, is resurfacing. Whispers of revolution have begun—a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes…

All three have a role to play in a dangerous game of revolution—and together they will shape the future of a planet. Power, romance, and destiny collide in this sweeping re-imagining of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables.

Sky Without Stars is the first installment in co-authors Jessica Brody & Joanne Rendell's System Divine series. This sci-fi novel is billed as Les Misérables meets The Lunar Chronicles. 500 years before the story begins, a terrible catastrophe befell Earth. The authors don't give us a lot of details about the actual disaster, but we do know that much of the human race did not survive. However, there was a small group of people who traveled into space where they searched for a planet that could sustain human life and become their new home. 

The planet they settled on is called Laterre, and for some time, it proved to be a peaceful place to live. When our story opens, life on Laterre is far less idyllic. Huge numbers of the planet's residents are starving in the streets, while a few very rich and powerful families live in luxury. Murmurs of revolution are beginning to sweep through the land, but no one seems to know how to get such a huge undertaking off the ground - although there seem to be plenty of people ready and willing to figure it out. 

The three key characters are Chatine Renard, Marcellus Bonnefacon, and Alouette Taureau. This is a world of rags and riches, injustice and robots, revolution and secrets.

Chatine is a street-savvy thief who goes by the name of Theo who grew up in the slums. She has parents that nobody in their right mind would say are model citizens. In fact, they are criminals who don't share the wealth with Chatine. Even though Chatine is an accomplished thief, she dreams of bigger things and getting away from the planet that is slowly eating away at her soul. She will do anything to escape the brutal Regime, including spy on Marcellus, the grandson of the most powerful man on the planet. Chatine is the morally gray character and definitely the most interesting one in this novel who ends up with more than she bargained for. 

Marcellus is the son of a notorious traitor and the grandson of a General who is beloved by nearly everybody in the First Estate who live in Bio Domes. After Marcellus uncovers a secret message from his father that leads him to a woman who was part of the last revolution nearly two decades before. Marcellus slowly finds himself conflicted when his grandfather puts him in an situation where he can't win. He needs to find the so called rebellion, and turn them in. When he starts to hear truths about the regime that he proudly serves, he finds himself entangled with not only Chatine, but Alouette as well since she has the ability to read the cryptic message that his father left behind.

Alouette lives in a secret underground refuge where she serves as one of the guardians for Laterre's only existing library. A library that isn't supposed to exist. Alouette has been living among the Sisterhood for most of her life. The sisters are protectors of the first world books and the keeper of the chronicles which has documented every event that has happened since leaving the First World. She has no memories of the before. She only knows the man she calls father has protected her and kept her safe. When someone close to Alouette is murdered, she is forced to leave her refuge and make sense of life out in the real world, and her appearance will set in motion a terrible series of events that could spell an end to civilization as Chatine, Marcellus, and Alouette have always known it.

Although I loved the characters, it is the stunning world building that will leave readers inspired to continue reading a monster of a book that covers 500 pages fairly quickly. I never got around to reading the book Les Misérables but one who hasn't can find this story entertaining with the twists, betrayals, romance, and surprises that you will find along the way. The authors are telling their own tale for sure. Writer's walk their own path to either success or failure. In this case, this is a success which will lead me to read the sequel whenever it is released. 



THE RAIN WAS FALLING SIDEWAYS in the Marsh. It was never a straight downpour. It was always crooked. Just like the people here. Con artists and hustlers and crocs, the lot of them.

Anyone can be a saint until they’re hungry enough.

Chatine Renard was perched high above it all, watching the stream of people churn through the busy marketplace like clotted blood through a vein. She was straddling an exposed metal beam that once connected the old freightship to its roof.

At least, that’s what Chatine had been told—that the Frets were once titanic flying vessels that soared across the galaxy, bringing her ancestors to the planet of Laterre, the coldest and wettest of the twelve planets in the System Divine. But years of neglect and crooked rain had corroded the PermaSteel walls and ceilings, turning the staterooms in the passenger freightships into leaky, mold-ridden housing for the poor, and this cargo freightship into an open-air marketplace.

Chatine pulled her hood farther down her forehead in an attempt to block her face. Much to her dismay, she’d noticed over the past few years that her eyelashes had grown longer, her chest had filled out, her cheekbones had become more pronounced, and her nose had slimmed to a dainty point, which she despised.

She had streaked her face with mud before coming to the Marsh today, but every time she caught sight of her reflection in a puddle or the metal of a partially collapsed wall, she cringed at how much she still looked like a girl.

So inconvenient.

The Marsh was far more crowded today than usual. Chatine leaned forward and balanced on her stomach, hugging the beam to her chest as she scanned the countless faces that passed beneath her. They were always the same faces. Poor, downtrodden souls like her trying to find creative ways to stretch their weekly wages.

Or con their neighbor out of a larg or two.

Newcomers were rare to the Marsh. No one outside of the Third Estate bothered with the picked-over cabbages and mangy turnips for sale. With the exception of Inspecteur Limier and his army of Policier droids tasked with keeping the peace, the Frets and the marketplace in its center were normally avoided at all costs by anyone who didn’t live here.

Which was why the man in the long coat immediately caught Chatine’s eye. His wealth was written all over his groomed black beard, matching hair, pressed clothes, and sparkling adornments.

Second Estate, to be sure.

She’d never known the First Estate to ever venture out of Ledôme. The climate-controlled biodome sat high on the hill on the outskirts of the capital city of Vallonay, shielding the First Estate from Laterre’s persistent downpours.

And the slums below.

Chatine’s eyes raked over the man, taking in every stitch and every button. Her gaze expertly landed on the gold medallion dangling like bait from his neck. She didn’t have to see it up close to know it was a relic from the Last Days, rescued from the burning embers of a dying planet. The Second Estate loved their First World relics.

Five hundred largs easy, Chatine calculated in her head. Enough money to feed an entire Third Estate family for weeks.

But it wouldn’t be long before the rest of the crocs in the Marsh spotted the treasure too and made their play. Which meant Chatine had to move fast.

Gripping the beam with both hands, she swung her legs over the side and launched her body to the nearby catwalk, landing silently in a crouch. Directly underneath her, the man continued farther into the marketplace, weaving around the loose chickens that roamed the stalls searching for scraps. His gaze swept left and right as though he was taking mental inventory of the space.

For a moment, Chatine wondered what he was doing here. Had he gotten lost on his way back up to Ledôme? Or was he here on some kind of business? But then she remembered the annual Ascension happening later today and reasoned he was probably a foreman of a fabrique, come to round up his workers who were skipping out on their shifts to get jacked up on weed wine, all the while hoping to win a new life.

“Win a new life?” Chatine muttered to herself, and let out a bitter laugh.

Deluded fools, all of them.

She crept across the grid of overhead walkways and ramps, skillfully ducking to avoid broken water pipes and leaping over giant chasms in the grated floor. All the while, she kept a close watch on the man, making sure she was never more than a few steps behind him.

He finally slowed near Madame Dufour’s stall, pulled an apricot from his pocket, and took a large bite, the juice dripping into his beard. Chatine’s mouth started to water. She’d only ever tasted an apricot once, when a crate had fallen off the back of a cargo transporteur delivering fruit from the hothouses to Ledôme.

Chatine watched Madame Dufour size the man up with sinister fascination. The old croc was practically licking her lips at the sight of such an easy mark.

It was now or never.

Ducking under the broken railing, Chatine grabbed onto the raised rim of the walkway floor and somersaulted over the edge. She whipped her body forward, fell three mètres down, and adeptly caught the beam below her. She circled around until it rested against her hips and she could balance there.

She was now only a mètre above the man’s head. Yet with the buzz of the busy marketplace, no one even bothered to look up.

“What a pitiful sight,” the man said, taking another bite of his apricot. He didn’t even bother to hide his disgust. The Second Estate rarely did. It was something about being stuck in the middle, Chatine had always noticed—not quite rulers and yet far from being one of the wretched like her—that gave the Second Estate their shameless sense of arrogance.

They were almost more intolerable than the First Estate.


Chatine’s gaze cut to the left, taking in the tower of empty crates stacked up next to Madame Dufour’s stall. She shimmied along the beam until she was directly above them. Then, she tipped forward, rotated around, and kicked both feet out in front of her.

The crash was louder than she anticipated. The crates toppled to the ground, avalanching around the man as he fell to his knees with a grunt.

Chatine moved quickly. She landed in a squat, then crawled through the wreckage until she found the man and graciously helped him back onto his feet. He was so busy brushing dust and cabbage leaves from his coat, he didn’t even feel the medallion being lifted from his neck.

“Are you all right, monsieur?” Chatine asked in her friendliest tone, slipping the pendant into her pocket.

The man barely looked at her as he straightened his hat. “Quite all right, boy.”

“You must be careful in the Marsh, monsieur. It isn’t safe for someone of your rank.”

“Merci,” he said dismissively as he tossed the apricot he’d been eating toward Chatine.

She caught it and flashed him an appreciative smile. “Vive Laterre.”

“Vive Laterre,” he echoed before turning away.

Chatine grinned at the man’s back as she turned on her heel and slipped the half-eaten apricot into her pocket. It took all her strength not to consume the entire thing here and now.

She knew the man would hardly even miss that gold medallion from his neck. He probably had ten just like it back in his manoir in Ledôme. But to her, it was everything.

It would change everything.

The wind picked up, howling through the stalls and biting viciously at Chatine’s skin. She pulled her tattered black coat tighter around her, trying in vain to stave off the chill. But the holes and ripped lining of her clothes weren’t the problem. It was the hunger—the ribs poking through her skin. There wasn’t a single shred of insulation left on her body.

But after that score, she was finding it hard to care.

As Chatine headed toward the south exit of the Marsh, weaving through stalls selling moldy potatoes, slimy leeks, and pungent seaweed dragged in from the nearby docks, there was a new lightness to her gait. A new hopefulness in her step.

But just before passing through what used to be the old cargo ship’s loading bay, Chatine felt a large hand clamp down on her shoulder and she stopped dead in her tracks, a shiver running through her.

“So nice of you to help out a member of the Second Estate,” a cold, robotic voice said. “I’ve never seen such chivalry from a Renard.”

The emphasis he placed on her last name made Chatine squirm. She closed her eyes, mustering strength, and painted on a blithe smile before slowly turning around.

“Inspecteur Limier,” she said. “Always a pleasure.”

His stony expression didn’t change. It hardly ever did. The circuitry implants on the left side of his face made it nearly impossible for the inspecteur to express any emotion. Chatine often wondered if the man was even capable of smiling.

“I wish I could say the same for you, Théo.” His tone was flat.

Only her parents called her Chatine. Everyone in the Frets knew her as Théo. It was the name she’d given herself ten years ago, when they’d first moved to the capital city of Vallonay and Chatine had decided that life as a boy would be much less complicated than life as a girl.

Chatine clucked her tongue. “I’m sorry you feel that way, Inspecteur.”

“What did you take from the kind monsieur?” Limier asked, his half-human, half-robot voice clicking on the hard consonants.

Chatine refreshed her smile. “Whatever do you mean, Inspecteur? I know better than to steal

She nearly gagged on the words. But if they saved her from a one-way ticket to Bastille—the price you paid for stealing from an upper estate—then she could choke her way through them.

Chatine held her breath as the inspecteur’s circuitry flickered on his face. He was computing the information, analyzing her words, searching for hints of perjury. Over the past ten years of living in the Frets, Chatine had learned how to lie. But lying to a human being was one thing. Lying to a cyborg inspecteur, programmed to seek the truth, was quite another.

She waited, keeping her smile taut until the circuits stopped flashing.

“Will that be all, Inspecteur?” Chatine asked, smiling sweetly while pressing her hands against her tattered black pants. Her palms were starting to sweat, and she didn’t want his heat sensors to pick up on it.

Then, slowly, Chatine watched the inspecteur’s gloved hand extend toward her. With a soft touch that chilled her to the bone, he pushed up her black hood to reveal more of her face. His electric orange eye blinked to life, scanning her features. It seemed to linger a beat too long on her high, feminine cheekbones.

Panic bloomed in her chest. Can it see who I really am?

Chatine hastily took a step back, out of the inspecteur’s reach, and yanked her hood back down. “My maman is expecting me home,” she said. “So, if you don’t mind, I’ll be going now.”

“Of course,” the inspecteur replied.

“Thank you, Inspecteur. Vive Laterre.”

As Chatine turned to leave, she felt her entire body collapse with relief. She had done it. She had fooled his sensors. She was a better liar than even she had come to believe.

“I’ll just need to check your pockets first.”

Chatine froze. She quickly surveyed her surroundings. She spotted five Policier droids in her vicinity. More than usually roamed the Marsh, due to the annual Ascension ceremony today. The droids—or bashers, as they were referred to around here—stood at almost twice the size of an average man, and their slate-gray exoskeletons crunched and whirred as they walked.

Chatine wasn’t afraid of them, though. She’d escaped Policier droids plenty of times. They were fast and stronger than ten men, but they still had their limitations. For instance, they couldn’t climb.

Careful not to move her head, Chatine glanced up, thanking her lucky Sols that there was an old pipe running directly over her head. She refused to get flown off to Bastille. A neighbor was currently serving three years for stealing a measly sac of turnips. A First World relic lifted off a Second Estater? She’d be looking at ten years minimum. And hardly anyone lived that long on the moon.

She slowly spun back around to face Limier. “Of course, Inspecteur. I have nothing to hide.”

Flashing another smile, Chatine stuffed her hand into her pocket and felt the medallion cool and smooth against her skin. The inspecteur once again reached a hand in her direction. Then, before he could react, Chatine hurled the apricot the monsieur had given her straight at the inspecteur’s face. His circuitry sparked as his brain tried to make sense of the incoming object. Chatine bolted, scrambling onto a table full of fabric scraps before leaping toward the pipe.

For a second, she was flying, soaring above the inspecteur, the shoppers in the Marsh, and the Policier droids who were just starting to take notice of the disturbance. As she caught the pipe, she used her momentum to circle her legs around until she was straddling the rusty metal pole.

“Paralyze him!” Inspecteur Limier shouted to his droids, peering up at Chatine. His circuitry was going haywire, like someone had hacked the signal. “Now!”

The bashers maneuvered their bulky PermaSteel bodies around one another, assembling into attack formation. Chatine knew she had to move quickly. One rayonette pulse she could dodge, but five? That would be rough.

The pipe was too narrow to walk on, so Chatine shimmied across it on her stomach, weighing her options. The north exit was out of the question. It backed up to the Vallonay Policier Precinct, where she would certainly run into more droids. There was a catwalk about three mètres ahead of her. If she could reach it without getting shot, she could crawl the rest of the way to the east exit, back near Madame Dufour’s stall.

A split second later, she felt the heat of the first rayonette pulse whizz by the side of her face. She sucked in a sharp breath and shimmied faster. A second droid took aim below her, its shot perfectly aligned at her left knee. She braced herself for the impact. But just then, a group of drunk exploit workers stumbled through the fray, arguing about who among them had the most Ascension points stored up. One of them crashed right into the droid, and the pulse barely missed her leg.

“Oh, excuse me, monsieur,” the drunk worker slurred to the droid, bowing ceremoniously. His friends broke out into hoots of laughter while Chatine took the opportunity to slide the rest of the way across the rusted pipe.

Thank the Sols for strong weed wine, she thought as she launched herself toward the catwalk. She caught the railing with both hands just as a third pulse was fired from below. This one glanced her left shoulder.

It wasn’t a direct hit, but it was enough. The pain was instant. Like someone had scraped her skin with a blazing-hot knife. She bit her lip to keep from crying out. The sound would only improve the droids’ aim.

Within seconds, her left arm started to lose sensation from the paralyzeur now pumping through her blood. She scrambled to swing her feet up over the ledge of the walkway but was unsuccessful. Now she was just dangling there, her feet paddling against the air.

The droids shoved people aside as they zeroed in on her location. More rayonette pulses tore past her, rippling and bending the air. It was only a matter of time before another one found its target.

Chatine knew she needed a distraction. She spotted a crate packed with chickens directly in front of her. She shook out her left arm, trying to chase away the numbness that was spreading toward her fingers, but it was no use. The paralyzeur was quickly working its way through her muscles.

Favoring her right hand, she gripped the railing as tightly as she could and pumped her legs until she’d built up enough momentum to reach the crate. She arched her body and kicked her legs out hard. The crate crashed to the ground and busted open. The chickens squawked and tried to fly away, but their useless wings barely allowed them to get off the ground.

The commotion was enough, though.

People were screaming, the stall owner was desperately trying to wrangle the loose birds, and the Policier droids fought to barrel through it all. But their efforts only managed to rile up the birds even more. They fluttered about, scraping people with their sharp claws.

The droids started firing with abandon. But with all the chaos below, their aim was poor. They hit more chickens than anything else. The birds absorbed the stun of the rayonettes and fell limp to the ground. They wouldn’t be able to move again for a few hours.

With the droids distracted, Chatine was finally able to pull herself onto the catwalk and crawl, one-handed, across the rusty metal plank before shimmying down a support beam next to Madame Dufour’s stall.

She glanced back to see the bashers still trying to push their way through the crowd to reach her. But with the number of people in the Marsh today and the riled-up chickens, it wasn’t an easy task.

Madame Dufour glared at Chatine, her wrinkled arms folded across her chest. “Like father, like son,” she said, making a tsk sound with her teeth. “Mark my words, boy, you’ll be rotting on the moon before the end of this year.”

Chatine flashed her a goading grin before swiping a loaf of chou bread from one of Madame Dufour’s crates and darting toward the exit.

“Arrête!” The old woman’s command sounded like a croak. “Get back here, you wretched croc!”

“Thanks for breakfast!” Chatine called back in a singsong voice.

And then, before the droids could track her or Madame Dufour could catch her, Chatine was gone.

Once she’d put a good distance between herself and the marketplace, she slowed to a walk and massaged her dead arm with the opposite hand. It wasn’t the first time she’d been shot by a rayonette. And it probably wouldn’t be the last. The sensation would return soon enough.

Chatine reached into her pocket and pulled out the pendant she had lifted from the Second Estater. She sucked off the sweet apricot juice and held the medallion in her open palm, studying it. For the first time, Chatine noticed the ornate golden Sol carved into the surface. It was unlike any of the three Sols that hung in the sky of the System Divine. This was a First World Sol. Its brilliant, fiery rays flared out to the edge of the medallion. Chatine reverently clasped the pendant around her neck, a rare genuine smile creeping across her face.

She hadn’t seen the light of a Sol in nine years.

This was definitely a sign of good things to come.