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100 Pages A Day...Stephanie's Book Reviews

I absolutely love historical fiction and read a lot of it; I love to learn history this way.  I also enjoy reading science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller and non-fiction science.

The Deadliest Sport

The Deadliest Sport - June Trop
Miriam bat Issac lives in Alexandria in the first century CE.  She is awaiting the return of her twin brother, Binyamin as he prepares for his last gladiatorial fight.  Miriam currently serves as the head of the household after her father passed, taking care of the family business and overseeing the household.  When Binyamin returns, he is rowdy, unkempt, harsh and demanding.  He wants his share of his father's inheritance in order to open his own ludas or gladiator school in Alexandria.  When Miriam tells him that the inheritance was relinquished when he became a gladiator, Binyamin is furious.  Meanwhile, Miriam's charge, Amram is dying and the family's former scribe is found murdered in an unseemly part of of town.  Miriam knows that the events are connected and somehow her brother is involved, it is up to her to place the pieces together. 

A fun adventure and mystery in early Alexandria.  I absolutely loved Miriam, she is very forward thinking, straightforward and brave.  Miriam was given a difficult path in life and constantly decided to meet issues head on.  I was very interested in the gladiatorial way of life and how men found their way into the sport as well as the fighting techniques.  For all of Binyamin's brusqueness, he was well versed in understanding of the sport and training techniques.  The mystery picked up about halfway through the story and captured my interest, what seemed like a simple plot thickened as new players arose.  I enjoyed that I was able to see the mystery from two points of view and was pleased at how  Miriam handled the indiscretion.  Overall, a quick read for lovers of historical mystery with a strong female character.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

All the Way to Italy

All the Way to Italy - Flavia Brunetti

Little has grown up in San Francisco, but is a native of Italy. For a good portion of her childhood she was raised by her Aunt Sira in the States. Little and Sira packed up and left Italty after an incident happened concerning her mother and father that caused Little's mother to leave them. Now, Little's father has died and Sira has asked Little to come back to Italy. Little reluctantly returns to her home knowing that she must help sift through her father's things. Little's return also brings back partial memories, things she can't piece together from her time with her mother and father-a symbol, an argument. Little tries to piece together what secret her father was hiding and what made her mother leave; however, the one person who could tell her is no longer alive and Sira is keeping her mouth shut. Little embarks on a trip around Italy trying to figure out the secrets her family has kept, but may unlock more within herself.

A journey of self-discovery and family secrets, All The Way to Italy is a fascinating adventure. With poetic writing, some of the first lines drew me in: "She wanted to tap the man's shoulder and ask him if a place can ever shake off the people who had belonged to it, or if those tendrils would feed her nostalgia forever..." I was also immediately curious about Little; we never find out her real name and her situation is unique. Sira was an immediate favorite with her sage advice and marvelous attitude. Through Sira, there are glimpses of what Little's father was like along with amazing stories of the siblings during WWII. However, Sira is reluctant to give up her brother's secret, setting Little on a trip around Italy. With Little's adventures, we get a very intimate view of some wonderful places around the country that are usually left out of the travel guides. I loved Little's description of Rome as " a city that had adapted to modern times without losing its antiquity." Through Little's trip, Little does not figure out anything about her family, although she does discover more about herself and what she would like to do in life. I do wish the story line with Little's mother, Delila was fleshed out a little more as well as some of the historical sections. There are a few hops back through time to when Sira and Little's father were children during World War II and it seems like there was a lot of potential to build the context of the mystery with Little's father. Overall, a heartwarming and beautiful story of finding your way. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy

Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy - Tony Riches

After the Welsh revolt of  Owain Glyndŵr, Owen Tudor is taken into the English Court as a servant.  He soon finds himself appointed as Keeper of the Wardrobe to the newly widowed Queen  Catherine of Valois.  In his position, Owen finds himself close to the lonely Queen as he runs the ins and outs of her daily life.  He is also very close with the infant King, Henry.  Owen is soon asked to spy on the Queen for the appointed Protector of the Realm, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester.  With loyalty to the Queen first and foremost, Owen lets Catherine know of the duplicity and becomes one of her most trusted men.  As the infant King grows, Queen Catherine's position becomes less stable and Owen stays beside her.  Through a secret marriage, children, a sorrowful death and an English uprising, Owen Tudor's lineage will become essential to England's future.

As someone who loves all things Tudor, I did not know much about Owen Tudor except for his parentage of Edmund and Jaspar.  Not much historical fact is known about Owen Tudor's life; however, Tony Riches has done a wonderful job filling in.  Rich detail of the time period and everyday life in Queen Catherine's household gives background for their romance to take place and for the Tudor lineage to begin.   One of the themes throughout the book is Fortune's Wheel.  Fortune's Wheel turns many times for Owen throughout his life.  I was continuously surprised at his ability to get back on his feet after tragedy or bad luck fell upon him: Owen marries Queen Catherine, but in secret, they are in hiding for many years, have several healthy children, but one birth will take Catherine's life, Owen receive the pardon of the King, but is still imprisoned.   Through Owen's eyes I had an honest look at Queen Catherine, a young woman who showed strength and resilience throughout her life but fell to the same illness as her father, Charles VI of France.  I was also very interested in Owen and Catherine's third son, Owen, who may or may not have lived.  Overall, an exciting and engrossing foundation to the Tudor trilogy.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Come From Away

Come From Away - Genevieve Graham

Near the end of 1939 in East Jeddore, Nova Scotia the three Baker brothers don uniforms and head off the fight against the Germans. Their sister, Grace is left behind to tend the local general store. At times, Grace feels as if she is not doing enough and she is constantly worried about her three brothers, Eugene, Harry and Norman. Then, the war comes close to her home as Grace finds out that German U-Boats are lurking in the waters around East Jeddore. Grace's frustration with the war and hatred for the Germans rise as she finds out further news about her brothers. As Christmas approaches Grace finds hope, with Eugene home for the holidays, the siblings attend a Christmas dance. At the dance, Grace is approached by a stranger; after one dance together Grace is enchanted. However, the stranger seems to be from far away and she doesn't even catch him name. Time passes, and the U-Boat that has been threatening Jeddore's shore has been found and bombed. After that, Grace's mystery man shows up at the general store for supplies. She finds out that his name is Rudi and he is trapping along the shore, but everything else about him remains a mystery. When the truth about Rudi comes to light, it will force Grace and her family to make difficult decisions in the light of the war. 

Written with wonderful atmosphere and memorable characters, Come from Away blends history, the effects of war and romance into a story of hope and change. I was so happy to continue the story of Daniel and Audrey from Tides of Honour. This story of course focuses on their children, the three boys they rescued and their daughter, Grace and can be read as a standalone. It is very interesting and informative for me to read about Canada's role in World War II, as it is something often forgotten or glossed over in US education. I absolutely loved that one little know fact was the basis for Grace's love story and change of perception. At the end of 1942, several men from a U-Boat did indeed attend a dance along the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia. From this fact, Genevieve Graham creates Rudi. The writing bounces back and forth between Grace and Rudi's point of view. Through this style, I was not only anxious to find where their stories would intersect, but I gained perspective on a German Nazi soldier trained from his youth to carry out the job he was given as well as a young women whose life is changing around her due to a war far away. The most important message in the story is one that still has a lot of impact in the world today, compassion and fighting stereotypes. I enjoyed watching Grace grow and her relationship bloom. Overall, a well written historical romance that digs much deeper than love during war. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Good Neighbors

Good Neighbors - Joanne Searling

In the idyllic suburb of Fair Lawn of group of neighbors has formed a loose friendship based on their proximity in their cul-de-sac and their children's age.  However, each neighbor has carefully hidden secrets or simply pieces of their past that they have kept to themselves if it does not fit into the cookie cutter lifestyle that they have envisioned.  When one set of neighbors, Paige and Gene unexpectedly announce that they will be adopting a four-year-old girl from Russia, they upset the fragile structure that the neighbors have become used to.  When the adopted Winnie comes into her life, neighbor Nicole can't help but become attached.  Nicole quickly puts aside all of Paige's strange behaviors in order to become close to Winnie.  As time passes Paige's behavior and Winnie's behavior don't seem to line up, other neighbors notice and the friendships become strained. Nicole doesn't want to see what she does not want to believe.  Bonds break,hard questions have to be asked of the neighbors and decisions made about the neighbors around them.  

This was a very insightful and ominous look into the everyday life of people around us.  In reading, nothing out of the ordinary really happens.  Narrated from Nicole's point of view, there is a feeling of anxiety and strain cast over all the interactions.  We are never quite sure if everything is all right or if Nicole just wants it to be that way.  She tries to keep the group of neighbors together as a group of friends despite what they really think of each other.  Through Nicole's eyes Paige is someone who she would like to see as cooky but harmless, however, even when Nicole describes Paige, it seems like she is trying to hide something from herself.  When Winnie enters the picture, perceptions begin to tilt.  Something just seems off; but because of the fragile nature of the friendships created, no one really seems to dig into what it is and get the full story.  I thought this was very interesting and opened up a lot of questions about what I would do in this situation, do you decide to be nosy and possibly embarrass yourself, or do you ask the tough questions and figure out the truth no matter what?  Throughout the story there is also a plot line of how Nicole's life is not as perfect as she presents, I really wish this was developed more or each neighbor's secrets were revealed.  With and exciting and unexpected ending, Good Neighbors is an exciting and uneasy look into the lives of others.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Star City

Star City - Edwin Peng

Aliens have come to Earth. The Ba'ren have come to Earth looking for peaceful diplomacy, trade and to help with medical research. Part of the diplomacy efforts include two human student ambassadors paired with two Ba'ren ambassadors at the University of Nebraska where ongoing osteosarcoma treatment is taking place that the Ba'ren believe they have a cure for. Emma Smith has been chosen to be one of the student ambassadors to the Ba'ren; as a freshman, Emma hopes to advance her career in biomedical engineering and get to know the Ba'ren. Sepporinen is one of the Ba'ren ambassadors chosen. Unlike Emma, he has no desire to meet another species. Sepporinen would much rather explore the mining opportunities of the asteroids that orbit our Solar System. Emma and Sepporinen are paired together for classes and diplomacy for better or worse, and things quickly get worse as some humans push back against the Ba'ren's involvement on Earth. Things take another strange turn as Emma and Sepporinen find themselves inexplicably drawn towards one another.

Star City is an interesting Young Adult Science Fiction story that follows a story line that we know well, boy meets girl, boy hates girl and then boy and girl and girl fall in love. One aspect that makes this story unique are the reasons why they fall in love. Emma and Sepporinen are both unlikely candidates for the student diplomat positions, the reasoning is not clear until the end, but creates another layer of suspense throughout the story. Another aspect of the story that created tension throughout was the very realistic way that the human population responded to the Ba'ren. There were many parallels between the perception of the Ba'ren coming to Earth and any change that we try to implement on Earth. When the Ba'ren attempted to help humans, there were factions of people that became violent and racist, people that protested, people who responded with fear as well as governments from other countries that attempted to interfere with the way the USA interacted with the Ba'ren. I was very interested in the Ba'ren, their planet and the many cultures and technology that they have. I hope that this is explored more in the second book. I did like the diversity in the book as well, although I felt that Emma's character could have been fleshed out a little more. The uncertainty between the two species reaches it's apex near the end and the truth of the relationship that each species wanted with the other comes out. Overall, Star City complements inter-species romance with plenty of action and adventure and I can't wait to read the next installment.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl - Stacy McAnulty

Middle School is hard enough, but it is going to be an even more difficult year for 12 year old Lucy Callahan. Four years ago Lucy was struck by lightning while playing outside. Lucy's heart stopped for a few minutes, but more importantly, it changed the way her brain worked. When Lucy recovered, she had developed Acquired Savant Syndrome for math. Lucy became a whiz with number, doing complex calculations in her head, she could also see math, numbers have a color and a shape. With her acquired savant syndrome also came a few quirks, Lucy now has a germ phobia and has to toe tap three time and do a stand-up, sit-down routine three times before taking a seat or the numbers of Pi will invade her head. With her new skills and quirks, Lucy's Nana pulls her out of traditional school and helps Lucy earn her GED at 12 years old. Now, when Lucy should be looking at colleges, her Nana and Uncle Paul decide that Lucy could use some real world skills and enroll her in Middle School where Lucy is tasked to make one real friend, join one activity and read one book that is not a textbook. 

A surprising, fun and unique middle grade story that quickly captured my heart. Even though Lucy is a math genius, her challenges make her relatable to anyone who has ever had to navigate middle school. The writing flows effortlessly and accurately describes a middle school experience. I was also impressed with how well the processes of Lucy's quirks and math logic were described. They did not seem like a handicap, just part of Lucy's life. Lucy's classmates and soon to be friends, Windy and Levi help round out Lucy's middle school experience. With these two very different friends, Lucy is pushed to grow, learn and relate to people in unique ways. When the trio of friends has to take on a service project, Lucy is pushed even farther. I did love that Lucy was able to combine her love of math, Levi's love of photography and Windy's love of pet philanthropy into one project to help a pet shelter. Overall, a distinct and easy to devour book featuring a diverse cast and a great message that middle grade readers to adults will enjoy.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

My Dear Hamilton

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton - Stephanie Dray, Laura Croghan Kamoie

Eliza Schuyler Hamilton was the woman behind Alexander Hamilton, one of the founders of America.  Always strong in her own right, Eliza grew up the daughter of a general and helping in the field hospitals.  Eliza often accompanied her father while he met with the Haudenosaunee tribes and other influential leaders of the time such as Washington, Monroe, Madison, Burr, Lafayette, Arnold and of course, Hamilton. Eliza and Alexander quickly become captivated with one another.  As Alexander's role within the newly formed government grows, Eliza learns just what it means to be the wife of a Congressman and a founding father.  She also learns how to use her influence and skills to help Alexander and create the country he dreamt of.

I dove into this story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton with reckless abandon.  At over 600 pages, I knew I would be lost in Eliza's story of scandal and triumph.  From the prologue, when we meet Eliza as an older woman and a widow and she states "Silence is often the only weapon available to ladies. And I wield mine expertly," I knew that this was going to be a strong character that I could easily identify with.  Eliza's story begins when she is a young adult, the daughter of a general on trial for treason.  Right from here, I could see her determination shine through; she was on a mission to prove that a daughter or wife could make a difference.  Through Eliza's eyes and experiences, I could see the Revolutionary War and America's early days in a new light.  I had known of Hamilton's major accomplishments; however, with Eliza's view I now know just how much work he put into founding our country as well as Eliza's influence and guiding hands.  Through Eliza's narrative, I learned of the roles of the Native American Tribes, the bravery and tenacity of the African-American troops and the overall devastation that the war caused for so many.  With the excellent partnership of Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie's writing skills, Eliza Hamilton and the Founding Fathers come to life.  Complete with extraordinary and intricate historical detail, I could imagine every argument, meeting and setting with ease. Overall, I learned the lengths that Hamilton went to make sure his legacy for the foundations of the United States was set.  Complete with love, loss, scandal and war, My Dear Hamilton is one of my favorite reads this year.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

River Rising

River Rising - John A. Heldt

The five Carson siblings have been in turmoil since the disappearance of their parents several months earlier. When oldest sibling, Adam receives a packet from his parent's lawyer, the pieces begin to come together. However, the packet reveals a secret website set up by their parents telling of their discovery of time travel portals and the subsequent adventures in different time periods. After Adam reviews the evidence and reads through how the portals work, he gets his siblings together and they unanimously vote to travel through time in order to reach their parents. They plan to go through a portal near their hometown in Arizona, taking them back to the 1880's; however when they step through the portal they end up near Johnstown, Pennsylvania in December 1888. The siblings quickly try to acclimate themselves into the time and begin the search for their parents. For twin siblings, Cody and Caitlin, this means enrolling in school. For middle brother, Greg, an adventure into the truly wild west to track a lead in Arizona territory and California. For Natalie, using her journalism skills to follow leads while Adam manages information and holds down the fort from the temporary home at the Colbert Boarding House. Even though the sibling's main objective is to find their parents and return home, the extended stay in Johnstown has led to romantic entanglements for four of the five siblings and their parents keep slipping through their fingers. On May 31st, 1889, the Johnstown flood devastates the town and the inhabitants leaving the Carson siblings in disarray.

River Rising is an epic time travel adventure. This is a story you will want to take your time with and sink into. From the moment the five siblings walk through the time portal and into 1880's Pennsylvania, ​I knew I was in for an exciting ride. Amazingly, all five siblings: Adam, Greg, Natalie, Cody and Caitlin are very well developed and individual characters. They each take turns at telling their part of the story through their point of view while continuing a cohesive story line. Pennsylvania 1888-89 was a wonderful year to travel back to; much like the Carson siblings I was amazed at the time period where Benjamin Harrison had just been elected President, Mark Twain was in his prime, the West was still wild and Punxsutawney Phil has made his first appearance. Through the sibling's eyes, I was able to see many of these events first hand. Unlike the characters in Heldt's other time travel series, the Carson siblings did not travel through time thinking about the possibility of altered timelines. I am very interested in how their very involved actions in 1888 may have altered things in the present. I am also very interested in how the time portals work; it is know that they appear on solstices and seem to appear in areas that are known to be sacred or have paranormal activity. I would love to figure out more about them and where else they seem to pop up. Near the end of the Carson sibling's grand adventure, the game of cat and mouse that they have been playing with their parents seems to be no closer to the end and the intensity increases when tragedy strikes with Johnstown flood; I had a hard time putting the book down. Ending, with a huge cliffhanger, I can not wait to see what happens with the Carson family next. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

The Elizas

The Elizas: A Novel - Sara Shepard

Budding novelist Eliza Fontaine has a complicated past and things become even more complicated when she is found at the bottom of the pool at the Tranquility resort in Palm Springs. Eliza's family believes the worst, another failed suicide attempt, just like the previous attempts before her brain tumor was removed. However, Eliza is positive that she had been pushed this time. No one seems to believe her except for her rescuer, Desmond who thinks he saw someone fleeing the scene. Eliza desperately tries to put the pieces together from her night at the Tranquility, but she has severe memory lapses. The more she tries to dig, the more pieces she finds missing. With the impending release of her novel, The Dots, Eliza keeps finding more similarities between herself and her main character, Dot, and has trouble separating the fact from fiction.

The Elizas is a thrilling, addictive mystery that dives into the mysteries of the mind and memory. From the beginning Eliza is presented as an unreliable narrator, however that didn't stop me from sympathizing with her cause and rooting for her to untangle the web of lies and foggy memories that surrounded her. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to read both Eliza's narrative as well as her book, The Dots. The story line playfully and ingeniously bounced back and forth between the two plots interweaving Eliza's and Dot's story in the reader's mind just as they had become entwined in Eliza's. At first The Dots seems like a nice bonus story, although as the book progresses, I found that The Dots offered more insight into Eliza's character than her own narrative. Overall, a tantalizing story with intriguing characters that will keep you on your toes. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

1,001 Ways To Be Creative

1,011 Ways to Be Creative - Barbara Ann Kipfer

1,001 Ways To Be Creative is a charming little book filled with plenty of ideas, thoughts, reminders and projects to keep your creative juices flowing. The perfect size for the coffee table, desk or bringing along with you in a bag, 1,001 Ways To Be Creative offers a list of starting points, activities and new perspectives for when you are stuck in a rut, just plain bored or looking for a new approach.

When I first got this book I dug right in and started noting which things I wanted to try! I absolutely loved that the very first item on the list is simply "Play." Other items that I tagged included: "Make today the first day of your new hobby," I have a back-list of things I would love to do, "Volunteer for archaeology digs in your area...", this combines my love for outdoors, history and mystery! "Delve into the study of design in nature, called teleology," a new word and something that sounds fascinating, and "Lose your fear of being wrong," a good reminder to tell myself every day. These are not just ideas for artists, but ties to creativity in general, creativity in how you live, work and relate to others as well as nature. Aside from just the list, there are motivational quotes as well as "Inspirations" pages which asks questions as well as some fill in the blank spots. My only wish is that the book came in journal form so I could fill in more of the things that I tried or at least check them off and make some notes!

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Cleopatra Unconquered

Cleopatra Unconquered - Helen R. Davis

Cleopatra VII was raised in the tumultuous Egyptian political climate.  From her infancy she was prepared by her father to one day rule Egypt beside her brother.  As a daughter of Isis, Cleopatra prayed to the goddess for support and guidance.  Little did Cleopatra know of the road ahead with death, deception, love, loss and the eventual happiness that Isis had in store for her when Cleopatra showed her worth. 

Cleopatra Unconquered is another wonderful story of 'what if," an alternative history to Cleopatra VII life and reign if she and Marc Antony were not defeated by Octavian in the Battle of Actium.  As the first of a three part series however, most of the book is deeply rooted in Cleopatra's history and not turning the tides until the end.  I enjoyed learning about how Cleopatra might have grown up and the trials she had to endure, especially within her own family.  I was very interested in her time away from Egypt and how she followed her father into his Exile in Rome; this seemed to have a great impact on her later decisions.  A wonderful layer that was added to the story was the point of view from the Vault of Nut where Isis, Athena and Cleopatra's mother, father and others in her life who had passed could look down on her, affect her decisions and move ahead through time.  This perspective allowed another layer of depth to Cleopatra's winding path through life and the choices she made.  Cleopatra's story intensifies as she heads into battle and becomes a commander and financier and I was enveloped in her battle.  I am so glad that Cleopatra's story no longer has to end so soon and can't wait to see where it leads next. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

Courage Between Love and Death

Courage Between Love and Death - Joseph Pillitteri

Elspeth Shaughnesshey is the daughter of Irish Immigrants living in Buffalo, NY. In 1901, The Pan American Exposition sets up in Buffalo. Having completed her nursing training, El is fortunate to snag a job at the Exhibition Hospital. However, the exposition hospital is temporary and the Shaughnesshey family is continuing to grow. With her father's death, the bar that the Shaughnesshey family runs is failing. El knows she needs to bring money into the family, she strives for a permanent nursing position at Buffalo General, but also has her eyes on a wealthy Exposition doctor, Dr. Kingdom in hopes of securing funds for her family. While working to get Dr. Kingdom's attention, a new doctor, Dr. Gunner joins the hospital and throws El's emotions askew. Not to mention, President McKinley is visiting the Expo and an anarchist is following closely behind. When the anarchist takes a shot at McKinley, El is thrown into the team of doctors that does their best to deal with the assassination attempt.

This is an in-depth and interesting view of the assassination of President McKinley. I was very interested in this story because I enjoy reading about local history. I grew up not to far from Buffalo, NY and knew about the fate of President McKinley, but not much else. I loved that the story was told from El's point of view, a nurse that was told to stay in the background and not talk, but usually did anything but. Through El's position as a nurse and her family's placement, El was able to have views of both the assassin, the President and the doctors who attempted to save his life. El gave insight into the medical practices of the day and the disparaging viewpoints at the time. It was fascinating to find out about the sanitation practices for medicine, that the X-Ray that had just been developed was not used to find the bullet in President McKinley's abdomen, that an obstetrician was the operating surgeon as well as how McKinley lived his last days. The historical facts of McKinley's assassination attempt, operation and death were expertly woven into an exciting fictional story. The development of El's character also let me see how an Irish family living in Buffalo was treated at the time. El's development throughout the story and courage to find love where she wasn't looking was a sweet interlude in an otherwise tragic tale.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.


Burial - Ted Hayden

In the not-to-distant future, things in Southern California look a little different than they do now.  Everything is taken to the extreme, but this isn't exactly a good thing and many people suffer from the effects. Ernesto is a product of the prison system and some sort of genetic engineering that they test on the inmates there.  After getting knifed in the throat, Ernesto has some magic worked on him by the doctors at J. Smyrna and is subsequently released as a success story.  Ernesto works as a bouncer at a bar near his home.  Madeline frequents the bar and hits on any guy for a place to stay and any cash they might have.  When Madeline witnesses a bank robbery committed by a high school friend of hers, she thinks she has found a new way to make easy money and has just the friend to help her do it.  However, the plan doesn't go  smoothly and Madeline and Ernesto both find out just what the J. Smyrna Transfection Lab and Corrections Management has been up to.

A dark and heavy tale about what happens to people who life has forgotten, people who believe they have nothing left to lose.  I was struck by how little I liked any of the characters.  Madeline, Jake, and Blondie were all deplorable. Ernesto had redeeming qualities, but a dark past.  What kept me reading was the interest in all of the characters motivations as well as what exactly happened to Ernesto in prison.  I do wish there was a little more depth to the setting, some backstories and how exactly J. Smyrna was pulling off what they were able to achieve.  Since things worked slightly differently in this world, I felt just a little lost at times; although, this is a shorter story and can easily be read in one sitting.  Overall, an unconventional story featuring characters that usually go unnoticed.

Catarina's Ring

Catarina's Ring -  Lisa McGuinness

Catarina Pensebene grew up in Italy's farming country.  Her life was filled with olive groves, hard work, good food and a large, loving family.  When Catarina is put to work as a maid for another family, she attracts the attention of the husband and is almost raped.  Salvation comes in the form of a letter from the United States.  A family friend is asking for Catarina's hand in marriage for their son, Franco.  Catarina gains the courage to leave her home and her family in order to travel to America and marry a man she only knew in her youth.  Making the best of the life she now leads, Catarina finds love with Franco and his family, she dutifully passes on her life lessons along with the ring Franco made for her to her daughter and granddaughter.  Years later, Catarina's granddaughter, Juliette decides to escape to Italy after a tragedy.  Juliette calls upon the strength of her grandmother to get through heartbreak and find the courage to follow her dream and open her own Italian restaurant. 

Beautiful scenery and intriguing plot immersed me into both Catarina and Juliette's stories.  I am a sucker for dual time stories and I loved that I knew the connection between Juliette and Catarina from the beginning, but not the full importance of the ring.  I felt a strong connection to each character; I experienced the struggle of Catarina's decision as she weighed leaving her home for a new land and fiance, as well as her resolve in being happy and making love grow.  Juliette's experience began in tragedy, however Italy was a wonderful place to recuperate.  I was brought into the sights, smells and food as Juliette cooked her way to recovery.  I enjoyed that Juliette also found solace in her Grandmother's letters, the shared experiences through time and the bond of the ring deepened their links. Overall, an emotional and enchanting story of love, lessons, loss and family.

This book was received in exchange for an honest review. 

A Collection of Twisted Tales

A Collection of Twisted Tales - Kraig W. Dafoe
A Collection of Twisted Tales is a selection of short stories and poetry that is written in the style of beloved Edgar Allen Poe.  Many of the stories revolve around death; however, how the death is achieved in each story is done in a variety of interesting ways.  Like many collections of stories, I had my favorites.  Two stories that stuck out to me were The Clock and My Friend, The Wanderer. 
In The Clock a series of letters recounts the series of events that led up to the death of the owner of a family home with a peculiar clock.  This story walked the line of supernatural and psychosis leaving me wondering if there truly was an evil clock or if mental health issues run in the family.  
My Friend, The Wanderer opens with a time travel mystery and ends on a much sinister note.  This story drew me in with adventure and intrigue and finished with gore and cruelty.
My only wish for this collection is that I could delve deeper into some of the stories.  Overall, a nice mix of horror, thriller and supernatural short stories for a quick read on a rainy day.  
This book was received in exchange for an honest review.