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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Sheena Kamal's debut, The Lost Ones.

Fifteen years ago, Nora put her daughter up for adoption. Now, that daughter has gone missing and her biological parents have contacted Nora for help. 

But at first, Nora doesn't realize that's what's going on. As an employee at a private investigator's office with a keen sense of when someone is lying, Nora is a bit of an expert at tracking down missing people. And so when a man reaches out to her about his runaway daughter, that's what Nora thinks it is - a standard job tracking down a missing teen. When she realizes it's much more complicated than that, that she's being manipulated and brought into something she wants no involvement in, she immediately refuses. 

And yet, the pull or connection to this child that was hers by birth is too much to resist. But this girl isn't just any runaway. She's part of something much larger. Something that will force Nora to face the pain and secrets of her own past. 

Sheena Kamal's debut is a solid thriller with an irresistibly appealing heroine.

Nora has issues. Big issues. But when we first meet her, she's simply a cautious investigator willing to bend the rules a bit to get what she wants. The more we come to know her though, the more we realize there's so much more to her. She's a survivor, eking out an existence that allows her to live basically off the grid. She squats in her employer's basement, clothes herself in a way that almost demands that people ignore her, and she avoids thinking about her own past as much as humanly possible.

But this case forces her to change some of that. It forces her to revisit things she's been actively avoiding for all these years. And it forces her to begin to reveal some of the truth of her life to those around her.

Interestingly, the story took a twist that I definitely wasn't expecting. Not only is this book about Nora and her daughter, Bonnie, but it's also about Canada's treatment of its own indigenous people and environmental issues as well.

To say the rabbit hole that becomes Nora's investigation is intriguing is putting it lightly. The Lost Ones is excellent!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Sheena Kamal and her work you can visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Bring Her Home by David Bell

It's summer and I'm craving dark and chilling reads! I mean, I crave those year round, but something about summer time in particular makes me want them even more. And David Bell has become a name that's synonymous with chilling thrillers.

Summer and her best friend Hayley were on their way to Hayley's house when they both disappeared. Two days later, the girls have been found, but only one of them has survived. Both girls have been beaten to the point that they aren't readily identifiable based on looks alone. But Summer was wearing her jacket and carrying her ID, which means her dad Bill has the relief of knowing his daughter is still alive. Unfortunately she isn't out of the woods as she's been unconscious and unable to tell authorities what happened to them since being found. And Bill is going mad sitting on the sidelines. How can he protect his daughter when he can't even be sure what or where the danger is?

Bell's latest, like all of his others, is an intense and quick read. Even at over 400 pages, it just begged to be read in one sitting. I, of course, complied.

From the start, I really enjoyed all the questions set up by the plot. First and foremost concerning Bill himself and whether or not he can be trusted. He's not very likable. But you have to give him the benefit of the doubt considering his situation. And yet, there's a niggling feeling that he's hiding something or maybe just not being quite straightforward.

Then there's the question of the girls and what they were up to. Where were they going? It turns out Summer and her father have a strained relationship, thanks in no small part to the fact that Summer's mother died a little over a year and a half prior to when the story takes place. As both are dealing with their grief, they find solace and tension equally together. And Summer's disappearance coincides almost exactly with her mother's birthday, an anniversary that Bill knows was hanging heavy over them both.

The book has twists galore, and more than a few of them are easily predicted. But in spite of that, Bring Her Home was still a perfect afternoon escape!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Betrayal at Iga by Susan Spann

So, as I mentioned earlier, today is Betrayal at Iga day here on the blog! As part of my stop on the TLC blog tour for Susan Spann's latest Hiro Hattori mystery, we kicked things off with a post from Susan herself on the arduous task of researching food for the series :) And now, a review of the book in question!

Hiro and Father Mateo have been summoned to Hiro's clan home in Iga. They are to host a contingent from another assassin clan, the Koga, in hopes of negotiating a treaty banding the two clans together. But when one of the emissaries dies in the midst of their welcome feast, it seems peace talks are definitely off.

As tempers flare and threats fly, Hattori Hanzō offers up the investigative skills of his cousin and the priest in hopes of settling concerns that the Iga clan is responsible. The Koga clan agrees, but with stipulations that put Father Mateo in even more danger than the already tense situation warrants. With just three days to solve the murder, Hiro and Father Mateo are already under ample pressure. And for Hiro it means more than just another investigation - this time his honor is at risk, his own family stands accused, and the man he is duty bound to protect could become a target to boot. 

So Hiro's in a bit of a pickle in this one - more so than usual. His duty is to protect Father Mateo and the murder of a shinobi in the Koga clan, on the grounds of his own clan and family, is a big deal. The death is determined to be the result of poisoning and Hiro's own mother and grandmother each had a hand in meal preparation. Plus there's the fact that eyes immediately tun to Hiro's cousin, Hattori Hanzō - because nothing happens in Iga without his knowledge.

So yeah, while Hiro and Father Mateo are definitely the most capable of unraveling the surprising lack of clues and revealing who the real killer is and what the motive was, involvement means a lot of risk for the two.

But it's not like they have any choice. Again, there's the whole duty thing - and the head of the Iga clan determines that Hiro's duty can be spent both in protecting Father Mateo AND in solving this delicate case. Hiro would potentially beg to differ, especially as their own lives come closer and closer to danger with each passing hour!

As always, Spann's careful attention to detail makes this a truly delightful series. The historical facts are fascinating and worked into the plot organically - Father Mateo as an outsider makes for the perfect vehicle for explaining any potentially complicated or confusing aspect of the nuances and rules of the culture in 16th century Japan as well as the roles and norms of those within the shinobi clans. And the relationship between Hiro and Father Mateo is wonderful!

Betrayal at Iga is the fifth Hiro Hattori/shinobi mystery but can very easily be read as a stand alone or introduction to the series. There are a few references to past investigations and, in particular, to the way things were left in The Ninja's Daughter, but it's nothing so detailed as to either take away from the reading of those or give away any of their major twists. If you'd like to start from the beginning, here's the series list in order:

Claws of the Cat 
Blade of the Samurai
Flask of the Drunken Master
The Ninja's Daughter
Betrayal at Iga

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Susan Spann and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books-A-Million | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Seventh Street Books


Guest Post by Susan Spann + a Giveaway

Happy Wednesday, readers! Today I'm super excited to welcome Susan to the blog as part of today's stop on the TLC tour for her latest, Betrayal at Iga. (There is a giveaway here, so be sure to read through to enter.)

Before I hand things over to Susan, here's a bit about the fifth entry in the fabulous Shinobi series, from Goodreads:

Autumn, 1565: After fleeing Kyoto, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo take refuge with Hiro s ninja clan in the mountains of Iga province. But when an ambassador from the rival Koga clan is murdered during peace negotiations, Hiro and Father Mateo must find the killer in time to prevent a war between the ninja clans.

With every suspect a trained assassin, and the evidence incriminating not only Hiro s commander, the infamous ninja Hattori Hanz, but also Hiro s mother and his former lover, the detectives must struggle to find the truth in a village where deceit is a cultivated art. As tensions rise, the killer strikes again, and Hiro finds himself forced to choose between his family and his honor.


And now, over to Susan!

Ninja Eats: Researching the Tastes of Medieval Japan 


mushroom soba
My newest Hiro Hattori novel, Betrayal at Iga, opens with a feast that goes horribly wrong. Although the sudden and unexpected death of a ninja ambassador is the focus of the scene, I faced a bigger—but admittedly more enjoyable—challenge writing about the food. 

Cuisine has always been an important part of Japanese culture. Since long before the medieval period, Japanese people have considered food a form of art—on a level with poetry, flower arranging, painting, and even the arts of swordsmanship and combat. Every region of Japan has culinary specialties, and many cities have specialized versions of regional dishes, too. 

Some foods are enjoyed throughout Japan—noodle dishes like ramen and udon are good examples—but even these ubiquitous favorites have often-dramatic regional variations. In some places, udon is eaten cold while in other places the noodles are served hot, in broth. The type of broth also varies regionally, from fish and seaweed dashi to pork-based soup and even curry. 

curry udon
Japanese menus also follow the seasons, with certain dishes appearing only at certain times of year. In Kyoto, chefs who prepare traditional kaiseki cuisine recognize twenty-four annual “seasons” instead of the four we normally see in the West. Some chefs even subdivide the 24 seasons into 72—each of which controls the ingredients and dishes to be served. 

For this reason, I try to travel in Japan at the times of year when my books take place as well as in the places where I set each mystery novel. Although the food has changed somewhat as modern transportation has expanded the range of available ingredients, many Japanese regional dishes have changed very little since the medieval era, which makes researching the food for my novels a delicious part of my travels in Japan. 

vegetable sashimi
I do face one unusual challenge when researching Japanese cuisine: I’m allergic to fish, which means that in some cases I have to use my sense of smell and my imagination to fill the gaps between the versions of dishes I can eat and the ones my characters enjoy. My ninja detective, Hiro, has a passionate love of udon served in dashi, topped with finely chopped onions and freshly grilled fish. Readers often ask if the dish is a favorite of mine as well, and are surprised to hear I’ve never actually eaten it. In reality, my son is the one who loves to eat Hiro’s favorite dish—the version I prefer is curry udon topped with tempura mochi—pounded rice cakes, fried to a crispy golden brown. 

I spend a lot of time researching Japanese food, and try to ensure the dishes that appear in my novels are accurate for the season and location in which they appear. Little details give life to the story, and I love that my novels let me share the exquisite and often exotic tastes of medieval Japan.

About the author: Susan Spann is a transactional publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University, where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history, and culture. Her hobbies include cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.

Huge thanks to Susan for being on the blog today - now I need to go hunt down some noodles!

And now for the giveaway: to enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, July 31. Open US only and no PO boxes please. 

 a Rafflecopter giveaway


Be sure to check back here in a bit for my Betrayal at Iga review post!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Susan Spann and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books-A-Million | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Seventh Street Books

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dark Saturday by Nicci French

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm super excited to be part of the TLC blog tour for Nicci French's latest Frieda Klein release, Dark Saturday!

I'm going to defer to the Goodreads copy here, due to lack of time and care regarding possible spoilers (in other words, I'm in a pinch and don't want to give anything away about this one!):

Thirteen years ago eighteen year old Hannah Docherty was arrested for the brutal murder of her family. It was an open and shut case and Hannah's been incarcerated in a secure hospital ever since.

When psychotherapist Frieda Klein is asked to meet Hannah and give her assessment of her she reluctantly agrees. What she finds horrifies her. Hannah has become a tragic figure, old before her time. And Frieda is haunted by the thought that Hannah might be as much of a victim as her family; that something wasn't right all those years ago.

And as Hannah's case takes hold of her, Frieda soon begins to realise that she's up against someone who'll go to any lengths to protect themselves . . .

I've been a longtime fan of this series! Each new outing sees our heroine becoming embroiled in a new case that extends well beyond the boundaries of her office walls. And each new outing is as good, if not even better, than the last!

Part of what I love about this series is, of course, Frieda. She's grown, as have the characters that surround her. We learn something new about her and her background, we see her overcome trauma - past and present, and we see her use her ample skills to solve crimes and try to right wrongs she sees around her, often at grave risk to herself. She has a great support system of friends that have followed her throughout the series, getting ample page time and fabulous development where other series and authors may have left them to fall by the wayside.

Obviously the other facet of the series that I quite enjoy is the plotting and Dark Saturday is no exception. I love the slow build of the story and realizing, alongside Frieda, what her discoveries mean and how they pertain to the cases she's taken on.

Nicci French is, as I've mentioned on the blog before, the husband and wife team of Nicci Gerard and Sean French. Their writing together is seamless and excellent, with no stuttering or clear delineation between the writing. I can't attest to their process, but I can say the result of their writing together is as if one mind is behind the creation!

Dark Saturday is the sixth in the series, and I really have no idea how many more are planned. The series began with Monday and we're up to Saturday by now so I'm guessing there will be a Sunday installment too. For fans of the series, this is definitely another fantastic installment that lives up to expectations. For newbies to the series, you may miss out on some of the specifics of the character relationships, but you can definitely slide in with this latest without missing much. If you do want to start from the beginning, though, here's the series list in order:

Blue Monday
Tuesday's Gone
Waiting for Wednesday
Thursday's Children
Friday on My Mind
Dark Saturday

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on the authors and their work, you can like them on Facebook.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Sunday, July 16, 2017

New Releases 7/18/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

Soul Cage by Tetsuya Honda

Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil

Blame by Jeff Abbott*

Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

One For Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn

The Special Ones by Em Bailey

Minecraft: The Island by Max Brooks

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy

New on DVD:
Kong: Skull Island
Buster's Mal Heart
Resident Evil: Vendetta

*You may have heard by now, but if not, Jeff Abbott's home was lost in a fire just recently. The bookish community is doing a few things that you can find around the web but considering Blame is out this week, the easiest way to show your support is to pre order a copy now or head out to your local bookstore to buy a copy Tuesday.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Final Girls by Riley Sager

Quincy, Lisa, and Sam are the Final Girls. Dubbed so by the media, the three women were the sole survivors of three separate, horrible crimes. For Quincy, the moniker is an ever present reminder of the day her best friends were murdered. But she herself has very few memories of that terrible night. 

Then Lisa is found dead. The verdict is suicide, but Quincy isn't sure. And when Sam shows up at her door, she becomes even more certain that Lisa wouldn't have killed herself. Together, the remaining Final Girls begin searching for answers, but as they do, Quincy starts to wonder if she can truly trust Sam - or anyone. And as their investigation gets closer to the truth, she starts to remember.

"Final Girl" as you may know, is a term coined to describe the last woman standing in typical horror fare. There are multiple books and movies that bear the name (the film starring Taissa Farming and Malin Akerman is my favorite so far). And given that Riley Sager's debut (Riley Sager is apparently a pseudonym for a previously published author) has been hyped as THE thriller of the summer, blurbed by no less that Stephen King himself, you can imagine I was pretty excited to get my hands on a copy.

The attention this one is getting is not completely unfounded, but I think my own expectations of it may have been too high.

Quincy is a survivor. She's on meds to keep her stable, and abuses them to an extent, which is understandable. And she's shielded by the fact that she has virtually no memory of the crime that claimed her friends' lives. But when Sam appears in her life, she goes off the rails in a way that I didn't quite think worked.

She trusts Sam, as a fellow survivor. But we already know that she's made a point of never really interacting with the other final girls. She's spoken to Lisa a few times but Sam has remained hidden and fairly anonymous from the world. So I wasn't completely sold on the fact that Quincy would trust Sam so quickly. Her attraction to the fellow survivor, who is admittedly more outgoing and manic, and her quickness to follow just didn't quite mesh with the caution I thought Quincy displayed when the book began.

The story progresses quickly, with Quincy soon setting off to find out what really happened to Lisa. And it turns out Lisa herself had been keeping information on all three of them, which kicks off Quincy's returning memories.

It's a truly lightning fast read, with plenty of twists and turns. And overall I thought it was a lot of fun, certainly perfect for summer as promised. But I also thought it was just a bit thin in terms of development. I wanted more from the characters and the plot as a whole. I wanted to sink into the story and get lost, which never really happened, unfortunately.