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Category: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Blog Tour & Giveaway: The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley

[ 16 ] March 18, 2015

the dead key book coverPlease join D.M. Pulley, author of The Dead Key, as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours!

Enter to win a copy of the book below – open to US and Canada

Reviewed by Jenna Arthur

The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley is a book full of mystery and intrigue. Set in two different time periods, the story begins in the late 1990’s and  follows a young civil engineer as she is sent on a special assignment to the First Bank of Cleveland. Ecstatic to be taken seriously and retreat from her boring cubicle life, Iris Latch jumps on the chance to advance her career and knowledge by taking on the large task of assessing the possibility that this old, decaying structure can be restored. Little does she know that the bank has a lot more history and is much more than it seems…

A renovation feasibility study turns into a curiosity and starts to unweave the tangled web of the past so long buried, a past when this foreboding business mysteriously fired all of its employees and closed. As Iris explores she starts to find things left behind, the most interesting, a key. This key is more than just a key–it is an instrument that opens many doors to mysteries, theft, and murder. With Iris delving more into its past, we are transported in between her world and the 1970s, where we find Miss Beatrice Baker, a young girl pretending to be something that she’s not, and more experienced than she is ready to be.

A naive girl, Beatrice jumps at the chance when she is presented with the opportunity to be more and make more of herself as a secretary at the First Bank of Cleveland. But as Beatrice finds out, the bank is a far darker and twisted place than it seems. It houses secrets, secrets that could be deadly. What unites these two curious women? The key. The key that unlocks the story.

For me, D.M. Pulley’s book didn’t pull me right in and I really had to commit to keep reading. Although filled with wondrous sentence structure and descriptions, the first quarter of the story was too slow for the type of book the description had made it out to be. But once invested and into the final three quarters of the book, there are more wonderful descriptions of architecture, more plots twists, and an interweaving of time periods and stories that all wind up being delightful. If you can hang on past the slow climb, The Dead Key is definitely worth a Saturday read.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Jenna lives in the bustling city of Pittsburgh, PA with her wife, her chihuahua Penny, her retriever Ella and her two beautiful cats. Along with her passion for reading and the literary world, she is also an artist, writer, environmental activist, creative coordinator and aspiring culinary genius. She believes there is nothing better to her then a good book, and lives one cover to the next.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Thomas & Mercer. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Fifty Mice by Daniel Pyne

[ 3 ] March 17, 2015

fifty mice book coverReviewed by Caleb Shadis

Fifty Mice is a thriller. One where you are not sure what is going on, nor is the main character. This is something that could happen if government agents are able to use some of the powers granted to them by some of the anti-terrorist laws. The main character Jay is kidnapped in a subway station and put into ‘protective custody’ for his own good.

We follow Jay as he is whisked away from his life as he knew it and put into protective custody. Jay has no desire to be placed here but his choices are pretty limited: protective custody on a beautiful island with beaches and a low stress ‘job’ or getting shipped to Guantanamo. Not really much of a choice. He is paired with a mother and child who are also in the program and they all pretend to be a family.

Through flashbacks we slowly learn about Jay’s past. We also slowly learn about him through his interactions with the little girl as well as the shrink he has to report to every day for his sessions. The shrink is there to try and help him remember what it was he saw one night in a bar–that he claims he can’t remember. It keeps coming back to him in little flashes, but like most of his past he is actively trying to forget it.

The island itself seems to be filled with those in the program and those protecting the ones in the program. There are also enough regular citizens that it is important to keep up the charade. Jay struggles under the enforced detention and plans on making an escape. Someone else who made the attempt came back in a body bag, so it requires a lot of planning and an element of surprise.

There is a LOT going on in this book and it took me quite a while to understand most of what was happening. This can be a bit disconcerting in a book but the end tied up very nicely; it turned out to be a rather ingenious little puzzle that fit together very well. This mystery isn’t for everyone but I found it to be very well done. The references to lab test mice throughout lend a sense of foreshadowing to the proceedings.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Blue Ryder Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen

[ 5 ] March 11, 2015

unraveling of mercy louis book coverReviewed by Cal Cleary

In most contexts, poor, shy Mercy Louis, who lives with her hyper-religious grandmother on the outskirts of town, would be the class outcast. But Mercy is the basketball star of Port Sabine, Texas, and after a deadly explosion at the oil refinery that employed much of the town, watching Mercy play and watching the team win was what kept them together. But after a fetus is discovered abandoned in a dumpster, the town descends into a modern day witch hunt, one that threatens to unearth the secrets that keep the town running and destroy the lives of any number of its most hopeful young women – Mercy included.

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis takes place at the toxic intersection of misogyny and religion that grips so much of our country and defines the tone of modern political discussion. Author Keija Parssinen’s book focuses heavily on two young women on the fringes of the incident: basketball star Mercy and student team manager Illa. Both characters are exceptionally well-crafted, with strong voices and interesting arcs, which is particularly important during the book’s incident-light opening. This is very much a character-driven southern gothic, more concerned with how its characters react to something awful happening than the actual mechanics of the moment itself. Grim modern Americana at its finest.

The book is a slow burn, particularly in its middle third, when our two point-of-view characters lose themselves in the hazy half-rhythms of summer. It’s a necessary calm to build out some of the relationships that remained static during the school year, but it adheres far too much to a simple three-act structure and makes the same mistake I see a lot of three-act stories make, saving far too much of the event of the book for the climax. Parssinen mostly gets away with it here, because her character work is strong and she has a talent for deeply atmospheric storytelling, but the delicate balance is almost undone at the very end by the constant push of plot.

Keija Parssinen has created a mesmerizing novel, a high school drama with the bones of a thriller and a furiously feminist heart. While I have some minor issues with the book’s end-heavy pacing and quick wrap-up, I simply could not put down The Unraveling of Mercy Louis pretty much from start to finish. Parssinen has a sharp eye for human interaction, for the way young people are often pawns in the political and cultural arenas. This is a subtle, insightful novel, liable to crawl under your skin and stay there for days after you put it down.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Cal Cleary is a librarian and critic in small-town Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @comicalibrarian for updates on where you can find his writing on books, comics, film, and more!

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Butterfly by Kathryn Harvey

[ 3 ] March 10, 2015

butterfly book coverReviewed by Jennifer Jensen

Originally published in 1988, Butterfly by Kathryn Harvey (the pseudonym of Barbara Wood) is a riveting tale of sensuality and revenge. This hefty novel is the first in a trilogy, in modern times following Trudie, Jessica, and Linda, who are each members of a secretive club called Butterfly, where women can act out any sexual fantasy they desire…for a fee. The rest of the novel focuses on thirty years before and leading up to the present, detailing the tragic past of the woman who came from nothing and built an empire, all for the sake of revenge.

Although the book’s cover may present this as another erotic tale, Butterfly is much more complex than it seems at first glance. I became engrossed in the coming-of-age of Rachel Dwyer, a runaway teenager who is forced into prostitution, and her vendetta against Danny Mackay, the boy she loved who began his ascent to greatness by stripping her of everything.

I won’t say more than I already have about the plot and the central characters, because half of the fun of reading this book was not knowing much to begin with. The book also raises some interesting discussion prompts regarding prostitution, feminine sexuality, and power. As a society, we agree that paying for sex is wrong. Rachel’s forced submission to the desires of men was disgusting, yet I seemed to accept the reasons why Trudie, Jessica, and Linda joined Butterfly. Belonging to Butterfly wasn’t about having power over another individual, but finding love, strength, and healing, respectively.

The main events of Butterfly come full circle by the end of the novel, but there are still questions left unanswered about Rachel’s past that I hope are touched upon in the novels. It’s taking lots of willpower not to read the synopses of the next two books, but I want to be just as surprised with those as I was with Butterfly. I haven’t been able to stop recommending this book to my reader friends; this wasn’t my normal type of read, but I’m so glad I read it.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Turner Publishing Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister

[ 5 ] March 6, 2015

magician's lie book coverReviewed by Colleen Turner

“My mother had called him weak, but I chose not to believe what she’d said. She had been searching for a way to justify her own choices. It was the first time I realized that we all bend and shape our stories to fit our own ends. It was certainly not the last.” – from The Magician’s Lie    

From page one of The Magician’s Lie the reader is drawn in when the main character, “The Amazing Arden”, the famous female illusionist, declares “tonight, I will do the impossible” by releasing herself from her torturer and killing him. Lo and behold, that very same night the illusionist’s husband is found dead beneath the stage where she performed a gruesome act of sawing a man in half, an act she has become renowned for. But did she murder him? Is this the man who tortured her and whom she vowed to kill?  What really happened that night?

Police Officer Holt, who was in the audience of Arden’s show, apprehends her trying to escape and decides to hear her full story before deciding whether or not she murdered the man and whether or not he should turn her over to those investigating the murder. As Arden relays her story to Holt he has to navigate through the shifting details to decipher fact from fiction. Could her wondrous story, filled with unfathomable hardships, travel and adventure and even a touch of real magic, be true? Holt, facing his own harsh reality and the potential loss of his career, knows that finding out the truth could not only save Arden’s life but his own. But as the hours tick by he realizes that the truth isn’t always as black and white as it seems.

The Magician’s Lie weaves back and forth through time, from Arden telling Holt her story in 1905 to her life as it happened beginning in 1892 and making it back to the actions that led to her arrest. Throughout the story the reader is firmly along for the ride with Holt, trying to decipher the truth from fiction in Arden’s story and trying to see where the story is headed while Arden is always ten steps ahead at all times. At the same time Arden, brilliant and brazen as they come, collects small dollops of information about Holt as she spins her tale of sorrow and joy that encompasses everything from a difficult upbringing to a psychopathic man who haunts her throughout her life whether he is standing before her or not. But even as you get lost in her story you can’t help wondering: how much of this is true?

I am fully amazed by not only this plot but this beautifully written story. There were sentences that I found myself reading over and over because they are just perfect. The lilting, dancing descriptions are captivating and I actually lost myself in the reading a few times so that when I finally paused I found that more time had passed then I anticipated. I heard nothing and saw nothing while with Arden!

There are also delightful tidbits of history throughout that are fascinatingly incorporated into the novel. The reader gets a behind the scenes view of not only traveling shows and magical acts but of The Biltmore Estate (which I now am dying to visit) and the horrific Iroquois Theatre Fire in Chicago on January 1st, 1904, which the author worked into the story at a pivotal point. The pacing is spot on, starting out slow and building and building until the end flies at the reader and leaves them breathless and satisfied as they turn the last page.

While the central question of whether Arden is telling the truth or not about the murder is certainly important, the story also brings up the question of whether or not what each character tells themselves is truth or illusion, or, as I believe it is for most of us, a mix of both. This is a story of true love, twisted obsession, magic, reality and everything in between. This one’s a keeper!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, and their dogs Oliver and Cleopatra. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship. You can find more of her reviews on her blog.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks Landmark. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik

[ 4 ] March 3, 2015

dark rooms book coverReviewed by Cal Cleary

Beautiful but wild teen Nica Baker is found dead, raped and shot in a graveyard just off campus from her prestigious Connecticut boarding school. In her wake, she leaves a family in chaos. Her mother leaves and abandons them to pursue further academic and artistic achievement, her father descends into alcoholism, and her older sister Grace slips hard into drug addiction. But while Grace manages to get clean after blacking out on pills and  waking up in a strange bed, a surprise pregnancy from the night derails her life. She drops out of college, moves back home, and rededicates herself to solving her sister’s murder.

It’s a story you’ve probably seen a thousand times: A young woman lives fast, dies young, leaves a beautiful corpse. What Lili Anolik offers in Dark Rooms focuses less on originality and more on plumbing the depths of her characters’ depravity. Grace’s relationships, her sister’s friendships, it was all based on a web of a thousand small betrayals that all add up to the monstrous death of a young woman. Anolik throws a lot of twists at you throughout the book, and while most miss, the ones that do hit land with the force of a freight train. A late-book reveal, for instance, about Grace and Nica’s mother found me gasping audibly. Indeed, while the book is fairly uneven, Anolik found a genuinely chilling character in Grace’s mother, who brings every scene she’s in vividly, horrifyingly to life.

But where Dark Rooms works, basically, as a character study, it largely fails as a thriller or a mystery. While it borrows some of the rhythms and a lot of the tropes from those genres, there’s never really any danger. Most of the cast likes Grace, and they’re oddly willing to open up to her about horrible things they’ve seen or done often with very little provocation. In some ways, Anolik’s book reminded me of Tana French’s groundbreaking In the Woods in its combination of gruesome crime and small-town conspiracy told by a narrator who is all too easy to hate. But French gave us more of a sense of who her characters were, more room for them to breathe outside the cloud of suspicion, which made her revelations all the more powerful. In Dark Rooms, everyone has a dark secret and everyone is a suspect to start off with, which drains a lot of the tension from the investigation, and a lot of the interest from the cast.

Dark Rooms still works, to a degree, thanks to Grace. While Grace is an immensely frustrating character, weak-willed and self-loathing, she’s also a well-rounded one, and what leeway I grant the book, particularly regarding the fairly foul resolution to Grace’s rape-and-pregnancy subplot, comes from the strength of Anolik’s characterization of her and her voice. But is two strong characters enough to hold up an entire novel? Well, that depends on what you read for. Dark Rooms has some truly fantastic elements, but it lacks the restraint necessary for compelling drama, the pace for melodrama, and the tension of a solid mystery. Genre fans will likely leave disappointed, but folks who don’t mind a nice, seedy wallow should find something to love.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Cal Cleary is a librarian and critic in small-town Ohio. You can read more of his writing at Geek Rex and follow him on Twitter @comicalibrarian.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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