Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Susan Spann's latest in her Shinobi Mysteries series, The Blade of the Samurai.

The shogun's cousin has been murdered in his office and Hiro and Father Mateo have been asked to investigate. They agree, reluctantly, but have hidden the fact that they are both already aware of the murder. In the wee hours of the morning, and just before the body is discovered, Hiro's fellow shinobi Kazu arrived at Father Mateo's residence begging for Hiro's help. The dead man had been murdered with Kazu's own blade! Kazu swore his innocence but Hiro isn't so certain - a shinobi like himself would be trained to lie after all. The shogun gives Hiro and Father Mateo just three days to find the killer. When those three days are up, someone will be punished for the crime whether they've been proven guilty or not. 

This second in Spann's series is my introduction to the story. And while that's mostly fine - the mystery stands alone - the character set up is something I've missed out on.

First, shinobi according to Spann's provided glossary means:

literally "shadowed person." Shinobi is the Japanese pronunciation of the characters that many Westerners pronounce "ninja." ("Ninja" is based on a Chinese pronunciation.)

Second, Hiro's (and Kazu's) real purpose in Kyoto is secret. No one knows they are shinobi. They are there under cover - Hiro is supposed to protect Father Mateo and does so under the guise of being his translator. I do imagine that much of this as well as the development of Hiro and Father Mateo's relationship plays a great part in the plot of Claws of the Cat. In this second outing, though, it's clear that Father Mateo knows Hiro is shinobi and that the two of them have developed a rapport and trust based around his skills and their shared secret. And yet Hiro doesn't know why he's been hired to protect Father Mateo in particular.

Spann spends a good amount of time setting the scene both culturally and historically in the book, but it is fluid and blends naturally into the story rather than sounding like a classroom lecture interspersed in the narrative. Sixteenth century Japan has some quite different rules about class, law, and respect. Most interesting, and a key part of the plot here, is the fact that if Hiro and Father Mateo fail in uncovering the murderer's identity to the shogun's satisfaction, they could actually be held responsible in the killer's stead! At the same time, there's a political based secondary plot that involves the arrival of a neighboring lord and a possible plot against the shogun.

I quite enjoyed my introduction to Hiro and Father Mateo. Spann's setting is unique and the overall tone is somewhat light. I really appreciated the fact that Spann was able to so smoothly incorporate the historical aspects, giving the reader a real understanding of Kyoto in the 1500s. Readers looking for something beyond the usual mystery fare will certainly find the Shinobi Mysteries appealing.

Rating: 4/5

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.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsenault

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Emily Arsenault's latest, What Strange Creatures.

Theresa doesn't mind dog watching for her brother's girlfriend for the weekend, but when Monday rolls around with no sign of Kim, Theresa starts to get concerned. A bit of poking reveals that pretty much no one has any idea where Kim is. Just a few days later, though, the hotel Kim stayed at reports her missing and her car is found abandoned. Theresa and her brother begin to do some digging and find that the girl might have been mixed up in something shady. Nothing prepares them for what comes next, however. Kim's body is discovered and Theresa's brother is arrested for murder. Now it's up to Theresa to find out what Kim was really involved in and who might have had reason to kill her.

Arsenault's latest is a puzzle packed with charming characters and intrigue. Theresa is a perpetual grad student working as a copywriter for a votive candle company and delaying her thesis. Her brother, once labeled a genius, never finished college and has been unemployed since losing his job as a school bus driver. Theresa suspects he drinks too much as well. Murder, though, that's one thing she's sure her brother would never be capable of.

Kim is a mystery to them both. They discover some pictures of a local politician on her phone and soon realize that Kim was up to something questionable as pertains to the man. Was she blackmailing him? Was she having an affair? Was he the one that killed her?

I kind of loved What Strange Creatures. And I kind of knew I was going to love it from the start. Theresa drew me in from the opening lines:

What are you supposed to do on the second night your brother is in jail on a murder charge?

Should you watch The Colbert Report? Should you clean the black crud from behind your kitchen faucet? Should you make yourself a smoothing with protein powder?

Her penchant for turning to her thesis subject, Margery Kempe, is also incredibly endearing and quirky.

Overall I found What Strange Creatures to be a fairly light and quick read with the kind of plot and characters that will appeal to a wide array of readers from book clubbers to mystery fans.

Rating: 4/5

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

For more on Emily Arsenault and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Wicked Wildfire Readathon 2014 Update


So as I mentioned last Monday I'm signed on to take part in the Wicked Wildfire Readathon hosted by the gals over at My Shelf Confessions. The readathon runs 7/14-7/24.

These were my planned titles:

Definites:

Bliss House by Laura Benedict - done

A Triple Knot by Emma Campion - done

No Longer & Not Yet by Joanna Claps Herman - done

Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell

What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsenault - 170/366

Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann 

The Bone Seeker by M.J. McGrath

Maybes:

The Stone Boy by Sophie Loubière - this looks fabulous and will be read sooner rather than later

The Intruders by Michael Marshall Smith - my goal is to read this BEFORE the show starts

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan - done

I did go off list once already:

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson - done

Not too shabby but I'm still hoping I can get to quite a few more. As soon as What Strange Creatures is wrapped up I'll be diving into Blade of the Samurai. If all goes well I can finish my definites and get one more maybe in before Thursday is over. (I'm planning for heavy reading and no real tv time tonight and tomorrow.)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

New Releases 7/22/14

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Ice Shear by M.P. Cooley

Hounded by David Rosenfelt

What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsenault

Bravo by Greg Rucka

The Gone Dead Train by Lisa Turner

Valor by John Gwynne

Remains of the Innocent by J.A. Jance

Support and Defend by Mark Greaney (Tom Clancy)

Prototype by M.D. Waters (7/24)

The Bone Seeker by M.J. McGrath (7/24)

The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

Last to Know by Elizabeth Adler

Extraction by Stephanie Diaz

One Past Midnight by Jessica Shirvington

New on DVD:
Transcendence

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
The Best Horror of the Year v 6 ed by Ellen Datlow
One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern
Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

I'm not a HUGE stand up fan. Yes, I enjoy it. Yes, we frequent our local comedy club (shout out to Comedy Works). And yes, since the launch of 103.1 every trip we take in my husband's car is to the soundtrack of stand up. So when I say I'm not a HUGE fan I mean that for reasons that escape me I don't generally pick up comedians' book releases when they hit shelves. And yet, once upon a time I did read Tim Allen and Paul Reiser as well as a few others (yes, that shows how long it's been!). Plus,  Tina Fey's Bossypants! Even I'm not immune to that.

In a roundabout way, this is my intro to my review of Jim Gaffigan's Dad is Fat and to explain why, even though it might seem an odd choice for me, I chose it as my latest Blogging for Books selection. I've seen Gaffigan's stand up specials and he's really hilarious. I also saw him on The Daily Show when he was original promoting this book, so it's been on my radar for some time.

I didn't quite realize that the whole book was about parenting - this was totally my own fault considering the book is called Dad is Fat and I did watch the above linked interview but apparently didn't pay attention that much. But hey, Jim Gaffigan is known for self-depracating humor in general so I just figured it was a quip about funny (and mean) things kids say amongst other life things. Nope, it's all parenting. And it's all hilarious even for a thirty-something with no kids. Why? Because I think all of us at my age - even the ones with no kids - have some exposure to kids and parents.

Gaffigan's humor is, as mentioned, quite self deprecating. A lot of the jokes in the book are still at his own expense even when it's simple commentary about kids' behavior, watching his wife give birth, or things observed in other parents. If you've ever seen or heard Gaffigan's stand up (and like it, obviously) then you'll not want to miss Dad is Fat. And if you haven't seen/heard Gaffigan, look him up. I recommend this particular Hot Pocket clip (referenced in the intro to the book). And if you do happen to be one of the gazillions of people out there with kids, then you'll probably appreciate this book even more than I did.

Rating: 4/5

Per Blogging for Books requirements: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bliss House by Laura Benedict

It wasn't Rainey's fault that her husband died. The explosion that killed him and crippled her daughter was nothing more than a tragic accident. And yet, as time passes she finds that she can no longer face her old life. The desire to get away and make a future for her and her daughter drives her to Old Gate and the historic Bliss House. And though no Blisses have owned the house for quite some time, Rainey has come to bring it back to the family and restore it to its former glory. But Bliss House has secrets. Secrets that are begging to be revealed. Secrets that could potentially endanger Rainey and her daughter. 

Laura Benedict has long been a favorite of mine and each new book she releases is immediately on my must have list. I was actually planning to read this one about a month ago - in time to cover it for its release - and things kept delaying me. As annoyed as that was making me, I have to say it was clearly fate's way of telling me to wait. The weather this week was perfect reading for a haunted house story - rare and noisy thunderstorms here in Colorado!

I do so enjoy a good haunted house story and Bliss House is a GOOD haunted house story. As the revelations of the house begin to unfold, it becomes clear to the reader that Benedict has so much more hidden up her sleeve. Even if I didn't know already that she's working on more Bliss House books, I'd have finished with a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't the last we'd see of the creepy abode.

Rainey and Ariel's story is ultimately one of a mother trying her best to care for her daughter. Rainey, an interior designer, is in a way responsible for their current state. She'd purchased an antique stove that wasn't properly installed, causing a gas leak in their previous house. Now, her daughter is scarred to such an extent that she refuses to go out in public. But their move to Bliss House begins to change Ariel, not necessarily in a good way. And Rainey does refuse to see what so many of the locals see in Bliss House. Even admitting at the beginning that the most recent and scandalous events at the house have allowed her to afford buying it isn't enough for her to recognize the ominous stain that permanently mars the estate. Not that she or anyone else really knows the true extent of the story.

There is a secondary story that plays directly into Rainey and Ariel's tale, that of a young woman kidnapped and held in the house at some time prior to when Bliss House takes place. Her story is truly horrific and as we begin with her tale it does set the tone for the book as a whole.

At times Bliss House is a quite nasty book, just in terms of kinds of violence. If you're a sensitive reader, you have been warned. But overall it's not a terribly graphic horror novel. Instead, Bliss House is the kind of horror that relies on overall plot, atmosphere, and characters to provide the necessary thrills and chills of the story. And boy does Benedict build up the atmosphere!

Bliss House is out now and makes for the perfect creepy bedtime read (even if it's not raining!).

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, July 17, 2014

No Longer and Not Yet by Joanna Clapps Herman

Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Joanna Clapps Herman's short story collection, No Longer and Not Yet.

In this interconnected series of stories, Joanna Clapps Herman illustrates the everyday. The pieces of life one might take for granted. The relationships all around us. Tess travels Italy with a new lover, Max. Back home, her friend Naomi makes a big life change. Olivia faces the loss of her brother. Upon their return, Max faces the reality of new love. Clapps Herman offers up a look at these characters and more, giving readers a glimpse into the stories that surround us. 

All of the stories progress in a way that is somewhat atypical of a short story collection. Generally each piece would stand on its own with little or no return to the characters you've met in previous tales. Here we return again and again to the characters already introduced, catching bits and pieces here and there. This is a benefit, I think, to No Longer and Not Yet because otherwise it would be exactly the kind of short stories I don't enjoy. Instead, where there's no question that this is a collection of connected shorts, it can somewhat be read as a novel. You get more of a look at each character along the way. And so a look at the more mundane aspects of life does somehow become a more encompassing look at these people's lives.

Joanna Clapps Herman has a knack for drawing the reader's attention to small details while not being overly verbose (as you might expect by my pointing out the small details). And while there's something there, the collection did miss the mark a bit for me as a reader. I have to say, however, it's been getting really positive reviews on the tour and I'd highly encourage you to check out those other reviews. No Longer and Not Yet is likely a Goldilocks book - for some it'll be too big and others it'll be too little, but for many it'll be just right.  

Rating: 3/5

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Joanna Clapps Herman and her work be sure to visit her website here.