4 stars

Cheerleaders get down and dirty in DARE ME by Megan Abbott

Publisher: Back Bay Books
Received From: Purchased
Genre: Thriller, Noir

Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy’s best friend and trusted lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they’re seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls — until the young new coach arrives.

Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth, unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach’s golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as “top girl” — both with the team and with Addy herself. 

Then a suicide focuses a police investigation on Coach and her squad. After the first wave of shock and grief, Addy tries to uncover the truth behind the death — and learns that the boundary between loyalty and love can be dangerous terrain. 

The raw passions of girlhood are brought to life in this taut, unflinching exploration of friendship, ambition, and power. Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott, writing with what Tom Perrotta has hailed as “total authority and an almost desperate intensity,” provides a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the all-American girl.

Initial Thoughts: I have had the pleasure of meeting the author at a book festival which led me to consider giving her latest release a try.

Review:  I really enjoyed this psychological thriller and you have to get over the fact that these teens are some pretty dark characters. The theme of this novel is manipulation and just who exactly holds the upper hand. Told from Abby Hanlon’s perspective she is second in command to head-hauncho, Beth Cassidy, of the military like structure  within the female ranks of cheerleaders. Beth’s control is threatened by a new cheer coach who seems immune to the manipulative powers of the head cheerleader. Abby is pulled between her loyalty to her best friend and the intriguing life of her new coach. There are some great exchanges in this novel, in their bleakness and the things that are said by the characters. Abbott does a great job of pulling the reader into lives that seem pretty superficial on the outside. Isn’t that was cheerleaders are to most of us? Superficial and symbolic of an unattainable ideal? The language was the highlight of this novel for me. We are completely within Abby’s world and her method of expression is unique and provocative.  As the story develops, their world disintegrates and the characters descend further into darkness, destroying the lives of those around them. Don’t mess with these teenagers, they are power-hungry, privileged and cutthroat.

Quote: “She was the one who showed me all the dark wonders of life, the real life, the life I’d only seen flickering from the corner of my eye. Did I ever feel anything at all until she showed me what feeling meant? Pushing at the corners of her cramped world with curled fists, she showed me what it meant to live.”

Overall: Dark, edgy, and emotionally tense throughout turn this all-American setting  into a scintillating and murderous world.

Rating: 4 stars

About the Author

Megan Abbott is the Edgar Award-winning author of five previous novels. She received her Ph.D. in literature from New York University and has taught literature, writing, and film at NYU, the New School, and SUNY-Oswego. She lives in New York City.

http://www.meganabbott.com
@meganeabbott

Purchase: Amazon Indiebound – B&N

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More Vampires?! Order of the Sanguines: INNOCENT BLOOD

Author: James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 448
Release Date: December 10th
Genre: Gothic, Thriller, Paranormal

A vicious attack at a ranch in California thrusts archaeologist Erin Granger back into the folds of the Sanguines, an immortal order founded on the blood of Christ and tasked with protecting the world from the beasts haunting its shadows and waiting to break free into the sunlight.  Following the prophetic words found in the Blood Gospel–a tome written by Christ and lost for centuries–Erin must join forces with Army Sergeant Jordan Stone and the dark mystery that is Father Rhun Korza to discover and protect a boy believed to be an angel given flesh.

But an enigmatic enemy of immense power and terrifying ambition seeks the same child–not to save the world, but to hasten its destruction.  For any hope of victory, Erin must discover the truth behind Christ’s early years and understand His first true miracle, an event wrapped in sin and destruction, an act that yet remains unfulfilled and holds the only hope for the world. 

The search for the truth will take Erin and the others across centuries and around the world, from the dusty plains of the Holy Land to the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, from the catacombs of Rome to an iron fortress in the Mediterranean Sea, and at last to the very gates of Hell itself, where their destiny–and the fate of mankind–awaits.

With The Blood Gospel, the first novel in the Order of the Sanguines series, James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell breathtakingly combined science, myth, and religion and introduced a world where miracles hold new meaning and the fight for good over evil is far more complicated than we ever dreamed. In Innocent Blood they again take us to the edge of destruction . . . and into the deepest reaches of imagination.

Initial Thoughts: I’m familiar with James Rollins but not Rebecca Cantrell (isn’t this how co-writing usually goes?)

I continue my track record of reading the second installment in a series without having read the first. What can I say? I like to jump into the thick of things and I suppose if the second book doesn’t hold up that says a lot about the first one. By the end of this review you should have a solid idea of whether to start at the beginning or pass it by.

What I liked:

The prologue It opens during the crusades and we learn that the sanguinists (vampires that take a holy vow to serve the church) are helping obliterate the muslims. I love these sorts of scenes, it whets my appetite for an explanation for the arc of impact that these moments have on the future.

Historical Fact/Fiction: James Rollins is a master at seamlessly weaving historical fact and possibility into a fictional tale. This book doesn’t hold back, with fallen angels, uncovering the first miracle of Jesus Christ and  the unleashing of Satan, the plot is a rich tableau that should spark a curiosity about these historical events.

Sanguinists/Strigoi: The creation of the Sanguinists, a holy order of vampires, was intriguing and well done. The strigoi are vampires as popular culture tends to portray them – bloodthirsty and revelers of the nighttime. Sanguinists subsist on the blood of Christ and because of this they are able to tolerate the sun. the conflict between these two sects of vampires actually helps to humanize the creatures and delve into why some vampires chose to become sanguinists and others remain strigoi.

Locations: From California to Rome, Turkey (and everywhere in between) the authors have done a spectacular job of transporting the reader and making the past and present come to life on the page.

What I didn’t like (as much):

Wishy-washy rules for the supernatural: It’s almost too complicated to make sense for some characters and it’s never fully explained. There are many different aspects of the supernatural explored, from angels to immortal characters, and of course the vampires. Jordan is seemingly killed by a bullet, but a few droplets of blood from the First Angel boy revive him. There is an allusion. The conclusion seems to have become, it happens because it is useful for the plot of the story and rules can bend depending on their role.

Love Triangles  Erin and Rhun, a sanguinist have a strange bond- the result of Rhun having revived Erin with his vampire blood in the first book. Rhun is cursed by his love for Elisabeta, who he turned into vampire.  Their bond flutters through the minds of pretty much every character bu it’s never addressed outright and there is no development beyond that. This connection may have a larger influence in the next book.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Overall:  Paranormal meets thriller and the journey of the characters through history and their present trials is a vivid and compelling ride.

About the Authors 

James Rollins is the New York Times bestselling author of the Sigma Force series and other novels. Blending science and history, his action adventure novels have been praised as “enormously engrossing” (NPR) and “smart, entertaining adventure fiction” (New York Journal of Books). Before pursuing a writing career, Jim obtained a degree in veterinary medicine and established a successful veterinary practice in Sacramento, CA. He currently resides in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

http://www.jamesrollins.com
@jamesrollins

New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Cantrell’s novels have won the Bruce Alexander and the Macavity awards and been nominated for the Barry, Mary Higgins Clark, APPY, RT Reviewers Choice, and Shriekfest Film Festival awards. She and her husband and son just left Hawaii’s sunny shores for adventures in Hannah Vogel’s hometown–Berlin.

http://www.rebeccacantrell.com
@rebeccacantrell

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Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for an honest review

Treasure Hunt Mystery : Pirate Vishnu

Author: Gigi Pandian
Publisher: Henery Press
Release Date: Feb. 11, 2014 (Paperback)
Genre: Mystery, Women’s Fiction
How I got a copy: NetGalley

 A century-old treasure map of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. Sacred riches from India. Two murders, one hundred years apart. And a love triangle… Historian Jaya Jones has her work cut out for her.

1906. Shortly before the Great San Francisco Earthquake, Pirate Vishnu strikes the San Francisco Bay. An ancestor of Jaya’s who came to the U.S. from India draws a treasure map…

Present Day. Over a century later, the cryptic treasure map remains undeciphered. From San Francisco to the southern tip of India, Jaya pieces together her ancestor’s secrets, maneuvers a complicated love life she didn’t count on, and puts herself in the path of a killer to restore a revered treasure.

Initial thoughts: A treasure hunter and Indian pirates seems like the perfect combination. Even though I haven’t read the first in the series, the premise is intriguing enough.

My Take: Jaya Jones was introduced in the first installment ARTIFACT. She is a historian who somehow gets herself embroiled in treasure hunts in the vein of a female Indiana Jones. With one adventure under her belt, Jaya has returned to San Francisco to return to her scholarly pursuits and the hope that she will be taken on as faculty by the college.

Her office is invaded by a frantic lawyer named Steven Healy. He begins asking Jaya about her long lost relative who died in the San Francisco earthquake. Or did he? This is when the treasure map that has been passed down through his family comes to light. Healy gives the treasure map to Jaya and she thinks nothing more of the map than as a vestige of a bygone era. Her casual interest in suddenly heightened when Steven Healy is discovered dead and the police begin questioning her possession of his map.

The only instance that I wished I had read the first novel, was Jaya’s attempts to connect with Lane, who had apparently broken ties with her. His distance is a real mystery at first, and it was hard to understand why Jaya was trying to hard to find him. Their relationship was a part of ARTIFACT, but in this book Lane is just an elusive character that for some reason is avoiding Jaya. He does appear during her trip to India, and we realize he does have her best interests at heart. Until then, I found myself scratching my head about Lane’s purpose in this book.

Jaya has a side gig as a musician at a local restaurant, the first sign that she identifies with her Indian heritage. She also has a good friend, Sanjay, who is a magician and has an assistant named Grace, he is the little bit of comic relief needed in this tale. The attraction between Jaya and Sanjay is hinted at but never expressed outright. His concern for Jaya is heartwarming but in a big brother sort of way. As a reader I wasn’t sure which guy to root for and I sort of like that tug and pull of affection Jaya has for Lane and Sanjay.

There are a lot of threads within this story with characters dropping in then disappaering for a bit. And with the plot shifting back in time every few chapters, there was a lot to keep track of but Gigi wrote it in a way that made it easy for the reader. We learn The Pirate Vishnu wasn’t always a pirate but an immigrant who made a few friends in the lowliest parts of San Francisco and fell in love with a girl. The chapters told at the turn of the century kept me entertained and while I can’t judge the historical accuracy myself, it seemed to reflect some research on the author’s part.

My favorite section was Jaya’s journey to India. Though dropping everything and flying to India seems easier said than done. It was an opportunity for the book to get some real adventure in a new and exotic place. I’m glad that it was included, and while their trip only seemed to confirm little, and they returned knowing little more than before they left, I felt it was essential if only for the excitement India lent to the storytelling.

My suggestion is to get into this series from the beginning and you’ll thoroughly enjoy the entire journey of Jaya by the time this book releases. Looking forward to the next installment!

Rating: 4 Stars

Overall: Jaya Jones channels Indiana Jones on a quest across continents and backward in time. Readers will enjoy the lighthearted mystery and the multitude of characters that spice up the story along the way.

About the Author

Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. After being dragged around the world during her childhood, she tried to escape her fate when she left a PhD program for art school. But adventurous academics wouldn’t stay out of her head. Thus was born the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series.

Gigi’s debut mystery novel, Artifact, was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012″ Debut Novel bySuspense Magazine.

http://www.gigipandian.com
@gigpandian

Get the first book in the series: Amazon – B&NPowell’s

THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART


Publisher: William Morrow
Pub Date : February 4, 2014
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Pages: 304

On an ordinary Friday evening at his favorite Boston tavern, George Foss’s comfortable, predictable life is shattered when a beautiful woman sits down at the bar, a woman who vanished without a trace twenty years ago.

Liana Dector isn’t just an ex-girlfriend, the first love George couldn’t quite forget. She’s also a dangerous enigma and quite possibly a cold-blooded killer wanted by the police. Suddenly, she’s back—and she needs George’s help. Ruthless men believe she stole some money . . . and they will do whatever it takes to get it back.

George knows Liana is trouble. But he can’t say no—he never could—so he makes a choice that will plunge him into a terrifying whirlpool of lies, secrets, betrayal, and murder from which there is no sure escape.

Initial thoughts: Love the cover and the title!

My Take: George is still haunted by his first love. His  brief but passionate love affair with Liana as a college freshman still lingers. We meet him nearing mid-life as a man unable to sustain a stable relationship with a woman and feeling the failure of his life choices.

Some chapters are told from the perspective of George when he was an impressionable young adult. He knows Liana as someone else entirely until George learns she won’t be returning to college from FL because she died. George takes it upon himself to travel to Florida to meet the family, find closure and mourn. The cathartic journey only serves to open up a bag of worms when he learns that Liana is alive and may have been involved in the death of the girl whose identity she stole. She disappears for good leaving George to sort through the detritus of their love.

Fast forward twenty years, when George spots Liana in a bar. She is still alluring and impenetrable.  George is unable to see that his infatuation makes him the perfect prey for someone like Liana.  He agrees to do a favor for her and quickly is embroiled in a murder which leaves him questioning his decision to fall for her charms.  Is she really caught in a web of crime that she can’t get herself out of or did she use George to pull of the perfect crime?

I was caught up in sorting through the enigma of Liana. George however, seemed very hollow, lacking any substance that would lead me to feel anything deeper about his situation. George was simply the vehicle for Liana and for the author as well.

Overall: Plenty of sexiness and  intrigue work together to create a careful crescendo of tension that will have you gasping for breath at the end. You will be more perplexed by Liana on the last page as George was from the first.

Rating: 4 Stars – A promising debut

About the author:

Peter Swanson’s poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, Notre Dame Review, Slant Magazine, Soundings East, Rattapallax, and The Vocabula Review.  He has earned degrees in Creative Writing, Education, and Literature from Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College.  He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Author website:  http://www.peter-swanson.com

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*I acquired this advance copy through the publisher. All thoughts are my own.

Review: HEART LIKE MINE

Heart Like Mine

Phew! What an emotional journey. We first meet Grace, independent and successful in her professional life but a little insecure when it comes to her personal life. She’s willing to marry the man of her dreams, older man Victor, even though he is divorced with two kids.  Even though Grace who doesn’t want kids of her own, the mother is there to take care of Ana and Max, and Grace doesn’t have to take on any of that responsibility. Victor and Grace have forged their private world where the children are present but never a burden.

From the first page we learn that Kelli, the mother, has died unexpectedly.

As the characters begin to process their loss, the perspectives begin to splinter and Amy Hatvany takes the readers into the minds of Grace, Ana and Kelli (before her death).  On the cusp of womanhood Ana is rebellious, fiercely loyal to her father and mother and she will do anything to preserve her mother’s memory. Grace is thrust into the midst of a grieving family and consequently is pushed to the periphery as Victor focuses on his children. Kelli’s perspective gives the reader insight into a weary divorced woman who always loved Victor but seemed destined to push him away.

As the tension between Victor and his children and Grace grows, they each uncover little clues about Kelli’s distant past that may provide closure and ultimately mend broken ties.

The arc of the story is pretty fluid and I didn’t feel that the shifting viewpoints were jarring or confusing.  Hatvany does a great job of capturing each of these characters in the midst of figuring out their lives. They are complicated and flawed but ultimately sympathetic. Without Victor’s perspective, his character is the only one that seems to fall flat. It sometimes borders on the line of being an over dramatized Lifetime script, but Hatvany knows when to exercise restraint without sacrificing the tension.

Overall: Multiple viewpoint mesh seamlessly into this highly emotional story about family, love and hope.

About the Author:

Amy Hatvany is the author of Best Kept SecretOutside the LinesThe Language of Sisters, and Heart Like Mine. She lives in Seattle with her family.

Author website: http://www.amyhatvany.com/
Purchase: AmazonB&N  – Indieound

This book was acquired on my own and was not influenced by any outside party.