Friday, April 29, 2022

#Review - Hummingbird by Helen Harper #Fantasy #Paranormal

Series: A Charade of Magic # 1
Format: E-Book, 286 pages
Release Date: April 29th 2022
Publisher: HarperFire Source: NetGalley
Genre: Paranormal / Fantasy

The best way to live in the Mage ruled city of Glasgow is to keep your head down and your mouth closed.

That’s not usually a problem for Mairi Wallace. By day she works at a small shop selling tartan and by night she studies to become an apothecary. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help - and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path. Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option.

There’s more to Mairi than she realizes but, if she wants to fulfill her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive - and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game.

From twisted winds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and the magic infused City Chambers, the future of a nation might lie with one solitary woman.

Hummingbird, by author Helen Harper, is the first installment in the authors A Charade of Magic series. There are three absolutes in Mairi Wallace’s world:

1. The Mages rule every city in Scotland with terrible, violent authority.
Mages control ravens which they use as their eyes and ears, and if needed even as an attack force. They also control Daemons, a more or less humanoid race with some extras, like horns. 

2. It is not physically possible for any woman to wield magic.

3. Mairi does not have a voice.

For the people of Glasgow, leaving their houses after dark is dangerous, because then the Afflicted wander around. Afflicted are people who were once normal, but who got affected by a disease of unknown origin, after which they turned into wild savages that will hunt and eat people. Mairi, who grew up in an orphanage, works at a small shop owned by Twister and Belle while studying for her apothecary test. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help - and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path.

After losing her best friend, Mairi decides to infiltrate the Mages as a spy to the rebellion to find out what is happening to babies that have gone missing. Going undercover seems a little bizarre at first, throwing herself right into the lion's den, but this seems to be the only way Mairi can find out what she really needs to know and to learn how to use the magic building up inside her. Magic that the Mages definitely cannot find out that she has! Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option, and it becomes dangerous if she is ever caught.  

There’s more to Mairi than she realizes but, if she wants to fulfill her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive - and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game. From twisted wynds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and malevolent ravens, the future of a tattered nation might lie with one solitary woman. 

One of the things that makes this a good story is the setting of Glasgow, Scotland where the author says she recently moved to. No spoilers, but Mairi is mute but soon discovers that she has a lot of power stuck inside.Why do you think the book is called hummingbird?

#Review - Scala by Christina Bauer #Fantasy #Paranormal

Series: Angelbound Origins # 2
Format: E-Book, 260 pages
Release Date: July 19th 2019
Publisher: Monster House Books
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Fantasy / Paranormal / Romance

Nineteen-year-old Myla Lewis has transformed into Great Scala, the only being with the power to move souls out of Purgatory and into Heaven or Hell. Trouble is, a magical object called Lucifer’s Orb is limiting Myla’s abilities. If she tries to move a soul, the Orb’s forcing her to send that spirit straight to Hell.

So, what’s a girl to do? Send innocents to the fiery down-under?

No way. Myla’s gone on a supernatural strike.

No souls go anywhere until the Orb’s history. It’s the right thing to do, but Purgatory’s Soul Storage buildings are turning into time bombs. No spirits are moving out, while millions keep coming in. Myla’s determined to find the Orb and send the innocent to Heaven, but she’s running out of time. Soon, the containment fields will burst, releasing a mob of homicidal ghosts.

With Soul Storage ready to explode, Myla’s got enough on her plate without her old enemy, Lady Adair, causing problems. Adair is launching an ingenious campaign to take away everything that Myla holds dear, including Myla’s Angelbound love, Prince Lincoln.

Between their clever ideas and toe-curling kisses, Myla and Lincoln are fighting back. But will they beat the clock or lose everything to Adair’s devious schemes?

Scala, by author Christina Bauer, is the second installment in the authors Angelbound Origins series. 19-year old Myla Lewis rose to become the Great Scala at the end of Angelbound. As the Great Scala, Myla Lewis (part human/part demon) is the only being who can move Purgatory’s souls to Heaven or Hell. But there is a huge problem. No, there's actually two problems. The first is something called Lucifer's Orb, the ultimate source of demonic magic, is interfering with Myla sending souls anywhere but straight to Hell. 

The second problem is much more dangerous. The containment fields where the souls are waiting are bursting at the seams. Myla wants to stick to her beliefs and not risk the souls of those meant for Heaven going to Hell, but she is running out of time and risking all of Purgatory if the souls break free and overrun the living. Lastly, Lady Adair, is sabotaging Myla at every turn. But she has also found a way to steal some of the igni which is what the Scala uses to move souls, from Myla. How is she able to do this? And Adair obviously has help.

There are some positives. Myla's new Scala robes can change to armor, very resourceful when you are part wrath demon and under constant attack. Her relationship with her mother, who is now the President of Purgatory, and her newly discovered father Xavier, has grown stronger. Each of her parents have their strengths that come in handy when Myla needs help the most. I am also glad to report that Lincoln's own mother is much more helpful now that she knows that Myla isn't a one hit wonder, as it were. Myla has an attitude, and can almost always back up her swagger. Just like Lincoln's mother.

As with Angelbound, Bauer adds an addition 4 chapters she's calling Epilogue. I do not believe one can read this book as a standalone as everything is connected. Just like I don't think one can read Acca, without reading the first two installments. Once I am finished with Acca, I will determine whether to continue to the rest of the series or not. Depends if I can get another fantastic deal on a boxed set.  

Thursday, April 28, 2022

#Review - Priest of Gallows (War for the Rose Throne #3) by Peter McLean #Fantasy

Series: War for the Rose Throne # 3
Format: Paperback, 362 pages
Release Date: May 27th 2021
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Source: Library
Genre: Dark Fantasy

Gangster, soldier, priest. Queen's Man. Governor.

'If you haven't yet picked up this riveting and unique series, I highly recommend you do' Fantasy Book Critic

Tomas Piety has everything he ever wanted. In public he's a wealthy, highly respected businessman, happily married to a beautiful woman and governor of his home city of Ellinburg. In private, he's no longer a gang lord, head of the Pious Men, but one of the Queen's Men, invisible and officially non-existent, working in secret to protect his country.

The queen's sudden death sees him summoned him back to the capital - where he discovers his boss, Dieter Vogel, Provost Marshal of the Queen's Men, is busy tightening his stranglehold on the country.

Just as he once fought for his Pious Men, Tomas must now bend all his wit and hard-won wisdom to protect his queen - even when he can't always tell if he's on the right side.

Tomas has started to ask himself, what is the price of power? And more importantly, is it one he is willing to pay?

Priest of Gallows, by author Peter McLean, is the third installment in the authors War for the Rose Throne series. Tomas Piety, soldier, spy, priest, leader of the Pious men, Governor of Ellenburg, and recently Queen's man, thought he had seen everything in the days of war and his battles for the streets of Ellenburg. He has since gave the reins of his gang, the Pious Men, to his second in command, Bloody Anne, while he serves his role as a member of the Queen’s Men and Governor. 

But nothing will prepare him for the chaos, and political machinations that will see him rise to new levels of powers whether he likes it or not. Timeline wise, it has been 4 weeks since his alleged wife Ailsa left for Dannsburg. Tomas is given dire news straight away. A courier arrives with a message informing him of the Queen’s sudden death and summoning him back to the capital, Dannsburg by Dieter Vogel, Lord Chief Justice, and Provost Marshal of Queen's men. 

Tomas picks a few of his own people, including his adopted son Billy, to travel to Dannsburg and to protect his backside. To say that Tomas is unprepared for what he faces in the House of Law is an understatement. It's filled with backstabbing, conniving, underhanded powerful people who would rather kill you then make friends. Unsurprisingly. Tomas finds that high state politics and its intrigues aren't much different from being the leader of a gang. 

“People may revere the idea of heroic veterans, but they very seldom have the time or the charity for the broken, battle-shocked men and women that are the reality of what war produces.” 

I can relate to this story on many levels. As a person with PTSD, Tomas has enough issues to write a 600 page novel. He's seen things, and done things that would make anyone shatter. It is an intimate book; there were several outbursts of emotions that were so heartbreaking and palpable. The past never lets up, and dramatic changes are constantly coming to the life of these characters. They have to deal with it the best they can. Those are the times they lived in. In desperation to prevent yet another war, Tomas is forced to walk a dark line between what is right, and what keeps him from being another casualty. Who is right, and who is wrong? How much power should one man control over people's lives? We shall see in the next installment!

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

#Review - Of Claws and Fangs (Jane Yellowrock World) by Faith Hunter #Fantasy #Paranormal

Series: Anthology
Format: EBook, 352 pages
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Publisher: Ace
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Paranormal

New York Times bestselling author Faith Hunter presents a stunning collection of stories from the world of shape-shifting vampire hunter Jane Yellowrock and beyond.

Collected together for the first time, this volume contains shorter works featuring heroines Jane Yellowrock and Nell Ingram, as well as a host of other characters from the Jane Yellowrock and Soulwood series. Faith Hunter is “an expert at creating worlds filled with intriguing supernatural elements and exciting scenarios”* and her skills are on full display in this collection. From a vampire-filled Halloween evening in New Orleans to the searing tale of how a certain were-leopard first got his spots, this collection has something for everyone, and each story is sure to put the super in supernatural.

With eighteen stories in all, Of Claws and Fangs will enrich and entertain—it’s a must-have for Faith Hunter’s readers and all lovers of fantasy.

Candy from a Vampire: This story was first published on the authors blog as a serial for a blog tour for Halloween 2017. This story features Leo Pellissier, a story that lots of readers requested from the author to write. Halloween in the French Quarter without all the notable chaos and bloodshed and a happy ending. 
Make it Snappy: First published in Urban Enemies, an anthology from Gallery Books in 2017. The story is again from Leo's point of view. The story is set a few years before Jane and Leo meet. I've reviewed this story previously under Urban Enemies.
It's Just a Date: First published online as a serial short, as part of a blog tour in 2016. In the timeline, Jane is the Enforcer to Leo. Jane and Jodi have agreed to double date with Bruiser and Wrassler who Jodi has fallen in love with. Eli Younger and Sylvia also tag along to make it a triple date. Chaos ensues when a witch seeking vengeance appears.
Life's a Bitch and Then You Die: First published as a serial short online in 2017 and takes place while Jane was sick. The story is from Beast and Wesa's point of view. Timeline wise, the author says it takes place before or after Of Cats and Cars. A combination of Jane and Beast's memory of the past. Of being caught by maybe military people? Likely about the time Jane walked out of the woods with bullet wound scars on her. 

Black Friday Shopping: A Soulwood story featuring Nell which was released in 2017. The story is about Nell and Occam shopping at Walmart. Have you ever visited Walmart on Black Friday? Think of that chaos, and add a child with witch powers that makes things even more chaotic and you have an entertaining story.
How Occam Got His Name: First appeared as a serial short, as part of a blog tour in 2018. It is written from the point of view of Occam, and answers fans questions about the origins of the were-leopard special agent who has won Nell's heart. 
Shiloh and the Brick: First appeared as a serial short in 2016 for the release of Blood in Her Veins. Shiloh Everhart Stone is a witch turned vampire who is being forced into learning how to control her needs by her aunt Molly Everhart. She may be as powerful as Angie Baby. Shiloh is a major incident waiting to happen. She's been used, and abused, suffered untold years of trauma, and is finally free. This story make be a look into the future years of Angelina and what Molly, Evan, and Jane have to look forward to.
Beast Hunts Vampire with Jane: Originally published online in 2011 as a Christmas serial short, and rewritten for this anthology. Story is from Beast's point of view. Shopping and hunting with Jane is fun. But Jane singing is like cats screaming.
"Blood drops on pavement,
And whiskers on Beastie,
Bright copper teapots and
Huge Christmas feast-ies.
Vamp-ire bodies all tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things!"

Of Cats and Cars: This short story, originally written from Edmund Hartley's point of view, was first published on the authors blog in 2019, and as a serialized blog tour event. It has been rewritten and extended (with more of Beast's point of view). Author states this takes place at the end of Dark Queen and after Life's a Bitch and Then You Die. Eli and Alex Younger make appearances in this story. 

Beast Hunts Pie-Bald Deer: Beast story of Hunt. Beast talks to reader. Humans in beast point of view. 

Jane Tracks Down Miz A: The original version of this short-short went to a single winner for a charity auction. Except for the winner, no one has ever seen this vignette, and the ending has been altered. Timeline is Jane's world is uncertain. Miz A is a blood servant who disappeared after a bloody fight at Katie's Ladies not long after Jane arrived in New Orleans. Jane learns just how mysterious Katie Fonteneau can be.
Anzu, Duba, Beast: First published in WERE an anthology from Zombies Need Brains (2016). It is in the timeline before Jane becomes the Dark Queen. Jane owes Girrard DiMercy, aka the Mercy Blade, a hunt and Leo offers a little hint as to what Gee and Jane will be facing. "May your hunt be bloody. May you rend and eat the flesh of your prey." Recommended highly.

Eighteen Sixty: A prequel from Ayatas Firewind, Jane Yellowrocks brother. First published in the Weird Wild West, an anthology (2015). Story takes place in 1860, and is written in the point of view of Ayatas. This story makes mention of a woman with magic. Read the next story to find out who this woman is.
Wolves Howling in the Night: First published in Lawless Lands: Tales from the Weird Frontier an anthology from Falstaff Books 2017. The year is 1879. Story once again focuses on Ayatas Firewind. This time you meet the woman named Etsi, or Everhart, the woman with magic, who also states she is a reporter. The two have been together since 1860, nearly inseparable.   
Death and the Fashionista: First published in The Death of All Things, an anthology 2017. This story takes place just after Molly Everhart-Trueblood found her death magics. Angie is the first to warn of trouble when people try to attack the Everhart household. Angie's angel warns that 'Death is the Truth and the Lie. And Death can be cheated.' Woman calls herself Sally, Fear of death, man claims to be Death of Magic. Appearances by Molly's sisters Boadicea (Cea) and Elizabeth (Liz). Recommended highly.
My Dark Knight: First published in Temporally Deactivated, an anthology from Zombies Need Brains 2017. In the Yellowrock timeline, it occurs just after Angelina Everhart aka Angie Baby staring calling Jane "Ant" Jane. This novella is one of the longest in this anthology, and one of the most entertaining. Her dark knight refers to Edmond, who swore a blood oath and fealty to the Everharts and Truebloods. More trouble, and more chaos for the family. 
Bound into Darkness: First published in Dirty Deeds, an anthology from Pen and Page Publishing (2021). Sometime between books 13 and 14 in Jane's series. Liz Everhart and Eli Younger aka Captain America to Angie and EJ, are the main characters in this book. I will say that THIS is the longest novella in the entire anthology. Liz has come a long way since her older sister Evangelina tried to kill her. Liz agrees to take a job finding a lost dog. From a lost dog, to an assault on Liz and Eli, to Jane, Cea, and Lincoln Shaddock showing up to help. Surprisingly nobody, this was by far the most entertaining story in this entire anthology.

The Ties That Bind: First published in Dirty Deeds, an anthology 2021. Features Bedelia Everhart, as well as Lincoln Shaddock. This story takes place during and after the events of Bound into Darkness which makes sense because Bedelia was mentioned in that story, and she's Cea and Liz's mother. Bedelia learns that her entire family is at risk, and it's up to her, and Lincoln, as well as some old friends, to be a stop to it. There's some interesting aspects of Bedelia and Lincoln's relationship that is highly revealing which I shall not spoil. Definitely worth the read.

Candy from a Vampire

A vignette first published online, on my blog, as a serial blog tour short for Halloween in 2017. It is from the point of view of Leo Pellissier, a view of his thoughts, for which my fans have often clamored.

Leo Pellissier stood outside the Royal Mojo Blues Company, a bucket—­a cauldron, really—­filled with individual servings of candy in front of him. Each piece was wrapped in paper, or foil, or foiled paper, with the ingredients in tiny print on the back, showing calorie content and fat content, which was significant, and nutritional value, which was negligible. He had always thought that was the point of candy, that it was to be nothing but sugar and fat and delicious. A treat, back in his day, a sweet that was earned when he had done something good, like staying on his pony through a trot, over small fences, or translated a particularly difficult Latin tale into the French or Castilian or Greek, as his tutor demanded. His hand beaten with a thin strip of wood when he failed, and his presence at dinner denied. Treats when he succeeded. It was the way of his father’s house. Carrot and stick. Or candy and stick. It had been effective then. Now children could have sweets at every meal. And on All Hallows Eve, even more.

It was scarcely past sunset and the streets were filled with adults in various stages of inebriation, accompanied by various stages of nudity, the closer to Bourbon Street one drew. Costumes that did far more than hint were everywhere, even here at the Mithran Council Chambers. But here, as tradition dictated, there were children. Many, many children.

Halloween in the French Quarter of New Orleans had been changed forever when Marilyn Monroe had attempted to turn John Kennedy in the Oval Office and been staked for her trouble. That next year, 1963, Leo had appeared for the first time, in full tuxedo and a black cloak, with scarlet silk lining, to hand out candy. Personally. The children had been bused in from all over the city at Mithran expense. And back then, a parent thought nothing of putting children on a bus and sending them off for a party, which was what he had put on for them, all along the street in front of the chambers.

There had been humans dressed as storybook witches in every doorway, some with hot cauldrons full of liquid pralines that they ladled onto waxed paper, allowed to cool and solidify, and gave away, others offering popcorn balls or caramels. Jugglers, clowns, artists of every stripe were encouraged to display their wares. Musicians stood on every street corner, with baskets or open instrument cases before them for tips. There were pony rides. The press wandered among the crowds, taking photographs for the Times-­Picayune and to show on CBS or NBC or ABC, all across the nation. The party had been a ploy to improve public opinion of the newly revealed Creatures of Darkness, as described by a young, up-­and-­coming newsman whose name he had long forgotten.

The street party had been successful at the time. Now, fewer parents allowed their children onto the chartered buses, instead throwing parties for them in the safety of their schools or in private homes. And when they did allow the children aboard, the parents came too, holding their child’s hand. These days monsters on the streets might be human, intent on much worse than stealing a little blood.

There were fewer and fewer newsmen and newswomen on the streets to photograph the decades-­old tradition. Perhaps in a few years, he would discontinue the party, or perhaps make it bigger. He could add wine tasting and beer tasting, and persuade restaurants to bring their foods to taste, in order to attract an older, more sophisticated crowd.

But there were still a few here tonight. Children and reporters both. Enough each year to brave the Quarter for the joy of taking candy from a vampire. And this year, one of the candy makers was a real witch, one he recognized from her dossier. He nodded regally to Suzanne Richardson-­White, an earth witch with a gift for making pralines that rivaled Aunt Sally’s. It was a sign of improvement between the races that she was here, in public, sharing a street with a Mithran. On All Hallows Eve. She nodded back, an amused expression on her face.

A little girl with bright red hair raced up to him, her brown paper sack held out in two tiny fists. “Twick or Tweat, Mr. Pewisir.”

“Oh, please. No tricks tonight,” Leo said, reaching down and lifting up enough candy to turn the little girl into an instant diabetic. He let them all fall in a cascade of shushing sounds into her bag. He felt the moment the cameras focused on him and the little girl, and he smiled his public smile, toothy but totally human, the smile that the whole world knew.

“Thank you, Mr. Pewisir,” the little girl said, before racing away to the next candy station.

“You’re welcome, my dear,” Leo replied, though she was no longer there to hear, and a tiny tot in a cowboy suit took her place, his father standing behind, smiling, as if remembering the time he took the bus to this section of the French Quarter to receive candy from a vampire.

The hours wore on, and the crowds thinned. The moon rose in a hazy night sky.

Suzanne dipped up the last of the candies and closed her booth. She packed her mini-­cauldron and the brazier that had kept the melted sugar hot. He watched from beneath the streetlight as she moved, her body encased in a corset, the laces holding and reshaping her curves, her breasts thrust up high and rounded. Her flowing witch’s dress was made of silk and netting, the fabric catching the night breeze as if a spell caused it to float. She wore ankle boots with tiny spike heels and the kind of old-­fashioned buttons that had to be closed with a hook. He had always loved taking such shoes off a woman. And corsets.

Leo smiled. The girl was all of thirty, a graduate of Tulane. He had learned that acting on such thoughts was considered improper for anyone, especially for an old man such as he. Jane Yellowrock had made him rethink many things that he had once taken as his due.

“Shall I pack everything away?” Del asked, interrupting his reverie.

Leo turned to her and smiled his nonpublic smile, the one he kept for retainers and blood-­servants, especially those he depended upon for security and a pleasant life. “Thank you, Del. Yes, it’s late.”

Del spoke into a headpiece, calling in the menials who would clean up and take down the candy stand. She was efficient and beautiful and far too bright and accomplished to be acting as a caterer, though as primo, that was part of her job from time to time. Perhaps too often.

“Del? . . .” She looked up at him, instantly alert for any need he might have. He studied her in the wan yellowed light that tried unsuccessfully to replicate gas streetlights of his early years in New Orleans. “You look lovely tonight. Are you happy in my employ?”

Del’s blond brows went up in surprise, wrinkling her forehead. “Thank—­Sir?”

She sounded . . . nonplussed. As if he never asked such things of her, of any of his dependents. And perhaps he had not done so, not in a long while. Had ruling made him hard and insensitive? Jane had insisted this was true, the last time he called her for some small service. Her exact words had been, “Do it yourself, your Royal Fangyness. This is my day off. And maybe it’s time to stop being such a royal ass.” She had hung up on him. And while he had raged, he had also enjoyed the exchange, her indifference, her rebellion, her refusal to bow before him.

To Del, Leo said, “I have been remiss in asking. I want you to be happy in my service, Del. I want you to find joy here, in New Orleans, fulfillment and satisfaction. What can I do to make certain that happens?”

Security closed in around him, urging their small crowd to move down the street. A limo pulled around the corner. Behind him, the kitchen servants began to tear down the candy stand. He and Del walked toward the approaching limo, their legs illuminated in the headlights.

“I don’t know what to say,” Del admitted as the limo slid to a stop beside them. The door opened and Derek Lee, head of security, stepped out, scanning the darkness for threats. Del slid in, her blond, upswept hair and pale skin catching the light. But her eyes were brighter than he had seen in some time.

Yes. Jane was right. He had been more than remiss. “Well, think about it. You are not a menial, but skilled and capable. Your legal degree and aptitude make you too valuable to waste on tedious and humble tasks. You have proven both ability and loyalty.” He smiled again as Derek took his place across from them and closed the limo door. The armored vehicle pulled into traffic. “I am prepared to entrust my personal legal affairs to you. Perhaps I shall also ask you to oversee the financial affairs of the city and the clans. Such jobs as these”—­he indicated the darkness and the stand that fell behind them—­“could be better administered by a secretary or personal assistant.”

Del’s eyes lit up. “I know just the woman. She’s bright and sharp and detail-­oriented.”

“I trust your decision.” He waved languid fingers in the air. “See to it. And for her first task, have her schedule a meeting with you and my law firm.”

“Yes, sir.” Her voice sounded breathy. Excited. “Thank you, sir.”

“Think nothing of it. Happy All Hallows Eve.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

#Review - The Mad Girls of New York by Maya Rodale #Historical

Series: Nellie Bly # 1
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Release Date: April 26, 2022
Publisher: Berkley Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Historical / Gilded Age

An exciting novel based on the fearless reporter Nellie Bly, who would stop at nothing to expose injustices against women in early 19th century New York, even at the risk of her own life and freedom. 

In 1887 New York City, Nellie Bly has ambitions beyond writing for the ladies pages, but all the editors on Newspaper Row think women are too emotional, respectable and delicate to do the job. But then the New York World challenges her to an assignment she'd be mad to accept and mad to refuse: go undercover as a patient at Blackwell's Island Insane Asylum for Women.

For months, rumors have been swirling about deplorable conditions at Blackwell’s, but no reporter can get in—that is, until Nellie feigns insanity, gets committed and attempts to survive ten days in the madhouse. Inside, she discovers horrors beyond comprehension. It's an investigation that could make her career—if she can get out to tell it before two rival reporters scoop her story.

From USA Today bestselling author Maya Rodale comes a rollicking historical adventure series about the outrageous intrigues and bold flirtations of the most famous female reporter—and a groundbreaking rebel—of New York City’s Gilded Age.

Story Locale:New York City, Gilded Age

Maya Rodale's The Mad Girl of New York is the first installment in the authors Nellie Bly series. This story is based on Nellie Bly aka Elizabeth Jane Cochran's Ten Days in a Mad-House. Nellie was a reporter for the Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1887 before leaving for NYC and challenging the New York World to hire her to do an undercover story about Blackwell Asylum where women enter, but never leave. Her two part story kicked off her career that would eventually see her travel the world in 72 days, in emulation of Jules Verne's fictional character Phileas Fogg.  
The book was based on articles written while Bly was on an undercover assignment for the New York World, feigning insanity at a women's boarding house, so as to be involuntarily committed to an insane asylum. After burning her bridges leaving Pittsburgh, Nellie finds herself broke, homeless, and without a job. Until she follows a woman leaving The World offices and discovers a group of women reporters including Harriet, Dorothy and Marian who tell her about a way to get her noticed. 
Women have to look out for each other because no one else will. Remember that.”
You really have to understand how horrible the Gilded Age was for women. This was a time in America where women reporters were seen as not being as accurate as men. Women are way too emotional, or fundamentally unequipped for the rigors of the job. Women didn't need the money, or newspapers already had women working for them, and didn't need anyone else. For some papers, they already women covering womens issues, or being copy editors, and didn't need another woman when they had plenty of men. 
The so called mad girls and women who were sent to places like Blackwell was because a majority of them were poor, or their rich husbands dumped them for a younger version. The treatment these women, including Nellie experiences, is vivid and realistic. There are key secondary characters like Sam Colton, and Marian Blake. Sam tries to steal Nellie's story, while Marian tries to expose the corruption of the Hugh Gran administration and his friends. Even though this book is fictional, I think it does a pretty good job getting to the bottom of the Gilded Age and how asylum's were a breeding ground for bad things to happen to good people.

Chapter One

Welcome to New York

I'm off for New York. Look out for me.

               -Nellie Bly

Newspaper Row

New York City, 1887

Nellie did not take New York by storm. Not at first, not as she had planned. She had arrived in spring, when the city was bursting into bloom and the air full of promise, with a hundred dollars in her purse along with her clips from her days at the Pittsburgh Dispatch and ambition to burn. Of course she would get a job as a reporter for one of the big city papers (even though it was hardly done for a woman). Of course she would become a sensation (even though it was widely agreed that a woman should do no such thing).

Nellie was good at two things: asking questions and believing in herself.

But even Nellie was starting to lose her spark and swagger as spring, with its blossoms and joyous air, turned into a hot, stinking New York City summer and no one on Newspaper Row had the time of day for a girl reporter. Not the Herald, not the Sun, not the Mail and Express, not the Times and not the World. She really had her heart set on the World, but at this point, she would take anything.

For months now, she had been walking up and down Newspaper Row, going from one newspaper office to the next, inquiring about available positions, only to be turned away, sometimes to uproarious laughter from some red-faced older gentleman, or with a smirk from some young man with less experience than she. A girl! In the newsroom!

And that was if she could even get past the intimidating men hired to guard the gates and protect the reporters and editors inside from dangerous creatures like outraged readers, or people who believed themselves slandered in the pages-or young, female aspiring journalists. Was she dangerous? She didn't feel dangerous.

Nellie had started out young, fresh-faced, smartly dressed, wildly optimistic and cheerful. Too cheerful, perhaps. But as the days wore on, the heat and the rejections were starting to crawl under her skin. No one wanted to hear of her qualifications or her ideas for stories about immigrants and women and interviews with notable women of the day. No one wanted to see her clips from the Dispatch, like her series about factory girls or her reports from Mexico. All those precious clips were now softly frayed at the edges from so much time in her purse.

The heat was taking the curl out of her hair.

It was now September and she had one-one-soul-crushing assignment from good old Erasmus, back in Pittsburgh. A pity assignment, a way to throw her some money so she could carry on struggling in the big city. But it was, if she did say so herself, a smartly conceived way to get herself in front of all those big, important and powerful newspapermen who refused to give her the time of day. Nellie's idea was to interview all the top newspaper editors in the city about women's role in journalism. She had dreamed it up as a ruse to get past the guards at the front door of all the offices and into the newsrooms-a way to demonstrate a female reporter at work, right before their eyes. Her hunch was correct: Editors were more than willing to talk to her if it meant she had to smile and take notes while they shared their (absurd) opinions on lady journalists.

Women can't get the story

To Dr. Hepworth at the Herald, Nellie posed the question: "Do you object to women entering newspaper life?"

Dr. Hepworth, who had served in the war as a preacher, gave her a kindly smile, the sort one gave to small children before attempting to explain a complicated concept. She smiled blandly back at him and prepared herself for his answer.

"I personally may not object," he said, stroking his mustache as he spoke thoughtfully, "but the fact is a girl just isn't going to get the news."

"Please do explain."

"Well, I cannot send her to a crime scene; the police will only give her as little information as possible to get rid of her. The criminal courts will be no different. Crime scenes and courts are no place for ladies; therefore a female reporter would be worse than useless."

"And that is a fact?"


"What about crime scenes involving women? Or women who are taken to the criminal courts? You're not suggesting that if we went down to the courts right now, we'd find only men."

"Well, the sort of women that you'd find there aren't ladies." Hepworth's cheeks colored slightly. A gentleman didn't discuss these sorts of women with someone like Nellie, who seemed respectable enough. Or was she? She caught his gaze lingering, as he tried to decide. Nellie knew she looked quite respectable, thank you very much, but her mere presence in his office suggested otherwise. He was most likely struggling with the conundrum. Nellie pressed on with her questions. "Could those women become journalists?"

"Of course not." He chuckled. "They are disreputable and uneducated."

Nellie frowned slightly. "So, a woman must be respectable to be a reporter, yet she cannot be a reporter because she is too respectable to go to the places a reporter must go." Hepworth blinked at her. Nellie met his gaze. "I just want to make sure that I understand you. To confirm that you see no opportunity for a woman in journalism."

"No," Hepworth said with a huff. And after some thought he added, "Though the ladies' pages would be an option."

God save Nellie from the ladies' pages. If a woman was lucky enough to get a job working for a paper-which spared her from working in a factory, or as a domestic or a wife (shudder)-she would have to spend her days writing about household hints and recipes, garden shows and charity luncheons. It was mind-numbingly tedious and she wanted to avoid it at all costs. It was one reason why she had left Pittsburgh.

Hence her arrival in New York City.

Hence her attempts to get hired to cover the news. Actual, breaking news.

Nellie wrote down women can't get the news, then she thanked Dr. Hepworth for his time and service in the war and went on her way.

Women are not as accurate as men

From there, Nellie went next door to the Sun, where she met with the esteemed Charles Dana. When she arrived, he slipped on a pair of gold-rimmed glasses and gazed at her curiously, as if he had never quite seen a woman involved with journalism before. She was seated in a comfortable chair in his office, which was quite homey with all its books and papers. There was a lovely view of city hall and the leafy park surrounding it. She was ready with her notebook open and her pencil poised.

Nellie was ready for the worst but hoping for the best.

"Women are not regarded with editorial favor in New York," Dana told her with the confidence of a man of a certain age who had thousands of daily readers of his paper, paying to consume his opinions along with their morning coffee. Still, it rankled. Especially when he said things like: "Women are simply not as accurate as men."

Nellie wrote this down, verbatim.

"A journalist must be accurate," he told her, as if she was unaware of that fact.


Here Nellie groaned mentally for the fate of the interview.


Women are too emotional


"Women are too emotional," Robert Morris at the Telegram informed her with great authority. "We can't have a girl reporter swooning at a murder scene or fainting at a fire."


Nellie had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from scoffing. She'd seen danger and violence aplenty at home (her mother had not remarried well). She'd seen deadly fires so close that the heat of the flames had singed her skirts. At fourteen, she'd testified at a trial, solemnly taking the stand and telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Her story on factory girls wasn't for the faint of heart-those machines could and did mangle a hand or scalp-and Nellie recorded all their stories, sparing no detail.


All of which was to say that Mr. Morris, like most men, had a precious idea of a woman's constitution that did not seem to be based in the facts of women's lives.


"Women are fundamentally unequipped for the rigors of reporting," he told her in no uncertain terms. She wrote this down calmly and unemotionally, even though she wanted to throw a dictionary at his head. "All the sensations and scandals in the press are inappropriate for ladies' eyes. We could never task a female reporter with that class of news."


Nellie pasted a polite smile on her face. One always had to be polite when challenging a man in a position of authority; they didn't take kindly to it. In fact, one could say it even made them emotional.


"Women read the newspapers, just as men do. What is the difference between reading and writing that class of news?"


He gave a hearty chuckle. "That's why we have the ladies' pages, my dear. So the ladies have something suitable to read."


"And do you really think that's the only section of the newspaper that they read?"


The flicker of shock in his eyes told her he hadn't ever thought about it.


Women don't need the money


At his desk in the corner of the bustling newsroom, Foster Coates at the Mail and Express shared the opinion that there was probably nothing wrong with a woman writing for a newspaper. He continued to say, in so many words, that men were the ones who, in addition to being more constitutionally suited to the rigors of the job by being emotionally dead both inside and out, were thus the better to report the facts.


"Furthermore," he said, with a dramatic pause. "Men have families to support. They have wives, children and other helpless dependents."


"What about women without a father, husband or brother to support them?" Nellie inquired coolly. Asking for a friend. Asking for me. Asking for her mother, back home in Pittsburgh, waiting for Nellie to establish herself in New York so she could support them here. Asking for all the women like her mother, with dead or drunk or deadbeat husbands. Asking for the smart spinsters who had known better than to marry but who still needed to eat.


"Well, a woman ought to find one! Any man should do." Mr. Foster chuckled. Nellie couldn't bring herself to laugh along with him, even politely, because she knew that not any man would do. Some men were definitely worse than no man at all.


A woman's experience isn't enough


At the Times, Nellie pretended to be an applicant. Pretended. She had to laugh at that, since in truth she would gladly accept almost any job at this point, if it would only get her in a newsroom. Or in proximity to a newsroom. She had no doubt that once she was in, she could conquer everything.


"And what might you do?" The editor, a balding man by the name of Charles Ransom Miller, inquired. Her heart skipped a beat. This was . . . promising?


"Anything," Nellie replied. "Literally anything. There's nothing I can't do, given the chance."


Nothing she wouldn't do. Probably. She didn't want to seem too eager, but also, she was very eager. Her funds were dwindling. Her pride wanted encouragement. Her brain wanted something to take on.


Mr. Miller regarded her thoughtfully for a moment. A long moment in which she felt hope. But then a man-one younger than her, with a pimpled complexion and wearing a wrinkled suit-approached, also to apply. And just like that Nellie was shuffled out of the way, out the door and back onto the street.


We already have one woman-isn't that enough?


When Nellie got to the building that housed the offices of the World, she paused reverentially outside while busy men and workingwomen swarmed around her. The World was a paper for the rest of them-not the wealthy, or snobby or elites, but the immigrants, the poor, the masses, the workingmen and-women. It was a paper for sensation, crusade and scandal. It was her first choice of a paper to write for, if she had a choice.


At the World, Nellie walked slowly through the lobby in awe. After confirming with the guard on duty that she did indeed have an interview, she rode the elevator to the top floor and managed to catch a moment with the editor, Colonel John Cockerill, who seemed annoyed to be interrupted from a profanity-laden tirade at a young male assistant ("Damn it to hell, Hearst, if I've told you once . . . !"). Nellie dared to intrude.


"Women in journalism?" He repeated her question with a bark. He pushed his hair out of his eyes. Like he had to think about it because he had honestly never considered it before. Hope, it fell in her chest. "A man is of far greater service," he said. And then: "Anyway, we have a woman on staff already. So, it's not a personal objection."


Nellie bit back a sharp hiss of Who is she? Who was this lucky woman who had the constitution to withstand crime and sensation, who could write down facts and report them, who could get intelligence from the police and the criminal courts? Who was she?


She was probably just writing for the ladies' pages, Nellie thought meanly. She was probably just writing about who wore what to which party while people starved in the streets. She probably wrote about high fashion and swishy silk dresses, salacious gossip and elegant charity luncheons. There was nothing to be jealous of.


She was still jealous.


And now she was increasingly desperate. And, damn it, Robert Morris at the Telegram, she was feeling emotional.


And then her purse was stolen on the train back uptown.


Her purse with her clips, her notebook full of quotes and every last penny to her name.


Chapter Two


The Girl Puzzle


Mrs. Parkhill's Boardinghouse


New York City


The next morning, Nellie awoke on her narrow bed and looked out the window. Or tried to. As befitting most rooms that she could afford in the city, her view was of a neighboring building's brick wall. But if she turned her head just so, and contorted her body in a certain way that rumpled the blanket and pinched her neck, she could catch a glimpse of sky, all bright and clear blue. It promised to be a beautiful day.


Except for the fact that she had no money, no friends, no job, and no real prospects.

Monday, April 25, 2022

#Review - Or Else by Joe Hart #Thrillers #Suspense

Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback, 254 pages
Release Date: April 1, 2022
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Suspense

A secret love becomes a fatal affair in a twisting novel of suspense by Wall Street Journal bestselling author Joe Hart.

When novelist Andy Drake returns to his hometown to care for his ailing father, a reconnection with his childhood friend Rachel escalates into a secret love affair. For Rachel, struggling to maintain the facade of a picture-perfect life, it’s an escape from an emotionally abusive marriage. Then Andy receives an anonymous note warning him to end the affair. Or else.

Whoever’s been watching is going to make Andy pay. Weeks later, Rachel’s husband, David, is shot to death. Rachel and her two young sons vanish without a trace. One misstep, one careless reveal, and Andy could look as guilty as sin. Clue by clue, as his investigation into the mystery unfolds, Andy discovers that he and Rachel weren’t the only ones keeping secrets.

Nothing in this quiet neighborhood is as it seems. No one peeking from behind the curtains of their homes can be trusted. And the worst is yet to come. Because David isn’t the only one who will die.

Joe Hart's Or Else begins with mystery/thriller author, Andy Drake, receiving a note telling him that they know about his affair with his next door neighborhood Rachel and to stop Or Else. Andy returned home to care for his father who is in the early stages of dementia and to work on his next book. He reconnected with his childhood friend Rachel six months ago, but things don't out the way he expected. Besides the note, Rachel's husband David is shot dead and she and her children go missing. Andy knows if he comes forward with the note and truth of his affair, he'll become the number one suspect.  

Not trusting the police, Andy takes it upon himself to try and find out what happened to David, and in turn, where Rachel and the children have gone. Things fall apart from there as Andy is consumed with finding what happened to Rachel. Then Andy's friend Mary Shelby, the church secretary who was like a second mother to Andy, is kicked dead by her horse. Soon thereafter, David's business partner Ryan Vallance is found dead. What in the hell is going on here? The setup of the loop neighborhood where everyone knows each other's business, including a man who may be tied to the mafia. 

There are so many unknowns amongst the neighbors, that you don't know who is involved, and who isn't. There were a lot more players in this mystery than Andy originally thought and once the layers were drawn back, it was strange how everything looked. David isn't alone in his investigation. His sister Kel is deeply involved in getting to the bottom of things. His relationship with Kel has always been strong to the point where their older brother felt jealous of the relationship. When you lose both your younger sister, and your mother, things have a tendency of changing who you are as a person. 

Here is what I will end my review by saying. Stick to the end. Decide for yourself how you feel. This is where I say that I am never going to intentionally point spoilers. The ending is twisted, and a head scratcher. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

#Review - A Grave Spell by Jenna Collett #Fantasy

Series: The Spellworks Files # 1
Format: Kindle, 222 files
Release Date: November 29, 2021
Publisher: Amazon
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Urban Fantasy

With a name like Graves, evil comes with the territory.

Monsters are real. I should know. I come from a long line of demon-hunting royalty. But not everyone is destined for the throne, and I'm just the backup if anything ever happens to my cousin. Not a bad gig, since I prefer books to blades and use magic mostly to get out of speeding tickets.

But when the unthinkable happens, I'm forced to take my cousin's place, and I'm less than prepared. I'm also not alone. My assigned team comes with a mysterious new partner. Caden Bishop is drop-dead gorgeous, but he's got a secret that could get me killed.

Lucky me. With demons on the hunt, the last thing I need is another reason to die. Too bad, I might not get a choice.

I'm the dark horse in a fight against evil. But don't count me out just yet.

A Grave Spell, by author Jenna Collett, is the first installment in The Spellworks Files series. Elle Graves is one year away from being the first member of her family to graduate from college. For years, Elle has been coasting through life because no one expects too much from her. Enrolled in a local university and living a normal college life has its perks. Until one of my professors summons a demon and ends up dead.

Even though she has dreams, they are put on the back burner when her impressive demon hunting cousin Ivy Jennings and her team were declared dead by the Spellwork organization, and she has to become a reluctant demon hunter. She's joined by a nineteenth-century ghost named Oscar Clarke, his faithful ghost dog Loki, and Caden Bishop who has plenty of secrets that's he's withholding for some reason. After finding out that her professor was likely murdered, Elle and team focus on finding a missing artifact that in the wrong hands, could be deadly for humanity.

In this world, the chosen hunter shall investigate all instances of supernatural crime and use her skills to rid the area of any offenders. Basically, the hunter sends evil back to where it came from without letting the general population in on the secret. The Spellwork Organization has divisions located around the globe. It is a time-honored, essential position that keeps the balance between good and evil squarely in the good box. While we don't get a look at the Organization itself, the sequel apparently will reveal more. Also, yes, the story ends on a cliffhanger ending that just made my blood boil.

#Review - The Mark of Fallen Flame by Brittany Matsen #Fantasy #Paranormal

Series: The Weapon of Fire and Ash # 1
Format: EBook, 378 pages
Release Date: March 13, 2020
Publisher: Bookwyrm Books; 2nd edition
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Young Adult / Urban Fantasy

The balance between good and evil comes down to one girl.

But is the darkness really so bad?

Emma Duvall starts senior year with one thing in mind: make Seattle, home.

All her life her mother lived with one foot out the door, but no more. That is, until Emma discovers she has the power to turn terrifying creatures of the night to ash with a single touch. That one moment unveils a hidden world of supernatural beings, both good and bad.

Suddenly her best friend is acting strange, the new guy that's mysteriously in every one of her classes is too beautiful to be human, and an ancient, powerful being is stalking her.

To top it off, the "good guys", the Giborim, aren't convinced that Emma can be trusted. But their unofficial leader, Blaze, becomes her unwilling protector--and perhaps something more--setting fire to millennia of hard-set prejudices.

Especially when her newfound power awakens a deep and dark hunger that can only be sated with death.

Brittany Matsen's The Mark of the Fallen Flame is the first installment in the authors The Weapon of Fire and Ash series. 17-year-old Emma Duvall starts her senior year with one thing in mind: make Seattle, home and find a way to go to college where she can finally have a life. All her life her mother Laura has lived with one foot out the door, but no more. That is until one night, Emma and her best friend Adrianna are attack by terrifying spider-like creatures, and Emma kills them with a single touch. 

Thanks to Laura's secrets, Emma has no idea how important she will one day be to either the light, or the darkness. Emma discovers a hidden world of supernatural beings, both good and bad. When war started raging in their city causing catastrophic devastation, crazy things started happening, including unholy creatures that should not exist. The story also features Levaroth, a General under a Demon Prince who also goes by the name of Rowek. 

Rowek takes an interesting in Emma, but it seems as though he has a much greater plan in store for her after her school dance is attacked by demons, and someone messes with the survivors memories. To top it off, the "good guys", the Giborim, an immortal race of protectors, aren't convinced that Emma can be trusted. But their unofficial leader, Blaze Thomas, becomes her unwilling protector--and perhaps something more--setting fire to millennia of hard-set prejudices. 

Emma's newfound power awakens a deep and dark hunger that can only be sated with death and she soon learns that the violence and kidnappings in the news and her state stem from an ancient supernatural battle for power. I think one of the biggest problems I have with this story is the secrecy behind Laura not letting Emma know about her past, and why they are always moving to keep out of reach from some dangerous people. 

I haven't spoken of Adrianna yet, and that's pretty much because she gets a book all of her own called The Spellcaster's Weapon which will explain why Adrianna will one day be just as important as Emma. The final part of this story is action packed while also leaving a stunning cliffhanger ending which will pick up in the third book in this series. Even though Laura acted strange throughout the book, I honestly can't hold it against her for not telling Emma the truth about her heritage and who she really is. After all, Emma will soon know the truth, and there's nothing good that comes from being angry at a character.