Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review - Starter House by Sonja Condit

Synopsis:  Lacey Miszlak grew up homeless; her crazy mother dragged her from one terrible living situation to the next. But now she thinks the pieces of her life have finally come together. She's pregnant with her first child and she and her husband Eric have moved into the home of their dreams. She knows soon its beautiful sunlit rooms will be filled with the joy of the new family she will build there.

But there's a strange darkness on the stairway and an odd little boy who won't leave Lacey alone and soon she's forced to realize that a danger she never suspected is lurking in the hallways of her beautiful new home. She's going to have to solve a decades-old mystery to save her family from an evil that has lingered in wait for them for years.

First Line:  It was already June, and the Miszlaks still hadn't found a house.

Random Quote:  He seemed unsure, but he allowed Eric to lead him back through the white hallways to the waiting room, where he slumped in one of the cushioned chairs and his himself behind a ragged copy of Highlights for Children.  Eric stepped outside to call Ella Dane, and when he came back in, the little boy was gone.

Abandoned House - White Marsh, VA

Review:  I love a good ghost story, but I'm also very picky.  It has to at least make me uncomfortable.  It can't rely on obvious tricks.  It has to be well-written.  It has to meet the standard of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House - a very high bar.  Most ghost stories just can't quite get there.  Starter House, however, gets very close.

Lacey is pregnant and she and her husband, Eric, have purchased their dream house - the place where they will start their lives together and start their family.  Yes, things are a little unsettling and yes, their realtor wasn't too keen on even showing them the house, but the price is right and they're in.  Like all good ghost stories, once they're in it all starts getting creepier and creepier - in small fits and starts until it's all just full throttle terror.

All Lacey ever wanted was to be a Real Mother (in contrast to her own vagabond of a mother who followed no discernable rules).  When her dream house turns into a nightmare, she must come to turns with her past and make some difficult choices to save her family.  Complete with creaking floorboards and a truly scary little boy, Starter House will keep you reading long past your bedtime.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from publisher for review

Publishing Information:  William Morrow and Company - December 31, 2013

Format:  Kindle

Rating:  ★★★

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review - The Last Dead Girl by Harry Dolan

Synopsis:  On a rainy night in April, a chance encounter on a lonely road draws David into a romance with Jana Fletcher, a beautiful young law student. Jana is an enigma: living in a run-down apartment and sporting a bruise on her cheek that she refuses to explain. David would like to know her secrets, but he lets them lie—until it’s too late.  When Jana is brutally murdered, the police consider David a prime suspect. But as he sets out to uncover the truth about Jana, he begins to realize he’s treading a very dangerous path—and that her killer is watching every move he makes.

First Line:  They put me in a room with white tile on the walls and a pair of long fluorescent lights glaring down from the ceiling.

Random Quote:  Vague and upbeat.  No tricks or hidden meanings.  The first time Luke made her write a postcard, she had tried to write something out of character.  Dear Mother, she wrote, because she was never that formal.  but Luke caught on to her right away.  "I don't think so," he said, tearing up the card.  "Let's go with 'Dear Mom.' "  So now, no tricks.

Rome, NY (image source)

Review:  The Last Dead Girl is the first Harry Dolan book that I've read, but I doubt it'll be the last.  He writes well, building up the layers in his story in interesting ways, deepening the mystery, the suspense, the inevitable denouement.

When David Loogan meets Jana, he stumbles into a relationship that works for him (unlike his relationship with his fiancee).  He also stumbles into a mystery that deepens when Jana is brutally murdered.  David is, of course, the prime suspect.  Saddened and determined to clear his own name, David begins to try to untangle the mystery of who killed Jana, and why.

Be prepared - this is a brutal book with a fair amount of sexual violence.  Mr. Dolan handles this with deftness and manages to avoid being lurid, but this book may be triggering for some readers.  The sexual violence isn't prurient, but it's definitely central to the story and if you are uncomfortable with this subject matter this probably isn't the book for you.

Heartbreaking in some ways, surprising in many ways - The Last Dead Girl is a complicated story well told.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from publisher for review

Publishing Information:  January 9, 2014 - Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam

Format:  Kindle

Rating:  ★★★★

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Teaser Tuesdays - North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Miz B of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) random teaser sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS (make sure that what you share doesn't give too much away! You don't want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! 

On his massive desk, an ornate rococo-style lamp gives off a dim yellowish glow that seems to pull the walls even closer.  I can only last a short time in this room before I start to feel trapped.

     - North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mailbox Mondays

Mailbox at Boston University - Part of Project Mailbox that gathers change for Engineers without Borders (image source)
Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday! Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia, who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring event (details here). Mailbox Monday has now moved to its own new home!  Be sure to visit to check out all the cool books we're bragging about sharing.  I'm reading North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo so the mailbox is from Boston (although it's not a traditional mailbox - still cool).

Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Hayes.  In the crisp, early hours of an autumn morning, the police are called to investigate two deaths. The first is a suspected murder at a farm on the outskirts of a small village. A beautiful young woman has been found dead, her cottage drenched with blood. The second is a reported suicide at a nearby quarry. A car with a woman's body inside was found at the bottom of the pit.  As DCI Louisa Smith and her team gather evidence, they discover a shocking link between the two cases and the two deaths-a bond that sealed their terrible fates one cold night, under a silent moon.  In this first entry in a compelling new detective series, Elizabeth Haynes interweaves fictional primary source materials-police reports, phone messages, interviews-and multiple character viewpoints to create a sexy, edgy, and compulsively readable tale of murder, mystery, and unsettling suspense.

Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca.  Even under the most normal circumstances, high school can be a painful and confusing time. Unfortunately, Lilianna's circumstances are anything but normal. Only a few people know what caused her sudden change from model student to the withdrawn pessimist she has become, but her situation isn't about to get any better. When people begin coming down with a quick-spreading illness that doctors are unable to treat, Lil's worst fears are realized. With her parents called away on business before the contagious outbreak-her father in Delaware covering the early stages of the disease and her mother in Hong Kong and unable to get a flight back to New Jersey-Lil's town is hit by what soon becomes a widespread illness and fatal disaster. Now, she's more alone than she's been since the "incident" at her school months ago.  With friends and neighbors dying all around her, Lil does everything she can just to survive. But as the disease rages on, so does an unexpected tension as Lil is torn between an old ex and a new romantic interest. Just when it all seems too much, the cause of her original trauma shows up at her door. In this thrilling debut from author Yvonne Ventresca, Lil must find a way to survive not only the outbreak and its real-life consequences, but also her own personal demons.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Let's Talk about Moscow Mules

Moscow Mule in traditional copper mug
I had a lovely dinner last night at Revival Bar + Kitchen here in Berkeley.  I love this restaurant - it's a beautiful space, the food is farm to table and always delicious and gorgeous to look at, the service is top-notch, it's nowhere near stuffy, and they make great artisanal cocktails.  What's not to love?  Last night I had a vintage cocktail I've read about and heard about, but never had - the Moscow Mule.  At this point, I wonder why I've ever had vodka any other way.

The bar at Revival Bar + Kitchen
A little back story via The New York Herald Tribune:

The mule was born in Manhattan but "stalled" on the West Coast for the duration. The birthplace of "Little Moscow" was in New York's Chatham Hotel. That was back in 1941 when the first carload of Jack Morgan's Cock 'n' Bull ginger beer was railing over the plains to give New Yorkers a happy surprise...

Three friends were in the Chatham bar, one John A. Morgan, known as Jack, president of Cock 'n' Bull Products and owner of the Hollywood Cock 'n' Bull Restaurant; one was John G. Martin, president of G.F. Heublein Brothers Inc. of Hartford, Conn., and the third was Rudolph Kunett, president of the Pierre Smirnoff, Heublein's vodka division. As Jack Morgan tells it, "We three were quaffing a slug, nibbling an hors d'oeuvre and shoving toward inventive genius". Martin and Kunett had their minds on their vodka and wondered what would happen if a two-ounce shot joined with Morgan's ginger beer and the squeeze of a lemon. Ice was ordered, lemons procured, mugs ushered in and the concoction put together. Cups were raised, the men counted five and down went the first taste. It was good. It lifted the spirit to adventure. Four or five later the mixture was christened the Moscow Mule...

Although it's often made in a copper mug, mine came in a tall glass and it's a nice change from my typical spring/summer cocktail - a Mojito.  Here's how you make one:

Moscow Mule in a glass

Moscow Mule


Ice cubes
1/4 cup vodka
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup chilled ginger beer
1 lime wedge


Fill tall glass with ice. Add vodka and lime juice, then ginger beer; stir to mix. Garnish with lime wedge.

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We Have a Winner! International Book Giveaway - Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

Once again, a big thank you to everyone who stopped by chaotic compendiums and entered the giveaway to win one (1) copy of Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates.  Thanks to the publisher this was my very first international giveaway and I even have an international winner!  Winner was chosen via the randomness of Random.Org ...

Gudmann Bragi Birgisspn

As always, stay tuned for more book reviews, giveaways, guest posts and author Q&As!  If you didn't win this book, I urge you to go out and buy it - it's a great read!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review - After I'm Gone by Laura Lippmann

Synopsis:  When Felix Brewer meets nineteen-year-old Bernadette "Bambi" Gottschalk at a Valentine's Dance in 1959, he charms her with wild promises, some of which he actually keeps. Thanks to his lucrative-if not all legal-businesses, she and their three little girls live in luxury. But on the Fourth of July, 1976, Bambi's comfortable world implodes when Felix, newly convicted and facing prison, mysteriously vanishes.

Though Bambi has no idea where her husband-or all of his money-might be, she suspects one woman does: his devoted young mistress, Julie. When Julie disappears ten years to the day that Felix went on the lam, everyone assumes she's left to join her old lover-until her remains are eventually found in a secluded wooded park.

Now, twenty-six years after Julie went missing, Roberto "Sandy" Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective working cold cases for some extra cash, is investigating her murder. What he discovers is a tangled web of bitterness, jealously, resentment, greed, and longing stretching over three decades that connects five intriguing women: a faithful wife, a dead mistress, and three very different daughters. And at the center is the man who, though long gone, has never been forgotten by the five women who loved him: the enigmatic Felix Brewer.

Somewhere between the secrets and lies connecting past and present, Sandy will find the truth. And when he does, no one will ever be the same.

First Line:  They left at dusk, about an hour before the fireworks were scheduled, and by the time they were at the old toll bridge over the Susquehanna, Felix could see glimmers of light through the one tiny window, little celebrations everywhere.
Random Quote:  Sandy walked with Tubman back to the dining room where the bridge women awaited their king.  There was a plate of food by his place.  "I thought you might be hungry, missing the snack break," one said.  Had women doted on the old Tubby this way?  Sandy thought not.  The laws of supply and demand, coupled with a hundred-pound weight loss, can work a peculiar kind of magic.

Baltimore (image source)

Review:  Laura Lippmann is another writer I like a lot.  Her books are reliably interesting, but she does write the occasional clunker - a book that just leaves me cold - and After I'm Gone is one of these.  After I'm Gone is essentially a complicated family drama with a disappeared gangster in the middle surrounded by the women he left and the ex-cop working cold cases who tries to find him.  The premise is good, but the execution was so-so for me - mostly because the most interesting person in the book is Felix, the gangster, and he appears the least often in the book.  The rest of the characters just weren't very interesting to me so I spent most of the book wanting to know a lot more about Felix and what may have happened to him and very little time caring much about the rest of the characters and the main story line.

All that said, After I'm Gone isn't a terrible book - just not really the book for me.  I was pleased to note that Tess Monaghan, Lippmann's series detective, makes a brief appearance in this book - I hope we're going to see more of her in the books ahead.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from the publisher for review

Publishing Information:  William Morrow - February 11, 2014

Format:  Kindle

Rating:  ★★